Tuesday 3 December 2019

“Not The Labour Party We Once Knew.”

All Smiles Now: Claire Szabo is taking up her presidential role after serving as the CEO of Habitat For Humanity. Which is absolutely perfect! After KiwiBuild was so comprehensively mismanaged by Phil Twyford, the party has not only elected a new president from a thoroughly respectable not-for-profit, but one who has also actually managed to get real “affordable houses” built!

THIRTY YEARS AFTER he quit the party in disgust, a man calledMark has re-joined Labour. That’s remarkable. It’s also a tribute to the power of Jacinda Ardern, and to the strength of the hopes she has kindled. People who once wanted nothing more to do with Labour are returning to the fold. The Coalition Government’s failure to deliver on child poverty, affordable housing and a more equitable tax system has not disillusioned them. They are standing firm: willing Jacinda to succeed. Willing to cut her enough slack to secure a second term.

What remains to be seen is whether the Labour Party – thirty years on from 1989 – can fulfil the expectations of Jacinda’s hopeful recruits. After reading “Politik” editor Richard Harman’s report of the party’s annual conference, I’m doubtful. This is how he began:

“For over 30 years the Labour Party could have only dreamed of the conference it has just held. Labour has finally found its happy space; devoid of factional rivalries; bitter personality feuds or fundamental challenges from the party activists to the Parliamentary wing. Delegates who were there for the fights of the 80s or even more recently the Cunliffe challenge in 2012, were left reminiscing about the bad old days. Otherwise, the 400 or so who attended spent the weekend basking in the Whanganui sun and cheering and applauding their leadership with considerable enthusiasm. This was not the Labour Party we once knew.”

Harman has a gift for understatement! The entity he describes isn’t merely a far cry from “the Labour Party we once knew”, it barely qualifies as a political party at all! It certainly has nothing at all in common with the inveterately quarrelsome and rambunctious political movement that, for more than a century, accommodated the overwhelming majority of the New Zealand Left. A progressive party without factional rivalries, personality feuds, or party activists hankering to challenge the Parliamentary wing has lost every defining characteristic of a living left-wing movement.

Nowhere was this lack of living political sentiment more evident than in the election of Claire Szabo. The 300-400 delegates assembled at Whanganui (a number well down on previous conferences) opted to elect not a party president but a curriculum vitae. Indeed, it would be difficult to come up with a more perfect example of the modern political professional. Szabo’s first interview with the news media struck Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill as “a string of platitudes”. She was being kind.

The presidential election result did, however, serve to clarify what the Labour Party no longer sees itself as representing. Szabo’s principal challenger for the party presidency was Tane Phillips, a working-class Maori battler and trade union leader from Kawerau. It was people like Phillips who reclaimed every last one of the Maori seats for Labour in 2017. Their highly effective campaign (which drove the Maori Party from Parliament) spoke not to the Maori middle-class, but to the strong working-class communities in which most urban Maori still live. That sort of success would have been enough to get the Secretary of the Pulp & Paper Workers Union elected president in the old Labour Party – but not Jacinda’s new one.

Jacinda’s Labour Party would have had a pink fit if a woman of Szabo’s outstanding professional credentials failed to head-off a burly trade unionist. Certainly, all the bright young things currently polishing their own CVs would struggle to understand what sort of outfit they’d signed up to if degrees from Trinity College, Dublin and Harvard Business School could be outclassed by qualifications from the School of Hard Knocks!

Not that such an upset was ever on the cards. Well, not on the 56 E-Tu Union card votes carried around by the Labour affiliates’ superannuated bag-man, Paul Tollich, anyway. For more than three decades the combined votes of the Affiliates and the Women’s Council has dictated the outcome of annual conference ballots. Maybe, if the blue-collar Pulp & Paper Workers had affiliated themselves to the party, then things could have turned out differently? But, probably not. Mark, returning to Labour after 30 years – and finding “Tolly” still “doing the numbers” – would have known in an instant which horse to put his money on.

