Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32. No. 25. October 9, 1969
Labour: But Not In Vain
Labour: But Not In Vain
The Labour Party has always been an organisation rich in ideals. In the last three elections it has, however, been defeated. On each occasion Labour has been unable to present a radical alternative attractive enough to cut through the prevailing and possibly quite natural mood of political lethargy. The outcome of the election this year could depend to a large extent upon the results of the process of renewal within the Labour Party that has been going on for the past three years and whether this has managed to sharpen its electoral cutting edge.
The credibility of the Labour alternative government is specially important in 1969. This year's election, with the notable exception of education, has as yet provoked little controversy, but it could easily rank with 1891, 1912 and 1935 as a turning point in New Zealand's political and social history. Unlike these previous dates 1969 will not be important for the changes in policies canvassed and promoted at the polls by the incoming party but more by the attitude it adopts to the problems with which it is confronted and the responses engendered to changed circumstances. It is clear that EEC or not, New Zealand's position as the Britain of the South Pacific cannot last indefinitely and far reaching changes are likely in the next three years. To maintain a standard and quality of living equal to and surpassing that to which we are accustomed will demand a radical attempt to establish priorities for industrial, commercial and social development.
The Labour Party has shown in the past that it is prepared to take up an unpopular position to further its egalitarian objectives and in support of its principles. It remains however, something of a paradox. On the one hand it is disciplined and demands high standards of loyalty. On the other it is a movement for social liberation from fear of illness and want, committed to the guarantee of meaningful debate and criticism and a free flow of information. In its essence it is an idealistic movement with a strong commitment to internationalist ideals and aspirations. Its coherence and unity are derived from its background and support from Trade Unionism and enable it as a government to implement policies demanding the establishment of priorities to an extent that conservative governments would never be able to do, because of their dependence upon an ability to hand out shares of an ever expending national cake.
It was not by accident that a book containing excerpts from speeches by Norm Kirk was entitled "Towards Nationhood". This is not pursuit of the sterile, mystical nationalism of the Welsh and Scots Nationalists. It does, however, imply a recognition that specifically New Zealand solutions are being sought for specifically New Zealand problems. The Commonwealth and Monarchy are irrelevant to present problems but remain as reminders of a common opposition to Fascism and Militarism the former providing at the same time a useful experiment in multi-racial cooperation. "Nationhood" envisages an international role for New Zealand which will recognise its size and resources rather than its "influence" base on servility to the "mother" country. Our obvious focus of attention is the Pacific and the Islands but with our relative affluence and well developed representation in many parts of the world we can play a role as the organiser, lobbyist and leader of the small, largely underdeveloped emergent nations of the world. Looking further ahead Labour recognises the potential friends to be made in the Pacific basin in China and South America.
The Labour Party's explicit foreign policy objectives, immediate withdrawal from Vietnam, a short time limit on the retention of forces in Malaya, coupled with attempts to assist peaceful integration in that country are aimed in this direction. However, foreign policy cannot succeed, unless based on a firm economy. On the economic front the Labour Party sees as the greatest danger, at present, the attempts being made to remove the issues involved from the scrutiny of the public. This tendency has had considerable impetus in this year's Budget, with the consolidation of several classes of expenditure, concealing the purposes for which they are intended and also in the formation of the present National Development Council. In the name of "efficiency" the conservatives are attempting to categorise the economy into exclusive fields of responsibility. Each person will have competence in a diminishing area while at the top a small, self perpetuating clique of business "giants", bureaucrats and pliable politicians take all the really important decisions.
Labour is opposed to this conservative conception of planning. Any plan must be fully discussed and understood before it is implemented and open to critical scrutiny at all stages. It must be a consultative process as well as indicative. From the most humble worker on the shop floor, through every level of management, those whose lives will be changed by decisions must have the right to be consulted beforehand and each through his union or professional association to negotiate in detail with management. Without this process of scruting, political changes through the ballot box become meaningless.
The time has passed when an ability to pass examinations can be he criterion of an "education" or "success". Learning must become an integral part of everyone's work and life. Instead of determining at eleven, fifteen, or twenty-one that a person must have a particular type of occupation for the rest of his life facilities must exist for the greatest possible free choice and opportunity to change adding a new dimension to economic flexibility. Work structuring and productivity gains will soon make possible the abolition of the social evil of overtime and bring closer the universal thirty-five hour working week freeing more time for leisure. None of these objectives will be achieved however, while our political authorities lack control over and information about vital sections of our economy. The conservative image of man as an economic animal must give way to the socialist conception of man as an individual.
Despite the horrified cry of "too much tax" or "where's the money going to come from" that confronts every radical government Labour believes that there is plenty of room within the present system for further redistribution of wealth in order to attain objectives such as free medical services and improved education. There is little justification for depriving a man of what he has earned and margins for skill and expertise are required to retain those who enrich the country with their skill knowledge and initiative. However, there is little justice if the "children" of talented people are allowed to inhert their parents' wealth unobstructed. This is especially true after they have enjoyed the benefits of their parents' wealth and are aged in their forties. Frequently this inherited wealth is mistaken for "success" and "enterprise".
Another significant field of development in the next few years will be the future of our information and news media services. The uniformly conservative orientation of our newspapers and the turgid orthodoxy that the NZBC is being increasingly encouraged to adopt has brought about significant demands for private broadcasting. Decentralisation on the basis of single station units could do no other than in the long-run encourage a common low standard of technical performance, programmes and cultural activities. As with industrial decentralisation New Zealand's population is inadequate to support autonomy on the basis of single population centres and Labour has recognised this with a sensible policy of regional specialisation. This will permit variety and economic viability, with fruitful competition for talent and quality without the waste of duplicated services and scrambling.
I would be the first to admit that the Labour Party is far from an ideal political instrument. Its organisation and constitution were not designed for the demands now being placed on them and both are long overdue for reform; However, the more tolerant attitude adopted to diverse opinion and dissent within the party and the unprecedented questioning and thought that is now going to give rise to hopes that a Labour Government in the nineteen seventies will provide not only capable management through a difficult period but also establish social priorities consistent with the principles upon which the Labour Party was founded.