Saturday, 11 February 2017

Breaking Point.

Parting Company: Little’s reaching out to Greg O’Connor and Willie Jackson – both of them social conservatives – was a test of whether Labour winning in September mattered more than ideological purity: and the social liberals discovered that they could not pass it.
 
WHAT AN EXTRAORDINARY WEEK it’s been! Two years of exemplary discipline within Labour’s ranks have been unceremoniously ditched in favour of rank insubordination and revolt. Poto Williams’ intervention and its aftermath have left Andrew Little’s carefully cultivated image of unity and loyalty in tatters. No amount of “robust and honest conversation” can hide the fact that a depressingly large number of Labour Party members would like nothing more than to punch their supposed “comrades” in the face.
 
Williams’ decision to publicly challenge Little’s recruitment of Willie Jackson represents the breaching of a dam behind which huge amounts of anxiety and anger has been building up since November 2014.
 
The Labour Party’s social liberals may have cringed when their leader, David Cunliffe, said he was sorry for being a man, but they also loved him for it. With his enforced departure, the allegiance of his faction shifted decisively in favour of Grant Robertson. Their champion’s defeat, by the narrowest of margins (50.52 percent/49.48 percent) left them with no other practical option except to swing-in behind Little and breathe through their noses. Three leaders in six years was enough. The party had no chance of winning in 2017 if it failed to rally convincingly behind the fourth.
 
It is now agonisingly clear that while the party membership and caucus may have marched behind their new leader, by no means all of them were enthusiastic followers.
 
Little’s powerbase in the affiliated trade unions made many of them uneasy. Labour’s activist base of highly-educated middle-class professionals were only too aware that the people represented by Labour’s mostly blue-collar union affiliates came from socio-economic backgrounds very different from their own. A party leader who owed his position to the votes of working-class New Zealanders was unlikely to be guided exclusively by the policy priorities of the professional-managerial class.
 
If Little was to deliver to his working-class base, then he would have to expand Labour’s demographic reach well beyond its inner-city nuclei of metropolitan social liberalism. The party’s catastrophic collapse to just 25 percent of the popular vote in 2014 could not be repeated without throwing Labour’s long-term survival into serious doubt.
 
Rousing the Registered Non-Vote and winning back the defectors to National was, therefore, essential to Labour’s success in 2017. But these twin objectives could only be achieved by making Labour much more attractive to all those voters who had turned away from the party in 2008 and not returned.
 
For Labour’s social liberals the logic of Little’s strategy was at once self-evident and threatening. Deep down they understood that the number of New Zealanders who subscribed to their ideology was far too small to win the Treasury Benches unaided. They also understood that the hundreds-of-thousands of ordinary working-class people whose votes made a Labour-led government a feasible proposition were by no means wholehearted in their embrace of the social liberal values to which Labour’s inner-city activists subscribed. After Brexit and Trump, the latter were fearful that the willingness of working-class voters to go on acting as the uncomplaining enablers of social liberalism’s policy agenda might be compromised.
 
This was their dilemma. They grasped that Labour must broaden its electoral appeal if it was to win. But, at the same time, they knew that if Labour once again became a “broad church”, then their position in both the party and the caucus would be seriously – perhaps fatally – weakened.
 
Little’s reaching out to Greg O’Connor and Willie Jackson – both of them social conservatives – was the test: and the social liberals discovered that they could not pass it.
 
Though they could not admit it in as many words, their loud and very public rebellion against the recruitment of Willie Jackson made it crystal clear that if the choice was between winning the election, or compromising their social liberal ideology, then they were willing to give up winning the election.
 
They could do this because their position in New Zealand society was sufficiently secure to endure another three years of National Party government without significant material hardship. Moreover, yet another electoral failure would, paradoxically, strengthen, not weaken, their ideological grip on the Labour Party. As a shrewd trade unionist once observed of the cynical political strategy of the Soviet era Socialist Unity Party: “Better to keep control of the losing side than lose control of the winning side.”
 
Unfortunately, the losing side in 2017 will be made up of the least securely positioned members of New Zealand society.  Those impoverished and marginalised citizens whose endurance will be tested to breaking-point, and beyond, by another three years of National Party government.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 11 February 2017.

