Wednesday 6 November 2013

Two Out Of Three Ain't Enough

Number One Of Three: In David Cunliffe Labour now has a leader who is willing to be as radical as his party. Significantly, it is the third leg of the tripod - the Labour Caucus - which is visibly wobbling. The KiwiAssure policy is a worrying case in point. Radical in intent, radical in expression, but disappointingly conservative in execution.

LABOUR’S NEW “KIWIASSURE” policy neatly expresses the party’s current strengths and weaknesses.
At first blush it seems to represent a radical leftward lurch all the way back to the 1970s – as Economic Development Minister, Steven Joyce, gleefully pointed out. Upon closer examination, however, KiwiAssure, is considerably less than it seems.
Before being signed-off by the next Labour-led government, the proposed insurance company will have to pass what finance spokesperson, David Parker, calls a “business test”. Mr Parker also makes it clear that KiwiAssure will not come with a government guarantee.
Now, the average Labour supporter might well object: “What on earth is the point of a state-owned insurance company that will, in every respect that matters, be indistinguishable from its private sector competitors?”
Given the fate of AMI, that same voter might also ask what would motivate the ordinary Kiwi family to put its faith (not to mention its future financial security) in a state-owned insurer that not even its own creator is willing to stand behind?
Radical in its intent; radical in its expression; but deeply conservative in its execution: Kiwiassure is symbolic of a Labour Party whose three key components have yet to mesh together.
At the summit of the Labour Party stands its new leader and his hand-picked team of professional advisers. David Cunliffe has surrounded himself with men and women of considerable talent and experience. Not quite JFK’s Camelot, but certainly a reasonable approximation of Aaron Sorkin’s “The West Wing”.
Mr Cunliffe’s team, and the business people who have agreed to act as his sounding-boards, all display a rare willingness to embrace the radical visions of the “policy aggressor” Labour’s new leader is shaping-up to be.
This radical vision is answered overwhelmingly, and with undisguised enthusiasm, by the Labour Party’s rank-and-file branch members and trade union affiliates. Indeed these latter give Mr Joyce’s quip about the 1970s more than a little substance.
The eighth decade of the twentieth century represented the high-water mark of social-democracy in the post-war era. At the beginning of the 1970s, predictions of capitalism’s imminent demise did not seem at all exaggerated. By their end, social-democratic parties all around the world were in headlong retreat before the extraordinary force of the neoliberal counter-revolution.
As is so often the case with New Zealand, neoliberalism arrived here five years late and on the arm of the most unlikely of promoters. Sir Roger Douglas was also a policy aggressor, but unlike Mr Cunliffe, his aggression was informed by and implemented on behalf of the Right from a strategically pivotal position within a party of the Left.
That made Sir Roger and his followers the most dangerous cuckoos ever to take up residence in Labour’s nest, and it has taken the best part of 30 years to eradicate their legacy within the party organisation.
Observing the party closely since the departure of Helen Clark in 2008 has been a little like watching Rip Van Winkle rousing himself from twenty long years of slumber.
The radicalism which had built up such a head of steam in the Labour Party following the 1981 Springbok Tour, and which helped to generate the record 93.7 percent voter turnout at the 1984 snap election, was brought to a shuddering halt by Rogernomics.
But the civil wars of the 80s and 90s are over and the long reign of Queen Helen has ended. Radical political pressure in the rank-and-file’s boilers is again rising and David Cunliffe is ready to put it to good use.
Which leaves only the third component in Labour’s machine – the Caucus. At the conference just concluded a distressingly large number of Labour MPs put on a display of childish pique that bodes very ill for the party’s future.
This surly, sulking behaviour is driven by the fact that the caucus’s understanding of itself and its role has proved to be the most difficult legacy of Rogernomics to eradicate.
Before Rogernomics, Labour’s caucus arose almost organically from the party organisation: its values and the party’s values being both consistent and compatible. But the imposition of neoliberalism from within the framework of a left-wing political party radically recast the caucus’s role. Rogernomics required Labour MPs to overawe and repress the rank-and-file. Far too many Labour MPs still see their role as bringing the membership into line with their views.
And so we have KiwiAssure: a policy announced by a radical party leader; supported by a radical party membership; but whose final shape was dictated by the doubts and objections of a not at all radical Labour caucus. A caucus that still insists (albeit where neither its leader nor the party’s rank-and-file are listening in) that it knows best.
Meatloaf reckons that “two out of three ain’t bad”, but to win, all three of Labour’s moving parts must be in sync.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 5 November 2013.


