Thursday 13 November 2014

Morbid Symptoms: Can Labour Be Born Anew?

What Have I Done? Perhaps the saddest aspect of the entire 2014 Leadership Contest is not the deposition of the members’ choice for leader, but of David Cunliffe’s signal failure to meet the expectations he himself had done so much to raise.

THE CHAIRS in the final meeting venue have been stacked away. All that expensive signage, commissioned for the benefit of the television cameras, no longer has a purpose. For the second time in just 14 months, Labour’s Leadership Contest is all over bar the voting.
The contrast between the road-show just concluded and what was, effectively, the David Cunliffe Coronation Tour of 2013 could hardly be starker. Then, it was the rank-and-files’ and the affiliates’ moment to deliver a very emphatic one-fingered message to a caucus it had grown to despise – and they delivered it with both hands. This time, it’s been the Labour Caucus’s Victory Tour.
In both 2012 and 2013, Labour’s MPs had warned the party’s members and affiliates that Cunliffe was unacceptable – but they refused to listen. Now they know what happens when a leader lacks the fulsome support of his caucus colleagues. No one’s saying it out loud, but the most important single feature of this year’s leadership contest is David Cunliffe’s absence. No matter which of the four grey eminences emerges from the complicated processes of preferential voting as Labour’s new leader – Caucus has won.
Had Cunliffe’s name been on the ballot paper, he would, almost certainly, have triumphed again. I don’t think it’s stretching the truth to say that among Labour’s staunchest supporters – Maori and Pasifika – the Member for New Lynn is loved. When informed that their champion had withdrawn from the race, a hall packed with Maori and Pasifika trade union delegates audibly groaned and tears flowed. Only when told that Nanaia Mahuta had entered the fray did their spirits noisily recover.
But, no matter how strong the loyalty shown to Cunliffe by the true believers who give Labour two ticks, it was made abundantly clear to the party membership just how ugly things would get if he insisted, once again, on soliciting their support.
The embittered David Shearer may have led the charge, but every political journalist in the country knew that his acidic tongue was just the poisoned point of a much larger spear. Shearer’s mission was to demonstrate to the rank-and-file and affiliates that the longer Cunliffe persisted in his fantasy of continuing to lead the party the worse things would get. They had to know that Caucus was perfectly willing to destroy the Labour Party in order to save it.
Rather than unleash a no-holds-barred civil war at every level of his Party; one from which it would likely not recover; Cunliffe bowed to the inevitable and withdrew from the contest.
From that point on, the outcome of the 2014 Leadership Contest ceased to matter very much.
The four candidates are all committed to a slow, bureaucratically-driven process of ideologically insipid rebuilding and repair. The party membership should certainly not put any stock in the candidates’ rhetorical commitment to respect the achievements of the 2011-2013 democratisation process. Given the exemplary fate of the man the members chose to be their leader, it is already abundantly clear just how far Democracy’s writ now runs in the Labour Party. The candidates’ solemn promises to respect members’ decisions lack any purchase in political reality.
Perhaps the saddest aspect of the entire 2014 Leadership Contest is not the deposition of the members’ choice for leader, but of David Cunliffe’s signal failure to meet the expectations he himself had done so much to raise. When the moment came to take control of New Zealand’s oldest political party and make it fit for purpose in the Twenty-First century, the man who’d painted himself in the brightest colours of rejuvenation and renewal, proved to be as clueless as the proverbial dog who caught the car.
Cunliffe, alone among his colleagues, had possessed the necessary combination of wit and ambition to understand that Neoliberalism has, in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis become a zombie ideology. What he did not possess, however, was the temperament (or, as Herald columnist, Fran O’Sullivan, might put it, the cojones) to usher either his party – or the wider electorate – to the logical conclusions of his own analysis. Truth to tell, when it came right down to it, Cunliffe just wasn’t up to describing, even to himself, exactly what a post-Neoliberal New Zealand would look like.
In this respect, the Herald’s series of photographs showing Cunliffe, abandoned and alone, sketching aimlessly in the sand on the beach below his Herne Bay home, provided a sad but fitting symbol for the whole historical dilemma currently immobilising contemporary social-democracy.
In the early-1930s, the Italian socialist, Antonio Gramsci, observed, in his Prison Notebooks, that: “The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”
In November 2014, these “morbid symptoms” even have names.
·        Grant Robertson: the consummate insider, who seems, at times, to have forgotten what the outside looks like.
·        David Parker: the frustrated entrepreneur, who shows every sign of wanting to substitute New Zealand’s whole fragile economy for the little businesses he very nearly went broke setting-up in Dunedin.
·        Nanaia Mahuta: the Maori princess, who has made a much better than expected fist of proving to her Pakeha colleagues that it’s whakapapa that counts.
·        Andrew Little: (Cunliffe’s choice) who rescued the Engineers Union from civil war and might, just, be able to repeat the miracle for Labour.
Which of these “symptoms” is more likely to contribute to the demise, or recovery, of the Labour Party is now the historic duty of its membership to determine. For the country’s sake, as well as their own, we must hope they make the right choice.
This essay was posted simultaneously on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road blogsites on Thursday, 13 November 2014.


