Originally this post was intended as a comment to the (always excellent) DimPost’s writing on, what else, Shane Jones.
The crux of the Jones-issue concerning political minds is – how useful was Jones’ connection to male working class voters? I genuinely believe Jones did connect on some level – as I wrote on the Dim:
FWIW – at the leadership meeting I went to Jones definitely connected best with the blue collar guys sitting in the row behind me.
The line that received the most spontaneous murmurings of assent from the crowd was Jones criticising the performance and discipline of the Labour caucus, something that Cunliffe and Robertson didn’t do.
Jones is definitely a skilled communicator, and reached a part of the electorate that Labour has long struggled to attract. But I don’t think this connection is necessary for a Labour victory. In fact, the more I think about it, the more I think Labour will be better off without Jones.
Waitakere Man doesn’t exist as a viable bloc of voters for the left, at least in the way pundits like Trotter and Pagani et al would have you believe.
Men tend to vote right, women tend to vote left. This rough rule of thumb can be seen across Western democracies; it’s a useful place to start when looking at our electoral narrative over the last few cycles.
Take a look at the last two competitive elections Labour faced – 2005 and 2008. National’s success under Key and failure under Brash can largely be attributed to differences in how those two leaders connected with female voters.
Women were turned off by Brash and the Nats lost. Brash was dry, alienating and misogynistic – decrying Labour’s women-friendly policies, demoting women from National’s front bench and, in a final symbol of his political death knell, was exposed as cheating on his wife. Conversely Key is well related to and trusted by women, meaning Labour languishes. Key presents himself as wetter, softer and safer than Brash – a true family man who is much more attuned to the female electorate, and importantly employs highly visible women ministers to champion National’s work.
The “centre ground” of NZ politics that National occupies essentially was staked out by Clark. It’s simple 3rd Way Neoliberalism – involving acceptance of key female-targetted policies like paid parental leave, WFF, and interest free student loans. Mums love their kids, and they vote with children in mind.
National has readily absorbed this – and hence major iniatives are frequently couched in ways that appeal to this middle ground of female voters. Tinkering in schools has been largely framed so as to maximise appeal to suburban parents with a focus on choice and parental empowerment; assets sales become family-friendly when they are promulgated as helping these same suburban “mums and dads”, despite them only being a tiny slice of actual stock buyers.
The truth of the matter is that there isn’t “centre ground” issues or policies in our political landscape that Waitakere Man is a player in. He is either is in a union and votes in his class interests, or more likely isn’t unionised and tends to vote to the right. Waitakere Man cares much less about paid parental leave or WFF, and most likely actively resents unions despite them championing his economic interests. This is the chap who doesn’t mind hearing someone in a suit using meaningless phrases like “business growth agenda” as neoliberalism argues that what is best for business is best for him.
Meanwhile, there women who voted Labour in 2005, but who switched to Key in 2008. And due to: (pick one) the political cycle/the power of incumbancy/opposition incompetence, they’ve been Key voters ever since. Women are the low-hanging fruit for a left-wing party – securing this demographic is paramount for a left victory.
And Jones just doesn’t appeal to women – he actively alienates them. The porn, the jokes about geldings, the red-blooded appeals that so excited political pundits – none of it resonates with the key bloc whose choices will decide the next Government.