Friday 6 September 2013

Labour's Spring Of Hope

A Changed Trajectory: The days of MPs lobbying only their colleagues for the votes needed to become Labour's leader are over. Now they must face Labour's wider membership and convince them that they have the right - or should that be the "left" - stuff to lead the party. (Photo: John Miller)
SOCRATES, THEY SAY, was condemned to death for “corrupting the minds of the youth of Athens”. The fate of Ancient Greece’s most famous philosopher stands as a warning to all teachers: think very carefully about the ideas you instil in the next generation. Socrates paid a high price for the selfish and cynical political leaders his former students grew into.
Do the teachers of Labour’s three leadership contenders deserve the fate of Socrates? Have they instilled in David Cunliffe, Grant Robertson and Shane Jones the sort of cynicism and sophistry that distinguished Socrates’ most infamous student, the silver-tongued but treacherous Alcibiades?
Not if their speeches are any guide. All three of Labour’s leadership contenders have courted their party’s membership with reaffirmations of its founding principles and promises to advance its policies significantly to the left of their current settings. (Although, Mr Jones’ campaign promises have been somewhat less comprehensive and emphatic than his rivals’.)
The cause of this sudden resurgence in left-wing rhetoric is undoubtedly Labour’s new system for electing its leader.
For the whole of the party’s history, right up until November 2012, the normal institutional trajectory of Labour’s MPs has taken them further and further away from the party membership. The party activist became a parliamentarian. The back-bench MP won promotion to the front-bench (or Cabinet). The “rising star”, backed by his or her caucus colleagues, became the party leader and then, if he or she was any good, Prime Minister.
Only at the very beginning of their careers were Labour politicians dependent on the support of the party’s rank-and-file. Once in Parliament the focus of their attentions shifted irreversibly to their caucus colleagues – and the wider electorate.
Satisfying this latter group often came at the expense of the rank-and-file’s fondest aspirations. Opinion polling and focus groups easily trumped the outpourings of Labour’s Policy Council – to the point where the parliamentary party largely gave up trying to lead public opinion and began, instead, to follow its every contradictory twist and turn.
Except, of course, in the case of the Fourth Labour Government. In implementing “Rogernomics”, Labour MPs committed themselves to neoliberal polices that were favoured by neither the Labour Party nor the wider electorate. When the party rank-and-file objected, the Rogernomes proudly proclaimed that they would rather be voted out of office than abandon their government’s economic course.
Those who could not accept this split from Labour to form the NewLabour Party and, eventually, the Alliance. The members who remained were obliged to cede more and more control over the party’s overall policy direction to the Leader’s Office and caucus. It rankled, but for the 15 years Helen Clark led the Labour Party there was very little the rank-and-file could do about it.
Following Clark’s departure, however, the pressure for a wholesale democratisation of the party grew steadily, until, at Labour’s 2012 annual conference, it became irresistible.
The changes to Labour’s rules have exactly reversed the institutional trajectory of its parliamentarians. To have any prospect of capturing the party leadership, the most ambitious members of caucus are now required to secure the support of not only their fellow MPs, but of the broader party membership. In practical terms, this requires them to demonstrate an ability to lead, and not simply follow, public opinion.
To lead, organise and mobilise public opinion is precisely the reason why political parties were formed in the first place. The organisation’s whole purpose is to persuade voters that their interests are best served by supporting its mix of policies.
In 2013, after nearly 40 years of marginalisation, Labour’s members are, once again, exercising real influence over their country's political future. The significance of the rule-change is best gauged by the fact that had it been in place in 1984 Rogernomics couldn’t have happened.
Or, maybe not.
The conventional wisdom of political scientists is that Messrs Cunliffe, Robertson and Jones are currently engaged in a purely rhetorical exercise. That the moment Labour’s new leader is installed, he and his caucus colleagues will immediately exchange the campaign trail’s radical leftism for a mealy-mouthed and unadventurous centrism. And that, should Labour win the election, it will be as much a government of big business, by big business, for big business, as National.
The Death Of Socrates: Ancient Greece's greatest philosopher was condemned by the people of Athens for denigrating their democratic institutions and inculcating sophistry and cynicism among the city's future leaders. Even today, there are political scientists who warn their students that Labour's democratised system should not be taken seriously. That the eventual winner, having campaigned from the left, will instantly manoeuvre to the centre and then govern from the right. Where's that hemlock!
Socrates was required to swallow poison for inculcating such cynicism in Athens’ future leaders. The corruption of hope being the only truly unforgiveable political crime.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 September 2013.


jh said...