Unknown said...

Still believe the caucus should select the parliamentary leader; the party and affiliates the rest. Who will be leader?

Charles said...

“The crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear.”

Well quoted. That describes it beautifully.

Like nature though, birth, then growth does occur eventually. As when a dominant tree shades the forest floor, keeping near all the light and intercepting much of the rain. Its roots fill the space underground.

But age eventually wearies it. Storms chip away at its dominant canopy and then one day it falls or dies standing, leaving a gap in the forest and the saplings that are there, but were almost still-born below spring into life. They then compete ruthlessly to fill the gap and become the new dominant one.

Here the mighty tree is still going strong and the little saplings competing in the shade are only competing with each other, fruitlessly. So it's probably an unnoticed emergent seedling that will, but not yet, be the one to fill the gap when it appears.

Anonymous said...

Unfortunately, for me, Labour is now irrelevant. No vision. No sign of anything other than desire for power by the current members of Caucus. No articulation of a vision for a New Zealand that I want to be part of.

I want a New Zealand where the people who grow up there, of all races and creeds, have a fair chance of living a comfortable life. That students and first home buyers will not be enslaved by debt. That the trend to becoming tennants in our own land, as evidenced by data across censuses from 1990 ish to now, is either stablized or reversed. That the less well off in New Zealand are able to live without having to beg on the streets, as I now see is common in Auckland, or live on the streets, as I now see is common in Auckland. Compared to when I was a young fellow, I never saw beggars in Auckland. Now there appear to be several on each block I walk past.

Why should I vote for Labour?

They are wed to the population Ponzi economy. The beneficiaries of the Population ponzi economy being anyone associated with the construction industry, landlords, Mainstream Media (more advertising can be sold with more eyeballs) and more. The losers of the population ponzi economy being the lower classes in New Zealand (Permanent pressure on rents. With rental shortages driving rent increases. Increased indirect subsidization of landlords via the accomodation supplement. Increased rates to pay for the infrastructure spending necessary to service an increased population)

Have a look at Australia's population part and their philosophy at

Any party that starts promoting policies like that, which, in my opinion, will assist New Zealanders of the lower classes of all colors and creeds, will get my vote. Until then, Labour is just National lite (both wed to a population ponzi economy which currently appears to be permanently entrenching a large proportion of the lower class as debt serfs or rental serfs)

Olwyn said...

The question that underpins all this is "Where does authority actually lie in the Labour party?" The immediate answer is of course "collective caucus responsibility," but to whom is the caucus answerable?

It is an important question, because while they allowed the membership and affiliates to choose a leader, they did not allow that leader authority. It is also important because David Cunliffe's leadership required a fighting stance, and you cannot take a fighting stance if half your caucus is busy buddying up to the establishment against whom that stance must be made, while at the same time using their collective responsibility to at least modify, if not undermine, your position.

