Tuesday 10 April 2012

To Play The Queen

A Bold Move: The Green's appointment of Laila Harre as its Auckland-based Issues Director signals its intention to resist the tidal drag of Labour's rightward drift. It's an ideological flanking manoeuvre David Shearer will ignore at his peril.

THE APPOINTMENT OF LAILA HARRÉ as the Green Party’s Auckland-based Issues Director should be sending shivers down David Shearer’s spine. Henceforth, hundreds-of-thousands of former Alliance Party voters will no longer have to hum-and-haw about which left-wing party to support. Ms Harré, a former Alliance leader, is one of the Left’s most intelligent and articulate spokespeople. The clarity and radicalism of her thinking has been evident since her maiden speech to Parliament in 1996:

A government cannot both embrace the full force of globalisation and retain sovereignty over key economic decisions. A government cannot deliver a first class health and education service accessible to all regardless of wealth without a substantially more progressive income tax system. A government cannot deal with fundamental issues of biosecurity and ecological diversity by adopting a market model which will by definition subsume these needs to the perceived interests of foreign investors ….. These fundamental issues of difference between the Alliance and Labour must be resolved, and not simply disguised by clever packaging.

That the issues identified by Ms Harré sixteen years ago remain at the heart of contemporary political debate on the Left is proof of her analytical perspicacity. They certainly constitute the “fundamental issues of difference” that Labour and the Greens have yet to resolve.

Which brings us back to the shivers that should be running up Mr Shearer’s spine. Because, in just about every particular of Ms Harré’s 1996 challenge, the gap between Labour’s position and the Greens’ isn’t narrowing, it’s growing wider. Rather than increasing the progressivity of our income tax system, Mr Shearer intends to decrease it. And, far from attempting to free himself from the “embrace” of globalisation, Mr Shearer remains as committed as his predecessors to “free-trade” and “productive foreign investment”.

Mr Shearer’s principal policy advisers: His chief-of-staff, Stuart Nash; his policy consultant, John Pagani; and the Labour Right’s faction-leader, Trevor Mallard; would appear to have no intention of permitting either the Caucus, or the wider Labour Party organisation, to address these fundamental policy differences. Which can only mean that they intend to mask the ideological gulf separating Labour and the Greens with “clever packaging”.

The Greens are having none of it. Ms Harré’s appointment makes that clear. If Mr Shearer and his minions are signalling their intention to take Labour to the right; the Greens, by appointing a radical social-democrat as their Issues Director, have communicated their party’s strong disinclination to follow suit. More than this, the Greens are warning Labour that if it is no longer interested in the votes of the Auckland working-class, then they will gladly take them off their hands.

Ms Harré is not only a former Alliance leader and MP, but also a highly successful trade-union organiser. She masterminded the “Nurses Are Worth More” campaign of 2003-04, and was for four years the General Secretary of the National Distribution Union. In Auckland, where Labour’s organisation is weak (and where Mr Shearer and his allies have thrown their support behind organisational “reforms” which threaten to keep it that way) the Greens have installed a woman of proven organisational and motivational talent.

What we are witnessing is a fascinating historical reversal. Labour conquered power by first organising the working-class vote, and only then extending its reach into the educated middle-class and small proprietors. The Greens are expanding in the opposite direction: from their core base of support among the educated middle-class; to the small proprietor; to the working-class; and potentially to the much-despised “underclass” of beneficiaries and alienated youth.

Mr Shearer and his allies are, therefore, pursuing a potentially fatal strategy. By leading the party to the right they risk losing their working-class base, which, following the last election, is all that remains to them. The Labour leadership do not seem to appreciate that the Greens have already made off with the educated middle-class vote, and have won over a significant number of small proprietors. To leave their Auckland working-class flank exposed to Ms Harré’s organisational flair risks replicating here what has already occurred in Germany: the Greens supplanting Labour as the dominant left-wing party.

Labour members who would rather not see their party pushed into second place need to act swiftly and decisively. Not simply on the question of: “Who should be leading the party?” But on the more important question of: “How should the party be led?”

A crucial aspect of the Greens’ success as a political movement has been the open and transparent nature of its decision-making processes. In short, it’s commitment to democracy. If Labour’s membership wishes to make progress on those “fundamental issues of difference” between their party and the Greens, they must demonstrate an equally vigorous commitment to democratic values.

This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 10 April 2012.


Anonymous said...

Me right. Faction leader. You score 0/2 Chris.

Trevor Mallard

Chris Trotter said...

Many thanks for the confirmation, Trevor.

Because, as everybody knows, no rumour should ever be believed until it has been officially denied.

Anonymous said...

