Monday 28 March 2011

No Mandate For Cynicism

A Caucus of Courtiers?: If Labour is not to degenerate into an electoral mechanism dedicated solely to the identification and elevation of alternative political (but not ideological) leaders, then the cynical algebra of personal ambition must not be allowed to replace the party's traditional commitment to New Zealand's poorest and most vulnerable citizens. (The painting, Courtiers, is by Michael Kutsche)

IT'S STAGGERING, the unabashed cynicism of so many of Labour's defenders. As rumour builds on rumour and the indefatigable ferrets of the blogosphere burrow deeper into the political laundry basket, Labour's apologists dismiss the political ramifications of the Hughes Affair with a courtier's shrug.

"Goff's perfectly safe", they say with world-weary certitude, "because who the hell would want to take over the job now? Far better to let Goff lose the election and pick things up from there."

It's only when you begin to decode this statement that the true extent of these apologists' cynical indifference to the fate of Labour's supporters becomes apparent.

All that appears to matter to these Labour courtiers is who gets what in the aftermath of what they clearly assume will be John Key's crushing victory in November.

Such a victory would, however, be a victory by default. Key will win: not because he has the best policies (or, indeed, any coherent policies at all); not because he's got the best team (between them the parties of the Centre-Left could bring together a cabinet of outstanding quality); not because he's in some mystic communion with the zeitgeist (Key and his colleagues represent a view of reality which is fast disappearing everywhere except among the rump rightists of the Anglo-Saxon world); he will win because, bluntly, his principal opponents in the Labour Party are too tired, too timid, too inexperienced or simply too selfish to defeat him.

It is this latter group who deserve the sharpest rebuke. The ones focusing their attention on the most likely intra-party consequences of an election loss for which Goff will inevitably be blamed. Can they realistically hope to have a shot at the top spot themselves? And if they can't - who can? And where should they position themselves - both personally and politically - vis-a-vis the next likely leader? In short, what should they be doing now to give them the best prospects of advancement then?

Nowhere in these calculations does the fate of the people Labour was originally established to defend rate a mention. The fate of solo mums and their kids; the fate of the tens-of-thousands of sickness and invalid beneficiaries; the fate of young Maori and Pasifika school-leavers languishing on the dole; the fate of state house tenants facing eviction: all count for nothing in the cynical algebra of personal ambition. They are a useful source of rhetorical fuel - nothing more.

Those Labour politicians with both the capability and the will to lead should recoil from any suggestion that their best response to the Hughes Affair is to simply bide their time. As social-democrats, as promoters of democratic socialism (which is still Labour's official political mission) they should assess dispassionately the full ramifications of Goff's handling of the Hughes Affair on Labour's election prospects. And if they come to the conclusion that it was inept, and that keeping him on as leader will significantly reduce Labour's chances of success, then they should start counting heads.

Because, even in the most selfish and deeply cynical terms, allowing National to win by default is a disastrous strategy.

A Labour party which begins to be perceived (justifiably or unjustifiably) as morally compromised will attract the votes of fewer and fewer New Zealanders. And a caucus driven by nothing more than personal ambition is bound to become increasingly reckless in its internal jockeying for power.

If all that matters is climbing to the top of the greasy pole, then increasingly the only skill that ambitious Labour politicians will seek to master is how to ascend. New Zealand Labour will become more and more like Australian Labor: a mechanism for the identification and elevation of alternative political (but not ideological) leaders. Its days as the people's first choice for securing social and economic justice will be over.

If David Cunliffe, David Parker, Shane Jones and Maryan Street genuinely believe that by persisting with Phil's leadership they are dooming Labour to an ignominious defeat, and thereby exposing New Zealand's poorest and most vulnerable citizens to social and economic assault, then it is their moral duty to replace him.

Replace him - and make a real contest of this year's general election. The working people of New Zealand will forgive Labour for losing a battle in which every soldier gave his or her all. What they will not forgive is a party whose best captains and bravest warriors, for reasons of personal ambition and private advantage, refused to draw their swords.

This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.


Anonymous said...

For a start I vote in Otaki, and what if Hughes has committed no offence? Nathan Guy will now easily win the seat, and the local mistakes National has made over roading will not translate in the party vote, unless it goes to NZ First. This is a sensitive area, especially for those bright and shining 18 year olds who have gone to university and been fortunate to avoid incidents (and being heterosexual helps).