From the outside it looks as if functional authority has for some time resided with senior caucus members, who have not adapted to being out of office, and who see themselves as answerable to institutions like the media, the reserve bank, the business elite and their spokespersons. If you were an alien, and judged things on the basis of what caused people to jump, hurry or look concerned, you might well feel justified in assuming that someone like Matthew Hooton was Labour's "real" leader.

All of the current candidates claim that they intend to rebuild connections between caucus and the membership. If this is allowed to happen, it may save the Labour Party by giving the caucus something to which to answer that is directly pertinent to the Labour Party's reason for existing.

Jamie said...

You don't have to print this comment Trotter and you may not believe it but I am convinced D.C took a bribe to throw the election...

-Remember the dollars in an off-shore bank account???
-We all know there ain't nothing for free in this lifetime so what was the cash for???

It was a rigged Don Key fight...

Don't believe me then watch the footage of the fight for yourself...

These are tough times for democracy...


As I said in a previous post,
Stuart Nash is Labours man

Jigsaw said...

Its all turned out to be something of a yawn and when Red Radio Morning Report tried to question them (Susie adamant that only single word answers would do-how typically asinine is that?)one
of the questions was "should Maori language be compulsory in schools"? to which they all replied "yes" except I think Little who replied "subject to teachers being available which not only shows a lack of knowledge of the subject but a level of optimism boarding on belief in miracles. Doesn't seem to matter that only around 25% of the public would support that compulsion. Personally I think Little is the obvious one although he is an habitual screamer in the House something I somehow doubt he will be able to control that and doubt anyone will warm to him as they might to Robertson. Mahuta would be a disaster in every way and Parker who looks a little Brains from the TV cartoon series who simply be overlooked I think. Doubt that the country at this stage much cares who it is.

Victor said...


It's a no-brainer that New Zealand needs to stop being the only country in the developed world where learning a second language isn't compulsory.

There's quite a bit of research showing that, if you learn one additional language, it becomes easier to learn a second. After that, learning a third or fourth is a comparative doddle. Moreover, learning a language helps open-up valuable neural pathways to the overall benefit of a young person's cognitive skills.

Obviously, a language that's spoken by many New Zealanders and that's present in local place names etc. is a good place to start (but not to finish).

So what do you have against opening up the neural pathways of our young people? Are you afraid they'll become too smart?

Anonymous said...

New Zealand is F***** for NOW

Anonymous said...

When a high achieving urban professional like David Cunliffe is considered "Too Left Wing" to be able to lead the Labour Party, What chance would a self taught working person similar to Norman Kirk ever be allowed again anywhere near the leadership of today's Labour Party.

Jigsaw said...

Victor -you missed the point- compulsion for second language MIGHT be a reasonable idea but to specify the language is really stupid-especially when that language is dying-whatever you think it is or not -it is. As for your so called research-I serious doubt it. Much more sense to put more emphasis on science and maths in the limited time the school day is at present Compulsion is what I and most New Zealanders I think would object to-encourage but thanks.
What on earth do you mean by 'opening up neutral pathways of our young people'. Speak plainly not that gibberish.

Brendon Harre said...

I think Anonymous 12:45 is on to something but I would characterise the Ponzi as being between a rentier class of the FIRE industries, monopolists and duopolists etc versus the ordinary kiwi of productive workers and firms.

This Ponzi rentier class has strong institution links to/includes bureaucrats and the political process ensuring market settings such as foreign ownership, immigration, planning laws, competition laws etc favour them. This is done quietly away from the public eye in the NZ form of corruption -Koru Club corruption.

To me this should be the real political battleground.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jesus – I bet Maori wish they'd met jigsaw's ancestors on the beaches with a shitload of forms saying – "qualification for residency – fluency in Maori within 2 years of entry." :-)

Davo Stevens said...

Oh dear Jigsaw please get that head out of the clouds mate. Maori is NOT a dying language, in fact it's growing.

Maori is what makes NZ unique simply because NZ is the only place in the world where it is spoken. Yes, it's of little use anywhere else but it's important to those who have that heritage. Somewhat like Welsh speaking Cymric or the Scots with Gaelic. It's what makes them what they are.

