Labour’s problems with the young

Gordon Campbell

The wrangle between the government and insurance industry over third party motor vehicle insurance reflects a wider problem for the Clark government – namely, its punitive stance towards young people, and first time voters.

According to to Labour Party president Mike Williams, there will 190,000 eligible first time voters in this election, and they’re supposed to be a Labour priority. Yet the array of policies that the Labour government has promoted over the last year or so have targeted young people and their leisure habits, mainly to score brownie points on law and order issues.

Add them up. There has been have the attack on youth drugs of leisure ( the party pills ban) and on forms of protest and expression ( the anti-tagging Summary Offences (Tagging and Graffiti vandalism) Amendment Bill.) Labour has vowed to keep young people compulsorily inside learning institutions until they’re 18, via the Schools Plus initiative, which is already in some trouble.

Now, we have this 3rd party insurance move against their driving habits and related risks. Transport Safety Minister Harry Duynhoeven has been quite upfront that the compulsory 3rd party insurance idea was ‘brought into focus’ as a mechanism to get boy racers off the streets. Unfortunately, the measure will further offload the cost onto all motorists, and onto young drivers in particular, and the insurance industry is already contesting Duynhoeven’s cost estimates. Compulsory third party motor vehicle insurance was considered before and rejected by Labour ( in 1988) and by National in 1994.

This punitive stance towards the young is not an election year tactic, since it has been evident throughout this term of government. Late in 2006, Labour MP Martin Gallagher sponsored an attempt to raise the drinking age, which would have forced young people out of clubs and bars, and denied them the chance to listen to bands on licensed premises. [ Disclosure of self interest : I co-promote tours by indie bands, and raising the drinking age would have killed such tours stone dead ]

You get the pattern, and that’s only on the punitive side. In the Budget, when Finance Minister was handing out the sweets to everyone else, he conspicuously failed to address student debt and student allowances. His token best effort was to drop the age that students will be regarded as dependent on their parents from 25 to an insulting 24 – apparently, according to Cullen, because United Future wanted it that way.

There’s a word for it : ephebiphobia. It means fear of the young and Labour needs policy treatment for it. So, of course, does National – always a haven for young fogies – who have shown themselves more than willing to pack young offenders off to boot camp, even if the armed forces supposed to be running them don’t want a bar of it. For the Maori Party and the Greens, those 190,000 voters really are theirs for the taking.

Footnote : tagging, as Martin Gallagher has explained, used to be punishable under the law on ‘ defacing’ with a maximum $200 fine. Under the proposed Bill, that fine can increase ten-fold to a maximum of $2,000, with judges having the option of community sentences, amid a total ban on people under 18 being able to buy spray cans.

The rationale : “Tagging is a destructive crime and represents an invasion of private and public property,” Gallagher says on his website.

“ It makes our public spaces look distasteful.” Right. Well, if making public spaces distasteful is to be criminalized to this extent, how about extending the provisions of the Bill to fast food outlets as well ? A 1% levy on annual turnover as compensation for the waste they generate, and which renders a lot of public space extremely ‘ distasteful’ would not only encourage fast food outlets to be better corporate citizens. It would be such a salutary lesson – polluters should pay ! – for our impressionable young people.

Obama’s Choice as Veep

A few weeks ago and far earlier than most, Scoop picked Virginia senator Jim Webb as Barack Obama’s likely vice –presidential running mate for Election 08, the US version. An avalanche of media coverage – a New Republic magazine cover story
saying yes, a Slate magazine story less convincingly saying no – has since put the spotlight on Webb.

Well, Obama’s campaign manager David Axelrod has now confirmed Virginia as a central state in a strategy that doesn’t treat Ohio and Florida – the crucial swing states in the last two elections – as being essential to victory. Which must be good news for Webb. This morning’s polls though, are even better news for Obama, He is ahead of McCain in those very states ( Ohio, Florida, Pennsylvania ) that he struggled with during those never-ending primary struggles with Hillary Clinton. Obama has, by the way, just hired Patti Solis Doyle, the campaign manager that Hillary fired in February.

More and more when one looks at the swing state polling and the gender vote divisions – Obama is ahead by 19 points among women voters, and by seven points among white women – that this election may not even be close. It could well end up like the Johnson vs Goldwater contest in 1964, when the crusty, cranky Republican candidate went down in a landslide.

Obama’s choice as veep will still be important. I’ve come round to thinking that Scoop got the right state, but the wrong politician. I’m now going with Virginia governor Tim Kaine as the likely vice-presidential choice.

The reasons why Virginia has become a swing state are outlined here,

So, what does Kaine bring nationally, besides a probable home state advantage in Virginia? One, he is a white Roman Catholic, a demographic Obama struggled with during the Ohio and Pennsylvania primaries. Kaine may help there – though one has to remember that Ted Kennedy’s endorsement failed to bring white Catholics in behind Obama during the Massachusetts primary. Second, Kaine speaks Spanish pretty fluently, which should firm up another Obama soft area.

Is Kaine tougher, and more experienced ? Yes and no. He has walked a tight rope on law and order issues. Prior to being elected as governor, Kaine had opposed the death penalty, but he agreed to respect state law and carry it out. In late May, Kaine authorised the execution of Kevin Green, a murderer with an IQ of 65, five points below the level generally considered as the borderline measure for mental retardation.

Those with long memories will recall that one of Bill Clinton’s most unsavoury credentials for the presidency was his signing off ( while he was Arkansas governor ) the execution of Rickey Rector, a killer so retarded that he told guards he’d be back to finish the pie he’d ordered for his last meal, once this execution thing was over.

Despite the Green decision, Kaine is not as bad as Clinton on that score. Just last week, Kaine controversially commuted ( on the night of the supposed execution) the death sentence on a triple murderer called Percy Walton, on grounds of mental incompetence.

Why did he do so? A 1986 Supreme Court case called Ford vs Wainwright has set certain conditions on the US ability to execute the mentally ill – and one of the very general Ford tests is whether the prisoner can adequately grasp the consequences of the sentence, and the link between the crime and the punishment. Recter, plainly didn’t – and should have been spared. Similarly, the deeply psychotic Walton said that he was planning on riding his motorcyle to Burger King after the execution – which became oine of the factors that eventually convinced Kaine to exercise his legal right to commute Walton’s sentence, to one of life imprisonment.

Plainly, this was the right thing to do. It may not help Kaine’s chances of winning the vice –presidential slot, or to swing his state in behind Obama if he does. Yet increasingly, Virginia looks as though it contains the prime contenders for the job.