Wednesday, 5 March 2014

A Lurch To Sanity

Reaching For The Red Pill: David Cunliffe and Labour have a rapidly dwindling period of time in which to convince "Middle New Zealand" that its programme represents not a lurch to the left - but a lurch to sanity.

BOLDNESS IN POLITICS is rare. Major political moves are routinely pre-tested in focus groups and opinion polls before being announced. The untested, out-of-left-field appointment of Matt McCarten as David Cunliffe’s new chief-of-staff consequently caught New Zealand’s political class almost completely off-guard.
 
Nowhere was this more embarrassingly apparent than in the reaction of Helen Kelly, President of the Council of Trade Unions (CTU). Asked to comment on the rumour that McCarten was in line to replace Wendy Brandon as Cunliffe’s CoS, Kelly retorted that such an appointment was “highly unlikely”. (A spectacular demonstration of out-of-the-loop-ness which should dispel, if only for a moment, the right-wing notion that the Labour Party takes its marching orders from the CTU!)
 
Like all genuine coups (and make no mistake, McCarten’s appointment was very much an Independence Square moment for the Labour Opposition) Cunliffe’s decision has hit the fast-forward button on Labour’s internal politics. Just as well, really, because until last Wednesday it appeared to be operating in slow-motion.
 
Exactly how long McCarten’s galvanising influence will last, however, rests entirely in Cunliffe’s hands. The boldness of inviting this country’s leading left-winger to occupy the office next to the Leader of the Opposition’s does require some explanation.
 
Not, of course, to the Labour voters who sat out the 2011 election on the grounds that the party’s parliamentary team really didn’t seem to have their hearts in the fight. They will have “got” McCarten’s appointment instantaneously and it will have cheered them up no end.
 
Can the same be said of the middle-class professional or the small business owner?
 
It is Middle New Zealand that needs to hear the reasons why the appointment of the “hard left” McCarten is not, in the words of political journalist, John Armstrong: “confirmation that Labour is shifting markedly and permanently to the left under Cunliffe's leadership”. And, if it is, why they should not be feeling afraid – very afraid?
 
In framing an answer to that question, Cunliffe could do a lot worse than let himself be guided by McCarten’s own response to the Prime Minister’s insinuation that his appointment represents a lunatic lurch to the Left.
 
“I’m bemused that the Prime Minister calls my appointment in a non-policy-making role a lurch to the left […] When did it become so outrageous to call for the hourly minimum wage to be raised to $15, or argue that the breadwinners of a family deserve a living wage for a decent day’s work? When does affordable housing for all, a decent job and support for families to support children get a good start in life become so unreasonable?”
 
For practically the whole of its democratic history, New Zealand has been the home of what one French visitor called “socialism without doctrines”. Beginning with the Liberal Party in the 1890s, most New Zealand politicians (including a number of right-wing leaders like the Reform Party’s Gordon Coates and National’s Keith Holyoake) have looked to the state – as the only reliable possessor of the resources and expertise required to develop a very lightly populated country – to take the lead in nation-building.
 
New Zealand’s relatively tiny population probably also explains its inhabitants’ longstanding hostility to entrenched economic inequality and the social injustices that follow in its wake. New Zealanders insist that every citizen be given a “fair go” and that their access to education, health-care and a decent place to live should not be determined by the size of their bank balance. The ravages of the Great Depression added a job, a living wage and the maintenance of a social welfare safety-net to this list of things that every Kiwi has to have.
 
In many countries default policy-settings of such collective generosity would be condemned as  “socialist”, and fiercely resisted. But, between 1890 and 1984 large-scale state involvement in the New Zealand economy and the provision of universal social services became the equivalent of our political wallpaper.
 
Cunliffe’s challenge is to make middle-class New Zealanders understand that it is not the policy package of a Labour Party determined to return to roots that they have to fear, but the extreme policy prescriptions of the neoliberal Right. He needs to explain that between 1983 and 2013, the policies which caused the number of Kiwi kids living below the poverty line to nearly double were not the policies of Richard Seddon, Mickey Savage or even Rob Muldoon, but of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.
 
It was the policies of the latter (and, yes, Cunliffe needs to acknowledge that one of them was a Labour finance minister) that were “outrageous”. That it was the sudden and utterly unmandated lurch towards neoliberalism that unleashed the economic and social madness of the last thirty years.
 
To win, Cunliffe must convince voters that Labour’s “lurch to the Left” is actually a long-delayed lurch to sanity.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 4 March 2014.