My mother could speak 6 languages fluently: French, German, Swedish, Italian, Cymric and Arabic. She was a very clever woman. Played the violin too! I only speak two; Czech and Russian. My grandson speaks fluent Maori, leaned it at school.

Getting back on topic, there is none amongst this bunch I would vote for. What the Labs need is some-one with the charisma of Johnny, whose teflon coat is wearing thing now.

Dialey said...

@Jigsaw For a good overview of the research on the benefits of foreign language learning see:

At what age should foreign language begin? by Keith Sharpe and Patricia Driscoll

‘It is in the areas of attitudes, values and socio-cultural understanding that the rationale for the early teaching of modern foreign languages is most securely based… its makes a significant contribution to personal, social, moral and spiritual education which are the statutory requirements of primary stage of education… the age at which foreign language should begin is at the start of compulsory primary schooling...The final report of the Council of Europe on language learning identifies a growing consensus that ‘language learning is now seen as a normal part of education from the child’s first socialisation.The question is no longer “whether” or even “when” but “how”’

Language learning opens up mind to what it is to be truly human and that is particularly important at an early age. What we want are fully rounded people not narrow technocrats.

Jigsaw said...

GS- I'm sure that you are an expert (as many claim to be) at rewriting history. Truth is when they weren't trying to eat each European and Maori met and mated which is why all this separatism is so much wasted time. When I read that there are more people in China learning English that the entire USA population you begin to realise that language is most useful for communicating not as some relic of imagined golden past. The recent examples of how Maori education works should be enough to put off anyone. A 78 Maori woman getting a certificate for completing a course she never even enrolled in.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Interesting – when Pakeha commit crimes idiocies and foolishness, no one comments on their ethnicity. I could tell you a few tales of educational organisations run by people of European descent who have engaged in this :-). And of course you naturally bring up the old saw of killing/eating each other. No idea of your ethnicity jigsaw well yes I do have a bit – but you should possibly know that without rewriting history even a smidgen, Britain fought approximately one war every 13 months in the nineteenth century. I suspect that's a higher rate than Maori did. And the British were eating each other well into the nineteenth century. :-) So perhaps you should climb down off your high horse when it comes to Polynesian sins :-).

Victor said...

I agree, Jigsaw, that persuasion is sometimes necessary to persuade people to do what is good for them, their society and their children.

For this reason, politicians should show their leadership abilities by putting good if inherently unpopular ideas out there and advocating for them, as a necessary precondition for change by democratic consent.

I would accept, though, that a contest for leadership in a recently defeated political party is not the ideal circumstance for such an operation.

Left to themselves, however, I doubt whether many New Zealand adults in the 1950s saw much advantage to educating their daughters in anything beyond elementary maths, English, shorthand, typing and domestic science. But, gradually, with a bit of a push from policy wonks, they learned better.

The fact is that, not only are monoglots at a practical disadvantage in a world that's no longer dominated by Anglo-Saxons and is increasingly polyglot. There's a much deeper disadvantage in the intellectual blinkers that any particular language places on you.

Anyone who speaks more than one language with any proficiency knows that they take on a slightly different mental process as they make the transition from one tongue to another.

No, it's not a wholly different mental process because we're all human. But it's normally different enough to stretch the brain beyond the mere ephemera of remembering vocabulary. If you haven't experienced this for yourself, you're missing something.

I would, however, also agree that advocates of compulsory Maori lessons should up their game and stop arguing for it on the basis of simply sentimental nationalism, bi-culturalism etc.

It should be the start and not the finish of language studies, much as Welsh is in Wales.

A key purpose should be to help students make the transition to more demanding languages, with those from Asia obviously in prime place.

But, to my mind, some space should also be given to European languages, both because they are more accessible (e.g. same alphabet) and because they relate to cultures that have helped shape that of the Anglosphere. It's also embarrassing when people don't get jokes in "Franglais".

And I've only chosen Maori as a starting point because, in my judgement, it's likely to be the most accessible. This might be a faulty judgement or, more likely, it may be faulty with respect to Auckland but not the rest of the country. But, if you have a preferred choice for accessibility, let's hear it!

