Thursday 10 February 2011

Sorry Bomber (Some Thoughts On Martyn "Bomber" Bradbury's Call For A New Left Party)

Revolutions aren't made on television, Bomber, they're made on the street. And have you met the people who live on that street!

ONE’S FELLOW CITIZENS can be a terrible disappointment, Bomber. You will discover this the moment you cross the Rubicon from political observer to political participant. "The People", God bless ‘em, especially when encountered individually, are not always hewn from that heroic material so beloved by 18th and 19th Century revolutionaries.

Standing on their doorsteps, Bomber, it’s easy to become profoundly disillusioned with the human-beings whose votes decide your country’s future. Regardless of their location in the social hierarchy, and irrespective of their role in the processes of production, individuals all-too-frequently behave in ways utterly at odds with their objective self-interest. Parliamentary campaigners for the Left will regale you with stories of anti-feminist women, racist Maori, pro-capitalist proletarians and anti-welfare beneficiaries.

"There better be wisdom in crowds," grumbles the weary candidate following a particularly gruelling canvassing drive, "because there’s bugger-all in the average voter!"

Even worse than the voters with no conception of their own self-interest, are the voters who just don’t care. If you can get past the vicious dog chained-up in their front yard, and make your presence known over the blare of their massive sound system, your party-political spiel elicits nothing more than a bemused shake of the head.

"Not interested, mate", they’ll drawl, shutting the door firmly in your face. If their mailbox wasn’t already stuffed-full of junk mail, you’d leave them a pamphlet – or slip your card under the door. But that low growl, emanating from the Hound of the Baskervilles straining against his chain just a few metres to your right, suggests that it might be wiser to move on to the next house in the street.

As often as not – the neighbours are even worse.

But, of course, if you’re really serious about forming a New Left Party, Bomber, you’ll soon be experiencing all these things first hand. And don’t for a minute think there’s some way of avoiding the bruising experience of face-to-face canvassing – cos there ain’t.

The people you’re planning on drawing into the electoral process: the state-house tenants struggling to raise a family on two minimum wages; the young Maori solo-mum trying to keep it together on the DPB; the sickness beneficiary doped up to the eye-balls on lithium (because this country doesn’t really run to a decent mental health system); none of these folk read Tumeke, Bomber, or Bowalley Road, or The Standard, or Kiwipolitico. They don’t read newspapers either, or watch Citizen A. They just might pick up snatches of talk-back radio, or catch the odd TV-news bulletin – but I wouldn’t count on it.

So, to win them over you’ll have to knock on their front doors, introduce yourself, and attempt to engage them in political discussion. Which won’t happen, because while you’re launching into your spiel, they’ll be asking themselves: "What does this prick want from me? What the fuck is he talking about?"

Standing in front of them, Bomber, you’ll come across as so completely alien: so far removed from their bleak, narrow, hard-scrabble and often violent world; that you might as well have beamed down from another planet.

The barriers to effective political communication: functional illiteracy; cultural impoverishment; sheer exhaustion: each of these factors, on their own, Bomber, is enough to prevent the anomistic underclass from receiving your message. And if – as is likely – the person you’re addressing is of a different ethnicity, then your communication difficulties will be radically compounded.

So, if the underclass is politically inaccessible to the Left (which is, I’m afraid, the brutal message of the Mana by-election) then what about the working-class? Well, I’ve got news for you, Bomber, and, as Jim Anderton is fond of adding: "It’s all bad."

In fact, you should have a chat with Jim about winning and holding the support of working-class voters. Because you know what, Bomber? He was the only member of the NewLabour Party and the Alliance who ever really mastered the art.

Why? Because Jim never, ever, ever, by the slightest word or deed, gave the voters of Sydenham/Wigram reason to suppose that he considered himself, or his political and moral values, to be better than their own. In this, he remains their true representative. Like so many of them, he takes a conservative stance on abortion and illicit drug-use. But, also like them, he is prepared to embrace radical economic solutions to entrenched social problems.

