Stuck In A Rut? Historically-speaking, this is where Labour is supposed to step in. With National mired in an all-too-predictable circularity, Labour's role is to excite voters with the promise of a straight line to the future. Moving us forward; taking us somewhere new; somewhere better: that’s always been the Labour Party’s most effective sales pitch.
WHY DOES LABOUR do it? Why is it forever tying itself up in ethical knots and programmatic contradictions? Its policy-making does not seem to proceed from any discernible core of political principle. On the contrary, it comes across as the sort of haphazard collection of fleeting public obsessions a party guided exclusively by opinion polls and focus groups might present to the electorate.
Voters are prepared to forgive National for this sort “suck it and see” approach to policy-making. Most of us understand that the only principle that National will never abandon is the one commanding it to remain in office for as long as possible. Everything else is negotiable – as the Government’s recent swag of policy tweaks and re-adjustments makes abundantly clear.
Nor can the voters object too strenuously to National’s governing style. After all, it is their own likes and dislikes that are being so assiduously fed back to them by the party’s pollsters and marketing specialists.
If democracy is about giving the people what they want, then John Key’s preternatural sensitivity to the slightest change of pitch in the vox populi makes him a democratic leader of no mean ability.
The problem, of course, is that, at some point, the people grow weary of hearing their own preferences and prejudices tripping-off the tongues of their political leaders. Eventually, people start wondering what it would be like to inhabit a political environment enlivened by something more inspirational than The Electorate’s Greatest Hits on continuous loop.
Historically-speaking, this is where Labour is supposed to step in. With National mired in an all-too-predictable circularity, Labour should be exciting voters with the promise of a straight line to the future. Moving us forward; taking us somewhere new; somewhere better: that’s always been the Labour Party’s most effective sales pitch.
So what in the name of radical linearity is Labour doing promising us 1,000 extra policemen? As if New Zealanders haven’t heard The Kneejerks’ hit single, “Law & Order”, at least a million times before. Yes, but this time there’s a twist. This time, all the extra bobbies bopping on the beat will have a special mission: rescuing New Zealand from the scourge of P-for-pure methamphetamine. The “thin blue line” may still be fighting the “War on Drugs”, says Andrew Little, but it is losing. Labour’s going to send reinforcements.
But prohibition and beefed-up law enforcement was already an old and discredited policy when President Ronald Reagan first declared war on drugs back in the 1980s. And New Zealand’s policemen and politicians made a huge mistake in allowing the Americans to convince them that such a war could be won, and that its principal casualties would be somebody other than our own children.
Drugs, in and of themselves, have never been the problem. The problem has always been the demand for substances that render the fraught business of making a living on this unforgiving planet just that little bit easier.
Our own culture’s drug-of-choice is alcohol – but it could just as easily be hashish, or opium, or peyote. And isn’t it significant that we treat the addiction to our own drug-of-choice, alcoholism, as a health problem – not a crime problem? Can we really have forgotten that the only people who benefited from America’s “noble experiment” in alcohol prohibition were the Mafia?
If Labour truly wants to win the war on drugs, then its first priority should be to make life easier for as many New Zealanders as possible. Filling our prisons with the young, brown perpetrators of what are, essentially, victimless crimes does not constitute making life easier.
But this is not Labour’s position. Andrew Little persists in advancing the utterly discredited argument that if the supply of drugs is reduced, then the demand for those same drugs will be diminished. He really ought to let the people who hand out the Nobel Prize for Economics know that he’s somehow managed to repeal the law of supply and demand. He’d be a dead cert to win in 2017!
A Labour leader determined to break this country out of National’s ever-decreasing circles would strike a blow against the gangs, violent crime, and our rapidly rising prison muster by decriminalising the use of all drugs. It would move New Zealand forward to a better place. And focus groups would soon be applauding Labour’s courage.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 October 2016.