Sunday 6 November 2016

Why I'm Not At The Labour Conference This Weekend.

A Fading Rose: Labour’s villains have become banal, and her heroes are dead and gone. For me, the party’s annual conference no longer beckons. Fortunately, there’s plenty to keep me busy in my garden. This year’s roses are a particularly vivid shade of red.
I SHOULD BE at the Labour Party’s annual conference. I fully intended to attend. I’d received the usual e-mail inviting me to apply for media accreditation. But, with the deadline looming, I just couldn’t do it.
Wearing a media pass around my neck this year would have felt hypocritical – inauthentic. Labour conferences have never been just another journalistic assignment for me. Ever since I cast my first vote (more than 40 years ago now, God help me!) Labour’s cause has been my cause. Regardless of whether I was attending as a delegate, or a journalist, Labour conferences mattered.
It’s why I worked so hard to get to them. As the only political organisation in New Zealand with a realistic prospect of actually improving the lives of working people, the internal life of the Labour Party has, for me, always been a matter of huge significance.
As a journalist, I never found the official conference speeches of much interest. What mattered to me were the conversations with rank-and-file delegates; the policy workshop debates on economics, trade and foreign affairs [all closed to media this weekend] and the chance to get some idea of who was on the rise and who was on the way out. I never got the impression that more than a handful of the journalists in attendance were remotely interested in any of these things, but for me this annual pulse-taking was invaluable.
I kept coming back for more because I never went away from a Labour conference disappointed. At the grass-roots level of the party there was always a sense of optimism. No matter what the setbacks, I never got the sense that Labour’s forward march had been halted.
Even at the annual conference following the rout of the Fourth Labour Government in 1990, delegates could point to established leaders like Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, and to new MPs like Steve Maharey, Pete Hodgson and Leanne Dalziel, and tell me with considerable confidence that Labour’s sun would rise again. And, of course, nine years later, with a lot of help from the Alliance, it did.
Even with the departure of Clark and Cullen, the party’s confidence remained undimmed. Indeed, between 2008 and 2014 I detected an exciting groundswell of rank-and-file assertiveness. There were hundreds in the party who, with Clark safely ensconced in New York, were determined that their party should, once again, become the driving force of progressive change in New Zealand. These were great conferences to attend.
Two individuals stood out in this headlong rush for a Labour rebirth: Helen Kelly and David Cunliffe. Like those undaunted delegates in 1990, Labour activists looked to them in confident expectation of another brilliant sunrise. It was not to be.
Maybe that was it – the reason why, on the afternoon of Tuesday, 1 November, I just couldn’t fill in my accreditation form. Helen was gone, and now David was going. Labour’s bright sunlit morning had turned into a grey rainy day.
Yes, the delegates will all be there in the conference hall this weekend. The workshop debates will splutter and stutter to some sort of conclusion. Party vacancies will be filled, reports presented, and Andrew will deliver his speech. Except, this time, the political drama’s script will not have been written by a Kirk, a Lange, a Clark, or even a Roger Douglas, but by a committee.
Labour’s villains have become banal, and her heroes are dead and gone. For me, the party’s annual conference no longer beckons. Fortunately, there’s plenty to keep me busy in my garden. This year’s roses are a particularly vivid shade of red.
This essay was published jointly on Bowalley Road and The Daily Blog on Sunday, 6 November 2016.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Obviously I'm still not a Labour party insider, but it's always intrigued me that with all this purported grassroots progressivism blah blah – that the party is still where it is today. Why can't these grassroots feelings be translated into actual policy? Is it the same reason that Roger Douglas and company were able to impose policies that nobody at the grassroots really wanted? If anyone has an answer I'd really love to hear it.

Polly said...

Chris, you are certainly 'wearing your heart on your sleeve', I admire your honesty and resolve.

They seem to be a political party in crisis, being secretive and controlling will not help, neither will constant pretence to a social agenda that is different to Nationals.

Yes the roses do seem to be redder this year, nothing else.

Anonymous said...

Can't comment as to the conference...couldn't afford to get there...never mind I'll read "stuff" instead.

Rob said...

it's hard to support something you ,unfortunately, no longer believe in !

peteswriteplace said...

You no longer support the party, just knock it!

Tracker said...

It doesn't help when Labour is populated with piss-weak lackies like Chris Hipkins.

Yesterday the local suburban newspaper came to the letterbox.

Hipkins wrote about 400-500 words talking about the need for 1000 more cops on the beat so 'we can feel safe in our homes'.

I spoke to the local community constable about this policy when it came out. As an experienced no-nonsense cop he said 1000 more cops won't have an impact on crime in his suburb.

Hipkins might want to talk to this fellow to get an sense of what's happening on the streets of his own electorate.

