Monday, 19 October 2015

Burning Down The House: Why Does The Labour Caucus Keep Destroying The Labour Party In Order To Save It?

Political Arsonists: Only a mass influx of people determined to make policy – not tea – can rescue the Labour Party from the self-perpetuating parliamentary oligarchy which is continually burning it down in order to save it from itself. Only a rank-and-file membership that is conscious of, and willing to assert, its rights – as the Corbynistas are doing in the United Kingdom – has the slightest hope of selecting a caucus dedicated to meaningful economic and social reform.
 
SO, PHIL GOFF now feels confident enough to answer questions about Labour’s TPPA stance on Paul Henry’s breakfast show. That pretty much says it all. The victory of Labour’s right-wing rear-guard (and the parallel humiliation of Andrew Little) could hardly have been expressed more forcefully.  With this latest usurpation, Labour Party members need to ask themselves two questions: 1) “Why does the Labour Caucus keep destroying the Labour Party in order to save it?” And: 2) “Why is the rest of the Labour Party unable and/or unwilling to stop them?”
 
To answer the first question, one must try to view the Labour Party from the perspective of Phil Goff and Annette King. In their eyes Labour is still the party that rescued New Zealand from Muldoonism, and dragged its sclerotic economy kicking and screaming into the era of free markets and free trade. Though they have learned not to say so too loudly, they remain immensely proud of the achievements of the fourth Labour government. And they absolutely will not repudiate its legacy. (When a trenchant repudiation of Rogernomics was included in the 2012 draft of Labour’s “Platform” document, it was “amended” out of all recognition!)
 
Goff and King are also acutely aware that there are fewer and fewer Labour MPs with Cabinet experience. Not surprisingly, they feel an obligation to make their own experience available to the younger occupants of Labour’s Front Bench. And, when they see an inexperienced Labour leader marching into what they perceive to be “trouble”, they understandably feel duty bound to intervene, and steer him out of it.
 
Many of those younger Labour leaders (Grant Robertson, Jacinda Ardern, Chris Hipkins) won their political spurs working for Helen Clark’s Government. Like Goff and King, these younger MPs take enormous pride in “their” administration’s achievements. In their eyes, Clark’s 9 years in office constitute an example of outstanding political management. Where other party members took issue with Clark’s authoritarian style, these young and highly ambitious members of the PM’s ‘apparatus’ became convinced that only a highly centralised and tightly disciplined party could guarantee social-democracy’s electoral success in the twenty-first century.
 
David Shearer is a curious Labour politician. The older members of Caucus regarded him not only as someone in whose hands Roger Douglas’ reforms would be perfectly safe, but also as a politician whose “back-story” was sufficiently varied and exciting – not to say “heroic” – to offer some much needed competition to John Key’s rags-to-riches, state-house-to-White-House narrative. That he failed to fire as Labour’s leader left the Caucus’s right-wing faction without a viable candidate of its own. It can intervene, but it cannot lead.
 
Taken together, the attitudes of these Labour MPs reveal an overwhelming preference for government by elites: a process which admits very little in the way of popular participation. Elitist politicians believe the will of the people is best ascertained by scientific opinion polling, and that the content of party policy is best left to appropriately qualified experts – not the votes of poorly educated delegates at out-of-control party conferences. So called “democratic” government is not about giving power to the people – God forbid! The true purpose of elections is to resolve high-level disputes about the optimum management of the state and economy. An outcome best achieved, according to the Italian social scientist, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) by means of an “orderly circulation of elites”.
 
Eruptions from below (like the election of Jeremy Corbyn in the UK) pose a deadly threat to elite politics – especially if you’re one of the elite that’s about to be circulated into office! The last thing you need then is a bunch of unruly party members determined to lay their untutored hands on the delicate machinery of government. Better by far to lose an election or three, than to install the animal spirits of popular democracy on the ninth floor of the Beehive. After all, life among the elites can, in many ways, be its own reward. Eventually, your turn will come.
 
Why doesn’t the Labour Party organisation sweep this elitist arrangement into the dustbin of history where it belongs?
 
The easy answer is: “Because it’s just too bloody hard!” Members of Parliament are well-paid professionals, while most rank-and-file members are well-meaning amateurs, with jobs to go to and families to look after. In any contest between these two, the odds generally favour the professionals. Moreover, when played seriously, politics is a far from congenial pastime. From those who succeed in mastering its dark arts, it almost always exacts a very high psychological toll. There are even some who say that by the time an aspiring MP has a reasonable chance of entering Parliament, none of the qualities that initially recommended him, or her, for the job, will have survived!
 
