L-I: Guardian on NZ Labour.

Macdonald Stainsby mstainsby at SPAMtao.ca
Thu Jun 29 09:53:01 MDT 2000

What do comrades think of this? I'm thinking in particular of Phil F & John



Manchester Guardian Weekly Wednesday May 3, 2000


New Zealand's leftwing Labour government could teach
Tony Blair a thing or two about the 'heartlands'

By Jonathan Freedland

Click on www.fantasymayor.com and you can pick the London boss
of your dreams. So why not, in this week of local elections and Labour
anniversaries, take the game a stage further - and play fantasy
Let's start with a faraway Labour party that has ditched its flirtation
with Thatcherite economics and come home, relocating itself on the
unashamed left. Let's imagine this Labour party is speeding through a
programme so progressive it would make radicals everywhere drool. It
has raised the taxes of the rich and transferred the cash to pensioners,
students and the needy. It has stopped privatisation dead in its tracks,
even renationalising one public service because Labour believes there
are some things the free market cannot get right. It has given trade
unions their rights back and boosted spending on schools and hospitals.
It has rewritten employment law, moving the country away from what the
prime minister calls the "loony edges of a deregulated labour market". It
has started building houses again.
Wait, it gets better. This fantasy government has abolished all
honours that come with titles, ensuring an egalitarian nation with no
more use for Dames and Sirs. The Labour leader has even taken a tilt at
the monarchy itself, describing a republic as "inevitable". She enforces a
stoutly non-nuclear defence policy - and has dared confront the right by
scrapping an order for 28 swank new American fighter planes, arguing
that the country does not need them and cannot afford them. She wants
her army to be the world leader in peacekeeping and to shift from
militarism to humanitarianism. She has also moved to decriminalise
cannabis and encouraged a freedom of information regime so liberal that
cabinet papers are available to anyone who wants them within three
months. Best of all, this leftwing government is not besieged on all sides
by a hostile press or conservative public opinion. Instead, it is surging
ahead in the polls leaving the opposition to gasp with envy and awe.
Enough of such fantasy! Surely no such party can exist, able to
govern from the left even as it carries a grateful nation with it. Can it?
The happy answer is that it can and it does. For this is not a Guardian
readers' hallucination; this faraway land is not some impossible Utopia.
Rather the country is New Zealand and the party is Labour, under its
new prime minister, Helen Clark.
What she is up to makes not only a fascinating tale from the south
Pacific. It also provides a warning lesson for Tony Blair and New Labour
in what can happen to parties of the left that march too far rightward in
the pursuit of power. Those forecasting the shape of New Labour in
2010 don't need to gaze into the crystal ball: they can look down under.
For Helen Clark's party were Blairites a decade before Blair. Their
1997 came in 1984 when, just like New Labour, they were elected in a
massive landslide. They promptly dumped every economic principle that
had once been Labour holy writ. The party converted to the free market
with a zeal that out-Thatchered Thatcher and out-Reaganed Reagan. If it
moved, Labour and its finance minister Roger Douglas privatised it.
Taxes were slashed, workers' protection binned. New Zealand became
the citadel of the new right.
At first it worked. NZ Labour achieved Tony Blair's hallowed goal -
winning a second term. The party had seduced rich, middle New
Zealand, winning voters old Labour couldn't reach. "But the heartlands
started to go off us," Clark told me from her office overlooking Wellington
harbour. Labour's core supporters were "pretty appalled at what was
Here is the warning for Blair. New Zealand's heartlands rebelled in
what Clark calls - using the plain English that has helped make her so
popular - "disgust" at the rightward thrust of their party. Barely into its
second term, Labour revolted. Divisions led to a massive election defeat
in 1990, with the left breaking off to form a new party and Roger
Douglas's right eventually doing the same. Labour was reduced to a
rump. With less than 5,000 members, the new leader - Helen Clark -
began the 90s with what is said to be the lowest approval rating in world
polling history: 2%.
The remedy was to return to Labour's core values. "We'd had
experience of going right, we knew there was no market for that," she
explains. "But we also knew there was an appetite for an alternative." It
took nine years and two more election defeats to get it right. Clark is in
no doubt why it took so long: "We weren't left enough."
Could this be the fate of British Labour? Might the full-blooded
conversion to the free market - typified by this week's Commons vote on
the partial privatisation of the air traffic control system - eventually
fall out
of favour? Might Labour's left rebel, as they did down under? Could Blair
win his precious two terms, only to see his party serve three more in
opposition - rejected for its failure to provide an alternative to the
There are differences between the two situations, of course. For one
thing, the "Rogernomics" of the Douglas era was much more rightwing
than the fiscal prudence of Gordon Brown: after all, the NZ Labour
government of the 1980s had to drag a country that was run, in Clark's
words, like a "Polish shipyard" into the 20th century.
New Zealand's electoral system, a form of proportional
representation, is a key difference. Size matters, too: it's possible that
state-run public services make more sense when the population is less
than four million. And leftwing politics sits well with a country like New
Zealand. As the prime minister says, "In a settler society, you start off
with people a lot more even."
NZ is young and egalitarian by instinct: that's why there was barely a
whisper of protest at the promise to make no more Dame Kiri Te
Kanawas or Sir Edmund Hilarys. If Australia gets its act together and
removes the Queen as head of state, then Clark cannot imagine New
Zealand lagging far behind. Britain, she appreciates, is different -
"essentially a much more hierarchical society" than hers.
Still, we may have something to learn from this country 12,000 miles
away, where a prime minister explicitly promised her nation a radical
programme and where she is delivering it at a breakneck pace. For
Helen Clark is proving that leaders of social democratic, "first world"
parties do not always have to talk like conservatives to win and keep
power. They can respect the basic rules of sound economic
management - and then take on the corporations, stand up for workers'
rights, tax the top 5% of earners, curb defence spending, strip the
constitution of privilege and deference and open up the government.
They can do all that and still ride high in the polls.
Helen Clark met Tony Blair in Downing Street last month. Apparently
he asked lots of questions about her flying start in government: let's
hope he was taking notes.

Macdonald Stainsby
Check out  the Tao ten point program: http://new.tao.ca

".- I would be thinking of a world worthy of the
human species, without hyper-wealthy and wasteful
nations on the one hand and countless countries
mired in extreme poverty on the other; a world in
which all identities and cultures were preserved,
a world with justice and solidarity; a world
without plundering, oppression or wars, where
science and technology were at the service of
humankind; a world where nature was protected and
the great throng of people living on the planet
today could survive, grow and enjoy the spiritual
and material wealth that talent and labor could
create. No need to ask; I dream of a world that
the capitalist philosophy will never make

- Fidel Castro

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