Sunday 27 August 2023

The Election Labour Has To Lose.

Bonjour Tristesse: The next time you see Chippy on the news, take a look at his eyes. There you will see the sadness and resignation of a man who not only knows that he cannot, but also that he must not, win. Labour is going to lose the election, not because it wants to, but because it has to – before it remembers who it was created to serve.

LABOUR’S GOING TO LOSE the General Election, and everybody with a shred of objectivity left to them knows it. The government of Chris Hipkins is doomed, and it’s not just the polls that are giving us the bad news, it’s Hipkins himself. He has nothing to offer the electorate: nothing that it wants to hear; and he knows it. Political promises are useless now. There are simply too many voters convinced that, after 14 October, Labour will be in no position to honour them. Hipkins is in the same position as a country experiencing hyperinflation: no matter how many zeros get added to the notes rolling off the printing presses, the currency remains worthless.

The real question is: “Why is Labour going to lose?” At the beginning of the year the party stood at 38 percent in at least one of the major polls. Hipkins’ takeover from Jacinda Ardern had been executed flawlessly and his “bonfire of unpopular policies” had been well-received. For a few precious weeks, the electorate believed Labour was listening to them. Had Hipkins and his colleagues followed through: focussing, laser-like, on “bread and butter” issues as promised; they would now be odds-on-favourites to win the electoral race. But, they didn’t follow through, they stopped listening, and Labour’s long, slow slide into the sub-30 percent electoral “death-zone” commenced.

It is clear now that Hipkins’ really didn’t care one way or the other about the “unpopular policies” – and neither did most of his colleagues. There was no factional divide in either Cabinet or Caucus over issues like Three Waters or Free Speech: no ideological conflict with passions running high on all sides; just the polls, the focus-group findings, and the tactical opportunities they presented.

That’s why what was probably the least popular of the “unpopular policies”, Three Waters, underwent only cosmetic changes. The Māori caucus wanted it because Iwi leaders wanted it, and if they didn’t get it, they might start knocking on Te Pāti Māori’s door. No one else in the Labour caucus proper felt strongly enough about the issue to organise any kind of serious resistance. So, Hipkins allowed Three Waters to be tweaked and re-named, and hoped that the public would be satisfied with a ludicrous name change. They weren’t.

It was left to Labour’s resident policy boffins, Grant Robertson and David Parker, to come up with something to replace the “unpopular policies” theme. It had to be about tax (because tax was National’s headline policy initiative) and it had to be bold enough to get the voters thinking and talking about Labour’s radical proposals all the way to the polling booths. To give Robertson and Parker their due, the plan they came up with felt like a winner. Certainly, it would have kept the political spotlight fixed upon the Government. Parker’s investigation into who-pays-what in tax had already predisposed the public to radical change – the polls were saying so quite emphatically – so, it just might have worked.

But, if the polls were pointing to widespread public support for making the super-wealthy pay their fair share of tax, Hipkins was adamant that the focus-group reports were all pointing the other way. From the other side of the world, in Vilnius, Lithuania, the Prime Minister issued his “Captain’s Call”, voiding Robertson’s and Parker’s plan, thereby making Labour’s election defeat inevitable.

Why did he do it? Because, deep down, Hipkins is a conservative politician, with a conservative politician’s deep-seated horror of anything that threatens to upend the status quo, and a genuine conservative’s loathing for all those who presume to challenge it. Oh sure, he is a Labour Party politician, but only because he got into parliamentary politics via student politics, where a rhetorical commitment to the Left is more-or-less de rigueur.

At heart, however, “Chippy” believes in the hierarchies of expertise and competence by which New Zealand politicians are surrounded from the moment they enter Parliament. It matters not at all whether they enter the circles of power as political advisers, Members of Parliament, or, in the cases of Hipkins’, Robertson and Ardern, a good measure of both: the idea that all great political ideas come from below, from the people, is dismissed out-of-hand as antiquated nonsense. Those who believe otherwise do not fare well in the NZ Labour Party of the Twenty-First Century.

The great irony, of course, is that if the Labour Party had somehow remained a mass party, made of, by, and for the New Zealand working-class, then Labour’s present difficulties would never have developed. A party permitted – nay, encouraged! – to engage in robust policy debates would have equipped its parliamentary representatives with a set of policies which enjoyed the democratic imprimatur of a political movement boasting powerful and organic attachments (through trade unions and community groups) with something very close to a majority of the voting public. A party of that sort would require a lot of convincing to take on board policies that struck its members as peculiar, offensive, unfair, unscientific and/or at odds with plain, old-fashioned, human decency.