Finally, why should you regard an absolutely necessary increased emphasis on maths and science as having to be bought at the expense of increased time spent on languages?

Are you suggesting that New Zealand children are less capable than those in (most other developed) countries where high levels of both scientific and linguistic education are the norm?

If not, what are you suggesting?

And, by the way, has it escaped your attention that the guy currently heading our largest and most strategically significant company comes from a place where every child learns multiple foreign languages?

And may I apologise to Chris and other readers for hijacking this thread to air my own favoured hobby-horse. I will desist at this point.

Anonymous said...

"Leaders tend to look better when they are moving in a discernible direction. The real problem for centre-left parties in the Anglosphere is that it’s very difficult to tell what their objectives are, and what, if anything, they stand for. (If any Australian [or Kiwi] can provide me with a succinct account of contemporary “Labor Values”, I’m dying to hear it)."


Davo Stevens said...

@ Greg: yep you're right to a point about the "Centre-left" parties.

Where you are wrong is that there is no "Left" parties any more. What we have is right and rightish parties my friend.

Here in Godzone that is what we have too. Both the Nats and the Labs are right wing. It's called "Tweedledee/Tweedledum" politics. That is why the Labs worldwide aren't making headway. People won't change a Govt. when their only option is more of the same. The only differences are cosmetic.

tauputa said...

Cant agree with this analys Chris, Cunliffe would easily win in a showdown with Parker/Robertson or Mahuta because he is loved by the union votes (members and affiliates who are almost all union members) there is no way he could be Little who as ex president of the EPMU will be easily get the member/affiliate votes.

Cunliffe knows this and backed Little - which could earn him a high place in the shadow cabinet.

My take is Little with fail to connect with the public, hes a dreary angry man who will look dreadful compared to sunny cherry JK, Little will resign before 2017 as leader and Cunliffe will return as the favourite son of the members/affiliates, he will lead labour into the 2017 election.

Charles said...

The off topic is interesting though. And not so off topic if a Labour leader might suggest compulsory Maori lessons. That would probably guarantee failure at the next election.
Yet it would make sense to teach Maori for a couple of years, plus NZ history too. BUT I bet the majority would object to it.
Not just because the rest of the world is learning English flat out and that clearly is the only language needed in future. Need is not the only reason to learn another tongue.
Why not Maori then?
Not just because having compulsory subjects clashes with the way we do education these days. Why not compulsory Economics?
But because of the status of Maori & other Polynesian cultures in the world we live in. The plain truth is that people never take a genuine interest in other cultures and their language unless they admire that culture or acquire an intellectual interest in it. Very few non Maori admire Polynesian cultures. They are seen as primitive, and failed cultures, which relatively they are. That is not just prejudice, although there is of course plenty of that. It is crude fact. When Polynesian and European cultures first met, the gap between them was about 7000 years. So there was no chance the more advanced culture would genuinely take an interest in the other. That is sad but it's true and dare I say it, natural.
So in NZ, a few non Maori are interested in what remains of Maori culture and a few more are keen to promote that culture. There is another element who are genuinely hostile to it. These three groups are minorities. But most, I suggest 70% of the country are indifferent to it. I'm in that group. I'm not really interested in Maori culture and I do not see it as representing me or my country. But good luck to it. I predict intermarriage will see it slowly fade from here after its recent rally.

Victor said...


Many NZ Pakeha speckle their speech with occasional Maori words and live surrounded by Maori place-names, with which they're comfortable and at home.

In contrast, they're largely incapable of pronouncing, for example, French to a level that even a Brit or American would find comprehensible or acceptable.

As to Asian languages, most of us find it difficult to get to first base with the alphabets. I certainly do.

So where would you start, if not with Maori? But I stress again, it should be the starting point and not the finishing point for language studies.

Once you learn one language, a second is easier and a third easier still.

And I don't think you're right that English will soon be the only language that matters.

For the moment, it's still dominant. But the new self-confidence and prosperity of nations outside the Anglosphere is likely to undermine its dominance over time, just as French has lost its one time status as the world's primary international language.

And, even if English were to retain its dominance, monoglot native speakers might still suffer a cognitive disadvantage compared to Polyglots capable of thinking in more than one tongue.

