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Monday, December 15, 2008

Election result - lesson for Labour

The problem was two-fold: 5-6% of the middle-ground voters swung back to National, and the Labour message (and record) did not inspire a greater turnout from the working class.

Unsatisfactory Labour Party organisation in many of the working class seats was at least partly responsible for the latter factor.

The 74.7% turnout of all eligible voters in 2008 was down from 76.5% in 2005. This 1.8% drop in turnout represented 56,500 less votes. (The equivalent figures for turnout of enrolled voters were 78.4% in 2008 compared with 80.3% in 2005 - a drop of 1.9%.)

In 2005 it was the extra turnout in the safe Labour seats (like those in South Auckland) that was the difference between winning and losing for Labour. In November's election the slump back to 2002 levels of turnout, combined with the swing to National, meant the end of nine-years of Labour-led government.

Jack Vowles, New Zealand’s pre-eminent election expert, concluded in a 2002 article that the decline in voter turnout evident since the heyday of the 1938-45 period (when over 90% of all eligible voters would get to the polling booths), and the brief revival in 1984 (over 85% turnout), is a result of “weaker party identifications and reduced party campaign contact”.

Political parties, and particularly the Labour Party, have lost their organic connection with the people who make up the electorate that votes them in or out. They no longer have as much direct personal contact with the voters as used to be the case.

The statistical and survey data presented by Vowles revealed that better “organisational mobilisation” by political parties results in higher voter turnout. The “recovery of party organisations and the revival of individual loyalties to political parties” is the key.

I was working on the election campaign as the Political Co-ordinator for the Service and Food Workers Union (SFWU) during the months leading up to the election. Our campaign showed that over 80% of SFWU members supported Labour. The SFWU has maintained a sense of loyalty to the Labour Party among its members that is not mirrored elsewhere in society, possibly not even in other Labour-affiliated unions.

The Labour Party needs to revive itself as a grass-roots mass working class party if it wants to increase its voter turnout in its heartland seats. The Party Branch and other organisational structures have to become the means of reaching tens of thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people, who need to be brought up to a level of party loyalty and identification that matches that already attained in the SFWU. Unions like the SFWU can be the crucial catalyst that enables this to begin to happen.

1 comment:

richard mcgrath said...

Len I think voters were just sick of being told what to do by helen Clark, and many voted National without realising they will be getting more of the same interference in their lives from their elected representatives.