Davo Stevens said...

Shades of the Napier Earthquake when the first Labour Govt. set up State Insurance and later NZI to compete with the private companies who immediately following the 'Quake by increasing their premiums 300%!

Will this one work? Remains to be seen and depends on how aggressive Cunliffe's bunch are.

newsworthy said...

What a number of commentators seem to overlook is that we (the State) already have an insurance company - its called EQC. And it is a complete dog, i suspect that is Cantabrians could take their money elsewhere they would. At least if Kiwiassure is an equal dog, people have the option of going elswhere. Sadly, people only realise how bad EQC is when they need to rely on it. I would prefer a government that regulates insurance companies to make them behave as we expect.

Kat said...

They will be, and you know it Chris.

Robert M 408 said...

The idea that Rogernomics was imposed by Douglas and a policy coup conducted by a small group within Treasury and the Reserve Bank is rather misleading.
In the late 1970s a small but quite wide group of individuals and institutions had come to favour a move towards a more open,liberal and individual society. The rise of Muldoon had rather suppressed these forces for a decade. But NZ cities and even provincial cities then had large groups of intelligent professionals that wanted more from life, and in Auckland and Wellington their was quite considerable moves in the late 1970s and early 1980s towards somewhat sophisticated bars and eateries.
I did a Masters degree at Canterbury in 1980s and in the Economic department and to a degree the political science department their were quite powerful forces that favoured very much more economically liberal policies. Even people now seen as opponents of Rogernomics like Brian Easton then favoured substantial liberalisation. Keith Ovenden was a significant figure in the Canterbury Political Science department and I gradually over the years came to conclusion that Keith isn't left at all. I read his book the "Politics of Steel" about Labours renationalisation of British steel several times, but it took me 30 years to realise its true significance. Keith Jackson was certainly an enthusiast for Market Change. And my tutor Mary Sparrow frequently, commented that Muldoon rejected most of what Treasury proposed.
Another factor was the Clark/ Anderton policy of selecting highly intelligent graduates as Labour candidates also undermined any belief in Labour tradition as universities in the 1970s took a far more traditional right wing view of society. Even in my early years at Otago my impression was their was as many left wing as right wingers in the History and PPolitics department in 75/76 .
Even South Island provincial cities in the late 1960s and 70s had far more intelligent and liberal social attitudes than the working class conservatism that dominated in Auckland today, and something like Rogernomics was inevitable. Having said that my view is the aim of Treasury and people like Kerr and Scott was to reduce the massive cost of Government, Public Transport and Industry protection to give NZ a more secure and sustainable economy rather than to introduce an advanced liberal society. In some senses enthusiasm for freedom , got out of control,with the momentum by Shipley's time apparently unstoppable.
The return to old fashioned NZ values was achieved more by the ultra conservatives =like Banks and Hubbard gaining power in Auckland, the STV electoral rort in Wellington that removed Prentergast and the Christchurch earthquake.
Ironically 9/11 and the momentum of NZers joy in a 24/7 society meant that Clarks time in office did not do much to reverse Rogernomics.

Patricia said...

