Stepped In So Far

By   /   April 24, 2013  /   9 Comments

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“In the face of the firestorm their energy policy’s release has ignited, both parties appear stunned, and there’s obvious uncertainty about how to proceed. Green energy spokesperson, Gareth Hughes’, plaintive query to his staffer: ‘Clint – are we pleased?’, neatly summarises the Labour-Green predicament.”

Gareth Hughes - Clint - are we pleased?

Gareth Hughes – Clint – are we pleased?

LABOUR AND THE GREENS need to pause and take stock of all that has happened over the past seven days. Their reaction to the Right’s extraordinary full-court press response to Energising New Zealand suggests that they had little in the way of a “What we say after what we’ve said” plan in place.

Exactly how much forethought went into the timing of the joint announcement? Dropping a major policy bombshell on the eve of David Shearer’s departure for London hardly suggests a great deal of leader-to-leader co-ordination. Indeed, the whole release smacks of ad hockery and raises worrying questions about the quality of both parties’ strategic (as opposed to merely tactical) thinking.

In the face of the firestorm their energy policy’s release has ignited, both parties appear stunned, and there’s obvious uncertainty about how to proceed. Green energy spokesperson, Gareth Hughes’, plaintive query to his staffer: “Clint – are we pleased?”, neatly summarises the Labour-Green predicament.

Whether by accident or design, Labour and the Greens have succeeded in framing the next election. Over the next eighteen months, the National-led Government, backed-up by virtually the entire news media, and most of corporate New Zealand, will be painting two, very different, pictures for the voters.

The first, a self-portrait, will present a conservative, responsible, competent and remarkably successful (when compared to other members of the OECD) National Government. The second will be a wildly expressionistic portrait of the challengers. In it, Labour and the Greens will be depicted as radical, irresponsible, incompetent and extremely dangerous saboteurs of New Zealand’s future.

It will be John Key: the trusted steward. Versus David Shearer and Russel Norman: the mad bombers.

IN ONE OF MACBETH’S most pivotal scenes, Shakespeare has his hero say: “I am in blood stepped in so far that should I wade no more, returning were as tedious as go o’er.”

This is precisely the position in which Labour and the Greens now find themselves. Having stepped off the banks of neoliberal orthodoxy and into the currents of radicalism, they cannot, now, simply decide to turn around and wade back to shore.

Right-wing commentator, Fran O’Sullivan, has expressed the hope that “cooler heads” might prevail in both parties. But, if they did, and Energising New Zealand was repudiated, then Labour’s and the Greens’ credibility would be shredded beyond repair.

Nope. Having covered themselves in the blood of so many sacred cows, Labour and the Greens have no choice except to strike out for the opposite shore. Returning to the neoliberal fold is no longer an option.

Which means that both parties cannot afford to be anything other than “happy warriors” in the battle for radical economic and social change. The “Median Voter Model”, so beloved by right-wing political scientists, must be abandoned for what Bobby Kennedy called “the politics of addition”.

Rather than subtracting voters from National’s 2011 tally, Labour and the Greens must augment their own by adding to it as many of the votes of those who sat out the last election as they can attract.

Radicalism is the key to making “the politics of addition” work. Rather than be frightened by the hostile reaction to Energising New Zealand, Labour and the Greens should learn from it. Radical policy announcements appear to have an effect very similar to those machines paramedics use to resuscitate heart attack victims. With a series of radical jolts, the twenty percent of New Zealand voters whose political hearts temporarily stopped beating in 2011, can be brought back to life in 2014.

Nor should the Labour-Green Opposition be afraid of the criticism that will inevitably be heaped upon them. Instead, they should take a leaf out of Franklin Roosevelt’s political playbook. In announcing his “Second New Deal”, in October 1936, Roosevelt surveyed the ranks of his enemies and roared his defiance:

“For nearly four years you have had an Administration which instead of twirling its thumbs has rolled up its sleeves. We will keep our sleeves rolled up.

“We had to struggle with the old enemies of peace – business and financial monopoly, speculation, reckless banking, class antagonism, sectionalism, war profiteering.

“They had begun to consider the Government of the United States as a mere appendage to their own affairs. We know now that Government by organized money is just as dangerous as Government by organized mob.

“Never before in all our history have these forces been so united against one candidate as they stand today. They are unanimous in their hate for me – and I welcome their hatred.

“I should like to have it said of my first Administration that in it the forces of selfishness and of lust for power met their match. I should like to have it said of my second Administration that in it these forces met their master.”

