With nine days to go in the Mount Albert by-election, we have had the first two debates, and the difference between the candidates is clear to see. The left of politics has a lot of heart and cares about a lot of things, but simply can’t prioritise. The potential value of TOP is clear – we could bring heart to a right wing government, and some much-needed head (rationality) to a left wing government.
The Spinoff and BFM debates have confirmed many of the expectations around this campaign. Firstly the quality of the candidates is high – both Jacinda Ardern and Julie Anne Genter are clearly future leadership contenders in their own parties. Mount Albert appears to be spoiled for choice; although of course both these candidates are already in Parliament and can’t/won’t work with the National-led Government for the next 7 months so aren’t really much of a choice in this by-election.
The Labour and the Greens approach to debate is to engage in a love-in – agreeing on most things and occasionally having a minor policy difference so that we can remember they are distinct entities. It is a fine balance to strike; showing unity without the lack of diversity of ideas turning people off.
The Left - I want it all
What is clear from these debates is that these candidates are informed and concerned about a lot of things. Pretty much everything in fact. While it is nice to know that they care, it is more difficult to know what they would die in a ditch over.
It simply isn’t possible to achieve everything that one would want in government. There is neither the time nor more importantly the money. Helen Clark knew that in 1999 with her credit card promises, but her government eventually lost its focus and descended into a big spending free-for-all. There is no sign that the coalition of the Left has regained that laser focus that Clark had in 1999.
They are concerned about early childhood, but are also concerned about tertiary and lifelong learning. Both of these need more money, but where is the money coming from? Certainly not by reducing our exorbitant superannuation bill, that’s for sure. They’re far too timid to address that. Health is similar, they want to invest more in prevention and care, but aren’t prepared to face the difficult conversations on the big cost driver in our health system – the number of operations (some of which are of little value).
And housing? They are really concerned about housing. But not concerned enough to implement the findings of either of the last two reviews of the tax system requested by Michael Cullen and Bill English. Gareth was involved in both these reviews, and that is why we have the gold standard policy to bring an end to housing speculation, make 80% of people better off and ensure that our investment dollar is directed toward productive businesses.
The Left wants it all, but doesn’t believe in trade-offs. Sadly, this results in doing lots of things badly, rather than a few things well.
The Right – Do Nothing
Of course, they are no better or worse than the Right. National – as David Seymour pointed out in a burst of uncharacteristic lucidity – simply preserves the status quo bequeathed to it by the previous Labour government. It is as if people get too giddy with change from Labour so switch over to National until they get bored with the lack of action.
The Right lacks heart and the Left lacks head. That is why TOP is the perfect partner for either; we would light a fire of reform under a National administration, and we would bring some focus to a Left wing government brimming with good intentions after 9 years in opposition.
That is the way that MMP works in more mature democracies. Centrist parties can work with either government lead to provide some continuity and balance to the ideological extremes. Pragmatic progress is the result, not cycles of dreamy idealism and policy stagnation which is what the Establishment party governments of New Zealand deliver.