Elizabeth Kerekere

Do Labour Deserve a Second Term — and Will They Finally Deliver?

Do Labour Deserve a Second Term — and Will They Finally Deliver?

By Elliot Crossan

Jacinda Ardern is headed for a landslide victory in the 2020 New Zealand general election.  The Labour Party are currently polling around 47-50% — down from the stratospheric high of 60.9% seen in July, but still on course for easily their best election result since 1987, and still in with some chance of forming the first majority government since proportional representation was introduced in 1996.

Do Ardern and Labour deserve this remarkable popularity?  By some measures, yes.  From a health perspective, Ardern has shown unwavering commitment to the government’s Zero Covid strategy.  This strategy has succeeded, despite August’s hiccup, and continues to be one of the few genuinely good international examples of how to stamp out this virus.  While so many fellow OECD nations saw hundreds of thousands of preventable deaths as a result of the first wave, and are now being hit by a second wave which in some countries, including the UK, looks to be even worse, the government under Ardern’s leadership have done a brilliant job in keeping New Zealanders safe.

Labour Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.

However, as huge a threat as Covid-19 continues to pose to us, the pandemic is far from the only crisis facing Aotearoa.  The housing crisis, a result of 30 years of free market economics, is still in full swing.  Labour have categorically failed to build enough houses, and they’ve failed to keep prices and rents under control.  Their flagship Kiwibuild policy is rightly derided, even though National could not be more hypocritical in their attacks, given their appalling track record in office from 2008 to 2017.  A new approach to housing is needed, one which involves building new, high quality state houses to be provided at affordable rates — and rent increases urgently need to be restricted.  Working class people are fed up with housing unaffordability, and with the fact that Aotearoa has the highest homelessness rate in the OECD.

Labour has also failed to tackle the chronic issue of low wages — teachers, nurses and thousands of other public sector workers had to go on strike against the government to get better deals after being offered pay rises barely above inflation!  Meanwhile, the government’s minimum wage increases have been better than nothing, but still do not constitute a living wage.

It’s the same story when it comes to tax — Labour wants us to be content with the absolute bare minimum.  Their policy is to introduce a new top income tax bracket at 39% for those earning over $180,000 per year.  One of the first policies of Helen Clark’s government was to raise the top tax rate for those earning over $60,000 a year ($91,400 in today’s money) to 39% in April 2000.  Labour’s current election proposal is better than the Ardern government’s first term policy of zero tax increases on wealthier New Zealanders, but it is still not good enough at all.  All other tax increases on the rich have been ruled out, even the capital gains tax recommended by the government’s own Tax Working Group.  Also off the table are reductions in regressive taxes such as Goods and Services Tax (GST), which disproportionately take money from workers and the poor.  Such unequal taxes should have been scrapped years ago!

Jacinda Ardern is without a doubt a better candidate for Prime Minister than hardcore conservative Judith Collins.  Collins coming to power would likely mean the most right-wing government New Zealand has had since 1993, even if it wasn’t in coalition with the fanatical ACT Party.  Collins and National Party finance spokesperson Paul Goldsmith are planning extreme austerity measures, while ACT wants to freeze the minimum wage for three years, slashing the earnings of those at the bottom relative to inflation.  Thankfully, National and ACT are very unlikely to end up with a majority this election.

There is no question therefore as to whether or not a Labour victory is preferable to the bleak alternative.  But there is also no question that a second-term Labour government, freed from the excuse of Winston Peters and his obstruction, needs to finally deliver for workers.  Ardern’s strategy appears at the moment to be to coast to a landslide reelection based solely on her Covid record and her personal popularity, while promising the bare minimum in terms of progressive policy.  This means that the only scenario in which Labour will truly challenge the crises facing Aotearoa is if a huge movement of working class people rises up and forces them to do so.

Party Vote Green — But Get Ready to Build a New Party

The incumbent Green Party caucus.

Labour are not the only left-of-centre party contesting this election, of course.  The Green Party are once again hovering just above the 5% threshold required to return to parliament, while the Māori Party have made a sharp left turn in response to losing both of their electorate seats in 2017 after their disgraceful role in propping up John Key and Bill English’s government.  The Māori Party may have ruled out going into coalition with National this time, but the question of broken trust must surely remain.  Also worrying is that the nationalist undercurrent lying beneath their mostly progressive, sometimes radical policy platform is belied by a xenophobic commitment to “curb all immigration,” supposedly to deal with the housing crisis.

The Greens are clearly the most left-wing party this election.  Their Poverty Action Plan, which would give $325 per week as a guaranteed minimum income to all those in need, is a smarter way of packaging Metiria Turei’s brave but heavily scapegoated 2017 policy of increasing benefits and removing all Work and Income sanctions.  The party’s tax plan, released alongside the Poverty Action Plan — a 1% tax on all wealth over $1 million, a 2% tax on wealth over $2 million; two new top income tax brackets, 37% on income over $100,000 per year, and 42% on income over $150,000 per year; and a crackdown on tax avoidance and loopholes — is significantly more progressive than the Greens’ tax policies from previous elections, and should be common sense in a time of crisis like this.  They have emphasised that these policies will only affect the richest 7% of New Zealanders, who can surely afford to pay more to help everybody else right now.  Labour’s complete political cowardice is exposed in contrast, with the Greens stepping up.