It’s all about respect, Bomber. The giving of it, and the receiving of it. Respect – and respectability – lie at the heart of Anglo-Celtic working-class culture. Jim Anderton gets that. It’s why Labour could never reclaim Sydenham/Wigram from him. No matter how jarring some of their opinions on issues relating to race, gender and sexuality might be, Jim Anderton would never disrespect the people whose votes he was soliciting. He’d never call them "rednecks".

Can you say the same, Bomber? Not really.

Which leaves you politically situated slap-bang in the middle of the only political market which the "post-modern" Left has truly made its own: young(ish), well-educated, middle-income and upper-middle-income, Pakeha voters. And that market, as I’m sure you need no reminding, Bomber, is now the happy hunting-ground of both the Labour and the Green parties.

What I would say to you, Bomber, (in case you do need reminding) is that in order to win the votes of more than the ever-dwindling band of political activists who draw their ideological inspiration from the left-wing philosophers and politicians of the 19th and early-20th centuries, a New Left Party would have to offer the voters of Auckland Central, Wellington Central, Port Hills and Dunedin North more-or-less the same policies as Phil Goff and Russel Norman.

That’s the problem with the voting public, Bomber. They will insist on ignoring the Left's advice! I like the way Bertold Brecht put it in his famous poem "The Solution", written after the East German workers’ revolt of June, 1953.

After the uprising of the 17th June
The Secretary of the Writers’ Union
Had leaflets distributed on the Stalinallee
Stating that the people
Had forfeited the confidence of the government
And could win it back only
By redoubled efforts. Would it not be easier
In that case for the government
To dissolve the people
And elect another?

When you work out how to do that, Bomber, please let me know.


Madison said...

Well said Chris!!
Having been there and done the canvassing I'm glad to know you're not sugar-coating it for anyone. And at least you're still giving tips, like the secret to Anderton's success.

pyGrant said...

I think you've well and truly rained on his parade Chris ;-). That was a lot of hard truths to pack into one short post.

Tiger Mountain said...

Well written (and profoundly defeatist) piece, whats that old saying... ‘pessimists receive less bad news than the rest of us’.

A new left social democratic party is a doubtful project at this time, Bomber is kidding himself, but your subtext of- pander to the dark and disconnected kiwis is even worse.

Bearhunter said...

Well put together and bang on the money. I am often reminded of a defeated candidate in a Northern Irish election who stood on the steps of the polling station pondering his defeat and opined: "The people have spoken...the bastards."

Victor Billot said...

C'mon comrade – how much door knocking have you been doing lately?

Pouring the acid on Bomber, well, if this is a priority then I can think of better things to be doing.

What you seem to be saying is that because a large number of people hold right wing ideas, then the left should "respect" right wing ideas and go home rather than fight for our ground. That's not something I have ever subscribed to.

I delivered a few pamphlets for a certain Mr Trotter of the New Labour Party in North Dunedin (1990). Then hitting the streets for the Alliance, as I did, in 1993, 1996 (Auckland Central), 1999 (when I came back home early from OE to help with the campaign), 2002, and of course 2005 and 2008 when I stood for Dunedin North.

I've come across a range of people (and dogs). But to be honest, it wasn't depressing at all. It is hard work but it is interesting. It is a great experience and in fact necessary to do, especially because it grounds you a bit in the reality of what is out there.

I don't actually think any genuine left wing party would instantly hit it off with the so-called underclass. Actually it's far more likely to find support amongst the organized working class, public sector workers, academics, etc. especially in the initial stages. What's wrong with that?

And if some of the initial legwork is done by some educated liberal inner city youth (shock, horror) so what? Better that they are getting out and about than standing and jeering from the sidelines, or joining ACT. What would we rather the kids be doing? Delivering leaflets for Phil Goff's free trade policies?

The trouble with this rant above is it makes a virtue out of portraying certain truths but offers nothing positive. Sure, some activists might be naive, self-important and overly optimistic. But I'd take that any day over "been there, done that" cynicism.

Chris Trotter said...

Well, well, well, Victor, I really do appear to have struck your angry nerve vis-a-vis the much talked about (but ill thought through) "New Left Party".

