Friday, 13 November 2015

Of Dreams And Nightmares.

Bread-and-Butter-Land: Andrew Little's keynote speech to Labour's 2015 annual conference took "Rebuilding the New Zealand Dream as its theme If this conjures-up an image of a 1960s family; Dad, Mum and the kids; standing in front of Dad’s shiny new Ford station-wagon; with Mum’s spotless suburban bungalow in the background; then Little’s speech-writers have done their job. And yet, for so many, the Dream he seeks to restore was never anything other than a nightmare.
 
SOME VERY STRAIGHT TALKING went on behind closed doors at Labour’s annual conference in Palmerston North. Persons described only as “senior party people” visited the party’s “sector groups” (Women, Youth, Maori, Pasifika, Rainbow) with a very clear message. All reform proposals smacking of what some experts call “identity politics” and others refer to as “social liberalism” are on the down-low. Not forbidden, exactly, but to be kept well away from the media spotlight. In the simplest terms: the days of “man bans” are over.
 
The Party Leader’s stirring keynote speech highlighted in dramatic terms where Labour’s focus has shifted. When Andrew Little was a young industrial lawyer, working for the Engineers Union, his conservative “brothers” would have described Labour’s new stance as “concentrating on the bread-and-butter issues that ordinary people care about”. Other organisers, in more radical unions, would have lamented Labour’s “economism”: a Marxist-Leninist term denoting an exclusive focus on working people’s material (as opposed to their political) advancement.
 
Little, himself, is calling it “rebuilding the New Zealand dream”. In the simplest terms: “Owning a home; having security for the people we love; a chance to enjoy the outdoors and the environment we love and a job that gives us the time and the money to lead a fulfilling life. These are the aspirations that we all share.”
 
Now, if that rather clunky definition conjures-up an image of a 1960s family; Dad, Mum and the kids; standing in front of Dad’s shiny new Ford station-wagon; with Mum’s spotless suburban bungalow in the background; then Little’s speech-writers have done their job. Because if you ask the Baby-Boom generation to describe how the New Zealand Dream looked, back in the days when it seemed within the reach of every Kiwi family, chances are they’ll say it looked like that. And if you ask the younger generation to describe the New Zealand dream, they will likely begin by highlighting how little of their parent’s idyllic ensemble they can expect to replicate.
 
Nostalgia and aspiration are powerful emotions, and when you attach them to a simple set of desired things, then the political effects can be startling. That’s why, in one way or another, the idea of the New Zealand Dream is exploited by every political party. National might substitute a Mercedes Benz for the Holden, and a graceful Arts and Craft mansion for the suburban bungalow. The Greens might add solar panels to the bungalow’s roof and put the whole family on bicycles. NZ First might include Grandma and Grandpa in the family line-up. In essence, however, the dream remains the same.
 
Allowing the Dream to slip away is thus, for most of the electorate, the very definition of political failure. Accordingly, parties will argue endlessly about whether they are succeeding or failing to keep the New Zealand Dream alive. Most will react with alarm, however, if the reality and/or desirability of the Dream itself is challenged.
 
Hence the hard words delivered to Labour’s sector groups last weekend. Those “senior party people” are determined that the discordant notes of feminism, indigenous rights and LGBT activism do not intrude upon the nostalgic and aspirational harmonies of the militantly “normal” New Zealand Dreamers. The memory of 2013’s “man ban” still rankles, but a much deeper psychic wound was inflicted by the “anti-smacking” legislation.
 
Dream - Or Nightmare? (Collage of 50s imagery by Sally Edelstein.)
 
The New Zealand voter did not enjoy being reminded that behind the happy familial images of material prosperity there often lurked horrific stories of child abuse. The idea that they, themselves, might have ventured even a little way along that grim continuum of domestic violence infuriated and repelled them – and Helen Clark became the lightning-rod for their rage.
 
Labour’s leaders are determined that it will not happen again. No rancid additives from the world of identity politics will be permitted to contaminate the bland bread-and-butter promises of Little’s keynote speech.
 
And yet, for so many, the Dream he seeks to restore was never anything other than a nightmare. A horror story made worse by the unrelenting pressure to pretend that the injustices and discrimination endured by women, Maori, gays, lesbians and transgendered persons wasn’t real, and wasn’t happening. Little’s soft-focus rendition of the New Zealand Dream was never more than a sociological version of The Picture of Dorian Gray. A cursed portrait that, with every tortured victim’s revelation, grows increasingly hideous.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 November 2015.

23 comments:

Anonymous said...

It is easy to say "but the world has changed" but it has changed. There seems to be nothing wrong to me to go back to delivering fundamentals. Without the fundamentals nothing else is worth very much. On the issue of child abuse, gender discrimination and violence, for example, they will be taken up in a quite different way now compared to the 60s. Electronic communication makes all that possible.

