The shape of our new government

So here’s what our new government promises, as reported by Stuff:

Some key points from the NZF deal:
– $1b per annum Regional Development Fund,
​- Re-establish the New Zealand Forestry Service
​- Review and reform of the Reserve Bank Act
​- Progressively increase the Minimum Wage to $20 per hour by 2020
​- Comprehensive register of foreign-owned land and housing
​- Free doctors’ visits for all under 14s
​- Free driver training for all secondary students
​- A new generation SuperGold smartcard containing entitlements and concessions
​- A royalty on exports of bottled water
​- Commit to re-entry to Pike River
​- A full-scale review into retail power pricing
​- MPs allowed to vote on a potential referendum on euthanasia

Some of the big parts of the Green Party/Labour confidence and supply agreement include:

– Introduce a Zero Carbon Act with a goal of net zero emissions by 2050
– A referendum on personal cannabis use by 2020
– Establish and independent Climate Commission. This would have the power to bring agricultural emissions in but would not do this immediately
– All new legislation to have a climate impact assessment analysis
– Investigate a Green Transport Card to reduce public transport costs
– Reprioritise spending towards rail and cycle infrastructure
– Stop the Auckland East-West link
– Begin work on light rail to the airport in Auckland
– “Significantly increase” the Department of Conservation’s funding
– Remove “excessive” benefit sanctions
– Make progress on eliminating the gender pay gap within the core public sector
– A rent-to-own scheme as part of KiwiBuild
– Re-establish the Mental Health Commission
– A wind-down on the government-subsidised irrigation

That’s some damn fine government.

We’re still to see who’s going to be taking which ministerial roles (Stuff also has a handy list of which portfolios have gone to NZ First and the Greens), but that list right there promises some genuine change and progress for New Zealand over the next three years.

There’s also a broader message, and a distinct step away from the government of the past nine years: the state has an important role to play in our lives. It can create jobs. It can share out the wealth of the nation fairly. It can and it should ensure that every single person in our country lives a decent life.

Which was already pretty obvious to those of us on the left end of the spectrum, but was anathema to the government of John Key and Bill English, who were happy to take the credit for good things happening but were missing in action as more and more wealth was taken out of workers’ hands by a greedy few, as corporate neglect literally killed people, as multinationals grabbed everything they could get and expected us to carry the consequences and ensure them ever-greater profits.

This is the change of direction we needed, and a more significant one than I’d hoped for, honestly. It’s not perfect, and many things can happen over a parliamentary term – three years is an eternity in politics when you’re at the beginning of them. But it is a start.

And it must be a start. As I’ve said before, to avoid cruising toward defeat in a term or two there needs to be a plan; a strategy, if you’ll forgive the horrific public sector management speak, of continuous improvement. A minimum wage of $20 by 2020 (perhaps sooner, if political capital allows?) is great, combined possibly with introducing the Living Wage for the core public service, for a first term government. But we need to be thinking about term two ($25 minimum wage? Living Wage for all central and local government employees, including contractors?) and term three (Living Wage = minimum wage?) and treating each milestone as a step, not a finish line. Free doctors’ visits for under 14s is a start: the goal must be free doctors’ visits for all. “Progress” to eliminate sexist pay structures in the public service is a start; the goal must be ending sexist discrimination in pay.

I know the temptation is to sit back and look at the amazing things this Labour-led government will deliver over the next three years. But one thought keeps popping into my head this week: the work is never done. There is always more to do, and we cannot lose sight of that. We cannot rest on the achievements of the past; that’s how you get third-term arrogance and stagnation.

This government can achieve huge things, and shift politics in New Zealand so that greedy, self-interested, narrow-minded right wing bullshit never gains sway again. But it will take work. And I think we’re ready for it.

Sunday reads

A lot of critical thinking about the state and prospects of the left this week – no surprise!

Giovanni Tiso: A fresh approach no more: the return of politics in New Zealand at Overland

All of a sudden in Aotearoa New Zealand there is an election campaign worth following, and not just for its immediate result, but to test the boundaries of left-wing politics: what is acceptable, what is thinkable, what brings votes and hence the power to make change.

Sue Bradford: Why we need a new left wing party at ESRA

I suggest that the time is ripe for building a new kind of left party in New Zealand. Many of us are aware of this but the task is not easy. As my doctoral research showed, we are conscious of the failures of the past, and often lack confidence in ourselves. But it is time to move past this, and start to actively conceive and build new forms of organisation, now. In this challenge, which I hope we will relish rather than fear, there are at least eight central things I believe we must take into account.

