Friday, 4 December 2009

Grant Robertson: From "Reluctant Radical" to MP for the Komissariat

Change of heart? What has prompted Grant Robertson, the "reluctant radical" of the 1990s, to suddenly become the MP for the Commissariat?

IT’S A FUNNY OLD WORLD. There was a time when I would have given a great deal to hear Grant Robertson make a forceful, take-no-prisoners, stand against injustice.

Like the day after the Police had battoned, kicked and punched Otago students protesting outside the University Registry against tuition-fee increases. On that day, 29 September 1993, he had a crowd of 1,000+ angry students standing before him in the Union Hall; students who, just minutes before, had forced two plain-clothes cops to creep, shame-faced out of the building.

How hard would it have been to persuade those students to return to the Registry to demonstrate their disgust at the University of Otago Council’s complicity in the Police assault on the young OUSA members who, just 12 months earlier, had elected him their President?

Not very.

What did he do?

He introduced Winston Peters.

It was after that performance that I dubbed Grant the "reluctant radical". Well, it would seem that Grant ain’t reluctant anymore. Now, we are told, he is leading the charge against Phil Goff, his own party leader, for daring to call the Maori Party to account over Hone Harawira and the ETS legislation, and for questioning the wisdom of repealing the Foreshore & Seabed Act.

It seems I was wrong when I said that the "Liberal Left" lacked influence. For reasons I have my strong suspicions about (but will reserve judgment on for the time-being) it would seem that the "Commissariat" (a much better description DYT?) has found itself a champion.

Way-to-go Grant! Introduce all the viciousness of the culture-wars that tore the Left apart in the 1980s to your own caucus. Undermine the only Labour leader with the remotest chance of winning back the 150,000–200,000 voters John Key wooed away in 2008. Display for all the world to see the one thing guaranteed to turn voters off in their thousands – disunity.

Yeah, Grant, that’s truly "radical". That’ll help.


gingercrush said...

What makes you think Goff can get those 150, 000 to 200, 000 people back? Additionally one of the reasons Labour did so badly was that many low-income city people didn't go out and vote. Goff doesn't seem to be a person that get those people to vote.

Though I would argue those people didn't vote in 2008 because they didn't see John Key as a threat as they did Don Brash

Anonymous said...

Ok, the dude's not perfect, but what were Wellington central voters to do?
Their only other option was Stephen Franks.

Dan said...

Phil Goff was "daring to call the Maori Party to account over the ETS?" Why, then, did he feel the need to deliver his speech to a bunch of half-dead Pakeha in a Palmerston North resthome? And is he the lone crusader speaking out against this deal between the Tories and the Maori capitalist elite regarding the ETS shambles, as opposed to merely flying the red-meat flag of "nationhood" and the politics of racial division? I think one would have to do a fair bit of mental gymnastics to come to that conclusion wouldn't you?

Portraying Goff as the only possible savior of Labour seems equally unlikely... thusfar he hasn't even been able to consolidate what support the party did recieve last year, according to all the opinion polls since the election, before even thinking about the other 200,000. Another assumption seems to be that Goff stands for the sort of conservative socialists who were cast aside by the 80's social neo-liberals. He was nothing of the sort, and served as a loyal servant of Douglas et al as a cabinet minister. Unforunately for him he hasn't been able to shake off those chains easily, as evidenced by your recent call for him to "go to hell" when he professed his love for free markets and his scorn of the "irrelevant 19th century history" Michael Joseph Savage style foundations of the Labour Party.

I just don't think the example of the 80's, with ruthless libertarian neoliberals pushing their social policy down the necks of old-fashioned socialists fits the current situation here. The "liberal left" aren't hardcore Maori nationalist extremists, just concerned with the issue of racism that still exists in New Zealand today, and the guy speaking out against them isn't a hardcore socialist himself anyway; in fact nothing could be further from the truth when describing Goff's economic policies.

Anonymous said...

I was hopeful that Labour would form itself into an electable government by the time of the next election. If the liberal left keep this up Labour will be out for a decade. I just think these politicians need to get out a bit more. They are completely out of touch with the electorate.

