Wednesday, December 21, 2005



Rancid and decaying

Chris Trotter's column in The Independent today perfectly captures my disgust at the Labour government at the moment:

Labour's leaders seem tired and empty of ideas. The political initiative has passed, quite decisively, to the Right.

Those with an eye to the future direction of New Zealand politics now look toward National. In spite of losing the election, it is miles ahead of Labour when it comes to political rejuvenation.

In the government ranks there are precious few who inspire much enthusiasm.

Many had pointed to Shane Jones as a possible breaker of moulds, but his chairing of the select committee of inquiry into TVNZ suggests he is just another ambitious Labour politician.

A party with a vision for a better society has no need to play the man instead of the ball.

A party with a hunger to govern fairly and well does not defend the indefensible nor refuse to take on board reasonable criticism.

Labour in its first term had the sharp tang of new fruit and the refreshing coolness of a summer breeze.

Today it has the rancid, decaying smell of something that has been kept for far too long.

Too much arrogance, too many compromises, too many outright betrayals. Oh, I'm under no illusion that a National government would be better - in fact, I think they'd be far, far worse - but "the lesser evil" is hardly inspiring. Hell, to Labour's soft center voters (as opposed to those of us on the left) it's probably not even believable...

If Labour wants to win the next election, it has to do better than this. People will not turn out to vote for a party that does not inspire them. But then, maybe it should just accept that three terms is as good as it gets, give up pandering to the right and the business community in the misguided belief that this will get them a fourth, and go back to delivering real social democratic policies. At least they'd be able to look their supporters in the eye again...

21 comments:

The party that wins an election under MMP needs to make compromises and if it wants to win multiple elections cant make stupid promises (while the opposition can and is likely to be desperate enough to do so).

Having said htat you are right - labour has lost this initiative even more than was inevitable just as a result of the above.

Posted by Genius : 12/21/2005 05:54:00 PM

asing the minimum wage and working for families will rake in more votes from people with real needs than scrapping the carbon tax will lose.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/21/2005 07:45:00 PM

Chris Trotter used to be a political commentator worth reading .
He has become a boring pot boiler .
He has passed quite clearly to the right .
When it comes to rancidity and decay Chris takes first prize.
Just another knocker like most of the media who delight in writing about Labour not doing what they think Labour should do or interviewing people like Bill English with his gang of 3 over exam marking or Keys with his know-all comments on financial matters.
God help us if he gets the purse strings , Muldoon was bad enough.
Finally what the hell is wrong with Labour politicians such as Shane Jones being ambitious, is ambition reserved for other parties such as National & Act?.
What a stupid comment. I rest my case.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/21/2005 08:32:00 PM

Interesting that Jordan posted even more of the article with the sole commentary "Ouch". Reads like a recognition of valid points made to me.

"...passed quite clearly to the right" would be a more apt description of the Labour Party than of Chris Trotter, I think. Unless it's more left-wing to want to form govts with UF and NZF rather than the Greens or the Alliance - go ahead and make that case if you can.

Posted by Psycho Milt : 12/21/2005 11:45:00 PM

Psycho: Yes. I don't think it can be denied that Labour looks old and tired, or that they've grown more arrogant in office. And these are not problems that can easily be fixed.

As for Trotter, yes, there's some silliness there over the Alliance, but I think his core criticism is valid.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/22/2005 12:52:00 AM

The future of liberal NZ is looking far more green than red.. the unions have understood that. Without a major coup there is no way Labour will return towards it's roots.
But SoCred managed 20-odd % of the electorate in the 70's, so there is no reason Greens must remain forever a fringe party. Perhaps the only sensible strategy for the generic left is to spend our energy over the next three years helping Greens position themselves as a mainstream genuine alternative (as opposed to loony fringe) party amongst the general electorate.

Posted by Huskynut : 12/22/2005 08:58:00 AM

I think Span(ner) makes good points about the blame that should be directed at the Labour Party for the Alliance's demise.

http://jtc.blogs.com/just_left/2005/12/scathing.html#comment-12261169

The actual details about the breakdown are largely misreported, the conflict as I understand was between Anderton and the grassroots activists who put him in parliament. The new Alliance leadership after Anderton left, aligned during the conflict with the activists - not the other way round.

I would also point out that the current arrangements with United Future and New Zealand First are recognition that coalition with a major party is currently a party death sentence under MMP - I think the disappearance of conflicted but hard-working Matt Robson was probably final confirmation.

