Friday, August 30, 2013

The mythical place known as 'the Center'

My master’s program has some incredible people with incredible backgrounds and its being taught by even more incredible people with incredible backgrounds but that’s a different blog. But everyone here is fascinated by what I used to do. Politics is not straight forward in America and affecting change here is like dropping a 1 cent penny in the Potomac River. Not so in New Zealand. They ask me what I did in my two jobs and when I tell them, they are genuinely amazed by how much I got to do. The one recurring question I get asked is “So is the Labour Party like the Democrats?” In terms of a short answer, I guess yes, but if I am being honest, Labour is nothing like the Democrats and neither is National.

There are a lot of stuff this National Government has put up with/supported that even Democrats would consider too ‘socialist’. Working for families, the public healthcare system, ACC, Welfare (yes I know they have completely gutted it but…) and many other policies that Democrats would be scared to even talk about. (By the way, socialism is a term that is thrown around to be synonymous with social democracy. I have not the heart nor the patience to teach Americans what socialism is although you would think that at this level of education they would know!)

So it comes back to the question of – what is the center? Dr Duncan Grant has written an article in the Herald in which he argues Labour has to move to the center to win the election. They could move to the "far left" but what is that? Do they have to be “center left”? Or do they have to be just center? So far John Key has gotten away with calling the current National government a ‘moderate center right” government but their actions speak louder than words. While they haven’t removed existent key social development and economic policies, which may be considered “left”, they have trimmed, hedged, and hollowed policies and legislation wherever they can to stamp their ideological mark. But the New Zealand center is different to the American center so they can’t be like the Republicans. Hell they can’t even be like the democrats. Their ideological mark for purposes of New Zealand is to the right. But it is how they have marketed it that gives us the feeling that it is “center”. It is language and nothing else.

The center moves. The center is whatever we say is the center. The center is whatever we can convince the media to say is the center. There is no center. It’s a made up universe where presumably one can find unicorns. It does not exist. On a piece of paper sure, in reality - no.

The issues of the next election will be the economy. It will be jobs but not just jobs, it is wages too. It will be the overall health of the country, which looks frail. Despite the razzle dazzle of GCSB, sky city laws, changes to the employment laws, changes to the RMA, Tony Ryall’s colourful announcement of more doctors, people are on long waiting lists, people who are on welfare for whatever reason are poor and there is a lack of jobs for them to go to, people cannot afford houses, people rent in houses that are less than adequate, and employees have lost rights. Well, all of us New Zealanders have lost rights with the enactment for various justice legislations and now GCSB and TICS. Are these left issues? Do only people on the left care about child poverty? Labour can be accused of focusing on gay marriage, abortion, and euthanasia but unlike this Government, Labour has been capable of focusing on more than one thing in opposition. Even with considerable less resources than the Government, it has pointed out the state of our housing situation, pointed out that a lack of capital gains tax unfairly targets income earners, pointed out child poverty is something that can be measured and can be fixed, pointed out the fact that the government’s welfare reform hasn’t changed public spending (we just spent it on selling shares instead of looking after our most vulnerable), pointed out the holes in our education system of which there are many, pointed out that asset sales are a failure and harmful in the long run. These are not left issues. These ARE the issues and Labour must tackle all of these issues in Government.

I agree this is Labour’s election to lose. The Government is not in a favourable position and even with the high they had in 2011 they have a 1 vote majority in the House and 4 vote majority on good days. If we make this about Labour and National, yes there is a large gap, but if it’s between the left and the right, the center occupies a sliver that anyone can take. This election the center will be somewhere else. This is not the same center as in the 2005 and 2008 election. People voted for NZ First in 2011 because they wanted them in opposition. I have a feeling that people will not vote of NZ First because they will not want them in Government.

I have given this advice before and I give it again. Whoever the leader is of the Labour party has one shot to get rid of this National Government. John Key will call you names, the media will say you are too left, but you are going to have to find a way to speak on the issues that people right now care about. Lucky for you, you know what they are.

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