Friday 21 October 2016

Why Does Labour Keep Going Round And Round In Circles?

Stuck In A Rut? Historically-speaking, this is where Labour is supposed to step in. With National mired in an all-too-predictable circularity, Labour's role is to excite voters with the promise of a straight line to the future. Moving us forward; taking us somewhere new; somewhere better: that’s always been the Labour Party’s most effective sales pitch.
WHY DOES LABOUR do it? Why is it forever tying itself up in ethical knots and programmatic contradictions? Its policy-making does not seem to proceed from any discernible core of political principle. On the contrary, it comes across as the sort of haphazard collection of fleeting public obsessions a party guided exclusively by opinion polls and focus groups might present to the electorate.
Voters are prepared to forgive National for this sort “suck it and see” approach to policy-making. Most of us understand that the only principle that National will never abandon is the one commanding it to remain in office for as long as possible. Everything else is negotiable – as the Government’s recent swag of policy tweaks and re-adjustments makes abundantly clear.
Nor can the voters object too strenuously to National’s governing style. After all, it is their own likes and dislikes that are being so assiduously fed back to them by the party’s pollsters and marketing specialists.
If democracy is about giving the people what they want, then John Key’s preternatural sensitivity to the slightest change of pitch in the vox populi makes him a democratic leader of no mean ability.
The problem, of course, is that, at some point, the people grow weary of hearing their own preferences and prejudices tripping-off the tongues of their political leaders. Eventually, people start wondering what it would be like to inhabit a political environment enlivened by something more inspirational than The Electorate’s Greatest Hits on continuous loop.
Historically-speaking, this is where Labour is supposed to step in. With National mired in an all-too-predictable circularity, Labour should be exciting voters with the promise of a straight line to the future. Moving us forward; taking us somewhere new; somewhere better: that’s always been the Labour Party’s most effective sales pitch.
So what in the name of radical linearity is Labour doing promising us 1,000 extra policemen? As if New Zealanders haven’t heard The Kneejerks’ hit single, “Law & Order”, at least a million times before. Yes, but this time there’s a twist. This time, all the extra bobbies bopping on the beat will have a special mission: rescuing New Zealand from the scourge of P-for-pure methamphetamine. The “thin blue line” may still be fighting the “War on Drugs”, says Andrew Little, but it is losing. Labour’s going to send reinforcements.
But prohibition and beefed-up law enforcement was already an old and discredited policy when President Ronald Reagan first declared war on drugs back in the 1980s. And New Zealand’s policemen and politicians made a huge mistake in allowing the Americans to convince them that such a war could be won, and that its principal casualties would be somebody other than our own children.
Drugs, in and of themselves, have never been the problem. The problem has always been the demand for substances that render the fraught business of making a living on this unforgiving planet just that little bit easier.
Our own culture’s drug-of-choice is alcohol – but it could just as easily be hashish, or opium, or peyote. And isn’t it significant that we treat the addiction to our own drug-of-choice, alcoholism, as a health problem – not a crime problem? Can we really have forgotten that the only people who benefited from America’s “noble experiment” in alcohol prohibition were the Mafia?
If Labour truly wants to win the war on drugs, then its first priority should be to make life easier for as many New Zealanders as possible. Filling our prisons with the young, brown perpetrators of what are, essentially, victimless crimes does not constitute making life easier.
But this is not Labour’s position. Andrew Little persists in advancing the utterly discredited argument that if the supply of drugs is reduced, then the demand for those same drugs will be diminished. He really ought to let the people who hand out the Nobel Prize for Economics know that he’s somehow managed to repeal the law of supply and demand. He’d be a dead cert to win in 2017!
A Labour leader determined to break this country out of National’s ever-decreasing circles would strike a blow against the gangs, violent crime, and our rapidly rising prison muster by decriminalising the use of all drugs. It would move New Zealand forward to a better place. And focus groups would soon be applauding Labour’s courage.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 21 October 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Eventually, people start wondering what it would be like to inhabit a political environment enlivened by something more inspirational than The Electorate’s Greatest Hits on continuous loop."

I'm not sure that they do actually, but then I'm cynical :). Not to say I wouldn't mind a bit of the vision thing mind you, on either side of the house.

