Saturday 7 June 2014

The Right Divide

A Left Wing Party? You Must Be Joking! With the election of the Fourth Labour Government in July 1984 it became increasingly evident that the ideological dividing line in New Zealand ran not between National and Labour but between the Right of the Labour Party and an increasingly diverse and variegated Left.
THERE’S A REASON Labour finds the presence of political parties to its left so uncomfortable. It’s the same reason an ageing actor feels so uncomfortable sharing the stage with a more dynamic and younger rising star. The ability to compare and contrast is deeply subversive of undeserved reputations.
Labour’s uneasiness with political diversity also largely explains its apparent inability to abandon First-Past-The-Post thinking. From Labour’s point of view, FPP is the ideal electoral system. It virtually guarantees that a nation’s politics will be dominated and defined by two parties: one representing “The Left” and the other “The Right”.
The choices for electors are thus radically simplified. In much the same way that Radio NZ still grossly oversimplifies the discussion of New Zealand politics by subsuming the myriad subtleties and complexities of Right and Left in the orthodox political commentary of Matthew Hooton and Mike Williams.
From the perspective of Labour’s parliamentary caucus, the great advantage of reducing New Zealand’s politics to this essentially binary formation is that it allows them to pretend that the ideological dividing-line separating right-wing from left-wing New Zealanders runs between the National and Labour parties.
The maintenance of this plausible, but mistaken, perception has become critical to the preservation of New Zealand’s enviable reputation for political stability. The two major parties have devoted tremendous effort to promulgating the pernicious fiction that the extraordinary upheavals of the 1980s left the fundamental structure of New Zealand politics essentially unchanged.
The validity of the historically indisputable Left/Labour–Right/National dichotomy had been subject to academic challenge since the late 1950s, but with the election of the Fourth Labour Government in July 1984 it became increasingly evident that the ideological dividing line in New Zealand ran not between National and Labour but between the Right of the Labour Party and an increasingly diverse and variegated Left.
The proof of this lay in the fact that switching National for Labour, or Labour for National, made no significant difference to the way the country was run. The dominant right-wing faction of Labour’s caucus ensured that the neoliberal revolution of the 1980s would undergo no significant alteration by any government over which they held sway.
It was this effective neutralising of democracy which more-or-less guaranteed the introduction of MMP. The latter’s arrival should also have exposed the fiction that Labour MPs, simply by virtue of their Labour Party membership status, could be excluded from the ranks of those who opposed a radical revision of New Zealand politics. Unfortunately, the binary thinking so deeply-ingrained in our political system encouraged left-of-Labour parties like the Alliance and the Greens to persist with the pretence that National and its allies constitute the primary political target.
Ironically, David Cunliffe’s election as Labour leader, by the left-wing majority of his party, has made the perpetuation of this pretence easier, not harder. The right of Labour’s caucus which viciously opposed Cunliffe’s candidacy were, nevertheless, permitted to survive his victory, remaining well-positioned to thwart any attempt to match their new leader’s left-wing rhetoric with an equally left-wing strategy of outreach and accommodation with parties to Labour’s left.
Accordingly, these past two months have witnessed the Labour Right plotting in plain sight to exclude the Greens from any meaningful role in a Cunliffe-led Labour Government. Their “the more things change, the more they’ll stay the same” strategy has, however, been thrown into disarray by the intervention of Kim Dotcom’s money and Hone Harawira’s strategic dexterity. The lavishly funded and potentially decisive force now assembling to the left of the Greens under Hone Harawira and Laila HarrĂ© has forced the Labour Right onto the offensive.
Keep it up, guys! Long may the radio interviews, tweets and Facebook postings of Kelvin Davis, Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins, Trevor Mallard and Stuart Nash reverberate through cyberspace. New Zealanders have suffered for far too long from the Labour Right’s masterful misdirection. It’s time we realised that the paths they urge us to avoid are the paths to follow.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 June 2014.


Sanctuary said...

what chance they'll walk and form a new party after the election?

Sanctuary said...

What chance this scenario: Labour gets 30%, Greens 14%, IMP 6% for a 2 seat majority. Realising how radical the new Labour-led government is, the likes of Goff, Mallard and Hipkins walk away and form the "True Labour" party, the Labour coalition collapses, and "True Labour", in the interests of stability of course, prop up a National government?

