To the left, to the right, here we go
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.’’