But, to get onto the point of the post – Portugal has decriminalised drugs – the sky hasn't fallen, and it seems to work a lot better than the system we have, which in fact seems to have been inherited from an early twentieth century moral panic, rather than having any scientific or logical base. Luckily the US is slowly coming to it senses, and may we soon follow suit. Or ideally skip ahead of them.

Brendon Harre said...

Chris I know you hope for a higher standard from Labour than National -which I think is where your constant criticism comes from.

But really you should examining this rinky-dink approach of National more because it was not what they sold themselves as way back in 2007/2008 when they were at the height of their popularity. Check out this

But I agree with your basic point. Labour need to be proud of their progressive heritage. We need to channel the spirit of our previous progressives -the likes of Micky Savage, Walter Nash, Norm Kirk, David Lange and Helen Clark.

Being bold is what New Zealand needs not tinkering.

Anonymous said...

You cant fight P (or other recreational drugs) with SWAT teams.


peteswriteplace said...

Nothing wrong in announcing an extra 1000 police, but it has to be part of a significant policy.

jh said...

Moving us forward; taking us somewhere new; somewhere better: that’s always been the Labour Party’s most effective sales pitch.
Because we have met our potential. Labour started the mass migrations with the aim of creating a new enlightened society minus basic human nature. All we see for that is a growth in the construction industry which now employs one in five and tourism which is increasingly becoming dominated by Chinese. Employees at the bottom of the heap see what is going on:
1. incomes flowing to the owners of land
2. A larger economy but lower average incomes
3. Resources flow into low value service industries.
4. people move to Australia in search of a better life

My friend got a job at an egg-beater factory. He asked why the last person left and was told that the culture didn't suit him. He is on a 90 day trial. The leading hand twit keeps at him to work longer hours "we need to keep the output of egg-beaters up". He says he doesn't want to work Saturday mornings and gets tired out doing 11 hour days. The one thing they don't offer is extra compensation for working post comfort level. Meanwhile the company employs Pongolian workers. Theses people have a very good work ethic much like the Chinese Uncle in Nigel Latta's The New New Zealand (MBIE Puff piece) who worked all day and the stacked shelves at night.
You can point the finger fairly and squarely at Labour and it's wealthy elite for much of this.

Anonymous said...

I too was dismayed when I heard the “war on drugs” line trotted out by Labour. I thought “really? That’s the best you can do? Are you so lacking in ideas that that’s your best effort to win hearts and minds? Pander to knee-jerk populist authoritarianism? Be more right-wing than the right-wing?” It’s a policy that I dare say the supposed proponents don’t even believe in for a second. Like the Blairites so desperate to be seen “tough on crime”.
Given all the bread and butter policy areas where National is failing – housing, child poverty, education, youth employment, deflation – you chose this? Way to go.
The key problem for Labour is that constituency they need to win over – struggling working families – are plagued by what I think of as a mean-spiritedness born of chronic insecurity. Read any article on Stuff about child poverty for example and the vast majority of the comments will blame poor parenting rather than economic settings. The Judith Collins approach. The denigration of those slightly more struggling than yourself bolsters your own position – makes you feel in a slightly less precarious state.
Labour needs to challenge that mean-spiritedness more vigorously by telling stories that people can relate to with empathy. It needs to give people some new enemies to focus on – the property investors, the tax-avoiders, the utility monopolies, the corporations that profit as our health declines.
The only person I see publically doing this in an accessible, persuasive way that reaches “middle NZ” is the likes of say Nigel Latta. Middle NZ are angry and insecure. It needs to be channelled more effectively by Labour.

Adolf Fiinkensein said...

".....Filling our prisons with the young, brown perpetrators of what are, essentially, victimless crimes does not constitute making life easier......"


Get off the grass!!!!!!

Polly said...

Labour were offered a golden chance to show NZ they are different and better than National when National signed up to the TPPA, Labour at one stage , when protests were happing said they were against the TPPA. A few days later they reneged on their statement and said they were still against the TPPA but if elected they would retain the TPPA.
This is of course a cowardly way of fence-sitting.

Labour is classed by me as a National-Lite party who want to pretend at being a forward and socialist progressive political party, they are to gutless to try and earn that tag.

Robert said...

