Friday 26 August 2011

Clare's Cri De Coeur

A Cry From The Heart: Wrong-headed and ham-fisted though Clare's postings on the Red Alert blog undoubtedly were, they at least attested to the fact that this Labour MP, unlike so many of her colleagues, still possesses a pulse.

CLARE CURRAN has done what no modern politician is supposed to do: she has spoken from her heart.

In a series of angry and transparently honest postings on the Labour Party’s “Red Alert” blogsite, the Dunedin South MP has given us just a sip of the gall Labour’s caucus is daily required to swallow. Laid bare is the hurt and shame of Labour’s unremitting political failure. Clare and her party feel scorned and abandoned. Defeat looms. No wonder she’s lashing out.

In the first of her postings, Clare tells us she’s “had a gutsful of the white-anting of Labour from both the right and the left of politics”. It’s not exactly clear what she means by this, or to whom, exactly, she’s referring. (Although, by the second posting, it’s pretty obvious she has the Greens in her sights.) Coming through loud and clear, however, is Clare’s immense frustration with what she obviously regards as the puerile quality of contemporary political discourse in New Zealand.

Why is it impossible to have a serious political discussion about the social and economic problems bearing down on Australia and New Zealand, or the major parties’ policies for dealing with them? Why are there so few forums for such discussions? Why is the news media so obsessed with trivia?

As an accomplished public relations practitioner, Clare should know the answers to all these questions. But then, Clare has always demonstrated a somewhat Pollyannaish understanding of PR. Seeing it, rather naively, as a suite of techniques for enhancing public understanding. That PR might, more realistically, be understood as the techniques employed by those with power to confuse and/or misdirect the public’s comprehension of important events and issues never seems to have registered.

Which is a pity. Because a little more familiarity with the dark arts of politics would do Clare and Labour the world of good.

Instead of calling dibs on that ever-decreasing pool of well-educated, middle-class New Zealanders interested in “politics”, and snarling at the Greens for dropping a line into what used to be Labour’s favourite political fishing-hole, Clare and her comrades should strike out for an altogether larger pond, bearing much more effective tackle.

Do that, and the feelings of impotent rage will quickly disappear.

In her third posting, Clare describes a man who turned up at her electorate office weighed down by burdens no single human-being should ever be expected to carry alone.

“This man was a valuable contributing member of our society. He paid taxes. His skills were worth something to our economy. As a direct result of this government’s policies, he, and others like him, do not have jobs.”

But then Clare says: “What are his options?”

And right there you have it – the reason why Labour is performing so badly. Less than 100 days to go before the General Election and Clare still cannot tell her constituent in unequivocal, easily understood language what his options, under Labour, would be.

Her constituent used to work at the Hillside Railway Workshops. Has Labour guaranteed to expand them? Will Labour, upon winning office, tell the world that henceforth all of Kiwi Rail’s rolling-stock will be manufactured in New Zealand?

Will they change this country’s industrial relations laws so that trade unionists employed in other Dunedin industries are free to stage solidarity strikes in defence of worksites like Hillside? Or make it possible for the Maritime Union of New Zealand to prevent the unloading of foreign-built machinery on the nation’s wharves?

Will Labour, in short, undertake to bring working-class New Zealanders back to the centre of the political stage (from which the Labour Party of the 1980s ruthlessly expelled them). Will it arm them with the same weapons the First Labour Government placed in their hands?

Or won’t it?

Has Labour got a story to tell the desperate working man on Clare’s doorstep?

Or hasn’t it?

Clare knows that Labour will not, and that Labour has not. And that is why she is so angry and so ready to lash out at others.

The Maori have a proverb: Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi. The old net is cast aside, the new net goes fishing.

Labour must weave a new net, Clare, if it is to land the catch it is seeking.

If it is to become a fisher of men.

This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 August 2011.


Anonymous said...

You had me going for a bit there Chris, til you got to the punch line. I don't ant to flog a dead horse (as Clare has apologised for her outbursts), but you have answered Labour's plea for a solution - BE a worker's party.

I get the sense that the Kiwi public are finally sick of having Hobson's choice, between tweedle-dee and tweedle-dum parties Labour and National. As such, voters are willing to put up with the evil of National (the honest-ish liberal capitalists) to finally eliminate the greater evil of Labour (the utterly dishonest liberal capitalists).

When Labour come out with unequivocal statements repudiating free market capitalism, and outlining economic policies that benefit most NZers, then they will get re-elected. Not sooner.

Mad Marxist.

Anonymous said...

"...the reason why Labour is performing so badly. Less than 100 days to go before the General Election and Clare still cannot tell her constituent in unequivocal, easily understood language what his options, under Labour, would be."

