During the Labour leader election campaigns we regularly heard about the ‘800,000 voters who didn’t vote’. That Labour’s job was not to appeal to the disenchanted in National or to steal voters from its natural allies, the Green Party, but to inspire those who felt disenfranchised and forgotten.
In answer to a question David Cunliffe said, “We need three things: strategy, unity and urgency. At the last election more than 800,000 people didn’t vote. At the 2011 election, Labour failed to persuade enough New Zealanders that it was a credible alternative. When National was telling them that they would cut them off at the knees, they don’t want to hear from Labour that it would too, just a little nearer to the ankles and with more anaesthetic.”
Since 1984 Labour has had policies that were further to the right or closely resembled those of the National party. Just like New Labour in the UK, they thought voters were supportive of neo-liberal policies and the party needed to offer the same with a bit, a very small bit, of social conscience.
The problem was that the economic logic behind neo-liberalism (or “Rogernomics” in NZ) proved to be flawed, especially for the bottom 50% of the population, who would have previously been natural voters for Labour.
In the last 30 years their real income has been unchanged or has fallen, whilst the number of families in poverty almost doubled after the “Ruthanasia” cuts.
Dominion post (Newspaper). Fletcher, David 1952- :”That’s the report on your policy to stop inequality, ‘closing the chasm’.” … 5 September 2011. Fletcher, David, 1952- :[Digital cartoons published from 2001 onward]. Ref: DCDL-0018729. Alexander Turnbull Library, Wellington, New Zealand. http://natlib.govt.nz/records/29942474
This means that for the majority of the potential 800,000 voters who are currently in the wilderness, talk of a thousand extra houses here, or a higher rise in the minimum wage compared to National are irrelevant.
They need We need a radical change on multiple fronts
Labour needs to issue an apology. David Cunliffe doesn’t need to wear sackcloth and ashes or go on a historical witch-hunt. He simply needs to recognise that “Neo-Liberalism”, though it benefitted a few, caused great harm to many people.
He should acknowledge that Labour also failed when it did not actively undo, as strongly as it should have, the huge harm caused by the welfare cuts under National in the early 1990’s.
Vision and reforms
Labour needs to return to the visions of Michael Joseph Savage and Norman Kirk but place them in a modern context. They must make clear that they neither wish to take the paths of Capital Cronyism nor Muldoonism, and that Labour’s overriding principle is “people before profit”.
If companies are committed to make the biggest profit they can, then legislation must ensure that the returns are distributed more evenly between consumers, CEO’s, workers and shareholders.
The days of deliberate unemployment (a central strategy of Neo-Liberalism) must end. The Reserve Bank should be given new instructions that require them to balance inflation criteria against the effects on unemployment and child poverty. That failure to do so effectively will see the end of their independence.
Political parties need to be removed from the influences of big money by providing predetermined amounts from state funding for elections. The report on MMP will also need to be acted upon.
Child poverty needs to be addressed urgently. The report from the Child Commission needs to be acted upon.
Building State Housing on the scale that was achieved in the mid 1930’s needs to be repeated now, with large numbers of apprenticeships for the young unemployed (and older unemployed later).
‘Working for families’ needs to be phased out over one parliamentary term and replaced by much higher minimum wages, staggered initially so that larger companies increase wages more quickly at the start. The money saved by Government should be spent on those who do not have jobs.
WINZ will need to return to its pre-1990 functions of assisting people to find work when it is available and ensuring their needs are met while that is not possible. Targets and humiliation should be eliminated.
Education and Health need to be returned under centralised control and conducted as services not businesses with people being the bottom line.
Free Adult Education needs to address the country’s adult illiteracy and innumeracy epidemic. The money is far better spent helping people to be ready for the workforce than spending far larger sums imprisoning them, as happens now.
Most of all, the policies need to seek to return New Zealand to a much more equal society, making sure it includes our Maori and Pacific Island communities this time.
You get the idea, David.
You have one chance at this. You already know that you must make Prime-minister or expect to be rolled, so why not follow your instinct (and Ed Miliband in the UK) and champion Social Democracy once more?
The media itself is recognising that John Key and his supporters are keeping Labour policies out of the news with diversions. Even without diversions there has been nothing to get excited about, to date.
Give the country policies that cannot be ignored: Share the vision, share the opportunity, and share our country’s profits!