Tuesday, 10 November 2015

Napoleon Little?

The Revolution Concluded: At the end of every revolutionary period a figure arises who promises to restore order and stability. The most famous example of this historical type is Napoleon Bonaparte. One hesitates to describe Andrew Little as Labour’s Napoleon, but what cannot be disputed is the eagerness with which both the membership and the caucus responded to his calls for  unity, focus and discipline, and to his passionate reaffirmation of Labour’s radical political mission.
 
LABOUR’S annual conference in Palmerston North concluded with a rip-roaring speech from Andrew Little – and no controversy. How much responsibility for the absence of negative headlines should be attributed to the party’s decision to exclude the news media from most of the conference proceedings is unclear. Behind those closed doors there may have been a party seething with discontent. But, the authorised version, of a rather chastened party, eager to swing-in behind its new leader and his red-letter promises, is almost certainly genuine.
 
If so, then it would seem that the “revolution on the conference floor” that first came to the public’s attention back in 2012 has run its course. Three years ago there was no mistaking the belligerent mood of conference delegates. They were still furious that, in 2011, the parliamentary caucus had passed over their preferred candidate for party leader, David Cunliffe, in favour of David Shearer. That fury fuelled their dramatic decision to subject future leadership contenders to a party-wide ballot. How the delegates cheered when union organiser, Len Richards, declared: “Today’s the day we take our party back!”
 
Richards’ boast was proved correct less than a year later when Shearer threw in the towel and the party membership elected David Cunliffe as leader, on the first ballot, and in the teeth of bitter caucus opposition.
 
But, Cunliffe’s dismal performance as party leader throughout 2014, culminating in Labour’s catastrophic election defeat, left thousands of demoralised and uncertain party members in its wake. The narrowness of Andrew Little’s victory over his rival, Grant Robertson (50.52 percent – 49.48 percent, on the third ballot) spoke eloquently of just how uncertain the membership felt about the party’s future direction.
 
One year on, in Palmerston North, that uncertainty had vanished. Twelve months of steady leadership from Andrew Little has settled down both the caucus and the members, to the point where, if the tweets emerging from the conference are anything to go by, both sides can now give a passable impression of actually liking one another. Pep talks from Hawkes Bay MP, Stuart Nash, and the party president, Professor Nigel Haworth, on the need for increased unity and discipline have clearly had their effect.
 
So, too, have the party’s years of internal strife.
 
As any student of the history of revolutions will attest, the revolutionary process unfolds in three, clearly discernible, phases. First there is the moment of revolt, when the people rise as one against the ancien regime. Dickens, in his novel, A Tale of Two Cities, called this “the Spring of Hope”. Once the old order has fallen, however, the revolutionaries rapidly fall out over the vexed question of what should take its place. It is during this phase that the Revolution “devours its own children”. Finally, with most of the revolutionaries dead, and the people exhausted by years of terror and upheaval, a figure arises who promises to restore order and stability. The most famous example of this historical type is Napoleon Bonaparte: someone with both the ability and the ruthlessness to bring the Revolution to an end.
 
Napoleon Bonaparte: Someone with both the ability and the ruthlessness to bring the Revolution to an end.
 
One hesitates to describe Andrew Little as Labour’s Napoleon, but what cannot be disputed is the eagerness with which both the membership and the caucus responded to his calls for  unity, focus and discipline, and to his passionate reaffirmation of Labour’s radical political mission.
 
Sheer exhaustion may also explain the New Zealand Labour Party’s curiously subdued reaction to the rank-and-file revolution that installed Jeremy Corbyn as leader of the British Labour Party. It wasn’t that the Kiwis were all secret Blairites, more a matter of New Zealand Labour having “been there, done that, sold the T-shirts – lost the election!”
 
In restoring order and stability, Little has been quietly, but very ably, assisted by Labour’s President, Professor Nigel Haworth. As delegate Stephanie Rodgers tweeted from the conference on Saturday afternoon: “Cries of mock outrage as it’s announced we’ve wrapped up a policy discussion with time to spare.” Anyone with the slightest experience of Labour conferences will grasp the enormity of that achievement – testimony to the quiet authority and gentle humour of Haworth in the Chair.
 
And just as Napoleon’s coup d’état consolidated and entrenched the French Revolution’s achievements, Little’s keynote speech to conference delegates confirmed, in the most dramatic fashion, that Labour’s democratic-socialist aims and objectives, so unequivocally restated by the 2012 “revolution on the conference floor”, are now inscribed in the programmatic bedrock of the party’s platform.
 
The policies mandating a capital gains tax and raising the retirement age to 67, both of which aggrieved a large number of ordinary members, have been quietly discarded. Policies attacking poverty, homelessness and unemployment have taken their place.
 
