An Unlikely Revolutionary Banner? A well-organised campaign to root out neoliberalism from all of our economic and social institutions would signal that Peters was serious about changing the way this country is run. And for all those who pretend not to know what the term neoliberalism means, let me spell it out. I am talking about the deliberate intrusion and entrenchment of the logic and values of the marketplace into every aspect of human existence.
“THESE TALKS ARE ABOUT A CHANGE in the way this country is run. Both economically and socially.” That is how Winston Peters characterised the government formation negotiations currently drawing to a close in Wellington. But, what could his words possibly mean, in practical terms?
If seriously intentioned, Peters’ call for economic and social change would have to encompass the thorough-going “de-neoliberalisation” of New Zealand. And, yes, the obvious reference to the “denazification” of post-war Germany is quite deliberate. Between 1945 and 1947 (when a resurgent American Right began insisting that Soviet communism posed a far greater threat than the tens-of-thousands of National Socialists who were quietly re-entering German society) the Allied occupation forces undertook a serious attempt to identify and exclude all those who had facilitated and/or participated in the most appalling crimes in human history.
A well-organised campaign to root out neoliberalism from all of our economic and social institutions would signal that Peters was serious about changing the way this country is run. And for all those who pretend not to know what the term neoliberalism means, let me spell it out. I am talking about the deliberate intrusion and entrenchment of the logic and values of the marketplace into every aspect of human existence.
Neoliberals have been hard at work in New Zealand society since 1984 and the damage they have inflicted upon practically all of its institutions is enormous. So, how would a Labour-Green-NZ First government that was serious about redefining good government in New Zealand begin? Well, it could start by inviting the two Maxes, Rashbrooke and Harris, to undertake a root-and-branch reform of the State Sector Act. The two Bryans. Easton and Gould, could be asked to revise the Reserve Bank Act. Matt McCarten, Robert Reid and Maxine Gay could be given the job of beefing-up the Employment Relations Act. Claudia Orange, Annette Sykes and Moana Jackson could be tasked with fully integrating the Treaty of Waitangi into the New Zealand Constitution being drafted by Sir Geoffrey Palmer and Andrew Geddis. Metiria Turei and Sue Bradford could be issued with blowtorches and sent into the Ministry of Social Development.
It’s only when you start thinking in these terms that the awful implausibility of Peters’ statement strikes home. Putting to one side the ingrained provincial conservatism of NZ First’s electoral base, there is simply no possibility of anyone in the senior ranks of the Labour Party endorsing even a pale imitation of this “de-neoliberalisation” agenda. Willie Jackson and a handful of his Maori and Pasifica colleagues might be keen, but no one else. Only the Greens could advocate with an credibility for this sort of root-and-branch reform – which almost certainly explains why there were no Green Party negotiators seated at the table with Winston and Jacinda!
But, if New Zealand is not going to be de-neoliberalised in any meaningful way. If neither NZ First nor Labour would entertain for a moment any of the individuals mentioned above, in any of the roles mentioned above, then what of any lasting worth could a Labour-Green-NZ First government achieve?
More importantly, perhaps, what would be in it for the Greens? If Peters’ very public characterisation of the Greens as a powerless appendage of the Labour Party, with no role at all in the government formation talks, is an accurate reflection of his attitude towards the party, then not only do the Greens have no way of influencing the shape and policies of any new centre-left government, but they will also have no place within it. As Newshub’s Lloyd Burr so succinctly put it, they are being “shafted”.
It is possible, of course, that Peters is talking-up his disdain for the Greens in order to avoid spooking his core supporters in the countryside; and that, privately, he is right behind the eco-socialists’ radical policy agenda. Except, if that is the case, then he must surely be bitterly disappointed by Labour’s extreme policy timidity. Is the sort of party that invites Sir Michael Cullen and Annette King to join its young leader at the negotiating table, really the sort of party that is getting ready to throw its weight wholeheartedly behind “a change in the way this country is run. Economically and socially”?
By this time next week, Winston willing, we’ll have an answer.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 12 October 2017.