The Goff speech
Although I found myself agreeing with most of what Phil Goff said in his conference speech and thought it struck the right policy notes to pre-empt NZ First on the economic nationalism issues and absorb a fair chunk of their 4% support, it didn't come with any recognition of his and his party's adherence to free market ideology from which he was radically departing and he made no personal statement of contrition or regret that he was at the forefront of what he now decries. The message, however, was the right one for Labour - as Clare Curran said in her blog post today:
It felt as though Labour was becoming more Labour. Don’t know if that makes sense but it’s how I feel.
I wasn't at the conference, but that's the vibe I got from Goff's speech. And:
I think people are warming to what we’re saying. Our challenge is to make sure they know what we’re saying.
Well they might know it, but do they believe it? The message and the conviction behind it would sound a lot more convincing if the person saying it wasn't Phil Rogernome-studentfees-ChinaFTA Goff. The nemesis of the online left can all too easily throw spotlights on the Clark-Cullen government decisions to which the party is still wed and then what Goff is saying looks contradictory, inconsistent and worst of all hypocritical:
So he sat in a Cabinet which sold 650,000 hectares without blinking one’s eyes, yet he is now worried about a relatively small 31,000 hectares sold since the election?
How can the Labour team - and most of that Cabinet is still on the front bench - justify the flip-flop? They aren't. They are trying to ignore it and pretend that in two years in the wilderness everyone has forgotten what they've been up to since 1984.
Writing before the conference, Chris Trotter called Labour's neo-liberal credentials "disconnecting" when speculating on what Goff's speech might entail:
Assuming Phil comprehends the importance of atoning for the sins of his neoliberal past, he could use his own keynote speech to Labour’s Annual Conference to reassure his base that the distilled ideas and aspirations of organised labour will once again constitute the bedrock upon which the Labour Party assembles its policy platform.
Goff - and also Cunliffe as Finance spokesperson - are turning the Labour battleship slowly to the left (helped by the likes of staunch newbies like Robertson and by having the EPMU head as Labour President) - into a more comfortable and natural position for the party of the working people; but without any "atoning for the sins" - as Trotter puts it - it lacks that crucial cut through. It doesn't pass the sniff test. They have not comprehended that merely announcing a different set of policies is not the same thing as atoning. Krushchev denounced Stalin to really earn his stripes as leader and put the past behind his party, but Helen's long shadow will prevent Phil ever attempting a circuit-breaker of that magnitude.
I read the speech and heard some of it on TV and it was very good; but it would have been a lot better had Phil simply inserted a few lines here and there to explain why he had changed his mind. Where was "we went too far"? "we were wrong"? - he was only prepared to admit that 'political correctness' went too far, but the vacuum around economic policy was noticeable. Perhaps they thought that reconciling Phil's long trail of ideological baggage was an insolvable dilemma? Better not to mention the war at all? Pretend that it never happened? There was no acknowledgment of fault; which must be done in order to - as Clark was fond of saying - move on.