The other great impediment to the NZ Labour Party turning itself back into the vibrant, highly creative and enthusiastically democratic organisation it was in the early 1980s, is its own history. By 1989, Rogernomics had driven the Left out of the party, and, by 1994, the arrival of MMP had persuaded the Right to follow suit. What remained was a political party emptied of all conviction and passion, and absolutely terrified at the prospect of a return to the bitter factional disputes of the late-1980s.
 
By the turn of the century, many members had learned to positively relish the level of control Helen Clark and her caucus exercised over the party organisation. The latter’s expert “guidance” from above had impressed upon them the logic of Pareto’s version of democracy. From 1993 onwards, the party was happy to let Helen and Michael and Phil and Annette and Steve and Trevor handle the important stuff. They were happy to hand out the pamphlets, erect the billboards, make the tea.
 
Only a mass influx of people determined to make policy – not tea – can rescue the Labour Party from the self-perpetuating parliamentary oligarchy that currently controls it. Only a rank-and-file membership that is conscious of, and willing to assert, its rights – as the Corbynistas are doing in the United Kingdom – has the slightest hope of selecting a caucus dedicated to circulating the whole oxymoronic notion of democratic elitism out of New Zealand’s political system altogether.
 
A version of this essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 16 October 2015.

30 comments:

bob said...

What do you expect when the leader of the labour party states that the solution to our export worries is to export beef to India. Clueless doesn't even begin to describe this.

greywarbler said...

Chris I think you have hit the nail in (to the sapient pearwood surrounding Labour).
I particularly like your summation of present Labour, " The true purpose of elections is to resolve high-level disputes about the optimum management of the state and economy. An outcome best achieved, according to the Italian social scientist, Vilfredo Pareto (1848-1923) by means of an “orderly circulation of elites”."

The great mass of Labour and would-be supporters are not professionals and not marinated in the dark source of political arts. The most useful thing they can do to damp down the conflagration of their political hopes is to divide into teams, the men to act as firemen and personally put out the flames, and the women again to provide tea, which will become the vital resource to save the day. So it is thinking, spunky, energetic and committed women who can save the heart and will of the Labour Party if they themselves have the will! And those that can turn that analogy into effective manoeuvres will provide the truly valuable breakthrough to the present, very, stalemate.

Anonymous said...

It cannot be denied that the only way to deal with the Labour realists is full democratization of the selection process, in the UK this has lead to a huge inflow of young leftwing idealists and not so young far-left entryists - who if they become full members can not only select the leader, but also vote in the rankings of electoral MP's - meaning effectively they can purge the party of blairite elites, which they must if they are to prevent the certain blairite counter revolution and reversion to elite control and of course complete purge of leftwing elements in the party - interesting days in the mother country.

However your implicit assumption is (as always) that once labour allows grassroots takeover with a big shift left in its policy package, that the voters will come flocking. Presumably this is a rehash of the missing million gimcrack believed with such fervor by the hard left.

The Elites don't accept this theory, they believe power cannot be won from the left of the spectrum, this is why the fight with such vigour against it, Goff and co are not commited neo-liberals, just hard nosed power seekers.

The power elites who rule labour, like the blairite elites in the UK are aware to win power you need to take a chunk of of the center - a big chunk, until the hard left entryists and radicalised members can present a convincing argument on how power can be won from the left they're efforts will be directed towards manning the phones, handing out pamphlets and making tea and biscuits for the centrist power wolves who run the show.

Unknown said...

The Labour party used to discuss policy, then offer the policies they came up with to the electorate. The policies offered at an election were those that the party members thought best for the country.

Now they (and other parties) work to find which policies will offend fewest voters, then offer those watered-down policies.

For just one example: the party determined - I know not how but think that they were correct - that the country would be best served by gradually raising the age of entitlement for National Super. They didn't make any real attempt to explain WHY, or even that the increase was to be GRADUAL.

Now they have abandoned that policy because "the public doesn't like it". Principals have been replaced by expedience; leading replaced by following.

This party needs, as you say, either a massive revolution from below, or scrapping.

Gordon Findlay

Anonymous said...

So is Little a prisoner of the Caucus or complicit?

Nick J said...