Without this gesture of solidarity from the caucus to the rank-and-file, this weekend’s ‘Peace of Palmerston North’ could never have been more than a temporary ceasefire.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 10 November 2015.

25 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

More emphasis on jobs to cut unemployment blah blah blah how often have we heard this? It is tired. I want specifics about what they're going to do about workers rights. Until I hear something other than vague platitudes I'm not voting for them. Also, enormity means evil, not big. Might even fit a bit better if we read it that way. (Courtesy of your local grammar police.)

Anonymous said...

Well I hope you are right but I reserve my judgement. You state that they have 'policies attacking poverty, homelessness and unemployment'. We have yet to see those policies, but to remain positive I shall live in hope. Grant Robertson plagiarised the term "shared prosperity" from World Bank pamphlets but I guess that is small fry to the stated objectives. Anyway we will have to wait for further explanation and of course the cursed 'details'. I just hope for the sake of Labour party supporters and the people of NZ that this conference was not about "self deception"

Grant said...

@GS er, sorry to be a pedant myself, but here is the online Oxford Dictionary on 'enormity':

1.1(In neutral use) large size or scale:
"I began to get a sense of the enormity of the task"

As to the substance of your comment, I quite agree. Such platitudes are entirely tired and it will take much more than hackneyed phrases and overused rhetorical devices to persuade me & many like me that the leopard has changed its spots. I'd like to hear Labour talking about how they intend to address unemployment and inequality in an age when automation is rapidly threatening the end of work as we know it, except for a relatively small number of highly skilled specialists at one end of the spectrum and a bunch of part-time precarious short-term jobs at the other.

The end of work. Jeremy Rifkin
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=z4pTPGi-LF0

Humans need not apply.
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7Pq-S557XQU

Clemgeopin said...

Well said, Chris. I think Andrew Little is the ideal leader for Labour at this juncture of its history. He seems to be man of honour, quality, ability and values. He will be able to unite not only Labour but also the people of this nation to make it a just, fair and a better society. I think he will rule with his head and heart, using wisdom and empathy. His ultimate success as well as that of Labour will depend upon his preparation and the support he will get from the public as well as the media. I think that is what he will be working towards in the next two years. Intuitively I feel that Andrew is a good man, trustworthy and the country will be better for it.

Patricia said...

Yesterday I went to town on the bus. The Bus driver told me he starts work at 7 am and finishes at 7pm and that he has a couple of breaks in between. When I asked him about the rule of 8 hous work, 8 hours play and 8 hours sleep he said that went a long time ago. We certainly need another Samuel Parnel but I don't think it is this Labour Party that will produce him/her.

Olwyn said...

This speech of Andrew Little's provides a conceptual space for those of us who care about social justice to step into. It invites a paradigm shift in attitude, which can only happen if the rest of us are willing to step up, and by this I mean those who want to see the values expressed in the speech made concrete, not just those who vote Labour. It is all very well to wearily ask if the leopard has changed its spots - it can't unless we are willing to rise to the challenge. Managerial politics cannot achieve what mass movement politics can - the forces running in the other direction are too strong. But this speech invites us to be part of the change we want to see. If we can do little else, we can help those in difficulty, stand up to bullies, and refuse to join in attacks on the already beleaguered. In short, we can and must return Little's invitation at the grass roots level in whatever ways we can.

peter petterson said...

So get in behind, raise plenty of money and watch National's reaction to the shooting down of John key's key flag proposal.He will be dogs meat! Who will his successor be? A couple of scatter-brained females?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Enormity has come to mean large because of ignorant usage I think. Mainly American. Correct me if I'm wrong. Like I said - 'grammar police' :). You are correct about automation I fear. It's finally on us after years of 'it's just round the corner.' We'll all be waiters - except that's being automated too.

Andrew Nichols said...

Agree with the above sceptics. Heard it all before. Waere the CGT and super age policies so unpopular? Their dumping has boxed the NZLP into a tight corner. Without effective taxes on capital to begin to restore something of the historical balance between imposts on income and wealth and a lack of recognition that the pension age will have to be raised eventually, what is left that will distinguish Labour from National economically?

Where is any recognition of the need to move a sustainable future post Global warming catastrophe given the world is bottling out of doing anything about it?

No - There isnt anything there to persuade a thinking voter that the NZLP is a worthy alternative Govt. Still Green for me.

pea-knuckle said...

Out on the fringes serious people like Grant worry about the serious issues which need serious attention.

Meanwhile, somewhere, planners are doing their planning, (heck almost said 'plotting') to convince people that the serious issues are of the flag sort. How to garner credit from any Olympic successes next year, how to ride the Lions Rugby Tour of election year will be challenging their collective wits. Most of them will be be paid by us to stretch their minds by doing that strategic thinking. (heck almost said 'plotting'.)

