Wednesday 4 October 2017

The Difference Between Jeremy And Jacinda, Is The Difference Between Government And Governance.

When Will New Zealand Labour See His Like Again? Octogenarian socialist MP, Dennis Skinner, addresses the British Labour Party Conference in Brighton. Traditional Labour values and policies are on the way back in the UK - but New Zealand's Labour Party remains mired in 1990s "Third Way-ism".

THERE’S A VIDEO doing the rounds on social media. It features the octogenarian Labour MP and socialist, Dennis Skinner, addressing the British Labour Party conference in Brighton. Even Helen Clark was moved to pass on the link to her many thousands of followers. Her accompanying comment, however, was telling: “We shall never see his like again.”

Having viewed the short video clip, however, I feel obliged to voice my disagreement with Helen. That Dennis Skinner was invited to address the Labour Conference at all is a remarkable testament to how far the party has departed from the Blairite path. The rapturous reception he received, plus the warm handshake from fellow socialist, Jeremy Corbyn, add up to one inescapable conclusion. That the ideas of Dennis Skinner are not on the way out – they are on the way back. Meaning that the British Labour Party will be seeing a great many more like him in the years ahead.

Where I believe Helen’s comment does ring true, however, is in relation to the New Zealand Labour Party. I have been racking my brains to think of any living equivalent to Dennis Skinner in the party of Jacinda Ardern – and have come up empty.

There’s a very simple reason for that. There are no Dennis Skinners in the NZLP because, in 1989, just about every Labour socialist abandoned the Party of Rogernomics to join Jim Anderton’s NewLabour Party (NLP). By 1991, the NLP had joined forces with Mana Motuhake, the Democrats and the Greens to form the Alliance. What followed was a bitter struggle for supremacy. Between 1991 and 1998, Labour and the Alliance battled for control of the left of New Zealand politics. Though Labour would, ultimately, emerge triumphant, its victory over the Alliance was only secured at considerable cost.

Stripped of its left-wing members, and all the transformational and emancipatory impulses that inspired them, Labour ceased to be a party committed to bringing the voices of working-class Kiwis into government, and became instead a party dedicated to providing good governance for all New Zealanders. This distinction between government and governance is crucial to understanding the difference between Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party and Jacinda Ardern’s.

Perhaps the best way of distinguishing government from governance is to examine the two distinct phases of Labour’s 2017 election campaign.

For the first few weeks of the campaign, the country was seized by the giddy notion that Labour’s new leader was about to upset the New Zealand Establishment’s apple-cart. Her gloriously vague slogan – “Let’s Do This” – allowed every person to project onto Jacinda all their hopes and dreams for the country’s future. Labour’s poll numbers rocketed upwards on the strength of the popular conviction that a Jacinda-led government would be a government dedicated to installing new priorities and new voices at the heart of the State.

Augmenting this heady notion was the way in which Jacinda appeared to seize the torch of radical change even as it fell from Metiria Turei’s grasp. Had she not made the Greens’ priorities her own? Had she not vowed to make Climate Change the “nuclear-free moment of her generation”? Metiria had lit the fires of hope, and Jacinda (at least at first) seemed willing to keep on fanning them.

That was when the Labour Party dedicated to providing New Zealand with ‘good governance’ stepped onto the stage – and everything changed. From the young and fearless people’s champion, Jacinda morphed into an earnest young person talking about “working groups” of “experts”. Her marvellous slogan “Let’s Do This” shrank before our eyes. From a brave call for radical and far-reaching change, it was reduced to a brisk and business-like appeal to simply swap one team of “good governance” providers for another.

That was all the National Party needed. Up against a ‘people’s champion’ they had nothing to offer. But, on the subject of a young and inexperienced woman asking us to believe she can provide New Zealand with ‘good governance’, from the top down, they had plenty to say. The moment Jacinda allowed her mission to be diverted from changing the purpose and direction of government, to changing the oil in New Zealand’s clapped-out neoliberal machine, all hope of genuine change was lost.

Even if Winston Peters deigns to make her our next Prime Minister, Jacinda has made it very clear that she hasn’t the slightest intention of frightening the Establishment’s horses; and that her own – and Labour’s – determination to provide good and responsible governance to all New Zealanders, from the top down, will not falter.

Dennis Skinner addressed Britain’s Labour Party in front of a massive screen emblazoned with the slogan “For the Many – Not the Few”. He and his leader talked about unions, and nationalisation, and ordinary people taking power into their own hands. Their promise was not to provide a passive population with ‘good governance’, from the top down, but to make sure that the many are given all the tools they need to bring down the towers of the few.

It was the sort of inspiring performance I’d very much like to see again in New Zealand’s Labour Party.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 3 October 2017.


Jens Meder said...

But has not history proven that the state monopoly capitalism under true Socialism (i.e. the social ownership of the means of production ) is less democratic and economically effective than our mixed capitalism ?

And would not our mixed capitalism become even more democratic in an egalitarian way through a systematic effort to achieve at least a minimally meaningful level (e.g. at home ownership value?) of personal (retirement) capital ownership by all citizens eventually ?

jh said...

The thing is, does this class politics have appeal in a multicultural society? Remember it isn't about the white left anymore.
Yesterday Nine to noon featured an employers representative from an international organisation.Her views mirror the internationalist left: 1. migrants have net fiscal benefit 2. they don't reduce wages.

jh said...

