Okay! Okay! I surrender. Shearer Stays.


Screen Shot 2013-04-18 at 4.22.58 PMTODAY’S JOINT ANNOUNCEMENT by Labour and the Greens (see here and here) is better than good – it’s inspiring.

Not because it ticks every possible box on the vexed issues of energy generation and distribution in New Zealand – it doesn’t. What it does do, however, is introduce the voters to an alternative Centre-Left government with sufficient smarts and guts to offer real change.

I have to confess I’ve been profoundly sceptical of the Labour-Green claim that real change is possible through progressive regulation. My social-democratic instincts have always told me that state ownership and control of natural monopolies is the way to go. But, the cases presented by Labour and the Greens (more slickly and persuasively by the latter than the former, I have to say) are pretty convincing.

These reforms will work.

But there’s more to this announcement than the nuts-and-bolts of their proposed “single-buyer” of energy – “NZ Power”. Since the onset of Rogernomics in 1984, New Zealanders have become reform weary. We’ve become deeply cynical about Government promises of “improved service delivery” through “restructuring”. All that ever seems to happen is that jobs disappear, services are reduced and costs rise.

Ronald Reagan reckoned that: “The nine most terrifying words in the English language are: ‘I’m from the government and I’m here to help.’” After thirty years of neoliberal “reform”, New Zealanders could be forgiven for agreeing with him. How refreshing, therefore, to read a set of proposed changes that will create jobs, maintain services and lower costs.

And when Labour and the Greens say lower costs they’re talking about $230-$330 per year.

What I like about this part of the package is its progressivity. It works in precisely the opposite way to the regressive Goods & Services Tax.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

If you’re wealthy, the chance to save $300 a year will elicit little more than a shrug of the shoulders. But if you’re not wealthy: if you’re a beneficiary, or a superannuitant, struggling to keep your house heated through the winter; then an annual saving of 300 bucks represents an additional $25 per month you’re now able to spend on something else.

Giving – not taking – is what Labour Governments used to do. I was beginning to think they’d forgotten how.

Meanwhile, the Greens just can’t wait to prove that anything Labour can do, they can do better!

This could be fun.

And now I’m asking myself: “Who should lead the Centre-Left into next year’s election?”

For the past twelve months I’ve been saying: “Not David Shearer!” Everything he’s said and done up to this point made me either wince with embarrassment or howl with rage. The things he should’ve (but didn’t) say and do produced similar reactions. A niggling suspicion took root in my mind that the guy was a neoliberal: that all his hesitations and misstatements were born of a determination to mask his true beliefs until it was too late. That were we heading for a replay of 1984?

Well, after today’s announcement, that analysis is beginning to look a little shaky. Unlike Labour’s poorly developed plan for affordable housing (offering houses that were neither affordable, nor available, to the Kiwis who needed them most) “NZ Power” is set to make a real and progressive difference to the lives of Labour’s people.

If David Shearer’s persuaded his fractured caucus to get in behind a policy this good, then, surely, there’s a reasonable chance he’ll persuade them to get in behind others?

I’m willing to take that chance.

Because the very best solvent for factional strife in any progressive organisation is the imminent possibility of its members being able to make the world a better place. So much of the bitterness and rancour that has made the Labour Party so unhappy over the past eighteen months was born of the corrosive feelings of impotence and futility that beset every major Opposition party.

As a wise old Labour head once told me: “Yes, power corrupts. But what corrupts even more is powerlessness.” It can lead Opposition politicians to embrace all kinds of foolish and dangerous ideas – the worst of which is the false (but tempting) notion that if a party makes itself look as much like its competitor as possible, then its chances of re-election will be improved.

The policy announced today has dispelled such fears. The National Party cannot possibly embrace the Labour-Green policy because, by its very nature, it will bring down the potential value of the state-owned energy generators with a thump. Only a Labour-Green promise to renationalise any and every wholly or partially privatised power company could have had a more depressing effect on the National Government’s asset-sales programme.

I was there, on Massey University’s Albany campus, in 1998, when Helen Clark and Michael Cullen were escorted into the Alliance Conference by Jim Anderton and Sandra Lee. The cheers that greeted them, and the coalition pledge that followed Helen Clark’s speech, marked the turning point in both parties’ electoral fortunes. After that day, it was clear to everyone that Jenny Shipley’s National-led Government was a dead man walking.

Clark’s final sentences bear repeating:

“I do now feel an enormous sense of optimism for New Zealand. While in many ways this is the worst of times for our country, to paraphrase Charles Dickens, we may also be at the dawn of the best of times. Dickens wrote in A Tale Of Two Cities of stark contradictions: ‘It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.’