18 comments:

Jigsaw said...

Little chance of David Cunliffe convincing the general public of
anything at the moment. With his current rate of stumbles he is well on track to be replaced after Labour loses the coming election. For a man billed as being so smart he is hiding it extremely well!

Kat said...

It could be that the majority of the voting electorate is like a possum in the headlights and that lurching in any direction is now seemingly impossible.

Key seems to have this 'stay stunned' hold down to a fine art, especially the MSM. Cunliffe's challenge is to break that hold. Matt's appointment is designed to do that, at ground level.

Brendan McNeill said...

The problem Labour faces is that even the socialists at the Salvation Army are admitting the social indicators are improving under National's watch.

From Lindsay Mitchell's recent blog post:

The report acknowledges creditable progress in some areas of social wellbeing...The Salvation Army gives the thumbs up to an improvement in Maori participation in early childhood education, a drop in infant mortality, reducing teenage pregnancy rates, a reduction in overall criminal offending, a drop in unemployment and a reduction in the per capita spend on gambling.

Whereas in 2008 after nine years of Labour Government, the same report said:

The social outcomes which we as New Zealanders have achieved over the past five years are somewhat mixed and in some areas quite disappointing.More of our children appear to be at risk of harm, more of our young people are engaged in petty crime, there is more violent crime and more people in our jails. None of these trends can be seen as progress.

Only Kiwis who value a failed ideology over improved practical outcomes will vote Labour in the coming election.

Kat said...

@ Brendan
"Only Kiwis who value a failed ideology over improved practical outcomes will vote Labour in the coming election"

Trouble is in comparing the Helen Clark years and Key you are comparing govts with the same basic neo-liberal ideology. The next Labour govt will be markedly different.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I like to read the full report before I respond to any quote by Lindsay Mitchell, who is quite capable of cherry picking. So I might get back to you on that Brendan.
Interesting though, I was canvassed by the Labour Party yesterday. For the first time in 30 bloody years. He very politely listened to why I refuse to vote labour, and seemed even a little sympathetic, though he was hardly likely to tell me to fuck off I suppose. Interesting though, it's boots on the ground that get labour into power rather than money I suspect. So maybe this is a good sign.

Jan said...

Did you read this bit, Brendan, or only the selection a right wing press chose to feed out to the lazy and/or naïve? Or did you do this cherry picking yourself?
"However, The Salvation Army remains deeply concerned that, despite increased
media attention and political activity in the areas of housing and child poverty
in the past year, little has been achieved in reducing the rates and incidence of
child poverty and our housing situation appears to have got worse. These two
issues appear to have become perennial challenges for New Zealand, and as yet
there are no signs that we are making any progress. They can be seen as timebomb
issues. The impact of not having effective policies that achieve real change
in these areas will inevitably affect the future of our children and grandchildren.
This failure marks us as a society without sufficient passion to care for our
children and their families".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

As I thought. Cherry-picked. :-).

Davo Stevens said...

@ Surgeon; cherries are in demand this election year!

@ Kat; I will reserve judgement on whether Labour is going to be really different. They must get their funding from the same sources as the Nats. So they won't want to scare the horses too much.

As for the Sallie's Report, they are correct but it's a problem that is not unique to just NZ. Obama waffles on about in-equality but is not doing a damned thing about it, Cameron is the same and doing the same, even Tzar Vlad is doing nothing about the infrastructure or poverty in Russia that is collapsing all around him. He doesn't drive on the roads, he uses a helicopter to get around. So he doesn't see the conditions that so many there have to live in.

Teflon John has blinkers on too.

The Flying Tortoise said...

I hope you're right. Another good post Chris, thankyou...

Nic the NZer said...

As usual Brendan doesn't have a defence for his deception. If the fact that Lindsay Mitchell spouts ideological drivel came as a surprise he might be concerned about spreading miss-information, clearly he has signed up for it.

andrewmahon1234 said...

Another hit-and-run from Brendan. Making extremist pronouncements then gapping the scene.

markus said...

I have a horrible feeling it will be thus:

2014 Election Result

Nat 45%, Lab 32.5%, Green 12.5%, NZF 6.5%

Right Bloc 47%
Left Bloc 46%

NZ First holds the balance of power, Winnie becomes Minister of Foreign Affairs in a third-term Key Government.

Loz said...

During the Great Depression the president of the NZ Labour party argued that we must adopt the view that the market is inadequate to satisfy the peoples' needs and aspirations. Labour’s strength developed from crystallising opposition to the unavoidable inequality and injustice that predator capitalism produces.