Posted by John Anderson : 12/22/2005 12:19:00 PM

Honestly, I/S ... Labour has stood clearly to the left of National on every policy issue I can think of.

Its caucus has generally voted 90% or more on the liberal-left side of conscience issues (as you have ably recorded).

It has retained a fairly progressive system of income tax (when it could have won lots of friends by reducing the tax burden on middle-to-upper income earners), improved the lot of students, and raised the minimum wage more times that I can recall.

It didn't send combat forces to Iraq, despite rightist enthusiasm for that venture.

Labour's weaker, rightist moments ... like on the prisoner abuse/compensation issue, citizenship laws, the F&S ... have been responses to protracted right-wing hectoring from National and its allies in the media.

Tired? Maybe. I'd like to see the back of a few of the more senior Labour cabinet ministers. A sell-out government bereft of ideas? No.

Posted by dc_red : 12/22/2005 12:42:00 PM

I'm sorry but troops armed with guns with authority to shoot to kill to protect property, repairing occupation forces equipment, participating actively in an illegal occupation, and most importantly adding to the smokescreen of Bush's coalition of willing was endorsement enough.

Strangely you don't mention sending the SAS to Afghanistan.

Posted by John Anderson : 12/22/2005 12:52:00 PM

Even if you accept that both of those contributions are a bad thing (and I think the Iraq contribution was), Labour is to the left of almost all of its critics on these issues, including almost all the Parliamentary opposition. Not left enough for some Alliance types, sure, but some of them articulate an ideological purity not seen since the Richardson/Upton days.

In any case, whether or not left/liberal people agree with the government's actions in these areas is a different question from whether the government is decaying and rancid.

Posted by dc_red : 12/22/2005 01:00:00 PM

DC_Red: Oh, I have no doubt that a National government would be much worse. As I've said, the problem is with arrogance, with tiredness, and with a refusal to stand up and fight for what they believe in. Those moments of weakness when it bows to political expediency and takes the easier path are beginning to stack up dangerously - and I think its quite reasonable for Labour voters to feel disappointed with them.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/22/2005 01:03:00 PM

I/S - I agree, and am disappointed on those counts. But I also see the progressive policies and am heartened.

New ideas would be welcome, especially creative policies which would be progresive, mute criticism, and reduce the options for a future National-led government: like cutting the lowest tax rate for example.

Posted by dc_red : 12/22/2005 01:09:00 PM

I'm sorry sending troops to Afghanistan to Iraq is not a question of leftness - it's a question of whether you think invading other countries for their resources under the guise of a 'war on terror' and killing thousands is a good idea. You were either for vengeance and murder, or you weren't.

I was just disproving your point, Labour is pretty much stuck. The key point is for all the fussing over how tax cuts should be administered and so on, both agree on the economics of neo-liberalism (the rest is just nuance).

Posted by John Anderson : 12/22/2005 01:25:00 PM

John - you claim Labour is neoliberal, and on rightwing blogs you will hear others decry it as socialist/communist/Stalinist etc.

But to accept for the sake of argument that Labour and National are neoliberal and the rest is nuance ... well, 90% of the population seems to agree with neoliberalism.

Look at the combined share of the vote for Labour, National, Act, UF, and JAP, all of which would be neoliberal from your view I'm guessing. You may want to throw in NZF too.

Posted by dc_red : 12/22/2005 01:41:00 PM

I would say New Zealand First and Jim Anderton are probably the closest to social democrat, with all the attendant problems with national chauvinism that that idealogy can lead to.

The Labour Party contains social democrats, however it is a part of the third way. The third way is neo-liberalism in a period of consolidation. The Fourth Labour Government which ran in to the last National government, was rampant neo-liberalism.

Labour and National largely agree about the economics - that's why the scraps around 'moral' issues are crucial for differentiation.

In my experience calling Labour communist (it's so clear that they are not Stalinist it's not funny) seems to have little to do with the economics, but to do with what is perceived as it's 'social engineering agenda'.

Since the heart of communism is the collective ownership of resources and the means of production - it is patently clear that they aren't communist.

Finally, I don't believe neo-liberalism is what people vote for, but the lesser of two evils. It is presented in different garb, by players with different names and nuances - but right now electorally as Thatcher said 'There is no alternative'.

