Electricity plan my fuel hands-on politics

17:00, Apr 19 2013

Last Thursday, as Britons laid the Iron Maiden to rest with a mixture of reverence and revulsion, half a world away in Wellington the Labour and Green parties were resurrecting the ghost of Sir Robert Muldoon and state intervention.

The timing couldn't have been better, for if the death of Baroness Thatcher showed us anything it is that among many young people who couldn't have possibly experienced the upheavals caused by the global adoption of monetarist economics, there is a real desire for an alternative to the individual responsibility, light-handed regulation and corporate capitalism that have defined Western politics since the eighties.

I do remember what it was like to grow up in Muldoon's Polish shipyard. You always knew if some kid's parents had been to Aussie because they came to school with felt-tip pens, which were simply unobtainable or too expensive to buy here.

Everyone knew how to fix a car because no-one had the money or a licence to import them except farmers who could sell them second hand for more than they'd paid for them. The country was run by the government and the unions, and everyone had a Shacklock Conray heater because it seemed it was the only model that was made.

Farmers got supplementary minimum prices, the Ministry of Works built all our roads and state-owned enterprises hadn't been invented. There were no private radio stations, only one TV channel (owned by the government) and we had no real financial services industry.

Strikes were commonplace but unemployment wasn't really a problem because the Railways and Post Office just took on more people when the statistics were really bad. Pubs closed at 10 o'clock, we had no wine or fashion industry and poets and artists were poofters, hippies or communists.


In New Zealand it was Labour, not the Tories, who turned that world upside down when David Lange convinced us to get our "foot off the brake" and a determined pig farmer called Roger Douglas implemented massive economic reform with a speed and efficiency even Maggie must have been in awe of.

Thirty years later the country, and indeed the rest of the world which was doing much the same thing, is barely recognisable. In those three decades the fundamental sea change which occurred in the eighties has never really been challenged.

Politics in New Zealand has been a battle for the Centre, a Centre firmly anchored well Right of where it was in the 1970s.

But on Thursday Labour and the Greens, apart from throwing a mighty spanner in the works of National's partial privatisation programme, seemed to be saying that after a generation they think the Centre can be moved again.

As you know, I'm no economist and to be honest the rationale behind nationalising our electricity market and setting prices makes as much or as little sense as partially privatising a whole lot of SOEs. It must also be said David Shearer and Russel Norman couldn't resist selling the idea as a straight-out bribe by suggesting we'll all save 300 bucks a year on our power bill.

But as a media operative I'm kind of excited by Thursday's back-to-the-future policy launch.

With the world struggling to cope with the downstream of the global financial crisis and a tonne of examples (Pike River the most recent) that the market doesn't always deliver the best results, maybe it is time we had a more meaningful and fundamental debate about how we run our country and economy.

It could be that next year's election might be fought with ideas and philosophies and Kiwis could get a real choice between a continuation of current policies and an updated version of the Polish shipyard.

We don't know yet if the Left's back-to-the-future strategy is going to get any traction but if it does don't be surprised to see National resurrecting a few of Sir Robert's old strategies as well. Bring on the dancing Cossacks.

The Dominion Post