The real issues are not in addressing 'unemployment and inequality in an age when automation is rapidly threatening the end of work as we know it' and not even in how to have the great unwashed think those are unimportant, not existent as issues or have them thinking that they are being sorted out quietly and effectively on some back burner.

The real issue for Mr Key's planners is which Richie McCaw sort of strings to pull, how to harness and get their mindless mob mobilised to be the advocates and crusaders convincing everyone that there are no serious issues.

Tiger Mountain said...

political alienation, non participation and fear and loathing are so prominent that parliamentary politics seems about appealing to personal survival at the expense of others while not “scaring the horses” too much

call me old fashioned but Labour needs to propose plans like disestablishing WINZ and bringing in a UBI at a level of at least restoring the Ruthanasia benefit cuts of all those years ago, that and the ECA was when productivity and wage increases officially parted company to compound the effects of the Rogernomics wrecking ball

certain reforms are so obviously needed, an urgent massive house building and public infrastructure programme and the private sector to have its fingers prised off education and other public assets and services, reject the TPPA, nationalise power generation and supply, restore full union rights including to strike

kiwis need to wake about their rentier ex state house ‘portfolios’ subsidised by a declining tax take per a low wage economy, so not convinced for a second by Labour’s rhetoric, they will knife potential govt partners again rather than accept their new status as just part of the opposition

Anonymous said...

@Grant,
A quick google of "enormity" shows GS to be spot on, including the entry at oxforddictionaries.com:

1 [MASS NOUN] (the enormity of) The great or extreme scale, seriousness, or extent of something perceived as bad or morally wrong:
a thorough search disclosed the full enormity of the crime

greywarbler said...

Hey peter petterson
That was petty! Scatter-brained females? You denigrate them who are not to be taken lightly. They have come further than John Key who can seem scatter-brained himself. Though they haven't as much money as yet. And they are not to be trifled with, even at Christmas, or beyond.

Girl gangs are on the rise, and the violence that women can dish out is probably not changing from the traditional passive-aggressive, but incorporating the male style of direct aggression making formidable adversaries.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

So some back room boy wrote a decent speech for Little Napoleon and the left as vapours?

He's the best Labour leader National could wish for. Incoherent at interview and unable to win an electorate.

Anonymous said...

I would like some-one to tell me what is the Labour parties position on the TPPA, Napoleon was a decisive man who did not dither.

Grant said...

GS and Anonymous at 13:18

Off topic but I've been interested in words and etymology all my life and can't stop myself.

Regarding 'enormity' please read: http://grammarist.com/usage/enormity-enormousness/

Yes, the earliest usage of enormity (Fr, énormité) referred to wickedness etc when adopted into English, but the OED clearly provides the alternative usage of largeness as acceptable and the Grammarist link above explains that this has been acceptable usage for three hundred years.

Our word 'enormous' (from Latin enormis meaning (unusually) large) almost certainly has a shared origin with the French énormité which literally means unusual or out of the ordinary and has a host of meanings in modern French depending on context. In any case the etymologies of enormous and enormity look to be inextricably linked but have morphed in meaning and usage over the centuries (as it is natural for words to do). Phew!!

Back to the topic in hand..

I simply can't take politicians seriously when they keep talking at us as though we aren't staring a whole bunch of crises square in the face. Work versus automation, overpopulation, climate change, shortage of resources especially energy and water, war and massive migration as a result of these factors are all things which have been held up by a variety of 'public intellectuals' for our examination with increasing urgency for most of my adult life. Yet even now most people are in denial and most politicians are followers rather than leaders. They have not moved and will not move on these issues until they are forced to, by us or by an imminent threat of dire emergency. For Little to make "jobs, jobs, jobs" the central plank of his keynote speech just leaves me shaking my head in wonderment. The last time they were in office (for nine long years), Labour had an international economic tail wind working in their favour and it's certainly true that after their first two terms things got discernibly better and unemployment had dropped radically, but it was a mirage. Those jobs were not quality jobs based on production of real long term things. They were 'McJobs' which vanished like dew on a summers morning when the GFC arrived. The only thing that has changed in the meantime is that the international economic situation AND all the other factors previously mentioned are coming together to create at best a strong head wind and possibly a perfect storm which makes any notion of running things on a 'business as usual' basis utterly laughable. I want to hear politicians addressing the real issues and explaining what plans they have to address all of them together in a holistic way, because that is the only hope we have for the future.

Victor said...

Maybe Andrew Little is just the Barras of this particular re-play and the "Little Corporal" is still in the wings, preparing a "whiff of grapeshot" for when it's needed.

