Labour’s launch; lowering expectations

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Jacinda Ardern’s speech at the Labour party’s election campaign in Auckland confirms that this time round Labour’s campaign is going to be completely different to 2017’s. In 2017 Labour rolled out an election manifesto that was a long shopping list of reforms. 

In government, Labour’s record over the last three years has been mixed. Labour did deliver some reforms if not on others. We need to recognise the significance of the reforms actually passed.  Things like Best Start, winter energy payments, the increase in the minimum wage, 26 weeks paid parental leave and ending school donations and NCEA fees have made a real material difference for workers. These reforms underpinned a growth in Labour’s popularity ever since the 2017 election.

Of course, these reforms were within the framework of conservative public spending overall and were no threat to New Zealand capitalism. The point is though that Labour performed as a social-democratic party is expected to do. 

However, for the coming election there will be no shopping list of reforms. There will be no promises to Labour’s working-class voter base.

Labour’s campaign is all about sustaining the private sector under conditions of the pandemic and global economic recession. One strand of the pro-business strategy is infrastructure projects, such as the $12bn bundle announced in January. The other strand is subsidies of one kind or another.

Ardern announced Labour’s main policy, which was to:  

“… roll out a support package to assist businesses employing up to 40,000 New Zealanders whose employment is impacted by COVID-19.”

They are calling the main part of this policy the Flexi-Wage scheme, which is a direct subsidy to employers in return for employing someone currently unemployed. 

The cost of the package overall is only $311m with $30m reserved for subsidising small business start-ups.

Here’s another quote from Ardern’s speech which sums up Labour’s approach.

“Almost every day I talk to businesses – large and small. I know their contribution to the economy, the commitment they have to their staff. I understand the pressures they face. Government alone can’t do everything. Neither can business. But together we can.”

Labour wants to make this a COVID election and play it safe. They will not risk putting out progressive policies. A report on RNZ today says:

“The Labour leader said more policy announcements could be expected during the campaign, but there were no large scale spending policies on the line because a significant amount had gone into the current COVID response.”