Does New Zealand still have political parties on the left in parliamentary politics? Do the poor and working classes have anyone to vote for this year? These are some of the key questions being asked in the wake of the Labour-Green announcement that they will restrain themselves in government from any significant deviation from the economic status quo.
The hardest hitting response has come from former Green MP Sue Bradford, who gave an extraordinary interview on RNZ’s Morning Report today. Bradford rounded on her former party, saying “The Greens have completely sold out on where they started from in my generation of MPs in 1999” – you can listen to her seven-minute interview with Guyon Espiner: “What Price Power” Former Green MP Sue Bradford slams Greens’ deal with Labour.
Bradford explains that the new rules adopted by the left parties – which she calls a “totally business-friendly policy” – will constrain them in being able to depart from the National Government’s main economic settings.
She despairs of what this means: “So what you see here is the Green Party deciding to go after votes on the centre and the right of the New Zealand political spectrum. It wants business in its corner. It wants your National blue-green voters in its corner. And completely abandoning the huge number of people who are in desperate need in the areas of housing, welfare, jobs, and education”.
To Bradford, it’s about political opportunism by the Greens, in order to get into government. She asks: “At what price power, if you sell out everything that your party was originally set out to achieve? I mean, this Green Party here is following the same trail as green parties all over the world – some of who have ended up in coalitions and alliance with really rightwing governments”.
She suggests that some Green Party supporters “are going to end up like some of us already, who have no one to vote for this year. The Greens was perhaps the last hope. This is the death knell for the Greens as a left party in any way, shape or form. They are a party of capitalism. They’re a party that Business New Zealand now loves”
Bradford also expressed her protest on Facebook. This led one Green Party activist and candidate at the last election to comment: “Frankly, I’m very disappointed with the party I belong to for doing this! In fact, I know that many other members (like me) are disappointed and angry. I am reassessing my membership. I knew that this statement was being developed but party members seem to have been largely bypassed in doing so.”
Also on Facebook, Laila Harre, who has now rejoined the Labour Party, questions the apparent assumptions behind the announcement: “Who says voters won’t buy into tax increases on high incomes? I’m sad that our redeemers are capitulating to that rather than making the case for it. Elections are an opportunity to win support for ideas. Not just frame ideas around putative support.”
In a unique move, the Council of Trade Unions has also come out against the announcement, with president Richard Wagstaff giving a CTU perspective: “We support higher levels of Government activity and investment than these rules permit. There is an urgent need. Many countries who are more successful than us socially and economically have much greater government activity” – see Isaac Davison’s Higher spend needed than under Labour/Green rules: Council of Trade Unions.
Wagstaff elaborates: “If an incoming Labour/Green Government is serious about fixing the problems we have in our education, health, housing and other public services, if it’s going to correct the imbalances we have in terms of pay equity, if we are going to really tackle income inequality and our environmental challenges together as a nation, then it will need to be prepared to invest significantly. That will test these rules as they stand.”
This is the biggest political shift in a generation and the media have almost missed the significance of it. The fundamental divide between parties on the right and left tend to be on the size of the state and tax. Right parties are for a smaller state and lower taxes and left parties for a larger state and higher taxes.
It is remarkable enough that Labour have come out and said they will keep the size of the state to the same as National has it after eight years, but even more remarkable that the Greens have said the same.
Add to that Labour have said no tax increases.
Bradford and Harre get how big a deal this is.