Perhaps he spends his weekends tweaking the ears of his Grenadiers in Te Tai Tokerau... or perhaps in Napier or perhaps in Wellington? Or perhaps he is a she? (though I doubt it).

In any event, I don't think it's Brumaire yet.

Anonymous said...

Roger Douglas made the same promises as Little and more.

Same old bollocks from people who have no intention of tackling the drivers of poverty, inequality and alienation.

And ever optimistic Labour stalwarts fall for it again, and again, and again and again.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Someone who writes as you do Adolf, should not be criticising people for being incoherent :-).

Anonymous said...

@Grant
Interesting, a quick look at 'enormity' using the British National Corpus shows it to be used in ways that perceive something bad/in a negative semantic sense in more than 50% of the examples it brought up for me:

http://bnc.bl.uk/saraWeb.php?qy=enormity&mysubmit=Go

jh said...

Katherine Ryan interviewed John Daley of the Grattan Institute on Nine to Noon. I googled and came upon this piece:
The best way to “deepen the employment market … and improve the city’s amenity”, he said, was to increase the density of established areas and improve transport.

His speech referred to Sydney, but those “thought leaders” who share his vision would apply it equally to other Australian cities. The vision, put bluntly, is this: they’re coming for our backyards.

https://www.thesaturdaypaper.com.au/news/politics/2015/11/07/big-australias-date-with-density/14468148002599

The NZ Labour party is also "coming for our backyards" and it is underpinned by BIG NEW ZEALAD thinking (with nothing to back it up (according to Treasury Paper 14-10). How else can we have Super Diversity Squared and impress "on the World Stage"?

jh said...

etymology immense
late Middle English: via French from Latin immensus ‘immeasurable’, from in- ‘not’ + mensus ‘measured’ (past participle of metiri ).
eg
The attitudes of New Zealanders in the mid-1990s
towards immigration may not have reflected the positive perspective on the
value of diversity in our society that is contained in the Review of
Immigration Policy August 1986. But this does not mean that the globalisation
of immigration to New Zealand was an “unintended consequence of policy
changes in 1986”. It was a deliberate strategy, based on a premise that the
“infusion of new elements to New Zealand life has been of immense value to
the development of this country to date and will, as a result of this
Government’s review of immigration policy, become even more important in
the future” (Burke 1986:330).


etymology: Superdiversity
It seems to be still unclear what ‘super-diversity’ exactly is (beyond being a ‘summery-term’). Is it an analytical ‘lens’ to observe ‘diversified diversity’ in societies? Is it a normative concept to develop research and policy agendas? Is it a critical approach to challenge nationalistic perspectives of societies? One thing became clear during the conference, ‘super-diversity’ has a huge potential relating to every of these aspects, but more pioneering theory work is definitely necessary.
http://www.migrationsystems.org/superdiversity-theory-method-practice/
https://prezi.com/jnz3-4exixs5/superdiversity-has-destroyed-language/

pat said...

Littles speech was very well written in that it allowed all faces of Labour to put their own spin on it...well done whoever

Galeandra said...

Some fairly cynical responses so far, perhaps deserved if the sorry history of failure is taken into account. Anonymous registers the disappointment quite typically: "Same old bollocks from people who have no intention of tackling the drivers of poverty, inequality and alienation."
Of course we should take into account the success of the right at marginalising and dispiriting the weak, and the media's role in maintaining the focus on distraction and circuses.
On the other hand there are policy initiatives being worked on out of sight. For example,this Thursday Andrew and Grant have invited us to hear them speak in New Plymouth at a public meeting about facing the challenges and opportunities of the future of work in New Zealand.That covers some of the complaining about 'spin'. Grant's anxiety (10 November 2015 at 14:51) about a 'whole bunch of crises' is mine,too, but I've long understood that an indifferent or imperceptive electorate will have to be taken incrementally toward responses that are coherent in the wider context. "Jobs policy" will be part of a social justice programme as well as an integral strand in any strategic climate response.

Grant said...

@ Galeandra. I understand that politics is the art of the possible and I have no problem with an incremental approach. However there is a difference between incremental policy which has been discussed publicly and the apparent vacuum which currently exists. I have yet to hear Little or any of his spokes-people seriously address the issues I mentioned in my earlier comments and that goes for politicians generally. Either they don't understand that we are standing on a precipice, or they have put it in the 'too hard' basket and are waiting for the 'crunch points' to arrive in the expectation that the shock of undeniable reality will force the public to accept and even demand radical change. I can understand Joe and Joanne public living in a fools paradise and thinking that we only have to wish hard enough and work a bit harder and the good times will come back, but politicians know for a fact that it just isn't so. If they fail to lead public discussion about the hard issues in front of us and possible solutions, they are guilty of cowardice and dereliction of duty.