Soft pedal needed on Labour pol­icy

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION / NEWS -

Since its re­jec­tion on elec­tion night, re­newal has been in the air for the Labour Party.

Both can­di­dates vy­ing to re­place Phil Goff as party leader have been talk­ing about new di­rec­tions, changes to the Labour brand and learn­ing from the elec­tion de­feat, de­spite an al­most to­tal ab­sence of de­tail about what those lessons might be.

Nor have there been many in­sights of­fered into just how Brand Labour can cred­i­bly turn it­self into a hot, new item of choice among the spin-weary pub­lic in Voter­land.

In this po­lit­i­cal vac­uum, the pun­dits have been of­fer­ing their five cents on what needs to be dumped from Labour’s re­cent pol­icy agenda – ie, vir­tu­ally every­thing.

One Auck­land-based an­a­lyst, for ex­am­ple, has urged Labour to drop its three cam­paign pledges: to take GST off fruit and veg­eta­bles; raise the re­tire­ment age; and bring in a cap­i­tal gains tax.

And while it’s at it, ap­par­ently it should also aban­don its op­po­si­tion to as­set sales and national stan­dards, and em­brace wel­fare re­form and pri­vate pris­ons to boot.

The logic be­hind this whole­sale sur­ren­der is that since vot­ers have just elected a National Party ad­vo­cat­ing such mea­sures, the only way ahead for the Labour Party would be to of­fer vir­tu­ally the same pol­icy bun­dle.

In prac­tice, this would mean Labour not merely adopt­ing a new National Lite-ish im­age, but also cloning the Key Govern­ment’s en­tire agenda.

Need­less to say, that would be an over-re­ac­tion.

True, the new Labour lead­er­ship has to com­bat the Govern­ment on one flank, but on the other it has a Green Party poised to scoop up any Labourites alien­ated by a sud­den lurch to the right.

For­tu­nately, there is one way for­ward for Labour’s new leader that would be en­tirely con­sis­tent with party tra­di­tions.

This would in­volve an un­re­lent­ing fo­cus on jobs, jobs, jobs. Just as the Greens’ iden­tity is grounded in its ad­vo­cacy for the environment, Labour’s rai­son d’etre has al­ways been work op­por­tu­ni­ties and bet­ter con­di­tions for Kiwi bat­tlers, and for the hard­pressed mid­dle class.

There is lit­tle need to mimic National’s cur­rent ar­ray of poli­cies – es­pe­cially when Labour’s own polling has shown that many of those poli­cies (eg, as­set sales) are far less pop­u­lar with the pub­lic than the per­son­al­ity of National leader, John Key.

The re­al­i­ties of a dif­fi­cult sec­ond term are likely to take the gloss off Key’s per­sonal charms more suc­cess­fully than any­thing that could be achieved by an abrupt trans­for­ma­tion of Labour’s shop win­dow.

Af­ter all, New Zealand is not a con­tented and com­pla­cent so­ci­ety. It is an anx­ious com­mu­nity un­der pres­sure.

While crit­ics have called for Labour’s new leader to toughen up on wel­fare, the more fruit­ful, longterm re­sponse would be to of­fer eco­nomic poli­cies that sat­isfy the need for se­cu­rity on one hand, while pro­mot­ing a more de­cent, fairer so­ci­ety on the other.

Labour’s tra­di­tion is uniquely in tune with that ap­proach. It cre­ated the wel­fare safety net which, de­spite its crit­ics, still forms an im­por­tant part of the national iden­tity, even within Key’s brand of com­pas­sion­ate con­ser­vatism.

As they say, op­po­si­tions do not win elec­tions in New Zealand – gov­ern­ments lose them.

Labour’s new lead­er­ship need not carry out whole­sale changes to be a vi­able, de­cent al­ter­na­tive in 2014 to the pol­i­tics of busi­ness as usual.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from New Zealand

© PressReader. All rights reserved.