Monday, November 09, 2015

Standing for nothing

The Labour party held its annual conference in Palmerston North over the weekend, and the big news is that they dumped their core policies from last election. A capital gains tax to fix the housing market and stick it to MPs? Gone. Their reason? Not because they'd carefully studied the empirical evidence on such instruments and decided that it wouldn't achieve their goals, or even that they've abandonded those goals for other priorities, but because (in the words of Grant Robertson):

"We didn't do well at the election last year and we have to have a look at the policies that were part of that."
And so instead, we have a bunch of mild tinkering around the edges. And that's supposed to inspire people to vote for them?

This is Labour's problem in a nutshell: the party is empty at its core. They don't stand for anything, except possibly for Grant Robertson getting paid $250,000 a year instead of Bill English. They have no values, and no policies that won't be chucked away after the next poll. And as a result, you can't trust them to deliver, because what they're offering will change three times over before the next election. Do they favour raising the superannuation age or not? They did, now they don't, and who knows what they'll think next week. While I'm pleased they dumped that policy, the fact that they didn't do it for any principled reason - or any reason at all, other than "we lost an election and need something to blame rather than ourselves" - means I can't have any confidence that it won't be back. And as a result, I can't possibly vote for them.

And you can repeat that narrative for every other policy they have. I'm not saying that parties should have their policies fixed in stone and unchanging. But they need to have something at their core, something they can point to to justify changes, something to stand for. Because if your value proposition is just "our bums on seats instead of theirs", sorry, I'm not buying.