- Date published:
11:43 am, October 10th, 2016 - 32 comments
Categories: activism, elections, labour, local government, Media, Politics, the praiseworthy and the pitiful - Tags: justin lester, nick leggett, pragmatism, utopia
Guyon Espiner wrote this interesting recent article in the Listener. The article was written before Justin Lester bet Nick Leggett for the Wellington Mayoralty and reads like a promo piece written by a Leggett publicist.
In it Espiner talked about the utopians and pragmatists. Amongst the ranks of pragmatists are Nick Leggett, Phil Quin, Shane Jones, David Shearer and presumably others such as Josie Pagani. If I was to categorise myself I would clearly think that I am a utopian.
The language and thought processes involved are clumsy, self fulfilling and lead to a predetermined decision. The basic premise is “pragmatist good, utopian bad”.
The article speaks in approving terms of Legatt’s campaign meeting, how the room was full of some of the leading lights of the left including people who have held leadership positions and Cabinet posts, people who have been chiefs of staff and speechwriters, strategists, hellraisers and fundraisers. Sounds impressive although spoilt by a further comment that the number present is small.
The article then contains this passage:
Over the next few hours, the table talk buzzes around but returns to a common theme. The Labour people in this room see themselves as more electable than the ones in the caucus room. They think Little has veered too far left, are scathing of the relationship with the Greens and think Labour is heading over the cliff for a fourth consecutive defeat.
As the evening wears on and the beer and wine loosen the lips, it becomes more and more obvious: they see themselves as the Mainstream Labour Party in Exile and, tonight at least, their champion is Nick Leggett. He may be standing for mayor of Wellington, but having resigned from Labour, he’s also sending his old party a message: this is what Labour might look like if it actually wanted to win.
Leggett clearly thinks of himself as a pragmatist. From the article:
“There’s the Utopian Strand and the Pragmatists. I fit into the Pragmatists, but it’s a much smaller group now,” he explains. “The Utopians are quite happy to sit in Opposition and have their positions validated by a small echo chamber on social media and in activist groups. They don’t really seem interested in the much harder task of actually building a plank for government.”
He identifies another closely related strand. “The Hate John Key Movement. They have failed to impress for eight years. They need to say why they are better than John Key and why they have got ideas that are more compelling.” He sees Labour’s opposition to the Trans-Pacific Partnership (TPP) as a classic example of caving in to bloggers and tweeters rather than preparing for government. “If you are arguing from a perspective that says, ‘Yep, we are thinking about when we are in government’, their stance was wrong. I think that we should be a free-trading nation.”
There are in my humble view two problems with his thinking. Firstly it is abundantly clear to me that us utopians are not willing to sit in opposition. We want to change the world. We can’t do this from opposition. And over the past few years the only destructive behaviour I have seen, by way of leaks and attacks, has come from those who could be loosely classified as “pragmatists” although in the loosest possible sense.
Secondly the utopians think about issues deeply and have complex responses to ideas. Saying “Trade is Good therefore Opposition to TPPA is bad” is insulting and ignores the many deeply flawed provisions in the treaty such as the investor state resolution procedure.
Leggett then talks about how business friendly MPs have been exiled from the party and mentions Shane Jones, Phil Goff and Clayton Cosgrove.
I am not sure which party Leggett is referring to but Shane Jones was seduced out of the party by the baubles of an office involving semi permanent paid touring of the Pacific and a diplomatic passport, Goff has just been elected to the second most powerful office in the country thanks in no small part to a huge effort by the Auckland Labour Party and Cosgrove is still in caucus.
Leggett then makes the startling comment about how MPs such as Stuart Nash are viewed with suspicion if they win votes. Well Nash’s win was thanks in no small part to a new National candidate and the presence of Garth McVicar as a spoiler candidate. And in Napier the party lost 3.13% points of the party vote as compared to the countrywide figure of 2.35%. Dear pragmatists, in an MMP environment the party vote is king. Nothing else matters.
And besides pragmatic Leggett has just been beaten by Utopian Justin Lester. Maybe utopia is not such an unpopular thing.
Leggett then chips at Labour’s deal with the Greens.
Leggett says that mentality leads to an unrealistic election strategy. “These are people who think they can get into government with 32% of the vote. When Helen Clark lost, Labour got 34%, so they are not even close. I want to be part of a movement that says: we are a 40%-plus party and we are taking New Zealand with us. We don’t want to be part of a two- or three-headed coalition. We want to be the leader.”
I’m sorry but the Greens are far too professional and organised and principled and will not be going anywhere soon. They are a permanent feature of the political landscape and their 10% to 15% support is right now bedrock support. Contrast this with the right where National has cannibalised the support of their support parties and the difference cannot be clearer. Commentators need to realise that this is the new reality and adjust their thinking.
Leggett’s analysis is basically business good, rich people good anyone who criticises them is a hater and splitter and can’t we all just get on? This is fine as far as it goes and I do not know anyone who does not want to get along with others. But it is totally devoid of any insight into what the big issues are and the article mentions no issues apart from “business friendly” ones.
The left has always been at the cutting edge of issues whether social or environmental Often to its electoral damage it has advocated for brave principled responses to current and future crises.
Placing your head firmly in the sand and refusing to even discuss the big issues is not pragmatic. It is regressive. May utopian control of the progressive parties continue for many years to come.