Tuesday 30 April 2013

Why Isn't The Left As Angry As The Right?

If You Want To Get Even - Get Mad! The Government's response to the Labour-Green Opposition's energy plan may not have been very rational, but it certainly conveyed the message to it's followers that their opponents had crossed a line and "there will be blood". What is it that prevents the Left from deploying the same kind of political rage?
“ECONOMIC SABOTAGE!” “North Korean Economics!” “Half-Baked Soviet Union-Style Nationalisation!” The right-wing rhetorical explosions that greeted the Opposition’s new energy policy were as entertaining as they were ludicrous.
But, they were also highly revealing.
When the Right’s economic and social achievements are threatened, its response is both immediate and dramatic. No accusation – no matter how absurd – is ruled out as a response. Its enemies are left in absolutely no doubt that they have crossed a line and that, rhetorically, at least, “there will be blood”.
The Left’s response to attacks on its own achievements, by contrast, is rather bloodless.
Had Labour and the Greens felt as strongly about defending workers’ rights as National and ACT clearly feel about the sanctity of markets, their response to the Government’s proposed changes to New Zealand’s employment laws would have been very different.
The amendments announced by Labour Minister, Simon Bridges, last Friday, rip the guts out of the Clark-Anderton Government’s mild-mannered Employment Relations Act (2000). If passed, the brutal regime set up by the Fourth National Government’s Employment Contracts Act will be restored. New Zealand’s formal commitment to international conventions guaranteeing the right of workers to bargain collectively – already tenuous – will be further diminished.
All in all, a pretty reasonable days’ work for Mr Bridges, who has clearly set out to impress his senior Cabinet colleagues as the ‘go-to-guy’ for all those unpleasant and unpopular jobs that have to be done quickly, efficiently and without flinching.
National’s big-business backers are always on the lookout for someone prepared to present their ideological butcher’s-bill to the voters. If the Employment Relations Amendment Bill, and Mr Bridges’ earlier, draconian, response to deep sea drilling protests are any indication, they may have found their man.
Indeed, this latest legislative flurry from Mr Bridges signals the arrival of an unusually bold and ruthless political operator. As someone once said of that other ‘Young Turk’ in a hurry, Sir Robert Muldoon: “This little man, he will bigger get.”
So, you might think that political and legislative threats on such a scale would see the Left unlimbering its heaviest rhetorical guns. In the spirit of National’s splenetic response to the release of the Opposition’s energy plans, you could forgive Labour and the Greens for going all-out with headline-grabbers like:
“National’s Anti-Union Bill Channels General Pinochet!” “Fascist-Style Legislation Will Hurt Kiwi Workers!” “Far-Right Thinking Inspires National’s Attack On Union Movement!”
Nothing of the sort appeared.
The Council of Trade Unions’ President, Helen Kelly, and Labour’s Employment Relations spokesperson, Darien Fenton, both defaulted immediately to Cassandra mode. All manner of dire consequences for working people were predicted should Mr Bridges’ legislation be passed. But, neither woman was prepared to engage in the kind of no-holds-barred, red-in-tooth-and-claw ideological warfare immediately reverted to by their right-wing opponents. 

Far from declaring all-out war on Mr Bridges and his right-wing business supporters, Ms Kelly asked, instead, for employer assistance:
“I don’t expect the national business organisations to do anything but support this. I hope some major employers will speak out against it as some did the youth rates. It is time for a better approach to work in this country – today is a giant step backwards.”
Ms Fenton’s media release didn’t go that far but it was deafeningly silent on what Labour’s response to Mr Bridges’ assault would be – apart, of course, from voting against it in Parliament:
“Labour will oppose this legislation. The New Zealand labour market needs hands-on policies that help create decent work and fairness, not this return to failed policies of the past.”
But a return to the policies of the past is, arguably, exactly what Labour should do! The prime targets of the Employment Contracts Act were: universal union membership; the system of national “awards” (collective contracts covering whole occupational groups); and the right to strike.
At the very least, trade unionists might expect “their” political party to give back what National and its employer allies went to such extreme lengths to take away!
How to explain this left-wing passivity? Why is even the trade union movement’s peak organisation, the CTU, so loath to defend its members with the commitment and aggression now so evident on the right?
Its behaviour points clearly to the existence, at the very heart of the New Zealand Left, of deep-seated ideological doubt: a profound degree of uncertainty which is influencing not only the level of confidence which the CTU and the Labour Party have in themselves, but also the confidence they are willing to place in their members and voters. Unlike their right-wing opponents, they no longer appear to be very sure what is the right thing to do, or which is the right way to go.
While this lack of conviction on the Left persists, the passionate intensity of the Right will go on winning.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 30 April 2013.


