Doomed Exercise: The proverbial rearrangement of the Titanic's deckchairs has come to symbolise the sort of activity that serves no useful purpose. Andrew Little's Shadow Cabinet reshuffle comes perilously close to fitting this description. If Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis are the best politicians he has to offer New Zealand, then it is definitely bold new ideas, rather than people, that he needs to start bringing forward.
SOMETIME THIS WEEK (the date keeps changing) Andrew Little will announce his Shadow Cabinet reshuffle. The refreshed line-up of senior Opposition spokespeople will be the electorate’s best guide as to who will be doing what in the next Labour-led government. Barring unforeseen circumstances, and unforgiveable cock-ups, Little’s promotions, reappointments and demotions will be the last such exercise before the 2017 General Election.
Very few New Zealanders will pay much attention to Little’s final choices. Labour’s ranks, thinned by successive and increasingly severe defeats, contains nobody upon whose shoulders the burden of the electorate’s hopes has yet descended.
This is not 1977, when the occasion of the Mangere by-election threw up the gargantuan figure of David Lange. This lawyer-turned-politician was not only larger-than-life but also (and this was the crucial point) larger than the incumbent Labour Leader, Bill Rowling.
For the next five years, the big question, both in and out of the Labour Party, wasn’t if Lange would replace Rowling as leader, but when. Observing the deep impression the new Mangere MP’s ebullient personality, vicious wit, and soaring rhetoric was making on the public imagination, those Labour MPs determined to steer their party in a new direction lost no time in recruiting him to their caucus faction.
The "B-Team" - aka "The Fish and Chip Brigade". David Lange, Michael Bassett, Roger Douglas, Mike Moore.
The Party President of the time, Jim Anderton, referred to this faction, derisively, as the “B-Team”. The truth of the matter, however, was that Roger Douglas, Mike Moore, Michael Bassett, Richard Prebble and, of course, Lange himself, constituted the most creative and dynamic group of politicians to be found within Labour’s parliamentary ranks. Regardless of whether one supported or opposed the ideas they were espousing, there was no disputing that theirs was the team to beat. Everybody understood that when Rowling fell (as he did, eventually, in 1982) things were going to change.
That is the way it is supposed to work in parliamentary democracies: Change is supposed to find her champion, and then, through the ballot box, acquire the power to make things happen. For good or ill, Lange guided the country out of the cul-de-sac into which Sir Robert Muldoon had led it, and the policies of Sir Roger Douglas (and his Treasury advisers) went on to change New Zealand fundamentally.
Nothing and no one of such prodigious capability lurks in Little’s caucus. Not only has Change failed to encounter a champion among its ranks, but she also struggles to find anyone interested in making much happen at all. Such reforms as Labour promised at the elections of 2011 and 2014 have been ostentatiously wiped from the agenda. And such rhetorical skill as Little is able to summon to Labour’s cause is of the sort that serves only to polish the achievements of the past. Lange’s extraordinary oratorical power; his ability to paint a future in which New Zealanders were eager to take up residence, is nowhere in evidence.
Certainly, there is nothing about his finance spokesperson which calls to mind the incandescent passion of Roger Douglas. Grant Robertson is not the sort of person who quotes Neitzsche, writes alternative budgets, or publishes a book entitled There’s Got To Be A Better Way. Although entrusted with heading-up a special party commission dedicated to The Future of Work, there is scant indication that Robertson’s investigation is likely to produce anything that The Listener wouldn’t be proud to publish.
The Wellington Central MP could, of course, be hiding his light under a bushel, and the final report of The Future of Work Commission could end up calling for a dramatic reduction in the length of the working week; a radical reformation of the law regulating workplace relations; state-subsidised retraining; and the introduction of a Universal Basic Income. But a Labour caucus willing to embrace economic and social policies of such radicalism is unlikely to look and feel as somnambulant as the one Little leads.
The latest public opinion polls in the UK are registering a sharp upward spike in support for the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party among the 18-25 and 26-35 year-old cohorts of voters. Though well behind David Cameron’s Conservatives in overall terms, this surge of support from the young is of enormous importance to British Labour’s future as a viable political party.
As Little prepares to lead his re-shuffled shadows into Labour’s centenary year, he needs to consider whether his party’s future is likely to be rescued by people, or policies. If Jacinda Ardern and Kelvin Davis are the best politicians he has to offer New Zealand, then it is definitely bold new ideas that he needs to start bringing forward.
