Wednesday, January 04, 2006

A warning for the left

The Herald has obtained a copy of ACT's post-election report, and one of the solutions proposed is another right-wing thinktank. This would act both as a front for their ideas (in the way the Business Roundtable used to do), and a home for former MPs and ACT staff dismissed to the political wilderness. More importantly (for ACT), in the long-term, it would help shift the political conversation in favour of their radical market darwinist agenda of privatisation, tax cuts, and drowning government in the bathtub.

This should be a warning for the left. Last year, Harpers magazine published an article detailing the rise of America's right-wing spin machine, and its effects on the political conversation in that country. The American left was basically left behind, and the result was a marked shift to the right of America's political centre (or at least its political class). And now they're trying to do it here. The New Zealand right has already got a head-start on this front (though the current torchbearer, the Maxim Institute, has suffered a significant loss of mana recently after being exposed as a plagiarists), and if the left doesn't want to be outgunned in the long-term, we will need to respond in kind.


"Douglas Institute"? Hogwarts School of Witchcraft & Wizardry.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/04/2006 04:39:00 PM

the Bruce Jesson Foundation is kind of trying to be like a left wing think tank, and of course there is Child Povery Action Group and QPEC, but they are only dealing with small areas of policy. The core problem has to be funding - if it is going to be hard to raise $750,000 for a right wing think tank it is going to be even worse for the Left.

Posted by Span : 1/04/2006 05:20:00 PM

John: and yet, those right-wing groups have maintained an ideological dominance over our political leaders for almost twenty years. Likewise, Business NZ, the Greenhouse Policy Coalition, and MEUG have managed to destroy over a decades worth of policy development on Kyoto and greenhouse policy. They do have an effect, and the left isn't really in the game.

I don't think thinktanks are necessarily even about the development of ideas (though it helps), so much as being a ready source of them through reports, talking-points, op-eds and published books. They are essentially a propaganda outlet. And currently, one enjoyed almost exclusively by the right.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/04/2006 06:03:00 PM

i can also testify to the effectiveness of a right wing lobby group you've probably never heard of - the Early Childhood Council has been very influential on Labour MPs, despite being tiny.

Unions have filled something of a role in terms of lobbying in other directions, but many MPs and journos seem to write them off automatically as "biased" whereas these right wing groups are some how "independent". so frustrating.

Posted by Span : 1/05/2006 09:13:00 AM

"This would act both as a front for their ideas (in the way the Business Roundtable used to do), and a home for former MPs and ACT staff dismissed to the political wilderness"

Not exactly. The report stated that the think-tank would most likely have two staff, a President, and an able Secretary. This secretary is unlikely to come from within the party.

"we will need to respond in kind"

No need. Right-Wing think-tanks exist largely to counter the influence of the Govt funded and left-leaning universities.

"Alan Gibbs et al moving from funding Act to funding National"

Bollocks. Alan Gibbs remains one of Act's largest financiers.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/05/2006 10:00:00 AM

Given "Logangate," I suspect the Maxim Institute is treading water. And then there's the Institute for Liberal Values, whose co-ordinator
ran afoul of his past.

Craig Y

Posted by Anonymous : 1/05/2006 11:09:00 AM

I don't want to seem defeatist but what would a Left Wing thinktank focus on? Anti-neoliberalism? Treaty issues? undermining capitalism? Feminism? (And if so what type of feminism?)

I suspect the left might be irredeemably fragmented-not just in New Zealand and not just in terms of organisation but intellectually too. It's the post modern condition. We've lost the certainty of grand narratives which provide an overarching vision. It's not necessarily a bad thing. In the end those grand narratives collapsed under the weight of their own contradictions and because the world is a complex and constantly evolving place.

Admittedly a theoretically and morally complex and fragmented political view point does notlend itself well to propagandising.But maybe addressing things on an issue by issue basis is ultimately the most intellectually honest and effective way to go. I certainly tend towards the view that an individual has more chance of effecting change if they focus on a few issues at a micro-level rather than trying to fix everything in the world that is wrong.

