To the left, to the right, here we go

Upper Hutt Leader - - CONVERSATIONS - GOR­DON CAMP­BELL TALK­ING POL­I­TICS

Re­cently, Prime Min­is­ter Bill Eng­lish claimed to have de­tected a ‘‘swerve’’ to the po­lit­i­cal left by the Labour Party.

So far though, the can­di­dates the Labour hi­er­ar­chy are seek­ing to re­cruit for this year’s elec­tion would sug­gest al­most the ex­act op­po­site.

Law and or­der ad­vo­cate and for­mer Po­lice As­so­ci­a­tion chief Greg O’Con­nor has been tapped as the likely Labour chal­lenger to Peter Dunne in Ohariu.

Re­port­edly, broad­caster Wil­lie Jack­son has also been mooted for a high place on the Labour list. Nei­ther of these wor­thies are renowned for be­ing so­cial lib­er­als.

The over­tures to Jack­son in par­tic­u­lar have caused ruc­tions among the party faith­ful, and within the Labour cau­cus.

More than once, Jack­son has apol­o­gised for the mock­ing in­sin­u­a­tions and vic­tim-blam­ing he in­flicted on a teenage vic­tim of sex­ual abuse in 2013, but ev­i­dently, the episode has not been for­got­ten.

Why would Labour be woo­ing such can­di­dates for its Elec­tion 2017 cam­paign?

One pos­si­ble ex­pla­na­tion is Labour aims to use the likes of Jack­son and O’Con­nor as a fire­wall against the in­evitable govern­ment ac­cu­sa­tions that Labour’s elec­toral part­ner­ship with the Greens makes it too riskily left wing for vot­ers to con­tem­plate.

Jack­son and O’Con­nor would be a use­ful feint in the op­po­site di­rec­tion. Jack­son’s views on gen­der is­sues and O’Con­nor’s views on law and or­der would also as­sist Labour’s pitch to its own so­cially con­ser­va­tive vot­ers, who have been drift­ing away to New Zealand First in recent years.

For some time, for­mer Labour front­bencher Shane Jones has been tipped as the even­tual suc­ces­sor to NZF leader Win­ston Peters.

By re­cruit­ing Jack­son now, Labour would be cre­at­ing a use­ful hedge against Jones’ even­tual re­turn to the po­lit­i­cal fray.

Of course, the fact Labour is try­ing to shore up its right wing will not de­ter Na­tional from claim­ing Labour is head­ing left.

Af­ter all, con­vinc­ing the elec­torate that the op­po­si­tion poses a threat to eco­nomic sta­bil­ity is cen­tral to Na­tional’s claim to be­ing the only safe pair of hands when it comes to man­ag­ing the econ­omy.

In recent weeks, the govern­ment’s reputa­tion has taken a ham­mer­ing on that score, given the rev­e­la­tions about the Amer­i­can bil­lion­aire Peter Thiel. To re­cap: Thiel gained cit­i­zen­ship and the unim­peded right to buy prime ru­ral land here in re­turn for what was (for him) a rel­a­tively mi­nor out­lay. In the process, the govern­ment formed a joint ven­ture fund with Thiel in 2011 that – among other things – saw tax­payer funds be­ing used to match Thiel’s in­vest­ment in Xero, as if Xero were a start-up ven­ture.

In essence, the struc­ture of this joint ven­ture vir­tu­ally pri­va­tised the prof­its in Thiel’s favour, while leav­ing tax­pay­ers to bear the lion’s share of the risks. Fi­nally, Thiel trig­gered a gen­er­ous buy­out clause and walked away with a re­ported $23 mil­lion re­turn for his circa $9m in­vest­ment here. No won­der he says nice things about this coun­try.

Last week, Bill Eng­lish en­joyed a pleas­ant call with US Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump. Per­haps Thiel, a Trump ad­viser, put in a good word for us: ‘‘Few reg­u­la­tions. Not many refugees. Good guys, Mr Pres­i­dent.’’

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