Friday, October 16, 2020

Big changes do stick

In one of her last pre-election interviews, Jacinda Ardern tries to defend her policy of doing nothing while in government:

Ardern reflected on large changes made by Helen Clark’s government – particularly in education and welfare – that were still part of the system now, saying they prove smaller changes can become large over time.

“They got criticised for not being bold enough and not being transformational enough, but they are examples of policies that they bought in and made part of our system that we haven't lost,” Ardern says.

“So I think that probably in some ways, demonstrates that those things that actually over time do make a difference.”


“The idea that you can only make change with large jarring lurches – those are the kind of changes that are unravelled.”

...which might sound reasonable, if you ignore the fact that her government is still enacting the core policies of the NeoLiberal fourth Labour Government (and its National successor), which were imposed in exactly such a lurch. Low taxes for the rich, poverty benefit levels and service cuts for the poor, user pays, mass student debt, the Employment Contracts Act, privatisation, public service managerialism, central bank independence, austerity, inflation and surplus fetishism - the list just goes on. Like Clark, Ardern's government has ameliorated some of the worst features, but has basicly done nothing to roll back the core. So I'd say that that definitely hasn't unravelled. And looking back further, the radical changes made by the First Labour Government (state housing, the welfare state) also stuck, at least until Ruth Richardson and Jenny Shipley started dismantling them. Why did those changes stick? Because the governments which enacted them made them the status quo, entrenching them in the minds of the elites or the people respectively, so that changing them became "unthinkable".

Ardern could do that on inequality and on climate change. She is the most gifted politician in a generation, and in an enviable political position. If she doesn't choose to, it is not because it cannot be done, but because she does not want to. At the end of the day, given the perfect platform to advocate for Labour's policy and values, she can't be bothered even to make the argument. She's rather sit there and collect her fat half million a year pay packet to defend and further entrench the unjust, unsustainable, immoral status quo. And no matter how many terms she wins, no matter how rich she gets, that makes her a failure as a Prime Minister. And if climate change gets really bad, future generations may even judge her to be a criminal.