Thursday, 6 July 2017

Labour Breaking Bad: The Second In A Series of Articles On The Four Main Political Parties.

"Just when I thought I was out ..." The New Zealand Labour Party, like the New York Mafia, is a seething cauldron of thwarted ambitions, petty jealousies and unresolved grievances. Why is the Labour Party so fractious? So willing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? The answer lies in the huge discrepancy between what the Labour Party was supposed to be, and what it has actually become.
 
“JUST WHEN I THOUGHT I was out … they pull me back in.” Michael Corleone’s oft-quoted protest from The Godfather Part III could just as easily have escaped the lips of Andrew Little.
 
The New Zealand Labour Party, like the New York Mafia, is a seething cauldron of thwarted ambitions, petty jealousies and unresolved grievances. It takes a Godfather (or Godmother) of exceptional strength and ruthlessness to keep all that bad feeling under control and out of sight. Peter Fraser and Norman Kirk could do it. So could Helen Clark. For a while, Little appeared to be getting the hang of it. Such optimism now seems misplaced.
 
Why is the Labour Party so fractious? So willing to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory? The answer lies in the huge discrepancy between what the Labour Party was supposed to be, and what it has actually become.
 
Just consider the following words – spoken by Labour’s first parliamentary leader, Harry Holland, during his maiden speech to the House of Representatives in 1919:
 
“We of the Labour Party come to endeavour to effect a change of classes at the fountain of power. We come proclaiming boldly and fearlessly the Socialist objective of the Labour movement throughout New Zealand; and we make no secret of the fact that we seek to rebuild society on a basis in which work and not wealth will be the measure of a man’s worth.”
 
These were revolutionary sentiments, which, if repeated outside the House, would very likely have seen Holland charged with sedition. As such, they clearly identified Labour as the party of disruption; the party of discontinuity; the party that everyone yearning to change the status quo could get behind.
 
And get behind it they did. Just 16 years after Holland’s maiden speech Labour became the government.
 
Except that the government Labour formed was very far from being revolutionary (even if an awful lot of New Zealanders believed it really was committed to ushering-in the Red Dawn). By election night 1935, the avuncular Mickey Savage had already spent the three years since Holland’s death methodically smoothing-off the sharper edges of Labour’s “Socialist objective”.
 
Now that the ballots had been counted there was a Cabinet to form, portfolios to allocate, angry rivals to subdue and disappointed friends to placate. There was a civil service to be reconciled with the political party it disdained. Now, Savage’s newly-elected Labour government had to work out how to rebuild capitalist society – without first knocking it down.
 
As the late Bruce Jesson (a political analyst of no mean ability) shrewdly remarked: “The National Party knows how to govern for capitalists; but only Labour knows how to govern for Capitalism.”
 
It’s the paradox that explains Labour’s perpetual state of internal distress. Like the Mafia, all social-democratic governments are obliged to present themselves to their communities as faithful friends and protectors (Godfathers!) even as they organise and grow fat off the very activities that are tearing those communities apart.
 
The trick, of course, is to accentuate the former while drawing a hefty veil over the latter. The corrupt union leader brags to his members about extorting higher wages from their cowering bosses. He does not boast about emptying the Union Pension Fund in return for Mafia muscle.
 
Loyal Labour voters will balk at this Mafia analogy. The very idea that social-democracy involves giving with one hand, while taking with the other, will strike them as outrageous. But this kind of brute transactional politics has always come naturally to the trade unions out of which Labour grew – and working-class voters expect no less. If Capitalism cannot be taken down, then, at the very least, it should be shaken down.
 
Take this too far, of course, and the bosses begin enlisting muscle of their own. When that happens Labour makes a point of being “neither for, nor against” the targets of employer violence. Voters need to understand that this sort of treachery isn’t personal – it’s just politics.
 
Labour’s problem in the 1980s was exactly the same as the Mafia’s. The boss-class finally decided to stop paying. Like the big crime families, the trade unions were taken down. Deprived of their working-class muscle, Labour in New Zealand, and social-democrats all around the world, had little option but to go straight and turn legit. Now it is Capitalism they are pledged to building up.
 
The problem, of course, is that the capitalists already have their own political party. Accordingly, Labour’s current electoral strategy seems to involve: waiting until the National Party runs out of puff, and then presenting itself to New Zealand Capitalism as a temporary alternative government while the exhausted Nats get their breath back.
 
Andrew Little may dream of getting out of this Fake Labour Party, but his dysfunctional political family will always pull him back in.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 13 June 2017.

20 comments:

peter petterson said...

Labour has always been a broad church, but the dissenters need pushing aside because the increasing number of vulnerable Kiwis have nowhere else to go.

Ian Roberts said...

Jesus Christ that's a bleak appraisal.

Kiwiwit said...

