Monday, January 26, 2015

Labour: Time to stop being a valet

Politics restarts this week, with duelling state of the nation speeches by John Key and Andrew Little on Wednesday. So who is Little speaking to as his first major speech of the year? The Auckland business elite, of course:

Mr Little, a former union head, has chosen a business audience for his inaugural state of the nation address in an apparent bid to reassure them Labour should not be dismissed as unfriendly to business.

The problem is that the things Labour says it wants to do (and the things its voters want it to do) - raise wages, restore employment rights, end housing speculation and reduce unemployment - are inherently "unfriendly to business". Its a zero-sum game: every dollar workers get is a dollar business-owners don't. "Grow the pie?" Its the same problem on a different level - and business will not accept a reversal of the current situation where they get all the growth and we get nothing. And yet, Labour has made it a political priority to pretend that this is not the case, to try and keep up a charade that they can both be pro-business and pro-ordinary kiwi - and to implicitly promise to betray its voters. Which really makes you wonder whose side they're on.

But apart from being deceitful, this charade is also pointless. As we saw in 2000's "winter of discontent", business will react to the election of a Labour government with absolute hostility. I expect the same will happen next time they're part of a government (and moreso if they're allied to the Greens). It doesn't matter how many arses Little licks - business will not accept the party's agenda. Better to acknowledge that and seek support elsewhere rather than pretend you can have it both ways.

Meanwhile, writing in the Guardian today (about Greece, of course), Zoe Williams talks about the need for left-wing parties to actually stand up to the money men. Along the way, she highlights the central problem of conventional political debate, which casts everything as being about budgets and growth:
Politicians are cast in a fairly minor role by this rationale. They take on a sort of valet position, there to arrange things the way the economy needs them. It is extremely difficult as this kind of politician to make any diagnosis of reality that people might recognise. The last thing you want to do when your hands are tied is to describe a situation – low wages for instance, high housing costs, unliveable lives – that demands action.

We're not at the levels of denial they have in the UK, where (for example) every major political party accepts that PPPs are a disaster but no-one is willing to actually stop shovelling money down the hole. Our Labour Party can diagnose our problems, and is doing a pretty good job of highlighting what's wrong and what needs to change. But they also very clearly think their hands are tied and that they are subservient to capital. Which is going to make it extremely difficult for them to deliver on their promises if elected. A party which didn't view itself as a valet would probably be better able to do so.