Sunday 28 September 2014

The Left Triumphant! A Counterfactual History Of The Last Twelve Months.

Looking Like A Winner? David Cunliffe had everything to play for - and lost. Had he played differently, Saturday 20 September, rather than a debacle, could have been a triumph.
DID IT REALLY HAVE TO END LIKE THIS? Reading through the commentary threads of the left-wing blogs it is impossible to not feel the anger; the sense of betrayal; the impression of having had something vital ripped from their grasp that many left-wing voters are still experiencing. Political parties are supposedly the vessels in which the hopes and dreams of whole classes of people are carried to power. How did the parties of the Left fail so spectacularly? Could it possibly have ended differently?
Of course it could. The debacle of 20 September 2014 was anything but inevitable. Different choices could very easily have produced spectacularly different results.
Let us begin with David Cunliffe’s victory of 15 September 2013. Not only was this a democratic triumph for the ordinary members and union affiliates of the Labour Party, it was also a revitalising tonic for Labour supporters and voters across the country.
For two weeks New Zealanders had been reminded of what Labour was all about – or, at least, what it was supposed to be about. They responded by sending Labour soaring to 37 percent in the polls. Given that the Helen Clark-led Labour Party had won power in 1999 with just 38 percent of the vote, Cunliffe and his team were poised upon the threshold of an election year from which they had every chance of emerging triumphant.
What happened in the three months following that historic vote set the scene for the disaster the Left has just experienced.
What happened? Well, that’s the whole point isn’t it? Nothing happened. Spring turned into summer and Cunliffe did very little to build upon his September victory. The Labour Party’s annual conference was allowed to come and go without the slightest attempt to demonstrate to a waiting New Zealand in what way the new Labour leader was in any politically obvious respect different from the old one.
So consider, instead, this counterfactual history of the past twelve months.
*  *  *  *  *

CUNLIFFE ANNOUNCES the appointment of Matt McCarten as his Chief-of-Staff not in February 2014, but in September 2013. The new Leader of the Opposition’s Office is thus galvanised into action immediately – not five months later.
In his speech to CTU's biennial conference in October, Cunliffe announces his intention – as both Prime Minister and Minister of Labour – to establish a comprehensive commission of inquiry into workplace conditions and employee aspirations. It will be the biggest and most thorough exercise in public consultation ever attempted in New Zealand, and at the end of the process the country will have a blueprint for workplace relations that the people themselves have drafted. At the 2017 election New Zealanders will have the opportunity to vote this blueprint up or down. If they vote it up, then working-class New Zealanders, and the new institutions they have brought into being, will find themselves – for the first time in a long time – at the centre of the political stage.
In November, with the reverberations of his workplace policy still echoing around the country, Cunliffe flies into Wigram for his party’s annual conference. Instead of the damp squib this gathering turned out to be (full of backstairs arm-twisting to shut down the debate on lifting the age of retirement and blunt the growing union opposition to the TPPA) the conference offers the clearest possible signal that Labour and the Greens will be fighting the 2014 election as partners – not antagonists.
On the Sunday afternoon, Cunliffe is joined on stage by Russel Norman and Metiria Turei, and, to tumultuous applause, the three politicians jointly announce their common policies on Climate Change and Ending Child Poverty. Like the 1998 Alliance Conference in Albany, the Wigram Conference gives New Zealanders an abiding and highly persuasive image of unity and common purpose.
To conclude his first 100 days as Labour leader, Cunliffe celebrates the festive season by launching his autobiography. The book, published by Craig Potton, and begun when Cunliffe was banished by David Shearer to the back-benches, sets out not only the story of Cunliffe’s life, but also his vision for New Zealand’s future. In an instant, the problem of what to give every Labour Party member and supporter for Christmas is solved. The Press Gallery, too, has something to read at the beach.
Early in the new year, with Cunliffe’s, the Greens' and Mana leader, Hone Harawira’s blessing, Matt McCarten sets up a very secret meeting with Kim Dotcom. “We all share a common goal,” Matt grins, “we all want to get rid of the Key Government. Perhaps you might like to assist the three left-wing Opposition parties with a substantial financial donation?
“To many New Zealanders,” he tells the big German, “you have become a sort of folk hero. So they’ll forgive you for donating money to John Key’s opponents. What they will not forgive, however, is any attempt to intervene directly in the country’s politics. By sponsoring a new political party, for example. If you want someone other than Judith Collins to be the Minister of Justice after 2014, then what Labour, the Greens and Mana are proposing is by far the best option.”
Cunliffe’s next call, early in 2014, is to his publisher, Craig Potton. With the 2002 precedent of Nicky Hager’s Seeds of Distrust firmly in his mind, he asks Potton to think very carefully before publishing another of Nicky’s books in the middle of an election campaign. “If such a publishing venture is planned,” he says, “could you and Nicky, at the very least, keep all the Opposition leaders in the loop? A Labour-Green-Mana victory may well hinge on how you manage the release of another one of Nicky’s exposés.”
In the very depths of the winter of 2014, Cunliffe and McCarten, working with Helen Kelly of the CTU, organise a mass union meeting in the Telstra Events Centre in Manukau. Before an audience of 8,000 workers, Cunliffe, Norman, Turei and Harawira jointly announce their “Fairer Taxes For A Fairer New Zealand” package. “The 1 percent,” Cunliffe thunders, “will make a contribution to New Zealand’s future commensurate with their obscene wealth!” “The polluters will be made to pay”, the Greens promise. “We will feed the kids!” Hone bellows – to a crowd already on its feet and cheering.
In the final fortnight of the election campaign the “New Tomorrow Road Trip” makes its way from Kaitaia in the North to Invercargill in the South. A gleaming cavalcade of busses (paid for by Dotcom’s millions) snakes its way through New Zealand’s green and pleasant land carrying the Labour, Green and Mana leaders into every major city in the country.
It ends in the Auckland Town Hall on the Thursday before the election. Packed to the Gods the audience listens intently as Cunliffe speaks about his upbringing as a preacher’s son. "I have always believed that there is something bigger in this world than the individual," he tells the hushed hall, "and that there are things more valuable than money." His words echo across Aotea Square, where thousands more are also listening. "The men and women who inspire humanity do not look back, at the past; or down, on their opponents; they look forward, to the challenges that lie ahead; and, if we are very lucky, up, towards the mountains we have yet to climb. There are men and women who fit that description with me on this stage tonight, and, God willing, they will be with me in Government on Sunday morning."
*  *  *  *  *
HISTORY is about the choices men and women make. Had better choices been made over the past 12 months, then the unemployed, beneficiaries, the working poor, young New Zealanders trying to buy their first home, university students burdened down by debt, all those in need of caritas – the love that so terrifies the Right – might now be celebrating the beginning of a new chapter in the history of New Zealand progressivism.
For their sake, as well as our own, we must do better next time.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 26 September 2014.


Jigsaw said...

Reads well but assumes so much. Cunliffe really doesn't have it in him (I believe) to be able to do even a fraction of that. Your scenario also assumes a complaint media and that Greens would want this sort of thing to happen. I don't understand why Labour think that Greens are not their enemy-they are ones taking the votes and scaring people off. Around the world 15% is about the tops that the Greens can seem to get (thank goodness!)Also amazing that Matt McCarten-a long time poll loser has escaped much of the criticism to this point.

Charles Etherington said...

Quite ridiculous. If that was remotely possible (and it isnt as Cunliff is so deeply unattractive in all respects) why on earth would Labour want one vote to go to those other imposter parties?
Don't you get it even yet? The Greens and the other rats and mice are your problem. They not only take your seats they scare others into my party's vote.
Long may it continue. And it will because your side's advisers simply are deluded.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I'll say it again. 1 MILLION PEOPLE DIDN"T VOTE! You can see how the right fear non-voters and poor people voting by the various sneaky methods Republicans are trying to stop them from voting in the USA. And while a lurch to the right might temporarily give us Caucus unity, it doesn't do anything for the people labour are SUPPOSED to represent. In all the gnashing and wailing of teeth that seems to be going on in the media at present, nobody seems to be mentioning the elephant in the room. At least, nobody in the Dominion Post in the Sunday Star time :-). The Labour Party, and politicians in general but the Labour Party mostly, have lost all respect for the public. They're insulated from real life, bound up in a habitus of entitlement :-). Just because the general public's views are not socially liberal, or politically correct doesn't mean to say they don't deserve some form of respect. If only to the extent that you realise the need to educate people out of them, rather than ride roughshod all over them. At least they haven't shafted the membership by confining the leadership choice to the caucus. About their only saving grace so far.

clothcapblackpuddingferret said...

Dear Chris -

Why do you and others on the left assume that the left has a monopoly on caritas? That is a wilfully blinkered point of view.

Isn't getting people off unemployment and into work a very practical manifestation of caritas? Something that could be straight out of Catholic Social Justice, for example, with its emphasis on the dignity of work? Don't you think voters can see that?

All the best.

Alan said...

If Labour wants to ever govern again it must know where power comes from and challenge that with a moral call to arms that citizens can and want to respond to.

The Right understands this very well, but what passes for the Left in this land seems to have forgotten. If you believe that citizens have a right to work ; a right to organize in unions; a right to access the best in healthcare for themselves and their children, a right to access the best in education, and a right to live in an inclusive society where race, religion, gender… and wealth, do not determine your worth to the whole, then your inclinations are Left.

The Right, with its docile media and competitive winner/loser mentality undermines all these things, as successive governments, Labour and National dominated, have done since the 1980s.

Most people vote with their hearts if they vote at all. The stuff above they understand, if someone has the passion to articulate it, and herein lies Labour’s problem. Sucked along in the eddies of the Neanderthal Right with its powerful corporate, financial, and media interests, Labour erroneously thinks it has to humour the same love-interests to succeed, thereby taking away real choice from voters, and condemning itself, and them. Not for nothing were Labour parties like this called the ‘Fire-brigades of Capitalism’.

People want a future to think about and aspire to. They need to be uplifted with grand visions articulated with courage and conviction, not put to sleep with bamboozling leader debates over tangles of dollars and cents. To do this Labour must be prepared to challenge and change the power structures that keep the privileged Right in control, and the majority out of it.
Alan Rhodes

pat said...

one thing all should be considering, especially those within Labour with input to reformation is what is the desired outcome for NZ they believe the bulk of NZ want and then work out how to achieve and market that..if that requires acceptance/adaptation of the current economic orthodoxy those further left may have to bite their tongues and use their wits and energy moderating the effects of said policy because the alternative (National) government has shown itself to be increasingly extreme right with its demonstrated anti democratic actions and increasing power of the state...contrary to the recent election result I believe most NZers would be very unhappy with where that road leads...Labour need to show the public both destinations and their map on how we can get to the better destination.

Anonymous said...

Isn't getting people off unemployment and into work a very practical manifestation of caritas?

Not if your way of doing it is to simply cut off people's benefits ("are there no prisons? are there no workhouses?"), which is pretty much all the National Party considers these days - it's never the fault of the wider economic conditions, it's always the failure of the individual. The last Tory PM who tried the other route, namely stimulating the economy in order to ensure there were more jobs (in election year anyway) was Rob Muldoon.

Charles Etherington said...

Mr Rhodes you must imagine most people are children looking for a strong lead from a parent-like government who will look after them.
Like the small religious minority who again, like children look a god to provide for them and keep them safe.
Grow up. Most of us only want the minimum from the government these days. And that is sound management of the country and no more. We do not want to be led at all by this manager we employ. So we mature citizens do not look up adoringly to our manager. But we will respect them if they do a good job and will renew their contact, as we have just done and as we did with the competent Ms Clark.
So there was no way we were going to put up a horrible committee of pretenders like Cunliffe, Norman and Harre. Yuk! We not only knew they were unworthy of even sweeping out our garages, we knew they could not do the job.
The world has grown up mate. You need to too.