Such a party is, of course, an impossibility in a society dominated by neoliberal ideology. Such a society cannot countenance any serious political movement that is not dedicated to preserving the interests of the ruling elites, or run by anyone other than their enablers in the professional and managerial class. What Chris Hipkins (and Jacinda Ardern) have shown us is that remaining in office is, ultimately, much less important than ensuring that no policies are contemplated – let alone enacted – which might undermine the neoliberal order.

Unpopular policies, especially those that encourage social division, are nothing for neoliberals to worry about. It is the policy capable of attracting two-thirds or more of the electorate’s support, the policy holding out the promise of actually challenging and changing the neoliberal status quo, that must be resisted – at any cost. A policy calling for the introduction of a Wealth Tax, for example.

The next time you see Chippy on the news, take a look at his eyes. There you will see the sadness and resignation of a man who not only knows that he cannot, but also that he must not, win. Labour is going to lose the election, not because it wants to, but because it has to – before it remembers who it was created to serve.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 25 August 2023.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't know about HAS to lose the next election, but Labour certainly deserves to lose the next election having provided no vision of a fairer society, just neoliberalism with a few tweaks round the edges, just like Tony Blair. There has been a middle-class/managerialist capture of the party – honestly I'm tired of saying it, so enough said.

new view said...

A detailed analysis who many will agree with including myself. Many will be wondering what does Hipkins stand for. While he is not openly a populist in the same way as Ardern was, his ambition to keep the electorate onside makes him one. If a policy is not proving popular we will rename it, paint it a different colour or dump it. IMO Labour are failing because their co governance agenda is not open and transparent, they have failed to get things done in a timely way, Law and order and education are a shambles, they have tried to increase wages without the slightest attempt to increase productivity, and the country is in financial difficulties. Chris says Labour will lose but there are no winners. Whoever wins the election will have big debt to get under control which means not dealing out cash like this government has. If National get the numbers it will be like a hospital pass, and if by some miracle a labour coalition remain in government we will have more of the same until the money literally runs out. IMO a Labour victory means a government that will spend your money the way they want to, or National, who will support small business and exporters and hope we can grow our way out of the hole we are in. In the end the people will choose.

David George said...

Hipkins does seem to have Bidenesque look of bewilderment about him, perhaps it's just the way he is but it's not confidence inspiring. “Chippy” may well "believe[s] in the hierarchies of expertise and competence" but it's sadly not reflected in the resigned hopelessness evident in the incompetent rabble that makes up the rest of his outfit. Best they have a bit of a breather for a few decades.

That they decided to hitch their wagon to the divisive identity wagon is difficult to understand, unless they really do hate the white working class.

Mike Houlding said...

What sticks in the craw more than anything is the withdrawal of Jacinda Ardern to greener, more lucrative pastures. Her explanation deserves scorn and ridicule, and if such a craven withdrawal had come from a right wing party she would have never wiped the proverbial egg off her face.

Archduke Piccolo said...

It is no consolation to find, after nigh-on 40 years, the 30 pieces of silver ain't got much purchasing power remaining. You might call the Labour Party 'dog tucker', but it will be the Fat Cats and their rodent lackeys who will be dining on it. Come this election there will be a lot of people demonstrating just how much confidence they have in this country's so-called 'democracy'. Expect a low turnout.
Ion A. Dowman.

Geoff said...

While I personally disagree with your politics Chris( the neoliberal bit at least), I admire your honesty , conviction, and analysis.
You have summed up exactly, the shallowness of Ardern & Hipkins....led primarily by 'focus groups 'rather than actually LISTENING to those they purportedly support. The hackneyed expression "as shallow as a birdbath" in the circumstance seems particularly apt.

IMO, perhaps the MOST egregious betrayal by Labour, is trying to hoodwink people that somehow He Pua pua is a fair and democratic path to tread. Even the dimmest voter can detect the nascent bullshit....but is cowed into silence by the fear of attracting the sobriquet "racist"...when in fact their disquiet is generated by the very essence of wanting "one law for all".

I find the silence of those such as Minto, your longtime 'çolleague'especially revealing....recalling his alleged hatred of racial preference in South Africa, but seemingly accepting an analogous situation in his home country,which now calls into question his sincerity and motives, as well as Labour's current leaders!

eeeickythump said...

