Wednesday, 14 November 2012

Ms O'Sullivan's Curious Commentary

Not Stupid: Fran O'Sullivan is one of New Zealand's most experienced journalists. What, then, lies behind her rather odd analysis of David Shearer's political options at this weekend's Labour Party Conference?
 
LET’S BEGIN with the headline: “Shearer’s vision can unite Labour”. That’s what the Herald’s subs called this morning’s opinion piece by Fran O’Sullivan. It sounded hopeful, but it didn’t take me very long to realise that Ms O’Sullivan was actually urging Mr Shearer to do exactly the opposite:
 
“He should not be afraid to upset grassroot Labour Party members this weekend – particularly the anonymous bloggers who get far too much attention.
 
“Shearer should make it clear he has not resiled from the vision he put forward in Parliament soon after his colleagues voted him leader. That vision is more likely to capture middle-class votes than simply playing to ‘our people’.”
 
Now, I’ve known Ms O’Sullivan for many years, and one thing she isn’t is stupid. On the face of it, however, her column in this morning’s Herald was just that: stupid.
 
Why would any credible political commentator advise a party leader installed over the objections of his own rank-and-file to roll up to his first party conference and piss them off all over again? Why would she suggest that his policy announcements be directed not at “our people” (i.e. the party’s electoral base) but at middle-class voters whose most distinguishing political characteristic over the past four years has been their open contempt and hostility towards the poor and the marginalised?
 
What does Ms O’Sullivan know that we “anonymous bloggers” don’t? (And let me note here how surprised I was to learn that Duncan Garner, Gordon Campbell, Martyn Bradbury, Danyl McLachlan, Brian Edwards and Scott Yorke weren’t those bloggers’ real names!)
 
Does this veteran business journalist have some special insight into this country’s political machinations which allows her to confidently brush aside the rank-and-file of the Labour Party as irrelevant to the outcome of the next general election? In spite of the recent US presidential election demonstrating just how important an effective “ground game” has become to securing victory, Ms O’Sullivan feels able to reassure Mr Shearer that he can safely ignore the very people who make an effective “ground game” possible. Why is that?
 
Perhaps the answer lies in her prediction that playing to the prejudices of the middle-class rather than “our people” would “also yield good results for New Zealand’s economy and business”. Perhaps she envisages the business audiences (to which Mr Shearer – a “fiscal conservative” – is said to have so much appeal) digging deep into their pockets to finance a campaign that would allow the Leader of the Opposition to make an end-run around his own membership?
 
That would certainly seem to be the strategic thinking behind both Ms O’Sullivan’s and Mr Shearer’s references to the former Finnish prime minister, Esko Aho.
 
“[H]e thought it was more important to make a difference than to get re-elected”, Mr Shearer is quoted as saying. “I can tell you I have no interest in being a prime minister who just cautiously tinkers.”
 
And it is here, I believe, that we come to the heart of Ms O’Sullivan’s thinking about Mr Shearer and the sort of Labour Government he might lead. The template in use is, of course, the one bequeathed to us by the Fourth Labour Government.

The Labour Party that gave us “Rogernomics” will always enjoy the special affection of neoliberals like Ms O’Sullivan. Not only for implementing policies that a conservative government would have had to introduce at the point of a gun, but for destroying both the Labour Party and the labour movement in the process.
 
The Lange-Douglas government corrupted everything it touched – including the MPs and party officials who opted to remain inside the empty shell Labour had become after three-fourths of its members – including the best and brightest of its left-wing heart – had departed in disgust. Helen Clark and her enablers may not have been neoliberals, but nor were they prepared to confront or repudiate the neoliberalism which the Lange-Douglas partnership had made the default setting of “New Zealand’s economy and business”.
 
In the nine long years it took Labour (with Jim Anderton’s Alliance in support) to claw its way back to the treasury benches, the trade union movement, as an effective counterweight to corporate power, had been destroyed and the state bureaucracy purged of its civil service ethic. And yet, after nine long years of Labour rule, the countervailing democratic powers of these crucial institutions remained unrestored.
 
It is this seeming inability (or is it unwillingness?) to challenge the neoliberal establishment with something more robust and modern (Josie Pagani take note) than a reheated Blairism which lies at the root of the Labour Party’s (as opposed to the Labour Caucus’s) restiveness. It explains the party membership's endorsement, by a margin of two-to-one, of David Cunliffe's candidacy last December.

Alone among his caucus colleagues Mr Cunliffe grasps how profoundly the global financial crisis is changing the nature of the political-economic game. In response (and in marked contrast to his boss) he's increasingly willing to publicly challenge the dominant neoliberal paradigm. Mr Cunliffe’s popularity among rank-and-file Labour members reflects the wider societal hunger for a genuine alternative to what is clearly a failing system.
 
