Earning trust

The Labour Party Opposition and its leader are enjoying low support, as measured by opinion polls, and seem unable to gain any political "traction" on any issue for long.

Mr Goff is a pleasant enough chap, not notably charismatic, and cut largely from the same dogged cloth as his predecessor but with stronger links to Labour's working-class origins.

The parliamentary team he leads is shy on obvious talent and too obsessed with points-scoring to obtain the lasting interest of most voters.

Recent activity in the House during question time by leading members of the Labour Party has been petty almost beyond belief.

If its members are still shell-shocked by being kicked out of office after nine years of enjoying its full fruits, then it is time - to use the vernacular - they "got a grip".

Voter support will return to Labour, but it will have to be earned.

One reason delaying its return is the question of trust.

There were sufficient numbers of dodgy practices by Labour when in government to help speed the party's exit from power; any attempted repetition of that behaviour so early in its term of Opposition should be a dominating concern of Mr Goff and his colleagues.

In this regard, the sorry spectacle this week of former minister Rick Barker admitting his role in a recent deception should see his removal to the very end of Labour's list when the time comes, joined there by Labour's whip, Darren Hughes.

Mr Barker, who earned few plaudits after being elevated to the Clark government's executive, was discovered to have managed the running of a private telephone opinion poll for the party on October 14 by instructing volunteer staff to use false names and claim they were calling from a company that no longer exists.

They were reportedly not to disclose they were working for the Labour Party.

When initially questioned by reporters, Mr Barker replied that he did not know what they were talking about.

He later agreed to journalists that he had encouraged the use of false names by callers, to make them feel more comfortable "cold-calling".

It might be thought that such behaviour is dishonest or at the very least deceptive, but not according to the man responsible for parliamentary party discipline, Mr Hughes.

He defended the use of false names, for callers to not identify that they were representing the Labour Party, and for the use of a long-defunct company name "Data Research" to give the impression to recipients of calls that a scientific result was being sought.

At least Mr Goff thought the method of polling was a mistake and has assured that it will not happen again.

But this also appears to be another example of Labour's misuse of parliamentary funds, something for which the Clark government earned a large degree of notoriety.

Mr Barker's poll was carried out from his parliamentary offices using funds legitimately allocated to Mr Goff for policy polling which is usually conducted by professional polling companies.

Mr Barker's polling was for partisan party purposes.

Mr Barker, giving the impression on Tuesday of being roasted slowly over the barbecue of undeniable fact, said his intention was "never to deceive", arguing that if those making the calls had said they were from Labour, people might not have answered honestly.

Labour's tactic when adverse reports are aired has been to keep Mr Goff well out of sight and this has been the case with Mr Barker's economy with the notion of integrity - as it has been when some other senior members, including Trevor Mallard and Chris Carter, have needed their leader's public guidance on their behaviour.

It is hardly good enough for a party hoping to rebuild the confidence of voters in it, let alone acquire the trust required to be elected to government.

Unsurprisingly, the Market Research Society and the Association of Market Research Organisations have expressed their concern for what they describe as "the unethical and misleading activities of the New Zealand Labour Party" and are demanding an apology from Mr Barker.

Parliament itself should seek a similar response, since Mr Barker is also assistant Speaker, and that high office does not sit well with practices that are unethical, misleading, untrustworthy and false.


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