But, Honestly, I had No Idea! Was Rohan Lord being serious last week on RNZ's "Morning Report"? Was he actually asking us to accept that being male and middle-class is an impediment to advancing through Labour’s ranks? That, in a party where all of the key decision-making positions are currently occupied by men, being a bloke will limit your future prospects?
DISCRIMINATION on the basis of race, gender and social class. Gosh! Imagine that! Should be a law against it!
And, of course, there is – sort of. It is, indeed, illegal to discriminate against one’s fellow citizens on the basis of their gender, ethnicity, sexuality, age, religion, and even their personal political beliefs. But the Bill of Rights Act has absolutely nothing to say about discrimination based on social class.
This is hardly surprising. A Bill of Rights Act that outlawed discrimination based on social class would be utterly revolutionary – both in intent and effect. It would outlaw capitalism. It would undermine hierarchy. It would – not to put too fine a point upon it – change the world.
Which is why the Bill of Rights Act will, until the final victory of the Revolution, remain deathly silent on the subject of class. Our economic system is quite capable of coping with the abolition of sexism, racism, ageism, homophobia, religious intolerance and political witch-hunting. What it cannot abolish, however, is social class: that “homicidal bitchin’/ that goes down in every kitchen/ to determine who shall serve and who shall eat.” (Leonard Cohen) Because, as another great Jewish writer explained: “The history of all hitherto existing society is the history of class struggles.”
All of which is by way of contextualising the comments of Rohan Lord, former Labour Party candidate for the seat of East Coast Bays and erstwhile holder of the seventy-second slot on Labour’s Party List.
On Tuesday morning Rohan told Radio New Zealand that while he was very appreciative of Labour’s consideration, and although he fully supported the party’s policy platform, his list-ranking had led him to the conclusion that he wasn’t really the sort of candidate they were looking for.
“Wrapping it all up really, there’s probably limited future prospects’, he told RNZ’s Morning Report. “I’m white, middle class, male, I couldn’t really see a long term future.”
Seriously, Rohan? You’re actually asking us to accept that being middle-class is an impediment to advancing through Labour’s ranks? That, in a party where all of the key decision-making positions are currently occupied by men, being a bloke will limit your future prospects?
Mate, if you’re sincere in these observations, then you haven’t been paying attention – for about thirty years!
Oh yes, I know, the party was dominated by Helen Clark for fifteen of those thirty years. But, in neither the Labour Party, nor in New Zealand society generally, has gender been the primary determinant of our recent history.
The crucial change of the past thirty years has been the destruction of working-class power. The crippling of the trade union movement offers the most glaring confirmation of that historic defeat. If the political wing of the labour movement had not already been taken over by lawyers, university teachers and civil servants, however, then driving the working-class from the national stage would not have been so easy. The middle-class capture of the Labour Party in the early 1980s was crucial to the demobilisation of the labour movement as a decisive economic, social and political force in the 1990s.
So, Rohan, it was neither your gender nor your class origins that limited your future prospects, it was your ignorance of the way things are done – not just in Labour, but in all political parties.
To rise in any political organisation it is necessary to prove that you have what it takes to be a politician. Can you organise yourself into a safe seat – like Helen Clark and John Key? Can you keep your mouth shut in the interests of party discipline? Can you be relied upon to remain staunch in the face of disappointment and defeat? Can your comrades trust you not to publicly spit the dummy when the decisions of the party bosses don’t go the way you expected?
Well, Rohan, I think you know the answers to all those questions. And, I agree, when it comes to the people in charge of the Labour Party – middle-class to a man – you are most definitely, “probably not for them”.
Don’t feel too bad about it though. Be comforted by the fact that Kris Faafoi, Labour’s Shadow Minister of Tourism, when called upon to condemn the thoroughly bourgeois practice of tipping (a no-brainer for any genuine socialist!) happily pleaded guilty to tipping the odd worker himself.
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, 26 May 2017.