Fatal Paradox said...

Chris - while sharing your disdain for Robertson, I'm puzzled by your sudden fondness for Goff.

As Dan pointed out earlier in this thread, Goff shows no sign at all of changing his neoliberal 80s-economic retread spots. As such it seems to me that suggestions he is somehow reclaiming Labour's socialist, working class roots are merely wishful thinking. Goff is no more socialist than Winston Peters (in fact, in many respects Winston is much closer to classical social democratic politics, which I certainly do not mean as an endorsement of Winston!)

Anonymous said...

or Don Franks

XChequer said...

I think, and a disclaimer here: I generally have blue tendencies), that Grant Robertson is a future leader. Pleasant, erudite yet forceful in his views, Grant and the likes of Jacinda Adern present the new wave of Labour. And they desperately need to get them out! Good on'em for getting up Goff for a speech that splits the party without consultation.

The real question I would ask is: Where is Annette King through all this?

Surely, as deputy, it is her job to liase with those down the chain, such as Grant, and also with Goff!

Is King MIA? Where is the communication?

Actually, what the hell is going on?


Idiot/Savant said...

For reasons I have my strong suspicions about (but will reserve judgment on for the time-being)

Dogwhistling homophobia as well as racism? Lovely...

Chris Trotter said...

Actually, Idiot Savant, I was cogitating upon the possibility of Grant seizing this opportunity to throw himself into the pole position for any future leadership struggle. Interesting, though, how your mind works.

Anonymous said...

I have this suspicion that lots of Nats are coming out to play in somewhat devious ways on this issue.

I saw a poll online that had a result of nearly 50% of respondents saying that Hone should stay in parliament and didn't need to apologize. Bizarre, and completely at odds with a scientific poll. Especially bizarre given the usual somewhat redneck result of many of these online polls. It seems the right have been back fiddling the online polls as was the case before the election. The Nats recognise they are very exposed on this issue.

I wouldn't be at all surprised, Chris, if some of the people here supposedly pushing the liberal point of view are actually NACT supporters looking to further divide the left. I think you are correct in your take on the whole Hone episode, and your views are mainstream ones in the electorate.

Idiot/Savant said...

See enough people talking about the "gay conspiracy", and your own suggestions that your "New Social Movements" have ruined Labour, and its not a great leap.

But I'm glad to be wrong, and I apologise.

Sanctuary said...

Just on that point I/S - Talking to friends and colleagues about this, I have come to the unfortunate conclusion it would be an electoral disaster to appoint an openly gay leader to any political party. Voters are not ready for it.

markus said...

A crucial question underlying discussion in the last few posts is precisely which demographic groups John Key actually managed to woo away from Labour in 2008.
Various journalists have indulged in all sorts of speculation about who deserted Labour - "blue-collar battlers", "women in general", "centrist swing-voters" - all seemingly based on little or no evidence.

Comparing demographic breakdowns from 2008 polls with those from 2005/2006 polls is probably the most useful method. I don't have those details but I do have a relatively good idea of party-vote change in the 70 electorates in 2008.

A few days ago, Danyl argued (against Chris) that "the only traditional Labour demographic that didn't collapse and go to National...were voters in urban, liberal electorates like Christchurch (sic), Mt Albert, Wellington Central ie all those liberal doctors and architects...". (Comment on "The Liberal Left: Who Are They ?").

The first point I'd make is that in 2008 Labour appears to have retained more than three-quarters of its 2005 supporters, so I doubt any of its demographics actually "collapsed".

Second, let's take a look at what happened in the seats Danyl mentions:
(1) Mt Albert
Certainly Mt Albert is one of Labour's stronger seats in that it recorded Lab's 18th highest party-vote in 2008 (18th out of 70 seats). Not quite a "stronghold" but certainly one of the minority of electorates where Lab (43%) beat the Nats (36%). However, Mt Albert also recorded a significantly above average Lab-to-Nat swing in 2008 (of the 70 seats, Lab suffered its 11th greatest percentage point decline in Mt Albert and the Nats enjoyed their 17th greatest increase). Hardly evidence of a seat that stood-out for its resistance to National.

