Sunday 22 September 2019

Who Will Be Fed Next To The Hungry Gods Of Politics?

Before Jacingrant There Was Gracinda: Grant Robertson and his 2014 running mate, Jacinda Ardern. She stood at his side: loyal and obliging, as she had ever been. The media dubbed this duo “Gracinda” – a sort of political “Brangelina”. The other young people who worked alongside Robertson were also ambitious for their hero. Even in defeat they stayed with him. Even as his running mate climbed, seemingly effortlessly, towards the Iron Throne of leadership, their faith in his star did not waver. There are thrones, yes, but there are also powers-behind-thrones.

IS THAT IT? The resignation of the Labour Party President, Nigel Haworth, and the departure of the young man at the centre of the allegations currently engulfing the Labour Party? Is that the sum total of the axe-wielding? That, and the QC’s inquiry? Is nothing more being contemplated by the Prime Minister and Labour Leader? Will the hungry gods of politics be satisfied with such a meagre offering?

The thing about the hungry gods of politics is that they, unlike the mere mortals who populate the Press Gallery, see all. They look at the mess arising out of the Wellington Labour Party, and its diverse collection of players, and they see all the connections. To their ears are borne the names of every character participating in the drama. They cast their omniscient minds back, and mark every one of the faces that have already appeared on the stage. They recall their motivations; their towering ambitions; and they know. They know.

They know, for example, that had they not whispered in the ear of a depressed and demoralised Andrew Little, Labour would have collapsed to an unprecedented defeat in 2017. They know, also, that those whispers made it possible for Jacinda Ardern to step boldly into New Zealand political history.

When the hands of the political gods are on your shoulders, pushing you forward, there is very little on this earth that can stop you. Seeing how effortlessly Jacinda made her way to the Beehive’s ninth floor who can doubt it? Political commentators talk about Jacinda’s “stardust” – that mysterious quality which has lent so much lustre to her time in office. What they’re really talking about, of course, is magic. The magic she brings to the job. But, from whence does magic come – if not from the gods?

For every politician with cause to thank the gods, however, there are many more with reasons to curse them. Think of Grant Robertson. Think of how close he came to defeating Andrew Little in the leadership contest of 2014. Less than a single percentage point separated his vote from the successful candidate’s. So close. So close. But the gods of politics had other plans.

Their eyes were on Robertson’s running mate, Jacinda Ardern. She had stood at his side: loyal and obliging, as she had ever been. The media dubbed this duo “Gracinda” – a sort of political “Brangelina”. The other young people who worked alongside Robertson were also ambitious for their hero. Even in defeat they stayed with him. Even as his running mate climbed, seemingly effortlessly, towards the Iron Throne of leadership, their faith in his star did not waver. There are thrones, yes, but there are also powers-behind-thrones.

While Jacinda’s stardust was dazzling the voters, Robertson continued to do what he had been doing for the best part of twenty years – creating a Labour Party in his own image. Young Labour was his special vehicle. They could be seen at party conferences: eager bearers of the Robertson message. And there they were again, in 2014, crowding around “Gracinda”, brandishing professionally-printed placards celebrating “A New Generation” of leadership. Political debts were being accumulated by the MP for Wellington Central; debts that would, one day, have to be repaid.

Meanwhile, the political gods were raising-up and casting-down Labour leaders with gay abandon. First the hapless Phil Goff. Then the luckless David Shearer. Followed by the doomed David Cunliffe. Robertson was a willing tool in the hands of these delinquent deities. Wielding the knife silently and invisibly: conscious always that with every leader that fell, his own chances of inheriting Labour’s crown rose.

So close. So close. Just one more member of caucus. Just 100 more trade union votes – and the leadership would have been his. It was not to be – at least, not yet. But if he could not be leader of the party he could become the arbiter of its policies. Finance spokesperson may have been Little’s consolation gift to Robertson – but it was one he would turn to good use.

Guided by the √©minence grise of Labour’s “Third Way” conservatism, Sir Michael Cullen, Robertson bound Labour in fiscal chains so tight that, in the unlikely event of a Labour-led government being formed, it would lack all freedom of movement. No matter how luminous the promises of “transformation”, without the money to turn promises into reality, the person making them was bound to end up discredited. Perhaps, at that point, the gods of politics would relent?

To make their job easier, Robertson did all he could to fill the key posts of Labour’s parliamentary apparatus with people sympathetic to his ambitions. The same members of Team Robertson who had laid low Cunliffe and his supporters were now running not only the party – but the country.

At least, they thought they were running the country.

The ever loyal and dutiful Jacinda was Prime Minister, but her grip on the evolution and implementation of policy was weak. If an instinctive and powerfully empathetic response was required, Jacinda could be relied upon absolutely. What happened behind her throne, however, had become the responsibility of others.

It was then that the gods of politics decided to play their little joke.

Robertson and his allies are not laughing. Events occurring behind Jacinda’s throne have been thrust front and centre. They have ceased to be the responsibility of others and become hers. As events involving Young Labour and close Robertson allies have inflicted enormous damage upon both her own reputation and that of the party, Jacinda has had the chance to measure the full extent of the loyalty and dutifulness of her parliamentary and party comrades.

