NZ politics

John Edmundson JWE21 at
Thu Jun 29 19:51:16 MDT 2000

Just a quick note on:

Manchester Guardian Weekly Wednesday May 3, 2000

The summary of the '84-'90 era is not too bad.

The assessment of the Clark govt remains in the realm of fantasy.

There is no way the NZLP is on "the unashamed left."

It certainly doesn't "make radicals everywhere drool."

The MGW notes

"It has raised the taxes of the rich and transferred the cash to
pensioners, students and the needy."

Yes it did raise the top tax rate, but then made it clear that if
those people wanted to put their money into super schemes, they
would be taxed at the old rate. In fact, they would be doing the
country a favour by improving NZs savings rate. Tax avoidance as
patriotic duty!

The govt has promised a 2.5% increase in funding to tertiary
institutions on condition that they don't raise their fees. But 2.5%
is not enough to maintain services. So either the polytechs and
universities cut services or lay off staff, (or both) and take the
increased funding, or they put the fees up, reject the funding
increase, and get blamed while the govt looks good for standing up
to the institutions for trying to raise fees. Either way, the way
they're going is seeking more and more corporate "partnerships", ie.
privatising themselves by necessity. At secondary level, the only
way schools can make ends meet is by competing for fee paying
foreign students. The "needy" haven't had much of a look in either.
The alliance proposed a benefit increase straight after the election,
as a Christmas present, but Labour quickly put them in their place.
The Green party then proposed a one-off extra payment to help
people on benefits over the Christmas break. Labour told them tat
was unaffordable as well.

It is true that "Labour believes there are some things the free
market cannot get right." So does nearly everyone in NZ these
days. The days of the new right, as manifested in the Business
Round Table have gone in NZ. Labour certainly believes in state
intervention and a more "hands on" role for govt. You don't have to
look far to see that ther is nothing uniquely left about that.

To say that "It has given trade unions their rights back" is
disingenuous. As I mentioned a few days ago, the Employment
Relations Bill, which is actually on hold following objections from
business anyway, does not restore union rights to pre -
Employment Contract Act days at all. It certainly represents an
improvement on the ECA, but the unions are so weakened now
that it remains an open question what will come of the new law in
practice. Labour minister Margaret Wilson's angle has always been
that it encourages "good faith bargaining" and is no threat to
employers. This is not a government with even the rhetoric of pro-
worker politics.

"It has started building houses again."

True, but would it by unduly cynical of me to note that just as when
Labour invested in a massive state housing program in the 1930s,
the building industry is in its worst downturn in years? A state hand
out would go down well with them right now too.

"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"."

Please!!! The USA has no dames or knights, has this ensured that
it rates amongst the most egalitarian of nations? Actually, the
republican issue was also championed by Jim Bolger, the National
Prime Minister before the Jenny Shipley leadership coup. In
isolation from radical politics, this means nothing.

"She enforces a stoutly non-nuclear defence policy"

This has been accepted accross the political spectrum for about a
decade now. Both Labour and National sent MPs on a frigate to
Moruroa to protest against French testing. This is mainstream in
New Zealand. That may seem progressive to American leftists, but
in the context of NZ politics, the alternative would be the wilderness.

" - 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."

This too was a popular decision. Opinion polls confirmed this
before the final decision was made.

"She wants her army to be the world leader in peacekeeping and
to shift from militarism to humanitarianism."

Yes, she's dead keen (excuse the expression) to get our troops
into East Timor type situations. Humanitarian peace-keeping is the
order of the day, but we've had that debate here already.

"She has also moved to decriminalise cannabis"

Actually, the Greens raised this, most significantly, Nandor
Tancos, a rastafarian MP. Jenny Shipley (Leader of the opposition)
also supports a reexamination of the law. Phil Goff (Minister of
Justice) on the other hand, is as hard line against cannabis as they

"Instead, it is surging ahead in the polls leaving the opposition to
gasp with envy and awe."

Actually, the honeymoon seems to be over. Labour's lead in the
polls has slipped of late.

"For this is not a Guardian readers' hallucination"

Regretably, this is exactly what this is, or rather,  a Guardian
writer's hallucination.

"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."

True, Blair probably could learn a lesson or two from the
NZLP. Over here, the govt has realise that the hard line right is no
longer needed. "Caring capitalism" is in. For them, the fact that the
flag ship caring capitalists - Dick Hubbard, who flew his staff to
Samoa for a holiday (yes his staff are overwhelmingly Pacific
immigrant women!) and Stephen Tyndall, who runs a charitable
foundation to absolve his conscience - have both been reporting
higher profitability just means a "win-win" for staff and workers.

"using the plain English that has helped make her so popular"

I have no idea where this idea came from. Clarks use of language
has never been relevant. It's no different from any other politician's.
In fact ex PM Jim Bolger (National) once said "bugger" on national
television, which beats "disgust" for colourful language.

"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."

Herein lies the truth. Labour saw that NZ was fed up with the
policies of the last Labour and National governments and Clark
managed to reinvent the LP, not going back to pro-working class
politics, but discovering a more user-friendly version of the "Third
way", of which Clark is a big fan.

"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?"

Guess who was a front runner for taking on the British air traffic
control system? You guessed it, the NZ govt's air traffic control

Which reminds me, NZ govt owned NZPost has gained a bit of a
reputation going around restructuring postal services from Latin
America to South Africa. As I was writing this, the business news
on the radio reported that NZPost has won a contract to restructure
the Nigerian postal service. As usual, the spokesperson was able
to state that "the objective is to prepare the service for privatisation"
The aversion to privatisation apparently adopted by the NZLP is a
myth. If NZPost can make lots of money privatising other people's
postal service, good luck to them, they Clark says.

Why they still sing the Internationale at conference is anyone's
guess. They don't give a toss about the workers of the world, unless
they can make money from them of course.

"They can respect the basic rules of sound economic management
- and then take on the corporations"

I'm still waiting with bated breath...

"stand up for workers' rights"

I'm still waiting...

"curb defence spending"

Actually, they haven't, they've just redirected it from the air strike
arm to the army. Unlike nearly everyone on the left here, I'd have
preferred them to squander the defence budget on the F16s rather
than upgrade the army's killing power.

"strip the constitution of privilege and deference and open up the

The key pieces of legislation here are the Privacy Act, Freedom of
Information act and Fiscal Responsibility Act, none of which are the
product of the Clark Govt.

"They can do all that and still ride high in the polls."

Which they aren't any more.
I hope this is helpful.

John E

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