Tuesday 22 September 2020

The Looming Fight.

Social Distancing Be Damned - It's Jacinda! Shortly after ascending to Labour’s leadership, Jacinda described herself as a “pragmatic idealist”. It was an inspired oxymoron – packing into just two words the essence of the social-democrat’s dilemma. It was good to know that she knew what lay ahead of her. That as undisputed leader of the centre-left, she would herself become the battlefield upon which these contradictory impulses: her idealism and her pragmatism; would engage one another.
THERE’S A FIGHT LOOMING. No, not with National – they’ll be licking their wounds for years. Not with Act, either. Their numbers will gradually decline as National’s slowly recover. And the looming fight certainly won’t be with the Greens. They have some very serious soul-searching to do out there in the political wilderness where the voters are poised to send them. Like all prophets, they will be required to wrestle with the Devil in lonely places, defeat him, or never be heard from again. No, the fight that’s looming will be where it always is when the future of New Zealand is being decided – in the Labour Party.

Now some on the Left may be anticipating a renewal of the fight that was brought to an abrupt end by David Cunliffe’s catastrophic performance in the general election of 2014. The election (by the slimmest of margins) of Andrew Little to Labour’s leadership was a vote, by what remained of Labour’s left, for what David Lange called “a cuppa” – a pause in the ongoing hostilities during which the wounded could be attended to and the dead decently buried. It was a long truce, during which nothing much happened either ideologically or practically. Under Little, a grey fog descended upon Labour. A poll-depressing pall which was only lifted by the sudden rise of Jacinda’s glorious sun.

If, as seems increasingly likely, that same brilliant Jacinda leads Labour to an absolute electoral victory on 17 October, all thought of some sort of factional renaissance should be dismissed out of hand. For the foreseeable future, what Jacinda wants, Jacinda is likely to get. Which means that the fight, at least initially, will be for the Prime Minister’s ear. Ground-breaking policies will be proposed. Bright futures sketched-out confidently on paper serviettes. Historic opportunities grandly explained. Only then will the real fight finally begin – the fight between Jacinda’s heart and Jacinda’s mind.

Shortly after ascending to Labour’s leadership, Jacinda described herself as a “pragmatic idealist”. It was an inspired oxymoron – packing into just two words the essence of the social-democrat’s dilemma. It was good to know that she knew what lay ahead of her. That as undisputed leader of the centre-left, she would herself become the battlefield upon which these contradictory impulses: her idealism and her pragmatism; would engage one another.

The coalition with NZ First and her understanding with the Greens spared the prime Minister the worst of it. For the past three years jacinda has been able to make out a plausible case for her idealism having little choice but to reach a series of pragmatic accommodations with “Mr Peters” innate conservatism. It was a good line, because it allowed her followers to believe that Jacinda’s idealism remained unbeaten and unbowed. That, given a chance, her bright blade would flash in the sunlight and the forces of inertia and indifference would be laid low beneath its righteous fury. Jacinda’s pragmatism, it seemed, was all about making sure that, when the moment came, her idealism would be ready.

Barring something truly awful intervening between now and election day, it would seem that this long awaited and keenly anticipated moment will soon be upon us. Jacinda’s pragmatism, if it is not to be twisted into a cynical and demoralising opportunism, will then be required to meet the extraordinary challenge of setting the unencumbered Labour government’s idealistic pace. How “unrelentingly positive” can Jacinda and her colleagues afford to be – and how kind?

Much will turn on how Jacinda perceives “idealism”. Does she equate it with the phenomenon that some call “wokeness”? Is it a simple matter of scratching every itch inflamed by the Twitterati’s ideological eczema? Will an unencumbered Labour Government put all TERFs to flight? Legislate for tino rangatiratanga? Ban all forms of hate speech? Destroy the dairy industry? Squeeze the rich until the pips squeak? Or, is Jacinda’s idealism something more organic? Something rooted in the idea of community? In the mutual obligations of citizenship?

We must hope it is the latter. Because if it is the former, then the next three years will be very fraught and full of political danger. “Wokeness” has about as much support in the New Zealand electorate as the Green Party – which is to say, bugger-all. Not that the woke understand that. As actual or wannabe members of the “progressive” wing of the political class, they are anxious to impose their own, tortuous, ideology upon what they regard as the deplorable prejudices of their unenlightened fellow citizens. If Jacinda’s idealism turns out to be woke idealism, then the people will flee from her in droves – and bitter disappointment.

But I do not believe that the looming fight will be a struggle between a woke Jacinda and the rest of us. I believe it will be a fight between Jacinda’s vision of a government that continues to foster the solidarity and sacrifice manifested in the battle against Covid-19, and those who want to put an end to it. Her idealism, so far, has been about bringing New Zealanders together. Is it too much to hope that an unencumbered Labour government, led by Jacinda, will be one which builds on New Zealanders’ new appreciation of the role an active and protective state can play in securing the common welfare of all its citizens?

Everything in Jacinda’s political career to date points to her almost instinctive understanding of how important it is (to quote Jim Anderton’s famous injunction) “to build your footpaths where the people walk”. Her political pragmatism has always recognised the futility of trying to force people to be good. Her political idealism is founded on her conviction that people find goodness in themselves, or not at all. “They are us”, she declared on 15 March 2019, and a whole nation showed the world what she meant. “Unite against Covid-19”, she urged, and New Zealand did just that. “Be kind”, she implored, and 50 percent-plus of us are willing to go on giving it a try.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 22 September 2020


Kat said...

