David Cunliffe, former would-be leader of the Labour Party turned would-be leader of the Labour Party, has delivered the first of a what he promises will be a series of speeches on the economy.
Drawing attention to his speech on Red Alert, he titled his post Economic Development Ideas, and in his introductory remarks promised to tell us what a Labour economic development plan should contain. Yet nowhere in his speech is there a specific policy to be found. Instead, he offers sustained invective against ‘neo-liberalism’ and promises that Labour is for ‘good’ businesses and against ‘bad’ businesses. His grand idea is that we should re-regulate the economy, and increase government spending. But on the subject of what he would regulate and how he thinks the government should spend its citizens’ money he is silent. We are left to conclude that Labour would regulate ‘bad’ businesses and spend money on ‘good’ businesses (and regulators, presumably).
Despite devoting at least two thousand words to the failures of neo-liberal economic policy, not once does he deign to sully his flowery prose with anything so base as actual evidence that New Zealanders would be wealthier had the reforms that began in 1984 not taken place. Lest unbelievers be tempted to ask for such evidence (and so no-one is left in any doubt that he is leadership material) Cunliffe deploys a Churchill quote: “The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is.” He relies on the credulity of his audience to accept unquestioned his assertion that the economic freedom New Zealanders have gained since 1984 has “mostly been an unmitigated disaster”. I suspect Churchill would consider ‘mostly unmitigated’ to be something of a terminological inexactitude, but that is by the by.
Cunliffe’s speech may well have its merits as a means of motivating Labour’s base and laying the groundwork for a leadership challenge. Measured against its stated goal of articulating a new economic plan for New Zealand, however, it is nought but facile verbiage, bereft of ideas, wanting of genuine thought and devoid of purpose beyond rhetorical attack on economic freedom.
Before his next speech, perhaps Cunliffe would do well to reflect on the words Churchill once dedicated to a waffly Labour politician of his own time: “We know that he has, more than any other man, the gift of compressing the largest number of words into the smallest amount of thought.”