You would have to ask why you would do any of the background tasks for an election (signage, leaflets etc) if you were not afforded the opportunity to add to policy formulation? Years back as an LEC member myself and others came to realise that we were in effect mere serfs to the political class, that our influence on party affairs was severely proscribed. We then left, some to other parties, most of us tired and disillusioned gave politics a miss. I cant help thinking that this was what the Rogernomes desired.

Elitist politics relies upon the rank and file either being compliant, or preferably a limited chosen few. Who needs rank and file if money from party sponsors can be substituted? By definition this is a form of corporatism that relies upon the compliance of the voters fed propaganda by associated money, made comfortable in the "centre". This only happens when the illusion of material well being and aspiration is evident. When the economic foundations get shaken things change: the orthodox "democratic" concensus becomes seen for what it was all along, a "dictatorship" of orthodoxy. Labour are fully captured by this at parliamentary level, one and the same.

Maybe democracy is bigger than this. Dispatches from the front lines by Corbynistas, Bepe Grilloistas in Italy etc indicate that the young and dispossessed have started to use their votes to recapture the internal institutions of parties. And they are rejecting orthodox parties, using social media against the paid media, voting for new parties and movements. Chavez and Morales have shown it can be done, there is hope. Labour has to decide whether it becomes irrelevant or if it can transform itself to meet the needs of the new electorate. Of course the likes of Wayne and David will deride these people and movements, to quote a TV politician, "Well they would say that wouldn't they?"

Anonymous said...

As a young student at the University of Otago, I recall attending a number of major demonstrations in 1989. The placard I carried and am most proud of stated: 'Fuck off, Goff'. The sentiment, some 25 years on, remains.

Anonymous said...

Most of the Labour party MPs have never had a job in the private sector of an economy. Their propensity for the future is to look after themselves first, second, third, fourth and then perhaps, though not in all cases, to think about the people who elected them or in some situations, as is the case with Labours present leader to accept that they had a managed leadership transition by block vote unions, no matter what the party at large wanted. That type of leader is not really a leader they are performers in the entertainment model, some turn out to be good performers and some like Andrew Little miss their cues. He took the job to use the position to get a safe labour seat in the future. Non of them are risk takers and many of them would also articulate your words 'its to bloody hard' as par for the course. These are people who see a safe labour seat as a 'cordon bleu' future for themselves. Jacinda Ardern started making a high profile when she new that Phil Goff was going for Auckland mayoralty and that she would have a very good shot in Mt Roskill particularly if she was deputy leader. David Shearer make noises about leadership but he really wants deputy, more dosh and of course more international travel. Trevor Mallard wants to stay in Parliament for the rest of his life, why ? he knows that he will never make a difference to anything and its such a good job with generous pension, why leave!. Chris, to answer the question you pose, its because its about safe Labour seats and not about trying to win elections with real policies that show the public they have "real points of difference" with National. National Lite is a apt description.

Anonymous said...

Anonymous 11.29, well Goff did not and as Chris's article suggests it is going to take a lot more than sincere words, even though the sentiment remains, to sort out the present ills of a party that is totally over-ranked and consistently underwhelming in the New Zealand political scene.

peter petterson said...

The party needs to sort itself out. MP's should select their leadership and the party itself should elect the officers of the party. That's the way it was done in Norm Kirk's day.

Michael Smythe said...

So Chris, will you point the finger at yourself when you write a column about the left eating itself from the inside while lacking the appetite to critique the right with anything like the same alacrity?

By offering no alternative the article falls into the lazy trap of trying to win by making the other side lose. Labour is the party of inclusion and integration. The old paradigm of bashing he bosses to benefit the workers has been replaced by a recognition that investors, employers and employees are all in the same waka and need cooperation and mutual respect to create goods and services that consumers will freely choose to buy in a competitive marketplace.

The article avoids addressing the core issue of trade. The New Zealand Labour Party has never been anti-trade. Its concern has always been about creating effective ways to generate wealth and fair ways to distribute it. International trade agreements can be a better means of achieving this than protectionist policies.

New Zealand cannot realistically produce all the products required for a healthy growing society so its makes sense to do what we do best and trade the resulting products and services for those that others do better. What matters are the values that underpin this arrangement and the value we place on the output of honest work. I look forward to being informed enough to participate in a good discussion on the merits, or not, of the TPPA.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Oh God, here we go with the stereotypes again. I've just done a quick search of National and Labour Party MPs, and there is not a heap of difference. Clare Curran for instance, started her own business. Kanwaljit Singh Bakshi – gosh 'worked his way up' in the family business, well we all know how that works. Chris Finlayson, lawyer et cetera et cetera. I really can't be arsed doing any more, but for fucks sake just stop this shit until you can come up with some definite numbers. Otherwise it's just bullshit.

greywarbler said...