Would a Labour majority victory be the beginning of the end for MMP. Nothing is perfect, however I see the possibility of a new bunch of "coat-tail members" arriving this election that will most likely be gone in three years. I suggest this area of MMP requires some serious re design.

sumsuch said...

Jacinda's mind or heart? The great social democratic movement relies on one person's reflections, which we have no idea about?!

You know the French and Dutch that follows that.

Geoff Fischer said...

Perhaps Jacinda's destiny is to be New Zealand's Eva Peron. The one who manifests and articulates the dreams of the masses, while the machinery of power grinds on regardless. I don't see grounds to hope for any more than that, and perhaps that will be sufficient for most of us.

Nick J said...

We are assuming a Labour victory, let's not get too excited, there are three more weeks.

Watching Collins on the "debate" I thought that at last revealed in the form of Judith the true nature of National hard core attitudes. It was not pleasant to watch as it was almost entirely the materialist manifestation of the ego. "It's mine, I want more. You don't deserve it, I do. Who cares about the people, the environment. It's the economy.... we own it so keep your mitts off, we will do with it and you as we please".

The issue facing Labour will be the alter ego of the Nat spirit, the illiberalism of the extreme collectivist who will want leadership and decision by force. "Its now our turn and you will do as you are told".

Hopefully Jacinda will be open about the challenges and steer a middle path for all.

Patricia said...

I want a government that looks after all its people. I want better education for our children. I want the Family Benefit restored. I want a better Health system. I want the School Dental Service restored. I want Plunket restored. I want an immediate increase in all Benefits of $100.00 pw. I want all Benefits indexed to inflation and wages and adjusted annually. I want cheap mortgages for first home buyers. I want all tertiary education free. I want the ministry of Works reinstated. I want one electricity supplier. And don’t anybody tell me we can’t afford it. We could afford it all before and we can certainly afford it now since 1971 when the world went off the gold standard. New Zealand is a sovereign country that issues its own currency. So let’s do it for the people and stop funding the rich for their benefit as is done now. The inequality in this country is just a recipe for disaster.

Shane McDowall said...

Umm, ACT is polling at 7%.

ACT will win Epsom.

Only good news is that their Big Brother, National, are going to get their arses kicked.

Jens Meder said...

Since whatever on the physical level we want or need to have more of in a sustainable way can be achieved only through more saving and profitable investment, a basic nation-wide priority need at present and for a long time to come - until poverty is eliminated in a sustainable (not Zimbabvean or Venezuelan) way -

is in raising our savings rate for (repaying borrowed and) new wealth ownership creation.

Please note that debt reduction and new capital investment delivers both increased income and sustainable consumption creative and maintaining jobs, while borrowing just for consumption will end up in unsustainable levels of consumption.

Through permanent NZ Super Fund contributions and KiwiSaver promotion Jacinda and Labour are well ahead of National on raising the national savings rate, which National apparently hopes to achieve through freely consumable tax reductions.

What about us pumping more money into the NZ Super Fund, for a safe proportion of it to be available at a low interest rate for the Waitemata Harbor road and rail tunnel construction and a straight railway line construction from say Albany to South Auckland (and Airport) for a start ?

This can be built on a very long term repayment rate, as our great-grandchildren will benefit from it even more than our generation - both in service provided, and in the incoming cash flow to keep their NZ Super sustainable from age 65.

sumsuch said...

I, an atheist , will pray for Empress Jacinda. 'Little Mother'. Labour's plans from Helen are secret to their supporters. Good shit except ...let you guess?

Hence my message to National that I'd vote for them if they raised benefits by 50%.

Flaneuse said...

To Nick J: Thank you. Very well said. That is exactly the way it is. If we wish to keep Labour in power and Jacinda Ardern at the helm, we must all go out and vote! We cannot afford to be complacent.

Tom Hunter said...

I want all tertiary education free. I want the ministry of Works reinstated. I want one electricity supplier....

Dear oh dear. I always think of comments like this when I hear Lefties taunt Right-Wing conservatives about wanting to return to the 1950's. What a sad fantasy.

Let me give you just pne personal example of the nonsense endured as a result of another government monopoly - the telephone system, courtesy of the NZ Post Office.

In our country district phones had always been an issue. Even decades ago the PO had told local farmers that there was enough money for an exchange but not the wiring work. So the locals did it themselves, even cementing a beer bottle to the top of one huge rock in the middle of a gorge to allow the line to cross it. Even so, decades of poor service followed, right into the mid 80's. As late as 1984 the same old processes of begging the government continued, with letters to the PO, MP's and so forth. But little changed, with Party Lines, crackling interference and often no tone at all for hours.

And then Telecom was split from the PO, turned into an SOE and expected to make a profit, with a private sector sale predicted. And by 1989 all the party lines had vanished and new cable laid. The problems of decades went away in just two years - and with no need to beg the government any further.

You may miss those days. I don't.

sumsuch said...

You sound like you're trying to convince her via carrot and stick. Her last chance, like all of 84 Labour's last chances. We slip away from the harbour til we're in the ice floes. Only comfort, we started from a long way back from the U.S. Democratic Party.

sumsuch said...

You concede all the points about Labour and Jacinda. A party must strategize and tacticize, but if it hypocritizes about its heart and as openly as this govt it's gone. Or, 3 or 4 more terms, 84 Labour.

Yes, it's about the neediest.

aberfoyle said...

To Govern alone in this time and come back scarten, then our Prime Minister, not our Aunty Helen, but our Girl.