"If Capitalism cannot be taken down, then, at the very least, it should be shaken down." The best description I have read of the aims of social democratic party aims everywhere.

Pdogge said...

aargh Chris, not helping, we are trying very hard......

Bushbaptist said...

Good to see you back Chris!

As I have stated afore; what we have is tweedledum/Tweedledee politics. The malaise that permeates politics throughout the West where there are two main parties. The parties move closer and closer together until we only have two branches of one party - with one branch being only slightly more compassionate than the other. Every few years there is a switcheroo. The policies don't really change only the names they are given.

In the UK Corbyn did a complete change of policies and scared the pants off Mad May, his policies resonate with so many people. In a different way Trumpy did similar except he is clueless about being Presie. His wild promises were all smoke and mirrors with no substance.

Topshot said...

Certainly if you asked most current Labour MP's if they made it to the Treasury benches what they would do differently than National over the last 9 years or the past 30 odd years most would meekly admit: not that much.

If Big Norm was still around, he wouldn't have a clue who they were or what they stood for.

Polly said...

Chris good to see you back.
Your post hits the nail, the Labour Party is pretending to be "left" of National when they are really are exactly same.
Neo-liberalism is their hidden banner.
Why didn't they recruit Kiwi's to spread their message to the non voters?, WHY.
Their immigration policies have become a joke and I predict this will show in the polls.
They seem to be a political party made up of several political parties.
No matter anyone's political bent do they really want a mess that Labour have become to run the country?.
They are National Lite Party dressed up in bedraggled red, hiding and shifty to boot.


Kat said...

Good one Chris, your words as usual will flush out the borax pokers against the Labour Party. Can't help but laugh at the hypocrisy of the anti Labour brigade as they seemingly revel in Nationals nine year superficial underpants blue for red swapathon. In reality National supporters appear an easily fooled bunch. Sad indictment but the country will get what it votes for in the end. Fooling most of the people most of the time is the one big tick for National.

greywarbler said...

Polly yu never seem to have anything good to say about Labour. Just a kick in the shins would be enough but you have to beat them around the head to boot. You are a pretty high-kicker.

Jens Meder said...

Harry Holland's Socialistic statement that "work and not wealth will be the measure of a man's worth" is totally wrong, because hard work without profitability only gets you to starve quicker - and how can there be worth in a man that has worked well and hard, but created nothing that can be valued to be worth something ?
Mickey Savage developed the "Third Way" between Socialism (State Capitalism) and Libertarian Free Market Private Capitalism - the Welfare State - which began to stall from the moment too many people keeping themselves deliberately poor to qualify for welfare benefits.
The conservative middle class majority sympathized more with National's (and their own?) faith in the "Property Owning Democracy" - but on which they failed to work hard enough to achieve at least a minimally meaningful level of property (i.e. wealth) ownership by all citizens.

So here is the opportunity for Social Democratic leadership by both National and Labour and even any fringe party beside their sectional interest policies - to work towards the visionary "Ownership Society" concept, defined by working towards at least a minimally meaningful level of personal (retirement) wealth ownership by all citizens eventually - which could be very modestly in motion soon through resumed NZ Super Fund contributions and the $1000.- KiwiSaver kick-start unconditionally to all who have not received it yet - "from cradle to grave".

sumsuch said...

The whole of the industrial revolution is short-termism. The Left asks for/demands a fair share. The free market revolution from 1980 has delivered wealth to so many, outside developed countries. The best is Scandinavia as a model for our people's control, which is a worthwhile goal. Trust the rich, better believe not.

For the social-democratic federation, the UK's first socalist organisation, the democracy was the means and the social was the ends. The people must command, and then negotiate with business from their commanding position. The government must represent the people to the strong. A worthwhile goal, Chris, y'know, in the lack of it since Reagan.

Sanctuary said...

…which began to stall from the moment too many people keeping themselves deliberately poor to qualify for welfare benefits…” Ah yes, that bete noir of the middle class - the indigent poor! Apart from revealing your class bigotry, this state is worthless. Can you point any evidence that “keep themselves deliberately poor” just to qualify for social security? More to the point, the determined destruction - by meddling middle class moralists such as yourself - of universalism in the welfare state creates poverty traps, which then allows the smug petite bourgeois to sit back and declare “see! I told you so!”

I got a tee shirt in the mail yesterday. It came from Momentum, in the UK. It is red, the colour of martyr’s blood. A white circle, trimmed with red, is on the front chest and in the white circle a red workers fist thrusts upwards in triumph, clutching a red rose. Under that, framed by two very Soviet looking stars, it says in white “Jeremy Corbyn”. Socialism - no - HOPE - resurgent, from an unapologetic left again harnessing the great symbols of class struggle (the colour red, stars, the clenched fist of resistance, the artistic flourish of the vigour of idealism for a better future for us all). It is exciting to own that tee shirt. I am part of something magnificent, important and that clenched fist, the boss class - BE AFRAID.

