Monday, March 08, 2004

When Small ‘c’ becomes Capital ‘P’

I’m starting to get a little worried about Labour. It seemed pretty clear from the beginning that its response to the Court of Appeal’s decision regarding the Marlborough Sound was a little hysterical. You have to wonder not ‘what were they thinking’ but were they thinking at all?

Or perhaps they thought that they could afford to pick a fight with Maori and force through some short-sighted and fundamentally flawed legislation. That makes sense to me. Only a few short months ago, Labour was high in the polls and National was nowhere in sight. Columnist Colin James wrote that Labour’s strength was its ability to govern as a small ‘c’ party precisely because it lacked any real opposition. Now that it is faced with a popular National leader, that comfortable small ‘c’ conservatism has begun to climb the alphabet into capital ‘P’ for panic.

And Pugilism. Although Clark’s Hikoi of Hope speech appeared to move Labour back to the terrain of the left, the conservative Cullen undermined any warm feelings for Labour from progressives, activists and Maori by attacking the Waitangi Tribunal. We have to remember that warm feelings among these groups are pretty important for a good election campaign. Activists, both party and those just outside, are the engines of any political campaign. These days they are almost more important than anything else. Party activists need to be motivated by something other than just staying in power. I don't think that trashing Maori and the Waitangi Tribunal is going to help much in this department.

As No Right Turn has commented, Cullen’s criticims of the Waitangi report into government’s seabed and foreshore legislation are seriously flawed. But it’s worse than that. It is simply not appropriate for a minister to condemn a finding of the Tribunal in such terms. Just in terms of the optics, who was the idiot who gave Cullen that message box? Talk about challenges, speak about ‘important issues’ or better yet, shut up. Because Cullen has made trashing the Tribunal a legitimate exercise. Now Nelson Mayor Paul Matheson can look relatively sane when he comes out slinging at the Tribunal, calling it a ‘Kangaroo Court.’

It makes me wonder about dissension in Labour. Not the dissension of Maori M.P.'s, but between Labour's left and right. Already, rightists are feeling miffed by the recent cabinet shuffle which appeared to favour the left wing. For Cullen to come out so strongly against the Waitangi Tribunal with such a poor understanding of its findings can only undermine Clark's efforts at reconciliation and force her to the right. Is Cullen merely flexing his muscles or is he trying to undermine Clark's position in the face of the first bad polls in years for her Labour government? If so, I think it's a bad idea.