Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Anderton's retirement?

Jim Anderton's career as an MP spans 24 years. The first 6 under Labour, with him being very disenchanted with the necessary liberalisation reforms of the 1980s. Reforms which Helen Clark is on the record as having fully supported - in public and in Parliament, if not necessarily behind closed doors.

He then founded the New Labour Party, a rather batty socialist breakaway, and got elected in 1990 as its sole MP, whilst attracting a cabal of misfits and others like Chris Trotter, keen to implement their alternative vision of high taxes, strong state ownership of business and ever increasing spending on welfare, housing, education and health, whilst screwing consumers over and suppressing new enterprise by protecting encumbent industries.

Following the 1990 election, he managed to convince the lunatic fringe Green Party (which did well under first past the post as a nicely branded protest), the insane Democrats (now Democrats for Social Credit so you know their into "funny money"), the Maori nationalist Mana Motuhake Party and the breakaway anything but Liberal Party to band together under the Alliance label. A new future for the New Zealand hard left was born.

The story of how the left used the two electoral referenda in 1992 and 1993 to change the electoral system to meet its agenda has been told elsewhere. The Alliance led this charge, with next to no media scrutiny of the obvious question "so isn't the Alliance supporting MMP because it believes it is the only way it can gain substantive political power?". It succeeded in 1993, with MMP being passed and winning a second seat - Auckland Central - with Maori nationalist socialist Sandra Lee. 18.2% of the vote in 1993 heralded the Alliance as the third party in NZ politics. Jim Anderton looked like potential kingmaker in a future MMP election.

However it wasn't to be. Winston Peters rose in the meantime, taking the whinging moaning xenophobic retard vote in droves. Jim Anderton made a peace offering with Labour shortly before the 1996 election, that promised Helen Clark that the Alliance would support a Labour led government if the numbers allowed after the election. However, the Alliance lost 40% of its support in 1996, despite MMP offering its supporters a real chance at substantial Parliamentary representation. NZ First became the 3rd party in Parliament with just over 13% compared to the 10% of the Alliance. NZ First became the kingmaker, as National needed it to govern, and even Labour and the Alliance together had insufficient seats to govern without NZ First. In the end Winston chose National, and Jim Anderton spent another 3 years in Opposition - but this time with 13 MPs.

Anderton gained the likes of Jeanette Fitzsimons, Matt Robson, Pam Corkery and Liz Gordon, adding to his own sagacious brilliance, and the leftwing machine steamed onwards to 1999. Here at last was his chance - National in disarray, Labour ahead in the polls. However, the Greens decided to go their own way, and in the 1999 election it proved the right thing for them. The Greens picked up just over 5% of the vote, the Alliance had dropped to about 7.7%, showing it had bled support to Greens (but also held its own, probably as NZ First voters deserted the party as it had been in government). Labour governed with a formal coalition with the Alliance, but needing the Greens to get a Parliamentary majority on confidence and supply. Jim Anderton would be Deputy Prime Minister.

Anderton got given a few policies to keep him happy. One was Kiwibank, essentially an exercise in subsidising (injecting capital) and convincing the NZ Post board to enter into the banking sector, one that hasn't been unprofitable, but has certainly made less than credible returns on capital. Another was to convert the largely policy oriented Ministry of Commerce into a pro-active Ministry of Economic Development. MED would be more pro-active about government support for business, and would guide Trade New Zealand, which would dish out subsidies, picking winners to produce jobs. Jim also got money for his forestry strategy, his own commodity winner picking, pouring money into training and infrastructure for the Northland and East Coast forestry sectors - support that was never reciprocated at the ballot box.

Jim was happy, he looked like he had made a difference, he was a Cabinet Minister, and became increasingly comfortable with the direction of the Clark administration. However this disenchanted the hard left of the Alliance, like Laila Harre. Increasingly Anderton seemed to make the Alliance an adjunct of the Labour Party, but some in the Alliance wanted greater differentiation and more efforts to swing economic and social policy to the left - something Anderton was loathe to do, partly due to his own conservatism, but also as the Alliance had less than 8% of the vote compared to Labour's near 39%, he wished to avoid wagging the dog so to speak.

So the Alliance and Jim Anderton parted their ways, with the Progressive Party (later Jim Anderton's Progressive Coalition, since nobody knew what the Progressive Party was) contesting the 2002 election distinct from the Alliance. Anderton had his own solid constituency granting him enough support to remain in Parliament, but the party vote for the Progressives was low at 1.7% of the vote, just enough to win a second seat in Parliament. Meanwhile, the Alliance won no constituencies and only under 1.3% of the vote. Anderton could not remain as Deputy Prime Minister, leading a party with such a low percentage of the vote, but his small party could become more closely integrated with Labour.

Several family tragedies saw Anderton show special interest in drugs policy and so the Progressive Party became a vehicle for a rather conservative leftwing approach to some issues, like drugs, but generally there was little to distinguish it from the Labour party. This was seen in the 2005 election when the party dropped to only 1.2% of the party vote, putting Anderton in Parliament alone.

Anderton has been a Cabinet Minister now since 1999, he is now 70 years old and has dedicated a good part of his life to politics. As Labour looks like facing almost certain defeat in the upcoming election, Jim Anderton may consider the past 9 years to have been a success. He has seen the implementation of a couple of hallmark policies of his, and more importantly perhaps he was an importance influence on the campaign for electoral reform. His support for MMP and the credibility he brought to the socialist melting pot of lunatics called the Alliance was critical for both - and to his credit, jettisoning the Alliance in 2002 was the right thing to do, letting the old Marxist unionist rump fade away to obscurity.

I've obviously never liked Anderton's politics. I thought Michael Cullen's mid 1990s jibe of "Jim Ol' Son" quite apt. However, Anderton has moderated himself in recent years. I've seen him in meetings with Ministers, and he works hard, asks pertinent questions and is indistinguishable from Labour Party Ministers, except that he works harder than many of them. In short, he could be back in the Labour Party today quite happily. He is a better Minister than many would have thought.

He must know his party is finished without him, that's a simple fact - but not because it's a personality cult like NZ First, but because it really doesn't have a niche that is clearly identifiable.

So at 70 it would be apt for Jim Anderton to announce his retirement - he can look back on his career and can see his role in winding back the reforms he hated - increasing bureaucracy and increasing state involvement in business. He can be proud from his political perspective about what he has achieved, but does he really need three years in Opposition as a single MP party?


Anonymous said...

Excellent read.

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Have you read Michael Bassett's "Working With David" yet? I learned a lot about Jim Anderton from that. Some very amusing anecdotes. What thorn in the side of the 80s administration he was.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that, Scott.