Democracy is never given. Democracy cannot be asked for. Democracy must be demanded. And then it must be taken. It’s always been this way. And it is only through being continually and uncompromisingly exercised that it is defended.
At the Labour Party conference, rank and file members demanded democracy. But within Labour there is a clique who seem oblivious to the demand; who, it appears, view themselves as existing above and beyond any pesky democratic demands or processes.
Over the weekend, that clique were part of an orchestrated (and it will be ongoing) campaign to frustrate and stymie the Party’s nascent democratic ambitions in order to further their own ambitions.
I want to be clear. From my perspective, what is happening in Labour is not about David Shearer and David Cunliffe. What is happening is about David Shearer and the Labour Party; about David Shearer and democracy; about the Labour Party and democracy.
The utterly disgusting spectacle, whereby an imperfect but important step in the direction of greater internal democracy was portrayed as one mans grand conspiracy, wasn’t merely a creation of major news outlets. It involved sections of caucus. So yes, we had TV3’s Patrick Gower ignoring the story right under his nose and haranguing David Cunliffe on leadership nonsense and questions of disloyalty. But are we to believe he did this off his own back? Are we to believe he received no ‘encouragement’ by way of tacit approval or even direction from – how to say? – Duck Quack types within caucus? And if we are to believe he acted entirely of his own volition, are we then to believe the same of TVNZ who broadcast a news piece on Sunday night that was so distorted, so blatantly dishonest, that this poster wondered whether they had maybe received schooling in the techniques of Latin America’s corporate media?
We all know that the community of big business (inclusive of major media outlets) and some more right wing sections of the Labour Party, while not being exactly bedfellows, occupy the same house. And so we know that when they look out from that house they look onto a similar view of the world. Both views, it seems from recent evidence, are similarly lacking in democratic features.
If you are in any doubt, consider the thoughtless ease with which anti-democratic (some would say ‘authoritarian’) mutterings are tripping off David Shearer’s tongue these days; consider the decidedly anti-democratic maneuverings of the ‘old guard’ within caucus and how impervious they seem to be to even the most basic and fundamental aspects of democracy – and then square that with your understanding of big business’s democratic sensibilities. Easy done.
And further reflect on the dearth of any positive focus, not just from major media outlets, but from the Labour Party caucus itself, on the nascent democratic aspirations of the Labour Party membership. (Has David Shearer so much as uttered the word ‘democracy’ these past days? If he has – I missed it.)
It seems to me that on Saturday, the rank and file of Labour demanded more democracy. And people got excited at the prospect of more participation and greater accountability. Two days later and that excitement seems to have gone on a receding wave. But as said at the top of the piece, merely demanding democracy is not enough and has never been enough. It has to be wrenched from those who would rather continue to exercise their power free of any considerations that democracy might place on them.
So what are Labour Party members and activists going to do in the face of this controlling clique who are all too willing to manoeuvre against the democratic will of the wider Party? Are they going to sit back and shrug resignedly…or even simply resign altogether from the Labour Party? Or are they going to grasp the nettle and insist that their democratic will is observed and acted on by first of all, acting on it themselves?
I never thought I’d see the day when I’d say this.
But if Labour Party members and activists are of a bent to organise themselves and insist that Labour’s caucus recognise and adhere to the democratic will of the wider party – and where necessary, explore novel ways to shut down those who would assume to sidestep or subvert that will – I’ll join.