Precisely. The only trouble is that much of what Labour would do isn't that different from what this government is doing. There are exceptions, of course, but how many examples are there where National in the 1990s either did something or tried to do something that Labour showed indignant opposition to, and then when it was their turn went on to either do it themselves or did more of it stronger and harder? Some of the Labour MPs can be pretty thick, but surely they can't be so thick that when in government they believed what the officials who'd worked under the previous Nat government dished up to them weren't just recycled National Party policies with different names? At the end of the 1980s they did everything you'd expect a National government to do, then passed the batten on saying "now see if you can be worse bastards than us, dare you", and of course, that's exactly what the Nats did. Then they did it again from 2002 to 2008! A consequence of Labour fighting over the centre means paving the way for National/ACT to go way further than they'd otherwise get away with. This is why many on the left have come to despise Labour. You'd think they would've learned after Rogernonmics, but no. Labour needs to re-discover its roots, then start again. It needs to get NZ back to being the caring nation it used to be. If they did it might help get the murder rate down, but it will give back to NZers choice. By competing with National, including over who can be the nastiest to the poor, they're helping to create a climate of hate amongst even those on low incomes and benefits. Beneficiaries are now arguing amongst themselves about who's more "deserving". National's been clever with its "partial asset sales" and "we're targeting 16 and 17 year olds only" to soften us all up for major attacks that'll come a little later, but Labour's played a part too by accepting the populist talkback radio vitriol as an accurate assessment of public opinion and treating anything else as if it's come from the looney left, then continuing its "mature" debate on redalert with the "respectable" right: "You're just a pathetic lefty troll - banned for life. Trevor") Labour must stop doing this if its ever going to be credible again. The irony is that if the numbers fall a particular way they may end up in a coalition government. If this happens it'll be despite them rather than because of them. While I'd like to see them in purgatory for at least the next twelve years (nine in the 1990s obviously wasn't long enough) at least we might be able to hold on to a few assets a little longer. The problem though is that they'd regard it as a mandate for continuing to do what they're doing now - being silent on almost everything that's important, cuddling up to right-wing bloggers, and telling anyone from the left who disagrees with them to stop being rude. Regardless of what happens in November, Labour will need re-educating.

Brendan McNeill said...

Both National and Labour have been on a 'rush' to the 'economic centre' for some time now. Both have abandoned their roots to a greater or lesser extent.

The primary difference between both parties appears to be John Key.

I suspect this blog provides a greater forum for political debate than our house of representatives; a place where all actions are stage managed, and MP's are tasked to 'stay on message' or risk sanction.

Is it any wonder that most Kiwi's have tuned out of politics?

Neither party has articulated a coherent economic or social vision for New Zealand that is underpinned by a sustainable and measurable strategic plan.

Labour is in trouble for all the reasons Chris articulated in a blog several months back. They have become a party of sectional interests, minorities and grievance.

I'm struggling to find a home for my vote on the right of the political spectrum. I think it's even worse for those on the left, although you have more apparent choice.

With reference to Chris's last line, the original 'fisher of men' was interested in building an eternal Kingdom, albeit one that in a mysterious but tangible way was able to touch earth through the actions of his disciples, and make it a better place for everyone.

They were accused of 'turning the world upside-down' yet without having a vote, and living under Roman tyranny.

Perhaps we place too much reliance on political solutions.

Anonymous said...

Anon at 7.34
Hell Yes!

I read that Goff listens to talkback. God help us that explains a lot! The talk-back taliban is a very vocal but small section of the electorate. And at least half of this demographic would be amenable to reason, and happy to vote for something other than their pet hatreds if a decent alterntive was offered anyway,IMO.

Anonymous said...

Y'know what - I HATE voting Green. As far as I'm concerned they're just soppy, unscientific and middle class - but what's the alternative? I might go for Mana, but let's face it this country is far too racist to elect any party run by Maori.It really is time labour got rid of the remnants of the Douglas gang and became a proper Labour party again.

Anonymous said...

When Labour come out with unequivocal statements repudiating free market capitalism, and outlining economic policies that benefit most NZers, then it will rain Elephant beer and cheese scones over Invercargill and Phil Goff will be denounced by Hone Hawariwa as a wild eyed ultra left adventurer.
Ok, playtime over, lets just get on with the rugby world cup.

Anonymous said...

Okay - given Anon 8:25pm's articulate denunciation of Labour's prospect of ever regaining sanity (and the Government benches) by ditching free market capitalism (FMC), that begs the obvious question:

why is anyone on the left even considering campaigning for a Labour-led government?

Why don't the Greens, Mana, NZ First and Maori party rule out Labour as a coalition partner (unless it ditches FMC)? Makes more sense than just bumbling along hoping to change the minds of the Labour caucus *after* they are safely back in power, doesn't it?

Mad Marxist.

Anonymous said...

