Raising The Bar: Would that the Prime Minister and her colleagues would listen as intently to what the people – as opposed to the power elites – are saying as the Greens. Were they so disposed, the popular clamour for a transformational post-Covid reset would be loud in their ears. Listening intently, they would also hear the fear in the voices of those who have already lost, or are about to lose, their jobs. The argument for a level of income support that allows them to live with dignity is compelling.
JACINDA ARDERN dismissed them. Winston Peters savaged them. Todd Muller attributed them to Labour. The Taxpayers’ Union turned them into a fundraising opportunity. The Parliamentary Press Gallery filed them under ‘N’ for “Not Going To Happen”. The wealthy castigated them. Economists panned them. The rest of us, however, thought they sounded pretty good.
What could possibly fire-up so many competing interests? Who has the power to unite Peters and the Press Gallery? Labour and the Taxpayers’ Union? The answer, of course, is – The Greens. More specifically, the Greens’ welfare and tax policies.
To the delight of their supporters (many of whom were teetering on the brink of abandoning the party as insufferably “woke” and out-of-touch) the Greens have rediscovered their left-wing mojo. Offering policies radical enough to set virtually the entire power elite against them.
To paraphrase the late, great Murray Ball: “If you want a good reason for supporting the Greens’ tax and welfare policies, just take a look at the people opposing them.”
Sadly – very sadly – that appears to include Jacinda Ardern. When asked to comment on the Greens’ plans to boost the incomes of the poor by increasing the taxes of the rich, the Prime Minister, rather snootily, informed Morning Report’s Corin Dann that they were based on “some pretty heroic assumptions”. And, no, Labour has no plans to introduce a Wealth Tax.
Not that the Leader of the Opposition is at all disposed to accept Labour’s denials – not even when they come straight from the horse’s mouth. According to Muller, Labour’s just waiting for the voters to return a Labour-Green parliamentary majority, so that they can then remind the country that “this is MMP”, and that although Labour had no plans for two extra steps at the top of the Income Tax scales, and had repeatedly ruled out a Wealth Tax, they’d been required to accept them all as the price of remaining in office.
This “Labour and the Greens have a hidden agenda” claim will be repeated endlessly by the National Party as the General Election draws near. Last weekend the Opposition unveiled its first election hoarding. It features Muller and his deputy, Nikki Kaye, standing proudly beside the words: “Strong Team. More Jobs. Better Economy.” The hoardings promising “No New Taxes” are clearly being held in reserve. As the campaign intensifies, however, you can bet they’ll start popping up everywhere.
Those of us with grey beards but still-functioning memories have seen this strategy rolled out time and time again by the Tories. It prompts us, equally regularly, to pose the question: “Why doesn’t Labour decide that it might as well be hung for a sheep as a lamb?” If the National Party has both the intention and the resources to convince the electorate that they are facing the grim spectre of socialism, then why doesn’t the Labour Party, instead of denying the charge, respond by reassuring the voters that the sort of socialism they’re proposing isn’t grim at all – it’s great!
A big part of the explanation for why they won’t make a virtue of National’s imposed necessity lies in the crucial contribution Labour’s cautious fiscal management has made to this country’s ability to cope with the Covid-19-induced economic crisis. It has reinforced the natural caution of Finance Minister Grant Robertson, and it has reaffirmed the Prime Minister’s faith in her closest friend and ally in Labour’s caucus. If Grant reckons the Greens have made all kinds of heroic assumptions about how the wealthy will react to the Left’s best efforts to make them contribute their fair share, then that’s the message Jacinda will relay to the public.
Would that the Prime Minister and her colleagues would listen as intently to what the people – as opposed to the power elites – are saying. Were they so disposed, the popular clamour for a transformational post-Covid reset would be loud in their ears. Listening intently, they would also hear the fear in the voices of those who have already lost, or are about to lose, their jobs. The argument for a level of income support that allows them to live with dignity is compelling.
With National painting Labour’s caution as a lie, why not throw it to the wind? If there is never a right time for Labour-Green left-wing policies, then there’s never a wrong time, either.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 July 2020.