The belittling of Little…

andrew-little-labour-leader-205-getty‘ …the series of promises Labour Leader Andrew Little set out were so grandiose as to be unbelievable” wrote Claire Trevett in the New Zealand Herald. And went on:

‘It amounted to promising to solve poverty, build “affordable” houses for everyone, feed every hungry child, banishing cold damp homes forever, building masses of infrastructure and pumping funding into the health and education systems. The only one he missed was turning water into wine’.

Fair enough – she’s the Herald’s Political Editor in Wellington and the paper is  hardly noted for its support of Labour Party views. And so to TVOne, where what we’ve heard at breakfast is so often recycled and paraded as news at 6pm. Nothing there to tell us much about the substance of Little’s speech, except that there were ‘mixed messages’ within it.

One way or another, Opposition parties have a much tougher ride with the media than does National whose business-friendly ministers have a lot in common with  the agendas of big business.

So what did Little say that was so astounding it rivalled the gospel story? He canvassed the social ills of present society – homelessness, plummeting home ownership and stalled wages for many.  Then as you’d expect he compared all that with the  growing wealth of property speculators and tax dodgers. He said  144,000 were out of work – 40,000 more than when National took office.

He  pointed out that the share of the national economic growth had fallen each year under National. Under the last Government it was 50%. Today it is 37%.  He listed the slippages in international rankings:  305,000 children living in poverty and 42,000 children hospitalised each year because they  had to live in poor quality homes. Much of that is known, but Little also came with a plan which deserved much more than flippant dismissal:

  • Labour would launch a mass home building programme to deliver new affordable homes in Auckland and around the country; ‘cracking down on offshore speculators who drive prices up and lock families out of the market. Labour would tell overseas  buyers that if they buy a house in New Zealand, they have to add to the stock as they do in Australia.
  • Restore the funding estimated at $1.7 billion which National has cut from public health.
  • Labour would commit the country once more to the principle of high quality, free public education.
  • Three years’ free post-school education so Kiwis can train and retrain without having to take on huge debt.

If all this sounds improbable then this year provides an 80th anniversary – an instructive one. In 1936 the new Labour Government had begun its state house building programme involving an estimated 180 builders and 5,000 tradesmen  who built 5,000 state houses a year.

In the years before 1935 and the election of the Labour Government, the housing shortfall was …20,000 in a society  run on laissez-faire free market principles.

If we’re using biblical terms, then 80 years ago, water was turned into wine and the same can be done  again. What’s in the way? An ideology which Guardian writer George Monbiot described as nameless – but destructive. He wrote:

Neoliberalism: do you know what it is? Its anonymity is both a symptom and cause of its power. It has played a major role in a remarkable variety of crises: the financial meltdown of 2007‑8, the offshoring of wealth and power, of which the Panama Papers offer us merely a glimpse, the slow collapse of public health and education, resurgent child poverty, the epidemic of loneliness, the collapse of ecosystems, the rise of Donald Trump.

But we respond to these crises as if they emerge in isolation, apparently unaware that they have all been either catalysed or exacerbated by the same coherent philosophy; a philosophy that has – or had – a name. What greater power can there be than to operate namelessly?  Read more at

In New Zealand all roads lead back to 1984 after a breathtaking  betrayal of an entire electorate by Labour, led by David Lange. Now it’s commonplace to hear commentators and leaders ruing problems by saying ‘ over the past 30 years…’  as if this time frame alone was responsible when this unnamed ideology took root.

TV documentary maker Bryan Bruce showed what’s gone wrong with our education system in his doco on TV3 this week:  Individualism, the promotion of competition at the expense of co-operation, the closure of smaller schools when research showed they provided better learning than larger ones; and the emphasis on tests as opposed to learning in the broadest sense.

Very American. But that’s the role model our leaders have chosen to follow rather than the more enlightened countries of Norway, Finland and Sweden – with all the social costs Little outlined in his speech.

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Paul Smith

Paul is a veteran journalist, non-fiction author and writing mentor. He has also served on boards ranging from TVNZ to UNESCO.