|All Hands On Deck: As the clock ticks down to polling day, the Left’s priorities are, therefore, clear. Keep Labour in office (hopefully with just the Greens for coalition company) and inflict as much damage on the National Party and Act as possible. Having achieved those goals, however, it will be necessary to calculate with all speed the co-ordinates of a whole new set of targets. Covid or no Covid, all is not well in New Zealand. Much remains to be done. And the Left’s dilemma has always been that only the Labour Party can do it.|
SPEAKING, the Left is currently in a very awkward place. It is clearly in the
whole country’s interest for leftists to do whatever they can to prevent the election
of a National-Act government. A right-wing victory would not only place
vulnerable New Zealanders at the mercy of the most reactionary elements of the
political mainstream, but also embolden and empower the even more reactionary
groups operating at the political fringes. In a world ravaged by Covid-19, such
an outcome would be little short of catastrophic.
But if the
Left has a strong moral obligation to swing in behind the Jacinda Ardern-led
government, it is also obliged to maintain a watching brief on its non-Covid
activities. John Minto’s latest posting on The Daily Blog – “Labour’s
Shame!” – provides a welcome reminder of the multiple policy failures
attributable to the Labour-led coalition. John’s piece alerts us to the fact
that even if the virus could be wished away, and life return to its “normal”
pre-pandemic state, then all would be far from well in New Zealand.
currently gripping the Canterbury District Health Board (CDHB) for example, is
a classic case of how absolutely the neoliberal ideology still governs the
provision of crucial social services in New Zealand. While the crisis, which
has seen 7 out of the 11-strong senior management team of the CDHB – including
its CEO – tender their resignations, is mostly attributable to the built-in
deficiencies of the DHBs’ operational model, its immediate causes are entirely
Labour-generated. The former Minister of Health, David Clark, is responsible
for setting in motion the machinery that is steadily demolishing the
effectiveness of the CDHB.
principal adviser, however, was the Chief Executive of the Ministry of Health,
Dr Ashley Bloomfield. Yes, that Dr Ashley Bloomfield: the saintly
Director-General of Health who, until recently, represented, alongside the
Prime-Minister, the State’s highly successful response to the Covid-19
critical role in both the CDHB debacle and the fight against Covid-19
epitomises the Left’s dilemma. While the global pandemic has necessitated, in
much the same way as the existential threat of Nazi Germany did during World
War II, a temporary setting aside of ideological divisions; the virus’s
eventual defeat will, inevitably, see those divisions reassert themselves. Just
as Winston Churchill remained at heart an unreconstructed Tory, the New Zealand
public service – and most of the ministers it advises – remain happily wedded
to Neoliberalism. The Left is obliged to face this dilemma squarely, with the
same unflinching honesty as John Minto.
difficulty, of course, is that having sung the praises of Jacinda Ardern and
her Labour and Green comrades all the way up to 17 October, it is extremely
jarring to then turn around and start piling on the criticism. In the mind of
the Labour apparatchik (never a very spacious place) that sort of behaviour
will be taken as proof of the “Far-Left’s” irredeemable perfidy. To the people
surrounding Jacinda, victory is always the ultimate riposte. “If we were so
bad,’, they will object, “however did we win?” Labourites always resist the
obvious answer: because their party was the lesser of two evils. Not least
because that conclusion requires of them the mental and moral clarity to
recognise that though it may be the lesser, their party is, nonetheless, evil.
point home is the only effective strategy available to the Left. Pointing out,
as John does in his post, the all-too-real consequences of neoliberalism.
Labour, once safely re-elected, needs to be assailed with the brute facts of
the poverty and marginalisation its policies have done so little to alleviate.
effective as rubbing the government’s nose in the misery it refuses to
mitigate, is pointing out the naked class advantage which Labour’s policies
confer upon people who look and sound uncomfortably like its own members of
parliament. It takes more steel than most Labour MPs possess to openly
acknowledge that they are not, and, for the most part, never have been,
“leftists”. Most of them get a kick out of seeing themselves as part of
working-class New Zealand’s long march towards social and economic equality.
Demonstrating to them, with irrefutable data, that they are actually
responsible for measures guaranteed to halt the forward march of Labour, causes
them genuine distress. Nobody wearing a red rosette likes to be called a scab.
As the clock
ticks down to polling day, the Left’s priorities are, therefore, clear. Keep
Labour in office (hopefully with just the Greens for coalition company) and
inflict as much damage on the National Party and Act as possible. Having
achieved those goals, however, it will be necessary to calculate with all speed
the co-ordinates of a whole new set of targets. Covid or no Covid, all is not
well in New Zealand. Much remains to be done. And the Left’s dilemma has always
been that only the Labour Party can do it.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 27 August 2020.
Presumably Labour will have some sort of manifesto of campaign commitments. It seems unlikely they will go to the election with no specific policies.
Labours election commitments are also likely to not be as left wing as you and John Minto would like. After all you both come from what used to be the Alliance which was well to the left of Labour.
Do you accept that at least to a significant extent, political parties should be substantially bound by the election commitments they make, especially when they are already in government and know the likely economic and social situation?
I get that you use your platform to shift Labour to the left, but at some point Labour will have to make campaign commitments. And in my view these should be substantially binding.
Looking back to 84 when Douglas and his crew ambushed the Left there are some obvious lessons for how to run the counter-revolution.
Douglas was beneficiary of a huge electoral mandate for change without ever campaigning openly. Two lessons there: have the numbers and keep the real agenda quiet.
Douglas also acted fast to place ideological proponents in every key governmental post. Lesson, identify and line up your lackeys and hitmen early.
Lange provided cover by pretending that there was a crisis, constantly stating Fortress NZ was untenable therefore there was no alternative (TINA). Lesson never waste a crisis, real or imagined to sell the revolution.
Jacinda could replicate this at this election, Covid and economic crisis are the ideal cover. Myself I doubt that she has a cadres of revolutionary inclinations to execute this. Another opportunity is likely to be lost.
Your prescription is very undemocratic. The fundamental reason New Zealand voted for MMP was to restrain exactly that sort of behaviour, which had occurred with the Lange/Douglas government and with the Bolger/Richardson government.
Of course the way the public expressed their concern about government going beyond their mandate was to vote for MMP. However, the expectation was that future governments would generally abide by their electoral commitments. For the last 25 years governments have broadly done that. Obviously not every single thing they have done is the result of electoral commitments, they are never that detailed.
Nevertheless, none of the post MMP governments have done things drastically outside their mandate. For instance the partial sale of the electricity companies had a specific mandate from the 2011 election. The current government has basically governed within their mandate, for instance, not increased taxes.
So, no, I don't expect to see Labour, if elected, introduce a secret socialist agenda. I expect them to say broadly what they will do prior to the election, and if elected, basically abide by that. To me that is keeping democratic faith with the voters. Otherwise voter trust that there is political integrity will be rapidly destroyed.
Wayne, I gave a prescription that I agree is undemocratic. I don't expect that it will happen either.
You miss one subtlety, that an economic system has been institutionalised by the undemocratic actions of the 84 Labour government. To overturn the resultant status quo will take a revolutionary act because the whole of the government departments, intelligence agencies, the financial and corporate interests, our international financiers etc support this system.
The paradox is that those like yourself who benefit from and support this system see any attempt to change this as undemocratic, and if necessary would suspend democracy a la Pinochet to protect their system.
Myself I think a reversion to social democracy is what is required, not socialism. And that may require revolution which indicates just how far our systems have become what 40 years ago we would have described as extreme Right wing.
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