Anonymous said...

Clearly greater political(vote-catching)mileage in fighting 'The Mighty River' share offer than the REAL issue which is taking on the government over their heinous changes to the Employment Relations Act.

The first affects all New Zealanders; the second the workers; so why would we expect anything from the Labour Party, BUT we should expect more from the Greens.

Anonymous said...

because the right is right, and the left is wrong. The right is meant to win. The left are very militant and scary, more than angry. And the left of course, have the wrong ideals.

Anonymous said...

There is no real left in New Zealand, no organised political left anyway just a ragtag bunch of the descendants of those people who kept splintering in the 1970s. Free market paradigm has been accepted by just about everyone in every part of the political spectrum.

CarbonGuilty said...

I recommend you read 'The Righteous Mind' by J Haidt, as it explains your recurring question about why the Left has failed and continues to disappoint you. He is a psycologist and a liberal American,that is a lefty. To his considerable surprise his and other research has found two very significant things: 1. Our rational minds are servant to our unconscious moral & emotional minds. So despite our consciousness we are way more instinctive creatures than we realise. That is where our human nature lies and it is not changed by rationalism; 2. We are moral beings and there are six distinct areas of moral concern that drive us from within. What surprised and informed him was that liberals focus on only three of these whereas most conservatives are equally concerned with all six. The often great gulf between left & right is explained by this. Each looks at the other and cannot fathom the moral deficit the other exhibits. BUT unfortunately for the left, especially the passionate left it is they who are unbalanced, or under-developed moral beings. Haidt remains on the left but he now understands the right, which is I suspect is a considerable advantage, and one he shares with Obama. I now understand the left better and why I always thought it often unbalanced, immature and destructive, like a disturbed child. Britain in 1979 before Maggie intervened was a perfect example of the self destructive nature of the left. It also marked the point when the left's failure in politics began to be realized.
So to get back to why the left continues to fail you, it is because it at last has realized human nature is more complex and fundamentally better than it's previously shallow and immature self thought it was. The world is improving rapidly now we are into our fourth decade of a more balanced left and a more relaxed, successful right. Steven Pincker in his book 'The Better Angels of our Nature' shows we now live in the least violent world ever. He's another mature lefty to add to your reading list. So there is a lot of good on the left but it's not wanted today in government unless it's balanced and that is where you really are out of touch. I suspect you liked Chavez, whose destruction of his country is being completed now by is deluded followers. That's bound to strengthen your case for a return to the old left. Yeah Right!

Olwyn said...

You have seen what a passionate, committed and resourceful response from the present Labour Party looks like. It was on display at the November conference. In comparison, the latest attacks on workers have so far evoked no such unity of purpose.

And Anonymous @ 11.36am and CarbonGuilty: Anger deprived of a public voice is not the same thing as no anger.

Davo Stevens. said...

There is not "Left" now. Kelly et al don't want to scare the horses by making statements that would be upsetting to the business community.

The "Left" was pirated by the "Right" back in the 1980's and has never recovered. The remanants don't want to support the workers again because their business backers would abandon them.

The Greens have tossed out their hair shirts and sandals for a more mainstream position in politics.

Remember, politicians always tell the truth but their truth is from a different reality to ours.

karol said...

I'm not familiar with Haidt's work, CG, and had to look for something on it. You seem to equate numbers of ticks to some highly selective criteria, as an indication of "balance" and thus maturity.

