Like a lot of centre left parties around the world, Jacinda Ardern’s New Zealand Labour Party entered the recent New Zealand election pledging to raise taxes on the rich.
At first glance, New Zealand Labour and it’s leader is everything the Irish left dreams of having here in Ireland – a young, unabashedly liberal, female Prime Minister, triumphing in a landslide victory over a conservative party, and winning headlines around the world. Why, they bemoaned all weekend on social media, can’t we have someone like Ardern here?
And the answer, when you look at it, is pretty simple: If Jacinda Ardern was Irish, she’d be called a far-right fascist, on a whole range of issues. Again and again, when we look at her policies, we see things that would be denounced – not just by the left here, but by people like Leo Varadkar – as heartlessly right wing.
On taxes, for example, the figures have to be seen to be believed.
If she won, she proclaimed, Ardern would introduce a new top rate of tax on incomes of over $180,000. Every dollar earned after that would be taxed at…… thirty nine per cent.
Under Ardern’s Government, New Zealanders are taxed at 10.5% on their first €14,000 of income. The highest rate, before the election, was 33% on income over €70,000. The new 39% rate will apply to only a few thousand New Zealanders.
In Ireland, by contrast, the top rate of tax – when you include income taxes, PRSI, the USC, and various other deductions, comes in at around 50%. And we pay it on all income over €35,300.
Moving away from taxation, and onto immigration: Jacinda Ardern’s manifesto for the election pledged a small increase in immigration, but only to support the New Zealand economy by bringing in skilled workers. The manifesto says that Labour will maintain “robust controls at the border”, and “develop an immigration system that matches the needs of employers” while keeping immigration low to “prevent migrant worker exploitation”.
New Zealand had 502 applications for asylum in 2019. Ireland had 4,781.
So far then, we have the tax policies of Renua Ireland, and the Immigration Policies of the Irish Freedom Party – both small parties regularly denounced as “far right” here in Ireland.
Indeed, Ardern’s Government, for the past several years, has been a coalition with the populist right wing “New Zealand First” party – a nationalist outfit that wants even more controls on immigration, and the protection of New Zealand’s identity. Were she in Ireland, Ardern would have had to denounce this lot as a bunch of fascists. In New Zealand, she went into Government with them.
To the extent that Ardern has left wing sensibilities, it’s on the stuff that really matters to the modern left – LGBT rights, abortion, and other socio-cultural issues, where she’d fit right in to the Irish Labour Party, or the Social Democrats.
But even there, there are differences: On transgender issues, for example, Ardern’s party have repeatedly rejected the “gender self ID” law that is supported by all mainstream parties here. If you wish to change your gender in New Zealand, you must have “undergone medical intervention to receive the physical confirmation of your gender”. In other words, if you are a man who wants to be a woman in New Zealand, a certain appendage has to go. In Ireland, you just sign a form.
On this issue, again, Ardern has policies that are closer to the so-called “far right” in Ireland than they are to the mainstream.
The issue of course is not that Ardern is especially right wing. She’s not right wing at all – she’s somewhere in the mainstream of the centre left, by international standards.
But if you want to understand just how left wing Irish politics, and Irish society, has become, it’s good to look at her victory and compare her policies, and those of New Zealand, to Ireland.
What is a pretty mainstream centre left country, in New Zealand, has a range of policies and approaches that would be denounced – and regularly are denounced, when anyone is brave enough to propose them – as far right, here in Ireland.
So yeah, let’s have an Ardern here. But if someone with her policies emerges, it won’t be in the Irish Labour Party, or Sinn Fein, or Fine Gael, or Fianna Fáil.