I forsook my vow not to watch Q & A this morning because I wanted to see their interview with Shearer – but I thought the real reveal came during Paul Holmes’ interview with Len Brown. Holmes pointed out that Brown demanded a 12% return from the Port, which is far higher than that of any other port in Australasia. The comparable returns are: TGA: 6.8%, LYT: 8.6%, MEL: 3.1%, SYD: 6.7%, AKL: 6%.
So he demanded to know where Brown got the figure from. Brown looked nervous and spoke very vaguely about an ‘aspirational’ figure and hedged the question, explaining that it was ‘an estimate’. So it’s not hard to draw a direct line of causation here: the Mayor demands an unrealistically high dividend from the port -> the port attempts to meet it and casualises its work-force to reduce costs -> the Mayor insists that he’s powerless to intervene.
I thought Shearer’s interview was a bit insipid – but he did say one thing that gave me a little hope about his ‘Ides of Mars’ speech this week, which was a reference to the Social Contract. Maybe I’m being wildly optimistic here, but it could be pretty smart for Shearer to go back to the very principles of left-wing political philosophy, and simply make the argument that we’re a society of people with obligations towards each other – in contrast to the right-wing view-point in which we are a competitive market-place with no responsibility to each other outside of inter-party transactions.
I’ve heard rumours that Shearer’s speech is about welfare. If you look at what’s happening in the news, the towering political issue of the moment is the labour market, and that seems like a stronger candidate. Ultimately, people care more about their own salaries, working conditions and job security than they care about the welfare system. I’ve also heard rumours that Shearer intends to signal a ‘move to the center’, viz John Key swallowing dead rats, or Blair’s fight against the left-wing of UK Labour over national ownership, to send a signal to the public that Labour is moving on.
Well, politics is all about compromise – but it’s also about timing. The Labour left is in a pretty negative place right now: this might not be the right moment for a pivot to the right.
Shearer referenced Blair in one of his early interviews, and maybe he wants to replicate Blair’s fight with the radical left, in which he won popularity with mainstream voters by forcing most of the radicals and communists out of UK Labour. But those people all left the New Zealand Labour Party decades ago.