Trotter on Goff

Chris Trotter writes:

Labour has become electorally implausible because it no longer projects itself as either psychologically, or morally, convincing.

Mr Goff, in last week’s “State of the Nation” speech, spoke of a Labour Party dedicated to serving the needs of “the many, not the few”.

He lambasted those who avoided paying their fair share of tax and he vowed to cap the salaries of state sector chief executives at the level of the prime minister’s annual income.

A traditional Labour message, and by all accounts powerfully delivered.

But was it real?

No, not really. It took the redoubtable Right-wing blogger, Cactus Kate, less than a day to uncover the fact that a significant number of Labour MPs belonged to one or more family trusts, the very same tax avoidance device that Mr Goff was railing against.

Rhetoric without substance doesn’t do well in the blogosphere.

And what about all those state sector CEOs on excessive salaries? Well, Mr Goff is to be congratulated for wanting to share the “pain” of economic recession more equitably.

But, in order to restore a measure of equity to the pay scales of the public service, surely Mr Goff would have to renounce his own, and Labour’s, continuing support for the State Sector Act?

After all, Mr Goff was a cabinet minister in the fourth Labour government, which introduced the State Sector Act. Its purpose?

To bring the private sector’s market- driven discipline into the public service: to give the heads of government agencies the same powers and responsibilities as corporate chief executives and pay them accordingly.

If Mr Goff is now acknowledging that the ideology underpinning the State Sector Act is flawed, then I, for one, will cheer him to the echo.

But if he still adheres to the neoliberal ethos which gave it birth, then he should let the market in CEO salaries find its own level, and like the original author of the State Sector Act, Stan Rodger, remain steadfastly on the sidelines and keep his mouth firmly shut.

And if Goff does suddenly declare the State Sector Act is wrong, the question will arise why has it taken 30 years to realise it. Longevity in Parliament is not always helpful for an opposition leader.

To win back the love Labour’s lost, the leader of the Opposition must learn how to channel not only the hopes and aspirations of Labour’s educated middle-class minority, but also the fear and antagonism of its sullen working-class majority.

A genuine political leader will gladly and gloriously reflect the idealistic light of his best followers but, when pressed, he must also be capable of tapping into the darkest impulses of his worst.

True leaders are feared as much as they are loved.

Think of Helen Clark in the midst of the “Corngate” scandal: chilling. Think of Rob Muldoon ordering Tom Scott out of the Beehive theatrette: terrifying.

Watching TVNZ’s Guyon Espiner interviewing Mr Goff on the Q+A programme, I was struck by how keen the leader of the Opposition was to please.

I don’t think it is a bad thing, that does not have a streak of Clark or Muldoon in him. While I disagree with his policies, I think Phil Goff is a pretty decent person, who achieved many good things as a Minister. I don’t think he will become Prime Minister, but if he did I think he would do an okay job (again I probably would disagree with a lot of his policies).

Democracy, it is said, substitutes ballots for bullets. And that’s fine so long as, like the metal projectiles they replace, ballots also have the capacity to inflict real damage.

Labour needs policies that not only help but hurt.

Out there in the electorate, some groups need to understand that they will be paying for Mr Goff’s promises. Sweet reason and bipartisanship, as President Barack

Obama has discovered, make for poor politics. There’s nothing the voter enjoys more than the whiff of fear and panic – especially in high places.

No politician gets elected purely on the strength of being everyone’s friend. At least symbolically, and preferably in reality, a party leader must also be somebody’s enemy.

Actually Obama has not been at all bipartisan. I think problem has been his moving to the left, instead of the centre. And by doing so he seems to have positioned himself as the enemy of fiscal hawks. The trouble is they are winning the war.

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