Capital punishment

Do yourselves a favour and listen to this morning’s debate between Chris Trotter and Deborah Coddington on Morning Report. This is (or ought to be) the agenda for this year’s election, and this is (or ought to be) how the national debate runs.

The leak of Labour’s purported capital gains tax (by former One News deputy political editor Fran Mold, now Labour press secretary, to her former colleague Guyon Espiner) is undoubtedly Labour’s play of the year to date. It takes an issue of great public interest and thrusts it into the national debate at a time when the electorate is preoccupied with less directly political considerations. As Maxwell McCombs famously said, what the voters think isn’t as relevant as what they think about, and this is a great example of taking the initiative and giving the electorate something to think about.

But not just the electorate. Everyone is thinking about this, because it is — finally — a genuine flagship policy from Labour. John Key’s comments on the topic take up two-thirds of the Vernon Small’s Stuff article yesterday. The property investment lobby are predictably livid about it. David Farrar has come out swinging, despite having been cautiously supportive of considering a CGT earlier in the term. Deborah Coddington, in the linked discussion above, saw fit to analogise CGT to child prostitution laws. Seriously.

The announcement has riled ’em, and it’s not even official yet. They’re scaremongering furiously, and if Labour have an ounce of sense the pitch of the official policy announcement (tomorrow next Thursday) will be to allay the worst of these fears. It should be framed as “redirecting investment to more productive sectors in theeconomy” and “paying our fair share”, with Phil Goff and Labour MPs (many of whom own investment properties) laying down a challenge to others: “we’re prepared to suffer a bit for the good of the rest of the country: are you?”

And then there’s the class-consciousness, demographic wedge, which Chris Trotter got pitch-perfect: property speculators are “landlords”, and the object isn’t to win back disgruntled National voters, but to engage the 20%+ of the electorate who didn’t vote last time because they felt none of the parties spoke for them, and the thousands of people who were too young to cast a vote in 2008 and are now even further from the possibility of home ownership because even the worst recession in half a century has failed to bring sanity to real estate markets.

This is positive-sum, strategically sound and tactically smart politics. Now what remains to be seen is whether Labour can win the battle of ideas over it.


11 thoughts on “Capital punishment

  1. Agree completely with your analysis, and would love Labour to do something that shows they have actually retained their soul, for a change… not holding my breath tho :(

    Did Coddington have any relevant points at all? I didn’t notice any, but don’t want to listen a second time just in case her burning stupid hurts my ears.

  2. Pingback: More on CGT « The Dim-Post

  3. How do you know that Mold leaked it? Political editors generally get this stuff right from the horse’s mouth.

  4. Johnno, I don’t *know* for certain, I just have the usual sort of well-founded rumours.


  5. Chris performed very well I thought, we may have to watch him! he has even supported Hone Harawira in two recent columns.

    Labour has three points of clear differentiation from the Natz on the board now and needs to seriously stare down John Key.
    • $15 minimum wage
    • Capital gains tax
    • No asset sales
    what about…
    • No hi speed holiday for Telecom?
    • No more public service sackings?
    • Repeal anti worker legislation, reinstate Pay Equity investigations?
    • Restore ECE and ACC cuts?
    • Railways rolling stock to be made at Hillside? plus unequivocally support the transport unions planned industrial action.

  6. Tiger, a policy that nobody in the public service should get sacked would be about as popular as promising Goff to personally come to everybody’s house and piddle on their weetbix. Public servants are probably the least popular profession in the wider electorate, and I say that as a former public servant.

  7. Well public servants have self esteem issues is all I can say if you are right Hugh, plus substantial numbers of them may be masochistic tory voters too.

  8. I’d say it’s the sort of person who thinks they’re popular when they’re not is the one with a self-esteem problem.

    Seriously, “We will keep the public service at or above a larger size” is a dead-in-the-water electoral promise. The public don’t want to see a large public service for its own sake – they may accept it as part of what’s necessary to deliver the services they want, but bums on seats in Wellington is, in and of itself, not a positive policy goal. I was going to say something about neo-liberal capture of public opinion on this issue but that’s an oversimplification. I’m not aware of any theory that holds that it’s a good thing to have public servants employed purely in order to have them employed, except for Keynesian stimulus economics, and even Keynesians can usually think of less offensive ways for the state to stimulate the economy than paying some guy to wear a suit and tie and sit at a desk playing minesweeper.

  9. Don’t know if pitching to those who sat out the last election, if that’s Labour’s aim, is the right strategy. Hard to believe turnout will be higher than about 83% (with 80% more likely). Even if the extra voters break 3-1 for the left, that’s nowhere near enough to close the gap. Making sure young people bother to show up to the polls is essential for Labour, but they still have to win back a lot of soft National support. For those voters, I think the most important aspect of Labour’s policies is to put them in a good position to attack National’s policies. A CGT might let them do this if, like Danyl said at the Dim-Post, they contrast it with National’s privatisation plan as a means of deficit reduction. The argument is persuasive, but it takes more than a soundbite to make. Labour’s comms team has work to do.

  10. Of course no one thinks that public servants are good in and of themselves, but lots and lots of people think that more public servants are a good thing in as much as it is a prerequisite for better public service. This is why the Nats are adamant it is only backroom staff going, and not frontline, because while in the abstract people dislike the notion of Wellington bureaucrats, in the particular they like the idea of conservation, health, etc. And when cuts impact services that plays badly.

    Still. You don’t run on: we’re here for the backroom boys. You run on: fund health and education properly.

  11. Keir, true, but if you say “public servant” people don’t think nurse or policeman, they think obscure beetle-browed Wellington desk jockey.

    And Brad, I think we can all agree that, although they won’t admit this, Labour’s goal this year is not to actually win, simply to substantially increase their vote share and decrease National’s.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *