Public Service Notice: Across the Western World there is evidence that the political parties ostensibly standing for progressive change are being comprehensively outflanked by their own supporters - on the Left. Is it possible that the people are becoming more radical than the politicians "representing" them?
WITH LABOUR’S POLL NUMBERS FALTERING, there will undoubtedly be much agitated discussion in the Office of the Leader of the Opposition.
“What’s wrong with everybody?!” David Cunliffe’s advisers will wail. “Why didn’t anyone like KiwiAssure? What was not to like about a state-owned insurance company? What on earth do people want!?”
Well, if the news from abroad is anything to go by, they want a good deal more than the cautious gestures they’ve seen so far. Indeed, if the research published recently in both the United Kingdom and the United States is correct, a substantial chunk of the electorate is willing to embrace economic and social policies that are genuinely and unashamedly radical.
A YouGov survey for the Centre for Labour and Social Studies (Class) think tank, carried out at the end of last month, showed that UK voters “strongly supported support state-imposed price controls on the utilities, re-nationalisation of the railways and Royal Mail, an end to private cash in the public sector and even state power to regulate rents”.
Putting it bluntly: a solid majority of the UK electorate is well to the left of Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
Nick Assinder, the political editor of the IBTimes, summed up the poll results rather incredulously with the observation: “[I]f the findings continue to be borne out as the general election campaign moves into top gear, and if Labour takes them to heart, it could spark the sort of ideological debate which Britain has not seen since the late 1970s and 1980s – for good or ill.”
Something similar would appear to happening on the other side of the Atlantic. New polling from Hart Research Associates, undertaken on behalf of Americans For Tax Fairness, indicates a strong, pundit-confounding, public appetite for imposing higher taxes on the rich.
On the liberal website, Campaign For America’s Future, blogger Richard Eskow writes: “As that covert recording of Mitt Romney showed last year, some of the ‘1 percent’ think other Americans aren’t pulling their own weight in this economy. As this new polling confirms, the feeling’s mutual. By a seventeen point margin (56 percent to 39 percent), the American people want the next budget agreement to include new tax revenues from corporations and the wealthy.”
One of the reasons David Cunliffe won the leadership of the Labour Party was the widely held view among the party’s rank-and-file that he – alone of all his rivals – “got” this. On the day he announced his candidacy, his “You betcha!” response to a question about raising taxes on the rich had thrilled not just his Labour Party followers, but a large portion of the wider electorate.
At Labour’s annual conference, held in Christchurch at the beginning of this month, considerable behind-the-scenes diplomacy went into blunting the sharper edges of policy proposals from branch members and union affiliates who had taken Mr Cunliffe’s radicalism at face value. For the most part, the radicals were happy to oblige – not wanting their man to be embarrassed in front of a sceptical news media.
But, if the trends from abroad are any guide, smoothing off the radical edges of Labour’s policy platform was exactly the wrong thing to do. If Mr Cunliffe would improve his political fortunes, he should think about sharpening – not blunting – his party’s attack on the status-quo.
The Labour Caucus, too, needs to summon up the courage to abandon what may turn out to have been its entirely unnecessary caution. It is one thing to protect the party leader from stepping beyond the limits of the electorate’s tolerance; quite another to stand between the voters and the radical policies they’re hungering for. Neoliberalism has been weighed in the balance and found wanting – Labour MPs should not attempt to second-guess the zeitgeist.
Bill Clinton’s campaign-team’s note-to-self: “It’s the economy, stupid!” has become the stuff of US political folklore – and a potent reminder to stay focused on voter priorities.
Perhaps Mr Cunliffe’s note-to-self should be: “Radical policies for a radicalised electorate!”
This essay was originally published by The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 22 November 2013.
This country is in the top 10 for economic inequality. The right, and indeed you Chris (given one of your previous columns) seem to accept this as inevitable. Unfortunately that way lies repression and revolution. Even now we have extremists on the left and right killing each other in Greece. I'd hate to see Massey's Cossacks in action again.
Why wouldn't a large proportion of the electorate vote for 'bread and circuses' endlessly delivered at someone else's expense?
If you create a paternalistic State like we have in New Zealand, the UK, and increasingly the USA, why wouldn't the electorate behave like children?
I think a policy of getting Treasury to publicly reject the NAIRU and adopting policy comporting to actual full employment (maybe about 2% unemployment rate) in public would be a good start.
The NZ treasury runs a NAIRU estimate which looks equally ridiculous. I think their most recent estimate was that if 4.5% of employable NZers or higher are not unemployed then inflation threatens accelerate and to destroy the economy (which is utter nonsense of course). This can be easily discovered from a look at the NZ treasury forecasts.
Maybe its the fact that the electorate at large did not get a real say on the gay marriage issue.
