Professor Emeritus Management and International Business at University of Auckland, and former Labour Party President, Nigel Haworth made this comment yesterday morning ahead of the Labour Party Caucus leadership vote.
No decision on leadership of the Labour Party should be made today. Any decisions about leadership should follow a careful and comprehensive review of, first, the recent campaign, and second, the broader settings in which Labour has chosen to work in recent years. Vicarious public dissension is damaging, but this decision has major implications, which need to be thought through. Those implications far outweigh the argument for seamless, friction-less transitions. And, of course, how can appropriate decisions about leadership and organisation be made without that comprehensive review and discussion?
Labour has arrived at a crossroads, at a time of global crisis and challenges to both the postwar settlement and the social democratic model. It is also a time of growing and egregious inequality, both globally and locally. The postwar arrangements, weakened by neo-liberalism, face further challenges as hegemons decline and commitments to a global rules-based model weaken (not helped by COVID, regional geo-political tensions and a new breed of buccaneering Capitalists, uncertain in their support for liberal democracy).
For some time, Labour has eschewed its historical origins in the interests of working people and chosen, instead, an emphasis on a broad framework of discrete sectional interests. Less Political Economy, more Sociology. This choice derives from three factors – the loss over decades of a focus on “real” transformation, the effects of fifty years of neo-liberalism. and the impact of Post-modernism, a philosophical view antithetical to collectivism and traditional Left politics, owing more to 1960s pluralism than to traditional Left analysis, and, in my view, a successful way in which to stifle and divert discussion of transformation.
Labour may choose to continue with the current preference to remain in the “centre”, itself an imprecise notion, a small target, at root not a threat to core developments in the system. There, it will make adjustments where it can, but, as we saw in the Captain’s Call on taxation, it will not confront the fundamental challenge of inequality, even as it grows. And its growth is charted in such diverse works as those of Piketty and the NZ IRD. The litmus test for social democracy in the current period is, for me, the recognition of growing inequality and the implementation of measures to reverse that growth. Put another way, facing the chaos that global arrangements currently promise, a national strategy to build a modern version of the 1930s Keynesian Accommodation is the only option. And that requires a significant reduction in inequalities.
Much more might be said on this issue, but the Labour Party needs to step back and think through all of the above, and more, as it decides its way forward from a major defeat. I sense that, across the LP membership, this debate is sought. Members understand that there is more at stake here than a poor slogan or ineffectual social media. Now is a time for careful, informed reflection, rather than structural commitments that may impede such reflection.