I was at my daughter's university graduation some 20 years ago. One of the speakers was the president of the VUW Student Union. He quoted Norman Kirk and said very much the same as what Little is saying now. His speech went down very well so it obviously resonated with that audience all that time ago. And things weren't as bad then as they are now. However, to achieve the 60s dream the Labour Party are going to have to developing a fair taxation system, develop decent labour laws, and deal with the inevitable media slurs.

Nick J said...

I generally support the issues raised by the "identity" groups. Where I get miffed is that the tendency for their advancement to be tied to Labour in particular and the Left in general. Surely those who "identify" are spread across the political spectrum. Conversely I dont see many "identity" people on the Right being as staunch....power and privelege take precedence no doubt.

peter petterson said...

A little of what you say about the negativity of our former society may have been true.Muldoon attacked many things, but continued to support the welfare state. That is what we should be discussing, I think. The welfare state! Then there were the neo-liberalist attitudes of the Lange and Bolger governments. Muldoon allowed state tenants to purchase their homes, but toughened up on conditions, increased rents etc. He came after Kirk who had such a humane attitude. Any hidden violence was the hallmark of western society, old British attitudes etc.

Brendon Harre said...

Chris I am not sure if you heard Maryan Street speech at the national conference. Labour is a both/and party not a either/or party. We can walk and chew at the same time. Build state houses and have a nuclear free independent foreign policy. Build state houses and start the welfare state. Build state houses and honour the Treaty of Waitangi.....

Anonymous said...

Young women were hidden in (mostly) church run hell holes because they had (got themselves) into trouble, their babies taken (forced adoption) and then forgotten. A practice that has had grief ramifications down the years. Many crimes against fellow citizens were swept under a grubby carpet. It was the good old days for a few.

Loz said...

Labour once argued that the greatest determinant of violence in society was stress, alienation and powerlessness. New Zealand's appalling statistics on domestic violence are heavily skewed by Maori and Pacific Islanders. Some might suggest this is simply a cultural problem. Intergenerational violence and intolerance certainly does foster a self-perpetuating culture. The argument conveniently deflects that Maori and Pacific Islanders have disproportionately been slammed with unemployment, stagnant or falling wages and all the ills of powerlessness and stress that entails. While Anomie is endemic, and has been for decades, ignoring the pivotal role of meaningful, well paid employment renders campaigns against cultural values bereft.

Andrew Little’s speech was excellent although the party appears no closer to resolving the internal conflicts on how "jobs, jobs, jobs" can be achieved. Labour's 1984 campaign was spearheaded on "Getting New Zealand Working Again" for which caucus interpreted as the "export led recovery" through free markets and "level playing fields". On one hand, it was positive to hear the strongest (albeit couched) rejection of the TPP heard in weeks from the party leader, along with a commitment to consciously direct government expenditure for the purpose of internal job creation. But, the same language of the 80's suggests a commitment to a form of laissez-faire remains.

Anonymous said...

Chris, I do not know what Labour stands for, neither do you or your commentators and indeed neither does the Labour party. "ain't them the facts".

manfred said...

The Labour Party stand for enhancing the living standards and social mobility of the middle class and poor, always have. They stand for a sensible foreign policy that doesn't involve brown-nosing the Americans to the detriment of the rest of the world.

Another point is, with all your eloquence, Chris, do you ever wonder what would happen if your talents were deployed in support of Labour's rebuilding and ambitions to be in government? There is definitely a place for criticism, but I'm sure you know that the programme of the presently constituted party still means a big change for the better in this country.

You may not win any friends on the far left, but as I have found that can often be a fickle friendship and one that could easily disintegrate at the slightest perceived deviation. And really those people are seriously out of touch with working people in this country.

peterlepaysan said...

Chris you are sniping for the sake of sniping. Manfred is quite right to call you.

No matter what the LP tries to do you will criticise it.

You and bomber are the same . No matter what the LP does you do a crosby/textor/key move, Forget that look over here..

It is tiresome.

Patricia said...

Nothing will change until we get our own Jeremy Corbyn who can voice those Labour principles in a way that will encourage the people to think that they too might have a future.

JanM said...

Words fail me!
Where on earth are you going here?
They've actually got to get into government first, for heaven's sake, and as I've said before if they keep getting kneecapped by their own, what chance have they got?
p.s. John Key voted for the repeal of Section 59 by the way - one of the few decent things he's ever done

Anonymous said...

A few years ago the United Nations directed New Zealand to do something about excessive working hours and by putting in place legislation like other territories. The National Government did nothing, and Labour hardly said boo.

They like to reject rhetoric but don't back it up with action. Just bloody words!!!

Bushbaptist said...

"The Labour Party stand for enhancing the living standards and social mobility of the middle class and poor, always have"

Not sure where you have been for the last 50 years Manfred but the Labour Party has not represented that section of society for almost a half century. They have been nothing more than Gnatlite a slightly more compassionate "Compassionate Conservative" bunch.

