Tuesday, July 27, 2004


A discussion on Just Left on "what's the left for?" seems to be turning into a debate about political strategies for keeping a government on the right (or rather, left) tack, and whether "wing parties" (like the Alliance, and the Greens to some extent) are useful or not. IMHO wing parties are great for applying leftward pressure on a government, but the important thing is getting a left-wing grouping over the 50% mark in the first place. Doing this requires either cutting a deal with one of the floating parties, or gobbling (or rather shifting) the center. In 1999 the center shifted (though arguably it was in the same place its been since 1993; people just figured out where Winston Peters really stood). In 2002 it was looking like that shift would stay, until Helen opened her mouth and started talking about an absolute majority - when it shifted again to United Future. After the policy blitzkreigs of Rogernomics and Ruthaniasia, we just don't have much of a tolerance for majority government anymore.

National's series of policy speeches are an attempt to define and thereby shift the center ground. It's doing this by picking negative topics - crime, welfare, the Treaty - and trying to force the government into defending a position that some people (let's call them "rednecks") will disagree violently with. Labour's response has been to pull their head in and hide, and try not to present a target. This is a losing strategy.

What Labour should be doing is defining that center ground for itself. Don Brash wants to talk about spending half a billion dollars a year on prisons? Fuck that! We should be spending half a billion dollars a year extra on health. There's a powerful narrative about National running down public services last time they were in government, using the "razor gang" and the "sinking lid" to cut services like health to the point where they were barely viable (the plan then being to say "it doesn't work" and privatise it). A similar story can be told about infrastructure. National has indicated that it wants to return to those policies in an effort to further shrink government expenditure as a proportion of GDP (and further lower taxes on the rich). This will mean further damage and cutbacks to our public services. Despite the rhetoric of the right, you can't get more for less.

Public services are widely seen as being a central part of what this country is all about. Significant majorities support higher taxation for better health and education. So why the hell isn't Labour enunciating this core part of the "New Zealand dream", and presenting people with a clear choice on the matter?