Future Lefts - They can't handle the truth!
Future Lefts - They can't handle the truth!
Monday 15th May, 2000
`They can't handle the truth!'
Editorial: National's Dreamtime
Radical v. Compassionate Conservatism.
One China policy under threat?
NZ divided on social issues?
Web site of the Week
In Aboriginal culture, the Dreamtime or "the dreaming" is a time of immense significance. It represents a myth of formation, explaining how time moved from slumbering nothingness to today. I think, without meaning to belittle Aborigine culture, that some aspects of the way the National Party is handling opposition reflect a similar thought process at work. Though in this case, we're not talking about the creation of the world; simply how a political party lost an election.
It's always rather difficult finding out how opponents think, and I have to say that the Internet has made it easier than it used to be. In this case, two items in particular are of use in understanding how the National Party is adjusting to its change of fortunes. The first is an article by Philip Rennie, recently Wellington Divisional Chair of the Young Nationals, and the second is a more interesting article by Bevan Peechy, in a poetically named "Northern Light" newsletter on the Young Nats web site. I'll leave it to you to work out what the address is, and you can read the articles if you want to. They are a fascinating insight into the opposition's thought processes though.
First point to note is that neither of the writers thinks that Labour won the election. They claim that they simply failed to get the numbers.
Starting with Rennie's piece, we hear an oft-repeated mantra: our issues didn't work. Unbelievably, he states that employment law changes, tax changes and ACC changes don't affect most voters, and as a result they were ignored. I guess this is the typical response of a student politician who can't see past the end of his own nose. Rennie implies that National was on the right side of those three issues when in fact the reverse was the case. On tax, on employment law and on the ACC changes, Labour campaigned strongly, and won a decisive mandate for change.
Instead of acknowledging this, Rennie's piece goes on to mumble about New Zealanders feeling like they wanted a change in direction. Indeed they did, but instead of acknowledging this as a reason for the change in Government, he blames the ragtag mob who kept the Government in power, public service "cock-ups" and calling those who defaced billboards in Wellington Central fascists. National's worst result ever at an election was glossed over too.
If one wants to find some more serious analysis of where National went wrong, one turns to a piece by Bevan Peechy, as mentioned above. Hopefully entitled "Winning in 2002", he writes that National lost in '99 because the election was a clash centred on policy specifics instead of on values, which he believes National can win on in 2002.
While somewhat better argued than Rennie's article, Peechy's article also has some flaws. It is certainly the case that the '99 result didn't show a huge endorsement of Labour's values; it seems to me that the election was a line in the sand and a vote for a new direction. We have a way to go to persuade the public that our values are ones that are shared by the majority of the people. To the extent that battle has to be fought, Peechy makes a good point. Colin James described in a recent Herald column the same phenomenon; that the election was a vote for a change in tone rather than a vote for fundamental social change.
However, both miss the point. Labour, after being far off to the Right in the 1980's, is firmly in tune with New Zealand values. As the implementation of reforms this Government has begun progresses, it will become more and more evident that we have a Labour Government that is very close to the political centre. As our policies take effect, the centre in New Zealand politics will inevitably shift to the left, just as it shifted to the right under nine long years of National. Labour's fundamental values of giving everyone a fair go, supporting families, young and old, providing opportunity to all and pushing the socialist message of social justice, solidarity and freedom, are perfectly in tune with New Zealand today.
All that remains is to convince the public over the next two and a half years that those are our values, and that our policies are following them. National is pissing in the wind if it thinks that appeals to "get rid of Big Government" or "get rid of the Unions" or anything of that sort will help them in 2002. A revision of the ideology that allowed them to screw New Zealand so badly for so long is required - and to date, they haven't shown they're about to do it.
Until they try, 2002 is secure for us.
Radical v. Compassionate Conservatism Craig Young
Mrs. Shipley recently uttered the words "radical conservatism" at a National Party regional conference, only to be contradicted by her ambitious successor, William Hague (oops-English). What does she mean?
The Leader of the Opposition appears to assume that one quarter to three-tenths of the vote suggests that National does not need to change its commitment to retrenchment of government services, haphazard incremental expenditure, and entrustment of service delivery to unsuitable executives with an unaccountable public sector. She assumes that National can rebuild from this core of support, and that the Labour-Alliance entente with the Greens will inevitably collapse. Yes, but what does she mean?
National has adjusted on some issues, but not others. It recognises that Shipley's attack of Graeme Lee Syndrome in Coromandel last year means that populism does not work over cannabis decriminalisation. However, it has lost the plot badly over equality for same-sex couples, and probably insures that angry lesbians, gays and urban liberals will desert the party over this issue. Didn't National learn anything from the John Stringer debacle in Christchurch Central, when their candidate used repeated homophobic attacks on Tim Barnett, mobilised local gay voters, and drove liberal National voters to vote Labour within that electorate? And what is all this about the sanctity of marriage, when civil marriage has been recognised in New Zealand for over a century? True, the Young Nationals have made progressive noises about decriminalisation of soliciting and recognition of same-sex relationships. It's just that the Nats got cold feet over both, and had to pander to their moral conservative wing.
