Did Labour have a mad McCarten moment this week when they decided to flock to embrace Jane Kelsey’s anti-trade tirade?
Andrew Litttle has been sort of leading, sort of stumbling down a very risk road on the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement, until suddenly forking out into far more risky territory, in which some of Labour’s MPs are unfamiliar and look uncomfortable.
In July Little declared five bottom lines that seemed to be signalling a tough line in the sand over the TPPA (to left wing activists) but with plenty of wiggle room (for the Labour and voter centre).
The key phrase was “Labour will not support the TPP if it undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty”. ‘Undermine’ could easily be up for interpretation.
Then in November after the TPP agreement was made and the text released Little said that only one bottom line had not been met.
Little said the text of the deal, released late on Thursday, met four of the party’s five bottom lines, but failed on the fifth – the party’s policy to ban foreign buyers of existing residential properties.
The wording of this was “New Zealand maintains the right to restrict sales of farm land and housing to non-resident foreigner buyers”.
But despite repeated questioning by the media, Little refused to definitively say whether Labour supported or opposed the 12-nation agreement.
However, he said the party would fight “tooth and nail” against any provision that cut across their policy and cut across the sovereignty of Parliament.
After this at the end of November Little reshuffled his caucus.
He appointed David Shearer, known to be a strong supporter of trade agreements and the TPPA, to be Spokesperson for Foreign Affairs.
And he appointed David Clark to be Spokesperson for Economic Development (including Regional Development), Trade and Export Growth.
Since then Little repeatedly refused or failed to “definitively say whether Labour supported or opposed” the TPPA. Until this week. He was widely criticised for his lack of clarity, including from the Labour left.
But this week things quickly changed.
On Tuesday Little released TPP analysis confirms sovereignty at stake
“Labour has been behind some of New Zealand’s most successful genuine free trade agreements but this goes far beyond just trade.
“National knows many Kiwis people are opposed to this deal. That is why – despite saying last week they wouldn’t release further details – they have panicked and rushed out this tired old spin,” Andrew Little says.
Implications but no definitive position.
Also on Tuesday Labour’s finance spokesperson Grant Robertson joined an MP panel in the first of four anti-TPPa meetings featuring long time opponent of trade agreements, Jane Kelsey. I live blogged some Robertson comments:
“You cannot put a price on our democratic right to create our own law”.
“We cannot undermine our sovereignty”.
“There are people out there who have supported previous agreements who don’t support this one”.
Robertson closes without being clear that Labour will fully oppose the TPPA or not.
Uncertainty about Labour’s stance on the TPPA continued on Wednesday. Audrey Young wrote:
(Key) accused Labour leader Andrew Little of not being able to answer the most basic question he got asked, namely whether he would support it or not.
“He was floundering around on Radio New Zealand this morning like it was the first time anyone had ever asked it,” Mr Key said.
Labour supports the reduction of tariffs but opposes the TPP, claiming that it undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty in not allowing a future Government to ban house sales to foreigners – which Labour leader Andrew Little says he would ignore.
But Little’s hand was forced with Young on Thursday with: MPs break ranks on TPP:
Mr Goff, a former leader and former Trade Minister and now an Auckland mayoral candidate, and David Shearer, also a former Labour leader, last night told theHerald they both still supported the TPP.
Mr Goff said the deal should be signed.
Former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark also backed the TPP among 12 countries and it was begun under her leadership. Mr Goff was Trade Minister.
Labour has decided to oppose the TPP on the grounds that it undermines New Zealand’s sovereignty.
This created another confused situation when Little said that Goff was allowed to support the TPPA (and even vote against the party position on it) but that Shearer was bound to support the official caucus position that opposed the agreement and would be censured for speaking out in support of it. See Differing view on TPPA agreed.
Also on Thursday Matthew Hooton tweeted what appeared to be a leaked Labour email:
Little’s Head of Staff arranging for Kelsey to brief Labour staff, with MPs free to be invited. Does Labour’s staff choose what to invite MPs too? Peculiar.
This raises questions about how involved McCarten is in Labour’s shift to oppose trade deals.
Going by posts at The Daily Blog by Martyn Bradbury, Chris Trotter and John Minto there appears to be a spontaneous rising of the revolutionary left. Or something more planned and coordinated.
Then on Friday Little came out with an attempt at clarification in Andrew Little: “My thoughts on the TPPA’:
There can be no trade-off between citizens’ democratic rights and economic interests. We don’t put a price on our democratic system, and it is not for sale.
This marks the TPPA out as being different to any other free trade agreement I know. I do not support the TPPA in this form.
On Friday night the fourth of Kelsey’s meetings was held in Dunedin. Trade spokesperson David Clark attended, looking not entirely comfortable being photographed there – see David Clark on the TPPA.
And Clark also spoke at an anti-TPP event in Dunedin’s Octagon on Saturday. He didn’t look very comfortable there:
David Clark looks as comfortable as a minister at a mosque
Also on Saturday Audrey Young wrote in Labour leader gambles in opposing trade deal:
…the Trans-Pacific Partnership is far too major an issue at present to be handled by Clark.
So why was Clark appointed to a role that is now central to an issue that could make or break Labour’s chances at next year’s election?
Why was Shearer assigned to Foreign Affairs? He along with Phil Goff are Labour’s most internationally experienced MPs. Both of whom support the TPPA, contrary to new Labour policy.
What experience do Little, Robertson and Clark have in international trade and foreign relations?
Why were unions and the Council of Trade Unions sponsoring Kelsey’s strident anti-TPPA speaking tour?
McCarten has close union connections.
Has Little been sucked into a McCarten/Auckland left/Kelsey engineered isolationist attempt at revolution?
A photo from the anti-TPPA event in Dunedin yesterday:
Signs of socialists and revolution
Note also the council chambers in the background – event organiser Jen Olsen said that Dunedin should become the first city to declare itself TPP-free. That’s ironic from a campaign claiming “we will use democracy to protect our democracy” – there’s nor mandate for that.
Little and Labour have now inextricably associated themselves with all of this.
Photo of David Clark at the Dunedin anti-TPP meeting removed as per request/copyright. Link to it here. It’s also shared on Facebook with: “Currently going Viral on Twitter a little bit of fun I had making my point about Members of Parliament needing to listen” so unusual to see it restricted by copyright.
This is David
David is a Member
David knows that
Kiwis are worried
about the TPPA
David has come to
hear their concerns.
David is Listening.
Be Like David
That’s not the David that has to apologise to the Labour caucus for supporting the TPPA. The other David, and Phil, and a number of other Labour MPs, supporters and voters may be feeling as uncomfortable as this David looks.
Has this been a mad McCarten moment for Labour?