A case in point how will Labour leadership reconcile people who are inclined to agree with the Savings Working Group
with leftists of the internationalist tradition:
“Both in New Zealand and globally, the best of the leftwing tradition has always rejected small-minded nationalism, xenophobia and racism. In fact, leftists of an internationalist tradition have always favoured globalization and getting rid of national borders and barriers to migration. Progressive advocates of globalization of course do not defend a handful of rich imperialist countries, including New Zealand, dominating the world’s economy, but instead advocate an integrated and radically egalitarian world economy where production is based on social need and not on private profit. ”

Answer: they wont they will just waffle and waffle and waffle.... and waffle......

jh said...

This is sick:
by Hugh Pavletich | 05 Sep 13, 9:09pm
GBH … great comments … and thank-you.

I am STILL waiting for an apology from Labour for its gross negligence in doing absolutely nothing to address the exploding housing bubble wau back in 2002 … as illustrated by this Christchurch City Council Quick Facts Graph … look at it and weep …

Christchurch City Council Quick Facts Graph

Properly, they should be thanking the current Government for fixing Labours failure.

Sadly, the current crop of chardonnay socialists are more interested in keeping the poor poor and controlling them. Regrettably, it is all just a power game to them.

The REAL Labour people such as Savage, Semple, Lee, McMillan, Noerdmeyer and many more of them, would be turning in their graves if they knew what the current crowd are up to.

David Shearer was too decent for them.

There was NO WAY the real Labour people such as Savage and Lee were going to allow lower income Kiwis to live in rat-holes like the British. This in large measure is why many of them left there to come here … where people get a fair go.

Hugh Pavletich

Daniel Copeland said...

I think you meant to say "government of the people, by big business, for big business". National has not shown much passion for governing (regulating) big business.

Anonymous said...

Is that mealy mouth comment, you, having a dig at Mathew Hooton,i called him that last week in a email i sent to Radio Live.He was full blown rabid yesterday,especially about Cunliffe.

It is a good thing for Labour,that they are having this leadership process although, it should be of concern that Jones who i consider to be a spoiler for the Cunliffe vote, will swing his numbers in favour of Robertson,therefore in a round about way manipulating the process in favour of Robertson.

Anonymous said...

who cares who wins.
How come the media never give John Key a hard time?
He does whatever he wants and the MSM just roll over.
asset sales
GSCB bill
GST rise.
Where is the democracy under attack mantra that is so sorely needed.
I see Key as arrogant, out of touch, and a megalomaniac. He is running a one=man band with total disregard for the wishes of those he supposedly represents.
Yet still, still, the media lick his boots and ask no hard questions.

jh can't stop said...

In the past issues were much simpler. Richard John Seddon was able to turn a hostile crowd around because he empathised with them. Today (globalisation) labour politicians emphasise with all the worlds working boys and girls. So when the Savings Working Group blame high house prices on immigration (and tax breaks for property investors) they can only wave around tax policy but curbing immigration would be anathema.
When sections get smaller roads get busier fishing spots depleted they have to champion fried rice. In short they are slaves to the growth is good paradigm and have to share a bed with the likes the Koch boys.

Bobby Moore said...

I have been concerned about the role of caucus in releasing their voting intentions to the NZ Herald. The following is the exchange od e-mails:
E-mail from me to Tim Barnett
I am very concerned about the publication in the NZ Herald of the voting intentions of the members of caucus. My concerns are:
1. The publication of the caucus voting figures will unduly influence the voting of the membership.
2. It would seem to be a breach of the election rules that state that the results of the election will be announced at one time and not delivered in stages.
Tim Barnett’s Reply
Dear Lionel,

Many thanks for your message.

The "Herald" has contacted individual MPs who have apparently decided to tell them what they intend to do with their vote. Some have declined to say. This bears no relationship to their actual vote, which is conducted by post or on line in private. The article is not an announcement, so it does not breach the Rules.

Best wishes,


My second e-mail copied to Moira Coatsworth, David Cunliffe and Sua William Sio

Dear Tim
Thank you for prompt reply

While I have to agree that the reporting of caucus support for the candidates does not breach the election rules I do suggest that the rules need to be changed to prevent this happening again. I stand by my comment that the reporting the level of caucus support before the election will unduly interfere with the way eligible voters should vote.

