One of the strange things about helping to run a left blog like this is looking at the varied opinions of those on the left of the political spectrum, and then looking at the monolithic opinions that the right seem to have of the left. I was musing on this while reading Matt McCarten’s excellent Saturday article on the Herald website – “New-left rallies its forces to take on the new-right“.
Now you have to understand that Matt and myself are almost at the ends of the spectrum when it comes to politics on the left.
Matt McCarten is well, Matt McCarten. If you don’t know who he is, then perhaps you should read what he says. He operates from a completely different ideological and personal basis to myself. But we frequently agree, often for quite different reasons. He has been embedded deeply in actual politics for as long as I’ve known about him.
My instincts are quite centrist and frequently right on some things while quite left on others. What else would you expect from someone who has been brought up in a managerial family, worked as a operations manager, done an MBA, and for the last 20 years has worked almost exclusively as a computer programmer in small non-union teams of highly skilled programmers and engineers. I like building systems rather than being a servant to my employees. I’ve never been in a union and every dealing I’ve had with them has been on the other side of the negotiation table. Generally the stereotypes beloved by the right aren’t and were never true.
The reason that I support the ‘left’ is because I’m interested in building systems that work and are adaptable to changing circumstance. Consequently in my political action I tend to avoid being involved in politics – I build systems and campaign structures (like this site). About the only thing I have in common with Matt is a focus on putting structure in the future ahead of reflex reactivity characterizes the right.
Generally I’ve never seen that kind of system and structural focus in the ‘right’. It was and still is is full of populist short-term thinkers who have a fondness for slogans, actions that appear to be done without thinking of downstream consequences, bigotry with not real foundation, and no real ability to think ahead. The latter to me is the distinguishing characteristic of the right. They’re not adaptive and don’t work for things that they want – they prefer to cling to outmoded ideas that don’t work.
You only have to read the comments by many on the right here (and there are some great exceptions) or at the sewer to see it. There is a good example by Paul Holmes of a populist unthinking rant. It makes me glad that this idiot isn’t in charge of anything important as it shows a narrowness of vision that is incomprehensible in a broadcaster hosting a major political current affairs show. Reading his archives is an exercise in reading about trivia and with a completely shallow understanding of the issues.
By contrast, as much as I usually disagree with Matt McCarten, he is usually worth reading, listening to, and thinking through his ideas until you find out why you’re for or against them and why. I usually find the same happens with most of the left commentators and authors.
There are few on right that you can do that with. Most of them you can happily replace with a basic auto-response program with a slogan dictionary and have roughly the same conversation with. Their only real skill appears to be an inability to learn from experience coupled with a persistent dogmatism in retrying prescriptive slogans that have been shown not to work. Don Brash with his 2025 task force report would be the epitome of this type of thinking.
You don’t see this more clearly than when many on the right start talking about unions. Most of the slogans appear to come from the far distant past before I started working in the late 70’s. We’ve seen quite a lot of that this week in the comments section (this is the most readable of the forums).
The biggest issue that I usually have by contrast when arguing with those on the left is simply a matter of practicality. They over-rate the ability of a good idea to initiate change in the short-term to medium-term and get frustrated with the fact that they have to play the long game.
Politicians in a democratic society, just like the judiciary, are in the position that they really have to follow public understanding rather than leading it. They’re there to act more as a brake on hysterical demagogy like we’ve seen this week by such things as the Paul Holmes article. As a society we want to have our politicians make considered coherent decisions made for our collective future, not decisions made in the heat of the moment without considering future consequences. Our entire political and judicial system is based on slowing that type of silliness down. The contrast is the idiotic and arbitrary decision making that is currently being shown so clearly by the military dictatorship in Fiji at present.
But sometimes you get a change in the currents in the public mood. Matt correctly identifies that one such event showed up at the Labour conference last weekend. There was clearly a mood for a change in direction amongst the members, and the leaders at the conference provided it. I was extremely happy to see it.
No more “measured and responsible” nonsense that was the norm under Helen Clark’s regime. It was good rousing stuff. It wasn’t revolutionary – that would be too much to expect – but it showed Little’s real emotional connection to the workers’ cause.
Little’s example fired up the latent leftie sentiments still lurking in the faithful. Even Phil Goff got in on the act, revelling in his new role as the “left-wing” leader, dissing everything he once advocated for on behalf of his old boss Roger Douglas.
It was a bit forced and it was hard to swallow his Road to Damascus conversion. But I’ll play along for now.
But most of what the conference did mattered little. It was rather the universal acceptance by conference attendees that the new-right experiment was wrong and it’s now over.
The support for keeping our economy quite so economically ‘pure’ waned for me in the mid-naughts. I was exporting with a currency that could and did fluctuate 40% in value within a year. That showed me that there was something seriously wrong with the basis of our economy. We are a country that more than any other in the OECD depends on trading our goods and services offshore, and yet we were in a position where we couldn’t plan investments because there was no way of figuring out a potential return. At the same time we were seeing the abomination of virtually all of the investment capital being sucked up into property speculation.
There was clearly a problem then. But it has taken about 5 years, a severe global recession, and some ideological idiocy by a knee-jerking NACT government for it to get to the point of having widespread ‘left’ support and enough public support to be viable politically. I’d have to compliment the members of the Fabian society for helping to publicize the economic choices and alternatives amongst the left.
So there is a growing alternative to the failed extreme neo-lib doctrine happening. It is supported not only by people like Matt McCarten but also by the right-wingers of the left like myself. Increasingly it is also resulting in more widespread dissatisfaction with the failed prescriptions of the past. People have seen what they do in the past and aren’t fooled by the mask. Rather than trying to deal with the consequences after bad decisions are made, they’re preempting them with massive action beforehand. The movement against mining in the national parks was one. And as Matt says:-
But what got me genuinely excited this week was that union workers turned out in their thousands in mass rallies around the country to protest the National-Act government’s anti-worker laws. They were the biggest in 20 years. Workers know these new laws have no intention of “helping vulnerable workers” get jobs, as Key pretends.
Instead they are intended to make workers scared and compliant. The pretence from Key is over and the nastiness of this government is obvious.
If you had any doubt just look at the knee-jerk reaction from Key and his ministers who couldn’t help themselves from jumping into an “industrial dispute” and side with an international conglomerate against a small group of Kiwi actors.
The actors’ crime, it seems, is that they dared to ask their fellow actors to not work on a job until their overseas employer agreed to discuss their pathetic pay and conditions. No doubt after some ritual grovelling Key will agree to give the US film bosses who own the hobbits another big tax break.
I’m rather expecting that as well.
Currently I’m agreeing with Matt more than I did in the past. That is not to say that we don’t disagree – but that is often what we agree on. He does play the long game and I suspect he has been getting better at doing it. May he have many more years for our disagreements to continue.