Friday, September 23, 2022

Labour: From disappointment to deceit

In the 1980's and 1990's, Aotearoa faced a succession of governments who brazenly lied to the public, promising one thing to get elected, then doing something completely different in office. As revenge, we inflicted MMP on politicians, to saddle them with coalition partners and deprive them of the absolute majorities which enabled this deceitful behaviour. And the politicians seemed to learn their lesson, avoiding such blatant public betrayals for a generation. But 25 years on, it seems the current government has forgotten that lesson. The combination of a previously-unheard of majority government with a legacy FPP party with a legacy FPP institutional culture has returned to the old ways of lying and deceit.

What lies? "My generation's nuclear-free moment". "The most open and transparent government ever". "No mines on conservation land". Change. These are all promises the government made, things it campaigned on, which the public therefore expected it to deliver. And instead of what was promised, we've got foot-dragging, pretended helplessness and more gas permits; more secrecy, more mines, and the status quo. Single-majority government has stripped them of any excuse for this failure - now they can no longer blame a hostile coalition partner, it is clear that Labour's failure to deliver is not due to practical inability, but to its own unwillingness. They've moved from being a government of disappointment to a government of active deceit.

(Oh, but they want a four-year term, so they can not do the things they've promised, but for longer!)

Which is why my reaction to Peter Dunne's Newsroom column arguing that Labour must make a bold, unpredictable move if it wants to win the next election was a bitter "they could try keeping their promises". And why I just laughed at Ardern's claim that she would make New Zealand's position clear if Russian diplomats confronted her at the UN. Unless she actually punches a Russian diplomat in the face or throws a purple dildo at them on the floor of the General Assembly, this is just another meaningless pleasant lie to be forgotten the moment the news cycle shifts. This government no longer means anything it says, and after years of disappointment and betrayal, we can no longer place any faith in anything it promises. Its the political equivalent of cash upfront now: either they deliver instantly, or its bullshit.

As for what can be done about it, one part of a solution is no more majority governments, because they enable this behaviour. But beyond that, Labour badly needs an electoral lesson. We need to take their majority off them, and saddle them with a coalition partner who will force them to actually do what they say they will do. Which, in the case of the promises they have broken, means the Greens and/or Te Pati Māori. And the best thing about this solution is that Labour will absolutely hate it.

Update: And when I posted this, I hadn't even seen Labour's latest: an explicit refusal to do something they promised to do. Why should we believe they are anything other than arrogant, self-entitled liars now?