In what must surely be a sign of the coming apocalypse I find myself agreeing wholeheartedly with Fran O’Sullivan for the second time in the last year.
Writing about the response to Hone Harawira’s criticism of his own party, Fran points out there’s been a tradition of taking leadership to account in New Zealand politics. Of course, Fran being Fran, her example is Upton and Richardson taking on Muldoon, although there are numerous examples of public conflict between the left Labour party MPs and the right-wing leadership of the fourth Labour government.
And the media don’t help. As Fran puts it:
there has also been a sea change, which I put down to the journalistic tendency to quickly put any backbench MP on to the “must be dumped from caucus’ slipway” when they call their own party to account.
Instead of greasing the ramp, why don’t journalists simply challenge the leadership to respond to the valid points Harawira has made?
An easy answer would be that this change has happened because the media don’t do analysis anymore. And to a certain extent that’s true – reading the PR tealeaves has largely superseded in-depth consideration of more materially important political questions.
But there has also been a change towards corporatism in politics, much as there has been in other aspects of life, that inclines pundits towards an analysis in which the hierarchical and professionalist nature of political parties is emphasised over the democratic, robust and vaguely anarchic style of politics prior to the 1990s. This has been particularly evident in the parliamentary arms of parties and particularly the two major parties.
The party list system probably has a bit to do with it as it can leave list MPs without a safe base to criticise their leadership from as does the governance-as-management style of the Clark Government and the National government preceding her. However list MPs can build up other constituencies (and bloody well should) and party cultures evolve.
I think the fundamental issue here is the significant change we had with the neo-liberal revolution and the way in which is has cemented the language and the hierarchical culture of business into a whole lot of non-business areas – including politics.
Just as you don’t take senior management to task in public if you want to keep your job you’re not expected by post-revolution pundits to keep your place in the party if you speak out against senior leadership.
I guess it’s ironic that O’Sullivan is complaining about this shift in political culture when she’s one of the greatest cheerleaders of the ideology that drives it.