There are many similarities between the political situations in Britain and NZ. In both cases we are well in to a tory government that came to power with a popular new leader, facing an ongoing world economic crisis. In both cases the governments adopted the policies of economic austerity, cutting spending and squeezing everyone but the rich (who continued to do very nicely thank you). In both cases these policies have largely failed, leaving economies stagnant, and an ever widening gap between rich an poor.
One important difference between Britain and NZ is the response of we the people. In NZ opinion is shifting slowly, with aggregated polls suggesting that the political left in our MMP system is inching ahead of the Nats. In Britain it’s a rout, with Labour’s opinion poll leads at a 12 year high! There are differences between the two cases too of course, but surely there must be lessons that we can learn from the success of Britain’s Labour.
In these “presidential” times a lot of attention and commentary is going to focus on individual leaders. British Labour’s Ed Miliband wasn’t an instant success:
For the last two years he [Miliband] has been dogged by the claim that he doesn’t have any policies, or that he does not stand for anything positive (see David Cameron at PMQs, passim.) In some respects these charges have been unfair. Labour do have policy proposals, and Miliband has a “One Nation” doctrine (although Lord Ashcroft’s research found hardly anyone knew what this meant). But, until now, Miliband did not have a simple, attractive policy he could sell to people on the doorstep.
Labour took the lead in the polls anyway. And now it seems that Miliband is growing into his leadership role. His latest speech has created a political tsunami in Britain:
Ed Miliband pledges to bring back 10p tax band
Labour leader says abolition of rate in 2007 was a mistake and reintroduction would be funded by new mansion tax
Ed Miliband has promised to undo one of Gordon Brown’s greatest mistakes by announcing that Labour intends to reintroduce a 10p tax band funded by a new mansion tax on properties valued at more than £2m.
Brown abolished the 10p rate in 2007, prompting a revolt of Labour MPs and the low-paid. On Thursday Miliband described it as a mistake and the shadow chancellor, Ed Balls, said the abolition meant “people understandably thought Labour was no longer on the side of the hard-working people we have always sought to help”.
The move, announced in a speech in Bedford, was denounced by the Conservatives as “a stunning admission of economic incompetence”.
I suspect that Miliband is going to extend Labour’s lead even further. He’s certainly got the political left talking:
Bagging mansion tax and the 10p rate for Labour was good politics, but the scale of his economic ambition was better still
Labour leader says the Conservative squeeze on middle incomes has contributed to economic failure and no growth
Ed Miliband promises to make the 2015 general election a “living standards election” as he claims that the coalition’s squeeze on middle-income Britain has deepened the recession and created the “chilling prospect” of a further decade of pressure on most families’ living standards.
Bidding to set the frame for the next election, and drawing on some of the strategy that helped re-elect Barack Obama, the Labour leader says: “I am offering a choice between an economic recovery made by the many, not just a few at the top, and a Conservative strategy that consists of trickle-down from the top, a squeeze on the middle and a race to the bottom.”
Promise by Labour leader was not just about restoring a tax band, but restoring a relationship between Labour and its base
And so on and so on.
I wasn’t initially impressed with Ed Miliband, but I am impressed with his success, and with these latest moves he’s re-establishing Labour’s credentials on the left. There are many differences with our situation in NZ of course, but surely there are lessons that we can learn from the success of British Labour. Some of them, to my mind, are to acknowledge past mistakes, to be clear about your principles and true to your roots, and to be bold. With capital gains tax, KiwiBuild, and child-centered policy I think NZ Labour has some of these elements already – but there is clearly more work to do…