Monday, October 20, 2008

Closing the wallet

I've been impressed over the last two weeks by Labour's solid response in the wake of the PREFU. Where National was trying to pretend nothing had changed (or, alternatively, to pretend they had changed their policies in response when they had done nothing of the sort), Labour has addressed the problem head on, moving to help the banks while minimising the impact of the recession on ordinary people. They've also clearly scaled back their election promises to a few key packages, including raising benefit abatement thresholds and ending the obscenity of forcing students to borrow to eat - both fundamentally fair measures which needed to be done regardless of circumstance, and whose costs are spread over the long-term. Now they've gone one further: at Labour's Wellington campaign launch yesterday, Helen Clark announced that they had closed the wallet entirely:

I have not come here today to announce any more significant spending initiatives.

Nor do I plan to announce more.

It's a responsible move; big promises now will simply end up saddling the next generation with debt. And having just dug ourselves out of that hole, we shouldn't go back to it. But I'd like to see more from Labour - specifically, an inkling of how they plan to reduce that debt path while protecting public services. I can think of one very big, very obvious area of spending to cut, where the effect will be purely distributional (and not harm the poor); the question is whether Labour will do it.