This essay was posted on The Daily Blog and Bowalley Road on Monday, 23 November 2015.
I wrote a longer comment but it got eaten. My points in brief.
Labour is not an attractive proposition for new political talent.
Labour party culture and its machinery makes it unlikely that any such talent will be admitted, noticed and succesfully ascend through the party. In my view, this is a natural function of incompetents as decision makers, in that incompetents naturally do not appoint competent people, because their own incompetence becomes more obvious by virtue of comparison.
At this time, the party is made up of intellectual lightweight's, career politicians and people that lack experience in the non-political sphere. Their critical thinking/debating skills are broadly non-existent (and this is even in the realm of easy pickings- i.e. going up against the masters of circularity and tautology Key and Joyce).
Some of these issues are a hangover from Clarke, others are not. In sum, labour is doomed, they learnt nothing from the last election, and consequently they will certainly lose the next. It's a real shame for those they should be representing.
Lange was greater rhetoric. But I always thought he was a quick mind but lightweight and shallow. Might just be me projecting my prejudices backwards though :-). Just wondered what everybody else thought.
That should be 'great at' dammit AutoCorrect.
Your article brings back memories, I often drove David Lange to various meetings in the Mangere electorate before he became the MP, people from all over Auckland and elsewhere came to hear him speak.
I am trying to get enthused, motivated and excited about Little and Labour and find it hard going. Besides Andrew Little, Grant Robertson will be the next leading player in 2017. A shorter working week would get me started as would a non-endorsement of TPPA. Labour party members and reluctant supporters would cheer at and give massive support to such policies. Membership would rise dramatically, I will mot hold my breath.
Second to cabinet jockeying MPS are tittle-tattling about safe seats. Little wants Rongotai but Rongotai do not want Little. Ardern wants Mt Roskill but Goff and his LEC are stum. Michael Wood's who lives in Mt Roskill is having kittens as he sees himself as rightful heir.
My contention is that both Little and Robertson will have to step up their game markedly if they want to bring excitant and a new and vigorous following to Labours cause. The people are waiting at the gates.
People who accuse others of being "intellectual lightweight's" should be able to spell.
Or at least be able to spot their mistakes and correct them :-).
Guerilla Surgeon, I agree re Lange.
He was an excellent speaker, in a glib sort of way, but a lightweight (intellectually!).
He became a folk hero to many due to the anti-Nuke thing, where he managed to destroy our defense alliance by lying to the Americans, after they though they had worked out a compromise. And doing this unilaterally without consulting his cabinet colleagues.
And he was completely blindsided by Roger Douglas, despite Douglas being previously sacked by Rowling for publishing of an alternative budget setting out what he intended to do.
So, what did he actually achieved?
Other than defeat Muldoon. I guess he deserves credit for that.
Incidentally, Muldoon's policies were the closes to Chris's 'Social Democracy' (the one he idealises in the last BowAlley article and comments) , where the state and unions control nearly everything.
Were you in Rob's Mob, Chris?
Nice dig at the Listener Chris. After years of enjoying it I realised that after it being putchased privately the stories were so slanted to the neo lib orthodoxy that it tainted any unfortunate enough to read it. Then stories of middle class angst and aspiration. I got sick of it and sent the quasi fascist editor a letter that included what $ opportunity I represented over time and the comment "in words you will understand you are fired".
@ Nick J. Nice One! We just quit buying the Listener after years of buying it. For both my wife and myself it was a treasure we'd grown up with. Great columnists and editorials. Great cartoons. Interesting letters to the editor from a (usually) intelligent and informed readership. The real rot set in when Pamela Sterling took over the editorship, but I think I detected the early stages of a diminution before that. Oh well I can still read Gordon Campbell..
@ GS. Totally agree re Lange. An undoubted talent and no fool in the ordinary sense. Unfortunately seemed to have no idea of the big picture or what he really believed in and how he wanted to achieve it. So much promise, so many moral failures, so much disappointment.
At least his personality didn't set my teeth on edge the way Muldoon's did.
1. Quite simple - Even more so sine the election of Little Labour fundamentally does not represent a change from what is currently on offer. Therefore it becomes all about personalities and leaders. The vast and growing numbers of people who dont vote will ensure another turnout record and Key will romp home again.
