Heather du Plessis-Allan: The Labour Party has a case of imposter syndrome


The Prime Minister would like you to believe there’s nothing much to see in Labour’s 10-point poll drop. It’s just “Covid fatigue”.

But – though that’s her preferred explanation – her words hint that there is another reason for that drop. Voters don’t feel Labour is listening to them at the moment.

That that is Labour’s real concern became obvious throughout the week, as the Prime Minister laboured the point in interview after interview that she does “listen”.

On Monday on the AM Show, she said: “I do listen. I do hear people… I hear people rather than just generic polls”. On Wednesday on RNZ, she said: “I hear that. My job is to hear”, followed by “I’ll constantly listen”. And variations of that cropped up in a media conference on Thursday.

The fact that she felt it necessary to repeat that message all week means she knows voters don’t agree with her. Most likely, Labour will be gleaning this from the incessant focus groups and polling they pay for.

There are any number of reasons voters might be angry – from the unpopular cycle bridge, to the unpopular ute tax, to the unpopular payment of nearly $3 million to a Mongrel Mob member.

But being cross doesn’t necessarily mean voters feel ignored. That only kicks in when voters see the Government refusing to back down on clearly unpopular ideas.

And this is where things get perplexing. Backing down on an obviously bad idea is a very simple political move. Sir John Key’s Government did it all the time. If they’d floated an idea that wasn’t ringing voters’ bells, they’d do a U-turn and frame it as listening to the people. Key sometimes did it many times in a single week.

But strangely Labour has refused to back away from most of its many clangers. The deeply unpopular wage freeze on police, nurses and teachers got talked down a bit but still very much remains in place. The ute tax is happening. The cycle bridge is starting to look a bit shaky, but no one in the Beehive is prepared to man up and confirm they’re canning it.

Why? Why refuse to simply admit getting it wrong when the public hates anything as much as they hate the Boomer Bike Bridge to Birkenhead? Why choose to instead push on and let unpopular, crap ideas pile up?

I suspect this lot have a case of imposter syndrome. They can’t admit they’re wrong on one thing in case it alerts the public to how badly wrong they themselves feel they are on many things.

While the Key/English Government had the confidence of winning the popular vote four times in a row and therefore knowing they understood Middle New Zealand, this Government doesn’t have that assurance.

They failed to win the popular vote in 2017. Then 2020 – even the Prime Minister admits – was a referendum on Covid. In neither election did voters endorse Labour’s ideas and plans (outside of Covid). They’ve never been given the assurance that they have the hearts of Middle New Zealand.

So, they’re choosing to “fake it till you make it”. But that pretence of being correct is leaving voters feeling ignored, because no matter how angry we are or how much we signal that we hate an idea, Labour carries on with it.

So far, the only idea they’ve (sort of) ditched is Phil Twyford’s light rail debacle. That should’ve taught Labour the value of admitting when you get something wrong.

In one of his first acts as new Transport Minister, Michael Wood sent the light rail officials back to the drawing board, admitting Aucklanders ‘felt shut out of the project’. It earned him praise across the political spectrum.

That should’ve been the template for the cycle bridge and the pay freeze at the very least.

Wheeling the Prime Minister out to say she’s here to ‘listen’ won’t cut it. They need to turn that listening into action and give some of their worst ideas the chop. Otherwise a 10-point drop is not the end of it.

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