Wednesday, 14 October 2015

Flouting The Rules: Why Has Andrew Little Rejected A Winning TPPA Strategy For A Guaranteed Loser?

Flouting Common Sense: Labour members have a right to know why it was that the obvious (and potentially winning) strategy of joining with the Greens and NZ First to campaign against the TPPA was jettisoned without the slightest input from either the Caucus or the Party, and replaced with a policy guaranteed to submerge the Labour Opposition in a self-inflicted deluge of derision and shame.
 
THE STRATEGY SEEMED SO OBVIOUS: Seize upon the one issue around which the three principal opponents of the Key Government could unite and win the 2017 election. The Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement (TPPA) was not only philosophical Kryptonite to Labour, the Greens and NZ First, but, once ratified, it would constitute a position from which National and its allies could not retreat. John Key, the master of the policy flip-flop and the 180 degree emergency hand-brake turn, could not resile from or repudiate the TPPA. Not without losing face – and credibility – in front of the whole world. Meanwhile, Labour, the Greens and NZ First would march to victory on a road paved with the TPPA’s odious concessions and unreasonable expectations.
 
Labour and the Greens are reforming parties, as is, in its own strange fashion, NZ First. The TPPA is designed to prevent political parties from reforming anything. That is why, philosophically-speaking, the agreement is Kryptonite to all except those parties dedicated to advancing the Neoliberal cause.
 
When John Key and the Trade Minister, Tim Groser, reassure New Zealanders that they can’t envisage any circumstances where the Investor/State Disputes Settlement (ISDS) provisions would be enforced against a New Zealand government, they are, in a dishonest sort of way, telling the truth. A National-led government is never likely to renationalise the banks and insurance companies; establish a NZ Residential Construction Authority, strengthen organised labour; introduce tough new measures against climate change; clean up our rivers and streams; or revitalise public broadcasting. So what possible reason would the big transnational corporations have to invoke the ISDS provisions of the TPPA against it?
 
But a Labour-Green-NZ First coalition government, pledged to implement every one of the above policy initiatives, would constitute a clear and present danger to the profits of transnational capital. Resolving the resulting ISDS claims, brought against it under the TPPA, would cost a reforming New Zealand Government tens – quite possibly hundreds – of millions of dollars. In other words, you can have a Labour-Green-NZ First government dedicated to meaningful social and economic reform, or, you can have the TPPA, but you can’t have both.
 
The question Labour Party members need to ask themselves, now, is both quite simple and quite scary: “Is our party still committed to meaningful social and economic reform?” Because, if Labour remains a party dedicated to the uplift and empowerment of the marginalised and exploited members of our society, then it cannot possibly accept the TPPA in its current form. And yet, Labour’s current leader, Andrew Little, speaking on Radio New Zealand’s Morning Report on Tuesday, 13 October 2015, declared the TPPA to be something that Labour “is not in a position to oppose”. The National Government, he said, had “committed” New Zealand to the TPP. So, it simply “doesn’t matter what we say and do” because “we’ve got what we’ve got”.
 
It is difficult to interpret those words in any other way than as a declaration that Labour does not intend to fight the 2017 General Election on the issues of national sovereignty; the health of our democracy; citizens’ rights in the workplace; environmental sustainability; the state provision of affordable housing; or a comprehensive reform of the news media. Nor does Mr Little appear to either understand or endorse the obvious strategy of building a united electoral front around these issues. A strategy which would, simultaneously, highlight the role the TPPA would play in corporate attempts to stymie such profit-threatening reforms.
 
Not that Mr Little was without a strategy on Tuesday morning. His proposed way of dealing with the TPPA was to see it ratified; to assist the National Government in bringing New Zealand’s laws into conformity with its provisions; and then, upon becoming the Government, simply “flout” all those TPPA rules which conflict with his government’s plans.
 
As a gift to Labour’s political opponents, this strategy is hard to beat. No responsible political party loudly announces to the world that, if it wins office, no other nation should place the slightest trust in their country’s solemnly given word. Such behaviour would turn this country into an international pariah.
 