14 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Couple of things. As I said before, how far down the sleazeball road can you go before someone is unacceptable ethically? As I remember it the man minimised what can only be described as statutory rape of girls as young as thirteen in an interview some years ago. If this is socially conservative, I want no part of it – and if that makes me some sort of trendy liberal so be it. Although in fact it simply makes me someone who has had friends and relatives preyed upon in this manner.
Secondly, labour hasn't done a hell of a lot for those socially marginalised impoverished people since Roger Douglas. In particular I was rather disappointed at the 'working for families' debacle where people on benefits weren't eligible. That was a direct and cynical play for the middle-class vote. As I said, if Labour wants these impoverished people to get out and vote, Labour should get some bloody policies out there that mean something to them. Specific proposals instead of vague generalities. Because those people aren't a hell of a lot worse off under a National government than under the type of Labour government we seem to have today.

peter petterson said...

Willie and Greg are not yet candidates. They could actually miss out in a very tight election; but I don't think so. At the time of David Cunliffe's little problems, I told one or two Labour people to pull their collective heads in. They didn't like it, but they got the message. As I have said lately, people know where the backdoor is - if they don't like it, shut the door after them. The poor, the vulnerable, the aged, the young, the old buggers like me,all need a successful LABOUR-led government on September 23.

Glenn Webster said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

These guys are opportunists, seeking power. If they had strong values they wouldn't attack and undermine people to prove points constantly and then claim the moral high ground - which to them is just a very effective blunt instrument, and that's why they use it.

They are sadly a network like any other network, working together to grow their own influence.

If they don't get their way they quickly change tack and seek other routes to power and influence, e.g.,

http://nzagainstthecurrent.blogspot.com/2016/09/james-danns-amazing-political-u-turn.html

E.A.Blair said...

Uh, No!

Had Little put more thought into his picks this probably/possibly would not have happened.

Both Jackson and O'connor (but mostly Jackson) were going to be hard pills to swallow given their backgrounds/outlooks/views and if they were the best possible choices out there to help remake Labour as a broad church then Labour would be better off as a narrow one.

Blame for this is on Little and those who thought that running roughshod over sections of the party to try and railroad in outsider candidates as an attempt to get broader appeal was a good idea not on those who could not stomach disparate choices.

Sanctuary said...

"... They also understood that the hundreds-of-thousands of ordinary working-class people whose votes made a Labour-led government a feasible proposition were by no means wholehearted in their embrace of the social liberal values to which Labour’s inner-city activists subscribed..."

This is where you whole argument collapses. Working class people may be social conservatives, but that does not mean they are radical social reactionaries. "Conservative" simply means a (perhaps fearful) desire to retain what seems to be a perfectly viable status quo. These days, the term "conservative" has been hijacked by reactionary radicals to embrace an intolerance that simply doesn't exist as an ideological organising principle amongst workers, at least not in this country.

"ordinary working-class people" find a party that expends it energy in infighting over gender quotas and passing remits on the provision of toilets for transgendered people completely irrelevant to their lives, but that does not mean they oppose those things - just they find them pointless trivialities and intellectual luxuries compared to trying to juggle the bills and get their children a good education. What "ordinary working-class people" want is a party that spends most of it's time talking about raising their incomes, funding of the public health system and doing it's best to ensure the education system isn't rigged against their kids from day one.

A class centred Labour party does not mean the abandonment of socially progressive ideals. It simply means knowing who the main enemy is, and attacking that enemy with a single minded determination.

The problem for Labour is a section of the party is controlled by a liberal petite bourgeoisie which is socially aligned with the values of ruling elites of the current neoliberal consensus, and that their defence of that consensus now constitutes a "radical centre" that no longer commands any significant electoral credibility whatsover but which retains positions of power in the key neoliberal organs of control in the media and corporate bureaucracy.

Liberals will constantly arrogate to themselves the sole ownership of socially liberal values because it suits their claim to legitimacy on the left to do so, especially now their their other claim to power - that they win elections - has been exposed a fraud. They know that a liberal petite bourgeoisie that can neither win an election or stand as the sole defenders of enlightened progressive values will cease to have any relevance whatsoever, and with that will go all the nice sinecures and status they have grown used to.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Sanctuary.