What a lot of invisible anonymice with tons of things to say. It is a good thing for them that blogs have headings or they might be putting their stacks of words in to Whaleoil, who no doubt would be 200 per cent better with their input, but like Wanda's gorilla could read, but not understand them.

Bushbaptist said...

Good post Chris and you are right.

Anon 14.39: The same can be said for the Gnats too. Maurice Williamson no job, Nick Smith no job, Simon Bridges no job, Bill English no job (Daddy's farm) Tim Groser the same. The list is long and tedious. But in part you are right, they come out of Uni and straight into politics. Lockwood Smith spent 9 years goofing off at Uni at the taxpayers expense then, when he became the Minister of Ed., he told everyone else that they had to pay for theirs.

What we have since the 1980's is a cluster of professional pollies who are out of touch with reality.

peterlepaysan said...

I suspect that Little is a prisoner of Caucus. The party conference needs to kick caucus arse very very hard again and again.

The rogernomes are very alive and well in that caucus.

OBTW that caucus thinks that focus groups matter more than disenchanted ex voters. That was Helen's biggest mistake.

Trouble is LP does not have enough money for focus groups, let alone polls.

No wonder caucus is "functioning" on an empty tank.

How often does anyone (let alone a politician)publicly admit they were wrong?

The LP caucus has effectively destroyed the LP. The "fish and chips brigade" has a lot to answer for.

I recently received an email request to "chip in" a donation to a LP cause, I agreed and every time the donation was denied (I tried 4 times). I replied to the requester pointing out there was a problem. Several days later I have not had a reply as to why I cannot give them money.

The LP ignore the people who used to vote for them and the LP ignores people who want to give them money.

Talk about Monty Python!

Caucus egotism is its own sustenance, apparently.

It does seem to work for National, they are never criticised by media.

Bushbaptist said...

Yes PeterP, the Labour party has to go to the same sources to get funding as the Gnats, therein lays the problem they have. Which is why I have said that Unions should be made compulsory again and then Labour can get funding via them.

Goff, King, Mallard et al need to get the boot and the same with all those Rogie kissers. Clean them all out!

Simon Cohen said...

So Bushbaptist you want to make Unions compulsory again so that their members dues will contribute to the Labour Party and get them elected.And you wonder why so many of us are now anti union.I would object to my union fees going to support Labour when I am a strong supporter of the only true left wing party in NZ the Greens.

greywarbler said...

Hasn't Simon Cohen learned anything from the intense discussion of politics and its levers of late? The Greens can't get the numbers that Labour has which is why it is not in the leadership role it deserves to be. Labour is a necessary climbing-mate and both need to help each other up the Sisyphus-like slopes of political power.

Trouble is Labour has got old and flabby enjoying apres-ski society rather than the active outdoor life, and it hasn't enough money or drive to re-equip itself for the 'heavy lifting' required. This is where the unions come in, to re-energise Labour, get Labour onto its avowed task which is to look out for the country and assist all to a reasonable and now sustainable living. And to bring funds in from those who enthusiastically back that goal, just as National gets funds from those who back themselves and their narrow clique only, with gusto.

You don't know anything Simon if you don't know that and you might as well be a Nat as you think like them. Perhaps indeed you are just playing at being a Green for the purposes of commenting here. Your anti-union stance doesn't fit with the Greens I know. But perhaps you are part of a modern plan to subvert the energy and commitment to Green ideals as RWs did to Labour? That would be par for the course for an anti-union Nat.

greywarbler said...

Just thinking about the political spectrum seen here, and also the number of Anonymous who release their opinions into the air like a flight of featureless dandelion seeds. Perhaps they can be sorted into types using the Michael Marien-style Handy Guide to Ideological and Role-related Positions on this link.
http://upgradeparty.com/public-policy-proposers/

(I'm a Romantic Liberal.)

Chris Trotter said...

Our problem, Grey Warbler, is that in order to re-boot the union movement, it is first necessary to re-boot the Labour Party and get it elected. We appear to be caught in a classic "Catch-22" situation!

Simon Cohen said...