Not that it’s likely to happen. From now until the 2017 election, National will use Mr Little’s words to shred Labour’s political credibility. Not only that, but Little’s decision to “flout” will also allow Mr Key to present New Zealand’s adherence to the TPPA as a matter of national honour. Labour will be made to look like an untrustworthy bunch of thieves and liars.
 
Among the many problems associated with Mr Little’s performance on Tuesday morning was the fact that it took place several hours prior to the scheduled meeting of Labour’s parliamentary caucus – the first at which the previous week’s settlement of the TPPA could be debated. On the strength of discussions held the night before with his own advisors and the group (Phil Goff, Annette King, Grant Robertson and David Shearer) who’d accompanied him to a special, 2-hour, TPPA briefing session, organised by Trade Minister Groser, the Caucus’s agreed position on the TPPA (that it would not be endorsed if it failed to meet five carefully worded and non-negotiable conditions) was effectively overturned, and the new policy of “flouting” the TPPA adopted.
 
Aspects of Groser’s special briefing raise several more worrying questions. Why was it not arranged to take place at a time when Labour’s shadow Attorney-General and spokesperson on trade and export growth, David Parker, could attend? Why was Andrew Little, on holiday for the previous week, not given time to catch his breath before being thrown in to such an important meeting? Was there contact between Goff, King and Shearer and Groser’s team in the run-up to the Tuesday briefing? And, finally, was any attempt made to involve the NZ Council of the Labour Party, or members of the party’s Policy Council, in discussions preparatory to the Tuesday briefing – or the change of policy that followed it?
 
Labour members have a right to know why it was that the obvious (and potentially winning) strategy of joining with the Greens and NZ First to campaign against the TPPA was jettisoned without the slightest input from either the Caucus or the Party, and replaced with a policy guaranteed to submerge the Labour Opposition in a self-inflicted deluge of derision and shame.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 14 October 2015.

24 comments:

peter petterson said...

If Andrew is wrong, Labour votes will go to NZ First. Not the Greens because they have already lost whatever credibilty they had. Simple as that.

Tiger Mountain said...

unless something unexpected or unprecedented happens the “leftovers” from ’84 plus Nash and Shearer have nobbled Labour’s chances for 2017, just as they ‘fixed’ a chance for two extra non Nat MPs via Internet Mana in 2014 by joining in another unholy alliance with Mr Key re Te Tai Tokerau seat

I hope if just for the sake of historical accuracy Chris questions are answered about the procedures followed and people consulted on this appalling flip flop, not that one necessarily expects social democracy to play it straight in a tight spot as the early 20th century Russian Revolution and German uprisings showed, but one would have thought even out of the sheer opportunism of perhaps wanting to get elected they would have stuck to the mild 5 points scenario at least till the TPP text is revealed and or US Congress voted

a sidenote; Mr Little did not attend the official launch last week of E tū the merged EPMU and SFWU organisation which was poor form by a recent ex union leader of the EPMU

Anonymous said...

Labour themselves have 'flouted' their own 'bottom lines' as you state, they now say they will 'flout' the TPPA when they are government. Key and Co will have field days on this until the election. Winston will also jump on Labour, given his position on TPPA. Little should either clearly state "no we do not support TPPA" or "yes we do support TPPA" he would have got overwhelming support for a "no". I have a hard time understanding Labours strategy though I suspect that Little is trying to please all factions, but in the end will please none. It could be a disaster for the Labour Party. If Little does not stop this nonsense quickly he will get challenged for leadership. I believe Shearer will do the challenging and I understand he has considerable support. Shearer, Goff and quite a few others know you cannot 'flout' when you are the government of a nation within TPPA, unfortunately Andrew Little does not. Little also fails to understand that the membership requires clarity to them in his public statements, that clarity, would of course also be clarity to the voting public. Little is showing the nation he is a political neophyte. A good article.

David db said...

Jesus Chris, "..the Greens are (a)reforming parties," ??

db..

pat said...

good article..as you state the obvious, why then is it not obvious to the Labour shadow cabinet and strategists?...this will harm the chances of the neolibs being voted out greatly...hard to fathom.

Oliver Woods said...