2. Lange was frontman for the unelectable neoliberal revolution - a role GW Bush filled for equally nasty American neoconservatives. Give the masses bread and circuses and ravage the country while they were distracted. Never voted for him and very glad of it.
Andrew Nichols, you are to harsh, Lange's oxford debate appearance in his position as Prime minister had a great influence on the Nuclear Nation's softening their rhetoric on nuclear war. He was a great man who was beaten into the ground by parliamentary mob violence.
Funny how some people do set your teeth on edge isn't it. I could never listen to Muldoon or Holyoke, and that arse on seven sharp used to put my teeth on edge even before I knew he was right-wing. Matthew Hooton – I find it very difficult to listen to him he sounds so pompous and patronising. Never used to mind Bolger so much. Luckily John Key is pretty non-descript, and doesn't bother me quite as much as some. Now why do I say luckily there? :-) Jonathan Hunt used to annoy the crap out of me, but then years ago he was my social studies teacher. And Winston. The sound of his voice doesn't bother me too much, but the way he answers questions just does me in :-).
I first arrived in NZ shortly after Lange became PM.
He struck me as something of a light-weight who wasn't all that interested in the economy and handed over the running thereof to his mate the accountant, with grotesque but foreseeable consequences.
Nor was I impressed by his alleged powers as an orator, although he was Demosthenes compared to the current incumbent. In contrast, Helen Clarke's speeches impressed me from the start.
But, truth be told, although I've now lived here for more than three decades and regard NZ as 'home', I've never understood what makes Kiwis love particular politicians. Can someone explain the Shayne Jones cult to me, please?
And maybe after that, Stuart Nash?
Oh, and while we're on the subject, can someone explain to me what Mike Moore was doing in high office?
Support Little until the elections. If Labour loses, that will be the end of them and they will be absorbed by a new socialist party. If the left coalition wins, thats the end of National as it is. A successful Little will be joined by Stuart Nash in the leadership, Robertson the Finance portfolio.There will be a couple of basically independents floating around. Peter Dunne will support the left and the Maori Party will have a change of heart and move leftwards.
Where is jones? Nash will be a successful Little's deputy and take over from Little after a couple of elections. Providing Little survives. Hasn't he had cancer in the past?
Could you please cite some evidence that Lange's Oxford Union speech had any influence whatsoever on the nuclear powers. Just wishing it doesn't make it so.
It is possible, though I have no evidence :-), that Mike Moore got into high office as a result of how popular he was when he was young. I campaigned for him – well – knocked on doors in the early 70s. He had a resonance with young people. Perhaps that carried over. He had a certain charisma. And then he became a proponent of so-called "free" trade. Bit of a disappointment.
Your spelling of Shane Jones as Shayne reveals one reason for you not understanding his charisma. To many men Shane is a real man, not one of those pen pushers and theorists, therefore he wouldn't spell his name with a 'y'. Shane is real, understandable and human (a bit heavy on the pornography) not like the distant high flyers from glass towers which are the reverse of Janet Frame's mirror city, where ideas and imagination spring,
And this man's man they perceived in Shane was the equivalent to Key being a friendly guy glugging out of a bottle that you would like to have at your barbecue. Someone you can relate to. (And if you were related to him, you might do well in life.)
I still have a problem. I can understand why Kelvin Davis or Clayton Cosgrove might appeal as macho-men. But Shane Jones?!?!
It's the same problem I have recognising Lange as a wit and an orator. Perhaps I'm still far too hopelessly foreign.
Was MM's use of English so convoluted and "stream of consciousness" ridden in those days or did he just get like that once he embraced the borderless world?
If the former, the mystery remains,as far as I'm concerned.
"Was MM's use of English so convoluted and "stream of consciousness" ridden in those days or did he just get like that once he embraced the borderless world? "
You know what Victor, I'm damned if I can remember. I was young and full of piss and vinegar. Caught up in the moment as it were. We – through him – were going to change the world. If I do realised exactly how he was going to change it I would have run a mile in the opposite direction. But before Douglas and Co got going, the Labour Party offered a humanity that you didn't get anywhere else and it held out the promise of that humanity up to and just after the 1984 election. What Douglas & Co did was unconscionable, Because none of us actually voted for it. I mean there was talk of raising the benefit so that people on it could have a meaningful life rather than struggling from one week to the next. Jesus I wonder where that all went :-).
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