The resignation of New Zealand Prime Minister John Key has been greeted on the left as if the wicked witch of the west suddenly saw the error of her ways and disappeared in a puff of green smoke. The sneering and the sarcasm has reached a crescendo of vituperativeness reflecting the perceived role of John Key as chief Satan of the right wing. Now, perhaps, the left imagines it has a chance to assemble its rag tag opposition and strike back at the evil empire.
Let me suggest that that is because the left has become profoundly stupid.
Not only that, the left’s hatred of John Key is because he represents everything they are not. In a word – effective.
Don’t hide! Don’t imagine I am such National stooge here to sing the government’s praises. I’m not. The National government has extended and continued Helen Clark’s unwitting legacy of smashing the working classes by undermining wages and subsidising petty property capitalism to an appalling degree. The National government has presided over policies of rampant hypocrisy in order to subsidise farmers (e.g OSH and the ETS), and it’s management of the earthquake disasters has been bumbling, protracted and inept. The National government has plans to waste a sixth of this nation’s annual GDP on defence over the next twenty years, and it’s notions of industrial development are simply archaic, compared to our competitor nations.
But the left are so distracted by bitchery and political correctness that they have done nothing, I repeat nothing, to counter the impression that National are ‘a safe pair of hands’.
Let’s start with the most obvious issue confronting New Zealand: unaffordable property prices. What would labour or the greens do to change that? No, don’t look it up. If they were doing their jobs you would know, right now. What, apart from bluster, apart from flip-flop on capital gains taxes, specifically will the left do? Don’t know? Neither do I.
OK, what about immigration? Right now there are Indian “students” and Vanuatuan fruit pickers working in New Zealand because, according to business, “New Zealanders don’t want to work”. What they really mean is New Zealanders don’t want to be worked in shoddy, and often unsafe conditions and be paid (if they are paid) less than the minimum wage. Immigration is the antidote to wage-price inflation the world over. So what is the left saying about this? Answer: not much because it doesn’t want to appear racist.
The only reason New Zealand does not follow suit with America and Britain in plumbing the depths of backlash is that the left has abandoned the working classes – just as it has in Britain – and there isn’t a party of the poor willing to articulate a position that resonates with the experience of poor New Zealand who would happily take wage inflation over property price inflation any day.
Instead the left’s strategy has been to attack John Key.
But while the Key government has presided over a slow moving avalanche of inequality it has also been very effective. Over the next few years billions of dollars worth of infrastructure projects will come on stream transforming our main cities. Pointy headed left wing fringe dwellers may think this is a terrible thing but the average family will simply like new stuff that makes their cities work better. The Key government has also presided over huge investment in schools, including new buildings, new broadband internet and improvements to the NCEA process which now means that 83.3% of eighteen year olds have level two NCEA qualifications thanks to better integration of trades training into the secondary school system.
Bill English has been leading a programme of big data development to reduce recidivism and crime because the benefit cost ratio of preventing children growing into criminals is enormous. Rather than treat the symptoms with armies of corrupt social workers (the recent findings of Judge Caroline Henwood, suggest a lot of children in care were abused) who profit from a fat welfare system their approach is to target much more resource at the most problematic people. Slowly but carefully the Key government has kept the economy growing while slowing reducing the debts that followed the global financial crisis, by partially selling state assets rather than fully privatising them.
Because what the left has failed to see is that the Key trick is to close down its platforms. Take gender pay inequality. Potentially it’s a goldmine for the left. Unions have taken cases to the highest courts in the land and won. A campaign for pay equality would be an easy win for stretched single female and two person households to boost their incomes but the opportunity will not arise. Why not? Because the Key government has taken it over. Expect them to water it down but make an announcement that enables them to claim the achievement that properly belongs to the Unions.
Every time the left finds a platform the Key government has snatches it from under them.
This is because the Nats are an effective political machine. The left aren’t. Key and deputy Bill English have openly talked about the day they are either kicked out by the electorate and they have been building a deep bench of experience to replace themselves. By contrast when Clark left power nearly all Labour’s experience left with her. The same is true of the greens who struggle to rise above the level of nutty amateurs. The result is factionalism and loss of coherence. The left don’t look like a government in waiting. They look like one red faced man shouting a lot, half the time at his own side to get into line.
Because the left has had such leadership problems of its own they have imagined that their task is toppling National’s leader. Now that John Key has toppled himself they are going to find out how wrong they have been.
It’s not about a leader, it’s about a team. Come next November electors will have this choice. A coherent team of a government that has brought most of them a near doubling of their net worth, or a messy cacophony of voices including Andrew Little, the greens and Winston Peters who can’t even come up with a cohesive economic strategy let alone communicate it.
The left has nobody to blame for its lack of appeal but itself. Hopefully now it will forget about John Key and get its act together as it should have started to do two years ago.