You seem to presume Grey Warbler that the only party that can defeat the current government are Labour.Even you admit that labour has got old and flabby.If the money that the unions donate to Labour [and the wholehearted support they give it] were diverted to the Greens who are you to say that they wouldn't become the predominant left wing party.Nothing lasts forever including political parties.The best example is the Liberal Party in Britain who were displaced by the young and vibrant Labour Party less than a CENTURY AGO.
I am not anti union per se but I am against them now because they continue to support a party which I don't believe offers the best policies for their members.
And that may be a reason that only 10% of non government employees now belong to unions.
It is interesting that you insinuate that I am an anti-union Nat.That seems typical of a lot of Labour Party supporters these days.Attack the messenger.
At least unlike you i don't hide behind a nom de plume and are prepared to have my comments published under my own name.
And yes in case you are interested I am a practising member of the Jewish faith but that in no way influences my political views.

greywarbler said...

What indicated that I was interested in your faith in religion Simon? It was your faith in your own opinion and political leanings I was interested in. For short periods I don't think about Jews at all.

You make a lot of assertions too. One being that wondering if people are Nats is typical of Labour Party supporters who 'attack the messenger'. Seems a comment that 'The [gentleman] doth protest too much methinks. What was your message by the way? That you support the only truly left wing party in NZ. Well you are possibly right there, but pragmatically if you want to fly, you need two wings, and Labour is the most suitable feathered friend if they use their bird-brains and share their perch. My namesake knows about having to share nests, a very put-upon bird, which struggles on even though at a disadvantage.

And I'm not a Labour Party supporter. But I want them very much to arise from their couch, and get down and dirty with the real workers of the world. I am a Green, but I don't think my hue, and cry, fits in your garden.

greywarbler said...

I note that Chris and pass on a small quote I read.
Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world; indeed, it's the only thing that ever has.
Margaret Mead


Don't know if it means much, or means something different to what I would wish. But it made me think. I am sure we all will. I realised that the small group might be an oligarchy. Or a bunch of generals and wannabes planning a coup. Or a bunch of unionists planning a coup. Then I thought that is probably how wars start, between these small groups who indeed change the world. And then I decided I'd have a cup of tea and a break.

Simon Cohen said...

" greywarbler said...
Just thinking about the political spectrum seen here, and also the number of Anonymous who release their opinions into the air like a flight of featureless dandelion seeds. Perhaps they can be sorted into types using the Michael Marien-style Handy Guide to Ideological and Role-related Positions on this link."

Perhaps I am out of touch but there seems to me to be no difference between an Anonymous comment and one by someone who calls them self Greywarbler.At least my comments are under my own name !

Bushbaptist said...

Simon you have conflated what I said. You can vote for who-ever you wish. The Unions would support Labour by financing them. As Chris says though right now, it is in a catch 22 place alright.

Firstly the Greens have no show of becoming a major party in the medium term anyway, there is not enough grassroots support for them. Secondly they are NOT LEFT! THEY ARE CENTRIST! The only remotely thing one can say about their political position is that they are "Left" of both Labour and National. The Greens only support ordinary workers who vote for them not for the protection of all low paid workers in general. Not knocking the Greens, there is a place for them in politics but they will never be a major party. There are many things the Greens say that I support.

greywarbler said...

I'm not trying to advance my own name Simon or any particular point, or line of a group. I am writing as an individual thinking citizen who wants to see the country indeed the world, and all in it, of whatever persuasion, race or colour or gender, to be able to have a good life, a stable, balanced economy, and to live together as peacefully as possible.

I use a pseudonym as an identifier, it's one of my official blog names which can be recognised, but which I might change if I wish.
Anonymous is not recognisable as an identifier, just a term for someone who can't be bothered to decide on a recognised name, or whether it should be Tom, Dick or Harriet.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

One of the most obvious reasons to use a nom de plume – as I do – is that you don't want your boss to know your politics. None of their business.

Nick R said...

Chris - why not start a new party of the left that will be pure to your particular version of Corbyn-type socialism, rather than persist with a recalcitrant Labout Party that refuses to toe your line and persists in pandering to the centre?

I am sure a new party like that could get a solid 1.5% of the vote. Maybe even 1.8%.

Simon Cohen said...

So just use your own name greywarbler.It's not difficult.And if you don't please don't be such a hypocrite to criticise those who are anonymous !!

greywarbler said...

Simon I won't bother to discuss anything with you again as you don't understand what I write, don't want to understand what I write, and will never alter your opinion as a result.
I'm not hitting my head against brick walls, that is daft.