Mrs Shipley has not defined radical conservatism. It is certainly not an increased commitment to individual freedoms. If it is merely anti-tax, anti-union, and anti-welfare rhetoric reheated, that will only attract centre-right true believers. It demonstrates that the initiative has passed to the centre-left as the source of ideas and reform within this country. It is not constitutional reform either, as rhetoric about the republican debate demonstrated. In Mrs. Shipley's case, radical conservatism appears to be a soundbite.
And what of Mr. English? Bill English is National's leader in waiting, although he doesn't handle himself well under stress, and will not be ready to roll his leader for quite some time. He appears to be tacking toward John Howard and George W. Bush, and their "compassionate conservatism." Howard is a pragmatist. The Goods and Services Tax debacle cost him support, and New Zealand-style "welfare reforms" might also backfire. Thus, Howard has produced a social policy package. Meanwhile, Australia privatised its employment search agency function, and farmed it out to voluntary agency groups. Howard appears to believe that his form of compassionate conservatism is about a network of conservative voluntary agencies that insulate the poor from welfare retrenchments as central government shirks its responsibilities for state provision of social security. This is reminiscent of the radical American welfare cutbacks of the mid-nineties, when Newt Gingrich and the Republican Congress used a similar strategy.
There's just one snag here. In Britain and New Zealand, antipoverty groups, unions, feminists and community service sector groups mobilised against this. Moreover, New Zealand neoliberalism was hamstrung by its own carelessness with strategic planning as the National Government aged during the nineties. How compassionate is compassionate conservatism, anyway? In Texas, there is a punitive emphasis on capital punishment, which suggests that if the victims of "welfare reform" turn to crime out of desperation and overstretched community services, then the jails and electric chair are there for them. "Compassionate conservatism" is an attempt to highjack British and New Zealand successes with Labour's Third Way trajectory in both cases. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but one hopes Mr. English has a good spin doctor if people prefer substance, overseas case studies, and referral to his own record to his own cautious rhetoric.
One China, or two?
A motion snapped through the House last week by Hon Peter Dunne, leader of the United party and former Labour MP, called into question New Zealand's One China stance, which has been official policy since the 1970's when China took over Taiwan's place on the United Nations Security Council.
The motion was that "This House expresses it warmest congratulations to Chen Shui-bian on his democratic election as President of the Republic of China on Taiwan and looks forward to the further strengthening of economic and cultural links between the Republic of China on Taiwan and New Zealand during his term of office." As a motion in the House, it could have been blocked by a single objection, but the Government appears to have been asleep on its feet after the 5am finish of the tobacco tax debate the same morning, and nobody spoke up.
Dunne's language was, frankly, naïve. While everyone wishes the ROC well, it is a fact that the Chinese Government is extremely sensitive to any suggestion that Taiwan may at some time become formally independent. The Government here released on Thursday a statement confirming that the one-China policy remains in force and will not change, in dismissive tones. ACT had, on Wednesday, also congratulated Dunne on his stand, and mocked the Government for not preventing its passing. Dunne also put out a release on Friday - "Government's timid, scared attitude to China a humiliation for all New Zealanders" screamed his headline.
What Dunne and ACT don't seem to understand is that the only way to advance any chance of Taiwanese independence is on China's terms. Realistically, China's view on the issue has to change before any progress can be made. I would dearly like to see Taiwan set free of the restraints imposed on it by China - but no statement of the New Zealand Parliament is going to help with that transition. Only a change in the leadership in Beijing will see the attitude 'that Taiwan is China' ease, and that requires democracy in China, not brainless statements from has-been New Zealand MP's.
NZ divided on social issues?
Below is a report from Massey University on social values in New Zealand today. Of key concern to Young Labour members and supporters should be statistics which show that the strongest supporters of lower taxes are young people.
We clearly have a fight on our hands to get across to people in our age group what taxes pay for, and why they are needed. While the demographic shift means this polarisation of views helps us electorally, it is not a good position to be in. Labour is the only truly broad based party in New Zealand politics, and if we're to retain that position, then we need to change people's attitudes to tax.
A tax free society would be wonderful, if money was everything, but the cuts in spending required to achieve it would be disastrous. Once the consequences of lower taxes are explained to most people, they become more tolerant of taxation. It could be useful for Government to make it more clear where taxation gets spent, and to correct some of the myths about tax that exist in the community (eg that most tax pays for the dole or DPB).
Anyhow, the release follows for your interest:
New Zealanders Divided On Social Issues Thursday, 11 May 2000, 8:35 am Press Release: Massey University
A wide-ranging survey by Massey University reveals that New Zealanders are divided about the causes of social inequality and what should be done about it. The survey also throws light on attitudes to big earners and the unemployed and reveals big differences between young and old on taxation and government spending.
The survey is part of the Cologne-based International Social Survey Programme, which involves leading academic institutions in 32 countries in annual surveys of economic and social policy issues. New Zealand is represented by Massey University and the programme leader is Professor Phil Gendall, head of the University's Department of Marketing.
