Saturday, May 5, 2012

Bryce Edwards: National soft on tough issues, Labour swallows dead rats

Doesn’t anybody stay true to their principles anymore?

The National Party believe firmly that there should be interest applied to student loans but aren’t prepared to reinstate this policy because of the uphill battle they face selling the policy to the public. Instead they’re reduced to finding a backdoor way to tighten up the cost of student loans. By raising the repayment rate from 10% to 12%, and by effectively lowering the threshold for repayments, they’re creating a tax increase for graduates in the upcoming ‘black budget for students’ – see: John Hartevelt’s Student debt plan cuts pay by $30
Opposition to the proposal was, unsurprisingly, swift and vocal – see for example Isaac Davison’s Four-year allowance cap restricts study for manand Isaac Davison and Kate Shuttleworth’s Outrage at student loan changes.

Meanwhile, Labour continues to swallow it’s own dead rats, with leader David Shearer announcing today that while Labour believes firmly that governments should continue to make contributions to the ‘Cullen Super Fund’ during recessions, it will drop this policy because, ‘New Zealanders told us they were uncomfortable about the rate of borrowing. We have listened’. For more on this see Danya Levy’s Labour in Super Fund u-turn
 and Alex Tarrant’s Shearer says Labour will delay policy. In contrast to John Key’s relatively upfront pragmatism (“It may not be great economics, but it’s great politics’), this backpeddling from Labour is blatant pragmatism disguised as a democratic impulse.

Both examples raise the important philosophical question of whether we want political leaders and parties to show leadership, campaigning on what they really believe in and try to convince us, or whether they should primarily reflect the will of the people. Instead modern political parties seem to exist largely on a diet of dead rats, regularly considering which principles to cast off in the pursuit of popularity and avoidance of controversy.

Danyl Mclauchlan has blogged about this and asks what National-initiated polices the current Labour Party are likely to swallow in their bid for re-election in 2012 – see: 
Left-wing dead rats. In an interesting comments section on this post, David Farrar responds to Mclauchlan’s challenge with these questions: ‘Will Labour promise to repeal the three strikes legislation? Will they promise to restore the vote to prisoners? Will they promise to scrap national standards? That’s three which I’ll be interested to see if Labour touches. Also will Labour hike tax rates? Will Labour restore public sector staffing to 2008 levels?’ Other suggestions include the reversal of GST rise to 15%, the reversal of voluntary students association legislation, and the full re-nationalisation of the energy companies. 
The banksdotcom scandal rolls on with further damaging stories being published each day. The latest can be found in Danya Levy’s Dotcom man's trip to bank cheques and Andrea Vance’s Campaign advertising gift in spotlight. Meanwhile, on an unrelated but very important Kim Dotcom issue, David Fisher has found that Crown lawyers were aware Dotcom court order was unlawful.
And on the increasingly hot issue of anonymous political donations, Labour has come out to defend their existence – see: RNZ’s MPs agree anonymous donations have a placeAlso worth reading is an indepth blogpost by Paul Buchanan – see: Showing The Money versus Making Numbers Work.
How is the media performing with their coverage of the Banks scandal? Media watcher John Drinnan is impressed – especially with the coverage from TV3 and the Herald - see: Shearer dinner date bad look. Drinnan says that the ‘reporting of the teapot tape, the SkyCity deal and the John Banks-Dotcom donation are examples of a healthy news media’. He also reports on the increasingly contentious issue of lobbying, revealing that ‘Labour leader David Shearer attended a dinner party with his wife at the home of long-time Sky TV lobbyist Tony O'Brien’. Also on media issues, Vernon Small reports TVNZ7 scrapped in favour of repeats channel.
Dr Bryce Edwards is a politics lecturer at Otago University.

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