Labour needs to forget the troublesome left and let them go to Mana and the Greens (the Greens will ever only max around 10 percent of the vote, even if the appoint Nelson Mandela to run things) – stop fretting over these and start to target the 3 out of 4 that didn’t vote for them. This is much more fertile than the 25 percent who suck off the public tit for ever. This is going to be courageous, no doubt, but if they want the Treasury benches again this is where their future lies. How do they capture the middle class that voted National but would change given a viable alternative that would not send us down the path of Greece?
Who are we? Double income around 100K, three teenage kids, been hammered with rising costs – what do we want? A future for our children that doesn’t include crossing the ditch, affordable education and housing rewarded by ones efforts without welfare handouts. This is where you’ll find 2/4 voters.

Anonymous said...

This confirms much of what I have seen on the ground in Labour, and, given your Otago Labour heritage, you won't like it Chris.

After being involved in Labour for 11 years, I have left. I've witnessed a party that has only one organisational strategy - domination from the centre, with no ability (nor will) from members to resist this. Even if there was the will, there would not be the resources to fight it.

I've also seen a party that is hostile to the wishes of young members, despite those young members having done much of the heavy lifting during campaigns. The actions of a senior few at a list conference and then during a candidate selection confirmed that. The baby boomers who run this party will not give up the reigns, nor will they allow their strategy and tactics to be considered. Naturally, from a youth branch that once attracted 20+ members to weekly events, there are now few left.

It isn't much of a guess as to where the organisational talent is flowing - the Greens!.

I suspect that you should post one day on the decline and break up of the Liberal Party, because that's the historical analog to what is now happening to Labour. It's unreformable.

Anonymous said...

Chris, the term Working Class is bandied about a lot by the left as if the left own them, chances are a lot of the "actual working class" voted National or NZ First, they are morally conservative people,hard working yet a bit fiscally liberal and I dont think they are necessarily coming back to the left anytime soon. The "non working class" by and large did not vote last election or the ones prior and probably will not be interested next time. You have pointed out in previous posts how difficult it is to actually enlist these votes to any effect so I think that few 10% who swing either way in the centre will decide the next election, not some grand revolution of the " working class" romantic as it may seem to some.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

The 'fascinating historical reversal' is that the greens purged its left leaning leaders a while ago and now lets 'em in again.

Anonymous said...

The Greens are pretty much the same as Labour in their basic worldview and ideology apart from being more concerned about the environment.
Like Labour they want to own the working class and use them to their own ends but are not prepared to play a role in the emancipation of the working class because that would almost certainly see them lose some of their middle class priviliges.
In other words workers are just votes to both parties, and despite their clever branding, a big chunk of the population is waking up to the reality that the Westminster system and the parties and governments it produces, no matter what their label, only work for the benefit of one class.
The hope that once accompanied the idea of socialism has been destroyed by self serving social democrats and the only socialism alive now is that which protects the interests of the elite and bails them out when their own greed catches up with them.
Both parties are keen on remaking the world to fit into their middle class vision of a country run by their favourite technocrats but neither offers up the possibility of a real democracy where we all have a meaningful way to play a part in directing the way things that are important to us, including the use of the commons and the organisation of our economy, are done.
The differences between Labour and the Greens (and National for that matter) are over how to brand and sell their favourite type of capitalism and privilige their favourite type of person. The working class are just voting fodder to them all.

Victor said...

You have written a fine piece, Chris,about a significant event in the realignment of New Zealand's Centre Left.

A few immediate questions come to mind.

The first and most obvious is whether the Greens are primarily now just going to filch votes from Labour's depleted stock or attract non-voters, whilst also continuing to hold on to the Blue-Greens who floated their way last year.

If they can manage that inclusive trick, they might yet become the "Big Tent" party that Shearer claims to aspire to turn Labour into. If not, the Green surge will be simply a matter of votes swapped within the Centre Left.

The second question is whether having the estimable Ms. Harre on board will make it easier for the Greens to do an effective deal with Labour, in the event of them being able to form a joint parliamentary majority. Unfortunately, experience of her involvement in coalitions suggests otherwise.

Experience also suggests that, if the Greens fail to become a truly Big Tent and/or if a firm and lasting deal with Labour is not on the cards, then we can expect several more years (perhaps decades)of Centre Right rule.

Robert Miles said...

