Span is back, refreshed from her European holiday, and wanting to blog about politics again. Huzzah!
As for her desire to talk about the future of the New Zealand left, Crooked Timber pointed me at an interesting piece on Urban Drift UK, which asks the same questions about the UK and the expected replacement of Tony Blair with Gordon Brown. After a long discussion of "triangulation" (pandering to the right) versus representing Labour voters, and the relative payoffs of these strategies, MizMillie makes a clear statement of what it's all about:
The success of any Labour administration needs to be measured by how much it has shifted the centre towards the left in its three terms of power, as much as as how successfully it has remained true to the values of the left in its policies.
So how well has New Zealand Labour done on this front? It's worth noting that they've delivered a lot of solid social democratic policy - better employment laws, regular increases in the minimum wage, better access to education and hence opportunity (whether tertiary or trade), paid parental leave, a slow re-extension of universal primary healthcare, working for families, kiwisaver - and that these policies have generally been popular. The biggest criticism here is that they've if anything been too timid in pushing these policies (the extension of annual leave being a case in point). I'm not sure whether it represents a shift of the centre to the left, but at the least it has cemented left-wing policy with the electorate, in that National will face an enormous political cost if they try to roll any of these policies back (really, just imagine the screams if National tries to reintroduce interest on student loans, or take away people's annual leave or free doctor's visits, or reduce WFF entitlements). Where the wheels have fallen off is in areas like crime, immigration, race relations, and now tax, where Labour has abandoned progressive values entirely and openly pandered to the right in an effort to avoid being painted as "soft" - or, in the latter case, abandoned the field entirely and given National free rein to shift public opinion its way on what should be a core part of social democratic policy.
As for what this means, here's MizMillie again:
The worst possible outcome is not necessarily that of a Labour party shut out of power for the foreseeable future, but that of a Labour government enjoying sustained electoral success in a society that has become more rightwing under its watch.
While I don't think Labour has allowed society to become more rightwing economically (though watch this space with their yielding the ground on tax), it certainly has in other areas. And this is something those of us on the left should regard as a tragedy.
(Yes, I know the left is bigger than the Labour Party, but the above is an interesting place to start talking).