Thursday, August 06, 2020

Assessing Labour's term

Parliament has just begun the adjournment debate, signalling the effective end of this Parliament. So it seems like an appropriate time to assess Labour's term in office. Unfortunately, its a pretty dismal assessment. Labour campaigned on one thing: change. Not just a change in who got the top jobs and the fat salaries, but a change in direction on inequality, on housing, on worker's rights, on climate change. And in her adjournment debate speech, Ardern is talking up those aspirations again. But the sad fact is that when in office, Labour hasn't delivered change. Instead, it has run a status quo government which has maintained existing inequalities and failures. Winston gets some of the blame for that, but not all - on some big issues, Labour chose not to change things, ruling out a capital gains tax, retaining the Hobbit law under another name, continuing subsidies for polluters and farmers. And they look set to repeat this, offering nothing if re-elected. No policies, no change in direction, just the red team getting the big bucks and the perks of office for another three years. That might thrill Labour hacks and apparatchiks, but it doens't thrill me.

A year ago, I called them a government of disappointment, and despite them finally having ovaried up and passed abortion law reform, I stand by that. Once upon a time Labour governments changed things and made New Zealand a better country. The modern Labour Party seems to have given up any ambition of that, and seem content to preside over whatever ruins National leaves them.

The government's one saving grace is that Ardern is good in a crisis. We saw it in Christchurch, we saw it over White Island, and we've seen it again with the pandemic: her instincts are good, and she is good at communicating what is necessary and bringing people with her. And in the middle of the biggest crisis we've faced for a century, that's useful, especially with the opposition working hard to make everyone think they are on the side of the virus. But we shouldn't pretend that she's good for anything else, or that the party she leads deserves re-election on its policy merits. The only policy achievements we've seen this term - the Zero Carbon Act, the Residential Tenancies Act, the half-measure of banning new fossil fuel exploration (which Labour immediately cheated on) - belong to the Greens. And the only way we will get anything other than the status quo from Labour next term is if the Greens can force them.