NZ election 2023: Labour’s disconnect with the electorate – and with itself

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Labour leader Chris Hipkins has shown no sign he is capable of leading the rejuvenation policy the party needs
Labour leader Chris Hipkins has shown no sign he is capable of leading the rejuvenation policy, thrust and direction the party needs. He is still in the politics of the late 20th century. Image: 1News screenshot/APR

COMMENTARY: By John Minto

There is a sea change happening in the wider electorate in Aotearoa New Zealand which is counter intuitive to what the polls are saying.

On the one hand the public overwhelmingly support much fairer taxation but the polls tell us we will have an Act/National government in a couple of weeks which will increase unfairness in tax.

The simple answer to this contradiction is that people vote against governments rather than for them and Labour are being punished for failure — a party in policy paralysis — unable to get out of its own way and get anything meaningful done.

Spelling this out is a recent poll conducted by Essential Research for the lobby group Better Taxes for a Better Future which shows the big majority of voters want a capital gains tax, a wealth tax, a windfall profits tax and want the wealthy to pay at least the same tax rates as the rest of us. (A survey conducted by IRD earlier this year found the uber rich pay less than half the tax rates the rest of us pay)

Here are the figures:

Support for a capital gains tax in New Zealand
Support for a capital gains tax in New Zealand.
Support for a windfall profits tax in New Zealand
Support for a windfall profits tax in New Zealand.

Support for the wealthy to pay a fairer share of tax in New Zealand
Support for the wealthy to pay a fairer share of tax in New Zealand. Image: Essential Research

Wealth tax
A TVNZ poll released last week shows overwhelming support for a wealth tax in line with Green Party policy.

The poll asked eligible voters if they would support or oppose a wealth tax on the assets of New Zealanders with more than $2 million in assets if having the wealth tax meant everyone got free dental care.

A majority — 63 percent — said they would be in support of it, while 28 percent were opposed. The rest did not know or refused to say.

The polls show the ground has shifted dramatically in recent times and has opened the way for Labour’s traditional values (if they have any life left in them) to flourish. The electorate is wanting fairer taxes and have the free-loading rich pay much more.

But Labour under its current and former leaders has been looking the other way. It is out of touch and faces its heaviest electoral defeat in my lifetime.

National and ACT are doing well not because voters want them but because voters are voting against Labour.

The same thing happened in the 1990 election. After six years of brutal Labour policies under David Lange and Roger Douglas the electorate had had a gutsful. They wanted to stop featherbedding the rich at the expense of the rest of us.

National policies even worse
Labour was thrown out and National came in with policies that were even worse than those proposed by Labour.

The same thing will happen this election.

There is a pervasive belief among self-interested politicians that when they are interviewed for opinion polls people will say they are prepared to pay higher taxes but when they get into the ballot box they vote against tax increases.

But this argument can only apply when the individual voter faces paying more tax. In these recent polls the call is for the undertaxed rich to pay a much fairer share. These tax changes the electorate wants will not impact on the 99 percent of voters who go to the polls.

Even National and Act voters want these taxes — but the Labour leadership remain lost in the neoliberal wilderness. They haven’t got the message.

Labour’s failure means we will have to face three years of awful National/Act policies which will deepen the problems we face.

I haven’t kept count but I have personally heard from dozens of Labour members and voters who have told me they have left the party this year and won’t be voting Labour this year — disgust is the dominant theme.

Only hope is reshaped party
After this election Labour’s only hope is to reshape the party around the changed public attitudes to tax and find its roots once more. That is easier said than done for many reasons.

Labour’s activist base is irredeemably middle class and it only has tenuous links with organised workers (less than 10 percent of private sector workers are in unions) who are a small part of the voting public.

Labour leader Chris Hipkins has shown no sign he is capable of leading the rejuvenation policy, thrust and direction the party needs. He is still in the politics of the late 20th century.

All the indications are that the job of Labour renaissance is beyond him.

Hopefully there will be enough good people left in Labour to do what’s needed.

Republished with permission from The Daily Blog.

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