Tiger Mountain said...

Cunliffe could and should have squashed all remaining ’nomes like bugs by promptly sending them to the back bench and then organised through LECs and affiliates to ensure Siberian list rankings for them.

The ABCs online utterances illustrate the correctness of Chris analysis. It is fair to ask though if there are enough remaining MPs and candidates not overly influenced by the neo lib virus available to stand in the Labour Party.

At least there are the Green and IMP options for those that agree with my harsh view that enough is enough of the NZLP right wing. If they were modern social democrats genuinely trying to put “The Rogering of New Zealand” behind them an election cooperation could be reached with Green and IMP.

But the open rather than generic class collaboration that my fellow marxists have long accused Labour of was well earned by the twitter brigade last week.

Kat said...

What chance this scenario: To have something of something or nothing of nothing.

If you want another three years of National then carry on hacking the Lefts nose to spite Labours face.

Jan said...

Thank you for such a lucid analysis of Labour - Apart from supporting Jacinda I shifted to Green years ago, but could never quite overcome a slight feeling of guilt - now I'm certain it's not me who needs to feel guilty!

jh said...

The two major parties have devoted tremendous effort to promulgating the pernicious fiction that the extraordinary upheavals of the 1980s left the fundamental structure of New Zealand politics essentially unchanged.
More fundamental than a left- right economic leaning policy was the embracing of globalisation and concensus (National, Labour, Green Party) that immigration (and by implication multiculturalism) was necessary and good. Opposition has been deemed to be from fringe racists and Winston's moth-eaten old folk yet in the UK :
UKIP received the greatest number of votes (27.49%) of any British party in the 2014 European Parliament election and gained 11 extra MEPs for a total of 24.[82] The party won seats in every region of Great Britain, including its first in Scotland, which Farage called a "breakthrough".[83] It was the first time in over a century that a party other than Labour or Conservatives won the most votes in a UK-wide election.[83] Farage said the result would change British politics fundamentally. "The political establishment will be terrified by this. They will all have to do a very large amount of soul searching and realize that the usual platitude 'We're listening' isn't enough," he said.[84] Wikipedia.

Radio NZ told folks how to think about UKIP last Sunday on Wayne Brittendens Counterpoint.

Jigsaw said...

The left love to feud - it's what they do best and has been a great help to National over the years. To think that the majority of the population of New Zealand really want to go further left than the Labour Party is to completely misread what the mood of the country is. It might be what the thinking is around Wellington but elsewhere no. I hear nothing but absolute contempt for the Greens and this in an area that actually elected a Green MP - by default of course but history glosses over that.

CarbonGuilty said...

Wake up you say Chris. Yes but it's late, very late. Like 25 years late. The world moved on from that group thinking long ago when the collectivist left lost fundamental credibility for supporting the monumental failure that was represented by the USSR et al. And meanwhile that quiet achiever, the apolitical middle, which only in tone can be divided into centre left and centre right, grew hugely and now is where about 60% of the population lives, works, eats, drinks and votes. Call them the Sensible Party if you like but they are not Party people. They are pragmatists more than ideologues, and currently the Nats are their pick. But it could be Labour, if it had a more attractive leader & was not likely to be hostage to single issue greens & the hard faced left. So they don't necessarily like the Nats but they see them as more representative of them currently. It's not politics as you know it of course. That is gone.
The old fashion left believers probably despise these people but that just confirms what has always been true of the 'principled' left elite. They are snobs. They find these modern masses revolting.
The 60% are growing and so of course Labour and soon the Greens will have to move towards them. The present and future is middle.
Hence my prediction that in due course we could see a coalition between National & the Greens, once the Greens realise their true place at the table is in the centre, and leapfrog Labour if it does not occupy that place.

Anonymous said...

I think it may be a good think if the Left lose this election. Then it might give Cunliffe and the unions and membership a chance to evict the ABC's and the right wingers in the LP.

If a half-arsed, compromised Labour-led govt gets elected in September when the population haven't CONCLUSIVELY tired of JK, then Labour's long term electability may be at stake.

I also believe that even if Labour adopts GENUINE social democratic policies (like it has only partially done) there will still be a place for the Greens, NZF.

It remains to be seen whether (in our non-compulsory voting system) the non-voters will ever be persuaded to get out and vote.

