The Only Question That Counts: Have Labour and the Greens got Winston singing that Hallelujah Song?
WHAT’S WINSTON LOOKING FOR in a Labour-Green-NZ First Government? What must he be convinced of before he tells Bill English and the 44.4 percent of New Zealanders who voted for the National Party that, this time, he and his party are signing-up with the Left?
First and foremost, he needs to be convinced that such a government will be a success. Between now and 2020, Winston is looking to secure an enduring political and historical legacy. That can’t happen if the government he imposes on New Zealand turns out to be a fractious shambles – disaster is not the legacy he’s looking for.
So, as he receives Labour’s offers and makes his counter-offers, he will be watching closely and listening carefully for the slightest sign, the faintest note, of the Hallelujah Song. Winston needs to know that Labour’s reach continues to exceed its grasp: that its MPs strive for something beyond mere political power; that it is still a party of nation-builders.
He will be studying Jacinda Ardern especially closely. Does she fully appreciate the sheer weight of the hopes and dreams New Zealanders have heaped upon her? Is she ready, truly ready, to fulfil them? And, does she show even the slightest sign of knowing how? Is hers the principal voice among Labour’s team of negotiators? Or, does she constantly defer to her friend and ally, Grant Robertson? And does Grant, in turn, look to his mentor and patron, Sir Michael Cullen, for the right words at the right time? And has Sir Michael ever known how to sing the Hallelujah Song?
Objection will be raised that Winston’s a hard-nosed old bugger; and that he’s much more likely to be found singing along with Kenny Rogers’ “The Gambler”, than attempting to join in some airy-fairy Hallelujah Song. That will certainly be the case when he’s sitting down with Bill English and his wise-guys. With National, everything will be hard-nosed and zero-sum. He is, when all is said and done, of National’s tribe: they know him, and he knows them.
Winston is fluent in the transactional languages of the Right. When he’s with National it will all be about things given, things taken; advantages secured, potential gains foregone. Like Kenny Rogers’ Gambler, he’ll tote-up his winnings and calculate his losses – but never at the table. NZ First’s and National’s negotiations will be conducted according to the bloodless protocols of businessmen exercising due diligence on a proposition their principals will be asked to either endorse or reject.
But National is Winston’s fall-back position. It is the party he’ll turn to if, in spite of his best efforts, he can find no trace of the Hallelujah Song. He knows full-well that a Labour-Green-NZ First Government will only work if it is animated by a unifying determination to roll-back thirty years of ignorance, cruelty and greed. He will be looking for the unmistakable signs of a political army getting ready to march. Not only must he find evidence of solidarity, but also of that fierce delight which people display when they find themselves in the company of like minds and kindred spirits.
You Got Me Singing - Leonard Cohen.
If that’s present in the room when he meets with Labour’s negotiators, then he really has no need to meet with the Greens. If he encounters a Labour Party charged with the thrill of solidarity and primed for action, then the Greens will be too – only more so. In a room like that there’s no need for the brute diction of win and lose, profit and loss. He and his team will know that NZ First, Labour and the Greens can do this in a way that will allow him to leave politics as an honoured and beloved statesman.
But, if all he hears in that room is the language of caution and denial. If all he’s given are countless reasons why things cannot be done. If all he senses on the other side of the table is a supercilious disdain for himself and his party, and open contempt for the Greens. Well then, he will listen politely and walk back sadly to the barren realism of Bill and his buddies.
In the absence of the Left’s uplifted voices, Winston will take what he can get from the Right. Better to deal with people who have never known that such transformational music exists, than be disappointed by Labour-Green politicians who no longer consider the Hallelujah Song worth singing.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 10 October 2017.