I draw your attention to clause 8 of the Code of Conduct for the candidates:

8. Ballot: Will only be distributed by the NZLP Party machinery as part of the official election mailing. No candidate or supporters of a candidate will attempt to unduly interfere in the application for, casting and return of votes or how eligible voters should vote.

I consider that the same principle should apply to all those involved in the election process. The problems the Labour Party has had in recent years have stemmed from the undue influence of caucus and the gap that has developed between them and the membership at large. Allowing caucus members to comment in the way they have to the media allows this undue influence to continue.

As yet no reply

Anonymous said...

"Left-wing rhetoric" that's all it is so far rhetoric. The proof of the pudding applies here :-).

Anonymous said...

For sure there has been some words that have been missing in Labours rhetoric in the house, as they attempt to fend off Nationals run.A run on fiscal policy that was and is not to far off what they did when in control.

As you say Anonomous the proof will be in the eating if Labour members select the one that is challenging change.Other wise it will be the same as the old.

peterpeasant said...

A very long overdue reform. I might even consider voting Labour next election.

Slightly off topic, I wonder if Lange, Douglas (and save rail Prebble) would have made it under the current rules. we may well have been saved a lot of misery.

Nice to think that fish and chips do not decide party leadership. Well maybe they do matter, it depends on who is eating and where.

Anywhere but the Labour caucus has to be better.

Brendon said...

What jh is saying might be confusing to some. But the fact is that NZ is captured by the FIRE industries (Finance, Insurance and Real estate) and their chief policy being to take more and more of the workers money by massive inflation of land for your basic need -housing.

There is two ways to stop the FIRE takeover, compulsory government acquisition of residential land at rural prices (currently ten times cheaper than residential zoned land), before rezoning and development and sale directly to the end householder -this was done in Christchurch western suburbs post WW2 and in Sweden and the Netherlands, although recently they have also moved away from this approach.

The second method is not to have a green belt or urban growth boundary. And a system that new villages/ communities can establish themselves on rural priced land. This approach has been championed in Democratically run cities in Texas with their Municipality Utility Districts.

Hugh Paveletich our local champion of affordable housing favours the second approach.

The chief champion of the FIRE industry is the UK where the Tories will not impose any reforms that threaten the wealth of landowning toffs and the London Financial centre. While UK Labour is so enamoured by the public planners they will not impose any meaningful reforms either.

Brendon said...

"I stood on a street corner the night of the red-zone announcement, June 23, 2011. I stood there and looked our recovery minister in the eye and pleaded with Mr Brownlee, "get land on the market as soon as you can". He responded with the same old catch cry that will haunt our city for years . . ." the market will sort it!"

Rev Mike Coleman is a former teacher of accounting and economics. He is now a school guidance counsellor and Anglican priest. He is one of the founders of the Wider Earthquake Communities Action Network (WeCan).

Alan Johnson, who is a policy analyst for the Salvation Army, has been following developments with the Accommodation Supplement since the early 1990s, summarises the situation well.

"...any rent increase ahead of household income increase still leaves the household with less disposable income, which can cause real hardship.... They haven’t really addressed that issue, and the way they are addressing it is through supplementary benefits – Working for Families – which doesn’t help. What it does is turn working households into beneficiary households.... Really the only way is a supply response. Build houses, or make certain affordable houses are built."

jh chips in again said...

Labour has no sound product, it just has a chimera of competing paradigms. National has it's ship up and running (market ideology) Labour doesn't know how to build it's.
Today's issues are too complex for old style politics.
We need to get away from rhetoric and allocation of decision making to those who are selected (by dubious processes) to inclusive argument mapping.

Davo Stevens said...

@ Anon 12.09

Yes you are so right! The biggest problem that we face as a nation is our media, who should be un-biased, are all controlled by big business. Even when they say that the management has no reflection on what is printed, there is still a tendency to lean rightwards.

There is still a conception that politics are a sort of a metaphoric flat line with a centre point. With Rightwing on one side of that centre and Leftwing on the other side. This is not true, political idealogy is in fact, circular. The futher "Left" one goes the more "Right" one becomes and vice versa.

An example of this is the Douglas Gang, who are extreme "Left" and now are part of an extreme "Right" party.

Fascism is where the two ends meet. It have parts of both Socialism and Capitalism.

James McGehan said...

Your penultimate paragraph may be unduly pessimistic. I would see Labour easing left, squeezing the Greens, and leaving a space which will (they hope) be filled by NZ First. If they get the balance right Labour will be the dominant party in a coalition which the Greens will feel they must join or give up any hope of being taken seriously, and Winston will reluctantly retake some baubles of power. This scenario lifts Shane Jones' profile, after all who else would stay up late drinking whiskey with Winston?
James McGehan

Anonymous said...

