Cullen on Labour

Rob Salmond blogged a speech Michael Cullen recently gave about what Labour needs to do, to defeat John Key.

Interesting that an SOE Chair is giving a speech about how to defeat the Government. I suspect that if this had hapened under the Clark Government, the Chair would have been sacked the next day. But regardless of the propriety of it, it is an insightful analysis. Some extracts:

By the time of the fall of Ruth Richardson, after the 1993 election, centre left pragmatists had regained control of the Labour Party. Centre right pragmatists soon largely regained control of the National Party except, perhaps, for the strange interregnum of Don Brash (though he had to pretend not to be a neo-liberal while leader). Since then, in New Zealand, “neo-liberal” has degenerated into a somewhat meaningless term of abuse applied by too many on the Left to anyone on the Right.

Thank you Dr Cullen. Indeed it is. That is why Eleanor Catton is not taken seriously when she rails on about the neo-liberal NZ.

In fact the current government is far from neo-liberal – it might more accurately be seen as pragmatically populist centre right.

Not entirely inaccurate. It is not centre-left as some commenters here fervently believe, but neither it is anywhere near neo-liberal.

We need to begin by recognising some central facts relating to MMP. The first is that under MMP, working too closely in harness with another party, whether it be the Greens or any other, does not maximize the overall progressive vote but potentially reduces it. Ironically, such a strategy is more suited to a first past the post or preferential voting system.

Labour working closely with the Greens helps the Greens, but not the left.

The second is that while the Greens are, at this stage, our natural primary partner, with whom we share many broad values,their vote at elections is stuck around 10%. That will only grow if it comes off us. And while New Zealand First may seem an alternative, it is scarcely a credible long term option and has some very different positions on key issues from Labour.

Thus to form a strong, stable progressive government Labour still needs to aim to get around 40% of the vote. The missing 15% is not going to come primarily from non-voting socialist fundamentalists as some in recent times seemed to believe. We certainly need to motivate as much of the non-vote as we can to vote for us. But the bulk of the increase has got to come from recapturing votes from National, as they did from us in 2008.

And that means policies not competing with the Greens on the extreme left.

Attracting these middle ground swinging voters is our job, whether some of us like it or not. The Greens know that is our job, rely on us to do it, but can afford the luxury of criticising us for doing it.

I know that some in the Party see this almost as a form of treason. My answer to that is that it is treason to all our history as a party to promote political impotence in the pursuit of political chastity.

I wonder if Michael ever reads The Standard.

The four concepts which I believe we have to persuade people are ones where they feel we identify with them are choice, aspiration, responsibility, and national pride. If you think at this point I’ve gone totally doolally then my reply would be that allowing our opponents to dominate with regard to these concepts is akin to giving them a ten mile start in a marathon.

The trouble for Labour is that many people think Labour is anti-choice, anti-aspiration, doesn’t believe in consequences for bad decisions and sees national pride as racism.

If Labour can associate themselves with those concepts, they’ll get over 40%. But I doubt they can.

Let me give you an example from my role as Chairman of New Zealand Post. The exercise of choice by the majority threatens to limit the choices of some. As people abandon traditional mail, stop buying stamps, and do their banking on the internet so we are being forced to look at how we adjust our service offering in response to shrinking revenue but rising costs. The answer is not to maintain an expensive network which is increasingly drastically underused but to provide facilities and assistance to those still excluded from the new technologies so that they can also benefit.

Can we apply the same logic to Kiwirail? Stop maintaining an expensive network?

In other words, choice in a social democratic context is not enhanced by engaging in a hopeless, self-defeating, and politically suicidal attempt to level down by constraining choice.

Clap, clap.

A broad range of policies can then ensure that much of that growth improves the standard of living of those on low to middle incomes. These include such obvious candidates as regular above average increases in the minimum wage, intervening on the supply side in the housing market, boosting primary health care and lowering its cost, and so on.

I would point out National has boosted the minimum wage in real terms, has intervened on the supply side in housing, and has boosted primary health care. As Cullen says, this is not a neo-liberal government.

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