Gordon Campbell on the Labour/Greens Deal

If Labour and the Greens were hoping their Budget Responsibility Rules (BRR) agreement would foster an unlikely alliance then hey… mission accomplished! Because it isn’t every day that Sue Bradford, the CTU and Matthew Hooton speak with one voice, as happened yesterday. Unfortunately though, it’s hard to see how the BRR agreement will work to the advantage of Labour and the Greens in the context of the 2017 election campaign.

To Sue Bradford, the agreement ties the centre-left to the current neo-liberal orthodoxy and amounts to a “sellout” of Green principles.

The CTU has similar misgivings about the promise to maintain business-as-usual. More tactfully than Bradford, it has reminded Labour and the Greens of the need for further social spending:

“We need a government that has the vision to provide decent health, education, housing and other public services for all Kiwis so everyone gets a good start in life. This is impossible when the Government keeps cutting funding. Maintaining funding is a start, but we need to keep improving the capacity of Government to support social and economic growth.”

As for Matthew Hooton, while he could see the BRR’s intended aim – to try and pre-empt negative campaign advertising about the alleged economic follies of the centre-left – Hooton was understandably sceptical that the deal would stop those claims from being made, regardless.

Hooton pinpointed the risks involved for the Greens: “I don’t see how a small party gains by removing its point of difference with a larger one…”

Even though Bradford and Hooton have different motives for their misgivings, their basic point – why would you vote for the Greens rather than Labour if you’re going to get Labour’s Third Way economic policy anyway? – remains valid. In that respect, the agreement looks less like a vehicle for growing the centre-left vote than of cannibalising it, with the Greens at some risk of ending up as lunch. So… what exactly, does the BRR bind a future Labour/Greens government into doing? Here’s the Greens’ summary document of the five point agreement:

The most problematic elements come right at the start. Items one and two promise that “the government will deliver a sustainable operating surplus across an economic cycle” and that any future Labour-Greens government will “reduce the level of net Crown debt to 20% of GDP within five years of taking office”. In similar vein, item four promises “the government will take a prudent approach to ensure expenditure is phased, controlled and directed to maximize its benefits. The government will maintain its expenditure within the recent historical range”. In case you’re still in any doubt as to what this might herald for our currently underfunded health and education sectors, the Greens have added this helpful annotation to item four:

During the global financial crisis, Core Crown spending rose to 34% of GDP. However, for the last 20 years, Core Crown spending has been around 30% of GDP and we will manage our expenditure carefully to continue this trend.

So… the Greens and Labour are promising voters that an ever-declining share of the nation’s wealth will be devoted to the state provision of public services. True, other items on the BRR do promise to promote progressive taxation and address the financial and sustainability challenges facing the country. But to coin a phrase: it’s the economy, stupid. If you pledge not to deviate from neo-liberal economic policy and its goal of small government (achieved via a budget balancing fixation) then you’ve eviscerated your ability to function as a centre-left government. As this column has argued before, Third Way centre left parties lament the excesses of neo-liberalism but simultaneously, they accept its premises. At best, it’s like driving down a dead end street in the cynical belief you can still do some kind of U-turn once you’re in government.

In the end, will the BRR re-assure the tycoon sector, and be the prophylactic that protects the Labour-Greens from being painted by National as a risky crew of economic managers? Hardly. Labour leader Andrew Little will be on the back foot – promising to deliver the same economic settings should the centre-left gain the Treasury benches, no matter how out of whack that position may be with social need, and with traditional Labour principles. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, but surely the centre-left exists to bury neo-liberalism, not to perpetuate it in office. Swinging voters would have every right to conclude they may as well stick with the Bill English they know, rather than its mirror image. Quite a few centre-left voters might conclude they may as well stay at home.

Finally, Hooton is dead right about National raising the “scary Greens” spectre, regardless. In that respect, the Greens will (ironically) be in much the same position that US President Donald Trump found himself in last week, when he tried to cut a deal with the rebel Republicans (from the so called “ House Freedom Caucus”) over his replacement health care legislation. As Ed Kilgore pointed out, Trump and House Speaker Paul Ryan made concessions, expecting the HFC to negotiate. But alas, they didn’t.

But the gambit backfired when HFC members meeting with Trump pocketed the “essential benefits” concession and demanded more. According to one account, they wanted even highly popular provisions like protections for people with preexisting provisions and allowing dependents up to age 26 going on their parents’ policies to be repealed. Regardless of the exact demands, it’s clear conservatives called Trump’s and Ryan’s bluff: If all Obamacare regulations are now on the table, why stop with one or two?