This is all so dodgy, what is Goff to do, maybe he should have flown off the handle at Holmes yesterday. Getting to Chris's issue, who can realistically replace him, given that Annette King is also compromised. Yes, I would be keen to see the Labour Party represent the poor and vulnerable, but I gave up thinking that a long time ago. Besides exercising the electorate vote for Labour, can we get back to talking about a genuine left wing party again?

At least the followers of Bowalley can move off abortion and bullying as topics.

Anonymous said...

I think David Parker should be the new labour leader. He has a strong grasp of environmental and economic issues, and is dedicated to social justice. He could win in a fight off between himself and Bill English. Bill is stuck supporting the funding of Southland and Otago lignite plans that Brownlee backs, and is supporting the motorway madness of Joyce, and all of the public service cuts and privatisation plans.

David Parker, and another high performer could bring labour to victory, and more importantly perform well in the hot seat.

As a former climate and energy minister, Parker with David Cunliffe and Jacind, Chavel and Twyford etc could create policy that is just, ecologically grounded and robust.

The time for real leadership is here. Key doesn't have it, and labour and the greens have good leaders... Step aside Goff.

WAKE UP said...

"(Key and his colleagues represent a view of the world that is fast disappearing everywhere except among the rump rightists of the Anglo-Saxon world) "

Our own local questions of Key's viability aside, I'd disagree with that broad statement; the Right, far from being a rump, is increasing in size in the West, and will do so even more as the Middle East shakedown, seemingly benign in its origins, eventually reveals its true face - which will be Islamic fundamentalism. Only then will the REAL lines be drawn.

Anonymous said...

I agree, Labour need to show some fight:
"Replace him - and make a real contest of this year's general election."

and what we don't need is the jaded negativity of the likes of Judith Tizard ("Tizard said she had "some unfinished business" and it would also be nice to say "stick it up you" to those who didn't want her back.")

Anonymous said...

Islamic fundamentalism is not the problem, relgious extrememism and neoliberalism is. The West needs to stop supporting middle eastern dictators so it can get cheap oil and arms contracts.

The West by bombing middle eastern civilians is playing into the hands of religious extremists of every kind.

I look forward to a labour party that is for the many, not the few, that fights for social and environmental justice. That has a solutions based approach to the many crisis we face today.

Parker, Chavel, Robertson, Twyford, Ardern and so have the skills to make labour a party of great leadership. Market fundamentalism has failed, time for a new approach.

aj said...

I find it hard to disagree with anything you've written here, Chris. They need to bite the bullet.

The Field of Gold said...

Chris Trotter. I heard you on national radio on Friday afternoon. I want to say what a well expressed and wise commentary you made on the Foreshore and Seabed thing. And your concern for our future as a country. And for justice. More strength to you. And my very best wishes.

Anonymous said...

You're joking. Electoral suicide at this stage, which is why the media and rightie commenters can hardly hide their glee at such panic-pants tripe: it's the "vibe" that matters, and changing horses now would be fatal. In case you hadn't noticed, Julia didn't get away with it, and the Keyster rode home on nothing more than the gray stability of "everything Helen said and over $50 a week". Yes, Goff should've stood down gracefully at least 18 months ago, but it was too late even a year ago.

And call me old-fashioned but if I ever get accused of something and strongly declare my innocence, I quite like the idea that my leader won't immediately scream it from the rooftops, but rather hope for prompt police action and an early decision on any prosecution: and contrary to the curren opinion among "lefties" here and elsewhere, I think Jo Public concurs.

And if that immediate rooftop-"front-footing" and "sound political judgement" had resulted in anything other than a media deluge of "Goff hangs popular MP out to dry" and "Labour airs dirty linen early" then I'll eat my naive little cap.

What defeats the left every time is infighting; and the naive belief that the media is neutral.

What the working people of New Zealand will never forgive - or understand - is another disgusting round of "sword-drawing" in election year and the consequent, inevitable, gleeful media roasting that will follow.


Anonymous said...

Buried in your good piece is:
"A Labour party which begins to be perceived (justifiably or unjustifiably) as morally compromised will attract the votes of fewer and fewer New Zealanders. And a caucus driven by nothing more than personal ambition is bound to become increasingly reckless in its internal jockeying for power."