It is also, I suspect, why even Ms O’Sullivan (who, as I said, is not stupid) writes: “[I]t is abundantly clear that Cunliffe would make a much more compelling Opposition leader than Shearer. He is hard-headed. He has been politically blooded. He has Cabinet experience. He is in tune with Labour’s base.”
 
So it is Mr Cunliffe’s – not Mr Shearer’s – vision that can unite Labour. Isn’t that what Ms O’Sullivan’s column is really saying? And isn’t that why she and all her right-wing colleagues in the mainstream news media are so determined that he NOT replace the incumbent? Isn’t that why they are talking-up Ms Pagani? Isn’t that why they’re begging Labour’s members to give Mr Shearer “more time”?
 
A Labour-led Government headed by the man who takes inspiration from the right-wing Esko Aho; the man who has no interest in being a leader who “cautiously tinkers”; the man who thinks it’s “more important to make a difference than get re-elected”; would be a government hell-bent on repeating the devastating mistakes of the 1980s.
 
Not only that, it would be a government which left what’s left of the Left as demoralised and divided as the government which, in the six bitter years between 1984 and 1990, tore New Zealand’s social-democratic society to pieces.
 
A consummation devoutly to be wished – at least by Ms O’Sullivan.
 
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

17 comments:

Anonymous said...

You're too kind, Chris. To be taken in by neoliberalism is the sign of a small mind trailing in the wake of out and out nutcases. Adam Curtis has a series of good documentaries about this.

Her columns bear witness to the fact that O'Sullivan is a tiresome half wit. Such people only have jobs because they shill for the wealthy.

Fern said...

"the government which, in the six bitter years between 1984 and 1990, tore New Zealand’s social-democratic society to pieces."
Yes, Chris, they were bitter years indeed. It's still painful to recall the betrayal of everything Labour had striven for over one's lifetime.

lprent said...

I hadn't noticed myself being anonymous either. I'd have thought that Fran could have seen through the thin veil of 'lprent' to the Lynn Prentice hidden behind it.

It isn't exactly rocket science.

Nice post.

Paul said...

I suspect Fran is starting to lose it, she is very supportive of Chinese purchasing our assets re crafar farms and nek minute she is suggesting that a consortium of Kiwi's get together to purchase F&P, huh. She is what is called in marketing circles, a slow adopter (and a mixed up one at that).

peterpeasant said...


You have, bitterly, reminded me of the angst I felt in 1984 and 1987, after being a loyal foot soldier for the LP since my teen age years (and that was back in 60's).

The "Rogernomics" betrayal (and Prebble's "Save Rail") made me walk away.

Now on election days I have to choose between who do I distrust least.

Not good for a fair decent democratic nation.

I do not think I am a minority of one.

What the hell does the Labour Party stand for?

San Fairy Ann.

Jigsaw said...

It's interesting Chris that you still allow someone who logs in as 'anonymous' to describe Fran O'Sullivan as 'a tiresome nitwit' where exactly is the debating point in that comment? He/she then goes to call into question Farn's motivation. Is this the best commenst you can command?

Kat said...

At Last, the leader of the Labour Party has been inadvertently exposed by Fran O'Sullivan. David Shearer is actually a right wing mole from the round table. David Shearer is a rampant capitalist, a neo-liberalist ideologue implanted into the heart of the left. His mission is too make sure Labour is just National in disguise and create divisions and disunity in the entire grass roots Labour movement and in so doing destroy it.

God help us.

Anonymous said...

Lovely post, but the only trouble is, Lange was the Cunners of his day. Faith in a figurehead is fatuous. One head, one caucus vote.

Shearer's still the more likely Trojan Horse, but this time who's stepping up to fill his gut?

If those bloggers keep blogging - as opposed to slogging - it's over, rover. Again.

ak

Kiwi Riverman's Blogesphere said...

Cunliffe had his chance, but failed to support Phil Goff, who nearly made it despite Cunliffe. What does Cunliffe represent?

recluse said...

“Shearer’s vision can unite Labour”, solemnly down with the sinking ship?

Fran O’Sullivan isn’t stupid, but considerably malicious.

Anonymous said...

Comparing Cunliffe to Lange doesn’t work. Cunliffe, as the post suggests, saw the opportunity presented by the fallout from the financial crisis and tried to redefine the political argument. Presented with the chance for leadership, he couldn’t persuade 16 of his colleagues to support him. And it isn’t because there are too many neo-liberals in the caucus – the right is just as venal, ambitious and wiling to subdue principal for the lure of office as any other faction. Cunliffe can’t get his colleagues to like him or believe in him. His look-alike is Anderton between 1984 and 1989 – all the ideas but couldn’t instil his parliamentary colleagues with the courage or confidence to trust him. The result will probably be similar.

