It just keeps on getting worse.
Today's reactionary announcement by the Government that it wants to cut the incomes of vulnerable young people comes at the same time as NZIER reports lowering business confidence and expectations about next year. Unemployment remains too high, manufacturing jobs are flooding out of the economy, and citizens are flooding across the Tasman to the land of milk and honey - or jobs and higher wages, at any rate.
How the hell did it all go so wrong for National? Why are ordinary New Zealanders getting quickly grumpier with the gang in charge, sensing (not before time) that the Nats are not on the side of most of us?
Values. Values and purpose.
The National Party was set up in the 30s with no better reason than to oppose Labour's social democratic ambitions. Explicitly founded to oppose a fair distribution of incomes. To oppose policies for full employment. To oppose policies that built a New Zealand economy that would deliver for New Zealanders. A dog eat dog value set guides everything they do. For them, cooperation is and always has been a joke. Savagery and competition are the only things that matter, and climbing over the top of everyone else to grab your winnings is the only path to the light.
Nothing's really changed. The plutocrats remain in charge of National. The smokescreens of distraction are still artfully deployed. Beneficiaries get bashed whenever things are looking rough. Vast seas of public debt are run up to shelter the slow erosion of the tax base and of the public services we all need. Job losses are simply lied about, with 170,0o0 new ones promised each budget but never actually coming into being.
People are losing out. Tempers are fraying. People don't like the idea that the only hope they can have is by leaving Aotearoa.
Labour is stepping up its criticism. That's good. The mood has well and truly started to shift. But with the criticism has to come more detail about the plan. Jobs, growth, sustainability, transformation, hope.
We have been through a weird experiment the past thirty years. 2008 was its intellectual death-knell. In 2012 we are watching the zombie start to stumble. New ideas are needed. Not just ideas but concrete proposals as to what difference they'll make on the ground.
The job of thinking through the policies that deliver a better kind of country is well underway in the Labour Party and the Green Party has its own perspective on what to do differently. The biggest risk that Labour faces is being too nervous to really drive change - fearful of orthodoxy, not certain that the public will back the depth of change needed to turn the country around.
Tweaks won't do it. It is not a time for the odd policy nip-n-tuck. Triangulating towards National or trying to fly into their slipstream could only guarantee failure. A big bold case for change is what we owe the country now.
David Shearer's education speech last month got a few solid ideas out. The work two more Labour Davids are doing on the economy is starting to show through. Our Conference, coming up in a few weeks, is another chance to showcase an agenda for change.
As long as we acknowledge these three things, we'll be fine:
- The experiment of the last thirty years has not delivered the kind of country, the sort of society, or the type of economy that New Zealanders want.
- Only Labour's values about equality, guardianship and opportunity can drive a really different programme that can turn things around.
- We have to set out our ideas and argue for them in order to get the public on side - voters aren't going to arrive at support for a new approach without us having, and winning, the debate about what to do differently.
I have some confidence that that is where we're headed.