Chris Trotter said...


Sometimes, Peter, those who love you best, are the ones who criticise you the most.

Have you never been to a production of "King Lear"?

Brendan McNeill said...

Hi Chris

It’s been a while since I have visited your blog but noted on another your decision not to attend the Labour party conference this year. I can understand your waning enthusiasm.

Politics at its best is about principle and articulated by principled people, although if you have been following the American elections you could be forgiven for questioning my assertion. The question surrounding Labour is what departed first, its principles, or those in parliament who were sufficiently committed to them, and therefore able to become their articulate advocates?

I’m picking the former. I’m not sure what Labour stands for (or National really for that matter) other than identity politics, internal division, and a commitment to losing elections as a result. I hope that didn’t sound like a cheap shot. Perhaps it was.

However, once principle is lost or diluted then men and women of principle are no longer attracted to the party, or seek to represent it. You are left with mediocre career politicians, time servers, and party hacks.

This problem is not unique to Labour, but it is more apparent in Labour because of the time it has spent in recent opposition, its rotating leadership, its failure to inspire, and what I am picking will be its eventual demise as those supporters of your vintage either lose interest entirely, or are promoted to higher ground.

The Green’s political ceiling must be around 14-15% at best, despite their more recent attempts to appear more ‘mainstream’. What will NZ First become without Winston? Are we destined to have National as our default setting as they move increasingly to the Left, and there is no viable alternative to their right?

Perhaps the best outcome for principled Labour supporters is to join National and shift it even further to the left, which I suspect will happen anyway as the pragmatists within the party seek to retain office.

Disillusionment is not much fun regardless of where you reside on the political spectrum. The garden is good therapy. I’m spending considerable time there myself.

Jack Scrivano said...

@ Chris Trotter, 16.44

Yes, Chris, yes. It's time some of the lefty posters who drop by here opened their eyes. Whistling ain't going to win the race. Without serious change, the Labour Party is going nowhere (in my humble). Keep up the good work.

Kat said...

yes it's time National were infiltrated and morphed totally into a left wing party. Not far away just thirty or forty greedies and entrenched power freaks to be gotten rid of.

Kat said...

Welcome back Michael Cullen.

adam said...

A sign that the base of democracy, once a bed rock in this country is on the wane. I fear many, to many are happy to either follow a strong ruler, or a committee. Both have me waking at night screaming.

I think I wrote on your blog once that were going to see the end of one of the major parties in this country within the next few years. I seriously thought it would have been the national with the clash of conservatism verses neo-liberalism. But I think I was wrong. I think labour will be the party to fall, and like the liberal party of old, it will stop any progressive move desired by the general population in a desperate bid to hold on to political power.

I fear a very long time indeed, until we see a world that is less selfish and more caring.

jh said...

Labour saw it's NZ workers as "a basket of deplorables"; Helen Clark said: "New Zealanders are deeply racist and I intend to do everything in my power to change that"
The basket of deplorables got driven from the Party. The only people left at the party are "a basket of poo-bahs"

Sideliner said...

I attended the inaugural Labour 'Campaign College' in Auckland in November 2012.

What I saw was plenty of good decent grass roots Labour people who were well meaning in their intent to give effect to progressive policies for a future Labour government.

What was seriously disappointing was no Labour MP's turned up & at the time the President & General Secretary (Coatesworth & Barnett) seemed seriously out of their depth. Both their (brief) speeches amounted to childish disjointed nonsense.

I left the session convinced that the election would be lost in 2014 because there is no inspirational or principled leadership in Labour.

And since the incompetent Coatesworth & Barnett have been discarded my view hasn't changed.

A month or so before the 2014 election I resigned from the Labour party yet they still keep sending their donation begging emails which I happily deleted.

Gnossienne said...

I am reminded of Fitzgerald's Omar.

'Iram indeed is gone with all
its Rose,
And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd
Cup where no one knows;
But still the Vine her
ancient ruby yeilds,
And still a Garden by the
Water blows. .......

Look to the Rose that blows
about us - "Lo
"Laughing," she says,"into
the World I blow:
"At once the silken Tassel
of my Purse
"Tear, and its Treasure on the
Garden throw."

David Stone said...

Oh Dear Chris thats sad for you; and for the labour party.

I looked back at an earlier post and see your assessment of labour party membership as at around 1500 members. I guess that doesn't count union automatic membership which must be far more than 1500, so Andrew Little's election must have been inevitable. With a membership of 1500 the voter support must just be inertia, people voting out of habit and the lack of an alternative that represents their beliefs. National is looking very secure at the moment.