It just basic political Jiu-jitsu: turn your enemies’ strengths into weaknesses; use his own weight to unbalance him. In other words, don’t run from the Right’s condemnation – welcome it with open arms.

In refusing to run, however, Labour and the Greens will set in motion the sort of resistance that caused Helen Clark and Michael Cullen to abandon the radical agenda of the Labour-Alliance Government.

Thirteen years ago, in the so-called “Winter of Discontent”, New Zealand’s Labour Prime Minister was faced with what the CTU president, Ross Wilson, described as an “investment strike”. If the Labour-Alliance Government persisted with its plans to roll back the neoliberal reform of the labour market, Helen Clark was informed, New Zealand employers and foreign investors would simply “put away their cheque-books”.

Labour had seen something similar in 1938 when the National Party and its allies attempted to trigger a run on the banks. Back then, like Roosevelt, Mickey Savage, John A. Lee and Peter Fraser had faced them down. In 2000, Helen and Michael decided discretion was the better part of valour.

In the eighteen months remaining before the next election, Labour and the Greens must prepare for a repetition of what can only be described as genuine acts of economic sabotage. David Parker and David Cunliffe should scour the Government’s accounts for funds large enough to break any threatened investment strike and/or corporate-inspired attack on the New Zealand currency. (Although, a massive fall in the value of the Kiwi Dollar would likely be welcomed by Labour’s allies in the manufacturing sector!)

It would also be wise for David Shearer and Russel Norman to use the next eighteen months to get all of their legislative ducks in a row. The idea that reforming the energy sector is something that even its sponsors expect to take four or more years is not one to inspire confidence in the Labour-Green Opposition’s supporters. The Right would use every minute of those four years to attack and undermine public confidence in the proposed reforms – just as they did with Labour’s attempt to reform the electoral laws.

The Energising New Zealand legislation should be ready to go the moment the writs are returned. Energy generators should be told that they either sign on the dotted line of their contracts with NZ Power – or face outright re-nationalisation.

In November 2014, the enemies of the Labour-Green Government have got to know that they have not only met their match – they’ve met their master.

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  1. Paul says:

    Another great post, Chris.
    Many modern politicians are for the most part career politicians, not conviction politicians.They may worry more about their careers than the issues at hand.
    A conviction politician and a hero of mine, Tony Benn, said two things that are apt for this situation. Firstly the way to win was to organise. Your article correctly highlights the need for Labour and the Greens to do this.
    Secondly, there is this quote, which highlights the need for persistence and courage.” The way change occurs to begin with, if you come up with a good idea, like healthcare, you’re ignored. If you go on you must be mad, absolutely stark-staring bonkers. If you go on after that you’re dangerous. Then, if the pressure keeps up there’s a pause. And then you can’t find anyone at the top who doesn’t claim to have thought of it in the first place. That’s how progress is made.”
    Well at least, the ‘ignored’ period is over!

    • “Many modern politicians are for the most part career politicians, not conviction politicians” I couldn’t agree more as it seemed to me that Helen Clark was far more interested in landing her job at the UN than winning an election.

  2. Gosman says:

    I’m curious Chris why you think this policy is good when they won’t alter the nature if the electricity market fundamentally. Surely you would want them to renationalise the entire industry rather than a rather ham fisted bureaucratic solution that is being proposed?

    • dave brown says:

      Gosman why should Labour/Greens call for re-nationalisation when this will likely follow the clampdown on super-profits anyway? You obviously don’t understand the difference between to two methods of valuation used by the current system, and by NZPower. Read Bertram and find out.
      The part privatisation will fail because the super profits will be whisked away.The whole point of asset sales will be lost.
      The share price of Contact and MRP will continue to fall and there will no problem with leaving them in private hands with an option of cashing them in.
      The result will be the retention of most productive capacity in state hands and the ‘fair’ profit maxim ensure a surplus to be used for R&D in sustainable new production.
      Against a background of global warming and rising public sentiment against fossil fuels, NZPower is a potential game changer.
      Threats of capital strike referred to by Chris are clearly the next stage for the NACT side. I agree with Chris that this will backfire because productive capital in NZ does not want to see its profits diverted into the super profits of international finance.

  3. Ovicula says:

    It seemed pretty obvious to me that Gareth Hughes was taking the piss when he asked Clint if they were pleased. I can’t understand why right wing trolls and Chris Trotter are making such a fuss about it. It was a brilliant piss take of the way the hollow men operate.