I don't even want them to denounce capitalism as such, just introduce policies to control it. And change the balance of power between workers and employers. That'd be a good start. They rolled over and waved their legs in the air just after the last came to power, after such big talk too.

Anonymous said...

@ Brendan

"Neither party has articulated a coherent economic or social vision for New Zealand that is underpinned by a sustainable and measurable strategic plan."

You can't win an election that way any more. Political parties are branded goods. It makes about as much sense to demand a coherent philosophical vision from the Nike corporation as it does to demand one from a modern political party.

This is the voters' fault, as they have made it plain that they prefer to vote for parties that act like brands.

If you want a political system where coherent philosophical visions matter, then step away from democracy.

Anonymous said...

Well, feudalism had pretty coherent philosophical visions, we could go there. Adolf had a very definite philosophical vision too. The possibilities are endless.

How do you know that voters prefer parties that act like brands?

Which of them doesn't these days?

Michael said...

Labour are trying to play the 'we are the other major party' card without realising that the cupboard is bare. Its gone. They can't say nothing and just inherit votes from the past. As you say, Chris, they need to become something again. I think its an indictment that none of them would take over from Phil and be prepared to take the fall at election so that at least a good challenge could be put to national right now. Do any of them believe in anything? The capital gains tax was a good start - in fact people were looking for a bitter pill to swallow, the times seem to call for it, and sooner is better than later - but then labour tried to sweeten it and say it wouldn't cost anything? Sounds untrustworthy. It seems more than half of New Zealander's earn less than half the average income. (average 69k per annum, median $529 per week - not sure how good those stats are) Must be fertile ground for the left? Might be politically feasable to upset the rich, there are less and less of them. The greens are looking pretty convincing (and less boring - at least they are going to say something when asked). And they are obviously way beyond environmental concerns. Greens with a pinch of mana - there would be your new labour.

Anonymous said...

Actually Nike has a very coherent vision :-).

navyman said...

Hello Chris , I too left a comment on her blog . I said that I had voted Labour for 21 years , but last time I did not , because of the sheer arrogance that was shown to the core supporters , like me. "tim" then replied somewhat angrily , saying that " the only thing he hates more than right wingers on their blog was disenchanted labour supporters.
I am astounded . Aren't I excatly the person they should be trying to win back ?
I am going to vote national again , because it seems Labour has not learnt any lessons from the public's complete rejection of the Clark / Cullen era.
Very interesting site Chris , thank you for sharing it with us, Regards , Greg

Anonymous said...

Clare is in danger of only being remembered for wearing an old Otago Highlanders shirt in the House, and being removed from Parliament for her trouble. That certainly got her a photo-op and some publicity, and so she obviously knew what she was doing then. But it didn't forward a policy agenda one little bit, and simply played to the superficiality of the media.

Presumably Labour thinks that advocating a capital gains tax would be seen as such heresy, that the attacks on it from the establishment would win some points back. All that happened is that the thinking public agreed with the policy but aren't in a hurry to let Labour implement it, probably because they doubt that it would, without watering it down to suit vested interests.

Labour don't need to panic anyway. This may be a typical election in two party terms, with Labour support returning in the main cities, at least south of Bombay Hills, but not in the provincial centres. The minor party votes and electorate contests may make the difference.

Michael said...

Clare Curran for PM! Seriously, she would make a great Merkel-style leader, not a battle-axe Thatcher or a clinician Clarke or a weasel like Gillard (no offence intended - weasels are beautiful creatures, small, cunning, and savage to survive). Feminine enough to force the gentleman in John Key (did you see how awkward he looked the other day answering questions from Rachel Smalley - like a boy at the school dental clinic). One thing is clear, she's a leader.

uke said...

If Labour returned to its Red Fed "roots" it would certainly gain a few more votes among committed left-wing voters. But it would, I suspect, lose far more votes from its middle-class support base.

Until, say, 25% of the workforce is unemployed again - as were in the early-1930s - with their families slowly starving to death, shivering through the cold of several winters, selling their furniture, and starting to make clothing out of flour bags, NZers will not seriously consider a return to full-blown socialist policies.

The children of the Depression are almost gone now and three new generations (baby-boom, X, Y) have grown up without its lessons. IMO, Labour's "confused" policies merely reflect the perspective of a substantial portion of the NZ electorate.

Anonymous said...

"How do you know that voters prefer parties that act like brands?

Which of them doesn't these days?"

I rest my case, m'lud.

Anonymous said...

"Well, feudalism had pretty coherent philosophical visions, we could go there. Adolf had a very definite philosophical vision too. The possibilities are endless."

Yes, the possibilities are endless, but not necessarily all bad.

Anonymous said...

So what do polices that would appeal to the working class look like?
Is there some kind of go to guide a working-class-party-policy-for-dummies?
Is Mana that party?