Wayne Mapp said...

You are making an assertion that all those who believe in good education, good healthcare, having a job with prospects, and a society free from racism etc is the domain of the Left. That is an absurd statement. Over the last 70 years National has been able to be elected because it also believes in these things. The pathway to get there might be somewhat different to Labour, but the aspiration is essentially the same.
I assume, based on your implicit attack on the style of Labour under Helen Clark, you are another of the Left who believe there is a "failed neo-liberal experiment". In my view as long as Labour conveys this message it will remain in opposition.

pat said...

Wayne , the assertion that the road to the "good: aspects of our society is merely matter of the means is to say the least disingenuous as the problem those who take issue with the right is not the provision of these social necessities but the accessibility/ this the neo lib experiment has indeed been shown to fail miserably, far more so overseas but then they were starting from a point of less historical egalitarinism than we were. NZ is perhaps fortunate to be in a position to study what has happened and take steps to mitigate the worst of the effects rather than deluding ourselves we can continue rushing towards the cliff like a bunch of lemmings.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Over the last 70 years National has been able to be elected because it also believes in these things. "
That's the myth you like to believe :-). I work with people who have access to none of these.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
tranquil said...

C.E. and W.M. are correct. As long as Labour and the left-wing continue the delusion that they have a monopoly on caring then they will be doomed to rot on the Opposition benches. As long as the left-wing sees more taxes and more money thrown at beneficiaries as the answer, they will never leave Opposition.

National have had to cope with the most difficult situation in decades (the GFC and the Canterbury quakes). They managed to not only "keep the ship on course" but make our economy the envy of all other Western countries.
It is no surprise then that the Nats were re-elected.

Labour almost always goes for the "easy answers" - the "baby bribe", more money for this, more money for that. People aren't as foolish as they used to be - they can now see that such largesse must be paid for. This is why Labour is doomed. They are at the end of a left-wing cul-de-sac and are unable and unwilling to move to the right.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

You might call it growing up, the rest of us would say it's the biggest and worst project of social engineering ever undertaken in this country. To convince people that the weak and helpless should be abandoned. And vilified – because we know it's all their own fault. Instead of grown-up, I would characterise your vision of society is dog eat dog, and the devil take the hindmost :-).

pat said...

tranquil, you appear to be conveniently ignoring the 9 years of surplus, the formation of the Cullen fund and zero government debt that Nat inherited from the Labour led government that placed the country in a strong position enabling National to offset the worst effects of those two events.

Rain333 said...

I was reminded of a column I read some time back, turns out it was August 2012 by Duncan Garner. Reading it again in light of the disaster that was Sept 20 (really, that was only 9 days ago?!) surely the outcome was entirely predictable.

Some things really jump out at me. Cunlife..."never delivers on his promises and is sneaky and lazy". I was astounded with the amount of time DC was 'MIA' during the campaign at crucial times. It goes without saying he is 'tricky'. I accept that particular label was tagged by the opposition, but I believe it to be a fitting one, I saw him talking out of both sides of his mouth once too often.

"He (Cunliffe) and the caucus have already collided - and it's a big pile up"....seems that Duncan Garner had the ability to look into the future, and the 'pile up' to which he referred is quite clearly the train wreck that is the current Labour Party.

markus said...

Things appear to be rapidly moving from the sublime to the ridiculous.

Josie Pagani has just published a post on Pundit suggesting Labour should transform itself into something much more akin to the Roman Catholic Church.

I can just imagine the Labour Party President's reaction: "Christ !, that's all we need !" As if Labour isn't dysfunctional enough already.

You'd have to say that if the contemporary Catholic Church is the answer then what the friggin hell was the question ??????

Chris Trotter said...

To: Everyone

It is a telling commentary on the current shell-shock state of the Left that no one commenting on this posting has made reference to the components of what I believe would have been a winning campaign strategy.

These included:

Bringing the Greens and Mana on board early as co-campaigners for a change of government.