I had not picked up David Cunliffe's anti neoliberalism position that you have attributed to him, so I had a look around. It might be that he made it clear on Facebook and twitter but I"m not signed up. So all I found was an interview for the Listner in November 2012. In that interview he did indeed question the validity of the "settlement", but he quickly closed that topic down as being too " pointy headed" in favour of some bland comments about fixing things for the ordinary people as if he didn't expect them to want to know how, or to be able to understand.

That might well be a reasonable assessment of his perceived voter support; Too busy with life for one thing, but it identifies labour's and the voting public's dilemma in 2016.

The near global renaissance of laissez faire that Labour embraced from the 1980's on has come to the same pass as the philosophy did in the 1930s. The extraordinary money creation in US UK Japan and Europe has postponed the inevitable consequences for wealthy countries, and for us so far, but since nearly all the manufactured money has gone to the unproductive financiers who already had far too much, and almost none to the real economies ,it is only postponement and will likely exacerbate the final 1930's style result.

To be long term stable and equitable, capitalism has to go through the same trauma as in the 1930s, to bring it to enough people's notice , and the notice of the hitherto beneficiaries of neoliberalism that in the end it didn't work for them either, that something has to change fundamentally in it's structure. It's safe for me to say this as I am not standing for election or likely to, so it's immaterial that most people think I'm a nutter, but public opinion in New Zealand in 2016 isn't ready for a political movement advocating the changes that will be necessary. So labour is in limbo. But if Cunliffe really held beliefs along these lines (perhaps not so dramatic) he might have left just when he was about to be needed and his insights relevant.
I don't see anyone else in labour with the imagination that's going to be needed.

Leaving the economy aside there is another significant dilemma in foreign policy that might be due. Your recent comments to Victor along the lines of opinions changing as one becomes better informed, or the circumstances change. And in terms of our trotting along behind UK and US in all their military adventures without question your position I think is valid. But it has very significant implications for our foreign policy.

In the past we have accepted that these great powers have been acting altruistically on information we lack the resources to investigate independently . Perhaps like you and many other New Zealanders ,I no longer have confidence that these powers know what they are doing, or even that their motives are altruistic at all . But to stand for election on the basis of the necessary changes would be bold and risky.

Having said that though ,N Z may be one of very few western nations that could get away with defying US UK narrative on military belligerence. We have a fine record of courage and integrity , and an independent assessment of the validity of military actions would be widely respected.

Cheers David

greywarbler said...

Thanks David for that summation. I especially liked to be reminded of this:
We have a fine record of courage and integrity , and an independent assessment of the validity of military actions would be widely respected.

We did, and often stretch that mantle over our shoulders today to give us spurious and grandiose heights of authority. But there is an almost entirely venal attitude amongst politicians and leaders who have drunk their own kool-aid and been warped by the deadening effects. Those good standards of behaviour and acceptability are now being carried by various people in the community who stagger along under the weight trying to keep them flying. But our chief human vice of rationalising thoughts and actions that ultimately are self-serving is the rule amongst those who have the power to make changes. And the idle-minded keep feeding the trolls.

Nick J said...

Chris, enjoy the gardening, it all seems like unrequited love......try humming away to Elvis Costellos Good Year for the Roses whilst pruning and clipping.
What a good year for the roses
Many blooms still linger there
The lawn could stand another mowin'
Funny I don't even care
As you turn to walk away
As the door behind you closes
The only thing I have to say
It's been a good year for the roses

chris said...

Hi Chris

Have missed your blog for the last year or so but very thankful to have you back on my radar!
Very good article on TOP..... I think you summed it up perfectly
I concur also about the sad loss of Helen Kelly and to a degree Cunliffe as well.
Sadly you are right about (new) Labour...... they are like a princess without a country!
Keep up the good work, greatly appreciated!

Tiger Mountain said...

“flogging a dead horse” is an insensitive way to put it now that some of the populace at least have a regard for “all creatures great and small”, but since 1990 that is exactly what trying to ginger up the NZLP has amounted to

factions and departures have diluted the NZLP to a piteous state ideologically whereby prompt positions on obvious issues such as the TPPA and support for Jeremy Corbyn are just not possible

what will become of us (the New Zealanders)? –after a few months in the provinces I can report we appear to be a tale of two nations–one the forgotten/marginalised descendants of the discarded 80s working class and the new working precarious poor, the other the middle classes (WFF and all) and unearned income group sitting on multiple properties and nice little earners of various types (excuse the once over lightly categories, the BBC determined 7 current class groupings in the UK recently)

both groups virtually oblivious to all intents of each other, one voting for high property prices and the other barely voting in numbers at all, public participation by citizens in many areas is in decline

there will be new groupings and new leaders and new battles as time passes, conditions of life and industry will ensure that; the LP probably had an extra glass of wine each to celebrate you not being there Chris!