The New Zealand survey shows ambivalence about the causes and consequences of inequality and how, or even if, they should be mitigated. However, most New Zealanders believe income differences in our country are too large and should be reduced by a more progressive tax system that reduces the tax burden on low income and middle income earners and increases it on high income earners. But there is also a strong belief that effort, competence, skills and responsibility should be reflected in how much people earn.
New Zealanders are divided on whether the government should reduce taxes even if this means spending less on social services, or spending more on social services, even if this means higher taxes. Nevertheless, there is widespread support for increased government spending on health services, education, job training and assistance for the unemployed, and pensions.
Most New Zealanders would prefer a more egalitarian society, but although there is strong support for many elements of the welfare system, there is growing concern about its effects on self-reliance and the willingness of people to help each other.
Other key points: * Most respondents (75%) agree that income differences in New Zealand are too large. Lower income earners are seen as underpaid and higher earners as overpaid. * Most New Zealanders favour a progressive tax system; 60% think higher earners should pay more tax and 70% think taxes on lower income earners are too high. However, 50% think tax on middle income earners is about right. * Respondents believe those in elite occupations deserve about three times as much as ordinary workers, but respondents believe they actually earn more than six times as much. * Respondents believe unskilled factory and shop workers earn about $20,000 but deserve $25,000, while company chairmen earn about $200,000 but deserve $100,000, and cabinet ministers are seen as earning $120,000, when they only deserve $80,000. * New Zealanders are divided on whether the government should reduce taxes or spend more on social services; 45% believe it should spend more, 40% believe it should reduce taxes. * Those most strongly in favour of lower taxes are under 40. Those most in favour of more spending on social services, even with higher taxes, are over 60. * Areas favoured for more government spending are health services (90% in favour), education (80%), job training and pensions (60%). * Areas favoured for reduced spending include special assistance for Maori and Pacific Islanders (55%), sporting events like the Commonwealth Games (50%), and defence (45%).
The nation-wide mail survey was conducted amongst 2,100 people, randomly selected from the Electoral Roll, between June and August 1999. The response rate was 61% and the margin of error is 3%.
News is good
This bit isn't - the tragic shooting of Steven Wallace in Waitara, north of New Plymouth last week, shocked the country and showed that in some areas police/community relations have a long way to go. It is worth pointing out though that Waitara is a shockingly poor community, and my view is that that poverty, unemployment and basically depression probably has more to do with what happened than any racial tension involved.
In an extraordinary move, the House moved into extraordinary urgency to pass a $1 a pack tax increase on cigarettes. This entirely intelligent change recognises that smoking is a significant health cost, and provides a disincentive to people to smoke. Higher prices leads to fewer smokers; the evidence is very clear. People who whinge about their `right' to smoke being affected simply demonstrate their own selfishness. Smoking doesn't only affect the smoker - it affects everyone they know, and especially their families, if they get cancer or whatever. I'd like to see cigarettes at $1 each, as long as stop-smoking medication is available free to all.
Legal advice from the Crown Law office indicated that the Under-25 sticker scheme for cars, which Young Labour has campaigned against, is currently legal. The key phrase in the Police Minister's media release is: "Crown Law has advised me that this Under-25 car sticker scheme is currently lawful. There is nothing in the Human Rights Act relating to age discrimination that affects anything done by or on behalf of the Government of New Zealand, including the Police." This of course is a reflection of the fact that Consistency 2000 has been moved back a number of years, and once all law is consistent with the Human Rights Act 1993, then nobody - including the police - will be able to abuse people's rights like this scheme clearly does.
The latest political party poll, released Sunday night on One Network News, showed Labour down slightly to 46%, National up to 37%. Worryingly, the Alliance have fallen to 2% and ACT is sitting on 5%, at risk of being out of Parliament altogether. It appears that the honeymoon may finally be over, though this is probably a reflection of the last week's events - Waitara, the ciggie tax hike and ongoing tension over West Coast logging - more than anything else. However, it is only five weeks or so until the Budget, and then things will be moving the Government's way again.
Finally, on a lighter note, Burton Shipley, appearing on John Campbell's new show on National Radio, played "Fat Bottomed Girls" by rock band Queen, as one of his favourite songs. Future Lefts understands that the Leader of the Opposition was not amused, though we do note the congruence with her entry into a regional conference to "Wild Thing" by The Troggs. Perhaps the conference organisers should have spoken to Burton?
Web site of the Week
http://www.poptel.org.uk/scgn/ is the web site of `Socialist Campaign Group News', a group of left wing Labour MP's and activists from the British Labour Party. They've got some interesting views on New Labour and the Blair phenomenon, as well as reaction to Ken Livingstone's win in London and the disastrous Labour result in the local body elections last week and the week before. Have a look.
All submissions should be to the editor, Jordan Carter, at email@example.com.
While this newsletter is published in the name of Young Labour, the contents is entirely the responsibility of the editor and the views expressed here don't constitute any official position of Young Labour. All contents copyright (c) 2000. Subscribe at firstname.lastname@example.org
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