Next Move? "Adapt or go under was the only choice Labour gave us, Trev, and now they must do the same.”
“SO, WHADDYA RECKON, TREV? Is Labour finished, or what? Can you stop crying into your beer long enough to give me a professional political post mortem?”
Trevor Bright was used to his uncle’s jibes, he’d been hearing them long enough. Ever since he’d announced that he was off to university to study politics, his Uncle Bruce had made a point of quizzing him on matters political – especially those relating to the Left.
“I’m not crying into my beer, Uncle Bruce. Anyone who kept an eye on the polls could hardly have been surprised by the election result.”
“Oh, go on with you, Trev! You were always telling me the polls were crap. They only contacted people with landlines, you said. Young people with cell-phones were never contacted, you said. National’s numbers were always 5 percentage points too high, you said. You’ve changed your tune a bit, haven’t you?”
“Yes, but I was only talking about a couple of specific polls, Uncle Bruce. The various ‘Polls of Polls’ got it just about spot-on. I looked at those on the Friday night and my heart sank. I knew the Left was in for a drubbing.”
“Drubbing? Nephew, that was more than a drubbing, that was a bloody massacre! I heard some bloke on the radio saying that Labour’s come full circle. That they polled about the same as they did the very first time they contested a general election, way back in 1919. Is that true?”
“I’m afraid it is, Uncle Bruce. In both 1919 and 1922 Labour polled almost exactly the same as it did a fortnight ago: 24 percent.”
“Except that back then Labour was the new kid on the block, wasn’t it? A bit like Values or the Greens – only much more popular. Sheesh, can you imagine how chuffed that lot would’ve been to get 24 percent on their first trot? But Labour’s not the new kid on the block anymore, is it Trev? It’s the 98 year-old geezer on the block. So I’ll ask you again: Is Labour finished?”
Trevor knew that there was a lot more to his uncle’s question that a mischievous desire to rark-up his academic nephew. For many years Bruce Bright had been an active member of the Meatworkers Union. He’d been a leading delegate and was one of the union’s most formidable shed orators. When Uncle Bruce got going, you had to hold on tight to the furniture or risk being blown away. He remembered the Christmas dinner a few years ago when the onetime Labour supporter had really let it rip. It was an indictment he’d never forget.
“Labour did it to us, Trevor. Our own party. I remember watching the blokes walking out of the works on that last day; heads down, silent, gumboots scrunching the gravel. And there wasn’t a damn thing that I, or the Union, could do to help them.
“The Nats had always put the boot into working people – it was expected. But these bastards, the members of the so-called “Fourth Labour Government”, they’d done much more than that. Right under our noses, they’d restructured the whole damn country. Only when it was too late did we realise that, in the brave new world Roger Douglas had made for us, working people had only two choices: they could adapt; or they could go under. We were on our own.”
Trevor looked up from his glass of lager into the full force of his uncle’s gaze.
“I’ve a friend in Rongotai, in Wellington, Uncle Bruce, who tells me that in streets which used to return a solid Labour vote, people’s allegiances are now split between the local MP, Annette King, and the National Party. The funny thing is, Uncle, that the people in these streets: highly-skilled, self-employed contractors and their families – some of them living in renovated state houses – used to look upon Labour as ‘their’ party. But on 20 September most of them Party Voted National for the third election in a row. The tragic thing is that most of the families living in the un-renovated state houses didn’t vote at all.”
Bruce Bright blinked away tears and tipped back his glass.
“Good! Because it’s no more than they deserve. Adapt or go under was the only choice Labour gave us, Trev, and now they must do the same.”
This short story was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 October 2014.