I hope you know me well enough to justify your rather unkind jibes about cynicism and patronising behaviour as mere rhetorical flourishes (always excusable in a polemical context ;-)

My only intention, in writing these postings, has been to inject a modicum of realism into the discussion.

We both know from long and personal experience how very hard it is to establish and maintain an effective political organisation. I simply want people like Bomber to know what they're taking on.

I would be doing the young (and not so young) enthusiasts for the New Left Party no favours if I were to simply stand back and bestow my blessings on their endeavours. Experience has no value unless it is shared.

You are, of course, quite right when you point to the benefits that flow from young people becoming politically engaged. What I am anxious to avoid is hundreds of idealistic youngsters being sent on a fool's errand, failing, becoming profoundly disillusioned and swearing-off taking part in "politics" ever again.

To refrain from pointing out the many obstacles to the success of Bomber's New Left Party venture, would be to adopt the tactics of the strategically moronic and morally bankrupt Japanese commanders of World War II, who regularly ordered their troops to launch suicidal frontal assaults against well-defended American positions.

By all means, fight the good fight, Victor. But, for God's sake, fight it smart - not stupid.

Anonymous said...

I am sure if Matt McCarten is involved things will be played out in a smart fashion. It would seem that perhaps free trade and privatisation is the wedge between the parliamnetary and corporate elite and everyday New Zealanders

There is only so much of John Key and co's failed experiments New Zealand can handle. Now is the time to be bold, the next few years could be a fresh break...

Anonymous said...

Remember Chris, many youth have not felt defeat before, and like the many being attracted to the Unite Union and other organisations and groups.. or the many youth who stand behind Hone Harawira, or are in youth organisations, they want more than low wages, expensive education and unemployment and a ever degrading environment.

Phil Goff is no alternative to Key, a new left movement and party as long as it does the ground work is long overdue and on its way.

Tiger Mountain said...

Well said Victor,
Chris has fundamentally blundered here I feel, powerfully describing some of the difficulties, while being over easy on counter measures.

As I have said before, left social democrats can get involved with the existing registered Alliance Party, and marxist lefties could do likewise with the registered Workers Party. I have not done the latter because of the uncomfortable for me amalgam of Maoist and Trotskyite tendencies. It is an option though, and I quite like the “workers flag is deepest red” logo on the ballot paper!

I remember years ago when Bomber first appeared on the scene and Chris remarked about “aging SUP generals and tuskers” at some 1990s Auckland rally. Well Mr Bradbury still has the spark. It should be encouraged.

Anonymous said...

Hear hear Victor.

Anonymous said...

Pessimists through the ages have said there could never be a labour government. They have said a woman could never be Prime Mininister. They have said a black man could not be US President. A Maori Party could never get itself into Parliament and the Green hippies were always too out of it to run a party.

There was always plenty of evidence that the population was to reactionary and preoccupied with their little lives to vote for any of these things.

The pessimists were right for a long time, and then they were wrong.

It didn't happen right away. Different tactics were tried and different lessons were learned until finally there was a generation that suceeded in each of these areas.

There is a huge difference between the working class of Sydenham and the new working class that populates South or West Auckland. Jim probably wouldn't get far outside his home territory these days but some of this generations activists have learnt some of the lessons of the past, as well as having some new ideas,and they just might do quite well.

The Alliance was a product of its time, as was Jim, and the country was ready for the Alliance at that time.The Alliance may have imploded eventually but it did not fail. Its formation and short term electoral success threw a huge spanner in the wheels of the right wing agenda and saved Labour by forcing of its hard right trajectory towards the centre right position it now occupies.

Maybe the objective conditions are not there for a new left party but there is no harm in having a good look at the possibility. Nor is there any harm in giving it a try if that could lead to progressive changes in the political environment by forcing Labour or the Greens to show some courage.

To go ahead with no chance of success in any form would be folly but to stand back and do nothing if there is any chance of success would be worse.