Exactly. Labour and the Greens will surely make the same discovery. You concede this? Fine. We’ll pocket that, and demand more. What about those crazy ideas about progressive taxation, your dingbat energy policy etc etc. Labour and the Greens have started Campaign 2017 by making concessions intended to establish themselves as a credible alternative government, but they’ve made the concessions to the wrong people. In the process, they may well have convinced their own supporters that they’re not an alternative at all.


The case for a wide-ranging inquiry into the SAS raid and the its place within the NZ deployment in Afghanistan exists regardless of the current crossfire between authors Nicky Hager and Jon Stephenson on one hand, and NZDF on the other. Somewhat lost in the shadow of those exchanges has been Monday’s release – after a three year OIA battle – to NZ Herald journalist David Fisher of a damning internal review of the failings/lessons from our Provincial Reconstruction Team efforts in Bamiyan province.

Having sought this review, the NZDF promptly shelved it – and then fought a rearguard action to prevent it from ever seeing daylight. When the internal document finally surfaced, the NZDF top brass – some of whom were in the line of responsiblity for some of the alleged shortcomings – have tried to rebut its findings.

The entire report makes fascinating reading, and it can be accessed through the second “entire document” link (the first link doesn’t work) in Fisher’s article here.

The NZDF’s attempted rebuttal (of their own team’s findings, from their on the ground work in Afghanistan) can be found here.

You have to ask: if the review was as obviously flawed as the NZDF now claim, why did they fight tooth and nail for three years to stop Fisher from gaining access to it?

Meanwhile, the ongoing conflict between Hager/Stephenson and the NZDF has left the public in a “who do you believe?” quandary that can only be resolved by an independent arbiter. The authors have listed the names of the six dead and 15 injured, in the 22 August 2010 raid, and their villages of residence. On the evidence, four villagers were killed by air attack, two by gunshots.

The NZDF on the other hand, claim to have geo-positioning evidence to support their contention that the raid was carried out on a separate village two kilometres away. The credibility onus is still on the NZDF at this point, given their prior reliance on ISAF/Afghan government evaluations, on which the NZDF based their original ‘nine dead insurgents/no dead civilians’ assertions, which the NZDF now acknowledge to have been false, at least regarding the ‘no civilian deaths’ aspect.

Any civilian casualties that occurred, the NZDF now claim via ISAF findings, were due to a weapons “malfunction.” (Blame the tools.) So…when did ISAF and NZDF first learn of this “weapons malfunction” ? If it was in 2011, why wasn’t the potential for related civilian casualties acknowledged back then, rather than comprehensively denied? If discovered only now, this can’t avoid looking more like a ‘the dog ate my homework’ kind of excuse. Moreover, a single malfunction would surely mean the casualties would all need to have been congregated in the one place hit by the alleged misfire. This, surely, is a testable claim.

What has to happen now is that all of the evidence – including the NZDF’s rules for engagement for identifying civilians from combatants during a night raid, and all the NZDF/ISAF footage of the incident and its aftermath – need to be put in front of an independent investigation vested with powers to impel New Zealanders to appear before it, and testify (with identity protection, if need be.)

The existence of footage that NZDF claims to hold of the insurgents is interesting, given there are competing claims of insurgents being filmed while attending a village funeral after the attack. It is very curious that NZDF cannot identify any of those phantom nine dead insurgents – none of whom, it is agreed by all parties, were the original insurgents that were targeted by the raid. Presumably, photos of the bodies of these slain insurgents exist – nine is a precise number – such that local people could possibly identify them from those images.

Will the NZDF put this and all the other relevant evidence on the table? On their performance to date, don’t hold your breath.

Hey, Why Don’t We Slip Away

Like Todd Haynes, the Seattle based musician Mike Hadreas (who performs under the name Perfume Genius) has made his sexual identity central to his music ever since his breakthrough single “Mr Peterson” back in 2010. In just a few terse verses, Hadreas sketched in a high school student’s memories of his seduction by a teacher, who later killed himself:

He let me smoke weed in his truck
If I could convince him I loved him enough
Enough, enough, enough, enough

He made me a tape of Joy Division
He told there was a part of him missing
When I was sixteen
He jumped off a building

“Slip Away” is the first single from the new Perfume Genius album No Shape, and it attains an almost Kate Bush level of grandeur. The melody line – and that “Slip Away” title – also tips its hat to Lou Reed and Street Hassle or if you prefer, to the Reed track of the same name on Songs for Drella. Yet as the exultant chorus shows, Hadreas hasn’t shifted his focus from gender issues one iota: “They’ll never break the shape we take…”