It also remains to be seen how big a constituency there is for Hone Harawira-type politics among the youth and disaffected. I'll hold my judgement.

Davo Stevens said...

The biggest problem NZ faces is that most people are not political. By the time they get home from their low paid, often just above the minimum wage jobs, they are too mentally and physically drained to worry about who is saying what in the political arena.

Your comments Carbon are way off the mark referring to the USSR, They were NEVER 'Left' as you put it. The USSR was FASCIST my friend. They used a few socialist ideas to keep the people happy just as Adolf Hitler used the same.

Cunliffe has to align Labour with one side of the fence or the other. If he stays rightish he'll just be a branch of the Nats. If he heads leftish he'll lose some votes but garner others. Hobson's Choice!

Anonymous said...

Adolph hitler seems to have got things right as far as economics was concerned. It was the second world war that was his undoing, not his economic policies.

Jigsaw said...

Davo reminds me of the old time communist in New Zealand who told me right towards the end that Romania was the one true communist country left. When I said that their roads were mere dirt tracks and the people dirt poor he said 'ah but they love their leader'. Paradise is always just around the corner eh Davo?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It was Hitler's economic policies broadly speaking that helped him lose the war :-). One thing about the right though - they don't have so much of the factionalism of the left. They just label everything they don't like 'socialism' :-).

Trotsky said...

Will $3million make Hone/Minto/Laila more electable - not likely, Im betting they get 0-1% of the vote. A pig with lipstick is still a pig - even with $3 million worth of lipstick. The glorious counter revolution will be delayed for a little longer Chris - so you will have plenty of neo-liberal (or whatever the latest bogey man of the left is) hate fodder to scribe and shout against.

Dex said...

For the record Chris, could you please state whether you have ever received any form of 'gift' or inducement, from Kim Dot com or the internet party?

Chris Trotter said...

For the record "Dex", the answer is an emphatic - "No!"

markus said...

Well, you know , andrewmahon1234, nothing would please me more than to see the ABCs and their Nat-lite Managerialism lose influence, with Labour adopting a clear set of genuine (and brave) Social Democratic policies.

But your notion that 'it might be a good thing if the Left lose this election' - could only really come from one of the Left's more comfortably-off Middle/Upper-Middle supporters.

You do realise that a significant proportion of Kiwis are doing it very tough at the moment, don't you ? For them it's not some game where you get to adopt progressive/radical poses but can, at the same time, happily decide to defer until 2017 because, in the end, your own lifestyle isn't really going to be materially affected by who is in government.

Davo Stevens said...

@Jigsaw, Actually there has never been a truly Communist country anywhere. They were all variations of Fascism. I've heard that story before. I'm not a Communist BTW.

@ Anon,Adolf's Econimics were a shambles, a bit like what we have today, printing money willy-nilly.

Jan said...

I think there is a degree of urgency about getting a government to the left elected. My area of expertise is Education and the longer that gets undermined the harder it is to undo the damage done, let alone move on.
There will, of course, be many other essential services, like Health for instance, which are no doubt in dire straits, but I know less about their issues

Anonymous said...


He printed money, but not "willy nillY" as you put it. And printing money is not considered poor policy in itself,though of course there is a debate about whether money should be printed by the banks, or whether the right to do so should be restricted to government.

Anonymous said...

Could we have a list, Chris on which MPs and Labour candidates you consider left and which right. And on my reading of the 2005 election campaign you seemed to have swung behind the ultra right of the Brash/Collins National Party and abandoned your support of Helen C. Was this just 'media angst' or had you abandoned Labour at that time because they were - too feminist- too gender politics- to sympathetic to W43 and Condi- too anti the old nz and north otago farmers.
The other list a lot of people would want to see is the one leaked by Goff of those John Allen/ McCully and Tim Grosser ? wanted to get the chop from the MFAT staff.
My own view of the Labour MPs- one could only accurately say that O'Connor was right wing and that Hipkins is probably left- for the rest I wouldn't like to make a call of where they will be positioned in 2015.
Harre/Dotcom/Sykes and probably Harriwara I would say are about as hard left the electable get. Strangely I would usally include Lianne and Street and Woods as part of the party.
Mathewson and Butcher were of course assumed to be ultra left in 83. Staunch Tory of course.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@14:25

How you formed that conclusion is way beyond my powers of divination.

