What a difference a week makes! From unelectable, it now seems like we will be facing a resurgence in National’s chances under Judith Collins. The thoughtful, consultative, kind and effective policies of Labour, all that good leadership, is likely to be damaged, possibly severely, possibly terminally, by the populist Collins, popping out bold and authoritarian policies like lights on a Christmas tree.
We saw this in Sunday’s media, with National’s new policy that people should pay $3,000 towards the costs of their quarantine as they come back into the country. This will be cheered by people all around the country, many of whom were considering supporting Labour. It is dangerous.
Never mind that the amount is peanuts. Never mind that the legal context of trying to force people into quarantine and make them pay for it is iffy and might be defeated by judicial review. There is that little corner of New Zealander’s hearts, perhaps captured or enhanced by 30 years of neo-liberalism, that insists that users must pay, no matter what.
Gerry Brownlee today affirmed that this policy will breach the Bill of Rights Act (clause 18(2)) which reads: “Every New Zealand citizen has the right to enter New Zealand.” Geez. Their very first detailed policy breaches the Bill of Rights. Dirty politics indeed.
I criticised Todd Muller because his only contribution was to pop up at every corner saying “shambolic blah blah”. The only policy I recall him releasing was a new road from Christchurch to Ashburton. And that was released in the middle of a huge scandal, such that the media had no interest in the policy. In politics timing is everything.
I do not expect Labour to try to match National’s populism. I hope that the party has left its populist policies way behind it (visions of Roger Douglas and flat taxes still populate my nightmares). It is also not enough to be the steady hand on the tiller, although that is crucial.
I think Labour needs a three-strand strategy. The first is to extend its excellent Covid management approach to embrace the next three years. Key messaging is that the Covid is not going away anytime soon, that the priority is always to keep New Zealanders safe (and the safest way is no community transmission) and that the only party you can trust to do this is Labour. This is easy peasy and, by default, is the current stance. When Jacinda says she is too busy managing a crisis to think about the election, she is by default purveying this message.
The second strand is to develop an economic plan to work with, alongside and in and through what may be at least three more years of Covid infection. How this is done is crucial. The plan needs to be a multi-sector, whole of society approach that blends economic goals with improving the economic opportunities of the people and reducing inequalities.
This will include flexible work, supporting a range of industries and especially local manufacturing (by New Zealand for New Zealand), further building the mana of our nation into economic opportunities for export, especially of food but also other things and so on. Can’t we do something fantastic down south with the amazing water/electricity resource that will shortly be vacated by Rio Tinto. Not another aluminium smelter, but something that works with our own resources and our own people to create things that we and the world need. This might be multiple somethings. There is no need to think big, just think broadly. Every opportunity needs to be harnessed within a people and environment friendly way.
We need a vision for the future that shows we do not have to put our country at extreme risk in order to recover economically. Now is the time for economic nation-building, for big picture thinking. You get the gist.
The third strand is policies around our society. We must come out of Covid (if coming out is ever possible, assuming things have not changed forever, and here I am referring to the research on how the overpopulation of the planet has made us ever more vulnerable to doomsday viruses), with a better, smarter, fairer and more equal society. People will have to come first. There will be a focus on developing New Zealand for New Zealanders. Kindness and consideration for others will be the key. Policies for the people first, and profits will follow.
Labour’s manifesto does not need to go into enormous detail, but simply to show a way, a vision, an alternative route to Collins’ populism. National can only ever offer policies for the one, the best, the winner. Labour can provide a vision for the team of five million moving forward, Covid free, people first, fair and safe.
Let’s hope the party is tuned in next weekend to the Alternative Aotearoa event in Wellington and on a podcast near you. Let’s hope those of us advocating for an alternative can see it come to fruition at the election.
Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.