Written By: - Date published: 9:58 am, December 11th, 2012 - 88 comments
Categories: accountability, activism, blogs, class war, david cunliffe, democracy under attack, greens, labour, Left, mana, news, The Standard, workers' rights - Tags: bryce edwards, chris trotter
I am becoming increasingly despondent about the state of left wing politics in NZ as I watch the struggles in the Labour Party unfold: lurching from one contested tension to another, in an on-going bitter conflict. Currently, to govern in NZ the Left requires a strong , democratic and solidly left wing Labour Party. The Labour Caucus leadership seems more intent on their own hold on power, than the good of their party or the country as a whole.
The Labour Party struggles are most often reportedly centred on individual personalities (see Clare Curran’s reported statements about her conflict with a Standard commenter here; and the on-going reporting on the alleged conflicts between David Cunliffe and the leadership of the Labour caucus as reported here today). The MSM tends to encourage such inter-personal rivalries. But the underlying issues are of political process, ethics and position. Bryce Edwards, while showing a lack of understanding of The Standard, has got the central issues about right, when he describes it as a struggle between the left and right, and between the left of the party and the ‘electoral professionalisation’ of the parliamentary wing of the party. However, these tensions are also set within the wider NZ political landscape, involving the MSM and the continual rightwards and autocratic shift fueled by the dominant “neoliberal consensus”. The dominant voices within the MSM are still enamoured with John Key, and in the face of his downward slide, favour a more right or centrist Labour Party, over a left wing one.
I also find Chris Trotter’s historical perspective enlightening. He shows that the Labour Party has long been undemocratic, but that the Internet now provides a means for advocating for a more democratic Labour Party. During the Lange and Prebble years int he 1980s, an Otago Labour Party print publication, the Caucus, was shut down for criticising the then leader, David Lange. At the time Richard Prebble is reported to have said:
“Your first mistake”, he told the hapless twenty-somethings, “was to assume that the Labour Party is a democracy.”
Thirty years later, supporters of internal Labour Party democracy are facing many important differences from the early 1980s, but also some startling continuities. …
It is at this point that we encounter some powerful continuities with the Labour Party of thirty years ago. For it would seem that those participating in The Standard have made the same “mistake” as the editors of Caucus: that of assuming the Labour Party to be a democracy.
A large proportion of the rank and file membership has voted for such a democratisation. But the Labour Caucus leaders are doing their best to resist: hence the unethical moves to silence party members blogging and commenting online. As Trotter says, participants in online forums on the Web today, are not as easily silenced as writers for a Labour Party print publication in the 1980s. However, the outcome is still uncertain.
The reason why I won’t vote for the current Labour Party is firstly to do with policy: the Greens and Mana do far more in policy and actions to campaign for a more fair and inclusive society: one where beneficiaries are not demonised, where there is a strong commitment to improving the lot of the unemployed, the low paid, the disenfranchised, the powerless, and those who will always be renters. These parties don’t just foreground policies that will appeal to the comfortable middle class liberals.
As well as this, I value democratic process within organisations. In a context where employers think it’s OK to sack someone for being the member of a union that contested government and US corporate manipulations of pay and conditions, democratic process is front and centre of my concerns.
In my view, the wider NZ Left needs a Labour caucus that is strong and confident enough to break significantly from with the direction set in the Roger Douglas/Lange years. It needs a Labour leadership that has the commitment to return to a more left wing focus, one that re-engages with dis-engaged (non)voters. It needs a leadership that doesn’t primarily aim to appease the dominant MSM, and middle-class-focused discourses.
Disclaimer: I am not now, nor never have been a member of any party. I have not met any of the other Standard authors, and don’t know the real names of authors (or commenters) who write under pseudonyms (except for one or two where the real name behind the pseudonym is publicly known). I am solidly left wing, and have voted for various left wing parties in my time. In the past I have party voted Labour, but in the last few elections I have party voted Green, and given my electorate vote to the Labour candidate (David Cunliffe).