6th Labour Government led by another “smile and wave” politician of no substance.

This blog has previously focused on concerns about Labour’s health policy with particular relevance to the Canterbury District Health Board leadership crisis. This was the subject of a series of blog posts in the last few weeks.

The hallmark of the John Key led National government was that Key was perceived to be a “front person” for the hard right political agenda of his party, in that his personal charisma and appeal could help to deflect any negative publicity and shut down or deflect serious attention to the policies his government was implementing. As a result, Key could command widespread political support over 2 1/2 terms of government (he stepped down before the third term was completed) whilst behind the scenes, National was true to form in its typically neoliberal focus, targeting public spending cuts in order to deliver tax reductions. This meant behind the scenes cost cutting and other measures in the public health system including the DHBs.

Labour was not able to make much headway against the Key Government over the three terms until its newest leader Andrew Little resigned just months before the 2017 election and handed over power to Jacinda Ardern, who has in office to date, as the 2020 election looms, largely succeeded with the public by being a good communicator with personal charisma. After many broken promises and policy failures, Labour earlier in this year looked like their re-election prospects were slim. National was polling strongly and it appeared the Government’s lead was very marginal. That is, until suddenly Covid-19 came out of nowhere and Labour pulled ahead due to strong communication and leadership from the Prime Minister. However, cracks have appeared most notably in border control which has failed on several occasions, revealing what every political junkie knew already, that whilst the PM was clearly able to articulate the big picture of our “elimination” strategy well, the detail, as has always been the case in the 6th Labour Government, was found to be significantly wanting. At this time however, it still appears Labour has a chance of doing very well in the election, but purely on the basis of the Covid-19 policy which is the only real substance they have been able to articulate to date.

The rest of Labour’s achievements in the 2017-2020 term have been unremarkable and in fact reflect the capture of the Government by the Wellington bureaucracy, enabling effective continuation of National’s policies by default. In what universe can it be expected that DHBs have unlimited reserves of money to meet extra out of pocket costs, like the extra work needed to respond to Covid-19, and in Christchurch, the Canterbury earthquakes, the 2019 mosque massacres, and a two year delay in the completion of a major building project at the Hagley site? But this policy has been continued by Labour, as nonsensical as it is. Furthermore, the Ministry of Health has been clearly exposed as having conducted a vendetta against the CDHB management over a long period of time, and abandoned its so called “truth and reconciliation” process when it spotted an opportunity to appoint a new compliant chairperson to the CDHB board after the 2019 elections. The hugely shameful rollover by two successive Labour health ministers to the Ministry of Health bureaucracy means they are bound to be relegated to the same level of incompetence as the previous health minister of the National government. This is a typical outcome of the 6th Labour Government which has yet to implement any substantial policy in reversing the damage done by its predecessor to the fabric of society. That is the key reason why Labour hasn’t created policies for the 2020 election campaign – because they do not have any ability to do so. They have done nearly nothing in the past term of office in many areas in which reviews were sought, and then shelved, and key policies campaigned upon in the 2017 election campaign have been abandoned.

Unless this Government changes direction radically after the 2020 election, they will be regarded as no more than a minor blip on the political history of New Zealand. The failure to make significant change in areas according to their core supporters’ expectations would have severely dented their prospects at the election apart from Covid and the same factors will come back to haunt them at the 2023 election campaign. When it comes to health, Labour’s purported solution of centralising control by reducing the size of DHBs and eliminating elected members plays straight into the hands of neoliberal Wellington bureaucratic interests, in the interests of shutting down democratic input into the health system. This blog welcomes and supports the ongoing debate in Canterbury, especially from regional leaders who have knowledge and experience of health, and the staff and activists who continue to expose the madness and inequity of Labour’s failure in governance. There has recently been a key resignation in the Ministry of a bureaucrat who was a key enforcer of the massive financial and structural inequity of Government policies within recent years. If Labour does not address the whitewash in Health it will cost them dearly in 2023, and this blog looks forward to continuing debate and campaigning on the subject.