An exhaustive consultative exercise into what workers see as their rights and responsibilities in the workplace and how these might best be secured legally and institutionally.

The use of books (remember them?) to flesh out the leader's vision and strategy.

Anticipating possible problems - and neutralising them before they become problems.

The use of mass events to emphasise the reality of mass support for both the leader and party policy (See Phoebe Fletcher's excellent posting on the Pundit blogsite.)

The use of the nationwide cavalcade (rather than random mall visits) to build campaign momentum and excitement.

I would be really interested to learn what Bowalley Road's readers think about these tactical offerings - not to mention their thoughts on broader strategic issues.

Come on people!

Wayne Mapp said...

Hi Chris,

I can understand a joint platform of Labour and the Greens. As you note one of the reasons for the Labour/Alliance success in 1999 was this element. Broadly speaking voters knew what they were going to get, because at least the basics had been agreed. But in this election they did not, so therefore middle voters deserted both Labour and the Greens. Too much risk of unknown govt policy.
But including Mana would have been a disaster. It could have well driven Labour votes below 20%, with the voters deserting to Winston. Voters really did not like the KDC influence. Kelvin got there because moderate voters in Te Tai Tokerau could not stand the KDC influence.

Anonymous said...

Chris ,
You make some good points, but:

Internet Mana were poison! This is the central message from the electorate. They were seen as traitors funded by foreign criminals, for the ends of said criminal. Because they were. Any association with them causes a historic rush to National. See the actual election results. (Also Hone wouldn't cooperate with anyone even without Dotcom).

The 'appeal to the worker' is a plausible idea. Certainly better than 'we're like National, but with a slightly different tax regime'.

Crappy self serving hagiographies don't persuade anyone. "My glorious life by Your Dear Leader" . The trend started by Brian Edwards on Helen, and continued by Brash and Key should be stopped. Anyway, Cunliffe doesn't have a very compelling story, Key's is much more interesting.

I doubt Hager would be persuaded. He's a True Believer in what he does, and though he does good (if illegal!) research, and raises valid and worrying points, his conclusions verge on conspiracy theory. Though I guess that is your point!

COULD Labour and the CTU get 8000 people? And Hone to cooperate? And you'd have to involve the Greens, so they don't feel left out. But they don't like industry, so many union members are deeply suspicious of them.

Labour were always far too faction ridden to do anything you suggested.
That's where it all falls down.
I'm sure you know that.

Still, 'Alternative Histories' are always fun. A French South Island is one of my favourites, although it isn't very plausible.

Chris Trotter said...

Yes, yes, yes, Wayne. But in the above counterfactual Kim Dotcom is persuaded to limit his involvement to making hefty donations to the Opposition parties and then keeping well clear. So the debacle of Internet-Mana is avoided and Hone remains the staunch (if rather lonely) voice of the poor and marginalised.

And, yes, Anonymous@10:49am, it is possible to get 8,000 workers to a rally - I attended one at the self-same Telstra Event Centre in 2010!

And, yes, of course I know that Labour in its present state could never agree to pursue such a bold and inclusive political strategy - that's why it requires a counterfactual argument premised on the absurd assumption that Labour's MPs actually want to win an election - rather than play musical chairs for the Leader of the Opposition's big leather seat.

Anonymous said...

So , Who wants to talk about a French South Island?

Anonymous said...

"Kim Dotcom is persuaded to limit his involvement to making hefty donations to the Opposition parties"
is less plausible than a French South Island.
Kim Dotcom is only interested in Kim Dotcom, with Kim Dotcom front and centre.

Rain333 said...

Yes Chris, your 'path to victory' is quite brilliant, and that is the very reason that there has been little reference to it. Having to segue from a well crafted, tactical winning strategy, to the reality of the Labour Party train wreck is simply too much!

Paritutu said...

Sorry to see the level of immaturity in the responses to your post, Chris. Clearly most of these cats are wedded to particular very sectional views, nicely reinforced for them by shallow media 'bites,' and won't be herded in any particular direction. I can't see the NZ electorate breaking out of this paradigm unless the changing world out there unleashes some sort of tsunami upon us that fractures our complacent indifference.