In the 9 years that Helen Clark's Govt. were running the show, she could have reversed the tax shifts - but she didn't, she could have increased the benefits back at least to where they were - but she didn't, she could have increased the State Housing so more low income people could have a decent house to live in - but she didn't. All of those things and more she could have done - but she didn't. That is supposed to be what Labour represents - but they don't.

Unknown said...


Young women were hidden in (mostly) church run hell holes because they had (got themselves) into trouble, their babies taken (forced adoption) and then forgotten. A practice that has had grief ramifications down the years. Many crimes against fellow citizens were swept under a grubby carpet. It was the good old days for a few.
.....,
One reason Labour lost support is that Welfare gained on Labour. The solo mother was taking home more than the schmuck who drives a bus all hours.

Unknown said...

Not to mention the feral phenomenon.

greywarbler said...

What was the event that made Helen Clark a lightning rod for people's anger Chris? We definitely need to learn standards of behaviour and healthy mental attitudes to get back to wellbeing.

BushBaptist listed the limitations of Helen Clark's much trumpeted period of limited progress for the Labour strugglers.

JanM should bear this in mind. The concern is to get the walk and the chewing gum together, stuck fast in really useful policy that just doesn't surf over the heads of those protesting for much needed social and enterprise change.

It is important to talk about the things that matter, Little has had a honeymoon from criticism but people are getting antsy.

In the 1960s we were into keeping things quiet. For instance we weren't open about our sexual experimentation resulting in quick marriages, one of the highest rates of pre-marriage babies in the developed world. Quite a prurient society then preaching 'proper' behaviour, but more following Hamlet's line " it is a custom More honor'd in the breach than the observance".

As Loz says about the present, While Anomie is endemic, and has been for decades, ignoring the pivotal role of meaningful, well paid employment renders campaigns against cultural values bereft.....
(But Loz like many of us, is assailed by doubt.)
On one hand, it was positive to hear the strongest (albeit couched) rejection of the TPP heard in weeks from the party leader, along with a commitment to consciously direct government expenditure for the purpose of internal job creation. But, the same language of the 80's suggests a commitment to a form of laissez-faire remains.


So let's boldly go forth and talk about it. Ask and you shall receive.
Sounds a bit hopeful for sure. But if you ask, there is a chance that you will get most of what you want. Don't ask because that would be pushy and look needy - chances are you won't get offered anything.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

If you're going to be posting something as stupid as " The solo mother was taking home more than the schmuck who drives a bus all hours." could you do us the courtesy of providing some figures? As far as I can see, the solo mother on average gets about half as much as a bus driver. Fuck me will you people never learn? Google enables people to check your figures within about 30 seconds, therefore exposing your bullshit.

Anonymous said...

Bushbaptist's list of things Helen Clark could have done now seems absolutely straightforward. I think the value of that government was purely as a rest from 15 exhausting years of driving rogernomics --Lange's teabreak perhaps. Otherwise weak as water. The photo of Savage is up but beside it an empty hook for that other parent of modern Labour they can never openly acknowledge.

greywarbler said...

GS
Why question an Unknown or Anonymous? Their lack of commitment to a reasoned opinion is measured by the fact that they don't care to pin it to a recognisable nomdeplume. Why then should they be conversant with Google - that's walking-and-talking, advanced stuff when you're stuck at crawling.

greywarbler said...

By the way unknown - I object to you calling a bus driver a 'schmuck'. They do a good honest hard necessary useful job and are required to show respect for the people they deal with. Unlike yourself.

As you say they may work all hours, say 12 hour shifts. Is it your opinion that anyone who does semi-skilled or unskilled work is of no value as a person, or to the country? Driving is of course a skilled job but doesn't have the mana that say, being a pilot has, and probably now is regarded as semi-skilled. Is it appearance that matters, and making big money, preferably without raising a sweat or a conscience, that counts with you and your type?

Charles E said...

I'm very confused by this post Chris when compared with past ones. Was the past better or not? I have consistently argued NZ is a much much better place today than in the 50s or 60s or 70s but you mostly hark back to the golden days when 4 people were unemployed and men wore shorts to their government jobs .....
Yet now you agree with me? Something's wrong when that happens!

Don Robertson said...

Yes, the past was uniformly bad and change is good. Everything about the past was just awful, and any call for the smallest part of the past to be returned is a call for its return in its entirety. More state houses? Obviously you want to abolish the Waitangi Tribunal and outlaw homosexuality.

It is the sort of stuff I'd expect from a US Republican. You want health care? Go to North Korea.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Why question an Unknown or Anonymous?"

And then you go and do the same thing :-). But we do it because we have to. You cannot leave the debate to idiots. Young people might be listening, and we know how easily influenced they are :-).
Well said Don. But then science has proven that right-wing people are less capable of complex thought.
http://2012election.procon.org/view.resource.php?resourceID=004818