As to what constitutes a "failed culture", I suspect that's how English culture looked to most Europeans circa 1200 A.D. But we're writing in English. So you never can tell!

But I take your point that we're a long way, as a country, from accepting the utility of learning Maori as a bridge to other languages. It's probably a forlorn hope that most New Zealanders will change their minds on this issue.

Part of the problem may well be that learning Maori has been urged on people for all the wrong reasons (e.g. political correctness, nationalism, etc.)

Charles said...

I agree Victor that predictions are risky because events are actually not determined as we often think they should be. Randomness and chaos play a role always.
But I would still bet English will form the basis of an international language when the world becomes truly one place, which is actually two predictions.

My reference to 'failed' cultures is merely relative. I could say China has or had a failed culture, in that no mighty junk sailed up the Thames a few centuries ago, as well described in a book you may have read called 'Why the West Rules, For Now, by Niall Fergusson. He tries to unravel why the West came to dominate the planet instead of China. Fascinating stuff.
I have thought for some time that it is a delusion to think China will be the dominant power in the future. Apart from having huge environmental, demographic, democratic and now economic problems, that are growing not declining, I think they have a culture that does not appeal to others. The cultures of the West appear to be universally appealing to we humans, for all their faults. And the head start that has given the West and its common language, English should persist indefinitely I believe.
The Chinese are all learning English but few elsewhere are learning Chinese (which one e.g.?) and I cannot see that changing ever. Why would it?
On economics which is almost the most powerful of forces, there is a growing opinion out there that China has peaked already and it will subside, like Japan & now Korea to a much lower growth rate. Even currently the relative growth rate there means it will not be bigger than the US until the end of this century. The US has multiple advantages ranging right across the board. Note it is now energy self sufficient and still has a positive birth rate and ok demographics.
India would be one to watch in future. It speaks English and has democracy, good demographics and reasonable other resources. It gets on very well with most countries too.
Anyway, way off topic now. Sorry Chris.

Charles said...

Correction: Ian Morris wrote 'Why the West Rules, for Now'
Also in a similar vein is Niall Ferguson's 'Civilisation. The Six Killer Apps of Western Power'

Victor said...


We may not need to apologise further for being off-topic as the rest of humanity has probably given up on this thread by now.

Secondly, let's get the pedantry out of the way. I think you'll find that Ian Morris is the author of "Why the West Rules for Now". I agree that it's a fascinating book.

Thirdly, I really don't agree with you that we're becoming "one world". The current confrontation between the West and Russia, the tensions between China and its neighbours, the growing parochialism across Europe and the rise of Hindu nationalism and of various shades of Islamic fundamentalism all suggest the very opposite, despite the burgeoning ties of technology and trade.

I agree that there are factors which will limit China's phenomenal growth. But that growth will continue to be one of the most significant and world-changing phenomena of our time, unless the Middle Kingdom is again destabilised by war or centrifugal forces.

Long term, the rise of India may prove even more significant. But that rise has long been promised and is still slow to eventuate. Conversely, Japan, where growth has severely tailed off these last twenty years, has nevertheless remained prosperous, influential and technologically innovative.

I also agree that the United States economy is far from being down and out. But I suspect that the America which emerges painfully, scarred but intact from the Great Recession will be less wholly monolingual than we've previously imagined it to be. Certainly, if I had a school-age child, I'd be interested in them learning Spanish.

And, the fact is, that people across the planet will continue to speak their mother tongues with family and friends, even if (for the foreseeable future but probably not forever) they also increasingly speak a globalised version of English for business, travel or professional purposes.

Obviously, if you're selling to them, you'd be well advised to speak their languages. How else can you truly work out what turns them on?

But, above and beyond that, if you're only able to speak one language and most of the rest of the world speaks two or three, you will be largely outside their networks and conversations.

In fact, you'll be (at best) a sort of cultural Bertie Wooster in the hands of a smiling, omniscient Jeeves, who knows far more than you will ever know and who probably also has a rather more agile mind. Do you really consider that a dignified condition?