Hardly any countries have a wealth tax - only 5 in the OECD, and that number has been steadily falling. Of those that do, none are as punitive as the Green/TPM proposed wealth tax:

Colombia: starts at 0.5% on total net worth > $600,000 USD, up to max rate of 1.5% on net worth > $2m USD.

France: calculated on real estate only. Starts at 0.5% for real estate > $850k USD, up to max rate 1.5% for real estate > $11m USD.

Norway: 0.85% on assets over $170K, but family home is included at only 25% of its valuation.

Spain: starts at 0.2% for assets over 1.1m USD (2.2m for married couples). Max rate 2.5% for assets > $11.5m USD.

Switzerland: rates vary from 0.1% to a maximum of 0.5%, varying between cantons.

NZ (proposed): 2% on net worth over $1.2m USD.

The wealth tax was never going to fly, but it's best chance would have been if the threshold had been much higher ($10m say), or the tax rate lower, similar to other countries; or if the family home was excluded or heavily discounted. As it is, everyone knows that $2 million NZD is not "super rich". A very large proportion of the merely "comfortable" would be stung by this tax purely because of the over-inflated value of their home due the NZ housing price bubble. Many elderly people who are not well off but whose home happens to have a high CV, would face an annual wealth tax bill in excess of their pension.

Chris Morris said...

Do the working class, as in the 1930-50s division of society, still exist in sufficient numbers to be a coherent and viable electoral force? If we see them as the unskilled or semi-skilled labourers, I think not. The tradespeople are all solidly middle class. Overseas holidays with the family are standard. Even with the ridiculous house prices, home ownership is a viable aspiration.
The Labour party now is white collar state or semi-state funded workers. That is the union bases. Not the highviz wearers. The new Labour supporters have little in common, in fact look down on those working Stop Go on the highways.
You are being a conservative nostalgic, pining for a past that won't come back.
Political parties need to re-invent themselves otherwise they die.

Malcolm Justice said...

better labour than child-killing national who used crown law to protect new Zealand's worst ever killer of children

Dirk said...

It is with genuine regret that I will not be voting for Labour at the next election. Nor will I be able to bring myself to vote for anyone else – I can't vote for National, won't vote for Winston First and God help us all if Act or the Greens get within swinging distance of actual power. Parker's wealth tax discussions briefly filled me with the hope that we were about to have an actual contest of ideas. But what did we get in its place – a meaningless announcement that the GST on fruit and veges will be removed, while at almost the same time indicating that there will be increase in fuel taxes which, of course, will directly affect the price of those very same fruit and veges. It all speaks to the contempt that they have for us when, every three years, the election compels politicians to walk amongst us, and they do so with a look on their face not dissimilar to that of a person entering a lift just after someone else has let rip with a fart. Add to that the twin perils of managerialism and identitarianism that has enveloped the party, and their growing suspicion of free speech, and whatever remains of the loyalty I once had towards Labour, a party that I've been voting for, for the last forty years, has evaporated.

Paul Greenslade said...

It is simpler than that . In the last 3 years has your back pocket got lighter or heavier ?

Anonymous said...

Seán Fliegner here from Darlinghurst - ex Dunedin ! Kia Ora Chris - as always food for thought - I met David Lange PM (deep down David struck me as shy in his inner narrative - but I digress) Over here Labor is nominally in minority federally with the National leader letting inflation tip marginal Labor seats his way. It's like the Lange/Douglas last term there's a push for a Voice for Aboriginal Australians (if it passes it'll be about 10% of our Waitangi Tribunal) with activists campaigning - but with renters and mortgage holders screaming. Labor refuses to even discuss short term rent increase relief, and Labor is promising to keep Nationals Stage 3 tax cuts: a Lange/Douglas flatter tax regime giving literally nothing to ordinary shit kickers in the trenches, but thousands to $A250K a year plus. The problem for Hipkins and Albo here is voters can read and write: we know when we're being ripped off, and kiwi's especially want something to believe in. If you're right and Labour loses, it'll be because kiwi's throw them out more in sorrow than anger. Was it John A Lee who said "faith in a cause is necessary, no matter how faint the light"?

sumsuch said...

A surgical article.

Good points about Three Rivers and co-governance.

Modern Labour is so hopeless. Charisma like a fungal bloom. Rather than 50 years of mixed-up cranks coming together on the point they agreed on in 1935.

Anonymous said...

Singlehandedly Willy Jackson has failed to restore balance to the nzme media bias that's seen Hosking have his way.No national daily left wing talkback radio or newspaper government owned.