  4. Marc says:

    You are realising what concerned me days ago, when I was expressing some concern about the “figures” that Labour and Greens used to justify and explain their proposed NZ Power agency. The figures do not seem to have been done and checked through sufficiently.

    Also am I flabbergasted that Shearer co-announces this policy proposal together with Norman, then disappears overseas, to let Parker and Robertson deal with the responses by National. Gareth Hughes is left for the Greens to explain and justify, but given his “Clint” back chat in front of cameras, he has swiftly discredited the Greens credentials on this policy immensely.

    Damned, do these idiots not get it together? It seems NOT!

    Where is Russel Norman, and why did Shearer stand and deliver this, while he was on his way to Europe? It seems indeed, that the opposition has somehow given up serious expectations to win the coming election in 2014, and just dropped this bombshell policy, to see how it may go down. That is not what opposition waiting to get into power should do and would do.

    I am sick of it. It stinks, and I am reminded of all the bad comments on Shearer. He should be here fronting this, coming up, supported by others, and also Russel Norman, to drip feed more positive and convincing bits of policy and details. But they are NOT!

    What happened with the “opposition” to the welfare reforms? It is damned quiet there also. 60 thousand sickness beneficiaries will in two months time be treated as “job seekers”! How can that madness work? Nothing from Ardern and others. Dalziell considers opting out to run for ChCh mayor now.

    Labour is a sinking ship, that is what is reality.

    It is damned time for Labour members to REVOLT and take over control, get rid of Shearer, have brain storming meetings, and get the council held accountable to co-operate, to hammer out new policy, disregarding and stiffly contra acting the right wing and their supportive business agenda, now back in control. So get cracking!

    • Saarbo says:

      YES! exactly!!!!

      “the National-led Government, backed-up by virtually the entire news media, and most of corporate New Zealand,”

      Why is this?

      When you stand back and look at Labour policy such as a Capital Gains Tax and increasing the age of eligibility for Super, these are not policies that are going to scare Christine Lagarde away, in fact they are more fiscally responsible policies than National’s, I’d imagine that Christine would be doing massive fist pumps when she hears these policies. Then it leads you to ask the question: Given this why are the MSM so pro National? I suspect that National have some bloody impressive machinery schmoozing with the media but I also suspect the big one that scares many is CGT. Most Kiwi’s wealth has not been built up on clever and innovative technology or businesses, it has been built up on capital gains of our houses, our rental houses, our farms. CGT scares the hell out of Kiwi’s, BUT it is a critical policy for the future of New Zealand…how any Economist worth their salt could argue against this policy I dont know. The next 12 months are very predictable: Auckland house prices continue to rise, Wheeler increases OCR, exchange rate goes up, reduces value of our exports, increases imports, current account continues to deteriorate…and so on.

      The bottom line is that if Greens/Labour want to win in 2014 they have to work a hell of a lot harder than they have around this policy. THIS POLICY IS A GAME CHANGER. So far they get a 3/10 for their handling.

      But I agree with Marc, Shearer has displayed his usual aptitude (or lack of) and inexperience, I’m waiting for the day that he turns into the MP that his caucus backers saw in him, I wait, I wait, I f@$##n wait…I’m still waiting.

  5. Marc says:

    What was a bit of a worry today also, was that JT and Willie Jackson did yesterday afternoon have the CEO of some “clearing house” agency from the electricity sector on Radio Live. They asked interesting questions and got some answers. So apparently already now there is some “independent” clearing house type buyer in place, but it was not ruled out, that generators and retailers could perhaps fiddle with the supposed daily market dealings in place. Be reminded, that the generators do largely also own the retailers. So how does that play out?

    I am absolutely sure the Greens and Labour have a good point and argument, but again, like with Kiwi Build, it seems to be taken to pieces, due to them not having done their fucking home work.

    So I am desperately looking to party who to vote for.

  6. Matthew Hooton says:

    Interesting post Chris. Not sure, though, where you get the idea the Median Voter Model is beloved by right-wing economists. It is standard economic/political theory and not really controversial at all. In fact, the “right-wing economists” I know tend more to agree with Machiavelli’s theory that people will readily agree with things seen to be strongly believed, and say, instead of targeting the median voter, National and Act should deliver right-wing key messages loudly and with passion in order to convert the masses. They are wrong. By coincidence, I have written about the model in tomorrow’s NBR. Will be in shops Friday morning and probably online over the weekend. I argue that now we appear to have a three-party system in NZ, the model says policy offerings will diverge and voters will have greater choice in 2014 than in recent elections.

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