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Why’d you do it Chris?

Written By: - Date published: 11:03 am, November 8th, 2007 - 19 comments
Categories: labour - Tags:

Chris Knox had a good piece in the Dom Post today explaining why he wrote Labour’s new campaign song. Here’s an extract:

Good grief! I’ve gone and written a campaign song for a mainstream political party!

Could I possibly be the same Chris Knox who has consistently railed against all forms of conformity, intellectual blandness and political complacency over the last three decades or so?

The same oft-glib songbird who wrote, in Tall Dwarfs’ Turning Brown and Torn in Two:

“People who govern are strangers to me

And I’m a stranger to them, too

Presumably they don’t know you

That’s why they do the job they do”

and meant it, way down deep?

Well, that was 1983 when National, under Robert Muldoon, held the reins of power and had done so for what seemed like most of a lifetime. Still, my cynicism of the time about politics and politicians was only exacerbated by David Lange’s betrayal of basic Leftist principles and the ensuing years of Rogernomics and Ruthenasia, a devastating time for this country and its people.

This cynicism has since evolved into scepticism – a healthier and more rigorous place in which one’s prejudices may pickle – as several years of Labour Party dominance has erased the worst of these ugly excesses and – slowly, always slowly – brought sanity and the sheer simplicity of fairness back into the mix.

Which is not to say I’m a Labour Party member or even necessarily a Labour voter. I am not the former and generally the latter only when there is no viable party to their Left to whom I might gift my blessed vote. I loved it when The Alliance was at full strength.

So why write and perform a song for this mob?

Because I cannot stand the new centrist, “Trust us” face of the National Party. They are Hollow Men – yes, I’ve read the book and would urge all of you to do so, seldom has history been so close to the source and the moment – and I don’t believe for a second that leader John Key will shuck off his big business pals to embrace the Labour Lite statements of intent that they’ve been shoving at the soundbite crews of late.

Read the full story of why the lyrics to “Way Better!!” don’t make this (not self-styled) Kiwi icon cringe.

19 comments on “Why’d you do it Chris? ”

  1. LFC 1

    Yeah, I turned brown is one of my faves. I’ve avoided the song so far (too many people have told me it’s too catchy!). But I might fish out my old copy of Hello Cruel World and give it a spin now you’ve reminded me…

  2. Wellington leftwing activist Don Franks wrote and recorded an even better (and more accurate) song about Labour last year. Great lyrics. Here it is:


    I hate the Labour government ­ I know that ain’t PC
    I hate the Labour government ­ I know that ain’t PC
    But I hate the Labour government,
    Because of all the things I see

    I hate the Labour government, coz they shit on the refugee
    hate the Labour government, coz they shit on the refugee
    They deported Thakshila and locked up Zaoui

    I hate the Labour government, some say what about the Nats?
    I hate the Labour government, some say what about the Nats?
    I’ve seen Rogernomics and Ruthenasia ­
    to me they¹re both just antiworker rats

    I hate the Labour government – the way they use their SAS
    I hate the Labour government – the way they use their SAS
    Send them over to Afghanistan
    Helping Bush prop up his mess

    I hate the Labour government, their ERA law stops our strike
    I hate the Labour government, their ERA law stops our strike
    if they were really worker friendly
    they’d let us do what we like!

    I hate the Labour government,some say they¹re better than John Key
    I hate the Labour government,some say they¹re better than John Key
    They both support the capitalist system
    They both smell the same to me

    I hate the Labour government, that¹s why I¹m singing here today
    I hate the Labour government, that¹s why I¹m singing here today
    Getting together with Alliance comrades
    – We¹ll blow this yuppie Labour government away!

  3. Tane 3

    Hey Bryce, I’m with you on Zaoui etc, and I’m not a huge fan of the SAS in Afghanistan. And if the Alliance were still in the game I’d probably be giving them my vote.

    But dude, there’s only one game in town these days, and as much as you think Labour and the Nats are the same, they ain’t. That kind of comment is what I’d expect from a middle class university lecturer – try slaving away cleaning toilets or scraping shit off old people for $11.25 an hour and tell me there’s no difference.

    Ideological purism is for the comfortable, Bryce. It doesn’t put food on anyone’s table.

  4. Eddie 4

    Perhaps the Alliance could take Jill Ovens and Len Richards back?

  5. Robinsod 5

    Hey Bryce bro, any chance of a loan comrade? It’s just my OT came up a bit short last week and y’know from each etc…

  6. Tane – the kind of thinking that ‘there’s only one game in town these days’ is one of the biggest problems in politics today. If people stopped putting their energy into things that don’t really believe in (ie the Labour Party) and actually struggled for a *real* alternative then you would find that we wouldn’t have this ‘only game in town’ problem. By buying into this crap political conformity you are perpetuating people feeling locked into voting for things they hate.

    And cleaners certainly shouldn’t be thanking this Government. Such workers tend to know that Labour and National are their enemies.

    And your descent into personalising this argument is rather low. And it’s not even true! But we can have that argument another time.

    But you must admit, that Don Franks’ song is pretty good!?



  7. Tane 7

    Hi Bryce,

    Yeah Don does some good work, and my major disagreements with the likes of Don and yourself are more over tactics than anything else.

