Friday 4 April 2014

Old Battles - Fought Unequivocally

Let's Do The Time Warp Again! Labour has been accused of "re-fighting too many old battles", but history suggests that it is precisely this willingness to stoutly defend traditional political values that explains the phenomenal success of politicians like Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It is equivocation that turns voters off - not conviction. So, come on Labour: "It's just a jump to the Left!" 
IN A RECENT COLUMN the veteran political correspondent, John Armstrong, accuses the Labour Party of “fighting too many old battles”. The perennial socialist causes, for which Labour’s politicians should still feel duty-bound to draw their swords, declares Armstrong, “have long been lost or are no longer relevant to most voter’s daily existence”.
By way of example, Armstrong draws attention to Labour finance spokesperson, David Parker’s, snappish criticism of Treasury’s “Investment Statement”.
This latter document, released nearly a fortnight ago, was responsible for raising considerably more than Parker’s eyebrows by suggesting that public ownership of health and education services, “should not be seen as the default setting”.
Labour’s finance spokesperson was having none of it and came out swinging. The Department, he said was “out of touch” with New Zealanders and accused it of promoting privately-owned “McSchools” and “McHospitals” instead of publicly-owned (and, therefore, accountable) education and health facilities.
“I can be completely clear”, thundered Parker, “Labour rejects that philosophy. Public ownership of public schools and public hospitals is essential to provide opportunity and protection for all New Zealanders. This is what people pay their taxes for.”
Borrowing a line from his predecessor in the finance role, Dr Michael Cullen, he characterised the Treasury’s highly contentious statement as yet another example of its unnerving predilection for unleashing random “ideological burps”.
Parker concluded his media release by challenging the Prime Minister and Finance Minister to combat Treasury’s rebarbative ideological offerings with the same antacid remedy as Dr Cullen.
That neither John key nor Bill English accepted Parker’s challenge, Armstrong argued, is attributable to the National Party’s belief that Labour is trapped in an “ideological time-warp”. The clear implication being that when it comes to the traditional Left/Right squabbles over Private versus Public ownership – the average voter no longer cares.
Armstrong’s concluding paragraph is bleak:
“National argues that if Labour could not prompt a voter backlash against the partial floats of the remaining state-owned electricity generators, it will struggle to stop the growing trend for private provision worldwide. The genie is well and truly out of the bottle. Labour has little hope of stuffing it back in.”
That the Right struggled very successfully to stop the growing trend toward public provision worldwide, and found it surprisingly simple to stuff the socialist genie responsible back in his bottle, seems to have escaped Armstrong.
And if he were to recall that, in New Zealand, the whole privatisation process was initiated by Labour, then the public’s unwillingness to be convinced by their re-conversion to the virtues of public ownership might look less like indifference and more like once-bitten-twice-shy caution. And who can blame them – given Labour’s repeated refusal to commit unequivocally to the repurchase of the privatised shareholdings?
Parker’s stout defence of public health and education speaks eloquently of Labour’s determination not to be caught equivocating on the last remaining bastions of collectivism in New Zealand society. Were the Right to be successful in privatising our schools and hospitals (and finally taming the education- and health-sector unions) there would be little left for Labour to defend.
The key strategic question Labour has yet to answer, however, is: when will it finally make the transition from defence to offence?
When the Right finally realised (in the mid-1970s) that the last great bastions of private enterprise – those the British Labour firebrand, Tony Benn, described as the “commanding heights of the economy” – were about to come under full-scale assault by the forces of the Left, its more far-sighted and aggressive advocates realised that defensive tactics were losing them the battle. Tory hardliners like Sir Keith Joseph, Airey Neave and Margaret Thatcher didn’t bleat on about it being too late to stuff the socialist genie back in its bottle – they made stuffing the socialists their No. 1 priority.
The greatest enemy any ideology – Left or Right – will ever face is not indifference but equivocation. The achievements of the Liberal Government of 1890-1912 and of successive Labour Governments up to 1984 were not laid low for want of voters willing to defend them, but by politicians unwilling to re-state – unequivocally – the reasons why socialists must never for a moment cease “re-fighting old battles”.
Margaret Thatcher always referred to her country as “Great” Britain, because reclaiming Britain’s greatness was her whole manifesto.
What will Mr Cunliffe ride forth to battle to re-claim?
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, 4 April 2014.


Brendan McNeill said...


Your assertion that having these services ‘publicly-owned (and, therefore, accountable)’ does not stand up to scrutiny. There are well-established privately owned and funded schools and hospital services in New Zealand. They are entirely accountable to their boards, their shareholders and in particular to their customers.

The fact that the private sector can successfully compete on a ‘fee for services’ basis against the ‘free’ services provided by the State must tell us all something about the quality, availability and the ‘accountability’ of the product delivered by the State sector in both health and education.