"Personal ambition" drove Parker to join Labour- he was promoted to be a National candidate but it was his ambition to get into politics; has a broken his marriage on the way.
Hughes- a different story- Labour wanted to get a younger style, forgetting, that Hughes had done nothing in his life, like hard work on the chain, killing lambs- that is the stuff of former, passionate Labour MP's.

Coupled with this, is the rise of career politicians such as Helen C and and Phil G, both who have little experience of life as, "ordinary New Zealanders".
Sad - was a paid up member of the LP for a number of years - a spent force, me thinks

Anonymous said...

Political coups are brought about to secure party unity, security and electoral success. There is no consensus other than Phil must go within caucus.

Perhaps the mentioned aspirants should focus on the election and the economy. That is the priority. A week is a long time in politics is not only a cliche but a truism.

Long live Phil, the Labour Party and Godzone.

markus said...

I'm in two minds on the leadership-change issue.

Like ak (above), long-time Labour Party activist Lynn Prentice (at The Standard) argues changing horses at this late stage would constitute little more than electoral suicide. Voters, he suggests, would see desperation, disunity and panic.

I can certainly understand this line of argument.
But, then again, it's pretty obvious that a new leader might also be perceived as a refreshing, viable alternative, unencumbered by past mistakes. Could, indeed, be a game-changer.

My gut feeling is Labour probably don't have anything to lose. They're pretty much stuck on 30-34% support in the polls (arguably their core-vote, or close to it), the Left bloc as a whole are anchored somewhere around the 37-42% mark. They're left pinning all their hopes on a significant post-Budget (or perhaps Election-Campaign ?) swing, a successful Winston Peters revival and a compliant Maori Party.

And, of course, as speculation over the leadership continues to mount, Goff looks more and more to the Electorate like a lame-duck, simply entrenching the problem further.

As you say, Labour MPs have an absolute duty to make this election a real contest. I've heard of parties sleep-walking to victory but at the moment Labour seem to be sleep-walking to defeat.

Anonymous said...

Parker's just another hopeless choice to keep the seat warm for the return of Helen. He looks like a clerk and about as sexually exciting as that middle aged delivery boy Gareth Hughes. It has to be Cunliffe with Shane Jones as deputy. They should strike now and take Daziel, Dyson, Yates and the thing from Rotorua off the list. Rule by the Mary English kitchen cabinet and Actors is a fast track to IMF government. Regardless, eject Goff.

Anonymous said...

"If all that matters is climbing to the top of the greasy pole, then increasingly the only skill that ambitious Labour politicians will seek to master is how to ascend."

That has already been the situation for the last 20 years Chris. You highlighted the undignified scrabble for safe electorate seats by Twyford, Fenton and Beaumont in your 'Waitakere Man' postings.

Rogernomics purged the left from the Labour party (most quit in disgust, including you, right?), so when Douglas and Prebble quit to form ACT, the residual Labour was ripe for takeover by the venal, lazy timeservers. Sadly, since these timeservers reached a critical mass, they have snowballed to now comprise virtually the entire Labour caucus and party machine.

The inept Goff is left trying to manage a nearly talentless pack of factionalised backstabbers who care only for their sinecures.

Twyford has been the only one to show some spark over the Auckland supercity, but even then he and Labour offered no alternative. Shearer should by now have been spokesperson for something and helping Goff, but he has done nothing it seems. Dyson, Street, et al couldn't even muster the effort to raise a white flag...

And Goff's office seems shambolic. This may not be surprising - isn't John Pagani running it, and wasn't he one of Anderton's anti-democrats in the final days of the Parliamentary Alliance?

Cap that all off with the obvious antipathy between Goff and President Little (can't talk to each other about the most damning scandal in years to hit Labour ?@#?).

The left should flame Labour hard and constantly to eliminate it at this election as a viable alternative, then we can build up real socialist/green/indigenous alternatives. I say that reluctantly, but we can't change Labour when it is rife with talentless timeservers - they self-replicate with faction stacking selections (like in Manurewa and Mana).

Changing Goff won't help Labour unless Labour publicly renounce liberal capitalism and push for at least some worker's rights. Not just pretend they are different to National with smoke and mirrors. We're not fooled.

Labour's first test is to ensure they block Tizard from returning. She epitomises the evil Labour you describe.

Mad Marxist.

pdm said...

Whatever happens re the leadership I think we are looking at a Labour Party Vote of 20@ or lower on election day.