Do we overlook the fact that European New Zealanders will soon be a minority in Auckland and that our utopian socialist left brought that on us?
I see on Kiwiblog someone argues that demographic change makes no difference as Vancouver is rated as one of the worlds most livable cities? what if you can't afford to live there and what if you are in crummy living circumstances? What about all those inner suburbs that were once working class? - Over to you Paul Spoonley?

Charles E said...

And following on from Jens, would not good governance be exactly what a good leader and her party should provide? The failed policies of socialism are exactly what all wise people want to avoid forever and a day. That way lies disaster for ordinary folks everywhere. We can all see that in a live and current demo in that fabulous workers’ paradise in Sth America the likes of Skinner & Corbyn will have praised in the past and are silent on now as their mates kill their own people and starve the rest.

The reason we will thank heavens not see the woeful Skinner or the Madura-like Corbyn here ever again is we are not a country who needs anything like them again and never did. They were always completely out of place here. Foreign frauds.

The trouble with some on the left here is they read the Guardian and think that it has relevance here in what is a very different and much much better country than the UK now, and perhaps for a generation or two now. We are a success (with issues we can do better on, yes), socially, economically and politically and the UK.... is not. I have just had 2 weeks there and could not wait to get home. Outside London in the south I liked it a lot. Rural England is pretty nice. But London is run down, over crowded, mostly poor, hopeless and a very divided testy populous.

They could do with a long dose of the good governance we have thrived under for the last 18 years and will continue to enjoy as long as wreckers like Skinner and Corbyn are kept where they belong: In horror museums, dedicated to what to avoid in governance at all cost.

Slugger said...

Ardern lost the election with the 'we're waiting on the working group' of 'experts' to give us 'best advice on tax' bullshit.

Plain and simple.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"But has not history proven that the state monopoly capitalism under true Socialism (i.e. the social ownership of the means of production ) is less democratic and economically effective than our mixed capitalism ?"

Yes, but who is aiming for what you call true Socialism? I suspect no one.

"And would not our mixed capitalism become even more democratic in an egalitarian way through a systematic effort to achieve at least a minimally meaningful level (e.g. at home ownership value?) of personal (retirement) capital ownership by all citizens eventually ?"


David Stone said...

@ Jens Meder

"But has not history proven that the state monopoly capitalism under true Socialism (i.e. the social ownership of the means of production ) is less democratic and economically effective than our mixed capitalism ?"

No I don't think history has ever had the opportunity to prove or disprove that. That structure has never been put in place under democracy , it has only ever been in place under a military dictatorship. Attempts to establish that kind of system under a democratically elected government / president in South America, Korea, Vietnam etc. have been systematically destroyed by the United States of America , and they are still at it all over the world.


Polly said...

a well thought out and written piece;

MMP brings Labour to its knees, begging to NZF for government benches.
Winnie, if agreeable, will be skillfull, sly and master-full, he will. of course, be in control of a NZF/ Labour/ Green coalition government.

Jacinda and Grant, both who are office trained, will pretend a unified government.

We will all be fucked to get a brighter future.

God save the Queen and New Zealand.

"ain't them the facts"

Anonymous said...

One thing I would point out though - apart from a couple of odd periods (1916-1933 and 1984-1988), New Zealand Labour has never been the party of radical change. It's the party of fixing (not overturning) the status quo.

British Labour by contrast has been in a cheerful state of civil war since its inception, lacking the autocratic framework that typifies New Zealand Labour (seriously, both John A. Lee and Jim Anderton would have remained within a British Labour Party). The closest New Zealand Labour has to any sort of heterodoxy is Damien O'Connor.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny how conservatives like Charles always seem to mention failed "socialist" states while completely ignoring the failed conservative states. Our nevermind – why would I expect rationality?

Richard said...

The critique you make of a limp and dare I say it insipid and timid Labour
and superficial Labour is on point. No charter writ large, or small for that matter to address for example the bitter poverty in South Auckland, or the slow subsidence and dispair in Dannieverke or Invercargill. If the intent to put into motion some specific enabling policies now....and even if a deal is reached with NZ First its content will be pallid and mediocre......and one suspects the calibre of their cabinet ministers problematic and short on experience.

The point about the left wing of Labour having decamped with Anderton is true and is
unable to be remediated. The former NSW Senator Graham Richardson said it best when speaking of the elected Senators and Members of the Lower House- " they may be bastards but they are our bastards".

The real concern a lack of actual commitment by today's Labour to any radical change, but being solely intent on staying on the Treasury benches.

Time and the shape of any agreement struck with NZ First will tell if they are "our bastards or not?".

Kat said...

Hopefully the Nacts believe what you write Chris and become so confused they spin out and end up not knowing if they are coming or going.

sumsuch said...

Bryan Gould. I've been scouring for a Corbyn/Sanders figure myself. Right amid 'Jacindamania' I offered him the leadership of the Labour Party. Don't think he printed my comment.

Jens Meder said...

Guerilla Surgeon - on what grounds can you say that a society of capital owners is not more democratic and egalitarian, than the status quo of "Haves" and "Have-Nots" ?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jens. On the grounds that I don't usually engage in long arguments with Social Creditors or Blairites or whatever the combination of the two you are, any more than I do with Scientologists.

Jens Meder said...

Guerilla Surgeon - please explain "true Socialism" if it has not been in existence anywhere yet, preferably with an example where it has come closest to it ?