When the union movement stood on the sidelines as National introduced the infamous employment contracts act hope and faith in unionism was destroyed for a generation.

Doing nothing to turn back the National/Labour/Green market capitalism jugernaut right now could have a similar effect on a generation.

After all,if there is absolutely no chance of bringing about change through the ballot box then what are those who do not accept the status quo to do?

Unknown said...

It's always healthy to test your ideas in the marketplace. It's wonderful to live in a country where we enjoy such liberties.

I'd encourage Bomber and the 'new left' to have a go.

Experience is often the only teacher we will listen to.

Anonymous said...

Chris Trotter occasionally likes to sing the Red Flag in his cups but has never had any faith in the working class. However, his Anderton spin is masterly. Pandering to the bottom line = respect. Straw = gold.

Anonymous said...

Victor et al - I think you are being harsh on Chris here. He is not advocating doing nothing, just suggesting we not charge 'once more over the top' without first sussing the prospects of success and alternative options.

The Mana byelection shows a working class and/or 'underclass' party would be exceptionally hard to get up and in Parliament. Bomber is rose-tinted in his view on this - has he ever actually done the hard yards campaigning? (not just reporting on campaigns).

There is then the difficulty of keeping MPs on task for workers if/when we get them in Parliament. So-called left-wing luminary Sue Bradford inherited the Economic Development portfolio from the late Rod Donald, yet did *nothing* to put up a socialist or anti-capitalist economic platform (no, raising the minimum wage does not count as overthrowing capitalism!)

For my money, left activists would be better spending time, effort and cash on keeping MMP, and campaigning to abolish the 5% threshold (leaving the natural 0.83% threshold - every 0.83% party vote gets you one more list MP). That systemic reform would truly open up the prospects of more left-wing parties getting in Parliament, and staying! (without stripping the Greens out). It would give activists confidence to ditch failing parties and push genuine workers champions - goodbye Labour and free trade Goff ;)

And that's before we even consider the truths Chris laid bare about the working class - that liberal Grey Lynn concerns are frequently not shared by workers...

Good debate to have though ;)

Mad Marxist.

Anonymous said...

Hi Chris,

just caught your blog on bomber

I think Victor missed your point - which was not to denegrate the voters, but to show that to be of any use politically, you have to appeal to them on their own terms, and not waste time appealing to more middle class liberals like me (us, to judge by the other comments above).

there are no wins for the left in taking votes off Labour or the Greens - there seem to be few enough of those going around anyway just now.

the little win comes with someone like Peters picking votes off the right - as you have pointed out, the media is particularly antagonistic to him again now becuase he is appearing to do just that.

and there is a big win to be had by mobilising the Jesse Jackson vote - 'never before' votes who are pursuaded to register and to vote by someone who might just represent something to them. Obama managed it a little, Jackson made Obama possible.

Those Blokes who won't vote for Labour cause all they do is nag you about your kids and for having a laugh at the wrong things, they should be able to be pursudaed that while its really annoying to be nagged about how you live your life by Labour, at least they kept their jobs and their houses, which the Nats are taking off them - If Goff really wanted to make a break with the Nanny McClarke era, he'd get up and say just that - sure we are going to nag you, but you will keep you house, you will keep your job, and this time, we will do a lot better in helping you get a bit ahead when you play by the rules than we did last time. but he wont do that, so they drift to that decent bloke Key, and wait for someone (like Peters) to get them a bit more inspired again to go elsewhere.

None of those bloke voters are going to look to a new left wing party - they despise the idea of the left wing, thats why they end up on the right, cause it doesn't look like its got a wing at all.

So a new left wing party can only be a good thing if it brings in new voters, the Jesse Jackson way.

Matt McCarten knows this, I think. He also knows how damn hard it will be - as you have shown . To be a positive force, the new left party has to get accepted by the folk who are just struggling through in substandard social housing, and hoping to not be any further behind at the end of the week than they were at the start.