I have never - and would never - back the National Party.

If you would like a list of who's what and where visit The Daily Blog and click on my archive. Somewhere in there is the list you seek.

Otherwise, just read the postings on this site. Won't take you long to sort out the Red Hats from the Mauve Hats.

Overlaying ideology there is, of course, the question of character.

Chris Hipkins, for example, is just plain vicious. So his ideological predilections don't really matter.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus – Hipkins is vicious? He looks about 16 :-). Not that 16-year-olds can't be vicious mind – but he looks like butter wouldn't melt in his mouth.

And who the hell is Hariwarra anonymous 14.25? For fuck's sake it's the man's name. Unless you're being satirical, which is difficult to tell as your post is reasonably incoherent, get the correct spelling.

Nic the NZer said...

@Davo, I don't think Hitlers economic policy was a shambles. While Germany (and the Allies) were all command economies through the war the idea that miss-management of his economic policy might have significantly effected the war is laughable. Churchill saw exactly the facts, that a war on two fronts in Europe and Russia was going to be too much for Germany, and he reacted accordingly.

There was however a country where economic policy was a shambles, Austria. The economic policies of Ludwig von Mises (a major Austrian, e.g extreme free-market, economist) were so destructive for the Austrian economy (causing massive unemployment and misery) before Hitler invaded that many Austrians welcomed Hitler. That is where the term Austrian economics comes from, though Austrians have been making a very concerted effort to re-write economic history ever since.

manfred said...

But that's the point, people like Brendan who support Austrian economics accept massive unemployment and human misery.

They believe that's the natural order of things.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hitler's economy was indeed a shambles at least until Speer took over, and even then it suffered from conflicting factions and poor decisions, particularly about the allocation of resources. Some of which were made by Hitler himself, for instance the decision to rearm in breadth rather than depth, meaning that many German innovations later in the war were half arsed. Of course it was a war of production, and you will notice that (if you look at the figures) that Britain alone consistently out produced Germany for much of the war. The British government was far more ruthless, and efficient than the German, particularly early on. Hitler like his governments factionalised, because it made him feel safer.

CarbonGuilty said...

What on earth are we talking about Hitler for? Oh well why not.

And DS, grow up. Referring to things you don't like as fascist is childish. Just playground abuse.

And I did not say the USSR was left (although of course it was) I said the left supported it. Partly because, in ignorance they foolishly thought it a wonderful communist society. But it can't be done without changing human nature. That is why communists end up imprisoning then exterminating their own people: they think it will improve their human stock, like a farmer culling inferior examples in his stud.

So you who desire true communism are ultimately advocating prison camps, usually followed by death camps. Collectivism is always in danger of being human farming, then slaughter. Nazism was collectivist too of course.

You people who say communism has not been tried are like those Muslims who claim Islam does not involve murdering infidels. Problem is the Islamists are Muslims and are actually murdering infidels flat out so it kind of implies that currently, yes Islam can & does have murderous tendencies. Imposed communism clearly does too.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well carbon guilty just made my point, whenever the right is associated with something it doesn't like or sees something it doesn't like it just says "collectivist." :-)

Nic the NZer said...

@CarbonGuilty, That's about as much discussion of Stalin and Islam as one can fit into one comment about Hitler. Do try to stay on topic, Hitler was the chancellor of Nazi Germany.

Nic the NZer said...

Every thing in perspective of course. A command economy is totally different to a market economy. While Germany's GDP/output growth may not have been able to keep up with the Allies, it still grew extremely rapidly.

If we were to compare any command economy on the basis of GDP/Output growth resulting with a market economy the clear conclusion will always be that the market economy is an absolute shambles.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Growth of the German economy depends on when you start from of course, but my point is still valid, that in the first few years of the war he couldn't keep up with Britain let alone the allies. After every campaign, there was a fall in Armed Forces production and an increase in civilian. Hitler was very afraid of a reaction from the civilian population similar to that of 1918/19. So after the Czechoslovakian, Austrian, Polish and French campaigns armaments production fell markedly. The whole of World War II as far as Hitler was concerned, was predicated on a series of short, sharp operations – which of course was buggered by Russia. It was only after that failure that some in Nazi Germany realised the wall was going to last a fairly long time. And even then it was difficult to remove the factionalism that hampered armaments production.