Couldn't agree with you more, Sanctuary.

I would, however, urge you to read again the passage you have quoted.

The use of the word "wholehearted" acknowledges the very point you claim I have missed.

While there is much visceral misogyny and homophobia in the working-class - and, indeed, in all social classes - you are absolutely correct when you say that workers' impatience with social liberalism is due overwhelmingly to its propensity to crowd out and/or distract attention from issues more central to their own and their family's well-being.

Your "whole argument collapses" accusation is, therefore, an exaggeration. Claiming that the elements of your opponent's argument are more wrong than any honest reading of the text can sustain does not make your own argument more right.

sean said...

Doesnt this argument work both ways ? Surely the Arch Conservatives like jackson and co understand they are also an impediment to a broad church Labour party. Maybe the NZ Labour party is trying to create an FPP solution to a MMP problem, time for 2 labour parties ??

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

Go have a look at the Standard in regards to Russell's parachute into New Lynn. You'll see Labour party members arguing (without any sense of irony) that the gentrification of New Lynn means that Russell/Labour is in with a shot, and that it is lucky that the working class 'westies' reside further West.

Simon

GJE said...

This is a time of major change...the progressive revolution that transformed society starting in the early seventies is now in retreat...you are so right when you point out that its major strength in its ascendancy..the belief in freedom of speech is now the very thing they deny their critics.. The corollary to this has been the insidious rise of political correctness which for a time has kept the forces of dissent at bay..but that time is now over... god help the weak the poor and the defenceless..

jh said...

Sanctuary:
This is where you whole argument collapses. Working class people may be social conservatives, but that does not mean they are radical social reactionaries. "Conservative" simply means a (perhaps fearful) desire to retain what seems to be a perfectly viable status quo. These days, the term "conservative" has been hijacked by reactionary radicals to embrace an intolerance that simply doesn't exist as an ideological organising principle amongst workers, at least not in this country.
.........
so you are saying they aren't turned off by political correctness?

jh said...

Doesnt this argument work both ways ? Surely the Arch Conservatives like jackson and co understand they are also an impediment to a broad church Labour party..
......

He probably went to high school on the same sort of school bus I did: a group of boys and girls appeared quite willing and uncoerced in their shenanigans. Feminist SJW's shut down the debate.
Every man learns that some women (young and old(er)) are "hot" while others aren't. It is an old game played out for thousands and thousands of years.

Unknown said...

In the Jackson case where Willy apologised my guess is that he was outgunned in that the media mob and SJW's meant it is better just to acquiesce. The Trump magic is that he didn't.
Last night to help me get to sleep I listened to Media Watch: it was all about racism It seems New Zealanders are still racist (despite 30 or so years of anti racist admonitions)!!!and it occurred to me that the calling of racism by media, SJW's and elites is a case of moral panic. Can't they accept New zealanders are normal (ethnocentric - as Parr (2000) informed the fat heads). The racist callers remind me of heading dogs rounding up a mob of sheep.
People are cowered by all this talk. Like Willy Jackson they say sorry but cower away in resentment, but they sure as hell know which party that stench is associated with.
I must add though I am speaking as a European New Zealander whose first ancestor sailed over the Hokitika bar in the 1860's.

pigman said...

"The Labour Party’s social liberals may have cringed when their leader, David Cunliffe, said he was sorry for being a man, but they also loved him for it. With his enforced departure, the allegiance of his faction shifted decisively in favour of Grant Robertson. Their champion’s defeat, by the narrowest of margins (50.52 percent/49.48 percent) left them with no other practical option except to swing-in behind Little and breathe through their noses."

Revisionist history, Chris. Most David Cunliffe supporters fell in behind Andrew Little because Grant Robertson had been a leading ABC light and because David Cunliffe literally pronounced publicly that he was leaving the race for re-appointment in that leadership contest and that his supporters should support Andrew Little. The wording on his facebook was that Little was a good, honest man. He said nothing like that about the other contenders.

So, how you have concluded that his supporters fell in behind Robertson then only begrudgingly behind Little is a mystery.