“New Zealand too stands at that crossroads. Let everything we do lead to the spring of hope that is so long overdue.”

After today’s policy announcement, I will do nothing to blight the spring that it promises.

And so, to friend and foe alike, in Labour’s fractious caucus I say:

“Okay! Okay! I surrender. Shearer stays.”


  1. Agree with you 100% Chris, I placed some similar comments on The Standard.

    This is a great policy…

    Shearer needs to get his head around the financial detail of this policy. The media will be trying to catch him out, they want another “show me the money” moment. Shearer ruined the Housing policy…he needs to pull it together for this one or he takes The Greens down along with Labour. Fingers crossed.

  2. Good post Chris. I think you’re right in drawing the parallels with 1998. The hope has to come from a tangible sense that there is something better in the offing, and the images and feel of a potential alternative government really do help that along.

    And on the policy front, as I’ll tell anyone who will listen, there is a strong drive towards fundamental changes to the current horribly flawed fabric – there is consensus on this at all levels in the Party. Glad to hear that today’s announcement builds some confidence on that front.

  3. Dear Chris, as someone who never really left, I suppose I should say: welcome back to Team Shearer.

    Though I have to say, I didn’t think the gentleman was for turning!


  4. You are extroadinarily quick to forgive a lot of mis-steps that you yourself have called Shearer out on in the past.

    This is enough to get him into the game. Now lets see how he plays his hand.

  5. I still think he needs to be a more sleeves rolled up guy. He is inspid and uninspiring, Keys recent stuff ups should be easy shots for Shearer to prove he has a political gumption. Shearer ‘forgetting’ his massive overseas funds is just terrible when so many people have no idea how to pay next weeks bills.

  6. For once, the term hysterical is not simply hyperbole in describing the reaction to this policy from the right. This policy actually rolls back an aspect of neo-liberalism, and as such it represents a huge moment for the Labour Party and by extension for the whole establishment political/media elite, who for the first time in a generation have to think about alternative models to neo-liberalism. You only have to go and read the – yes – hysterical reaction of Colin Espiner to realise how much of an intellectual earthquake that is causing, both in the MSM and in the political right.

  7. CT,

    Good article, quite heavy on the mea culpa, which I am struggling to understand a little.

    I’m left scratching my head though, because a couple of months ago you were all about “high-ranking sources in the Labour Party” telling you that DS was a Rogernome who you believed intended to lead the Party in the direction of the 4th Labour Government. It would be fair enough to dislike the guy for his insipid vacuity, but you have previously hinted (darkly) at DS’ having a hidden agenda.

    To hear you throw all that off now makes me feel a little.. well, manipulated, if I’m honest.

  8. Chris, may I just caution you, before you wave the white flag with too much enthusiasm: The figures do not stack up!

    Dwellings in NZ based on Census 2006 (lower than now): 1,471,749
    Estimated “electricity cost savings” per “household” $ 230 to $ 330 (i.e. dwelling): 338.5 million to 485.67 million NZDs.

    Yet Labour and Greens only talk about 60 to 90 million per year to be foregone as dividends and tax revenue.

    That does not make sense. Mighty River power alone paid more than that in dividends last year (fin. year ending 2012), and that excludes any tax payments.

    So this is as dodgy as the Kiwi Build housing policy proposed end of last year.

    The state will lose heaps in dividends when the retailing is taken away from the SOEs in the present form, and when “profits” will be minimised, on whatever kind of retail will be planned.

    Costs can be kept in check, but that will force generators to likely reduce profit gains, and operate at very low margins, competing at a low cost level.

    What impact will that have on labour employed in generation? What impact will it have on staff working in retail?

    The state will lose revenue, so it may get some in additional tax take from businesses also enjoying lower power costs, but what businesses will continue to operate, or come to operate in NZ, without other economic steps being taken to grow economic activity here, e.g. with more value added manufacturing?

    I was also excited at first, but looking at MRPs report and other details, I am extremely doubtful. Shearer will be taken apart again, this time also dragging the Greens down. It is not good news, they have not got this worked through, I fear, despite of BERL.




  9. Further to my comment just made: I can only see this as a last effort by Labour and Greens to torpedo the partial asset sale of energy SOEs, by sending a message to prospective share buyers, hey, you will get little if any “dividends”, as profits will be kept low, to benefit the end electricity consumers.

    So naturally Nats and their allies hate this.

