Trying to Teach Pigs to Sing
It's always interesting to watch a political party die. We all know politicians are strange beasts, which never lie down easily and hate to fade away with a whimper. It's been fascinating, therefore, to watch the Green Party over the last three years, as they've slowly consumed the Alliance's support base and brought Jim Anderton's left-wing behemoth to its knees.
Among the most interesting things to watch are the media statements made by a party which knows it's heading for the electoral dung-pile. Over the last few months, Alliance's plan for digging itself out of its hole are beginning to emerge in the words of Anderton's spin doctors.
It seems that when the going gets tough, the desperate get back to basics. Alliance has been trying to reassure those supporters too dogmatic (or too stupid) to flee the sinking ship, while facing a huge debt from Matt McCarten’s failed mayoralty bid and bitter in-fighting between the parties that make up the party.
Kevin Campbell, that high profile young star, the household name amongst Alliance MPs, told parliament that “interestingly enough, fewer businesses fail under government ownership than in private ownership”. Well when Government businesses can simply stick a straw into the public purse and suck it, they can’t fail - even if they deserve to. Mr Campbell continues “even more interesting is the fact that there is very little evidence that privately run businesses are much more efficient than publicly owned ones“. I remember worrying about public versus private ownership once myself, but it was so long ago, and the answer has since been made so obvious, that I can’t remember why.
Jim Anderton said in a press release "in banking, electricity, telecommunications and transport, to name a few, the public sector is making a come-back". Only in New Zealand, Jim. Of the OECD countries, only New Zealand raised income tax last year. In fact, only three countries in the world raised income tax – we're in the esteemed company of Venezuela and Zimbabwe.
All of these serious Alliance statements belie a party desperately trying to claw back its traditional supporters from a Green Party that's better resourced, has better spin and is more willing to ride the ragged edge of socialist-environmentalism. While Alliance has only ever appealed to those wanting to improve their own fortunes by playing up the misfortune of others, the Greens attract a much wider audience - representing even amongst their caucus ageing hippies, communists, isolationists and those who supported Pol Pot.
Labour's reaction to Alliance's impending demise is odd, considering that most of Alliance's suffering probably comes from being seen as in Government and not delivering. Education Minister, Trevor Mallard, can see the writing's on the wall for the Alliance, and in Parliament he's been trying his hardest to distance Labour from its desperately flailing coalition partner. If Anderton hadn't sold his party into a coalition agreement for thirteen pieces of ministerial limo, then perhaps there'd be more distance between Alliance polling and dog dung. But there isn't.
Of course, what would improve the Alliance's chances are a change of policy platform - one that looked forwards, not backwards, one that offered people a chance to get ahead, instead of one that promised a schedule for how hard people are allowed to work and limits on how much they're allowed to achieve. People want freedom - not just from each other or from Jim's demonic multinationals, but from Government. Alliance will never - can never - deliver that.
With his hands on the controls of a runaway state-owned train, Jim Anderton sees the light at the end of the Alliance's tunnel, but it's not the dawn of a new socialist order. The cold light of annihilation awaits his party next year, but as desperation sets in, trying to make the Alliance hum in tune with the modern world is like trying to teach pigs to sing.
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