I’ve been accused of being too negative towards the Labour Party instead of focusing my attention on National. I am unrepentant. I disagree with a great deal of National’s policies and definitely with its ideology. Notwithstanding some seismic change, they will never get my vote, and on this I think I speak for most young people with progressive values.
That’s not to say there aren’t undercover progressives in the National electorate who are as equally frustrated with our non-evidence based, incrementalist Establishment. The Opportunities Party is a broad church with only a few conditions of entry – give a damn about people and their right to meet their potential, especially the historically and currently oppressed, and believe in the facts.
But for me there is a bigger problem for progressives than the National party. One that is much closer to home. It is the uncritical tendency to equate the Labour Party with the ideas and values of the Progressive movement. This ends up making the support for Labour by young people with those values a sad mistake.
I don’t believe in ‘tactical’ voting. If you do, then you’re probably unlikely to agree with me. You will say a vote for Labour is a vote for a change of government. I would say that a vote for Labour is still a vote for the Establishment. An Establishment that has had 30 years to address soaring inequality, a broken Criminal Justice system, draconian drug policy, and Maori disadvantage and have failed miserably.
I am sure that a vast amount of people who support Labour have a strong sense of fairness and equality. I am sure that many want to see bold and radical changes to finally address the big issues of our time, such as inequality and climate change. And I am sure that their hearts are in the right place. That is why it is extra frustrating that their vote is not.
Tax Me If You Can
So what does the average young, liberal, perhaps progressive voter think about tax? I’d be willing to guess that they’d like to see a fairer regime – in accordance with the need to reduce inequality. Does that sound like you? Well if you’re a Labour supporter, you’ll be disappointed to know that it doesn’t sound like them.
Labour’s decision today to make no changes at all to the tax regime is emblematic of their unwillingness to make any significant reforms to address inequality. Bernie Sanders would have had a field day.
Closing the Gap released a press release today detailing their “disappointment at Labour’s approach to tax.” The release cites several authoritative sources, such as Associate Professor Lisa Mariott, School of Accounting and Commercial Law at Victoria University of Wellington:
“Our top tax rate currently sits at 33 per cent compared to UK and Australia where the rate is 45 per cent. Raising the top tax rate would mean more resources to reinvest in social services – so all New Zealanders can prosper.”
She continues on to say how it is high time for New Zealand to consider a wealth tax.
“In relation to taxing wealth, NZ is quite unique in not having any form of wealth tax.”
She then mentions the fact that just 1 per cent of the population holds 20 percent of the wealth, while the bottom 50 percent hold less than 1 per cent, and that:
“By taxing wealth we can create a more equitable New Zealand.”
Later in the release Paula Feehan, Advocacy and Campaigns Director at Oxfam, details how New Zealand ranks very low globally in terms of the progressiveness of its tax policy – 30th out of 35 OECD countries.
“The index demonstrates that Governments have considerable powers to reduce the gap between rich and poor, and that only by addressing this gap can we end extreme poverty.”
So Labour has the ability to do it, just not the will.
If a relatively damning release from a major organisation dedicated to reducing inequality and poverty isn’t enough to rattle one’s belief in Labour’s liberal credentials, perhaps adding a praiseworthy release from the New Zealand Taxpayers Union might help bring the edifice shuddering down.
“The Taxpayers’ Union welcomes Labour leader Jacinda Ardern’s ruling out of any increases in the top personal tax rate…With the possibility of a new capital gains tax, water taxes, and regional fuel taxes, we call on Ms Ardern, and Labour’s Finance Spokesperson Grant Robertson, to commit to reducing existing taxes to compensate for any new taxes that are introduced.”
It’s a sad day for the Labour Party when the quasi-libertarian organisation founded by National Party sycophant and general right-wing vitriol-spiller David Farrar approves of your tax policy. Its even sadder when those campaigning to end poverty deride it.
Of course Jacinda told us the other day that Labour hasn’t “ruled out” a Capital Gains Tax, whatever that means. But why the hesitancy? A Capital Gains Tax shouldn’t even be a controversial issue. In fact there’s evidence to show it doesn’t go far enough. Unfortunately for us all John Key and the National Party’s PR machinery did an excellent job of scaring the public into thinking it was the worst thing in the world.
What’s even more unfortunate is they seem to have also scared the Labour Party – and there is some accepted feeling that the Labour Party should know better. They don’t. We like to believe, or at least we hope, that a politician’s task is to listen to the advice of the civil service and implement that advice as policy for the betterment of the nation. The sad truth is that both major political parties very often don’t do this, for a good reason.
Modern political parties have become mirrors of electorate opinion. Instead of telling us the truth and the ways to fix it, no matter how hard they may be to accept, they have moved to a terriblly reflexive stance. In effect focus groups can end up literally dictating policy. Think about it – “people are scared of crime!” (despite crime going down), “Let’s get tough on crime!” “People are scared of a Capital Gains Tax!” (despite the evidence for it), “No Capital Gains Tax!”. It goes on and on.
Sure, this kind of thing wins votes, and it’s exactly the strategy New Labour employed in the UK to spectacular success. But it is a terrible hollowing out of democracy. It ensures we never get above the swamp of our prejudices and our private and collective fears.
It also ensures that major political parties rarely make significant, bold policy decisions. They’re just too high risk. So it becomes easier to recycle platitudes and trust in other factors, such as personality and a sense of optimism, rather than policy.
For example, you’d think that Labour’s Enviromental Policy would match the strong and visionary rhetoric Jacinda used at the Party’s launch. Unfortunately it doesn’t. In fact, at least according to their own website, they don’t even have an Environmental Policy.
The Wasted Vote
Jacinda’s arrival on the political scene may in the end be enough for Labour to win this election. But it isn’t a victory that Labour supporters should feel much pride in. Particularly if they are under the illusion that their vote for the Labour Party is a vote for any real chance of reducing inequality, fixing the housing crisis, addressing Maori disadvantage or tackling the obscene levels of extreme poverty.
Supporting The Opportunities Party often means you’re accused of ‘wasting your vote.’ Supporters of the Greens often also contend with this. But I am voting in accordance with my values, and for the evidence-based solutions that could lead to a society that embodies those values.
Young and enthused Labour voters, who I remain optimistic are motivated by naturally progressive values, are being led astray by a party that co-opts the imagery and language of Progressivism, while following the Establishment playbook every time. If anyone’s vote is to be considered ‘wasted’, sadly, it is theirs.
My hope is that I’m completely wrong – that once in power Labour will cast off the shackles of the election and proceed with real gusto, implementing policies distilled from the consensus of multiple non-political institutions, for example a Drug and Alcohol Policy actually supported by the NZ Drug Foundation. I hope, but I plan otherwise.
But The Opportunities Party has these kinds of policies, right now. Policies based on the academic consensus as to what will actually work. The most radical, progressive and well-researched set of policies that has ever been offered to the New Zealand public.
Now all we have to do is vote for them.