NZ is more conservative than Labour wants to admit, and changing/imposing their wants and laws does not make their wants/laws right.
Increasing benefit rates to the highest dollar amounts they've ever been.
Raising the most tax ever collected in NZ
Maori flag on the Harbour bridge
Treaty settlements with Tuhoe
Absolutely no changes to superannuation age
Handouts to state-assisted companies of national significance (Smelter. Warners, Sky City)
No question: Key's policies are to the LEFT of Labour
Hardly surprising that the idea of raising the taxes on the 'rich' is popular with some people. They imagine that this would provide more money for a Labour/Green government for election bribes. The fact that higher taxation in the longterm actually provides less money hardly matters to them-they are sure its a good idea. on the other hand you could just do what Sir Michael Cullen did and allow fiscal creep over the year to push more and more of the middle class into the 'rich' sector.
Hardly surprising the idea of the rich paying little or no tax is popular with some people. So jigsaw, what do you suggest we do? Just leave the gap between the rich and the poor to get bigger and bigger until the poor get totally pissed off with it and start using the lampposts for something other than lighting? Seems to me that the best evidence shows that a large gap between rich and poor is inimical to society, let alone a just society.
@Jigsaw; Oh Jiggy my friend was not the tax cuts promised by JohnnyBoy an election bribe? Everyone was going to get heaps back from the IRD, yeah right!
The only way they could fiddle that was to hike up the GST (which hits the poor mostly) and shows clearly what I have said all along: You don't get tax cuts -- you get TAX SHIFTS!
It the past when the Aristocracy got too uppity, the rank and file gave them a haircut just below the chin. Time to sharpen the chopper?
As it stands we will never go back to full employment, too many of the top want the status quo regardless of what Labour says. I reserve judgment on what Cunliffe will actually do.
Actually Davo this is incorrect. National didn't need to increase GST one cent in order to give a tax cut and maintain their current spending.
The amount the government takes in tax is in absolutely no way a constraint on the governments spending power, and the resulting deficit will probably always be funded by somebody (actually there is no good reason for the government to borrow its deficit) in the private sector.
Government credit doesn't work the same way as private credit.
@Nic; Are you telling me that there was no relationship between the increase in GST and the tax cuts? It was just a co-incidence?
Both Billy and Johnny said that was the cause and we can always believe them inplicitly, after all they always and ever tell the truth mate!
BTW I entirely agree with what you posted but having said that, I still stand by my statement that there are no tax cuts, only tax shifts.
@Davo. You are absolutely right that Key & Co made a decision to lower the top income tax rate and put up GST, and that they did so in order to collect a similar amount of revenue after the change. What I am saying though is that this is entirely National party economic discretion to do that, there was no force majeure which lead to that decision. If they had run a larger deficit it would have and will equally be funded at all times.
What I am saying is in brief the government does not have a credit limit, its self funding therefore, the amount they choose to spend is up to their discretion.
Its their discretion to implement a tax shift not a tax cut. Its also at their discretion to implement a spending increase without a tax increase.
If we accept that the electorate is to the left of the mainstream political parties – not at all a ludicrous proposition, depending on your definition of ‘left’ – then we need to address this question: can the Labour Party be a genuine representative of left-wing values?
The betrayal of the old social-democratic values of the Labour Party by the 80s Rogernomes is well-recognised, as is the continued adherence to core values of neo-liberalism by the contemporary Labour Party. But even if the current crop of identified neo-liberals could be ousted (Goff, Cosgrove, Mallard & co), would the Labour Party really become a vehicle for sincere leftism? Given the constraints of parliamentary politics, corporate media, international economics, and an apathetic electorate, the ‘politics of usual’ (even of the leftist variant) is almost certainly not going to derail the capitalist juggernaut.
The best Labour can hope to achieve is a weak social-democratic government, which would continue the loyal work of all social-democratic parties in defending the core pillars of an unjust system, by binding the working class (the nature of which has evolved, but which remains very real) to capitalism in a hopelessly unequal union. In time this social-democracy would be diluted further, as mere parliamentary politics is no obstacle to the incredible power of international capital.
Socialism should be the goal – the elimination of the market and large-scale private property ownership, with such property being public-owned and distributed by common consent. That is what socialism really is. Anything less is just strident social-democracy. Even a major change in the direction of the current Labour Party would be unable to deliver this, as the party confines itself to the narrow focus of parliamentary politics.
To Labour, the benefits of mass membership is only in organising and campaigning (something I have previously been directly told by party representatives who should have been more discreet), not in creating wide-ranging, fundamental societal change. But it is exactly a mass movement that is essential to delivering genuine left-wing change.
Radical politics cannot be delivered through the mechanism of the status quo and elite privilege that Parliament represents. Parliamentarianism isn’t totally hopeless, but an excessive fixation on this avenue will certainly lead to disappointment.
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