Anyway, it’s impossible to argue with the optics. Standing side-by-side, Szabo and Ardern speak eloquently of a party well-and-truly equipped for the third decade of the twenty-first century. The idea that politics might be a struggle between rulers and ruled; bosses and workers; rich and poor: well, that’s just so twentieth century! A modern – nay, a post-modern – political party is there to recruit and indoctrinate the personnel necessary to ensure an “orderly circulation of elites”. It’s slogans aren’t drawn off the placards of union picketers and Climate Strikers; they’re carefully crafted by copy-writers, and then focus-group tested by public relations professionals and advertising executives.

What’s more, Claire Szabo is taking up her presidential role after serving as the CEO of Habitat For Humanity. Which is absolutely perfect! After KiwiBuild was so comprehensively mismanaged by Phil Twyford, the party has not only elected a new president from a thoroughly respectable not-for-profit, but one who has also actually managed to get real “affordable houses” built!

When Mark walked out of the Labour Party in 1989 he was not alone. It was in May of that year that Jim Anderton led between a third and a half of the NZ Labour Party into “NewLabour” – soon to become the Alliance. Except, of course, Anderton’s NewLabour Party wasn’t really “new” at all. The imaginations of those who followed Anderton overflowed with visions of a rebirth of the sort of working-class power that enabled Michael Joseph Savage to transform a Depression-ravaged New Zealand into something the whole world could admire. But, it was not to be. No matter what Labour did to its working-class base, they never deserted the party. Like the loyal draught-horse, Boxer, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, they soldiered-on. That’s why Anderton’s Alliance is long gone and Labour’s still here.

There’s a lot of dying in an old and trusted brand. While Labour’s leaders can still raise people’s hopes, they’ll always be in with a chance.

This essay was posted simultaneously on Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 3 December 2019.


petes new write said...

Even I followed New Labour for one election as a voter. But I never updated my membership of the party.Douglas and Lange saw to that.

Anonymous said...

" No matter what Labour did to its working-class base, they never deserted the party." Where else could they go ? only NZF reflects some of their core beliefs but will it survive after Winston ?

While I consider her to be one of the best NZ political leaders since Kirk, Jacinda was a policy advisor for Tony Blair - and it shows. Will the Labour party survive after her ? beyond David Parker their depth of talent is a shallow puddle & the Unions/Womans groups won't elect him because he's not "woke" enough.

Trev1 said...

"The orderly circulation of elites". Absolutely right. A party as shallow as a carpark puddle, without principles or purpose and totally lacking in authenticity. But that's politics today.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Roger Douglas saw to me, and later Mike Moore. And it's funny just like when I cancelled my Dominion Post because they refused to deliver it to my door after 30 odd years of doing so, you find you can get along fine without it. On the other hand, the Dom post regularly rings me up to ask me to resubscribe. The Labour Party never has.:)

Archive hen said...

What strikes me is that we have two women leaders - yes, they are qualified, experienced and not working class, but historically some of NZs best female leadership has come from the upper middle classes, and from women who care. So is there a bit of chauvinism in the comments above? I applaud the new mantra of kindness that counters the Dirty Politics of National, and a party of men and women who promote good women. In terms of being superficial and media savvy, well that's a challenge for all parties in the present time.

Tom R said...

Scathing but quite right, Chris. I don't have much nostalgia for even the earliest iterations of the Labour Party. But even so, these are new lows for a party so appallingly misnamed as "Labour".

Kat said...

Like some new age religious ideology spread about by crimplene suited disciples, the notion that Labour is home for the "elites" resonates in the cranial void of the legions of talk back radio.

Jens Meder said...

Since labor without useful (profitable) capital creation and ownership means survival at a primitive hand-to-mouth level of poverty in utmost and direct dependency on the daily and seasonal gifts of Nature -

is not Labour's political departure from standing primarily for the welfare of labor(ing) alone a timely (or overdue?) evolutionary adjustment towards the more constructive and co-operatively democratic politics based on the center of the political spectrum - (people's capitalism?) ?

