Dialogue: What does Labour need?

By Bryan Gould, Michael Cox

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Voters will feel more confident in promoting a change of government if ‘we’re all in this together’.
Labour Party leader Andrew Little is clearly demonstrating his credentials as a prospective Prime Minister.  Picture / Nick Reed
Labour Party leader Andrew Little is clearly demonstrating his credentials as a prospective Prime Minister. Picture / Nick Reed

Bryan Gould: Labour needs to frame the big picture

The recent poll showing that Labour is losing rather than gaining ground will have been very disappointing to the Labour leadership - particularly because their improved performance across the board might have been expected to produce a lift in popular support.

The Labour Party seems, after all, to have put behind it most of the deficiencies that have held it back. The parliamentary party is more united and has largely eschewed the kind of in-fighting that gave such a damaging impression of disunity. The front bench is competent and working hard, holding the Government to account for its deficiencies, of which there is no shortage.

They have a competent and respected leader who is clearly demonstrating his credentials as a prospective Prime Minister. They have agreed a collaborative arrangement with potential coalition partners and are ready to remedy the oversights - such as the failure to focus adequately on the importance of the party vote - that cost Labour votes in the last election.

So, what more can be done? We should not assume that Labour MPs are necessarily best-placed to provide the answer. This is not because they are ill-equipped to do so, but because of the demands that our parliamentary system places on them.

As I know from my own experience as an MP (admittedly in the British rather than the New Zealand Parliament), parliamentarians work long hours and are dragged in a dozen different directions at once. There is little time to reflect on whether the best use has been made of the available time.

The danger is that this leads to a focus on day-by-day events rather than new strategic thinking. It can lead to the conclusion that each new issue requires a new and immediate policy response.

There are of course instances of particular policies on particular issues moving opinion substantially. But elections are more usually decided by wider considerations - what might be called value systems - and, for a party of the left, and by definition one that purports to offer a vision of a better society, this is surely the most promising avenue.

This may be where Labour is falling short. It has perhaps failed to grasp that what it is really up against is a hegemonic force - a neo-liberal revolution - that has shaped political attitudes in western democracies across the globe for more than a generation and that now represents a norm so powerful that it is not even recognised as such by those who might be expected to oppose it.

This hegemony cannot be changed or challenged just by nibbling at the edges - by attacking short-term policy failures on specific issues, or by sharpening up campaigning techniques. What is needed is a fundamental statement of what the Labour Party stands for, and a persuasive account of why it will produce a better and more successful society than has been delivered by the current neo-liberal orthodoxy.

Many of those who might consider voting Labour do so precisely because they are looking for a different set of values than those demonstrated by our current Government and than are reflected in today's New Zealand. The National Government makes no secret of its belief that the market - which they see as the mainspring of economic activity and as an infallible moral arbiter of what is and is not worthwhile - must always prevail.

Many of our more thoughtful fellow-citizens, however, do not want a society where the bottom line is all that matters, where the market decides who prospers and who is left behind, where social and environmental issues take second or third place to the drive for profit.

They want to see a society which is stronger, happier and healthier because we have learned all over again that we are all better off if we look after each other. They are ready to learn the lesson, increasingly reinforced by experience around the world, that we do not have to choose between market efficiency and social justice - that those societies which fairly share the fruits of economic success also produce the better economic outcomes.

Labour should, in other words, be braver in taking on its opponents on these big issues - the ones that matter most. Yes, personal competencies, the correct policy options, campaigning effectiveness, all have a role to play, and Labour owes it to its supporters to get those things right.

But voters will feel more confident in voting Labour if they are convinced that a Labour government will approach individual issues from a consistent viewpoint - one that will give priority to the values of tolerance, mutual respect, compassion, care for each other, and a recognition that "we're all in this together".

It's not that values are all that matter. The voters will still want to know what a Labour government might do, in practical policy terms, about particular issues, such as the housing crisis. But they will be more receptive to those policy proposals, and will understand them better, if they can locate them within a moral framework, if they are not just a solution to a particular problem but are an expression of a different and potentially superior view of how a successful, happier and healthier society might function.

Michael Cox: Labour should beware of drifting left

You have to give it to Bryan Gould. He is persistent in his claims that the politics of envy and socialism are the only saviours for the people of New Zealand.

As a British Labour MP he failed to convince his own parliamentary colleagues that he should be their leader way back in the 1990's. Even they rejected his hard left philosophies.

Recently we have seen another socialist government fail dismally. Under President Dilma Rousseff's Brazilian Workers Party government for the past 13, the once wealthy Brazil has gone down the fiscal tubes.

She led her country into its worst ever recession. The people she hurt the most with her socialist policies were those she tried hardest to protect. One in nine workers is jobless, up a third in the past year and inflation is close to 10 per cent. The economy has shrunk by 3.8 per cent.

This is just another modern day example of how socialism, as proposed by the likes of Professor Gould, doesn't work.

Just as the Prof was making his bid for the leadership of the British Labour Party, the painful 60 years of Russian Socialism was beginning to crumble and his opponents for the leadership, John Smith and Tony Blair, sensibly moved into the centre ground, leaving Bryan floundering on the left; and he still is.

Presidential candidate Hillary Clinton has been forced out of her comfortable economic place in the centre and to the left by her persistent Democrat opponent Bernie Saunders. She is now paying the price for that by letting the erasable Donald Trump take some of the centre economic ground.

I'm picking she will lose in her bid for the White House as Trump begins to take the lion's share of the prospective votes in the swing states such as Ohio.

In the early 1990's, as a trustee of the New Zealand Casino Control Authority, I spent a day with Trump discussing an interest he had shown in being granted an operator's licence for the proposed Auckland Casino. He seemed affable enough and I was fascinated by this extrovert - but of course he wanted something from me.

Nevertheless I told my colleagues on the authority that I didn't think Trump, whose Atlantic Casino was in Chapter 11 [Receivership], would be a good fit for the budding New Zealand casino industry. They accepted my advice.

Now it's odds on that he could be the next President of the USA. I'm not expecting an invitation to the White House, although I suspect he won't use it as his abode. He is more likely, in my opinion, to buy or build his own home and office in Washington from which he will operate as President using his own people and rules.

I don't think Trump fits into the usual politician mould. He's a centralist and popularist in the Winston Peters' fashion. He is an extraordinary button pusher with a superb ability to read the voters' minds.

And despite those who go into apoplectic fits about his methods and statements, he's pretty smart. You have to be so to earn $400m a year.

For example he is picking up all those Democratic left wing voters in the rust belt simply by promising them their jobs back; those jobs that have disappeared into China, India or some other low wage country. Even though he appals me at times you have to admit it is fascinating watching.

But back to the Prof. I don't know if the Labour Opposition's front bench is listening to Bryan, but I can't see him boosting their present rather sad polling results.

Michael Cox was a National MP from 1978 to 1987.

- NZ Herald

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