Little Andy damaged after rebellion says Aunty Audrey

Audrey Young doesn’t think much of the past week for Andrew Little:

Rating the start to the political year, Bill English scores 8 out of 10; Andrew Little 2.

Little started higher, after his state of the nation speech, held jointly with the Greens.

He spruced himself up, and delivered a good speech at an event that went off flawlessly as a piece of political theatre to show a sense of cohesion on the centre-left.

But the rebellion over Willie Jackson has damaged Little and Labour in a way that won’t blow over in a week.

Little’s greatest accomplishment as leader – successfully instilling the need for party discipline – counted for nothing, and the chips weren’t even down.

It was astonishing for its ineptness. The shouting and screaming at caucus was something to be believed and Andrew Little got stared down.

The rebellion has three consequences: after all that hard work, Labour again looks like a party divided, Little looks like a leader who cannot lead his own party – which is all the more damaging when his attack line against English this year is that he is a prime minister but not a leader – and it alienates voters who identity with Willie Jackson.

It says to them that if Willie Jackson doesn’t belong to Labour, nor do they.

New Zealand First and Winston Peters and Shane Jones will be the beneficiaries.

Little and his advisers were shocked by the rebellion. They knew some people would be unhappy. But they expected it to be dealt with in private.

Within hours of Little announcing he had secured Willie Jackson’s candidacy for the party list and would be promoting him for a winnable position, resistance began.

Little does look weak. He walked back every single one of his opening positions with Willie Jackson. The promise of a high list ranking, gone. Softening of position on charter schools, gone. Strong leadership and sorting out stroppy MPs, gone.

A statement by Christchurch East MP Poto Williams was followed by an open letter to the ruling NZ Council signed by at least 400 Labour Party members including three former women MPs, and a post by former MP Maryan Street taking a none-too-subtle swipe at Little’s call to parachute Jackson into the list.

All of these participants thought it was more important to “take a stand” than to succumb to the basics of party discipline in election year.

Little should have sacked Poto Williams from her spokesperson position, and censured her. Instead, he caved in and backed down under pressure from MPs. His tenure is done. The caucus knows now that Angry Andy is an illusion not backed up with any steel.

So what mistakes did Little make? Clearly Little and his advisers over-estimated the political capital he had built up within the party.

They thought he had earned enough respect for members to swallow a few big calls he might make for the good of the party.

The “captain’s call”, political vernacular for massive cock up the leader can’t blame on anyone else.

They over-estimated the left’s capacity for forgiveness. It doesn’t matter how many times Jackson apologises for a terrible radio interview he conducted three years ago, it doesn’t matter what else he has achieved at the Manukau Urban Maori Authority, that interview alone defines him in their eyes and he continues to be demonised as though he were an actual Roast Buster, as opposed to a talkback host.

How can Labour claim to represent fairness when its own members fail to practise it?

None does a knifing quite like the Labour party. The animosity is still there and this battle isn’t done yet.

Jackson is not likely to be a brilliant MP but getting him was a strategic coup for Little in the wider interests of the party.

It was necessary for Little to stand next to Jackson at the announcement in Waitangi to send a message to his party about what he expects, notwithstanding the fact there is a list-selection process to go through.

Jackson’s treatment by Labour has become a confidence issue for Little.

I wonder how Andrew Little can sell the story that Willie Jackson is more relevant now at 55 years old, than when he was last an MP in his forties,when he was hugely irrelevant as part of the Alliance. He was so insignificant then he was never a minister in the first Clark ministry.

Little’s promise to fight for a winnable Jackson of a “winnable” list position is more problematic, because what is and isn’t “winnable” will depend on polling at the time of the list-ranking by the moderation committee and which electorate seats are winnable.

What’s not winnable will be clear; what is winnable will be clear; if Jackson is placed only in the grey area, it will be seen as a failure by Little to deliver on his side of the agreement.

Labour would have to get over 35% in order for Willie Jackson to get even remotely near parliament. That is about as likely as a snowball lasting longer than 30 minutes in a carpark at the height of summer.

Whatever Labour decides to do with Jackson, it has already given the Government added ammunition with which to taunt Labour. Its tease is no longer just about cozying up to the Greens.

National can now say the party that has swung so far left, that the old comrades Matt McCarten, Laila Harre and Willie Jackson from the Alliance have come home.

Andrew Little can thank dirty politics coordinator Matt McCarten for the hard swing left. Donkey deep in orchestrating the dirty politics hit against me and National, he has now set about roping in all the failures of the Alliance and embedding them in the Labour party. I can’t wait for Jim Anderton to announce his return.

Let’s hope the pain continues and Maryan Street takes up her right to return to parliament on Labour’s list when Jacinda Ardern wins in Mt Albert.


– NZ Herald