Labour Party deputy leader Grant Robertson has moved to try and reassure financial markets that its sudden lurch to favour central planning in the electricity industry is one-off…
Mr Robertson says: “Labour makes no apology for stepping in to fix problems in the electricity sector. But this is not a signal that Labour is going to intervene elsewhere in the economy”.
And compare it with this from David Cunliffe:
While the hippies were out protesting in the streets… Milton Friedman was selling his students the idea that taxation was evil and that businesses worked best when they were deregulated. .. the Labour Party in New Zealand enthusiastically took up Friedman’s philosophy, which is now called neo-liberalism …
All around the world this realization is sinking in: the unregulated marketplace has been a disaster, and the costs have always been borne by ordinary people.
Try and reconcile it with Jane Clinfton’s recent column:
[Grant Robertson is] also – and this is a bit of a secret – way more left-wing than Cunliffe. This will come as a surprise to many of the latter’s supporters.
The claim that Grant Robertson is “way more left-wing” than David Cunliffe doesn’t compute. In 1993 Chris Trotter labelled Robertson the “reluctant radical”. There’s isn’t anything in Robertson’s public record that denies the label.
Robertson can’t be held against a ministerial record, but he’s credited with persuading Helen Clark to introduce interest free student loans. On that policy achievement alone, Robertson is a third way social democrat – the policy took the rough edges off of the loan scheme but didn’t radically reform or replace it. Bill Clinton and Tony Blair would be proud.
But in 2012 Robertson delivered a sweeping and progressive speech on the environment. He linked the environment with the economy, the government and the opportunities it presents the left. Where was that Grant Robertson when NZ Powergave the establishment the jitters? MIA. Instead, the Grant Robertson of the fifth Labour government – the reluctant social democrat – arrived. If Robertson is “way more left-wing”, then it’s no surprise that it’s “a bit of a secret”. His record doesn’t broadcast strong social democracy.
That’s not to say Cunliffe’s a socialist, he’s a social democrat. His record in the fifth Labour government isn’t unblemished. He was an enthusiastic supporter of PPPs. But two things occurred between then and now: the GFC and the Great Recession. Cunliffe acknowledges that the collapse “changes things” and offers the left the “freedom to ask big questions” about whether pre-crash policy settings are appropriate. According to Cunliffe, in many cases “the anwer is no”.
The International Socialist Organisation of Aotearoa New Zealand argues (with strong qualifications) that Cunliffe “is talking a language almost unheard of from Labour politicians in a generation”. When Cunliffe delivered his invisible hand speech the only other politicians who dared mention neoliberalism were Hone Harawira and Annette Sykes. On yesterday’s Q+A Robertson rejected neoliberalism – but it smells of a Johnney-come-lately.
While Cunliffe was rejecting neoliberalism Robertson was propping up a leader who demonised beneficiaries. So it surprises me that Robertson is apparently the candidate of the left. The Labour left, probably, but the wider left is clear in its preference for Cunliffe. Robertson would energise Labour, but Cunliffe would energise the wider left.
Third way social democracy was never an ideology of or for the left. It was an experiment. Can Labour afford to experiment with Grant Robertson?