Loz said...

Dirty Politics should serve notice on any political movement for change that any balanced media exposure is unlikely. This isn't unusual. During the Depression almost the entirety of New Zealand's print media were savaging Labour and the right wing resorted to jamming positive messages from the party from the airwaves... some things don't really change.

For all the venom unleashed, Labour grew its support in the 1930’s because its message resonated as truth that ordinary people could identify with. Ultimately we all relate to economics. We inherently understand if we are increasing our own security and independence or if life is tougher than yesterday. The maximum of the rich get richer and poor get poorer (and more plentiful) has always been a certainty when trickle down promises provide the guiding ideas in politics. We know that the vast flow of wealth flows to corporations that now pay almost no tax. Every day of the week these freeloaders should be named and shamed if Labour wanted to strike a chord with its heartland. It needs to be vocalising what most of us already know about how working New Zealanders are being strangled for ransom by banks, insurance firms, utilities monopolies and no end of other oligarchies.

Forcefully speaking truth to (and about) power develops respect and support from those being squeezed... which always happens to be the bottom two thirds of society anyway.

I think you are wrong about trying to bring the Greens "on board" & Mana will remain a kiss of death with deep misgivings from 95% of the population. The role of Labour is to take a stand and stay on message & not even bother mentioning other political parties. Thirty years of corrosive Identity politics has fractured the broad church of the left to the point that elements are found deeply offensive by most of the country. A positive message felt by New Zealanders will bring conscientious supporters on board anyway.

Public service reform should be high on the agenda of the left. Departments are required to contract out functions to private organisations regardless of the astronomical cost. Since the 80's the number of managerial and purely administrative positions has mushroomed at the expense of the wages and conditions of frontline staff. Public and union consultation and brainstorming for replacing corporate structured Public Services with flatter self-managed organisations of professionals should be a high priority. A light needs to be pointed at the boardrooms of all government bodies so review of decision making can occur. Employment practices in New Zealand appear to be becoming more mercenary… the first place for open review I the Public Service.

The party would need to send its politicians around the country to address “cottage meetings” In branches every few weeks over the next few years. It’s the only way a broad network of communication can occur outside of impersonal media channels.

I’d also politely suggest that inspiration from within caucus may be a little difficult to come across. Labour could look at redefining it’s team to include officers outside of parliament – especially dedicated policy convenors who are part of the community & not career politicians. Caucus used to include the President of the party – there is no reason why it count contain the entire National Council and other elected roles.
Chances of this actually happening? Zip.

Anonymous said...

The most obvious ploy that Greens and Labour could do is

a) refuse to stand a candidate in Epsom. Have a look at the numbers that voted for the electorate candidates for Labour and Greens, then add them to the National total....

b) Refuse to stand a candidate in Peter Dunne's electorate.

Look at the number of Green votes and the size of Dunne's "Majority". That Dunne got 40% of the vote and 60% voted for others is one of the major drawbacks of FTP. So, if you cannot have STV, game it.

Victor said...


Seeing you seem to feel a bit abandoned by your readers, may I throw in a quick comment.

I think your notion of a "conditions of work" campaign, fueled by ideas from the working public, deserves to be taken seriously by the Labour Party.

As things stand, there isn't a great deal in the policy area to distinguish Labour from other parties of the Centre-Left. And what there is, doesn't seem to have much to do with the original concept of being on the side of the "workers", howsoever defined.

So this could be a useful branding initiative which would establish a clear "point of difference" without prejudicing cooperation with other parties to the left of centre.

Paul Elwell-Sutton said...

Perhaps we will see something like the counterfactual history come to pass this time round. Problem is that Greens are seen as anti-jobs by many traditional Labour supporters and a Labour-Green coalition would thus lose their votes. Meanwhile, the Greens must appeal to the centre vote, where elections are generally won and lost, while not turning off their traditional Green base....Interesting times.