I can only presume Little thinks he is acting like a Government in waiting by cosying up to pro-globalisation corporate interests and the US Government. He's an idiot for doing so - New Zealand First & the Greens will reap rewards as the last remaining parties in New Zealand that aren't yoked to neo-liberalism.

Anonymous said...

Stephanie says;

To Oliver Woods especially. I agree. I'm sure I'm not the only left vote Labour's lost from this.

J Bloggs said...

Because Labour still has the same policy strategists, advisory teams, and media management people that have been supporting Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe, and now Andrew Little.The issue du jour changes, but the same old problems keep cropping up.

Labour clearly has issues that originate further down the hierarchy than the leaders office, but instead of addressing those problems, all Labour keeps doing is putting a different face on it.

Wayne Mapp said...

Chris,

Just so I understand this post and also your previous post, are you suggesting that Labour should commit to withdrawing from TPP? You don't quite directly say that, but if this is intended to be a tri-party 2017 election campaign strategy that is what I infer from it.

As I have noted elsewhere, it is one thing to oppose TPP for the present, but quite another to commit to withdraw. Without that commitment it is hard for me to see how this fits into a campaign strategy for an election two years away. Won't public interest have simply moved on and be more focused on other things, such as the state of the economy in 2017, and their prospects within it.

TPP will not have the same resonance as for instance a commitment to repeal the ECA, such as Labour had in 1999. That issue seems to be much more at the core of what it means to be Labour, than does TPP and had a much more direct effect on people's daily work.

Nick R said...

Your strategy does not seem obvious to me. I know it is a tenet on the left that there is a massive groundswell of opposition to the TPP. But outside the echo chambers of twitter, the Standard, etc, I just don't see that. If it was such an unpopular policy, the Government's polling would be in freefall, and it aint.

I think most people, particularly in the centre ground either buy the argument that TPP is benign and will help the economy, or just don't care. We have had years of Prof Kelsey and co crying wolf and yet still I don't really see what is so dreadful about the TPP or why Labour should oppose it. How exactly will we be better off outside the TPP trading block? I think Helen Clark got it right, and that Andrew Little is taking the right course of action - albeit with clear difficulty because so many in his party have this idea that TPP is bad, mm'kay.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah you're back I see Wayne. How's Afghanistan treating you?

JanM said...

For Andrew Little to do more than express disquiet on the subject of the TPPA would be a waste of his energies. The whole thing will be a fait accompli by the time of the next elections, and as he so rightly points out, all a Labour government will be able to do is try to deal with the issues arising when the time comes.
I'm sure many people who have become used to 'sound-bites' rather than reasoned argument would like to see him howling one-liners - especially the MSM who can no longer be bothered to analyse whole sentences, but in the long run that is neither valid nor sensible and could come back to bite him much more severely than the current perceptions of his prevarication.

Anonymous said...

If the TPP is so dreadful why would Helen Clark have said it is unthinkable to not be part of a pact which includes 40% of the world economy and growing.

Is our most successful Labour leader in living memory corrupt, bought and sold, deluded and deranged, or could it be that this most astute of politicians and one who undoubtedly loves her country actually believes what she was saying.

Helen Clark won elections, three of them, that carries weight for those of us who understand that you achieve nothing in opposition. Andrew Little understands this too which is precisely why he is rolling over - wisely on this issue.

To win power Labour needs to take votes from national, the missing million is a gimcrack fantasy of the hard left, power comes from the middle and in the short term the middle will be revolted by the idea of withdrawing from a trade based treaty with almost half the world.

In the long term (days, weeks, months) the TPP will be forgotten and we will be back to the usual tranche of median voter concerns: affordable housing and public services etc.

Time to move onto something relevant to the 95% - lets talk rugby world cup, it keeps the 95% up at night, when the TPP puts them all to sleep.

Bushbaptist said...

I first gave Andy a bit of slack but now I can see that he is no different from the rest of the Rightwing Socialists.

The TPPA should never be signed off as it is, it's corporate take-over of ours and others sovereignty and if anyone can't see that then they are thicker than piggy-pooh! Andy has to stop sitting on the fence and do something for ordinary Kiwis who are struggling instead of pandering to the rich and infamous.