Any new insurance company MUST come with a guarantee. EQC is not an insurance company. It was set up, I think in 1941, to provide the Insurance companies with, now, an excess of $100,000.00. We collectively have contributed to that since then. Even so the (private) insurance companies in Christchurch have now increased their premiums by, in some cases, 100%. I think most Cantabrians are very pleased to have EQC and not an excess of $100,000.00. My sister lives in Oklahoma. Oklahoma has been having a few earthquakes lately. Last night was 4.1. My sister has NO cover for an earthquake OR flooding. She is going to make enquiries to see if she can get cover. That will be interesting.

Anonymous said...

Baby boomers are the most self-centred generation in human history. They are doomed to forever remember their apotheosis--the mid-1980s--as the high water mark of culture, politics, economics and human history. Dissent from this historical orthodoxy is to be excluded from all culture, media, and the historical record. Amen.

Anonymous said...

Quoted from Chris' blog: "Before Rogernomics, Labour’s caucus arose almost organically from the party organisation: its values and the party’s values being both consistent and compatible. But the imposition of neoliberalism from within the framework of a left-wing political party radically recast the caucus’s role. Rogernomics required Labour MPs to overawe and repress the rank-and-file. Far too many Labour MPs still see their role as bringing the membership into line with their views."

Yes, I am glad you point this out, Chris, for too many aspiring Labour members wanting to become MPs, the party has become too much of a kind of "political career" path facilitator, for those that have achieved elite tertiary qualifications in law, business, education, and the likes.

I may add, that Cunliffe himself falls into that category, so we will have to wait and see as to how "genuine" his "passion" for more "social inclusion", egalitarianism, and truly "social democratic" policies will be.

I never expected anything else from what we see in most caucus members' behaviour. They see themselves as "elite" due to "expertise", "hard work", having "achieved" to be where they are, and they are simply the "knowing it better" persons up there, that have lost touch with too many ordinary people and members out in the public.

'Kiwi Assure' instantly struck me as a "show off" policy goal, as I saw right away, that this will place just one other insurer amongst the privately run ones we have, nothing else.

Kiwi Bank is also just another player in the banking world here, and while I welcome Kiwi Assure and other moves, like Kiwi Build, to be at least a move in the right direction, it must be viewed with great caution, what this will actually change.

"The Left" is still not where Labour is now, and I detect a clear aim at the "centre" voters who they wish to woo next election.

The members of the bulk of society themselves are now anyway so shaped by right wing thinking and "free market" conditions, they do not even know what "truly left policies" mean. Most work on individual contracts or are self employed, so few actually relate to unions and collectively organised work environments.

Individualism and consumerism still rule, and when policy is primarily created and pushed to please such interests, merely to offer "cheaper prices" and more "competition" for consumers, changing little else in a fundamental way, we will not have any real "game changer" within Labour at all.


Patricia said...

Thought you might be interested in the response from my sister's insurance company in Oklahoma USA as to what cover she could get for damage for earthquake
"Yes, the deductible is 28,500.00 and the yearly price is 227.00. It does not cover cracks in the walls caused by the earthquake. Only covers the rebuilding of the house if it is demolished. My home owners insurance covers wind (tornado) and hail and the deductible is 2000.00."

Anonymous said...

Robert M makes a good point. There was a huge appetite for change in 1984. There was agreement among economists, commentators and many politicians that the old order could not last, or be allowed to last, and that some forms of economic and social liberalism would be beneficial.
The old order collapsed with a rapidity that is astonishing in hindsight. Its defenders were few, and isolated. If Cunliffe is leading a similar revolution, he need hardly worry about sulking among the Labour caucus. Caucus in 1984 saw very quickly which way the wind was blowing.
The preconditions for economic and social upheaval were present in this country in 1984. It is hard to see similar circumstances in 2103. If Cunliffe has intellectual backing in the wider community, it isn’t yet obvious. His party is consumed by identity politics. The body politic is fragmented and the debate about economic and social inequality is coloured by race in a way it was not in the 1970s and 1980s. There is no wave coming to sweep Cunliffe and Labour to shore.

Anonymous said...

MC is correct. Though they might have said that this is all the result of massive right wing social engineering.