A Caucus of Courtiers?: If Labour is not to degenerate into an electoral mechanism dedicated solely to the identification and elevation of alternative political (but not ideological) leaders, then the cynical algebra of personal ambition must not be allowed to replace the party's traditional commitment to New Zealand's poorest and most vulnerable citizens. (The painting, Courtiers, is by Michael Kutsche)
IT'S STAGGERING, the unabashed cynicism of so many of Labour's defenders. As rumour builds on rumour and the indefatigable ferrets of the blogosphere burrow deeper into the political laundry basket, Labour's apologists dismiss the political ramifications of the Hughes Affair with a courtier's shrug.
"Goff's perfectly safe", they say with world-weary certitude, "because who the hell would want to take over the job now? Far better to let Goff lose the election and pick things up from there."
It's only when you begin to decode this statement that the true extent of these apologists' cynical indifference to the fate of Labour's supporters becomes apparent.
All that appears to matter to these Labour courtiers is who gets what in the aftermath of what they clearly assume will be John Key's crushing victory in November.
Such a victory would, however, be a victory by default. Key will win: not because he has the best policies (or, indeed, any coherent policies at all); not because he's got the best team (between them the parties of the Centre-Left could bring together a cabinet of outstanding quality); not because he's in some mystic communion with the zeitgeist (Key and his colleagues represent a view of reality which is fast disappearing everywhere except among the rump rightists of the Anglo-Saxon world); he will win because, bluntly, his principal opponents in the Labour Party are too tired, too timid, too inexperienced or simply too selfish to defeat him.
It is this latter group who deserve the sharpest rebuke. The ones focusing their attention on the most likely intra-party consequences of an election loss for which Goff will inevitably be blamed. Can they realistically hope to have a shot at the top spot themselves? And if they can't - who can? And where should they position themselves - both personally and politically - vis-a-vis the next likely leader? In short, what should they be doing now to give them the best prospects of advancement then?
Nowhere in these calculations does the fate of the people Labour was originally established to defend rate a mention. The fate of solo mums and their kids; the fate of the tens-of-thousands of sickness and invalid beneficiaries; the fate of young Maori and Pasifika school-leavers languishing on the dole; the fate of state house tenants facing eviction: all count for nothing in the cynical algebra of personal ambition. They are a useful source of rhetorical fuel - nothing more.
Those Labour politicians with both the capability and the will to lead should recoil from any suggestion that their best response to the Hughes Affair is to simply bide their time. As social-democrats, as promoters of democratic socialism (which is still Labour's official political mission) they should assess dispassionately the full ramifications of Goff's handling of the Hughes Affair on Labour's election prospects. And if they come to the conclusion that it was inept, and that keeping him on as leader will significantly reduce Labour's chances of success, then they should start counting heads.
Because, even in the most selfish and deeply cynical terms, allowing National to win by default is a disastrous strategy.
A Labour party which begins to be perceived (justifiably or unjustifiably) as morally compromised will attract the votes of fewer and fewer New Zealanders. And a caucus driven by nothing more than personal ambition is bound to become increasingly reckless in its internal jockeying for power.
If all that matters is climbing to the top of the greasy pole, then increasingly the only skill that ambitious Labour politicians will seek to master is how to ascend. New Zealand Labour will become more and more like Australian Labor: a mechanism for the identification and elevation of alternative political (but not ideological) leaders. Its days as the people's first choice for securing social and economic justice will be over.
If David Cunliffe, David Parker, Shane Jones and Maryan Street genuinely believe that by persisting with Phil's leadership they are dooming Labour to an ignominious defeat, and thereby exposing New Zealand's poorest and most vulnerable citizens to social and economic assault, then it is their moral duty to replace him.
Replace him - and make a real contest of this year's general election. The working people of New Zealand will forgive Labour for losing a battle in which every soldier gave his or her all. What they will not forgive is a party whose best captains and bravest warriors, for reasons of personal ambition and private advantage, refused to draw their swords.
This posting is exclusive to Bowalley Road.