Michael Cox: Yearning for yesteryear's policies is a mistake

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Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell
Prime Minister John Key. Photo / Mark Mitchell

Bryan Gould's oft-printed politically contentious views are a product of his past.

He obviously finds the policies practised by John Key and Bill English hard to take and suggests that they should follow the interventionist Keynesian economics of yesteryear. He even implies that budget surpluses are somehow evil.

Bryan and I go back a long way. I met him briefly when, as a Rhodes scholar, he was studying law at Oxford University. He was a "gowny" and I was a "towny"; my home was in a village just outside Oxford and I was home on leave from my position as a ship's mate, having just visited New Zealand. "There's a Kiwi over by the bar," pointed out an old school friend, "his name is Bryan Gould." He and I shared a couple of half pints of local warm beer at the Turf, a pub tucked in just behind New College. He was obviously very bright and enjoying the university life.

Since then I have followed his career with interest. Here was a young lad from Waipa doing well in London, first as a diplomat and then as an MP for the British Labour Party.

Bryan was in and out of British parliamentary seats, finishing up as MP for Dagenham in 1983.

In 1992 he stood for the leadership of his Labour Party, following the resignation of Neil Kinnock. Even for the British Labour Party, Bryan was considered pretty left wing and failed in his leadership bids.

Bryan resigned from British politics in 1994 to return to New Zealand to take up the vice-chancellor's job at Waikato University. He lasted in that job for 10 years and we met again as fellow trustees of the University Foundation, fund raising for and building the splendid Performing Arts Centre. I was sad to see him go from the vice-chancellor's role; he did a good job on the foundation.

Now he is writing these hard-hitting columns and hopefully readers can now understand a little of what drives him to his Fabian and Keynesian views. I would imagine Bryan would have found Tony Blair's New Labour views pretty hard to swallow as well.

John Maynard Keynes' economic philosophy was also the guiding star for one of our homegrown former Ministers of Finance and Prime Minister Robert David Muldoon. I sat alongside him in the National Party caucus room as he bludgeoned our fragile economy in a debilitating Keynesian way. He controlled prices, wages, interest rates and dividends and did nothing to stop the "spend and pray" mentality of the 1970s.

It was a dismal failure and the electorate sacked us as a government for it. It took Roger Douglas, Labour's Minister of Finance, to straighten up our small economy. As the shadow finance spokesman of the National opposition at this time, I could only watch in awe as Roger did all the right things, introduced all the economic policies one would expect from a Tory regime. It was the worst job I ever had.

Over many years in politics I've discovered that the average Kiwi doesn't want to be controlled. We understand the role of government well and react when politicians overstep the mark. Polls show that most are reasonably happy with the way we are recovering from the economic downturn; they like Key's style.

Now Bryan regularly advocates that we go back to these heady ways of Keynes. His British Labour party mates didn't like his advocacy and I'm picking the majority of New Zealanders wouldn't want to go back to the ways of Muldoon; it's a dead economic duck.

Michael Cox is a former National MP.

- NZ Herald

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