The categories themselves need some consideration. The 6 categories of Haidt's theory:


Care/harm for others, protecting them from harm.

Fairness/cheating, Justice, treating others in proportion to their actions, giving them their "just deserts".[12][13] (He has also referred to this dimension as Proportionality.)

Liberty/oppression, characterizes judgments in terms of whether subjects are tyrannized.

Loyalty/betrayal to your group, family, nation. (He has also referred to this dimension as Ingroup.)

Authority/subversion for tradition and legitimate authority. (He has also connected this foundation to a notion of Respect.)

Sanctity/degradation, avoiding disgusting things, foods, actions. (He has also referred to this as Purity.)

Haidt found that the more politically liberal or left-wing people are, the more they tend to value care and fairness (proportionality), and the less they tend to value loyalty, respect for authority and purity. Conservatives or right-wing people, tend to value all the moral foundations somewhat equally. Similar results were found across the political spectrum in other countries.[14]

Right there I see a problem. When I studied the moral development of children and adolescents many years back, there was research that showed children developed through various stages to moral maturity. The highest stage was when they stopped making moral decisions according to fears of reprimand from authorities. A mature individual makes moral decisions by weighing up the situation and the relative harms to those concerned.

Haidt's criteria seem to give equal weight to a person's consideration of loyalty to authorities - it's disputable whether that counts as a moral decision - as to protecting others from harm or considerations of tyranny.

Further, it seems to me, that, using Haidt's criteria and giving a high score to "balance", a supporter of a fascist regime could be considered more mature than someone who resisted the regime in order to protect those persecuted by it. It all depends on who are seen as the tyrants. Some tyrants seek legitimacy by claiming they are protecting people from another, more damaging tyrant.

Furthermore, I see one of the criticisms of Haidt's system is that it doesn't give enough weight to social justice.

I don't know Haidt's background or beliefs, but people considered to be "liberal" or "left" in the US, can be about as left wing as John Key - all for individualism, and less for collective ways of struggling for social justice.

So it looks to me like you have produced an ill-founded argument that being more morally "balanced" explains why right wingers get more angry than left wingers. Apart from anything else, given the examples Chris used in his post, your argument seems pretty contradictory.

smttc said...

Nice try Chris. But no cigar.

Firstly existing ERA laws are hardly mild mannered. And changes already made by National (eg 90 days) are easily digestible. So no-one gives a toss about unionists moaning about changes to employment legislation affecting 5% of workers and Labour/Greens know it.

But challenging the orthodox free market paradigm is a biggee. And Labour at least knows it to be true and are probably regretting bringing it up.

David said...

I go on marches, collected for the KOA petition and feel very angry about the government but I just can't translate this into personal feelings of anger because I'm a reasonably happy person and being angry isn't much fun. However, I am quite happy to call this government the most fascist, and probably the first true fascist government New Zealand has ever had. The truth is, it is evil as it is part of a movement that is killing this planet which is actually worse than anything Hitler could have achived. But I don't want to act in an evil manner just to counter it. But stand up to it - absolutely!

Anonymous said...

Its pretty hard to show real anger unless you have a genuine vision on how things could be different.

And the social democrat leaders of the broader left simply don't have that. In fact they either refuse to 'dream a dream' or put forward watered down versions of the past as the way to go.

Although the broad left social democrat experiment or social contract that held sway during the post WW2 era had a good run, it was always going to run up against the realities of capitalism and come to a grinding halt at some stage.

This happened by the end of the 1960s. The limits of the combination of Keynsiasm and the welfare state as a pathway to a better way of life were becoming apparent and a new generation of young people throughout the developed world were demanding more individual freedom, greater democracy and, very importantly, freedom from a being a slave to 'the man' all their lives.

It reached the stage that significant moves in the way work was organised, our political institutions and how we were allowed to live our lives was the only way to maintain the left momentum that had been built up earlier that century.

