I enjoyed Jenny’s piece the other day on David Shearer’s leadership abilities. His skill at taking the ball and running with it, and doing what he thinks is right. I want to similarly praise David Cunliffe for his leadership in economic thinking. God knows we need someone who gets the problems and the solutions. Cunliffe brings that understanding in droves.
I’m a Green voter but I’m under no illusion that in the next leftwing government, there will be a Labour Prime Minister and Labour’s outlook will be crucial to shaping how the government faces problems.
Watching Q+A, first the Davids contesting the Labour leadership and then the global economic crisis, I was struck by how inter-related the issues are. It’s clear National has no new ideas for the economy. What’s they’re doing now, they planned 5 years ago – tax cuts 1st term, asset sales 2nd. Labour needs to lead the new economic thinking, as it always has done. So which David would do it?
I think either Shearer or Cunliffe will be an excellent PM come 2014. Unlike David Parker, both of them have that spark that makes them PM material. But I’m looking for more than the ability to win the Prime Ministership. I’m looking for someone with big ideas for once they get there. What I’m looking for is a leader who gets the big problems facing the country and at least knows the directions we have to look in for solutions.
On Q+A, the talking heads wisely intoned that new thinking is needed. They talked about how any economic change in New Zealand needs to be led by the government – the builder of infrastructure, 35% of the economy, and the only player with the access to the big amounts of capital needed to undertake really big projects. And then 2 of the 3 (Jon Johansson and John Tamihere) endorsed Shearer for the leadership (Helen Kelly abstained).
I find it surprising that people are talking about Shearer as the face of change. In fact, he is the old guard’s man now they’ve realised Parker couldn’t win. I’m concerned that Shearer would be led by the people who put him there – who have proven good at keeping their own power but don’t have a stellar record on new thinking, or on winning elections. With only 2 and a half years in the job (Key had had 4) Shearer’s clearly still green and doesn’t seem to providing much in the way of new thinking.
Now, check out this from Cunliffe in a debate with English last month:
“let’s get real, we can’t dig enough coal, we can’t milk enough cows to lift New Zealand’s income to the level we need to aspire to. The bigger game is investing in clean technology in transitioning to a low-carbon, highly-efficient future. We face fossil fuel shortages, we face oil shortages around the world, and that will put up the price of energy in New Zealand. Energy in New Zealand should be abundant. We are 80-odd percent renewable in our electricity system that Bill English wants to sell to foreign multi-nationals. We’re headed to 90% and I think we should aim for 100%. And we would be one of the luckiest countries in t he world if we could do that and add in more smarts and technology. But being an extractive, low-wage, low-value economy is taking New Zealand in the wrong direction. And, what’s worse, National’s paving the road to obscurity by selling down our assets”
Cunliffe was the only senior politician talking about the actual economic/energy realities we are facing (and placing the problem with asset sales within its true strategic context).
When you look at Labour’s big policies at the last election – capital gains tax, superannuation reform, savings, monetary police, R&D – they’re all about the long-term, fixing big problems because that’s what government ought to bloody well do, and they’re all from the finance spokesperson. Cunliffe is actually the face of change.
Cunliffe’s problem is that it’s not just the old guard backing Shearer – various members of the Labour Ulterior, press gallery figures, and the Right have put their names behind him too. I guess the worry is that merely getting the big job might disappoint enough expectations, confound enough narratives, to put Cunliffe on the backfoot and written-off by the media from day 1.
I don’t know. What I care about is a sustainable and fair economy. Cunliffe’s the one thinking about how to get us there. Whoever gets the leadership, Cunliffe needs to have a big role in setting Labour’s direction.
Because in 2014, we’re going to be another 3 years past peak oil, we’re going to be in another faux recovery after another oil spike/financial crisis recession, we’re going to have lost another 135,000 people to Australia at last year’s rate, Christchurch will probably be hollowing out rather than rebuilding, we’re going to be poorer and more indebted as a nation, and we’re going to need someone who can look past the worn out neoliberal and Keynesian playbooks for answers.