Brian Rudman 's Opinion

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman: Apologetic Goff has fallen into Nats' trap

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Apologising for the Clark Government's distraction with middle-class social issues like smacking kids and energy-efficient lightbulbs was hardly the smartest way for Phil Goff to stamp his mark as new leader of the Labour Party.

The bitter struggle with the unions for shared ownership of the Labour Party was fought and won by the new middle classes nearly half a century ago.

To don his cloth cap at last weekend's party conference and blame "sideshows" like "smacking, lightbulbs [and] shower heads" as the reason Labour was thrown out of office last year, was to buy into the slick propaganda of his National rivals - and give it a new life.

He's now made a rod for his own back every time a "nanny state" slur is directed Labour's way. It would have been better if he'd stuck to the line he took a couple of months ago in an interview, when he stood by his decision to vote for the anti-smacking legislation, adding it was "a monstrous injustice" that National, which had also voted en bloc for it, had then turned around and started beating Labour over the head with the "nanny state" smear.

By fingering Labour's social liberal instincts as a cause of the defeat, Mr Goff not only risks annoying supporters who identify with these issues, he fools no one. These issues are part of the life blood of the party.

As if to underline this, journalists couldn't resist ferreting out a remit from the Rainbow sector group calling for free condoms to stop unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases. This was a very mild example of the sort of issues that have always featured in Labour conference remit books.

Luckily for Mr Goff, the conference was over before party activists had a chance to catch up with research from the London School of Economics arguing contraception was almost five times cheaper as a means of preventing climate change, than conventional green technologies. The principle being it's much cheaper to hand out condoms to prevent the emitter being born, than it is to cleanse the atmosphere of the carbon he or she will emit, once born, for the next 80-odd years.

If the new leader is uncomfortable backing the case for energy-efficient lightbulbs, how much more embarrassing for him if the party latched on to the idea of free condoms as a way to stop global warming.

Retiring Greens' leader Jeanette Fitzsimons got it right in her open letter responding to Mr Goff's speech. She argued it wasn't the message that was at fault, it was the way it was delivered - or more to the point, not delivered.

"Your real problem," she wrote, "was that when you developed innovative policies you didn't take people with you. If you had a sufficient majority you didn't think you had to explain."

In other words, Labour stood back rather imperiously and let their critics rubbish policies like efficient light bulbs, without bothering to sell the policy. Promoting energy-efficient bulbs shouldn't have been a sideshow. The more efficient bulbs are expected to save New Zealand householders around $500 a year.

The policy wasn't even wacky or radical. Australia's conservative Prime Minister John Howard had already announced plans to phase out incandescent light bulbs by 2012, saying it could reduce Australian greenhouse gas emissions by four million tonnes and cut household power bills by up to 60 per cent.

"Here's something practical that everybody will participate in," he said.

And the week before Mr Goff's speech, the European Union introduced a ban on the sale or import of 100-watt incandescent frosted glass bulbs right across Europe. In a year's time, the ban will extend to the most commonly used 60-watt bulbs, and the rest will go by 2012. The US begins to phase the old bulbs out in 2012.

Of course there's been criticism. London's Daily Telegraph, both conservative and nationalistic, even ran a beat-up announcing "the man responsible for the Europe-wide ban on traditional light bulbs can be revealed as a former Soviet Communist Party member from Latvia".

But commie plot or not, energy-efficient light bulbs are a sensible way to help save voters money and give the planet a helping hand. That it became a "nanny state" sideshow in New Zealand is not the fault of the product, but the lack of salesmanship.

Of course there are things Mr Goff could have apologised for; the dithering over Auckland public transport for one. Labour had nearly a decade in power to build a showcase, electrified commuter rail system.

But it left office with the trains unordered and no electric wires to be seen. It was the same story with integrated ticketing. Perhaps it was around promises unfulfilled, such as this, that the votes were lost.

- NZ Herald

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Brian Rudman

Brian Rudman is a NZ Herald feature writer and columnist.

Brian Rudman's first news story was for Auckland University student paper Outspoke, exposing an SIS spy on campus during the heady days of the Vietnam War. It resulted in a Commission of Inquiry and an award for student journalist of the year. A stint editing the Labour Party's start-up Auckland newspaper NZ Statesman followed. Rudman decided journalism was the career for him, but the NZ Herald and Auckland Star thought otherwise when he came job-hunting. After a year on the "hippy trail" overland to London, he spent four years on Fleet St with various British provincial papers. He then joined the Auckland Star, winning the Dulux Journalist of the Year award for coverage of the 1976 Dawn Raids against Polynesian overstayers. He has also worked on the NZ Listener, Auckland Sun, and since 1996, for the NZ Herald as feature writer and columnist. He has a BA in History and Politics.

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