As GS put it elsewhere, there ain't no free lunch and there ain't no "Free" market. The market panders to one group at the expense all the rest. Currently it is pandering to the wealthy at the expense of the rest of hardworking Kiwi's.

greywarbler said...

Chris
Wayne is being very helpful and offering quiet words of rationality to cool your fevered brow.

I too might be helpful in this discussion as I am just starting to read the two volumes of the diaries of Sir James Hacker. He has undertaken a full and frank record of events, ideas and procedures from his time as PM.

And something may come to light there that is relevant to our TPP tritty. In fact, very likely, because in quality television relating to real life politics and business the writers are deeply immersed in the background of their subject. They, in one series, were so uncomfortably close to real-life happenings that an episode had to be cancelled. This was an indication of their fine ability to consider scenarios and make informed forecasts of likely future events. So I may be as helpful as Wayne, even more so!

pat said...

it would appear that Wayne,Nick and Jan see this as an issue around whether the TPP is perceived as good,bad or indifferent whereas I as a potential Labour voter (emphasise potential) see the problem as one of reliability which goes to the heart of everything Labour will say and do from this point on......if the shadow cabinet and strategists had determined they were not going to oppose or revoke the TPP should it be agreed then they made a monumental error in promoting their 5 bottom lines.

Obvious? I would have thought so.

Nick J said...

Im going to find Wayne difficult to separate out from Jim Hacker from now on, fabulous.

Anonymous said...

Looks like Chris has hit big pay dirt with this post, for those of you who wont walk on the dark side, heres what National affiliated David Farrar says of this post - and its not good news for mr Little:

Not that Mr Little was without a strategy on Tuesday morning. His proposed way of dealing with the TPPA was to see it ratified; to assist the National Government in bringing New Zealand’s laws into conformity with its provisions; and then, upon becoming the Government, simply “flout” those TPPA rules which conflict with his government’s plans.

As a gift to Labour’s political opponents, this strategy is hard to beat. No responsible political party loudly announces to the world that, if it wins office, no other nation should place the slightest trust in their country’s solemnly given word. Such behaviour would turn this country into an international pariah.

Farrar comments: Yep.It may be the stupidest thing he has said.

Not that it’s likely to happen. From now until the 2017 election, National will use Mr Little’s words to shred Labour’s political credibility. Not only that, but Little’s decision to “flout” will also allow Mr Key to present New Zealand’s adherence to the TPPA as a matter of national honour. Labour will be made to look like an untrustworthy bunch of thieves and liars.

Farrar comments: In the House on Wednesday, Labour had only one question on TPP, and National had three. This shows that National thinks Labour is in deep trouble over what Little has said.

Chris Im guessing you've got mixed feelings about being spot on with respect to this.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous,1415, Chris can answer himself about his feelings, I believe both Chris's and David Farrar's posts show different but equal amounts of disgust at Andrew Little's stance and standards. Bravo to both.

mjh said...

Labour has sadly but predictably wimped out on this issue. NZ First is the only party that is firmly opposed to TPPA on principle.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Er... principle might JUST be a trifle strong when applied to Winston :).

Anonymous said...

Guerilla Surgeon , surely you do not doubt that Winston is a man of high principle, utterly uninterested in the petty baubles of office. Seeking only to advance the interests of the every-man and face down corruption and cynicism where ever he meets it.

greywarbler said...

A rose by any other name would smell as sweet? Principle or principal?
Winston saying anything on TPP has the most resounding voice, with one of the two words, perhaps both.

He is a politician who has more style than Key. A skilled performance, that rarely 'flags'. Key on the other hand often flags, and resorts to a symbolic version to fill the deficit. If describing his output, would you choose principle or principal?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I rather admire Winston. Plus he got me the gold card. But it doesn't mean to say he is anything other than a consummate politician. I think he may well have had principles when he was minister of Maori affairs under national – it's just possible, let's face it they all start out with them. His Maori affairs policy rejected by national, was excellent. Deserved a chance. But anyway, I think he lost them when he became the leader of a minor party. If indeed he ever had any :-).