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PoliticsApril 9, 2018

Ardern and Twyford are betting their futures on voters backing their zealotry


The stakes of the next election can  be found in the recently announced housing plan for Unitec and a transport blueprint that prioritises trains and bikes over cars. Labour is moving into the dangerous territory of telling people how they should live, writes National minister Wayne Mapp

Getting a fix on the ideological bent of the Jacinda Ardern led government has proved challenging, but perhaps the transport plan and the Unitec housing plan provide the first real indication. It is less of a traditional socialist/capitalist economic divide and more about sociological differences between traditional New Zealand and those who are part of new internationalist urban elite.

The more rabid denizens of the internet have no difficulty in labelling the prime minister as “Socialist Cindy”. Their reference point is an interview given early in her prime ministership where she referred to capitalism as a failure. However, it was a reference to a very specific issue about the supply of housing in Auckland for low income families.

In reality the government has largely continued the broad economic settings of the Key/English government. The CPTPP was signed, and in a pretty much unchanged form to the TPP. Basic tax rates are unchanged, and as a consequence so is the overall level of government.

But the government is Labour led, and the prime minister is youth adjacent. She is closely identified with younger urban professionals living in inner city suburbs. For her, climate change is her generation’s anti-nuclear moment. This must signify some sort of fundamental change, not just in the language of virtue signaling that is so familiar to the left, but also in actual policy.

The first real indications of these changes have been in the recently announced transport policy and in the Kiwibuild project on the 29 hectares of land where 4,000 dwellings are proposed, presumably mostly apartments. In these announcements the government, particularly Phil Twyford who is the key minister for both, has spent a great deal of political capital in telling New Zealanders what is good for them. In both cases the prime minister led the announcements, so these are things dear to her heart. She intends that her government will be identified by them, and that it is a government with very different priorities to National.

The Spinoff has had articles praising both, by Matt Lowrie of Greater Auckland on the transport plan, and urban designer Matthew Prasad, one of the advisers to Unitec to transfer its land for intensive development. Both of them are within the core cohort of Ardern’s support base. Naturally they like what they see. In fact they have each had a hand in the basic philosophy of the proposals. Both initiatives represent their vision of what New Zealand should be like, rather than what it is.

But neither of the proposals have much appeal to typical National party supporters, who, after all, are nearly half of the population. It would be a mistake for Labour to think they are all old white men driving BMWs, and therefore can be safely ignored.

So it is not surprising that National has been galvanised into action. Their key spokespeople on these issues are Judith Collins and Jami-Lee Ross, both well known fighters with a feel for the pulse of conservative New Zealand. The party’s leader, Simon Bridges, who readily identifies with West Auckland, which is suburban, not urban, seized the political opportunity.

Labour has not helped itself by sounding like zealots. In particular Twyford feels he must demonise everything that National has ever done. For him there is no merit in having the motorway extended to Hamilton, or presumably for that matter, the Waterview tunnel project. The three laneing of the southern motorway and the north western motorway are apparently of zero value to Auckland commuters. So long as Labour is government there will not be a single new motorway project or even improvements to existing motorways. When all the current National motorway projects are complete, that’s it. From then on, the priority is public transport.

According to Twyford on Radio Live recently, it is a bad thing that his constituents in West Auckland all own cars. They should be using public transport, walking or cycling, just as the key Green ministers do. But even in Bayswater where I live, and where there are very good public transport services, there has been an explosion in car ownership over the last 15 years. It seems as if everyone over 18 must have their own car. The main reason why people buy cars is that it gives choice and freedom. People can go where they want, when they want.

Twyford is moving into the dangerous territory of telling people how they should live, and in addition making them pay for it, whether or not they can use it. The whole transport plan smacks of making all drivers throughout New Zealand pay for a light rail project in the central Auckland suburbs that will primarily benefit the elite young professionals that drive current Labour Party philosophy.

Twyford needs to remember what happened with the showerhead fiasco of the last days of the Clark government. And many years before that, in the 1970s, Labour made it illegal for anyone to build a house of 150 metres square. It is all indicative of the nanny state where the state uses its superior judgment in deciding how you should live your life.

People hate these sorts of diktats, they are the sort of things that result in governments losing elections.

The transport plan and the Unitec project, much more than neoliberal economic orthodoxy, represent the contemporary political fault line in New Zealand. Both major parties (and obviously the Greens) will conduct their political battles over the ideas that these projects represent.

Whoever wins this contest is likely to be the government of New Zealand following the 2020 election.

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