Obviously Laila Harre and Greg Norman are more competent left wing politicians than anyone remaining in Labour. Clark totally dominated the Labour Party for 15 years and no effective rival or star could be tolerated in the Party, so it was goodbye Laila at an early stage. The fallout was in about 2002 over the first deployments of NZ SAS to Afghanistan. Clark was in some ways a more pragmatic centerist politician than most imagine but primarily Clarks real interest was always in international, defence, nuclear and strategic issues- and with greater knowlege,interest and ambition she was prepared to do deals with the USA and Bush fully aware the way the US Marines, Army and how our SAS might be used.
I often wonder whether Clarks intial concentration on defence and nuclear issues was partly a tactic to give her a wider range of able support than her basically left social and economic issue would have entailed and intelligent capturing of the issue of the day with Reagan and Soviet and nuclear build ups.
It needs to be understood that many people oppossed to the worlds overarmament with strategic and tactical weapons and who also opposed nuclear power as unsafe and uneconomic and oppossed building our defence on increasingly unafforadable and obsolete and expensive frigates intended for impractical joint operations with US fleet carriers or nuclear submarines----may have been better informed than the proponents of nuclear warships, nuclear power and Anzac frigates. Hard right admirals and generals were often the strongest opponents of nuclear power . In the 1983 -84 period when I first wrote articles and campaigned against nuclear ship visits and the proposal to convert the NZ Navy to Collins class submarines- my source of information were years of studying books and articles on naval matters, studying every modern addition of Janes Fighting Ships, reading the ANU strategic analysts Ball, O'Neil and recieving several packages of all the recent ANU papers on strategic, nuclear and Austrlian nuclear targets.Some arrived addressed to Admiral Knox staying at Pilbara Motel in NW WA. I corresponded with Clark and certainly talked for hours to deposed Naval Captain Ian Bradley and used the copies of USN Proceedings in the DEvonport library. According to Commander Robert Martin it was my arguments and views that were used to end NZ involveements in the Collins sub project not Bradley or Martins and that he approved of as I think did the USA.

Tiger Mountain said...

Laila does not have a major fan club in certain left quarters, obviously because she is not a ‘LABrador’ but also because she actually gets things done and is a genuine “change manager” not a seat warmer.

The NDU schism when ex SUP ‘general’ Mike Jackson was deposed worked out quite well once the dust had settled among staff factions as evidenced with the recent formation of FIRST, an amalgamation of NDU and FINSEC led by the indefatigable Robert Reid.

It was highly unimpressing however to see Laila involved with Mark Ford and the supercity formation. The spin from some being it would have been a lot worse if she had not helped manage the transformation. Whatever. But there will be utu extracted from Labour here no doubt.

ps: how about adopting a consistent handle some of you annonymae, you are pests, real names not required.

Chris Trotter said...

I'm not sure to what you're referring, Victor. Laila was part of the Labour-Alliance Coalition right up until the 2002 General Election.

The break-up of the Alliance was precipitated by Jim Anderton's insistence on supporting the US invasion of Afghanistan.

Laila remained faithful to the Alliance's anti-war traditions. Jim didn't.

But, I'm not sure how any of this relates to Laila's, or the Alliance's, relationship with Labour.

Perhaps you could enlighten us?

Scouser said...

Must agree with an earlier commentor about many working class being conservative in outlook who take a pragmatic approach and vote national as they see that as a way to rein in government spending during poor financial times. They also often resent what they see as their money given to others who do not work. To a signigicant extent Labour is seen as the party for the beneficiaries by many.

I do agree that many who have moved to the Greens do so because they feel Labour does not support them rather a mixture of centrist policies and special interest groups. They cannot make themselves vote national and it's either waste the vote or at least do something for the environment in their minds.

However, as said earlier, much of the Greens support comes from those who do not follow policies and use the simple environment tag to tick the box. Especially, the middle class support. Based on an utterly scientific straw poll the Greens' success is starting to affect that and I believe they will lose support as more middle class voters cotton on to how far right of centre they are. The branding of the Greens appears to be changing.

A long winded way of saying that appointing a competent person may actually be counter productive.

Victor said...


I'm certainly not criticising anyone for sticking to their principles. Nor, in this case, am I criticising the principle involved.

I'm merely pointing out that those with a track record of sticking to their principles sometimes make for difficult coalition partners.

But, of course, the Greens already have a track record of digging their heels in on issues of principle. So perhaps my argument is insubstantial.

Paulus said...

Leila is a very competant operator - good to see her back.
To govern after 2014 Labour has to close towards the Greens as the main coalition partner, but not to let Winston have the controlling power - he might.
National will not have the numbers to govern after the election.
Leila would be good as a mediator now between the Labour and Greens, to sort out respective positions where confusion does not take place.

jh said...

MMP acts as a good poll and while meteria Turie was quick to claim that their 10% was endorsement "(and) for all our other policies" the reality is that mana and the Maori party polled low.

The Greens are popular at the moment for taking pot-shots at the Chinese and for attacking dirty dairying (I think).

this discussion demonstrates the myopia to population and resources on the left as opposed to a Green:
by powerdownkiwi | 14 Apr 12, 4:32pm
Vote up!
I had a little argument with Clare Curran, last weekend. Said that her socialist attitudes (she thinks we should let folk in who haven't our advantages - what we have is less people per acre and per resource - let them in and we don't have it) were understandable, indeed legitimate, in the '30's, but not now.