Jacinda might just be more than Hope

It’s great that Labour is getting support for elevating Jacinda Ardern to leader. But it’s even better that one of her first actions was to get rid of the “A Fresh Approach” election slogan the party was promoting. And the reason why is that nothing could be further from the truth. A more apt description of the policy offering from Labour would have been “Reheated Gruel”.

Anyway that’s all in the past and Jacinda, who we all know has natural positivity, is a breath of fresh air and I really hope that under her leadership Labour can make a contest of this election. It is not good for voters to see a one horse race at elections – because that spells even more policy stagnation and ensures the government of the day will serve only the interests of its own supporters rather than those of all New Zealanders. The continued leadership of a small ruling elite leaves more and more people floundering in the swill while sponsoring greater and greater concentration of wealth and income. The post-1990 Neoliberal era has entrenched such an unfair and cruel political ethos.

We need competition of ideas between the two major protagonists in this election. One of National or Labour is going to be asked to form a government and with the polls suggesting a 47%/23% National/Labour split we were clearly in a one horse race. Worse, it looked like whichever establishment party won, NZ First would be needed to form a government; that is a sure fire way to take us back to the 1970s rather than forward to the 21st century. That is why TOP exists; to offer the public the opportunity for a progressive government. 

Hopefully Jacinda can follow up the euphoria of her appointment with the substance of policy reform. If she doesn’t then not only is it doubtful that winning the personality race will be enough for Labour, more substantively New Zealanders will be left without the solutions required to meet the challenges of the 21st Century. And that means inequality will keep rising; poverty, homelessness, mental illness, bullying, and youth suicide will all remain as key indicators of social failure.

Of the two, Labour has historically been the most innovative of the major parties by far. And if ever innovation in public policy was overdue it is now. This low wage, longer hours treadmill economy is pummelling the modestly waged and with the onslaught of automation and artificial intelligence (AI) we are looking down the barrel of unprecedented labour market disruption. More casualization of work, more inadequacy of income for too many and with that all, the social dysfunction we are almost becoming desensitised to.

As technology leaders Elon Musk of Tesla and Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook have been screaming at governments of Western economies – ‘for goodness sake get an Unconditional Basic Income in place because we are going to destroy jobs on a scale absolutely unprecedented and it is going to happen very fast’. They’re referring to a world of no truck drivers, no bus drivers, no cab drivers, no retail assistants, no couriers etc etc – as automation continues its march thanks to AI.

The process has already begun of course and in New Zealand we’re seeing more and more folk in paid work having to be subsidised by Working for Families. Expect this need to absolutely rocket over coming years. That’s what Labour’s “Future of Work” conference was about, that’s what Labour’s fling with ensuring all capital income is taxed the same as waged income was about. But as we all know, Labour did nothing – there is just nothing in its policy offerings to free us from the tax and targeted welfare system we currently have which frankly belongs back in the 1960’s when it was invented. That was an era of high wages and full employment. That system cannot possibly cope with a world of low wages, underemployment and tax sheltering of income to capital.

There’s less than 8 weeks to the election now. Labour is back in the race but its policy cupboard remains bare. Jacinda is a competitive leader it appears. But competitive policy matters more.

There is no way Labour can develop such policy between now and September 23rd. That is why I’m offering them all the work we have been doing over recent years synthesising best practice, evidence-informed policy that more or less represents the consensus of the policy research and advisory community. We have distilled it, it is on the table and all of the research and documentation behind it is available for Labour to pick up and enter the policy contest with.

Of course we offer it to National as well, but as I said, the conservatives are not known for their innovative prowess and besides, so far they are in control, so don’t need to do much.

My dream scenario remains as it did on Day One of TOP’s formation – one of National or Labour takes our integrated policy offering and just does it. That would enable those behind The Opportunities Party movement to pack the tent and get our lives back. We would have done our public duty. We are not career politicians, we want fundamental reform to public policy, to get it back on the rails of real progress. If the two main parties aren’t up to it, we will remain to make it happen.

The young folk of New Zealand are our future, the disenfranchised are our legacy. Both groups are politically and economically in sludge with bleak prospects. TOP’s agenda is for all New Zealanders but particularly it’s for them.

Come on Jacinda, no more rehash of old style policy tinkering, how about getting Labour to lead a set of best practice policies that suit the 21st Century?