Step by step approach not taking us to the top

Photo: file
Boris Johnson. Photo: file
There are lessons to be learned from British politics, Harry Love writes.

The Thirty Six Steps, a ripping new yarn aimed at 12-year-olds — is it fact or is it fiction? And how would you tell the difference?

The author, who possibly once had dreams of being a fighter pilot, is going to save us all from the kind of slack management to which we had become accustomed by ticking off one step every days until we get to 100. That’s arithmetic for you. That’s setting a goal and achieving it.

On the face of it, though not so much on top of the head, this boyish enthusiasm is something our prime minister shares with that redoubtable defender of the conservative faith, Boris Johnson. They both smile a lot and neither seems, or seemed, to be quite sure what is, or was, going on around them.

Mr Johnson is now a historical artefact and no-one is suggesting that Mr Luxon is going to be deposed by his Cabinet. But it does appear that the dog with two tails is never really sure about who is wagging what.

The consequence of this is that our government, though nominally dominated by a conservative party, is being pulled and pushed into more radical policy areas by its two support parties. As far as the public service is concerned, the slow starvation of the Key era is replaced by radical demolition and a potential unleashing of the private sector. The extent of the latter will no doubt be decided by Shane Jones and David Seymour, who will let Mr Luxon know in due course.

Parallels with British politics are not exact, but are close enough to be instructive. There appears to be similar dynamic within the UK Conservative Party to that between the governing parties in New Zealand.

One of the principal differences is that with our slim-line political institutions things happen a lot more quickly here. We have no upper house to at least slow down the enthusiasms of a parliamentary majority. MMP is our means to modify the excesses of untrammelled major parties.

The political, not to speak of the economic and social, state of the UK at present is depressing. After decades of the corrosion of sold-off public utilities and an over reliance on foreign investment the Thames has reverted to the sewer it was before reaching a peak of relative purity in the 1980s.

Public services, particularly the NHS, once a world-leading health service, are run down and carcasses nibbled away by international investment companies. Poverty is the worst in Europe. The UK prime minister, on bended knee, pleads with the Indian owners of the country’s last steel works not to close it down. Switching to the other knee, he asks the French owners of the last train construction firm to please hang on a bit while we think of something.

What, then, might we have to look forward to a couple of years from now as Messrs Jones and Seymour go their unhindered ways? The Fast Track Approvals Bill of the one looks much like a more comprehensive version of the UK’s VIP fast tracking of PPE procurement during the Covid crisis, which opened up millions of pounds of corrupt profits and cosy deals.

And the other’s starry-eyed ultra-liberalism is likely to do lasting damage to the fabric of society and exacerbate the inequalities that plague us now.

Weak and often bizarre leadership has brought the British Conservative Party to the brink of annihilation in the election to come:

Kier Starmer’s Labour party looks invincible.

However, after proposing policies that could address the dysfunctions I have referred to, he is, to the dismay of many, reverting to watered down elements of the status quo. Grow the economy and all will be well. If that remains the case, a big victory might turn into an unmanageable one; a failure of leadership.

If it is the case, as seems likely, that the context of our next election is widespread instability and the opposition has a fair chance of winning, we need to be sure that it is appropriately led.

Sadly, it is not at the moment. Chris Hipkins has so far demonstrated similar traits to his UK counterpart.

Indeed, better, or at least safer, than the government we’ve got, but is it enough to take the lead, shake off the shackles of our 1980s inheritance and maintain the initiative over his likely support parties?

Harry Love is former chairman of the Labour Party’s Castle St branch and one-time New Labour parliamentary candidate.