A feature of Labour conferences for the last three or four years have been the new thinking workshops. These began under Phil Twyford’s time as Policy Council secretary. They are a chance to discuss in-depth new and challenging policy ideas, with outside experts, who often have ideas that are not comfortable for many in the Labour Party. They are now the most anticipated part of conference. Two journalists noted to me that the National Party just don’t do this kind of thing. I took that to mean the workshops and the thinking!
This year there were two new thinking sessions on the economy. The first was with Ganesh Nana, John Whalley and Selwyn Pallet. The second had Bernard Hickey. I was at the first, and heard many reports from the second. The distinguishing feature of them both was that the lesson of the global financial crisis and of our sluggish recovery is that we can not keep doing what we have always done if we want a more productive economy and better standard of living. To a person the presenters have recognised that the policies of the past need to be changed, and for some like Bernard that is a huge shift in thinking.
I think this is the bit that David Farrar and other commentators on the right do not get about Labour’s new economic policy. The world is responding to the economic crisis by thinking again, challenging the assumptions and the orthodoxy. That is also what Labour is doing.
Not everything that the speakers at these workshops said will become Labour policy, but the idea as noted at the first workshop that TINA (There is No Alternative) ,the mantra of the neo-liberal thinking of the 80s/90s, has been replaced by TARA (There are Real Alternatives) is exactly where we are going.
As John Armstrong notes in the NZ Herald today Labour is setting the ground for a real economic debate in 2011. From Labour you have already heard about monetary policy, taxation and overseas investment, and there will be more to come on these issues as well as savings and job creation. From National, what will we see? If its more of the same old, visionless thinking then that, while being bad for New Zealand, will give voters a stark choice in 2011.