Sunday, June 25, 2006



A return, and some comments on the left

Span is back, refreshed from her European holiday, and wanting to blog about politics again. Huzzah!

As for her desire to talk about the future of the New Zealand left, Crooked Timber pointed me at an interesting piece on Urban Drift UK, which asks the same questions about the UK and the expected replacement of Tony Blair with Gordon Brown. After a long discussion of "triangulation" (pandering to the right) versus representing Labour voters, and the relative payoffs of these strategies, MizMillie makes a clear statement of what it's all about:

The success of any Labour administration needs to be measured by how much it has shifted the centre towards the left in its three terms of power, as much as as how successfully it has remained true to the values of the left in its policies.

So how well has New Zealand Labour done on this front? It's worth noting that they've delivered a lot of solid social democratic policy - better employment laws, regular increases in the minimum wage, better access to education and hence opportunity (whether tertiary or trade), paid parental leave, a slow re-extension of universal primary healthcare, working for families, kiwisaver - and that these policies have generally been popular. The biggest criticism here is that they've if anything been too timid in pushing these policies (the extension of annual leave being a case in point). I'm not sure whether it represents a shift of the centre to the left, but at the least it has cemented left-wing policy with the electorate, in that National will face an enormous political cost if they try to roll any of these policies back (really, just imagine the screams if National tries to reintroduce interest on student loans, or take away people's annual leave or free doctor's visits, or reduce WFF entitlements). Where the wheels have fallen off is in areas like crime, immigration, race relations, and now tax, where Labour has abandoned progressive values entirely and openly pandered to the right in an effort to avoid being painted as "soft" - or, in the latter case, abandoned the field entirely and given National free rein to shift public opinion its way on what should be a core part of social democratic policy.

As for what this means, here's MizMillie again:

The worst possible outcome is not necessarily that of a Labour party shut out of power for the foreseeable future, but that of a Labour government enjoying sustained electoral success in a society that has become more rightwing under its watch.

While I don't think Labour has allowed society to become more rightwing economically (though watch this space with their yielding the ground on tax), it certainly has in other areas. And this is something those of us on the left should regard as a tragedy.

(Yes, I know the left is bigger than the Labour Party, but the above is an interesting place to start talking).

3 comments:

The Labs do seem to be falling into the trap of disguising themsleves as Nats. One would hope someone in the party kicks that before it takes any firmer hold.

They'll need to present a reason for the people to come out and vote to win the left a 4th (if one can call this term "left", with UF/NZF holding the balance). "Anyone but brash" didn't really work last time, and it won't at all next.

Posted by tussock : 6/25/2006 04:13:00 PM

There are a number within the Labour Party who are just as concerned as you I/S about Labour's social idiosyncracies. Unfortunately half of them don't want to rock the boat too much, the others aren't listened to. I broadly agree with your analysis of the political leadership: there is an almost schizophrenic approach to their staunchness: on some issues they (and by this I imply the leadership and on the Party membership) are a solid as a rock, five minutes later they are in pieces on the floor at the slightest sign of pressure. It's quite unnerving, and the reason I won't vote for them.

Posted by Meta[+]Analysis : 6/25/2006 05:33:00 PM

I think if anyone is looking for a new direction for the left they would do well to have a look at the work of Chantal Mouffe.

I/S I think you might like her stuff a lot if you haven't come across it before. Here is a quote from See this interview hereto give a bit of a feel for what she is about-


"We define the left-wing project as the radicalisation of democracy. It can include any struggle against a relation of subordination which includes those of the workplace but is not limited by them. It is also a break with Marxism in that its organising principles are the democratic ideals of equality and liberty for all, ideals that are actually within the rhetoric of the dominant groups of modern capitalist states. We had therefore abandoned the idea of a need for a radical break with the previous society Ü the idea of revolution. We began to understand our politics as a radicalisation of ideas and values which were already present, although unfulfilled in liberal capitalism. I think there is nothing more radical than asserting liberty and equality for all. The problem was that these ideas were not put into practice in the societies which claimed to follow them. What a left-wing project should do is to try to force those societies to really put those ideas into practice."

And she has also argued for a guaranteed basic income.

I realise this is coming from a theoretical perspective rather than a winning elections perspective but ideas have to start somewhere- Blair had Giddens and so forth

Posted by Make Tea Not War : 6/25/2006 08:05:00 PM