Posted by John Anderson : 12/22/2005 05:26:00 PM

I'm surprised at you, I/S. You usually seem quite logical in your analyses, but here you are favourably citing quotes that are pretty contentless as far as cogent criticism goes, especially the last two. Chris Trotter is a pompous, posturing pretender to the role of spokesperson for the left. He sometimes has something useful to add (for example, his piece on political correctness), but then he gets lazy and just slags off at Labour politicians from his imagined holy ground, where knowing the words to the Red Flag counts for more than detailed knowledge of real world policy choices in the 21st century. That column is such a lurid a piece of anti-Labour propaganda it could almost have been written by far rightist Ian Wishart. His fawning attitude to rising Nats like Keys makes me wonder if Trotter gets off on the smell of power and Labour just isn't doing it for him these days.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/22/2005 11:20:00 PM

John: I don't think Labour's third way is quite as neo-liberal as you think it is. Here, the third way seems to be more about providing an acceptable right-wing face for social democratic policies than an acceptable left-wing one for neo-liberalism.

That said, the foundations of the economy are neo-liberal. We have open markets, independent monetary policy aimed at low inflation rather than full employment, and nominally independent state-owned enterprises aimed at making money rather than providing jobs for the unemployed. But we also have employment and social policies which have taken the sharp edges off that market. Not enough - but far more than you would expect from neo-liberals. And those policies are expanding rather than shrinking. They've worked OK in good times, but it remains to be seen whether Labour will remain committed to them in bad. And that I think will be the real test.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/23/2005 12:34:00 AM

Anon: That's because they're accurate. As pointed out above, even Labour stalwarts like Jordan recognise that there's more than a grain of truth in what Trotter is saying. Labour is tired; it's political program has been grossly compromised because of its desire to avoid flak / unwillingness to stand up for what it believes in; and the realities of coalition politics mean that there seems to be little hope of improvement in the next three years. At the same time, they've responded to several high profile public scandals not by doing the decent thing, but by stonewalling and trying to defend the indefensible while smearing the victims and accusers. I support a Labour-led government, but only a complete hack can ignore crap like that, and I refuse to be one.

It's better to see Trotter's piece as a warning of trouble than an epitaph. And there are clearly things Labour can do to avoid that trouble and get itself back in the game. Renewing itself through retirement, list replacements, and a gradual shuffling of faces at the top is one thing. Actually sticking up for what they believe in, rather than folding at the first sign of opposition is another. Jordan is right; "management" is not enough. Even if they lose, Labour needs to make the argument and defend its values - otherwise people will wonder what the hell they are there for.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 12/23/2005 12:59:00 AM

I/S, with respect, I think you and some others are being distracted by superficial matters that the media has seized upon because they know it sells better than intelligent political commentary. I disagree that Chris’s claims are accurate.

Let’s look at a couple of them:

"The political initiative has passed, quite decisively, to the Right."

"Those with an eye to the future direction of New Zealand politics now look toward National."

You mean the wedge politics that would take New Zealand back to pre-Hunn Report 1950s? Tax cuts funded by cuts to social services and health, a repeat of the Rogernomics/Ruthanasia experiment that was fatal to many working class communities and contributed to the rise of blue collar conservatism? Socially conservative majoritarianism as defined by Wayne Mapp?

When the right is hell-bent on radical change, and has whipped up support through populist appeals to the disaffected, the progressive strategy may be to defend the status quo. In Health, Labour has done more than that with its primary health care reforms. National would scrap all of that and there would be much more privatisation of health services. The minimum wage has been increased every year. The Nats would further erode workers’ rights. Civil rights have been extended. An independent foreign policy has been maintained. Believe me, I am no Labour party hack, I have many criticisms of Labour, and I agree with you that Labour should be more assertive about its values. But to expect them to replicate Michael Joseph Savage and the party of 1935, as Trotter implies, is nostalgic nonsense and not helpful to the progressive cause. The 1975 election may be more relevant in the contemporary context.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/23/2005 09:14:00 AM

"John: I don't think Labour's third way is quite as neo-liberal as you think it is. Here, the third way seems to be more about providing an acceptable right-wing face for social democratic policies than an acceptable left-wing one for neo-liberalism."

I still regard the underlying philosophy as neo-liberal. It hasn't really changed since the 1980s, it's just an extended tea break in what everyone agrees has been surprisingly good weather for the economy (read the rich).

Posted by John Anderson : 12/23/2005 09:33:00 AM

There is a clue to Chris Trotter's political leanings in his DomPost column today, in which he intones on the meaning of Christmas and describes Marxism as "the faith of suffering, sacrifice and redemption". What utter rubbish! The guy is a moralising Christian socialist, that's why he yearns for a Micky Savage Labour government, while pontificating from his comfortable armchair.

Posted by Anonymous : 12/23/2005 02:17:00 PM