The problem with the election next Saturday is that either Helen Clark or John Key will become Prime Minister.
It’s not a joyful prospect because neither leader nor the parties they represent deserve to govern. They are essentially the same beast in different clothing. Labour the confirmed free-market party tells us it has a more human face while National the unrepentant free-market party tells us it has more compassion.
Both put business interests first by adhering to the myth that what’s good for business is good for people. Neither have any vision.
In the past nine years Labour has aimed to make itself the natural party of government just as National did successfully from 1948 to 1984, a period broken by just two single-term Labour governments.
In doing so Labour has moved far to the right and sought to “inoculate itself” from National Party attacks in areas where they perceive themselves vulnerable.
This has involved the most stupid and expensive sentencing policy among developed countries. We are second only to the US in our rates of imprisonment among the OECD.
Similarly on race relations Labour moved swiftly to rid itself of the “closing the gaps” strategy and rooted out alleged Maori privilege in the wake of former National Party leader Don Brash’s Orewa speech.
Even on privatisation Labour has been second-rate. Yes it bought back our rail and took a stake in Air New Zealand but in each case only because the private sector ownership failed so dismally and taxpayers were needed to come in and clean up the mess. In the case of our rail network Labour paid hundreds of millions to the private owners as they walked away from the wreckage they created. Labour has also introduced all manner of so-called public/private partnerships which includes legislation to pave the way for road tolls.
On poverty Helen Clark claims to have done a great deal but how many more years of strong economic growth would it take for Labour to give all New Zealanders a fair go? Children born into poverty in Labour’s first year of government will be nine-years-old now and have known nothing different. When it comes to the crunch Helen Clark is promoting tax cuts ahead of child poverty and much needed funding in health and education.
On so many issues now Labour has moved to the right of National. Superannuation Fund investments, research and development funding, broadband, Kiwisaver and help for people made redundant come to mind. This reflects the ever growing political influence of big business in New Zealand politics rather than changed political opinions among voters.
On the other hand why would anyone vote for a party which has adopted policies it doesn’t support? National has been “swallowing dead fish” and is not prepared to stand up for what it believes in because it knows voters will be repulsed. It doesn’t deserve anyone’s vote.
With both National and Labour so similar on the policy front the government we get will depend more on the minor parties. In the first instance National comes with ACT alongside and Labour will have the Greens as allies and here the choices become clearer.
ACT is the embodiment of free-market misery. It claims to offer “more choice” but choices are always determined by the financial resources a person or family has available. In practice it means more choices for the rich at the expense of the poor. ACT’s policy to abolish the minimum wage says it all.
Perhaps the most encouraging sign for New Zealand is that despite the massive media exposure ACT leader Rodney Hide receives his party still polls below the margin of error. Rodney depends on wealthy Epsom voters to keep him in parliament. Perhaps they deserve each other.
Despite the Green Party receiving far less media coverage that ACT the Greens poll consistently above seven percent. They have much stronger social, industrial relations and environmental policies than Labour and for these alone they deserve recognition.
In economics the Greens are far too timid for my liking. They seek accommodations with market-first policies rather than charting an alternative course.
At this point in time the Maori Party still appears to be the power broker. It will be strongly attracted to National because here it is more likely to get greater autonomy in funding for Maori initiatives in areas such as health and education. On the other hand Labour will be offering to entrench the Maori seats.
But for the Maori Party to play politics with their post-election intention rules them out of receiving my vote.
For me it will be a reluctant party vote for the Greens but whatever the outcome of the election the most important political developments will occur outside parliament.