Posted by Amanda : 1/05/2006 01:28:00 PM

MTNW: I think issue-by-issue stuff is vitally important; nothing beats big-picture top-down ideological solutions (such as those the right prefers) better than the actual facts of the area they're trying to apply them to. But big-picture stuff is important to. it's not enough simply to counteract neo-liberal propaganda; we need to offer a clear vision of our own in its place.

There's some discussion of an alternative vision for the left (and one I think you'd like, given your work on UBI) here (original article here).

(And OTOH, what's wrong with letting a thousand flowers bloom? Money, obviously - but that aside, multiple left-wing think-tanks offering different alternatives would still be better than the current situation where the only vision being offered is that of the right)

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/05/2006 01:45:00 PM

it seems to me that some of this think tank stuff is about the old captial vs labour (note small L) division - the capital can afford expensive right wing think tanks, the labour have to rely on unions and universities to get the left arguments up.

Unions are only now recovering from the gutting they experienced in the 1990s, and are still a long way from the capacity for this kind of research that they might have had in the '80s if they had been interested in this kind of thing. While many unions are now employing a researcher (and of course the CTU does) what they are yet to start doing is agressively pushing the research they produce externally - in a similar way to the right wing groups. NZUSA (although not a union) and the CTU are about the only groups outside of the single issue think tanks such as CPAG that seem to do much public work promoting their arguments.

And as universities become more and more reliant on private funding the conscience stuff is being eroded...

Posted by Span : 1/05/2006 07:41:00 PM

Interesting article I/S.

Span- I've talked to a few left wing academics about the experience of Rogernomics and it sounds like trying to speak out against it was quite horrendous at the time. It all happened really fast and quite overwhelmingly- the right had their arguments all marshalled- and if you tried to speak against the program or even question aspects of it you got hammered for doing so- both in the media and sometimes in terms of your career. People like Jane Kelsey (and Brian Easton?) have since gone on to do alright but my impression is that it came at a high personal cost at the time.

You are right that nowadays attracting external funding is a pressure that universities increasingly face making it harder to fulfill that conscience and critic role. A number of academics are doing what they can within this structure and are getting funding for projects which do have a social conscience flavour to them-some within business schools incidentally- but, the fact is that in New Zealand there is only ever going to be small pool of potential money to draw on with lots of people competing for it.

It's hard on unions too as they have a variety of functions they are meant to fulfill with lobbying and doing research only being one part of it all.

Networking is important. Overseas there is a bit of a movement towards collaborative research between unions and academics which I'd be quite keen to see more of happen here. See for eg

Posted by Amanda : 1/05/2006 09:18:00 PM

"Largely that relates to our churches: the NZ mainstream religious leaders are almost all supporters of social welfare and a social safety net. Good on'em too."

Beware, NZ is seeing a growth of the religious right evangelicals at the moment. Certainly the liberal chaplain at Canterbury Uni has noticed the Biblical fundamentalists on the rise there. This of course has implications as these 20 somethings move out in the wider world.

Sadly left leaning more traditional churchs are losing out compared to the very rigid "Destiny-type" baby mega churches in terms of new growth. These churches have business models and CEO's and mission statements.

I think their influence will increase at the expense of churches working in social services atm, eg. City Mission, Presbyterian Support, Catholic Workers/Charities. Salvation Army will just keep on keeping on I think. Look at how much air time "Bishop" Brian got as the "Christian" voice in the media, compared with say the Anglican Archbishop and City Mission.

Posted by Muerk : 1/08/2006 12:35:00 PM

Er, Muerk? Not what the last census said, sport. Actually, the largest demographic faith category is those with no religious beliefs at all, and traditionally evangelical denominations like the Baptists, Salvation Army and Brethren are shrinking faster than mainline Protestantism.

Catholicism is an exception, as is Orthodoxy, probably due to Balkan immigration to New Zealand during the travails of Yugoslavia in the nineties. Pentecostal fundamentalism is growing, but not as fast as the other great faiths, or nonreligious viewpoints- or Wicca/neopaganism, for that matter.

Craig Y.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/10/2006 03:00:00 PM

Hmmm... ok my bad.

Posted by Muerk : 1/10/2006 05:29:00 PM