The point about Hillary Clinton is that she does represent a very fundamental turn to the left in her main policy is signficantly higher wages and minimum wages and hourly rates. That she shares with Sanders and in fact honours her greatest critic the deceased immortal hack Christopher Hitchins in attempting to deliver to the poor and low waged, who are that way in left wing mythology from lives of disadvantage and cruelty rather than being just thick or having a preference for recreational drugs, booze and sex ( in reality the twilight drugs just as often reflect privilege, choice and criminal profits).
In terms of the NZ Labour Party Little maintains the two basic NZLabour policies, higher wages and the aritificial creation of employment for those the US and Australia would generally regard as unemployable. My family and I have always disagreed with the second policy and I became an employed freelance journalist and commentator in 1983 because of outrage of Muldoon's policy of using the railways as as a sop to employ the derelect and unemployable and develop' it as an electrified national freight service as though NZ was a version of the Soviet Union where every business used rail by diktat. Secondly I was outraged by Muldoons destruction of any real NZ defense capability, his contempt for the officer club, his farcical admission of US Nuclear powered attack submarines, ( significant nuclear targets 24/7 anywhere according to my advice from ANU in Canberra- the leading Australian defense theorists an intelligence officers) and even more Muldoon's demand that these subs visit NZ to support his rotten borough government. Mulddon prefered subs as they had small crews and he didn't want large crews of old US steam cruisers like the USSChicago or USS Okalahoma rampaging down Queen st. Given that the US was under pressure from the relentless build up of the Soviet fleet in 1982, I have never understood why the US Navy agreed to divert these subs here. I assume they must have wanted to assess the oceanographic conditions down here if they wanted to hold boomers as a second strike reserve hiding in McMurdo sound. This was a rumour at the time and would explain the large number of Soviet subs operating with interception ECM/ESM in Southern waters and ports at the time.

Brandon Hutchison said...

There is something wrong with announcing another very expensive 1000 police when we don't need them. Address drug policy, with courage, and then our society will be safer and pleasanter and we can probably do with 1000 less. Prohibition and law enforcement against drugs has created huge problems and exacerbated existing problems. Brandon Hutchison (ChCh)

Jack Scrivano said...

During my lifetime, the relationship between the electors and the elected has changed.

Back in the 1960s (when pretty much everyone I knew voted), we elected a representative who we felt could be trusted to pursue our interests, someone who understood us and understood our needs. The party to which they were affiliated was primarily an umbrella under which they gathered for convenience. (Sorry, dyed in the wool supporters of the left or the right.)

Today, the emphasis is on ‘the party’. Some people say that this is the fault of MMP. ‘Party vote’ definitely plays a part. But I don’t think that it’s the whole story. I think the bond between the elector and the elected has been stretched exceedingly thin and, in many cases, has broken altogether.

Personally, I would not trust most of the current mob (from all of the parties) to act in my best interests. And they know this. And so, instead of saying: ‘Leave it to us, Jack; we’ll see you right’, they have to poll every little possible move. If they want me to tell them what I think they should do next, they just have to ask me. (Not poll me when I’m cooking supper.) And they should pay me for my time.

Kat said...

A policy to reinstate the Ministry of Works, or a modern day version, would be the game changer. Zero tolerance for unemployment, physically challenged exempt. The private sector can't and won't so its up to govt.

If Labour don't watch out National will do it and call it a SOE or some other commerce friendly term such as Govt private partnerships and it will just be more contracts for the nact team. But it will most likely destroy whats left of Labour.

Tiger Mountain said...

NZ Labour cannot muster even the gumption of a traditional pre neo lib (third way) social Democratic Party, I.e. like Norm Kirk's administration

this was indeed evidenced by their woeful performance on TPPA when polling was running hot against TPPA and the best organised demos for years were happening, and when they could not even dredge up a positive statement for Jeremy Corbyn; it goes back of course to the Rogernomics era when most of the Labour left worth their salt headed off to New Labour and then the Alliance

how long NZ Labour will continue is anyone's guess, but not for much longer at this rate, given the dearth of ideological heft in the party

Rob Pharazyn said...

Labour are like Moses and the lost tribes in the wilderness...except minus a Moses...they are so hopelessly lost as a party that they're not worth commenting on anymore..cue Bee Gee's singing " Tragedy"

Cracker said...

