Less about poverty, more about people

On Monday the NZ Herald ran a piece about Grant Robertson, the new Labour finance spokesman. In it, he said something I found interesting. He was talking about wanting to ‘humanise’ Labour’s economic policy.

That will mean less talk about poverty and the current account deficit, important as they are, and more talk about people and work.

Labour has always been the worker’s party, and focusing on work makes sense. It appeals to the historic working-class voter base that may not have turned out at last election, and those that didn’t vote in the last election could well be the key to winning the next one. So talking about work, about hours and pay and working conditions, is a solid strategy.

What makes less sense to me is partially or wholly discarding the narrative of Labour as champions of the poor. Those on benefits are another group that often doesn’t turn out for elections, and appealing to them would seem to me to be a useful strategy. “We are not going to not talk about poverty, because we have to”, he says, giving the impression that it’s only going to be talked about because they have no other choice. Is the suggestion that if it wasn’t for that pesky expectation that Labour cares about the poor, they would be dropped from economic policy altogether?

Poverty is about people. People that deserve consideration, whether they’re working poor or beneficiaries. Economic policy has to address poverty in order to have any credibility as a comprehensive strategy. Saying that it’s going to be ‘more about people and work’ is erasing the disadvantaged, something that I thought Labour was better about not doing. Better, perhaps, but evidently not great.

Why is it that when political parties want to look credible, the first thing they do is cut their social justice policies? Why is there this perception that serious politicking requires you to be hard on poor people? It’s perfectly acceptable to be committed to a fair deal for all and also to be a real contender in politics.

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