• Must Do Better

    Last week’s opinion poll, showing Labour down and National making ground, should have rung alarm bells and put the government on notice.

    They should learn the lesson that, if they want to be re-elected, they cannot just rely on the Prime Minister’s popularity – Jacinda Ardern may remain head and shoulders above other contenders as the preferred Prime Minister, (and it is hard to see the other contenders making up much ground), but the government she heads has to do better.

    Too often, her ministers give the impression that they think that talking about something is as good as actually doing it. They need to understand that the time to make a public statement about a policy objective is when it has been achieved, not when it is identified in prospect.

    And they cannot afford careless mistakes – mistakes often of a technical nature and committed by their underlings; ministers are responsible for and must answer for everything their departments do.

    The Prime Minister must speak severely to her ministers, and point out that it is part of their job description to ensure that they demand and receive proper standards of performance from their departments.

    No one can doubt that the government’s heart is in the right place. They have correctly identified those areas of policy, and those parts of society, that are most in need of attention and help. Those in need, and those deprived of the opportunities that most of us expect and enjoy, have good reason to be thankful. But government ministers have sometimes been slow to work out what needs to be done, let alone to ensure that it gets done.

    And, it is in the nature of things, and of politics in particular, that even when the right things are done, even those who benefit are likely to complain that it is not enough or is too late – and it is then those complaints, not the improvements, that make the news.

    Part of the problem ministers face is that they are in a hurry. Our unusually short three-year parliamentary term means that a reforming government, with a substantial agenda ahead of it of things needing to be done, has only just had time to draw breath before it begins to feel that it is running out of time.

    That is particularly true of a government that has set itself a significant programme of reform, and that has inherited a wide-ranging set of adverse consequences from the deliberate under-funding of public services by its predecessor.

    Our schools and other educational institutions, our hospitals and health services, our roads and rail and other forms of infrastructure, are all grappling with the outcomes of that under-funding – and they look to the current government to put things right.

    The government must realise, if they haven’t done so already, that the public is a hard taskmaster. In the end, they judge on performance, not on ambitions, and they are impatient with excuses.

    There are, however, encouraging signs. A government that has up till now given priority to establishing a record of, and reputation for, fiscal propriety has at last decided that it is time to loosen the purse strings and to invest – quite properly and sensibly – in those areas that desperately need it.

    The good news is that this will not only benefit the direct recipients of that largesse but will also stimulate the economy as a whole and make us all better off. It will be a real change for the better if the new money coming into the economy is produced by the government and is invested in productive purposes, rather than – as has been the case for too long – created by the banks and applied to house purchase and non-productive asset inflation.

    The new spending by government will stimulate more economic activity, producing more jobs, higher wages and more profitable businesses – good news all round!

    Bryan Gould
    5 December 2019