Excluded: National has transformed Labour into exiles in their own land. Excluded from the ranks of "Real New Zealanders", the party has ceased to be included among "us" and been redefined as "them". Fighting back from the position of auslander (stranger, foreigner) is going to be very difficult - especially in eight weeks!
YOU STILL DON’T GET IT, do you Labour? You don’t understand, even now, what National’s done to you? Well, let me tell you. They have transformed you into auslander – foreigners, aliens, exiles in your own country. You’ve been excluded from the ranks of “the people”. You’ve been pushed outside the circle, beyond the Pale. You no longer belong among “us” – you belong with “them”.
And you’ve no one to blame but yourselves.
For decades you were happy to take the votes of working-class New Zealanders: presenting yourselves as the true representatives of their values; the genuine defenders of their interests.
“Give us your votes,” you said, “and we will guarantee workers a place at the very centre of the political stage. And from that position of strength we will make sure that you and your kids have jobs, and homes, and access to health care and education, and the opportunity to make something of your life – on your own terms.”
And, in a good election year, just short of 50 percent of the electorate supported you.
Then, along came Roger Douglas and his Treasury mates, and everything changed.
Working people were no longer wanted at the centre of the political stage. They weren’t even wanted in the wings. As far as the new breed of Labour politician was concerned, the working-class could wait outside the theatre, in the alley, until called for.
And most of them obeyed. Like poor old Boxer, in Orwell’s Animal Farm, their faith in the pigs who led them was so strong that they meekly surrendered everything they had won over 50 years of struggle and shuffled off the stage.
“If Labour is asking us to make all these sacrifices,” they told themselves, “then they must be necessary. Because, when all is said and done, Labour is flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. Labour is on our side – and only wants what’s best for us.”
But they were wrong. The people who were running the Labour Party were no longer flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone. They were different. They subscribed to different values. They were managers and professionals – people in charge.
And they no longer regarded working people as the salt of the earth; or the beating heart of the nation; or the people who, in their collective bosom, kept safe the Holy Grail of socialism and a better future. Labour’s new masters looked at their electoral base and saw only rednecks, homophobes and child-beaters.
Families still mired in a working-class existence were, in the judgement of Labour’s new generation of leaders, dysfunctional failures. They were no longer members to be heeded, or even clients to be satisfied. In a bizarre and belittling transformation, they’d become Labour’s patients; suitable cases for treatment.
The English poet, C.K. Chesterton, had the measure of these new masters:
They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight us by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
And they look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.
Who could possibly be surprised that the National Party, seeing the way Labour treated its most loyal supporters, started wondering whether, with the right pitch, it might be possible to lure them across the great political divide.
Thanks to the Employment Contracts Act, the working-class had ceased to be any sort of economic or political threat. And Labour clearly had no intention of re-building the trade union movement in any serious way. What’s more, Don Brash had already proved that even when the Right had reconstituted itself into a powerful, almost monolithic, electoral force it still lacked the numbers to govern. National needed Labour’s voters – and it possessed just the man to get them.
John Key preached a new message to the New Zealand working-class: a Kiwi variation of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can”.
Key’s message was simple: “It doesn’t matter where you were born, or what you parents did: you can and should aspire to a better life. National has no intention of molly-coddling you. Unlike Labour, we don’t regard you as suitable cases for treatment – but as sovereign individuals. What does that mean? It means you must take responsibility for your failures, but, equally, you have the right to enjoy the full fruits of your successes. National isn’t offering to carry you – you’re not children. But, we are offering to clear away all unnecessary obstacles from your path. Labour needs you as weak and pathetic victims; desperate for, and dependent on, the state’s largesse. National says: ‘Stand up. Be strong. Make your own future!’”
It was a potent message. Because Key was offering working-class Kiwis nothing less than the opportunity to stand alongside National’s rich and powerful supporters and be counted among the “real” New Zealanders. These are the New Zealanders who don’t rely on other people’s taxes to pay their bills. The New Zealanders who try, fail, try again – and succeed. The New Zealanders who believe that with guts and determination they, and just about anybody, can and will – “make it”
If you believed in these things, then you could stand among John’s people. If you didn’t – you couldn’t.
If you rejected the values of rugged individualism. If you placed your faith in the largesse of the state. If you looked upon the labour and laughter of ordinary people with “cold dead alien eyes”, and regarded them as “suitable cases for treatment”, then you weren't one of "us", you were one of “them”. Something odd. Something foreign. Something unconnected. Something incapable of attracting more than 30 percent of the popular vote. Something from somewhere else.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.