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Sunday, 21 June 2015

The New Labour Party and 70s thinking

Chris Bishop gave a speech recently pointing out the inversion in New Zealand politics:
Historically in New Zealand politics, the Labour Party has liked to think of itself as the party of progressive, even radical, social change.
Conversely, it is sometimes claimed National is the traditional party of conservatism – the party that manages the status quo; that builds on social changes already made.
Whatever the truth of these claims, today’s political situation differs markedly from these perceptions. National and Labour’s traditional roles have reversed.
Labour is now the real conservative party – fearful of innovative social policy, afraid of new ideas – in short, the party which says “No” to everything.
Meanwhile it is National that is the genuine reformist party, determined to enter social policy realms that Labour has selfishly and oddly assumed it owned for itself, such as the welfare system, social housing and education.
The responses to this speech (and subsequent NBR article) have been intriguing. One in particular caught my attention. It wasn't the expected response from the centre-left, which has been "No", they do in fact have all the answers to long-term social problems.

It's the response from the wingnut right faction (no, I'm not going to link to it) the accusation has been leveled that in the speech and article Chris was "...lay[ing] out his and National’s credentials as the New Labour party…approaching Muldoon’s for its left-ness."

It's this response that I find laughable. Firstly, Muldoon was clear right from the start of his premiership that his goal was to "leave New Zealand no worse off than he found it." While I think he was genuine in this goal, it was clear by 1984 that he hadn't achieved this unambitious goal. In swept the Lange-Douglas government and the rest is history.

Muldoon's "left-ness" was his expansion of the government's intervention in the economy. But he kept to usual centre-right policies of the day otherwise. And no-one can accuse the Key government of the sort of Think Big, wage-freeze or exchange rate interventions Muldoon brought in to shield New Zealand from the world.

Secondly, and this is a point missed by the wingnut faction, the goal of the Key government has been to deliver better social outcomes and better value for money for taxpayers. The point Chris made more broadly is that better social outcomes are not left-wing in nature, nor does the opposition have a monopoly on them.

What is becoming obvious though is that the opposition are conservative in the sense that most of their solutions seem to date from the 1970s. Take their broadcasting policy for example: spending millions on regional television stations; spending further millions bringing back a fully public broadcaster combining radio and television. You know, much like the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation of the 1970s. Completely at odds with their own admission that the internet is radically changing the way people access and view content. That's 70s thinking - the sort of thinking that won't move New Zealand forwards.