(2) Christchurch Central (I'll assume this is what Danyl meant by "Christchurch" - which, of course, is a multi-electorate city rather than an electorate).
Again, Chch Central certainly recorded an above average Lab vote in 2008 (39% compared to Nat's 38%). But it also recorded one of the largest Lab-to Nat swings in the entire country (of the 70 seats, only 1 experienced a greater Lab decline than Chch Central and only 2 had a greater Nat increase). Exceptional, yes, but in the opposite direction to the one Danyl implies.

(3) Wellington Central
Danyl would have been on firmer ground, here, if he'd pointed to the centre-left vote (Lab/Green/Prog) in general rather than Labour's specifically.
Problems for Danyl's argument (i) Lab's vote in 2008 in WC (34.6%) was close to its national average, so by no means a strong Lab seat; (ii) Nats received a higher party vote (35.4%) than Lab; (iii) Lab suffered its 15th greatest percentage point decline in WC. However, in contrast to most seats, the majority of Lab defectors in WC appear to have moved to the Greens rather than National. So it certainly remains relatively strong for the centre-left as a whole.

All in all, the data would seem to cast some doubt on Danyl's thesis. (And I find it fairly hard to believe that a majority of architects - and probably doctors too - have ever voted for the left:-)).

Ritchud said...

So who did Labour lose in 2008? People who had their W4F and interest free student loans and saw tax cuts as the next serving of pork (Mt Al & Chch cntl)? The ideological left who saw tax cuts for election and seabed and 4shore vote winning as not for them?

Rather than any core constituency I suspect there was no core groups just a general disillusionment with a govt that didn't seem to any agenda stronger than their desire to stay in power. The other explanation could be that without a clear agenda it was growing irritation with whatever was PC gone mad to that voter. Those two scenarios don't bode well for a National govt trading on keeping the last campaigns promises, especially looking to 2014.

Anonymous said...

Go Grant - someone needs to take Goff on if the Labour Party is to survive, gather strength and make a comeback! Goff is adept at cultivating and capitalising on mob-think and his address to Grey Power is a clear demonstration of that. Introducing the Don Brash factor into the Labour political scenario shows what he is really made of. And if he is the hope of the Labour party - then heaven help them - they do not deserve to be returned to power. Furthermore Goff apologised for the "anti-smacking" legislation!!! Jeeeez....apologised for treating kids like humans, giving them the same protection from assault as any other person!!! If Grant can show some traditional Labour party supporters (me and others like me) that someone in there is true to their values and beliefs and prepared to call the leader to account then there is some hope for their return.

David in Chch said...

I am one of those "traditional" centre-left voters who had voted Labour and Green since I could vote in NZ. I quit on them for a variety of reasons:
1. I actually emailed the regional Labour office to comment and complain about the EFB (later EFA), and was told that I had listened to too many right wing commentators, and that they (the Labour government) knew better. A nice patrician virtual pat on the head. I was really annoyed at that, as I had actually read widely, including most of the text of the bill, and had also realised that it would have the _opposite_ effect that Labour and Greens said it would.

2. Winston. Pure and simple the man was clearly obfuscating, and yet he was allowed to continue as he did without apparent reprimand or reining in. I was appalled, and wondered where the supposed quality of behaviour standards were supposed to be.

3. The negative campaign. Instead of saying "Here is what we plan", they instead campaigned on "Trust". Given 1 and 2 above, that was a laughable strategy. They lost most of the electorate right there.

From what I can see, they aren't doing any better now in opposition because there is still a lack of taking responsibility. It is as if most of the Labour MPs still think that the electorate made some terrible mistake and will come to their senses and return. No! That must be _earned_, and the Labour party seems determined to do the opposite.

Anonymous said...

Obviously Grant didnt read Phils try and say is was "racist" is utter and complete crap!