Chris Trotter said...

You better hope not, Anonymous@11:03AM, because their lack of faith forced Anderton to take the argument out of the party and to the people.

They rewarded him with enough votes to keep Labour out of power until such time as they were ready to go to the country alongside Anderton - rather than in opposition to him.

That was nine years Labour wasted - and all because Helen and her pals weren't prepared to "go down in a hail of gunfire with Jim Anderton".

Anonymous said...

"Comparing Cunliffe to Lange doesn’t work"

True overall, anon1103; just hastily making the narrow point that Lange was similarly able to "kick tory ass in a debate" and that picking the leader with the greater rhetorical skills doesn't necessarily lead to heaven. As we know to this very day.

It's the entire caucus that needs the red-hot poker of the blogosphere - and of the entire membership. And that can only come from the kind of sound structure that the Alliance council (ok and Jim) refused to countenance, and which Lab has the golden opportunity to found this very week.

Cunners or Shearer is secondary: and with the overweening influence of the media still rampant - and Cunners presenting an easier target - IMHO Shearer with a red-hot poker appropriately inserted has the greater potential to either by-pass the scribes or woo them - and the membership.

But whatever whichway happens in coming weeks, it's Unity, stupid. Watch the polls if this continues. If forgiveness can't be found, and the troops inspired (yes, a la the early Alliance), it's continuing tory hell for us all.

ak

micky savage said...

I am in quite a unique position to judge Cunliffe and Lange. I was on Lange's LEC for a number of years and both of my parents were former chairs of the LEC. I have also been on Cunliffe's LEC ever since he was elected.

Cunliffe and Lange both have a fearsome intellect. But Lange's weakness was that he was sloppy and left the running of things up to others. Cunliffe is way more a Helen Clark than a David Lange in terms of control and management.

Also Lange was not strong in economics and left it all to Douglas to the detriment of us all, whereas Cunliffe will take a hands on approach to things.

And they were both religious, Cunliffe is the son of a Minister and Lange was heavily involved in the Methodist Church. They were both heavily influenced by Christian ideals as were many of the first Labour Government.

If Cunliffe becomes leader he will not be a Lange.

Anonymous said...

As someone who also remembers the years before 'Rogernomics' I find it curious that few people recall to mind the malevolent influence of Robert Muldoon. The great keeper of the 'nanny state' in its many guises.

We were told we were deeply indebted and, in exchange for the sale of a few trifles - Railways, who employed those appalling ferry people who always went on strike for the school holidays, and Ministry of Works and Development whose people worked in Gangs! and built clunky things that lasted, some other things, we could leave behind the colonial and dominion days (with all the cronyism around overseas funds and buying cars) and be Modern. At Last!

It was all good - until October 1987 - and we've been either repenting or sitting around the airstrips waiting for Cargo to arrive ever since.

And Labour lost the plot. 'They came for the old European Commie union rabble rousers - but I wasn't one of Them'. Oh dear me no! I just took my annual increment - a natural reward for hanging about on the job - and sneered at those unionist fools who had risked to go for a Greedy Pay Rise. Nasty.

And that false superiority has increased year on year. 'We're not like that! My boss is great. S/he just can't afford to let me have a pay rise in These Hard Economic times.'

And most unions let it happen. A collective betrayal. A persistent unwillingness to adapt to reality. To remind those new-minted Citizens of the Real World that, if they could be fired they were still workers, still vulnerable to the demands of enterprises, still optional and disposable at whim.

A lack of some fine trait that coulda shoulda swished Prebble and Co from their perches before the rot became the norm and the Lotto mentality settled in.

For me both Shearer and Cunliffe and the majority of the Opposition have failed because they have no vision that is better than Muldoon's, or Douglas's.

And they've all failed because they simply cannot stop themselves making useless awful laws to 'prove they're worth their pay and perks.

It's the work of the people to realise the vision. It's the work of the government to balance powers - as felicitously as possible. And that hasn't happened for decades.

Anonymous said...

Betrayal. Chris I felt so angry today, still feeling it, when I heard National radio's report of the closure of the Hillside workshops in Dunedin.

And I know when I see David Shearer and David Parker that they wouldn't have done any different, they'd have closed Hillside too and shrugged their shoulders, had they been in govt.

They have to go. They HAVE to go!

Anonymous said...

Micky Savage, are you a lawyer by any chance? Just wondering.