Guerilla Surgeon said...


John Hurley said...

Radical-right political parties such as Germany’s Alternative für Deutschland (AfD) and Italy’s Lega have become enduring features of the political landscape in established democracies. This has received a lot of attention because these parties often promote anti-immigrant policies and assault the basic norms and rules of democracy. However, they present a real puzzle. Even where support for these parties has been growing, voters’ views have not become more extreme. There is little evidence in most Western countries that people, on average, are becoming more racist, xenophobic or Islamophobic over time. So what is happening?
What seems to be driving these parties’ support is the increased salience of nationalist beliefs among voters who identify their nation with the ethnic or racial identity of the majority group.

John Hurley said...

We live in different spaces. You pick up a group of American liberals (they travel every year - from the "same alumni"). As you battle queenstown's traffic and try to beat a Chinese driver to a bus park, all they see is bars and happy hours. When you discuss trump and the border she (across from you at a Hokitika Cafe) would scratch your eyes out: 'you can't completely seal a border!"

John Hurley said...

Jeff Simmonds of Tops
These areas also often have high numbers of Māori who have been robbed of their land and mana by colonisation. The young men who join the gangs feel angry about that, but more importantly they lack a sense of purpose and community. Gangs give them that. Membership makes the young men feel part of a tribe. A patch may intimidate the public, but it also gives the wearer a sense of mana or pride they may never have felt before.

Eric Kaufmann - Heterodox Academy
Regardless of national history, the rise of left-modernism in the high culture prompted an attack on majority ethnicity. For settler societies, this meant a dual focus on aboriginals as dispossessed natives and non-white immigrants as a welcome source of diversity who experience discrimination. In Australia, it's common for progressives to preface their talks by thanking the local aboriginal tribe as the 'rightful owners of the land', and this was also a demand of the Evergreen State protesters. In 1998, Australia formalized white repentance in the form of a National “Sorry Day' [71] Genocide against aboriginals is important to expose but needs to be contextualised. As Jared Diamond outlines in Guns Germs and Steel,, agriculturalists have replaced hunter-gatherers — mainly due to differences in immunity to animal-borne diseases — throughout human history. This is as true of the Bantu cattle-herding ancestors of African Americans, largely wiped out the indigenous pygmy and San peoples of Central and Southern Africa, as it is of Europeans in the New World. We also know that the chance of being violently killed is ten times higher in hunter-gatherer societies than in agricultural civilizations [2] On the Great Plains, the Comanche were able to master the Western technology of horsemanship before white settlement and used this to brutally conquer other Amerindian groups, nearly wiping out the Apache. None of which means today's Comanche should feel ashamed of their identity and dwell on the foibles of their ancestors. A balanced perspective which acknowledges positives and negatives of Western settlement rather than a 'social-justice' lens narrowly focused on white original sin would be considerably truer to the facts. It may also be the case that, as McWhorter writes for African-Americans, the focus on white guilt removes a sense of agency from aboriginal groups, worsening their plight. Victim status may bring lower resilience and worse social outcomes. As Greg Lukianoff and Jonathan Haidt point out, the ideology of victimhood elevates precisely those habits of mind — such as viewing others' innocent statements as malign or relying on emotional reasoning (`I feel it, it must be true') —which produce depression and anxiety. Cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) is explicitly designed to correct such neuroses through building resilience, yet left-modernist ideology seems intent on doing the opposite. It's certainly the case that the severe problems of suicide and substance abuse among Canadian and Australian aboriginal peoples haven't improved since the 1960's. Anti-Western tropes can also be used by developing-world politicians like Robert Mugabe who leaned on postcolonial leftist arguments to deflect attention from his misdeeds.

David George said...