    I don’t see Labour as a fixed entity that you support because there’s no better alternative in Parliament. It’s a mass party (though currently a lot less ‘mass’ than it used to be) that can be changed for the better from the inside, and if you look at the people and the ideas coming through it’s going in the right direction.

    And whatever issues you or I might have with it currently, it does do things like raise the minimum wage, increase annual leave provisions and introduce paid parental leave. It’s not much, but they’re worthy objectives that are worth fighting for.

    Just because you don’t always agree with the parliamentary leadership doesn’t mean you should write the whole thing off as a waste of time.

  8. Robinsod 8

    Bryce – nice reply but what about my loan?

  9. r0b 9

    Bryce – what happened to The Alliance? Why did it happen? What conclusions, if any, do you draw from the arc that The Alliance followed?

  10. Robinsod: “From each according to their means to each according to their needs” is prescription for structuring society, not for individual relations under capitalism. But in any case, my personal debts far outweigh any of the meagre assets I have – so I might indeed be knocking on your door for the loan! 😉

    Tane: We should have a discussion about tactics over a beer sometime. Yes – I’m sure there is a lot we agree upon, and a lot we could constructive disagree about or attempt to influence the other on. I’ll track you down when I’m in Auckland next (Dec 1-9)…

    Rob: Good question. I think there’s heaps of reasons that the Alliance failed and lots of conclusions to draw. The Alliance had too many contradictions and problems that meant it was probably always going to fail. But in particular, the fact that it increasingly sought to manage the new neoliberal economic framework meant that it was killing it’s own reason to exist. But for what it’s worth, here’s a couple of articles I wrote at the time of the Alliance’s demise:

    Why The Alliance-Left Rebelled

    Dejà Vu for the Left


  11. Hello peeps of the left. What about the green party? Lower bottom tax rate, higher minimum wage, a revitalized welfare state …. sounds pretty genuinely left to me. If only they would start campaigning on these things instead of dope reform they might get somewhere … sigh.

  12. Robert Owen 12

    I haven’t heard them campaigning on dope reform for a while
    And if nothing else if they don’t get over 5% we all history

  13. Robert Owen 13

    we’re all history

  14. Tane 14

    I like a lot of what the Greens are doing and I’ve voted for them in the past, but every time I check over to see what they’re doing it’s all turtles and dolphins and snails. And as worthy as these issues might be, I ain’t throwing my efforts into that.

  15. Tane 15

    Sorry for the delay in your post appearing Bryce, it was under moderation because it had more than one link in it.

    PS. I live Wellington, so unfortunately won’t be able to catch you in ak.

    (Captcha: “Conquering Texas” – fuck yeah)

  16. Robert Owen 16

    What have the greens ever done for us ?
    Section 59?

  17. Tane – OK, Wellington Dec 14-17.

    Also, as it turns out, Chris Knox has passed onto Don Franks the missing excerpt from “It’s A Bitter Way with Labour” that the Labour Party gatekeepers asked him to remove from the song. Here it is:

    It¹s a better way with Labour, to keep the scruffs in line
    The CTU will tell you what they do is mostly fine
    And if they can get another term, then life will be divine
    It¹s a better way to keep them quiet with Labour

    It¹s a better way with Labour, to extend the empire¹s reach
    Call the troops Peace Keepers and get photo ops with each
    Kissing kids goodbye before they hit the next Pacific beach
    It¹s the modern way to rattle the old sabre

    It¹s a better way with Labour to lock up refugees
    And bring the wild various wild eyed dissenters to their knees
    Of course we stand for human rights, but not for such as these
    It¹s a better way to lock them up with Labour

    Yes it¹s a better way with Labour if you¹re in Labour¹s pay
    If you make the right connections it will help you through the day
    thirty shiny bits of silver will be sure to come your way
    if you¹ll only take your trousers down for Labour


  18. ak 18

    “……..so unfortunately won’t be able to catch you in ak”

    damn right… ew… (what colour are your eyes Bryce?)

  19. r0b 19

    Rob: Good question. I think there’s heaps of reasons that the Alliance failed and lots of conclusions to draw.

    Well, that was a bigger answer than I was expecting – my fault I guess for asking an academic!

    Let me brutally summarise your conclusions. The Alliance split from Labour, and then the Alliance split amongst itself, because in each case an ever smaller group wanted ideological purity. They left the majority behind, and the party tore itself apart.

    And therin lies the problem. Ideological purity, while admirable in a sense, does not work in the real world. In my opinion there are very few groups or organisations that are “ideologically pure”, and no political parties.

    So to me, it’s not a basis for political action. (The fact that it could all work if we just believed hard enough is irrelevant, if the chances of us all believing hard enough are zero.) I’m a pragmatist. I’ll work with the best practical option, Labour. Work for change from within.

    In the end, we will never agree, because our differences are differences in ethical philosophy. You take a moral absolutism / Kantian approach to ethics, I prefer consequentialism / utilitarianism.

    And fine, whatever, I wouldn’t care a bit, except that you are doing harm, when you could be doing good. Your intentions may be pure, but their consequences are terrible. In tearing down Labour you can only build up National. You are working for the wrong team. And as Tane and others have pointed out to you, such ideological purity is a pretty privileged affectation. Is your pure but impossible ideology really more important than practical improved outcomes for many many people?

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