On her overseas travels, as she mulls over the future of her erstwhile running-mate and Finance Minister, the Prime Minister may recall with a mixture of irony and regret the words of the Ancient Greek playwright, Euripides:

“Those whom the gods seek to destroy, they first make mad.”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 20 September 2019.


Nick J said...

The current Labour party are dominated by a constituency that is more interested in politically correct victimhood narratives than it is with wages. The so called core constituency of Labour, the low paid wage earners don't matter to Robertson's support base. It's a sick position, constructed social justice issues versus the real social justice issues of living wage and affordable lifes.

Jacinda has a Stark choice. Lead the people at large and win, or be led by the Robertson brigade to a heavy loss.

peteswriteplace said...

I would have to say, what would you know Chris? It is not as if you are a loyal and dutiful Labour Party member. I don't know who you support. I haven't changed, still not prepared to become a financial member, but have voted Labour since my single term protest and vote for Jim Anderton's New Labour in 1990. I went on to become a victim of Bolger's ECA. There are no signs of Jacinda going anywhere for a couple of terms.

Odysseus said...

Ardern is the only person now standing in the way of Robertson's driving ambition for the top job. But the reality is that without her electoral appeal Labour is lost. Nevertheless Greek tragedy is full of hubristic protagonists who, lacking awareness of their own limitations, inexorably contribute to their own downfall while the audience looks on in agonized disbelief. No matter how much Labour struggles to contain it the sexual abuse scandal within the Leader's Office has unleashed the furies and they will not rest until they have pursued the fated victim to their destruction.

Jens Meder said...

Keeping calm and steady along the "fiscally responsible third way" will most probably disappoint all those hoping for a change of government (policies) because of the recent personal misbehavior based scandals within Labour.

The critical and economically most important political issue in 2020 might well be between measures to increase national (retirement) wealth and productivity per head of citizen and worker - to keep our NZ Super entitlement sustainable from age 65 - and those opposing it.

Can human misbehavior be cured by blaming "Gracinda" for it ?

Anonymous said...

How she handles this will be the making or breaking of Jacinda. So many people elected her in the hope of a political transformation to reflect NZ society's maturing cultural evolvement & increasing intolerance for the "nothing to see here" blinkered lens.

Anonymous said...

Grant Robertson simply isn't capable of winning any election for Labour, hopefully they all know that by now

Charles Pigden said...

So here's my question Chris. You seem to be saying that the people responsible for this massive clusterfuck are Third Way Robertsonian apparatchiks. Now maybe that's true, but I am sorry to say that this kind of delinquency is spread right across the political spectrum. Radical social democrats are just as capable of sexual assault and ham-fisted cover-ups as neo-liberals and Third Way nincompoops. So is it just the Third Way nincompoops in this case? If it is Third Way apparatchiks, I guess that's a good thing if it means that a significant number will be purged. But I don't have enough faith in the people who agree with me to think that that is at all likely. I would not be surprised if there were not some ghastly old lefties in there too. Or is it just happenstance that not enough old social democrats are in with the in-crowd to have played an active part in the abuses?

greywarbler said...

Looking at outcomes of the present Labour government, I feel that NickJ is right. It is amazing how many things that aren't going to be a big budget item are left to start 'later', one that bugs me is the miniscule rise allowed in beneficiaries' earnings before there is reduction in their benefit.

The object is to keep beneficiaries poor, to punish them for being losers in the eyes of the political players, and to ensure that they cannot improve their condition or have any enjoyment ever while they are receiving state help. And cannot receive or give any help if the person is a male without being allocated the status of being intimately dependent. And middle class wants and wins seem to dominate, while as NickJ says wages stay abysmally low and housing has been ripped out of the arms of the citizen and used to fill a gap in business investment resulting from the flood of low-cost basics wiping small business and jobs and wealth creation to invest in other small businesses (apart from cafes that only the middle class and tourists can afford).

It is brutal colonial squatter thinking arisen again after coming all the way across the world for a better society and political delivery; the enlightenment improvements have gone, and the RW women are just about equal to those in Minnie Dean's time. Labour has enabled if not introduced this and getting modern attitudes back seems to be a sysiphean task, another Greek tragic comparison.

The derision that the RW of both parties feel for poor people, and for solo parents is displayed in this. The lie that work is good and solves all ills is their stock-in-trade; all those who aren't forced out to work will moulder and proliferate at home like weeds. No consideration for their solo parent burdens, importance as role models, situation and potential for aspiration of a trade or career and to be socially mobile. Only hard, narrowly prejudiced decisions made on slight information of perhaps malicious sources, and damaging to the improvement of the family condition.

Nick J said...

Grey, you are so right about the real issues. They add up to life with dignity and pride, denied to so many. Labour should have this as their overarching principle. Achieve this and all other social justice issues become possible.

Unknown said...

What if Chris?