Of course, like him as a PM or not, Key is adept at culling out deadwood MP's and Ministers. They don't call Key the smiling assassin for nothing.

Helen Clarke effectively left the parliamentary Labour party crippled as it was infested with tired has-been neolib types who were deadwood.

Clarke's legacy is Labour losing three elections on the trot with a forth looming.

When Labour MP's reject the idea that they have a job for life, then Labour might get somewhere.

Patricia said...

Watch Adam Curtis' HyperNormalisation. It is a BBC production and is available on YouTube. It is 2 hours 41 minutes long but it is well worth watching. It explains the current political situation so well

A O said...

Labour lacks a figurehead, aka, a strong leader. National has a figurehead and yet it wasn't that long ago when they too were nothing, bordering on extinction in fact, in some news circles before Key took the helm. National are nothing without the eyes of your average everyday, time-constrained, easily swayed (by personality) voter.

greywarbler said...

Here is a slightly relevant vido clip called The Ultimate Conspiracy Debunker. While we are puzzling which is the rational path to take when choosing from politicians behaving rationally within a totally irrational ideology and a failed political system and declining world look at this. A moment's colourful blast of apparent rationality might be the ECT shock we need to set our minds on a positive path.

I went into DuckAgogo for the link and noticed that there were over
2 million views of it. And then there was one with Russian lettering with 52 views, and when I clicked on it I got a warning from Google about it, so I went onto Google and looked for a version in Russian and they didn't have one. Isn't that surprising.

So safely home in good old Google -

On conspiracy theories, I like:
One of the worst things about conspiracy theories is the fact they are almost airtight. Every debunking or piece of evidence against it will be viewed as an attempt to "misinform the public", and the lack of evidence for it is viewed as a government cover-up.

greywarbler said...

If you can't manage a couple of Enters to make a paragraph can you put a pair of asterisks to advise where to pause and breathe?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There is now an algorithm which predicts how long the conspiracy theory will stay "airtight" depending on the number of people who are involved in it. Most of the nuttiest conspiracy theories would need thousands of people to be aware of it, and so would be exposed within months at most.

manfred said...

This is bullshit Chris. Your obsession with bashing Labour has gone too far. There is a shortage of police under National. A good responsible social democratic government would fix that.

As for Labour taking a time machine back to 1973 by rehashing the failed war on drugs, there is no harm in busting traffickers and dealers. I support decriminalisation of all drugs for personal use. But I don't support traffickers and dealers of hard drugs being able to act as they please and generously finance their criminal violence.

You have spent a lot of time describing the behaviour, role and identity of social democratic parties under capitalism but when they act according to their historic nature you throw a wobbly.

Labour today aren't acting that differently from their historical incarnations given the current political paradigms.

While we're stuck with that unfortunate system known as capitalism our best option is to have social democratic governments.

You need to make a distinction between friendly criticism and obsessive regular slagging off.

jh said...

Austin Mitchel begins his (2002) Pavlov Paradise Revisited with talk about Auckland: "it's the property developers who make the money here". 2017 and nothing has changed (in that regard). All progressives allowed anyone to see was *diversity*. Now they think they can mandate their way to a good economic result (as tried previously).
The difference between nasty Trump and nice Hillary is represented by Trumps wall with Mexico. Trump recognizes other people are a threat. Hillary zooms in on one unit of that threat and calls Trump bigoted (and xenophobic). There is a vast difference between diversity in the university staff room and trying to get a bus park out side the Museum where the exalted foreigner sits or the exalted foreign finger out bidding at auction.
. As someone said "see what happens when the professor looses his parking space".

greywarbler said...

Just thinking why our recent governments are like a nest of fleas.
They, or their influence, invade our lives and our homes, they suck our life-blood for their own advantage particularly amongst the really vulnerable, they live off us and multiply if not directly then by acting as a vector for other sucking insects, they are very hard to eradicate requiring drastic measures that may be toxic to us, and they have a repeating life cycle, so renewing themselves to continue their lives as pests.

Olwyn said...

