|Sold! Is Labour capable of putting its ideological convictions to one side in the name of holding on to its electoral advantage? There is a price to be paid either way. So, which of Labour's two "masters" will pocket it? Pragmatism or Idealism?|
THE QUESTION to be answered, one way or the other, before 2023 is pretty simple: Can Labour serve two masters? Will it hold to the course recommended by its professional advisers? Or, will the party be driven into the weeds by the convictions of its caucus? Put another way: is Labour capable of putting its ideological convictions to one side in the name of holding on to its electoral advantage? There is a price to be paid either way. So, which master will pocket it? Pragmatism or Idealism?
Before anyone gets too excited, the idealism in question is not the old-fashioned social-democratic kind. Virtually no one in Labour’s caucus favours pushing capitalism to the outer limits of its tolerance. This is not a caucus that is going to agitate for the reintroduction of universal union membership, or the unfettered right to strike. There’s no hardcore bunch of “Big Taxers” arguing for a top income tax rate of 90 percent on incomes over $200,000. Nor will a “Renationalisation Faction” emerge to threaten the Aussie banks. The Labour Party of 2020 doesn’t do that sort of idealism.
There is actually a greater chance of Labour’s pollsters and focus group moderators advancing these sort of ideas than Labour’s MPs. That’s because New Zealanders, like Americans, are surprisingly positive about making the rich pay their fair share and reclaiming their country’s economic sovereignty. Notwithstanding the electorate’s willingness to embrace such progressive policies, those same pollsters and focus group moderators would, nevertheless, hesitate to recommend their official adoption. Poke capitalism too hard and it will, most assuredly, poke you back – but much harder.
Labour’s professional advisers would also be acutely aware that a fair amount of the poking-back would come from the party’s parliamentarians. Considering the socio-economic strata from which nearly all Labour’s MPs have been recruited, such opposition would be entirely understandable and predictable. Turkeys don’t vote for Christmas.
No, incipient socialism is not what Labour’s professional advisers fear. After all, it’s not as if there’s anything resembling a majority available for such a programme in the House of Representatives. Not even the Greens would feel comfortable advancing such a programme – not when they considered the reaction of their voters in the central city electorates, the ones on fat salaries, the ones among whom both their own party and Labour go looking for “good” candidates. New Zealanders may surprise opinion pollsters with their progressive policy preferences but, lacking a political party to take them forward, those preferences don’t amount to a hill of electoral beans.
What scares the bejesus out of Labour’s advisers, however, is the radical cultural agenda for which an alarming number of Labour and Green MPs would be prepared to die in a ditch. They are all-too-aware that this is not an agenda which enjoys broad electoral support. Even worse, they know that it is not an agenda which the parties of the Right (even in the unlikely event that a significant number of liberal Nats subscribed to it) could possibly allow to pass unchallenged. More bluntly, it’s an agenda which promotes division and dissension in ways that do not favour Labour’s re-election. The Government’s professional advisers will be urging the Prime Minister and her Cabinet colleagues to steer well clear.
But will they listen? Can Kris Faafoi be dissuaded from introducing legislation against “hate speech”. Can the Maori Caucus be turned aside from embracing the sort of constitutional radicalism that the Maori Party has already gone all the way with? How many women in Labour’s caucus are willing to wear the term “TERF” as a badge of honour? Will Nanaia Mahuta’s Cabinet colleagues counsel her against removing the right of electors to force local authorities to submit their proposals for Maori wards to a referendum? Is Chris Hipkins strong enough to resist the introduction of a compulsory New Zealand history curriculum in which greedy Pakeha settlers are invariably cast as the “baddies”, while noble indigenous Maori are consistently presented as the “goodies”? Will agreement at Ihumatao open-up all previous Treaty settlements for re-negotiation – even as it allows privately-owned land into the anti-colonial Poker game?
Labour MPs who would energetically resist being labelled “socialists” (in any other sense than endorsing the nostalgic veneration of Mickey Savage) might find it a great deal harder to deny their support for “decolonisation”, curbing hate speech, and facilitating early gender transitioning. Repudiating such key elements of the radical cultural agenda will be made even harder if they become the subject of private members bills. Will Jacinda Ardern risk a caucus revolt by ordering her parliamentary troops to ruthlessly vote all such legislation down? And, if she doesn’t, how does she propose to prevent such bills passing? Now that Winston’s handbrake is no longer there to give her plausible deniability on the pragmatism front?
The Prime Minister’s problem is positively Biblical in its moral complexity. It is, after all, in Matthew’s gospel that Jesus is recorded as saying: “No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other; or else he will hold to the one, and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon.”
Unfortunately, it is Jacinda Ardern’s efforts to serve both masters that has so far distinguished her second term. Mammon, it must be said, has – so far – received the best service. Keeping the business community sweet, and not “the preferential option for the poor”, has been the order of the day. God must be wondering when it’s going to be his turn.
There is a way in which the Lord could be served that even the professionals might see some merit in exploring. If economic and cultural radicalism could be combined: if emancipating people from the grip of poverty could be undertaken at the same time as they were being encouraged to break free from the grip of racism, sexism and transphobia, then the prospects of success for each of these emancipatory projects would be greatly enhanced. History, certainly, leaves little room for doubt: if a revolution is not an all-embracing festival of freedom: economic, cultural, sexual and political; then, almost certainly, it is not a revolution at all.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 8 December 2020.