Matt McCarten’s appointment to a Labour leadership position is a surprise because it’s an unmistakable rejection of the free market / free trade agenda that’s maintained noticeable threads of support within the parliamentary team. It provides the possibility that Labour may be able to construct a coherent platform as an alternative to the market agenda and such a platform can start to convince the hundreds of thousands of non-voting kiwis that the party is fundamentally opposed to National instead of being parodied as National lite.

It takes a willful ignorance to believe the “market mechanism” is compatible with any of the cherished values of fairness, equality or security that we expect government to promote. This is an opportunity for Labour to return to message and start the campaign of bringing back the non-voting supporters it has lost.

Jan said...

Well said, Loz - a chance for us all to come in from the wilderness

Kat said...

@ markus

Labour should do better than 32.5% and National could do less than 45%.

I believe the unknown is just how the Greens and NZ First will actually fare on the day.

It will come down to the party vote and Labour needs a better party vote than last time to form the next govt. Labour could manage 36% on the day. Feet on the ground will prove the difference.

james mc donald said...

Every Kiwi be given a fair go.Tell that to the majority employers paying the minimum wage begrudged by most, as a ever increasing casual exploited wasted damaged by rules of usury.

Chris,put away the text book and guitar, unless you can tune the guitar to a more Kiwi bite of the sav.

jh said...

He needs to explain that between 1983 and 2013, the policies which caused the number of Kiwi kids living below the poverty line to nearly double were not the policies of Richard Seddon, Mickey Savage or even Rob Muldoon, but of Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson.

Savings Working Group
January 2011
“The big adverse gap in productivity between New Zealand and other countries opened up from the 1970s to the early 1990s. The policy choice that increased immigration – given the number of employers increasingly unable to pay First-World wages to the existing population and all the capital requirements that increasing populations involve – looks likely to have worked almost directly against the adjustment New Zealand needed to make and it might have been better off with a lower rate of net immigration. This adjustment would have involved a lower real interest rate (and cost of capital) and a lower real exchange rate, meaning a more favourable environment for raising the low level of productive capital per worker and labour productivity. The low level of capital per worker is a striking symptom of New Zealand’s economic challenge.

http://www.treasury.govt.nz/publications/reviews-consultation/savingsworkinggroup/pdfs/swg-report-jan11.pdf

"Although Singapore is ranked the third-richest country in the world, not all its citizens have benefited from its economic successes. While its super-rich parties at Pangaea, the world’s most expensive club, and sips its $26,000 cocktails, wages have only marginally increased for Singapore’s low-income groups and housing prices have reached record highs. Rogers, however, argues that limiting immigration will only worsen Singapore’s problems, “if Singapore cannot get enough labor, it will have to raise wages. Inflation will rise and Singapore might price itself out of the market over the next few years.” Drawing from historical examples, he adds that citizens in every country have always blamed immigrants for their problems."
http://www.forbes.com/sites/davidyin/2013/06/06/singapore-needs-immigrants-says-jim-rogers/

"What the audience gathered at the Hornby Working Men's Club deserved to hear from Shearer was an acknowledgement that Labour's challenges are specific and immediate. To raise incomes by re-empowering working people and redistributing wealth.

To make New Zealand a place where the diversity of its population is a source of strength and pride, not an opportunity for mistrust and division. To create a community of values, where loyalty is owed not to flags - but to principles. "
http://www.stuff.co.nz/the-press/opinion/columnists/chris-trotter/7849085/Without-immigrants-economy-would-stall

and where did worker power come from Chris? What are the principles of which you speak/
Why do you call NZ's population "relatively tiny". This is the meme employed by the sprawl lobby ("there's room for many a more")?

Robert M said...

Cunliffe had his most impassioned or notorious, sounds rather like the 1935 Huey Long. Although the 35 Long sounds the real thing. Some say, Huey Long and his Louisiana was a inchoate Mussolini and a fascist state. Others regarded Huey Long as essentially a street thug and intimidating orator , rather in the style of EMK. The intimidating bull nature of former Harvard Gridiron star < Ted Kennedy was very present in the famous 1994 senate contest with Mitt Romney, and in those debates, it pays to understand Kennedy is speaking before a parital audience selected by Union thugs at the door. Cunliffe was of course a significant member of the EMK team in the most desperate fight for the Kennedy politics. DEspite the boyish ingenuity of some of the Romney nature and comment, in the truth of the argument I regard him as likely to have been a better President than any Kennedy, Bush or Obama.