We all read what we want in to leader’s speeches.
Many commentators, for example, have interpreted David Shearer’s recent speech as signaling a “move to the right”. I’m not so sure. I’m glad that Shearer signaled keeping the capital gains tax policy, hardly a right-wing favourite (expert opinion was so solidly in favour that we don’t need to have that debate again). And the righties point to signals like Shearer’s intention to drop the $5,000 “tax free zone” as an example. But note what Shearer actually said here – “On the other hand, I would want to ask whether a tax-free zone that gives everyone the same sized tax cut is going to be as much of a priority”. Shearer is questioning the policy for giving yet another tax cut to the rich, who don’t need it. If Labour replace that with something better targeted at low income earners then so much the better.
So while right-wingers like Armstrong read the speech as a shift to the right, I think it’s far too early to tell. Let’s wait for the next speech, and the one after that.
But if it’s true and Labour’s policy takes a rightward tack, is that a disaster for the left? Not at all. That’s the same kind of pre-historic “first-past-the-post” thinking that still pervades our politics, and still likes to see everything as a head to head battle between National and Labour. The same kind of outmoded thinking that would credit National with a “Big Win” in the last election, instead of a reduced, razor-thin, one seat majority for it’s policies (hello asset sales and Peter Dunne).
In today’s political world it is not parties that govern, it is coalitions. And if Labour moves “back” towards the “center” then that increases the chance of a left wing government. Matt McCarten sets it out:
Centrist Shearer a let-down for lefties? No way
…I believed Shearer had a better chance of becoming Prime Minister in the next election than any of his colleagues on offer. Under MMP, it’s not the biggest party that wins, it’s the leader of the main party who can form a majority coalition.
If Shearer went further to the left, he wouldn’t grow the coalition but merely succeed in taking votes off his potential allies – the Greens, Mana and NZ First. He’d lose the next election.
That’s why I can see why he believes he has to move to the centre. This opens up space on his left for those three parties to increase their support, promoting more progressive policies than his party does. These parties are already on the left of Labour, on economics anyway, and the Greens and Mana are also on social policy.
After the next election, if these three support parties expand their numbers, they can make legitimate demands that any Labour-led government would have to adopt. It’s called having your cake and eating it, too.
So I think it’s too early to say if Shearer is headed “left” “right” “center” or whatever. Let’s wait and see. But as a leftie I’m kinda hoping that he does move to the center. The country desperately needs a government with a clue and a heart. A left-wing coalition is the only way to get there.