"The conventional wisdom of political scientists is that Messrs Cunliffe, Robertson and Jones are currently engaged in a purely rhetorical exercise. That the moment Labour’s new leader is installed, he and his caucus colleagues will immediately exchange the campaign trail’s radical leftism for a mealy-mouthed and unadventurous centrism. And that, should Labour win the election, it will be as much a government of big business, by big business, for big business, as National."

Well, I cannot see that the new Labour leadership will simply be able to return to the "just as usual" approach of the last 2 decades.

Nevertheless, I fear there will be some "disclaimers" raised, and there will be some "qualifications", some moderation and some pulling back from what was said to the assembled party members during this campaign.

The existing structures, business establishment, the strong lobbies for farming, industrial fishing, forestry, horticulture, finance, real estate, and so forth, they will let their muscles play, and no matter how sincere intentions the new Labour leadership will have, the challenge will be there, to stop them in their first steps.

Do not underestimate the mostly privately owned, largely corporate media, the advertising business, and commercial interest behind them, they will do what happened in Australia under the Murdoch dominated media. We will see them looking for every opportunity to undermine Labour, the new leader, spokespersons and rubbish their policies. That is where the real challenge lies, and where the battle must be won. No doubt about that. Those that have, own and control wealth, power and levers, they will not surrender any of that without a fight.


Don Franks said...

" Cunliffe, Robertson and Jones are currently engaged in a purely rhetorical exercise...the moment Labour’s new leader is installed, he and his caucus colleagues will immediately exchange the campaign trail’s radical leftism for a mealy-mouthed and unadventurous centrism...should Labour win the election, it will be as much a government of big business, by big business, for big business, as National."

Sad grey leftwing Eeyoreism; smack on the money.

Chris Trotter said...

Never pegged you as a political scientist, Don. You always struck me as much more perceptive than that.

Davo Stevens said...

Sadly we are not alone in our politics, there is little difference between the Republicans and Democrats in th US or the Tories and Labs in the UK. Hardly any difference in Aussie as well.

And we wonder why people can't be bothered voting in an election! Their votes are not going to change anything very much.

Anonymous said...

If Cunliffe,is going to be the new leader and at the moment it is looking that way however,the members have yet to have their say.

The surprise has to be Jones, in second place, aside from the media commentators, and so called insiders and the majority of caucus who favour Robertson.How in touch are they with the publics opinions..

If the vote is a close run thing the second prefrence vote will be a important decider as will the caucus vote,who!s individual members vote is worth 150 votes to the individual party members one.

Saying that Cunliffe,does become the Leader and does win the next election his promises of a red tide will be one of a slow ripple.Then again if his leadership does not deliver a victory his only salvation as leader will be clawing back their deserted support.

David said...

Anothe Greek philosopher - Aesop - made two big mistakes that lead to his downfall. The first was criticising some of his contemporaries on their own homeground and peeving them off. The second was going back there a second time when they killed him.

peterpeasant said...

There is a pachyderm looming in the background. Funding.

The disenchanted non voters can ill afford to fund a resurgent Labour Party.

This is a reality that Labour faces. the majority of dollars are in Nationals corner.

I suspect that the Labour caucus chose Shearer because he would not upset business donors.

The Labour caucus thus swelled the the ranks of the "occupy" movement.

Maybe it is time for one of ou art festival centres to stage a live "Les Miserables".

Anonymous said...

Peter. Maybe it can be done.

Victor said...

What I believe New Zealand needs and what I think a Cunliffe-led Labour Party would try to deliver is an efficient, well-regulated, skills-based, sustainable, distributivist, capitalist economy.

There would, I suspect, be much in this mix that appeals to both the traditional Left and to the traditional Right, though not to the neo-liberals and market determinists who have tried to crowd out all alternative voices for the last 30 or more years.

Now it's not unreasonable for Cunliffe et al to try sell this mix to the Labour faithful as "Socialism" because it's closer to Socialism than anything we've had for a very long time.

But once Labour's leadership has been decided, it will be necessary to dress the same mix up with different rhetoric, both to appeal to non-partisan floating voters and to prevent an incoming Labour-led government having to cope with a permanent financial crisis as markets go into panic mode.

A skilled and principled leadership will be needed to modulate that change of rhetoric without excessive change of substance.

In the words of Ringo Starr: "You know it don't come easy!"