The Greens have also made decent commitments on housing and workers’ rights.  They plan to build 5,000 new houses per year, in order to clear the public housing waiting list in five years, and to stop Labour’s privatisation-by-stealth of public land by scrapping the policy of building new state houses on 30% of the land previously used, while selling off the other 70%.  The party has also promised to restore the right to solidarity strikes and political strikes, and to make union membership default when starting a new job, moving from opt-in to opt-out.  These changes if implemented would have huge effects in building the strength of the workers’ movement.

If anything, their environmental policies are the Greens’ weakness this election.  The party’s male co-leader, James Shaw, is the current government’s Climate Minister, and responsible for the passage of the toothless Zero Carbon Act (ZCA), which was watered down in an attempt to be “cross-partisan” by getting support from Labour, National and NZ First — only for National, inevitably enough, to commit to gutting the ZCA if elected.  Shaw’s climate plan is heavily reliant on “green investment” into private businesses.  Shaw refuses to understand that the market cannot solve a crisis caused by capitalism’s need for constant economic growth.

This highlights the central contradiction in the Green Party — a large portion of the membership honestly believes they should have a politically “balanced” co-leadership: a female co-leader, Marama Davidson, who has been a staunch left-wing activist and Tino Rangatiratanga campaigner all her life, alongside a male co-leader, James Shaw, who used to work as a consultant at multinational corporations PricewaterhouseCooper and HSBC, and whose entire political project is emissions trading and green capitalism.  Shaw stated in his 2014 maiden speech in parliament that he is “a huge fan of the market” — and therein lies the problem. He also made the provocative statement that “Thatcher was right” about climate change; he knew what he was doing when he said that.

Green Party male co-leader James Shaw is an advocate of “regulated” capitalism.

The Greens’ political strategy is to play to the left at the same time as trying to court middle class centrist voters, and the politically naïve membership is somehow able to constantly ignore the internal ideological struggle this supposedly “balanced” leadership structure constantly creates.  It is clear that the left of the party has written the transformative social policies, policies which won’t be taken up by Labour unless forced, whilst the right of the party has used its government power to advocate neoliberal market-based environmental policies which the centrists in charge of the Labour Party are quite happy to implement.

What this demonstrates is the urgent need for a new left-wing party based on the power of the working class.  Obviously it is too late this election cycle, but the left must get its act together for the 2023 election.  We can’t keep relying on the very mixed bag that is the Green Party, with its constant compromises, capitulations, and capitalist non-solutions to the huge threat that is the climate crisis.  The left in the unions and social movements of Aotearoa need to stop reeling from the defeat of Mana — which by 2023 will be nine years ago — and form a coalition against neoliberal capitalism which will unequivocally stand for people before profit.

We have three years to gear up for next time.  Until then, the Green Party is clearly the best choice for the left to vote for, despite the blight on the party that is Shaw’s co-leadership.  Moreover, a good result this election for the Greens could well get several left-wing MPs into parliament — as well as current radical MPs Marama Davidson and Jan Logie, the candidates occupying positions 8 to 11 on the party list are:

Left-wing Green Party co-leader Marama Davidson.

Those four candidates need the Greens to receive roughly 8.5-8.8% of the party vote to be guaranteed seats in parliament.  Therefore, voting Green could get six staunch left-wingers elected, and in the absence of a unapologetic left-wing party, those six left MPs will certainly be better than none — especially given one of the new male candidates could be well positioned to challenge Shaw’s co-leadership after the election!

Those who fear that a vote for the Greens could be wasted needn’t fear: proportional representation ensures that, as long as the Greens get at least 5% of the vote, they will stay in parliament.  In fact, MMP means that the centre-left bloc would actually be weakened by voters moving from the Greens to Labour, not the other way around — and though this may turn out to be the first election in many years in which Labour won’t require Green MPs to support the government, as Labour are almost certain to have a bigger share of the party vote than National and ACT combined, there is always a small chance that the Greens falling below 5% could let the Tories in through the back door.

But if we are to take the Greens’ election slogan as advice, the NZ left needs to “think ahead,” and start preparing to build a new left-wing party in time for 2023.  The Greens, progressive though some of their candidates may be, cannot as a whole be relied on to represent the left in parliament.  Therefore my advice to voters is:

  • Party vote Green
  • Electorate vote Green, Labour or left-wing independents, depending on the strength of your local candidates
  • Vote yes to the Cannabis Legalisation and Control Bill — the War on Drugs needs to end!
  • Vote yes to the End of Life Choice Bill — while this referendum is less clear cut, we believe that everybody has the right to die with dignity
  • Prepare to form a new left-wing party for next election!
Capitalism isn’t working — another world is possible.



This article has been republished. You can read the original here.

Elliot Crossan is a socialist writer and activist.

Posted by Elliot Crossan in 2020 New Zealand general election, Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, New Zealand Labour Party, New Zealand National Party, New Zealand politics, 0 comments