So any calls from a middle class liberal to other middle class liberals to start a more radical party should be roundly rejected - thats just splitting - a soft option for the short term ego.

if Bomber had hand delivered 1500 leaflets spelling out the case around an area with low voter registration and lower turnout, then gone back and asked them what they thought, and then gone back again and asked them to register to vote, with forms in hand, and kept going back, and found a few of them to helkp him in their own streets - that would be a positive case.

And if he had done that, then like Matt, he would know, that if you do get them, and if you do keep talking to them outside of the electoral cycle, and if they see that you will help them when you can (and try even though you probably can't sometimes), then they will stick by you - and best of all they are totally impervious to the mainstream media pursuading them that its 'time for a change', or 'steady as she goes', according to their perceptions of best for the country.

If you can get them, that is.

So, the question is, is Bomber calling for a 2014 election strategy? or is he just salving his ego as so many before in the expectation of a pointless gesture in a safe relection year for the right?.

You could ask him that, perhaps, and see what he says.

Anonymous said...

saying that the mana by election is an example of why a new left party would fail doesn't cut it.

bomber and all other proponents of a new left party propose it on the condition that it has a safe elecorate seat (ie Harawira) making the 5% threshold irrelevant.

as bomber has said, if the party recieved what matt did in mana it would get 3 seats: a modest and achievable goal.

you also underestimate the effects of strategic voting: in the mana by election it was always going to be bad strategy to vote for matt if one didn't want national to win the seat (despite your call to 'vote as if you are free'). in fact, if matt had gotten the 5-10% he was aiming for national could well have won the seat, which, whilst it would have made some on the left grin, wouldn't have pleased most non-national supporters.

thus rather than intrepreting the votes of poor/working-class/unemployed mana residents as not knowing what's best for them, it should be inerpreted as them knowing how to play the game. it would be interesting to see what would have happened under stv for instance.

a party vote in a general election, with the security of a safe electorate seat is a different story, and much easier to sell. one should also not discount the fact that those on the maori roll could not vote in the mana by election..

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous @ 4:16AM

You have misconstrued my argument in relation to Mana. It was not a case of the "poor/working-class/unemployed Mana residents not knowing what's good for them" (that reference was to the behaviour of ALL electors, not just the disadvantaged) but to the enormous difficulties of breaking through the wall of anomie which people at the very bottom of society tend to construct around themselves.

I would also be cautious about extrapolating the Mana result across the entire NZ electorate. By-elections, by focusing the nation's (and, of course, the local electors') attention on a single contest provide an uncharacteristically congenial environment for insurgent political campaigns. That's what makes Matt's 3.6 percent so disheartening.

Just to give you some idea of the magnitude of the task confronting a New Left Party: even one with Hone Harawira on board (which ain't at all likely BTW); 3.6 percent of the 2008 Party Vote of 2,356,536 is still a staggering 84,835 votes. Even if Hone attracted half the Maori Party's 2008 vote in the Maori Seats (which comes to 17,278) and half the Maori Party's Party Vote in the General Electorates (10,711) the New left Party would still be looking at having to drum up an additional 56,846 votes.

Even when you throw in the entire 2008 Far Left Vote of 3,306, the new party faces an average target of 764 votes per General Seat.

Not going to happen.

Anonymous said...

again, i don't know why you would take the maori party party vote and 'far' left vote as being indicative of what a new left party would achieve.

it's always been bad strategy to use your party vote for the maori party (people know they will get more maori electorate seats than there party vote will give them), and people know that a vote for the 'far' left parties is wasted as they will not achieve 5%. this is why people like bomber propose a new left party only on the condition that it has a safe electorate seat behind it so that people know they are not gonna waste their vote (which people are not inclined to do)!

Chris Trotter said...

I have used the Maori Party Vote as a benchmark for the very simple reason that those promoting a New Left Party have consistently stated that it would only be a viable proposition if Hone Harawira provided his Te Tai Tokerau seat as its MMP anchor.

I'm simply assuming that Hone will be used for something more than mere window-dressing (and as the guarantor of the New Left Party's parliamentary seats).

Anonymous said...

yes but the reason the maori party party vote is low is because their supporters know it is bad strategy to give them their party vote!