Private enterprise forces those delivering services to focus upon the interests of the consumer, and to place them first and foremost; something that is entirely unnecessary in the State sector.

It shows.

Anonymous said...

"That the Right struggled very successfully to stop the growing trend toward public provision worldwide, and found it surprisingly simple to stuff the socialist genie responsible back in his bottle, seems to have escaped Armstrong."

Well written, Chris, and it is right, that most people view Labour with the cautionary approach of "once bitten, twice shy". That is the main challenge Labour faces. Phil Goff did hardly convince when claiming Labour was returning to its roots, as he was over the decades one of the MPs and Ministers who warmed to the Roger Douglas initiated reforms, and later supported much of the neo liberal socio-economic policies that also Labour continued after National ruled this country until 1999.

We would already have had the welfare reforms we have now, had National been given another term in government in 1999, as they had the very same kind of policy proposals in their drawers then.

Labour needs to steer well clear from the past course, and show a firm commitment to collective ownership of the crucial sectors in health, education, welfare and some other areas, otherwise it will never return to voter support close to 40 per cent.

And they must be more assertive, go on the attack, and take a strong, convincing stand, as otherwise all they say and do seems only half-hearted and unconvincing.

That is where I am furious with Labour, as they have themselves a lot to answer for, and their silence on welfare policies will mean, that the close to 300 thousand on benefits will have little motivation to come out and vote.

Labour started "reforms", that prepared the way for this government to take matters further, using "science" and "findings" that are highly controversial and disputed, all from the UK where welfare reforms of similar kinds caused endless pain and suffering:

See the following link for info:

(read the last updated comments re where we are now)

This is not simply about being "soft" on people on benefits, it is about being, fair, constructive, supportive, inclusive and reasonable. Now there lies a challenge for Labour to make a difference, as in other areas!

Rgds Marcus

Davo Stevens said...

@Brendan; I am perforce to disagree with your comment "Private enterprise forces those delivering services to focus upon the interests of the consumer, and to place them first and foremost; something that is entirely unnecessary in the State sector." is entirely wrong.

The purpose of any private enterprise is to make money for their shareholders first and foremost and that is their bottomline. They trade off the balance of what they do to minimise the costs and maximise the profits.

Labour need to get back to it's proper grass-roots and give people a genuine opposing concept to decide on.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Can't speak for the health sector, but in the education sector the private schools often get a government grant as well as their fees. And of course their students are self-selected, mainly middle-class, and well motivated. Most private school teachers, and I suspect you wouldn't last 5 minutes in front of 4 engineering 2. So more of the usual bullshit I see Brendan.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Incidentally, there is a great debate going on in the Guardian at the moment about the British Labour Party and its direction – viz.

Jan said...

I agree with the 'once bitten etc' analysis, but I also think they are behaving a little like someone who has beaten you up and pretends it didn't happen. They need to find the guts to stand and say, unequivocally, that we did the wrong thing by you introducing neoliberal policies back then and we're sorry. We have turned our back on them and are returning to the original purpose for which our party was formed. We will work hard to undo the damage we helped cause. At the moment they are being too nice and too nervous - that's not enough to regain lost trust.
If they want to remember what 'fire in the belly' used to look like, they could take lessons from Hone Harawera. Kia kaha!

Jigsaw said...

There is the essence of the difference between fighting the battles then and now. Growing up working class in the 1940's and 1950's our parents wanted us to have a better education than they had and so we valued it-this in my experience was almost universal. It seems that nowadays education is little valued-several generations on welfare have seen to that and no doubt the members of 4 engineering are keen get on the dole and see little point in learning anything-I see the abuse continues from Gorilla Sturgeon. Of course the middle class values education what happened to the working class valuing it?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jigsaw, sorry I don't have the patience to put up with the bullshit that's put about constantly about the unemployed seeing the dole as a career option. Not to mention the bullshit put out about elitist schools. But what you see as abuse I see as robust debate. Let me say this. As someone who has worked with poor people most of his life, I have met very few that just want to get on the dole. Most of them don't have huge ambitions, but they do want a nice steady job to give them enough money to raise their families. So naturally I get tired of the constant blagging about dole bludgers as if there are millions of them. There aren't. And in fact the only parent I have met that didn't value education was self-employed. There is now an underclass, what that arse who writes the newspaper column calls "ferals" but I would argue they have been created by neoliberalism. And in my experience, many of them want to get off the dole and into a job as well. Funnily enough Victor living on the dole is not easy, in spite of what those idiots who do it for a week as an "experiment" say. In spite of what those idiots who say "I was poor when I was young." say. While neglecting to mention that the parents were well off and dropped off the odd side of beef and helped with the mortgage et cetera et cetera. So until you or Brendan can provide me with properly researched figures that show the percentage of people who see the dole as a career, I will continue to call your bullshit bullshit.