I would guess that the 1,000 new police have been announced with an eye to the Mt Roskill by-election. The new People's Party (if I have the name right) seems to be law-and-order focused, and immigrant shop-keepers are all too often the targets of criminals. Moreover, National won the party vote there last election, although Goff won the electorate vote. Both major parties will be seeking a morale booster from the by-election, and the timing of Key's visit to India (currently delayed)also fits that picture.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"The difference between nasty Trump and nice Hillary is represented by Trumps wall with Mexico. Trump recognizes other people are a threat."

As if this is the only difference between Trump and Hillary? The wall? Which he will almost certainly renege on I might say. Not that he is going to win. But some of the problems with Trump I put up in a list some time ago in another thread. And you refused to engage with it. I might say that I've posted this list more than a dozen times now in various forums, and no Conservatives have engaged with it. Until you feel yourself able to do this, please don't say that the only difference between Hillary and Trump is that Trump thinks other people are a threat.
As for the professor losing their parking space, the faculties of various universities have always been relatively international, at least for the last 20 or 30 years or so. That's possibly why they don't see others as a threat.
Incidentally, my list leaves out some of the latest accusations about Trumps misogyny, and where he puts his tiny hands. So feel free to cover this as well.

greywarbler said...

I don't agree with you that Chris has a kneejerk reaction to the policies on police and drugs. He points out that it is old stuff with an emphasis on the punitive, the so popular catch them and jail them mentality of the Right. And this is the Left in 2000+? Are you really stuck in last century? If so give someone a call - like Ghostbusters - to come and release you.

manfred said...

For crying out loud greywarbler. Did you read my post? I said I support the decriminalisation of drugs for personal use. That means you can shoot up smack and smoke methamphetamine and nothing will happen to you.

When did a harm-reduction non-punitive drug policy include allowing gangs and traffickers to participate in the drug trade with impunity? We're talking about giving users a rest, not the predatory scumbags who exploit them.

There is nothing to suggest Labour want to go and step up busts against users. Andrew Little also floated the idea of a referendum on the legalisation of cannabis under the next Labour government. You need to read between the lines.

jh said...


please don't say that the only difference between Hillary and Trump is that Trump thinks other people are a threat.
I didn't mean that too literally but I see the main difference between the two as one is a globalist and one a nationalist and those two world views are poles apart.
One sees unfettered people flows as a threat whereas the other puts on (in my view) rose coloured spectacles. Merkel is acknowledging her mistake.

Anonymous said...

The Labour movement today is trapped between multiple rocks and multiple hard places - to the point where it cannot even present a logical set of policies and get elected with them.

It is still largely controlled by the union movement but the vast majority of 'workers' today aren't in a union and don't see the point of being in one. Union bosses would love to see a return to the golden age of unionism but the voting public simply won't stand for it. They prefer freedom of choice. So the Labour Party leadership is torn between doing as they're told by their union masters and developing policies that might actually win an election. They can't have both.

Its leadership appointments are determined by a block vote from the union movement so that an unpopular union hack who has never won a constituency election is foisted on the parliamentary group. Not a recipe for cohesion!

The Labour movement is wedded to economic and political tools that are at least half a century out of date. They were designed by 19th century socialists to combat the excesses of 19th century industrialism. They are simply not relevant today. There are those in the Labour movement who have tried to modernise it but they are shouted down by the crackpot ideological zealots. As you have found out yourself Chris, any attempt at constructive criticism is met with vindictive personal attacks. Ditto Tony Blair, Phil Quinn and Josie Pagani - all now ideological outcasts.


pat said...

With the overarching challenges to workers/employment within the rapidly changing environment (in all senses) the Union movement is presented with a vital opportunity to represent the interests of those members of society who are once again under extreme threat from the holders of capital...a situation that would appear to only be likely to increase.

If a refocused Union movement does not represent these interests who then will?

To claim there is no role for Unions in the 21st century makes as much sense as claiming the Union movement had no relevance to workers in the 20th....indeed it may be more important than ever, but I suspect it needs to be a movement that proposes a complete vision of an equitable future and the practical means of achieving that rather than using all its depleted energy dealing with the minutae of the current systems failure..... only then will they regain the support and influence they had previously.

The Labour Party faces the same challenge.

Duncan Brown said...

So, you happily hearken back to the good old days of principled and altruistic politics yet want to be paid to contribute to the process. I sense a disconnect here.