Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Why Labour will lose this election, why they deserve to, and why the rest of us are screwed

Recent polls show support for Labour plummeting, with recently installed leader David Cunliffe appearing not to have captured the public’s heart, mind or anything else. An interesting graphic doing the rounds shows Labour’s former support isn’t being picked up by National or even the Greens. This group are now merely undecided.

This should be no surprise anyone who talks politics at BBQs, the bus stop or over the watercooler. Almost no one wants to see this National administration get back in: the asset sales; the sleaze around Orivida, the apparent sale of access to cabinet ministers and crony appointments; the mining and drilling of national parks; the fact that our rock star economy has relegated most of us to the status of lowly roadies; the list goes on. But ask who they want instead and, unless you’re talking to a Green, the response is invariably a shrug of resignation. We don’t want National but we’re not keen on the alternative, either.

Why is this? Leader David Cunliffe hasn’t helped his own or Labour’s cause. It’s hard to tell if his advice is crappy or he is incapable of saying what he really thinks. I know people who speak very highly of Mr Cunliffe, and I have heard him speak passionately and convincingly about things that matter to many New Zealanders. But none of this comes out in his public utterances. And that’s before we get to the memory lapses and lack of spine on what should be easy issues.

But the bigger problem (and this might be part of Mr Cunliffe’s problem, too) is Labour’s failure to articulate an alternative vision for New Zealand’s economy and society. No trucks in the fast lane and compulsory KiwiSaver have not only failed to ignite our imaginations, but at least one of these will entrench and deepen the inequalities that Labour claims to be concerned about. I have no connection to the Labour party but my guess is that some policies and the party’s internal cohesion are being undermined by those on the right of the party, while at the same time Labour is dependent on donations from business interests keen not to have New Zealand’s ‘economic fundamentals’ tampered with. In fact, compulsory KiwiSaver is a big juicy bone to those very interests.  

Some simple, clear statements of principle might go a long way to helping in this regard. How about no mining and drilling on conservation land; no signing up to the Trans-Pacific Partnership because it will override the wishes of this and future parliaments; a public commitment to building affordable housing in the areas it’s needed; a halt to benefit sanctions until the vindictive culture operating at Work and Income is addressed; a moratorium on charter schools until their efficacy has been thoroughly assessed; free health care, including family planning services, for under-18s. None of this is huge but it sets out clear points of difference and suggests there is more to being a New Zealander than supporting an economy for the already well-off.  

Stolen from http://neetflux.tumblr.com/post/89596714537
Sadly, none of this is likely to happen. This almost wouldn’t matter except for the one other thing that keeps coming up during those watercooler conversations, and that is that if the current crony capitalists get back in they will take it as a mandate to finish stealing the country for their mates. Commentators often say that one of the reasons it’s hard to pin anything on this National government is that they’re not ideological. This is not correct. They are not ideological in the sense of their neoliberal 1990s predecessors, but they do have an ideology, and that is a neoconservative commitment to securing and entrenching privilege. In this case, the privilege is primarily that of overseas capital. Sure, local businesses get thrown a bone, usually in the form of labour market reforms that reduce conditions for workers, but the real work is being done to benefit of the big end of town.

A re-elected National government, supported on its right flank by the ACT and Maori parties, will mean that in three years there will be nothing left in New Zealand to drill, mine, chop down, pave over, or sell. And most of us will be too busy working our low-paid precarious jobs to care. That is, those of us who still have jobs. The top 10% will do fine, and on paper our rock star economy will look great. But they said that about Argentina, too, before its economy went down the gurgler. 

And that is why Labour’s dithering, its inability to count, and its offering more of the same, with a few tweaks around the edges, matters. Because the prospect of Simon Bridges as the Minister of Something That Matters is really, really scary.