Morgan Godfery: The left was fucked. And then it wasn’t at The Spinoff

Yes, Ardern is left, and her first official meeting took place with the Pike River families, a powerful signal that she intends to lead very much as a “labour” leader. But the same was true of Andrew Little, a former union lawyer who spent his entire working life fighting for his class, and even David Cunliffe, the former Labour leader most comfortable denouncing “neoliberalism”. Great men and women don’t shape politics – social forces do. Ardern can only occupy the left if social movements create space for her to do so.

Politics in the age of populism

Here’s my speech notes from last night’s Fabians Society panel in Wellington, comprising myself, Rob Egan and Bryce Edwards. A lot of it you will have read before if you’re a regular! As always I didn’t deliver this verbatim, but any rumours of a fellow Piko Consulting director having Facebook Lived my presentation are terrible lies and must not be countenanced.

~

Mike asked us to talk about the implications of the recent elections in the United States, the UK and France on our own little general election in September, and whether we’re in an age of populism. I’m going to pull the old trick of immediately finding fault with the question, because I don’t know what populism is. It’s a word that gets applied to a certain style of politics, in a derogatory, if admiring manner. It describes politicians who are brash, loud, take cheap shots, and don’t do politics properly. It’s an elitist label for politics that appeal to people’s baser instincts and aren’t well-grounded or properly thought through.

Donald Trump is populist because he raves about immigrants and Muslims and building walls, and we all feel a bit smug because we’re not stupid and thoughtless like those people who vote for him. Jeremy Corbyn wasn’t really described as populist at all, because if anything his fault was being too thoughtful and unassuming and right up to the exit polls predicting a hung Parliament we all know he was completely unelectable. I admit I don’t know a lot about French politics, but Macron was running against a bona fide fascist in a run-off presidential system which has a tendency to throw up extremists every now and then. Who knows what that means.

I’m less interested in whether we’re in an age of populism and more what it says about us that we want to describe this time as an age of populism. Others call it a period of transition, and there’s an excellent volume published by Bridget Williams Books and edited by Morgan Godfery called The Interregnum, which I confess I haven’t read yet because I’m a terrible person. We are certainly in a time thanks to technology where people can get right in a politician’s face, and politicians can talk to voters directly without being interpreted or framed by the media. It would be generous to say that this is an age of populism because politicians are forced to engage more with real people.

But we also use “populism” as a nice way to say “extremism”, and that’s very dangerous. We’re accepting the idea that rightwing, authoritarian extremism like Trump’s or Le Pen’s is a valid expression of people’s core ideals and instincts – those people who aren’t serious and thoughtful about politics, like us. And the logic follows that in order to win, to be popular, we too have to pander to those instincts, even though we tell ourselves it’s just what we have to do to get into power to fix the mess neoliberalism has made of the world.

That worries me. Because if we jump in without really understanding what’s going on, we will be selling our souls and committing political suicide at the same time.

A good example, because it’s a consistent issue across all these elections, including ours, is immigration. Trump promised to build a wall. Le Pen was blatantly xenophobic. The Leave campaign in the UK played on it. We’re told this was the reason for those campaigns’ varying, worrying levels of success. And, to be blunt, our own centre-left parties, if not promising to build a wall, have made pretty populist statements about the need to cut migrant numbers, and the danger of unbridled immigration on our country.

And if it works, why not? Well, firstly because racism is gross. But secondly because it doesn’t.

I’ve talked at the Fabians before about values and framing, which is what all the cool kids are doing in progressive political communications. Essentially, if you take map fundamental human values – Common Cause in Australia has a really good one – on one side you’ve got intrinsic values like universalism, benevolence, equality. And on the other, extrinsic values like power, wealth, self-indulgence. I don’t need to guess which motivates the people in this room, right? But the short version is all of us hold all of those values to a greater or lesser extent, and all of them can be triggered in us. What authoritarians like Donald Trump do is tap into values like security and social order – which are literally the opposite of the ones that drive progressives and collectivists. They hype up people’s anxieties and fears and then tell them the answer is in those values, in being insular and xenophobic and antagonistic.

Via http://valuesandframes.org/handbook/2-how-values-work/

That’s why anti-immigration rhetoric didn’t work for Ed Miliband in the 2015 UK general election. Because Labour aren’t meant to be narrow-minded and insecure and jealous. It cuts against our values, and people see that, so even if we say exactly what they want to hear, it rings hollow. Corbyn in 2017, in contrast, tapped into those core progressive values of benevolence and social justice and universalism – for the many, not the few – and said the solutions to our anxieties can be found in caring for one another.

