By Ana Kailis
AUCKLAND — The emergence of the Alliance as a credible left force in New Zealand politics has left Labour with nowhere to go. With significant sections of its traditional working-class constituency now supporting the Alliance, and minority support for the populist right-wing New Zealand First party, Labour has had increasing difficulty in defining its own policy.
Some in Labour recognise this. On October 16, Labour ex-prime minister David Lange, standing for the traditionally safe seat of Mangere, was caught espousing Alliance policies.
"The only answer to those problems is to fund the social services publicly and make them free to everybody ... progressive income tax isn't a burden. For the great majority of the people it's the road to liberation", Lange said at the launch of his campaign.
"The trouble with any party that puts itself in the middle and tries to be all things to all people is that it ends up standing for nothing."
Lange's comments put him clearly at odds with the Labour leadership headed by Mike Moore, and have become a major embarrassment for the opposition. The policies of Labour for the election range from "no raising of the Goods and Services Tax" to scrapping the dole for everyone under 20 and definitely no progressive taxation.
Lange's statements reflect real fears within sections of Labour that if proportional representation comes in, Labour will find itself obsolete in the eye of the public. Support will either be for the Alliance on the left or National on the right, with some space for demagogues such as Winston Peters, leader of New Zealand First.
But according to Alliance leader Jim Anderton, Lange's comments are too little and too late. "It's an incredible indictment of Labour's present policies. That's 'vote Alliance', not 'vote Labour'. 'The poorest and the most vulnerable'? Where was this between 1984 and 1989, when he was prime minister?"
Labour in government brought in large scale privatisation, tax concessions to the rich, the GST, a doubling of the country's debt and a massive increase in unemployment. The result was not only the loss of government but a shrinking of Labour membership from 100,000 in 1984 to 10,000 today.
"We're representing Labour's electorate now", Anderton said, "the poor and the most vulnerable, the young and the old and the intelligent affluent with a social conscience."