Kat: "the cranial void of the legions of talk back radio"

Oh dear, the sneering superiority of the liberal, urban elite towards the Deplorables again. This is exactly the sort of tribalism that Chris is concerned about. Why would the mill worker in Kawerau (or Pittsburgh) want anything to do with a political party infested with that attitude.
It's something Chris has talked about previously; the fracturing of the polity. He was looking at it principally from a left point of view - weakening the ability to stand against the dreaded bosses etc. I see it more broadly.
Here's a very interesting discussion (transcript and podcast) in four parts:
"It was one of the symbols of the Roman Republic. They understood that as individual people are weak before our elites. We are atomized. It is only when we have cohesion, the ability to act together, that we are strong. The fasces was a bunch of thin rods. When bundled together with straps and put a metal blade at the top you have a giant ax. Standing shoulder to shoulder we are strong."
"But when we say we have a policy that the elites love implies that the rest of us are getting screwed by it. But remember the great line by Calvera, bandit leader in The Magnificent Seven (1960).

“If God didn’t want them sheared, he would not have made them sheep.”

"It’s all about choice, they say in The Matrix. If we don’t want to be treated like sheep, don’t act like sheep. If we decided to be sheep, let’s not whine about how we’re treated. Go up to slaughterhouse happily and smile. If not, organize. The machinery the founders bequeathed to us is quiescent because it lacks our energy. But if it is put into action, it is all-powerful. It requires us to work. Again, this is a very powerful metaphor – we were intended to be the crew of the ship America, but somehow we got the idea that we’re cruise passengers. We’re sitting here in the third class restaurant whining that the service just isn’t what people of our awesomeness deserve. We should be in the kitchen."

Kat said...

Kiwidave: Throwing stones from inside the glass house can be a shattering experience creating a blinding splintered view. The wannabe rich workers, oblivious supporters of the trickle down mantra, continue to meet the enemy but refuse to believe it is themselves.

Simon Cohen said...

Kat is the perfect illustration of what Chris is talking about.She opines from on high in a superior tone and gives the impression of being a typical Wadestown socialist [as they were once christened]
She can only see one side of any argument and there is only one political party that is fit to rule.
But unfortunately for her many of the supporters of this Government have a broader outlook and they are increasingly distressed by what they see as a betrayal of what they voted for.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Oh dear, the sneering superiority of the liberal, urban elite towards the Deplorables again."
Oh dear, the sneering superiority of a pseudo-working class – probably member of the elite anyway – towards someone who actually thinks.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You know what, I'm getting a bit sick of this "liberal elite" shit. I was born in the country in a working class family. I hunted a fair bit, and wandered round the countryside in bare feet. It was a great life for some. And you know what, country people are great – as long as you fit in. And I've seen far too many of my friends who may be weren't "masculine" enough treated like shit to think that all working-class country people are perfect. So I couldn't wait to get away essentially.
I worked in factories, just like my dad before I got an education, and while I was being educated. And you know what working-class people were are the salt of the earth – as long as you fit in. And even if you didn't in certain minor ways – you know like preferring soccer to rugby – they would make allowances. But I've seen them behave like bastards to people who didn't. And yet – when I went to university with the liberal elites and made a few friends who were perhaps "eccentric" – I noticed that the "liberal elites" treated them a fucking sight better than I was used to. And yet I'm aware that just like working people, they're not perfect either.
There is too much anti-intellectualism in this country. A lot of people are full of this "man of his hands" wanders off into the bush with a rifle and axe sort of bullshit, which I think I could still do – just – but I guarantee many people who go on about liberal elites couldn't. So could I suggest that perhaps a knowledge of how to take computers apart and put them back together again might be a bit more use than an axe and a gun – excepting the zombie apocalypse.
Maybe you could just cast this expression around with a little bit more discrimination.
Perhaps some of you could stop quoting huge chunks of text out of context? Without any explanation – because by Christ for all my education I can't make head the tail of some of it. Just make a bloody point. It used to be we had some relatively erudite commenters on this site who whatever their politics could make their point with a certain amount of clarity. Half of them these days seem to be totally incoherent.

sumsuch said...