A move toward a libertarian socialism was too much for most of the social democrat politicians who had become very comfortable with the way things were. They were simply incapable of rising to the challenge of putting forward a new vision that a new generation could buy into.

The right had been working on their neo liberal altermative for years and readily filled the gap.

They appeared to offer much of the above. It seemed like a good deal to many, and there really were not a lot of alternatives because the social democrats were/are much happier going down that track than moving to the left.

The problem the broad or soft left has in expressing any anger is that, even on a good day, the best they dare come up with are policies reminiscent of that earlier experiment which reached its peak and died because it would not renew or revitalise itself.

If the left can develop an exciting socialist vision then the language to describe it and evoke the passion required to make it happen will evolve.

But don't expect real anger to be on display from people who still cannot imagine the a society where markets and capitalism are not at its core, or a break from labourism - that stifling vision based on a narrow definition of work that condemns most of us to useless lives of unfulfilling and mindless labour that profits a small percentage of the population.

The right came storming through the gap with neo liberalism and from then on has made no more sense than neo liberalism.

It is pretty hard to be passionite about reintroducing

There is really no organised force of any significance to the left of the social democrats

Davo Stevens. said...

People seem to be missing the point of the changes. Slippery Willie English has told us several times that he wants NZ to become a low wage economy. so we can compete with China.

Their whole Modus Operandi is to do just that. Driving beneficiaries out to get jobs that don't exist is purely to make wage increases harder to obtain. The Gnats can't just force wages down without a battle with workers so they are doing it by stealth.

It's time people woke up to what is really going on.

thor42 said...

Hi there Chris -

As a right-wing troll, I just could not let May Day go past without a version of "The People's Flag, just for you!

Enjoy..... ;)

The people's flag is deepest blue

The Labour Party's in the poo

Our power system they'd nationalise

The stock mar-ket they'd terrorise

But anyway my faith I'll keep

Their talent pool is puddle-deep

One thing to see, I would go far

Chris Trotter as Prime Minister.

peterpeasant said...

an ABC caucus cabal terrified of losing funding from business puts a a mumbling mediatory (I just invented a word) leader that none of the missing voters (last time around) can even recognise.

Labour could have won both the last general elections if their supporters had turned up.

of course Key and his Kroneys have a free run.

There is no opposition.

Michael Wynd said...

I think the problem is Chris that the emotive terms you trotted out have been so over-used by the Left that they no longer mean anything. The Left does no thave the words anymore to use powerfully. Those terms do not work with the general population becuase they've been shown to be shallow and meaningless when used before.

CarbonGuilty said...

karol you have a problem with Haidt's authority? Perhaps read the book rather than criticise based on a wiki click.
You exhibit proof of his theory. Clearly of the left, you do not value four of the six moral drivers. You only pick one and try to rubbish it.
His point, which you make I think is that the left sometimes fails to appreciate that their opponents have extra values they dismiss as irrelevant, or worse, trample on or ridicule those values and wonder why we get upset! My spin on his brilliant work is that being decidedly left is a case of arrested development. As some wise conservative once said much better, when we are young we should be lefty but as we age we learn, mature and wise up, so move to the right. Makes sense to me and hence my thesis that the left is merely either immaturity or in the older person, a case of psycological imbalance.

Anonymous said...

What is market determination.What is trickle down.What is wealth by industry.What is bludgers, welfare users.What is less taxation for the markets producers and its wealth.What is, we give the market the tools to create wealth.

Are those not proven words and ideals that create poverty misery and class bigotry.

Cactus Kate said...


The females of the left are masters of passive aggressive behaviour then crying "meanie" when the right can be bothered to get up and give them a tap. I do not interpret Helen Kelly or Darien Fenton's tactics in any other way than being dishonest. Looking caring asking and giving away other people's money does not mean they are not as nasty as those of us honest enough to call them on their hypocrisy.

The usually passively aggressive Laila Harre posted elsewhere under the heading "National's War on Unions". Sorry Laila....the Unions have been at war with the Nats and the right for years. Cop it.

Anonymous said...

Kelly Fenton and Harrei whoo who says women have not got equity.