Trotsky said...

Chris, most if not all of our early education centres are private businesses, which get public partial subsidies and run very well indeed, I send both my girls to one and have used three over the last 4 years (such is the turmoil of balancing life with 2 under 5's and 2 working parents). Having seen the workability of this model for pre-schoolers I would have no fear of its extension into primary and secondary education, I would welcome it as I'm sure it provides much better choice, especially for parents who want religious education.

I dont see it as a threat to the current public education system which by and large is pretty good.

I think all the sound and fury surrounding it is the vocal and powerful education unions and they're paid puppets in the labour party, responding with aggression to any percieved threat to theyre dominance of the industry, with the usual chorus of support from the neurotic leftwing hysterians who resist any form of change from they're leafy suburban mansions.

With respect to health provision Im a lot more skeptical of privatisation, the US has the most expensive health system in the world and most of it is privately provided, so with respect to health a great deal more caution would be required.

Davo Stevens said...

Agreed Surgeon. I work with some who find themselves on the dole through no fault of their own. I also work with some young people who are wanting a job. It's my candid opinion that none of them choose the dole as a career.

The Neo-liberal treatise that they are "Bludgers" is just a dream.

Alastair: My anecdotal evidence from the US about Charter Schools is that they are not performing any better than their public counterparts. In fact some are worse.

Health should never be privatised. There is a place for private health as we have it now but the basic health care should remain in public hands. The Us is a bad example of health care because it's a place where if you can't afford insurance then you are often left to die. There are many who simply can not afford the extra cost of insurance.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Many U.S. states have really, really bad public education systems, partly because of private and charter schools. And in fact charter schools not only don't work as well as good public education, a high percentage of them are rubbish. They are often just used as an excuse to teach religious fundamentalism instead of science. Incidentally, I'm not sure there is such a thing as religious education – religious instruction maybe :-). Unless there all studying theology?

Jan said...

Actually, Alistair, while you may e lucky and found a good quality early childhood centre, there are also some really awful ones and a great many 'just getting by' ones. The main issue is that because they are a business many make short-cuts to increase profit, And believe me, I speak from vast experience here. (By the way, there is substantial research to show that parents do not really recognize the good from the not-so good centres)Profit-making has no place in education!

Davo Stevens said...

No central services should be privatised. As I said before, private enterprise exists only to make money for it's owners. To generate "Savings" they MUST reduce the services. It's a method where a few get richer at the expense of the many and that is the only reason that so many services have been privatised is simply for that reason. Too many people got all carried away with the mad privatisation that has been done.

Remember Mad Max Bradford saying that private power companies would make power cheaper? Well when did that happen?

Anonymous said...

What's wrong with private delivery of public services. If a corporation can give the same or better outcomes - then does it really matter who delivers the service?

Jigsaw said...

Guerilla Surgeon. Calling other people's opinion bullshit is NOT debate, even if you think it is!
Of course not everyone who is on the dole wants to stay there. Many want to move off and into a job and have ambitions its just that people being people they do dumb things that prevent their ambitions from being realised. Like the number of the people who have tattoos in stupid places and can't believe that people who employ other people to work in retail or whatever somehow don't want to employ them. Perhaps people should accept tats but that is not the issue.
Robust debate is still debate and calling people or their opinions names is not debate.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Calling other people's opinion bullshit is NOT debate."

Bullshit. Couldn't resist that sorry :-)/

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jigsaw, if I call a spade a spade, and then explain why it's a spade that's debate. If I call it a shovel but can't be bothered explaining why, then THAT'S not debate.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"If a corporation can give the same or better outcomes - then does it really matter who delivers the service? "

Firstly, if you take electricity as an example, I can't see any better outcomes from privatisation. And secondly, yes it does matter who delivers the service, particularly something like electricity for which there is little or no competition, and which is pretty much essential – like water.

jh said...

I was reading someones thesis online it was on the important question of White Privilege and how it intertwines with Pakeha whiteness. It got me looking into some of the thinking around Critical Racism Theory and white privilege.
So why do so many academics take these courses and where do they go? I think the argument is journalism, the public service and Labour PARTY?
A bit of a shame for Labour that they rely on so many awful white people for support?

Jan said...

Anonymous - I think I've already stated that in many cases, in early childhood sector, anyway, private companies do not offer the same quality of service because they focus on the profit motive at the expense of children's education. It's all very well to be glib and talk about 'the same or better outcomes', but it all too frequently doesn't happen that way. Making sweeping statements of opinion with confidence doesn't make them true.