2nd term, will they turn aside from budget responsibility rules -- are they willing to present that in their campaign? Change is all we can hope for. I have no one to vote for. Sue Bradford's bio has darkened my Left left vote for the Greens. Left left is 1935 demo-cracy.

Nick J said...

Kunstler is required reading as an antidote to received wisdom from the msm. His breakdown of the criminality of the Deep State and the Dems is brilliant.

Nick J said...

Sounds to me Jens there's a streak of anarcho syndicalism in you... who would have guessed?Dangerous idea workers owning their own individual production. Capitalist and socialist corporatists would tremble at the idea of people ownership depriving them of the ability to extract the surplus. Power deprived, privilege denied. Heresy.

Nick J said...

GS I can relate to your observations about rural life, I've sort of done it in reverse. There is a strong streak of "Don't be smart arse", anti intellectualism in small town NZ.

In the city as a working class kid at a middle class school I got the same treatment inverted, "You people aren't supposed to be as clever as us". Both ways it's highly undesirable.

Jens Meder said...

Dear Nick J.
Our mixed capitalist Social Democracy works very well (better than anything else so far) with perhaps more than half of the population being owners and managers of capital, even if the management is through corporate, co-operative, syndicalist(?) or whatever economic arrangements.

Even the beneficiaries of the feudal capitalist elite of the past (in Europe at least) seem to be quite happy with the widening ownership of capital, so from where do you get the idea that THEY (and current capitalists?) see in at least a minimally meaningful level of capital ownership by all citizens eventually any "anarcho syndicalism" ?

Would it not be rather "Totalitarian Socialist State Monopoly Capitalism" that might see in all those citizen capitalists - struggling for their own capital maintenance and profitability - a potential of "anarchic economics' similar to when on the political level there would be no government responsible for law and order ?

Is there a more promising future of humanity in the direction of an "ant heap" society, or one of individuals with at least a minimally meaningful level of education (literacy) and capital (home ownership potential) ownership by all ?

David George said...

“There are some ideas so absurd that only an intellectual could believe them.” George Orwell
How can anyone really believe that their tiny slice of knowledge, their beliefs and ideology can compare with the infinite vastness of reality. Perhaps the first step and guiding principle for wisdom, for the genuine intellectual, is the adoption and acceptance of the humility to recognise that; to recognise the difference between feelings, belief and knowledge. Perhaps the humble worker senses or knows that. Someone declaring themselves educated and manages to use "I" seventeen times in a couple of paragraphs not so much.
Guilty as charged for posting up those snippets GS. They're intentionally incomplete, intended to whet the appetite, it's not an illuminate plot to, God forbid, change your mind about anything.

"Farewell, happy fields

Where joy forever dwells: hail horrors, hail

Infernal world, and thou profoundest hell

Receive thy new possessor: one who brings

A mind not to be changed by place or time."

(Milton, Paradise Lost)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

When I said anti-intellectualism I wasn't talking about "intellectuals" in the broad sense, but simply scientists and science. My bad.

"Perhaps the first step and guiding principle for wisdom, for the genuine intellectual, is the adoption and acceptance of the humility to recognise that; to recognise the difference between feelings, belief and knowledge."

Almost all of them do. It's the general public that don't acknowledge these differences. They are the ones that think anyone's uninformed opinion is as good as anyone else's. That's why in the marketplace of ideas, when scientists are asked about something, they tend to give long complicated answers hedged around with caveats and cautions, which don't go down well with what passes for science reporters in the media.

Eejits on the same topic give emotional short soundbites which reporters love and the public lap up That's why actual science rarely wins in the marketplace of ideas and the media is largely responsible. Which is why I get just a tad pissed off when they crap on about freedom of speech. Because they facilitate the dissemination of nonsense. If they did their damned job and published the truth, fewer people would be dying of measles, and the whole world would be a slightly better place.