Tuesday, August 12, 2008

The odds are stacked against them

Last month, political scientist Therese Arseneau presented a case for how Labour can win. This month, she looks at the likelihood of that actually happening, and its all bad news. The problem is that Labour's success seems to be beyond its control, leaving it at the mercy of economic bad times, a National Party pretending to seek the centre, and the whims of potential coalition partners.

I think this overstates the case somewhat. As I've tried to explain to Labour party activists before, Labour is not a passive victim of whatever other parties do, a "log floating down a river". Even more than the bully-pulpit of government, an election is a chance to shape our political conversation and shift the political ground. If National is pretending to seek the centre, then Labour should be seeking to define it, by staking out ground in popular policy areas where National can never compete - things like universal student allowances, paid parental leave, housing, and privatisation (though they already have the latter firmly in hand). In other words, if national is going for the centre, Labour should exploit the fact that centre is well to the left of what most National supporters want, and force National to wedge itself against its own base.

The odds are stacked against the government, but it has a small chance. And if they don't take it, and lose power, then they have no-one to blame but themselves.