That tee shirt symbolises everything the NZ Labour Party is not. The Corbynistas shine a cruel light on NZ Labours ideological sterility, political timidity, it's moribundity, it’s craven managerialism and it’s total capitulation to the radical centrism of trying to defend decayed neoliberalism. The NZ Labour Party is no more capable of producing such a teeshirt for it’s followers as I am capable of flying to the moon.

jh said...

Polly said...
Your post hits the nail, the Labour Party is pretending to be "left" of National when they are really are exactly same.
Neo-liberalism is their hidden banner.
..........
because the Soviet Union taught us that incentives matter.
================================
Their immigration policies have become a joke and I predict this will show in the polls.
.....
Because we are an immigrant nation and immigrants bring diversity or something clear and sensible?

Nick J said...

The distribution of income has always been the visceral issue of any age. It has couple of cousins, private property and social need. Take away any ideological bollox and you are left looking at the tension between how far individuals may own property and how much lattitude social groups allow this. When private ownership impacts on the social group that allows it's succor and very existence there is a problem. Where social constraint impacts the incentive to improve individual wealth there is an equal problem. The welfare state is the best approximation of a balance mechanism I have seen.

Contrast the welfare state with the coercive slavery of Marxism in practice. Contrast it with the equally coercive slavery unfeterred markets promote. Take away any ideology and it is obvious both extremes are inevitable without social consent to things like minimum standards, equal opportunity and progressive taxation to redistribute income excesses. Labour might make that point, they need to be practitioners of balance.

PS Jan M. How hard can you work to get ahead in a day? Where is it that you capture and privatise some other less able but equally hard working person's labour?

Polly said...

greywarbler,
I accept your point , I am angry at them.
They really are a mess highlighted by foreigninterngate, sorry.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've had a lot to do with poor people in my life. Never been really poor, but then I was brought up in a different time. I don't think I've ever met one who deliberately kept themselves poor in order to gain a benefit. There might have been one or 2 over my long life that I have forgotten but even so all the ones I remember desperately wanted a job, not just for the money but to give themselves some self-respect. The undeserving poor is a meme that probably should have had its day but given the meanness of the Conservative mind probably never will. It's a bit like voter fraud in the US. Whenever you try to find people that are cheating the system, there are almost non-existent, and the ones you do find are usually conservatives. :)

jh said...

If we were somehow starting over should the state own the land and the people own a lease? That would go part way to solving town planning and (perhaps) inequality given it is mostly about capturing capital gains from increasing land values? It wouldn't have to result in Eastern European architecture; it could be like Singapore? I would also reduce the demand for migrants since much of that comes from the real estate lobby?

greywarbler said...

Polly
It's not that Labour don't deserve a high kick. It's just like chiding children, if it isn't done at the time of the misdemeanour, it loses it's effect. At this point in time, said pompously! we are locked into what we have and in a definitely sad state as a nation. The thinking and pragmatic members of the country need to govern tongues and guide the left in the right direction, even push, but not berate them or scarify them with out criticisms

They are all we have, we need to be like Dowding conserving his pilots for the Battle for Britain to continue; he called them 'his chicks'.

jh said...

Labour no longer the preferred party of working class voters
http://www.kiwiblog.co.nz/2017/07/labour_no_longer_the_preferred_party_of_working_class_voters.html#comments

Charles E said...

‘The New Zealand Labour Party, like the New York Mafia, is a seething cauldron of thwarted ambitions, petty jealousies and unresolved grievances.’
This is a great line and I admire your honesty, and bravery as the mafia will be out to get you.
‘Accordingly, Labour’s current electoral strategy seems to involve: waiting until the National Party runs out of puff, and then presenting itself to New Zealand Capitalism as a temporary alternative government while the exhausted Nats get their breath back.’
This piece compared to the first part below is very interesting, very thought provoking. I have always thought of the left as the perennially discontent, the people who want to turn over the table and smash the house up so no-one has a decent place to live, if they don’t. But in that case, Labour, is not the left I think it is, if you are right about it. It is the ying to the National yang. It is there as the other half of, but really more the assistant of, the Ruling Class.
I expect sound managers and good people like Goff & here in CHCH Dalziel for whom many Tories like me voted prove your point. She increases my rates and spends them on the other half and I vote for her as long as she also supports business and rebuilds my cultural ancestors' Cathedral. Whatever works. And it does work.
So as I have said before, Vote Labour; Death to the Greens; That’s if you don’t vote National, the natural rulers, except when they take a breather and their assistant party take up a term or two. National may need a breather but the Greens are ruining it for Labour so we may have to just bat on for another term. Oh well, it's our burden I guess.