    But apart from that, the figures and talk are not convincing, I am afraid.

    Add to that the scenario where future energy consumers may choose to go solar and geothermal or whatever, and use less power from the main grid, then retail sales will drop further in future.

    It would be foolish now for anyone to buy shares in MRP or other SOEs on the block. But also will it be totally uncertain, how Shearer and Labour, with the Greens, will be able to make this work.

  10. It is true that putting a further $25 dollars a month into the hands of those who need it seems to represent a small change in the direction of the money flow, but let’s not get carried away. Six dollars a week might be welcome, but it is not going to make a huge change to anyone’s life, and it is an amount that could easily be taken away elsewhere.

    Nothing shows up the deep inequality in this country than the assumption that the price of a cheap lunch per week is going to bring great relief to a poor family. You may be convinced, Chris, but I am not. This looks to me like yet another attempt to keep Shearer afloat until it is too late to change horses.

  11. i loved the way the govt said it was “communist” like policies.
    them who are now willing to use power to spy on citizens and stop domocratic protesting.
    I for one hate being told the price rises are so the network can be upgraded..is that not what my bills already part pay for. The power Network up here in the FAR North is a shambles. Line technians are leaving for Aussie and not replaced, the hardware is in a great state of disrepair.
    Any change for the better WILL be better. More jobs for the Youth cause being a Lineman for the County is really COOL

  12. This might be a “big kahuna” to Shearer but it’s a shame that Labour has such an uninspiring and frankly BORING leader. I, unlike Chris Trotter, am still far from convinced that Shearer should stay. This policy like kiwibuild before it, will not convince people when the salesman is SO BAD!!! David Cunliffe would sell this policy and make people feel hopeful and uplifted. Shearer looks bored, uninterested, and frankly looks out of his depth like he’s in the early stages of alzheimers!!! No matter what policies Labour come up with, with a salesman like Shearer, they have one hand tied behind their backs 24/7!!! He may have done well on Checkpoint, but, as they say, one swallow does not make a summer!!!

  13. I don’t understand the sudden conversion Chris.

    Sure, it’s a good policy, but it’s only a start.

    I’ll be charitable and say the policy will do exactly what they say it will do:

    Save around $6 a week – This is nothing to ignore. For many families this will actually be a difference. BUT it’s hardly turn the tables on the class driven onslaught of Neo-Liberalism, and reverse decades of skyrocketing inequality kind of stuff.

    Create 5,000 jobs – I’ve nothing to complain about when it comes to creating jobs. BUT this really only begins to make a dent in all the job losses happening already – http://www.interest.co.nz/news/job-losses-reported

    So yes, a start, but just a start. Not reason for Chris to instantly change his opinion I don’t think. Sit up and listen sure, but we shouldn’t be won over so easily!

  14. Golly gosh, I was going to open a bubbly tonight, kept for a special occasion, but have put it back in the “cellar” (read cupboard 🙂 after reading some of the comments with Marc’s comment really, really throwing me 🙁
    Will have to study further ! As for show me the money, Goff really boobed by not shouting back, “Show me the jobs”, which we were all shouting from the comfort of family “armchair politicians”. Could someone on speaking terms with Shearer give him that hint. Did get a laugh at Simon Bridge’s Russia/North Korea jibe when his dear leader is running the country like Pinochet’s Chilean era, with thousands of missing persons, no doubt because of their version of GCSB ! I am living in hope that the Labour/Greens/Mana will go for a full re-nationalisation as Bradfords pseudo market model of competitiveness was doomed from the start. Now how do we get all those pensioners, beneficiaries, unemployed, underemployed out on voting day – they appeared to have all stayed at home last time.I am still in the Cunliffe camp but miracles do happen – fingers crossed. Always a good read, makes one think and that has to be a positive in a world full of negatives. Check out the Thatcher privatisations at #4 in
    Thatcher’s Malign Long-Lasting Legacy

  15. Will there be a backlash from big business? Do they accept they have pushed too far from what is acceptable to society? Other industries like construction are abusing their market power too. What will their reaction be? Big donations to National? Strong arm tactics on MSM using the threat of advertising cuts. Is the Labour/Greens proposal going to form a new consensus between business and the wider society or the start of a cold war between the board room and some of our biggest political parties?

  16. Given that this proposal will seriously p… off some of most powerful business people maybe I need to rethink my view of the bumbling Shearer. Maybe I should think of him as big balls Shearer.

    Whereas what has that smooth talking Key done? Is he no balls Key

Comments are closed.