It was authentic. And authenticity, as any number of articles about Bill English putting tinned spaghetti on pizza will tell you, is everything.

The question I ponder when polls show people are anxious about immigration is, what’s behind it? Immigration in of itself is just the movement of people across borders. Are they worried about wages? Job losses? Housing pressure? Rents? Traffic? Crime? A loss of our national identity? All those things immigrants get blamed for.

What Corbyn did as well as play strongly to progressive values, is offer solutions to all those underlying anxieties which feed anti-migrant sentiment. You don’t need to fear newcomers if housing and transport and industry and pay and corporate greed are getting sorted. You don’t need to fear losing your identity if your identity is founded on community and collectivism.

We have to campaign on our values not just because they are good but because they are powerful. They are popular, if not populist. We’ve just hobbled ourselves by letting the right push their values into the mainstream and trying to mimic them. What Corbyn’s near-win can show us is that there’s a way to be popular and keep our integrity intact – because integrity is a much better vote-winner, in the short and long terms, than jumping on whichever bandwagon is rolling past.

What progressive political parties in New Zealand need to do – or needed to have done, because let’s face it we’ve got two and a half months until the election – is present a clear alternative, not just to National but to the status quo. I’m sure Labour and the Greens think they are. But I don’t think people – outside circles like these, of political nerds who actually read the policy – are seeing that. If there is one thing to learn from populism, or whatever we want to call it, it’s that a consistent, bold message, which upsets the status quo and hits people right in the values, is what succeeds.

If there’s a silver lining, it’s in the old wisdom that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. And this government is teetering. Looking dishonest on housing and Pike River, heartless on mental health and the abuse of children in state care, lacking in ideas and bereft of their magical charisma leprechaun, John Key. It could be anyone’s to win, and probably Winston’s to decide. But for 2020 and beyond, the game is going to be completely changed, and we know from history that the right will adapt very quickly, so we’re going to have to be even quicker.

Corbyn at Glastonbury

Although this video of Jeremy Corbyn speaking at Glastonbury has already torn up lefty Twitter and Facebook, it deserves all the plugging it can get:

The full text is here, and it’s a demonstration of how to communicate progressive values and get people – young people, supposedly disengaged self-interested millennials – fired up about politics.

“We have a democracy because people laid down their lives that we might have the right to vote, because women laid down their lives that women would get the right to vote at the time of the First World War.

“That determination of the collective, won us, won us all, the principle of healthcare as a human right for all of us.

“Nothing was given from above, nothing was given from above by the elites and the powerful, it was only ever gained from below by the masses of people demanding something better, demanding their share of the wealth and the cake that’s created.

“So it is about bringing those ideas together, it is about the unity that we achieve and we achieve inspiration though lots of things.

Ipsos MORI estimates 70% of young working-class people voted Labour in the UK general election. 73% of young women. 60% of people who voted in 2017 but didn’t in 2015 or the Brexit referendum voted Labour.

People may be quick to jump in and say “Oh, but he still didn’t win!” but that’s avoiding a really clear point. From the day Corbyn was elected leader of UK Labour, he was decried as unelectable, the Grim Reaper of the Labour Party, doomed to lead them to even greater lows. His policies were doomed idealism, his public meetings were ineffective, his stances on war and asylum-seekers were basically treasonous. And in less than two years he’s achieved an amazing turnaround. Every progressive politician could stand to learn from that.

Now, it would be impossible for me not to take this opportunity to plug the hip-hop act he was speaking ahead of: Run The Jewels. Music to overthrow imperialism to. NSFW!

Unelectable, huh?

Via The Guardian

Whatever happens next, Jeremy Corbyn and the UK Labour Party under his leadership have pulled off something no one expected. And with our own election just over 100 days away, there are some questions to consider – quickly, because they’re incredibly important but there’s no time for navel-gazing:

Who kept saying Jeremy Corbyn was unelectable, destructive, and destroying the Labour Party? Why did you believe them? And what are the reasons they were proven categorically wrong?

And why were so many “left wingers” OK being on the same political side as Mike Hosking?

My take? It’s about people, hope, and real alternatives. That’s what we have to offer. That’s how we change the world.

Edited to add: two fantastic takes, one pre- and one post-election, from some very clever fellows on YouTube.