Jones fighting the battle alone
In old foreign legion movies, there would often be a scene where one brave legionnaire would run around the battlements firing from one rifle slot after another to create the illusion that an entire army was defending the fort.
Last week, Labour’s Shane Jones was that legionnaire – firing away on the supermarkets issue, while the rest of the Labour front bench remained virtually invisible, and party leader David Cunliffe was otherwise engaged, mainly in shooting himself in the foot.
Once again, Labour seemed to be having a leadership and identity crisis.
Choosing Cunliffe was supposed to bring an end to the selfdefeating tendencies in the Labour ranks.
Prime among these, you would have thought, were the attempts to depict Prime Minister John Key as being a wealthy git out of touch with ordinary New Zealanders.
Of late, however, Cunliffe has been at it once again: attacking Key for living in a mansion, while trying to pass off his own multimillion dollar Herne Bay abode as a ‘‘do-up’’.
Incredibly, it seems to have eluded Labour’s strategists that the majority of voters (a) quite like John Key and (b) think that wealth is a good thing to have, and enjoy.
Cunliffe’s rocky start to the year need not be terminal.
However, the only momentum Labour has achieved so far in 2014 has been entirely because of Jones, who has single-handedly brought about a Commerce Commission inquiry into the relationships between the Countdown supermarket chain and its suppliers.
It remains to be seen whether this inquiry will get much traction. Tellingly, the commission will not be investigating whether the duopoly that runs our supermarket industry has anticompetitive features, but only the allegations against Countdown. It will offer anonymity to witnesses only so far as the law allows.
If you were a harried supplier, would you trust the Commerce Commission to protect you, your staff and livelihood if you dared to come forward? Possibly not.
In one of the commission’s own website papers about how it goes about interpreting the legislation to do with market power, it has spelt out that an ‘‘anti-competitive purpose’’ must be proven to exist before actions become illegal.
Moreover, ‘‘ a refusal to deal with or supply someone’’ is deemed to be OK, unless proven otherwise.
Armed with a good lawyer, any miscreant could probably get away with anything short of murder via those escape routes.
In essence, the Commerce Commission will need to prove that in gaining and exercising its market clout, Countdown had the purpose of being anti-competitive.
Hedged by those conditions, the chances of anonymous allegations against Countdown being successful would seem next to zero.
If the existing current owner/ supplier practices are changed thanks to commission pressure, shoppers could face higher prices at the checkout counter.
They may not thank Jones, and Labour, for bringing that about.
At the same time, Labour has scrapped its plans to take GST off fruit and vegetables, and to exempt the first $5000 of income from tax.
In place of these $1.5 billion pledges aimed at alleviating poverty, Labour will be offering a $525 million package of ‘‘targeted’’ measures.
Clearly, the packaging of the Labour Party as the champion of those in need is still a work in progress.