I’ve met Andrew Little a few times and he’s a pleasant man who will make a reasonable job leading what the Labour Party has become in recent decades.
He will preside over a much less divided caucus and will be able to bring the party together in a way it hasn’t been since Helen Clark was leader. He won’t get into unseemly rows in the party, the caucus or in public because his personality is conflict averse. I’ve never heard him raise his voice and never heard stories of him thumping the table during wage negotiations on behalf of low-wage workers.
His personal style is thoroughly inoffensive and this is what Labour thinks it needs at the moment.
But how important is this to the progressive movement in New Zealand?
Not much. Little will lead a Labour Party which seeks power not because it has a policy programme to make a big difference for working New Zealanders but because senior Labour MPs hope they will soon get another turn to run the free market economy and receive the baubles of power which go with it.
Little won’t cause waves outside the party either. The mainstream media have endorsed him as Labour’s best choice for leader because he is deeply conservative economically and in particular doesn’t support a capital gains tax. He hasn’t advocated any change to economic policy settings that would make a significant difference either to corporate profits or the plight of hundreds of thousands of families struggling on low incomes.
The ability to drive an ambitious policy programme to back up a big vision for working New Zealanders is simply not in Andrew Little’s genes.
The corporate sector will be particularly happy with his appointment because they know that when the tide runs out on John Key and National they can be assured Labour will continue to run the economy on their behalf.
Labour has been staunchly neo-liberal since 1984 in every area of the economy. Even after eight years of strong economic growth under Helen Clark Labour left 175,000 children living in poverty.
There’s no sign Little won’t continue following neo-liberal tradition. In fact his desire to drop the capital gains tax proposal is the best indication it will be business as usual if he gets to lead the government in three years’ time.