Déjà vu with Labour

We’ve seen it all before.

In the aftermath of an election defeat Labour apologises to the country for getting its priorities wrong. New leader Phil Goff says it should have put people, families and communities at the centre of its policies but allowed itself to be sidetracked with so-called nanny-state policies of energy saving light bulbs, efficient showerheads and discouraging parents from smacking their kids.

According to Goff the party lost because it gave the impression it had taken its eye off the ball. But no-one should worry says Phil. Labour is now getting refocused and back on track with the things they do best.

The last time the party took stock like this was after its election defeat in 1990. At that time it had spent six years ripping the heart out of the economy; privatising state assets; reducing tax on the rich; kneecapping the manufacturing sector; increasing unemployment; destroying the welfare state; commercialising public services; enriching its friends and betraying the people who voted for the opposite of what the party delivered. Not bad for a two-term Labour government.

The latest apology simple starts the cycle of betrayal again. Labour activists are moving back to “reconnect” with community groups. After nine years of silence on the back benches Labour MPs now show up on marches and address rallies calling for policies they spent nine years in government ignoring.

Labour now apparently supports a capital gains tax, compulsory redundancy payments for workers, cuts to electricity prices, curbs on loan sharks, better funding for adult and community education and a decent start in life for our kids.

Just as it did after its 1990 election loss Labour is once more positioning itself as the champion of working New Zealanders. But next time it’s elected it will produce another pledge card with six promises, do them in the first few months and then revert to managing the market-economy on behalf of the corporate sector. This is now the stock-in-trade Labour Party approach. It became so obvious in its last term in government that Labour was frequently outflanked on the left by National.

Goff’s apology was for the wrong things.

Why not apologise for policies which saw company profits rise at twice the rate of workers’ wages? Why not an apology to the 220,000 children still living in poverty after three terms of Labour? Or the increase in pokie machines from 14,000 to 23,000 leaching the life from low-income communities? What about the failure of public television to deliver less than 90% rubbish? Or the failure to fund schools so every child gets a fair go? What about apologising for the much less-equal society we have now than before Labour took office?

Goff ignores the big failures and says his refocused Labour Party will be putting jobs, the economy and giving children the best possible start in life at the top of the list while focusing on what he thinks Labour is best at – health, education and social policy.

Don’t hold your breath. Goff spent his nine years in the Labour cabinet trying to out do National and ACT on law and order. He introduced numerous irrational policies in the justice and corrections area which have saddled the country with a rapidly growing prison population at an unsustainable cost.

But surely Labour did some good things? Goff highlighted the best as including Kiwisaver, Working for Families, tax relief and lowering unemployment. Unfortunately none of these stand scrutiny.

Kiwisaver began the privatisation of government superannuation. It gives the biggest benefits to those on the highest incomes while reducing government responsibility to provide retirement income through taxation. Tax relief under Labour was likewise delivered more to the wealthy than those on low incomes who continue to struggle.

Working for Families did make a positive difference for many but it only came towards the end of the second term of government and for many families it has been too little, too late. And because it excludes support to children whose families receive benefits, we still have hundreds of thousands of kids living in poverty.

It’s true that unemployment decreased under Labour but this disguises the fact that job growth has been in insecure, low-paid, casualised jobs in the service sector with no guaranteed hours of work. Neatly camouflaging this problem, Labour declared a person working just one hour per week would no longer be recorded as unemployed.

And so the Labour political cycle begins again. In its last two governments Labour used the votes of the poor to advance policies for the rich. Don’t expect any difference next time.