Professor Jane Kelsey has described the Labour-led government's promise of 'a new progressive trade strategy as part of a new post-neoliberal era' as another broken promise to add to the list of 'government sell-outs'. She writes that : 'Nothing in trade policy has, or is about to, change. Just like the welfare report, climate change, capital gains tax, Treaty policy, and too much more. Ours is a conservative, neoliberal Labour-NZ First government, with the Greens timidly in train.' Kelsey's criticism joins the mounting chorus of criticism directed at a government whose leader promised change but has instead delivered more of the same.
IT WASN'T SO LONG ago that Jacinda Ardern was being hailed, if not as a revolutionary leader, at least as a Labour Party leader who recognised that things couldn't just carry on the way they were going. Her celebrated comment that 'capitalism has failed' - reported by various left wing news websites around the world - might not of been a call for the socialisation of the means of production but it at least seemed to represent a significant rejection of the neoliberal straightjacket that the country has been locked in for over three decades.
Her election campaign declarations that any government she led would be committed to ending child poverty and comprehensively tackling climate change was enough to send Labour supporters into raptures. It seemed, after the 'false starts' of Phil Goff, David Cunliffe and David Shearer, that they had finally arrived at a Labour Party leader who was 'the real deal'. Perhaps New Zealand had, almost by accident, discovered its own Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.
During the opening address of her election campaign she declared that climate change was the issue of her generation. She received cheers and a standing ovation. Whooping it up with everybody else was commentator and blogger Chris Trotter. Equally enthusiastic was The Daily Blog editor Martyn Bradbury. He wrote of the evening:
"She spoke with passion on suicide, on poverty, on housing, on opportunity, on infrastructure, on health, education and climate change with an emotional depth and meaningfulness that was far ranging, intelligent and utterly compelling. I’ve never seen a politician talk with such authenticity on the issues that really speak to our human condition."
But that was then and this is now. As Jacinda Ardern and her government have continued to fail to deliver when it counts - from poverty to tax to climate change to free trade - the gloss has begun to come off Jacinda Ardern's leadership . While she might of been hailed in the overseas media because of her performance after the Christchurch terrorist attack, the voices of discontent and complaint are becoming ever louder - and among her own supporters.
|Jane Kelsey: a neoliberal government, "with the Greens timidly in train."|
While Chris Trotter's view of the Labour Party varies depending on what kind of mood he's in, he has been complaining in recent times that Ardern has become little more than a figurehead, the smiling frontwoman for a government pursuing neoliberal policies not dissimilar from the previous National government. It hardly represents the 'transformation' that she promised. In September Trotter wrote:
"How did it happen? Where did she go? The Jacinda Ardern who rocked our world? Where did she lose her sparkle and her stardust? What, or who, took from her the qualities that had so decisively interposed themselves between the centre-left and almost certain defeat?"
But the supposedly 'authentic' Jacinda Ardern, the one that 'rocked' Chris Trotter's world, was never real in the first place. She was more fiction than fact, a product of the hopes and desires of frustrated social democrats still not inclined, even now, to acknowledge that the entire social democratic project has been crushed into dust by the iron heel of neoliberalism - and for much of that time that iron heel has been worn by Labour Government's.
I wrote on several occasions during the election campaign that Ardern's declaration of a 'transformational' politics rang false against the backdrop of a nearly decade-long parliamentary career that had never seen Ardern rise above being just another routine and centrist politician. Unless she had had an political epiphany none of us knew about, it was unlikely that Ardern was about to rock the boat in the way she was suggesting.
I don't claim to have any special insight because many of my comrades on the left were saying similar things. But when our voices weren't being drowned out by Ardern's cheerleaders we were being admonished for all kinds of political transgressions ranging from being closet National Party supporters to indulging in ultra leftism. But can you be a closet National Party supporter and a ultra leftist at the same time?
Some of these very same critics are now complaining that they have been let down by Jacinda and her government. But such extreme mood changes are always going to be likely when your politics are based on nothing more than Jacinda Ardern waving an accusing finger at the right wing Mark Richardson of The AM Show.
Some like to quote the Italian Marxist Antonio Gramsci to explain why we find ourselves in our present predicament. It was Gramsci who wrote that "The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear."
But Gramci's observation is often little more than a convenient excuse to do nothing. While the old might be dying, the new cannot be born because of the continuing misguided and disastrous loyalty of much of the New Zealand left to Labour Government's that have done nothing more then perpetuate the neoliberal status quo for the past three decades. The new can be born when the chains that bind much of the left to the Labour Party are finally broken. It can't come too soon.