Attitudes like Grants will only turn away more voters from Labour.....and should they be stupid enough to try and censure or get rid of Phil they can count on one less vote from me.....and i have voted labour since 1996.

Oliver said...

I salute your recent series of posts exploring the largely negative influence of the liberal left ideological current within Labour, Chris.

From afar, it appears that National is getting ready for a Holyoake-esque era of dominance, as Labour falls into ridiculous personality battles between its liberal and conservative wings.

When are folk like Idiot/Savant going to learn that criticising the narrow cabal of social liberals, who dominate the already fractionally small Labour Party 'grassroots' membership, is not homophobic or a reflection of being 'right-wing'?

Anonymous said...

chris, seems funny that you think Mr 5% has what it takes. I actually thought it would be good for labour to engage in a bit of soul searching and discussion to find their true selves before 2011. it's unlikely they can do it then, but if they find themselves by then, then 2014 is definitely on the cards. as long as you don't throw your toys like you did after 2008 that is.

Chris Trotter said...

Hrrumph, Anonymous. I shall defend my right to throw my toys out of the cot to the death.

Politicians may feel obliged to observe that the people are always right.

I am under no such obligation - and they're not.

So there!

Olwyn said...

I think there are three main factors that lost labour the election, and none of them amount to an electorate that was fundamentally sick of them.
(1) A return to the fold - John Key made ex-National voters think National's neo-con days were over, so they went back to National.
(2) The housing bubble - to my mind probably the biggest factor - people who had bought overpriced houses wanting tax cuts, people who could not afford a house anymore blaming labour.
(3) A media that actively campainged for change and swallowed the Crosby-Textor package whole. This includes Nanny-state claims (the smacking bill was in fact a Green bill,but was attributed to Helen Clark) and the great nonsensical drama heaped upon Winston Peters, and ultimately laid at Labour's door. Look at the difference between the media reaction to NZ First's trust then and Bill English's now!

markus said...

(OLWYN): "A media that actively campaigned for change..."
Couldn't agree more !!! Especially down here in Wellington - Tracey Watkins in the Dom Post was an absolute shocker. From the moment she initiated her "Why are we waiting !!!" (for big tax cuts) campaign in the immediate wake of the 2007 budget, she campaigned tirelessly as some sort of fervent National Party PR cheerleader. Day after day in 2008, she decided to take it upon herself to personally rebut almost every single claim made by Clark/Cullen/Goff. And every single time the Labour leadership attacked National policy, Watkins would preface her summary with "Predictably, Labour claims...". So much so that her "expert analyses" became...well...entirely predictable. I wouldn't have minded so much if she'd applied the same cynical/realist critique to the Nats. Instead, with them she was like an innocent abroad - a good example being Key's ruminations on whether or not to rule out Winston Peters from a future coalition. Everyone knew the bleeding obvious - the Nat leadership over a number of weeks were making finely-balanced political calculations on the matter...trying to determine which option was going to be most advantageous (even Right-aligned commentator Matthew Hooton was happy to admit the political self-interest). Astonishingly, Watkins - the "senior", "experienced", "savvy" political journalist - waxed lyrical about Key's apparently noble, deeply-principled decision to ultimately (after weeks of deliberation) cut Peters adrift. Apparently it was a mark of Key's great integrity and, for Watkins, provided a telling contrast with Clark.

And don't get me started on her decidedly dodgy opinion poll analysis - the fairly obvious notion that one should focus, first and foremost, on the support gap between the most likely left/right coaltion blocs, rather than placing total analytical emphasis on the gap between the two major parties was an argument attributed by Watkins solely to "Labour lackeys" (or words to that effect).

Still, it's also true to say that the electoral tide had turned already. Cheerleaders like Watkins simply reinforced the momentum.

Olwyn said...

Not to mention Guyon Espiner on TV1, Duncan Garner on TV3, and the braying Herald. I like to think that the main stream news media is in the process of losing its grip on the public imagination, that the next election will be won at a grass-roots level, but I may be over-optimistic.