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Opinion: John Pagani looks at some lessons for New Zealand from former UK PM Tony Blair
By John Pagani*
I've just been reading Tony Blair's book.
You don't have to be a fan of the Iraq war to recognise he is a brilliant political analyst.
David Farrar's excellent post at the Herald about Tony Blair's speech highlights accurately how sharp and provocative the former PM's thinking can be:
Blair spoke with passion (and remember he was a Labour leader) that a return to big Government and a retreat from market economies is not the lesson we take from the global financial crisis. He skilfully made the case for differentiating between one off fiscal stimulus to stabilise an economy during the midst of a crisis, and ongoing government spending.
Blair made it quite clear that the "old labour" way of higher taxes, bigger state, more spending was both bad for the economy but also electorally unpalatable. He said that if Labour had campaigned as "New Labour" at the last election, they might have got a different election result
The relevance of NewLabour to New Zealand is less about policy than the lesson social democrats everywhere need about confronting your values when you are cleared out of office. The experience of Australian states shows it's too easy to equate this process with personalities - unless personalities are an obstacle. But you always need to look at where you have got far out of step with public values. This is always a painful process for members and activists.
Think of New Zealand's recent history:
Each of the last three Labour governments has been unrecognisable from the one before.
Labour might have struggled back in 78 or 81 if the voting system had been fairer, but it took a reassessment and repudiation of the failures of 72-75 to get elected in 84. Again, after 1990, Labour could not win in 93 because it was too like the previous, rejected government.
And Helen Clark could not have got elected in 1999 until she convinced the electorate that Labour was different to before (and proving my point that the personality changes are not the issue; Helen Clark was deputy PM in 1990).
The relevance of policy is it is Exhibit A in demonstrating to the public that you represent them; that you are taking the country forwards, not backwards; and that you have a clear direction, not drift and fudge.
But Blair also emphasises it works for governments too - you have to keep moving forward. Labour lost in 2008 because it couldn't any more. That's why government's always lose. Parties always think the public got tired of them; what really happens is governments get tired of people.