Q+A Panel Discussion - Response to David Cunliffe Interview
Q + A
PANEL DISCUSSION 1
Hosted by SUSAN WOOD
In response to David Cunliffe INTERVIEW
SUSAN Welcome to the panel this morning – Dr Claire Robinson from Massey University, former Labour Party president Mike Williams and political commentator Matthew Hooton. Good morning to you all.
PANEL Good morning.
SUSAN Matthew, he describes himself – David Cunliffe I’m referring to – as ‘moderate but resolute’. Is that the man? Is that how you would describe what you’ve just saw?
HOOTON – Political
Yes, I guess he did come across as moderate because he was talking to national television, whereas in his speech yesterday, it was, you know, great left-wing red meat for the delegates. And this is a major problem for him because he has— he’s implied that even the Clark Government was sort of part of the neoliberal conspiracy of the last 30 years and that he’s going to turn everything round. And he said that his government would be one that Mike Treen could support. Well, Mike Treen is way out to the far left in this society. He works for the Unite Union with Matt McCarten. He’s a close political ally of, sort of, John Minto’s. The idea that it could be a moderate government that Mike Treen will support – I think David Cunliffe is going to have to answer some of these questions a little better than he did there about what type of government this is going to be, because it can’t possibly be this radical left one as well as one when he’s talking to business leaders, like he was this week in Auckland. They all say, ‘Actually, it seems like he’s one of us.
SUSAN Because, Mike, he’s, you know, of course, we know the left of the party brought David Cunliffe in. The centre ground is where we are told the battleground is for those votes.
MIKE WILLIAMS – Former Labour Party
SUSAN He does have a bit of an issue there, doesn’t he?
MIKE He does, but I thought that was pretty sure-footed. There was no fluffing around. I think he handled that very well, and I think that quite clearly he’s got National worried, because they immediately attacked the Kiwi-Assure policy. They are answering Labour’s questions immediately, and National’s gone into campaign mode, so my suspicion is that National’s internal polling is telling them that they’re in trouble and David Cunliffe’s responsible for it.
SUSAN Which is interesting, and when Corin asked him, Claire, about the polls, he talked about the one that actually shows Labour looking pretty good, says it’s reflecting their internal poll – the Roy Morgan. Because all the rest of the polls, Colmar Brunton among them, are showing that really the honeymoon is over; there has been no significant bounce in the polls.
CLAIRE ROBINSON – Political Scientist
Yeah, and I think the thing is that the— you know, Labour— if Labour will be sitting somewhere between 30 and 35, that’s not enough to be a substantial party that is going to be the lead party in the next government. And the problem that they are still facing is that the votes that they’re getting are the votes that they’re taking off the Greens. They are not votes that they’re talking off Labour. So the combination—
SUSAN Off National, you mean?
CLAIRE Off National. So the combination between Labour and the Greens is still sticking at a level which is less than National and whatever party it goes into some relationship with.
SUSAN So you are telling me they need to move to the centre? They need to attract that soft centre?
CLAIRE Yeah, but they’ve recognised that that’s going to be difficult, and so the rhetoric at the moment – yesterday’s rhetoric – was all about the million voters that have not turned out. So the interesting thing with the million voters is that if you do manage to get them turned out, most of them are going to go either Labour or National in a 35-35 split, and then the rest of them are more likely to go to a minor party. So Labour will not be able to rely on them to hoover them up, unless they do a Mike Williams. So Mike Williams in 2002…
CLAIRE ...2005 played the best game, where he went to South Auckland and hoovered up the non-voters in South Auckland, and that made the major, major difference.
SUSAN I remember that election so well. We were fronting it. We called it early, actually, that election, remember? And—
MIKE I was the only one who wouldn’t call it, yeah.
SUSAN We’d called it early, and we’d forgotten South Auckland. Our numbers were wrong, and we—
MATTHEW I don’t believe them true—
CLAIRE Strategically, that was major.
MATTHEW But I don’t believe there are a million voters—
SUSAN The number keeps growing.
MATTHEW Well, it was 800,000.
MIKE It’s about 800— It’s about 800,000.
MATTHEW Well, it can’t be that high, because the New Zealand turnout in elections sits on average, in MMP times, at around 80, 81 per cent, and it fell to about 70—
MATTHEW Not very far at all, and that’s just not a million people. So I think there’s something wrong with our rolls. I think that when people move homes, the electoral rolls don’t necessary know that. And I think a lot of these million people or 800,000 or whatever David Cunliffe’s number is today is a fantasy.
SUSAN What do you think, Mike?
MIKE There is a significant group of people who get on the roll but don’t vote. They are more likely to be Labour than anything else, and you can demonstrate this by simply looking at the seats with the lowest turnout. They tend to be the safest Labour seats. On the flip side of that, the seats with the highest turnout tend to be the safest National seats, like Clutha-Southland. So Cunliffe and the Labour Party are quite right. If they can motivate a big chunk of those people who didn’t vote, they can win the election. But I would make a point about the polls. There was a period during the leadership battle in the Labour Party, there was a clear move to Labour, and it was reflected in two or three polls. And what entered my head was that what you were looking at was kind of half an election campaign, where the media were focused on one party but not both, so I think that should be very encouraging for Labour, looking ahead to the election.
SUSAN So what Mike’s saying, Claire, is it will tighten come election time, which it always does anyway, doesn’t it?
CLAIRE It does, but the big thing that people forget – well, don’t even know, actually – is that the support for Labour and National at the election is pretty much going to be the support for Labour and National in this year. The major move is around the minor parties. Those are the people that late-deciding voters tend to vote for, not the major parties.
SUSAN Why is that?
CLAIRE So campaigns make bugger all difference to major party—
MIKE I utterly disagree with that.
CLAIRE And I’ll show you the data. I have years of data on this.
MIKE Well, I have years of political experience, and I saw when Labour announced interest-free loans, young people pour on to the roll.
CLAIRE That was a once-off.
MATTHEW That was one of the—
MIKE Hang on, hang on. But I’ve just disproved your thesis.
CLAIRE But about that campaign, the polls moved up and down and up and down, but the end result after the end of that month was no different from day one.
MATTHEW But David Cunliffe – I guess when he heads towards the election, when we get the Pre-election Economic and Fiscal Update from the Treasury, the one that National saw in 2008 showed an economy in recession, an economy that was getting worse, an economy with a decade of deficits ahead. The economic and fiscal update before the election is going to show massive surpluses through at least a decade.
SUSAN That’s right.
MATTHEW It’s going to show the strongest-growing economy in the developed world.
SUSAN National’s going to be tough to beat.
MATTHEW It’s going to be showing low— Well, except that if Cunliffe wants to spend those surpluses on election bribes, I suppose he’ll be able to in a way that Bill English was unable to in 2008, because the economic data is going to be the best in a generation when that economic update comes out.
SUSAN So, Claire, is something like Kiwi-Assure a vote-winner?
CLAIRE Well, no, it’s not. It seems to be extraordinary that in that big wide-ranging speech that that was the major focus, the major policy that they could pull out. I think they’re missing a trick. They need to be bringing out many more major policies now. Now, again, Mike thinks that you wait until the election campaign. I’m very firm of the opinion that they have to bring it out now, precisely because of all those people that are making their voting decisions right now.
SUSAN We will get something today, though, Mike, on housing. That’s supposed to be announced this afternoon, isn’t it?
MIKE Well, I think, in my attitude, and Claire’s quite right, I’ve always said you don’t shoot until you see the whites of their eyes, and I think if you announce policy early, it gives your opposition time to pick it apart. However, there’s plenty of meaty policy out there, not just Kiwi-Assure. There’s KiwiBuild. There’s all sorts of stuff, and there’s more to come, so I wouldn’t be too fussed. The thing I would say about that conference, and looking at it from a distance, the Labour Party can be very pleased with all the new faces there. It’s a big conference, and if I was Moira Coatsworth, the president, I’d be very happy with who I’ve got.
MATTHEW Most of them have come in from the far left. I mean, there is a whole group of people who under the Clark Government didn’t feel it was radical enough, because that was a mainstream social democratic party, they didn’t really like Phil Goff, and now because some of the language, if not the policy, that Cunliffe’s been using, you’ve got people who used to be in the Alliance Party or even in further left groups who have rejoined Labour. And that’s why you’ve got all those new people there.
SUSAN Any concerns, Claire, around some of the things they have looked at? I know the man ban has been banned, to quote Cunliffe, but there are many things they have looked at that you wouldn’t count as sort of mainstream Labour. They’re certainly more in the rainbow. Does it turn people off? Does it turn voters off?
CLAIRE Well, it looked like it might, and that’s part of the fuss around the man ban earlier this year. But I think they’ve managed to be— they managed to play this conference well so far in that all of those potentially contentious social issues have been kind of minimised as public issues so that the focus then has been on David Cunliffe’s speech and some major policy announcements. So they played that well.
SUSAN Very good. We will leave that there. Thank you, panel.