A governing political party who invests its hopes and dreams in the cult of personality around its leader? Who cuts funding to infrastructure to invest in propaganda? A leader who cancels democratic elections in his second biggest city, and gives himself the ability to dictate policy to all of the others? A leader who circumvents public consultation and makes political protest illegal? This is the Prime Minister we have presently, and yet it is his primary challengers who are being painted by politicians and pundits alike as the Stalinist Spawn of Satan.
Over the past five days, New Zealand’s two biggest opposition parties have been exposed as what we all secretly knew all along, a sleeper cell of North Korean Soviets, taking advice from Hugo Chavez’s Treasury Department at top-secret briefings in Albania. This isn’t a conspiracy theory bubbling up in the hateful feeding troughs of Whale Oil, or even among the marginally better heeled responders over on Kiwiblog. This is now the official narrative being issued by the Government, and parroted by some of our most senior political correspondents. A coalition of the Green & Labour parties post-2014 would put “far left” policies into action, says Key. All this as a result of David Shearer & Russel Norman’s joint presser last week announcing their NZ Power initiative. This would see the government take over the wholesale distribution of electricity, determining the fair prices that retailers could charge, and – they say – lowering household electricity prices across the board.
Business New Zealand’s Phil O’Reilly declared it “economic vandalism”. The policy would kill all external investment for all eternity! What next, spluttered David Farrar – nationalising supermarkets? Minister of Everything Steven Joyce, giving the announcement a leather jacket and a comb in its pocket, said the NZ Power planners had ‘jumped the shark with a half-baked Soviet Union-style nationalization “plan” … [T]ruly wacky and desperate stuff obviously made up in the last minute in the Koru Lounge between comrades Norman & Shearer”. Those champagne socialists with their free copies of the Herald! How dare they?! That very newspaper’s Liam Dann criticised the critics of free market economics for “ignoring the extent to which [it] works immaculately everyday across every aspect of this crazy comfortable modern life”. His smartphone and flat white are testament to this. It works immaculately (so long as you’re not the poor bastard working for loose change in an Apple factory or having your community pillaged by the coffee trade)!
Liam Dann’s comments reveal more about the slavish commitment to “Free Trade” that he perhaps intended. As long as a middle class white man with a job can get a sweet phone and decent coffee, all is well in the world of neoliberal economics. Forget those in distant lands, starving under the strain of your comfortable city living. Let’s just for a second consider those who can’t afford to eat at Dizengoff or replace their phone every season here in our own country. The people who have to choose between eating and heating, The people whose cost of living has been artificially inflated to benefit the nation’s share portfolios and Doug Heffernan’s bank balance. I’m no finance expert, but if our individual Kiwisaver accounts are invested in local energy companies to such a degree that decreasing their value wipes out entire retirement funds, isn’t that a far bigger concern for our collective savings approach? But I digress.
As much as the response on the right to has been hilarious in its hyperbole, their comrades on the other side of the spectrum may be overcooking this as well. Chris Trotter’s acceptance of David Shearer with open arms, like a shepherd embracing his long lost lamb, seems a little over excited given what is essentially a minor shuffle left for the largest opposition party. Yes, it is a relatively large step given recent decades, but this is not the reinvention of Labour as, well, the party of labour. It is not a rejection of the free market, but it is an admission that in this example the free market has failed the people that need the support of their government the most. It is the two biggest opposition parties announcing publicly they don’t believe that New Zealanders should have to choose between heating and eating, and they are prepared to interfere with the market to help make that a reality. It may not be perfect, and it may not be a big enough leap to the left for some, but it is a start. The first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem, and that can be half the battle. Plus, if the NZ Power announcement gets some traction, who knows what else the opposition might pitch to address the causes and symptoms of poverty, and gaping inequality, that successive governments have fostered and let fester! How insane, monster raving loony party would it be to have a government who believed in investing in people, not just investing in investors?