Thank God I won't be around when your questions will have to be answered. The greedy white majority or the noble brown minority?
Pragmaticism ~ Idealism. They are both needed. It is a balanced outlook that is required now. It is pragmatic to show intelligent idealism. To keep balance on machine-mind thinking, one must bring idealism about the human condition into the picture.
Humans in NZ have been treated with balance of the two approaches above, and there is no reason that the same balance and rationality should be regarded as used up as a behaviour pattern over the next three years. Labour didn't make big promises, having learned discretion after the debacle of Kiwibuild etc. But we have given them leeway I think for wider moves. We know there are illiberal smartarses abounding in our society. How to get around their limiting, stultified psychology? Try reading some of Chinese General Sun Tzu (about 500 BC) from his Art of War:
“In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity” ...
“To know your Enemy, you must become your Enemy.” (To understand the mind)
“Treat your men as you would your own beloved sons. And they will follow you into the deepest valley.” (ie Your voters Labour!)
“To win one hundred victories in one hundred battles is not the acme of skill. To subdue the enemy without fighting is the acme of skill.”
“Build your opponent a golden bridge to retreat across.”
Also read some of the stories of the SOE (Special Operations Executive) of the UK. They needed courage, wiliness and chutzpah to stay alive and keep
serving the cause. They had short meetings making plans which then were actioned, they put themselves on the line. Just think what is the worst than can happen to Labour, and the answer will be that some things might fail. If you can publicise all the successes, and know why you failed and apologise, run some honesty meetings with the public who want better government and throw out the hecklers so you get to explain the matter, everyone will appreciate that. We like your Covid efforts though there have been holes, which could have been better explained. But the public will support honest effort especially if you mention the problems arising, and the trade agreement limitations, and why government had to sign up to these things.
"Every policy pursued by a government should improve the human welfare of all people in a society......."PM Jacinda Ardern
Take care of the pennies and the pounds will take care of themselves.......
A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.......
Keep the faith young man, Jacinda has it covered.
Is not constructive evolution much better, friendly and humane than potentially very destructive revolution ?
Cheers - Jens.
Kia ora Chris
Just two months back you were urging all and sundry to vote for Labour as the best possible option under the colonialist system of government.
Perhaps Jacinda Five Eyes was a better choice than Judith the Crusher. It is not my place to second guess the wisdom of those who choose to participate in colonialist politics.
But when you go on to suggest that it is conceivable for the Labour government to govern in the interests of all New Zealanders, to restrain the excesses of colonial capitalism or to pursue an independent foreign policy, then you are dreaming.
And at the same time you are misleading your readers.
For all the good you can do now, you may as well leave your keyboard unplugged for the next three years.
The Labour Party exists to serve colonialism. It answers to no other master and has no other fundamental imperative. The party of Savage and Fraser, who both declaimed "Where Britain goes we go, where she stands we stand..", the party whose members solemnly swear to bear true allegiance to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth will do everything in its power to retain its subservient connection to the Five Eyes imperial alliance. Whether that involves lulling us (which Jacinda can do with great finesse), placating us or threatening us will depend solely on the circumstances of the time. Of course that flexibility is a good thing, because it leaves open the possibility of peaceful coexistence, if not consensus.
However you should not presume that all the things that are unimportant to you are unimportant to the rest of us.
You ask "Can the Maori Caucus be turned aside from embracing the sort of constitutional radicalism that the Maori Party has already gone all the way with? ... Will Nanaia Mahuta’s Cabinet colleagues counsel her against removing the right of electors to force local authorities to submit their proposals for Maori wards to a referendum? Is Chris Hipkins strong enough to resist the introduction of a compulsory New Zealand history curriculum in which greedy Pakeha settlers are invariably cast as the “baddies”, while noble indigenous Maori are consistently presented as the “goodies”? Will agreement at Ihumatao open-up all previous Treaty settlements for re-negotiation – even as it allows privately-owned land into the anti-colonial Poker game?"
Well, well, well. This lets the cat out of the bag.
So Maori are the problem. Not capitalism, imperialism or colonialism.
There has been no "constitutional radicalism" from the Maori Party as you allege. However unwillingly the Maori Party have entered into and embraced the colonialist system.
If there can be geographical wards for local government, why should there not be Maori wards? Would you want a referendum of all Wellington ratepayers to decide whether Porirua should have a representative on Council? Why are you so opposed to fundamental democratic rights for Maori?
The colonialist state has consistently refused to teach New Zealand history in New Zealand schools for obvious reasons. Now it thinks that it might. If it does, the curriculum will be defined at a national level. That is the way the system works, and in that case it is for the state to determine that the curriculum is truthful, objective and fair. So where is the problem?
To cap it off, you worry about the possibility of "agreement at Ihumaatao". Would you rather have war?
If you do choose to go to war over Ihumaatao, you will be destroyed, and the whole colonialist system with you. So in your own interests, it would be better to back off now.
Pretty damn eternal conundrum for democratic 'socialists'.
The last 270 years have been fun if you overlook ... From my pozzie, fun.
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