Monday, 19 March 2012

David Shearer - National-lite?

by Martin Gregory

David Shearer’s long-awaited first major speech on 15th March since becoming Labour Party leader in December signalled his taking the party in a rightwards direction. So far the new leader had been strangely lacklustre in opposition to the government and silent on Labour’s post-election policies. He had been hiding behind the fiction that he was on a mission to listen to the people before making policy. Shearer’s difficulty is that as a right-wing leader, practically foisted on the Labour Party by the bourgeois media, he has to tread carefully so as to avoid rebellion in the ranks. That bunch of careerists, the Parliamentary caucus, is not so much a problem, but Shearer needs to keep the electoral machinery of the party, the active members, on side. Hence it has taken him three months to make a speech of any note.

For last November’s election campaign Labour had a policy of making the first $5,000 of income tax-free. It was a policy that reduced income tax for everybody, but proportionally would help the low paid the most. Another election time policy was to remove GST from fresh fruit and veges; another tax cut proportionally benefitting the poorer end most. But that was then when Labour turned a little to the left. Shearer made clear that these pro-poor policies will go. He also signalled a tough line on beneficiaries, using that hackneyed rightwing mantra “rights and responsibilities”.

The most remarkable bit of the speech was an attack on “bad teachers”, code for the teaching unions.

The bourgeois press loved the speech, hailing Shearer taking Labour to the right. The Dominion Post posed the question “Will Labour be National-lite in 2014?” Incidentally, during the Labour leadership election in December the Post’s chief political writer Tracy Watkins told us that David Shearer was the candidate from central casting, now she tells us “He is not a naturally gifted politician.”

The New Zealand Herald was equally chuffed that Labour was sensibly coming to heel. Their political chief, John Armstrong, wrote:

“In the midst of one of the most bitter industrial disputes in recent history, here was the leader of the Labour Party addressing the employer clients of a Wellington lawyer in a hotel which not that long ago was home to one of the capital's more refined gentlemen's clubs. That will not go unnoticed in some quarters of the party, especially given the time Shearer took to come off the fence with regard to the protracted battle over union rights at the Ports of Auckland. But what better way to underline the message that Phil Goff's excursion into territory on Labour's left is over and the party is shifting back to the centre.”

Once again the Labour Party is showing us that it is first and foremost a capitalist party, albeit that it relies on working class votes. It is the great deceiver. 

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