So Labour shifted too far to the left?

By   /   September 25, 2014  /   33 Comments

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Here’s the ill-judged view of Josie Pagani in the Pundit

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So Labour shifted too far to the left?   Here’s the ill-judged view of Josie Pagani in the Pundit

Labour must change”:

At the last election I made myself a heretic when I wrote a column mentioning how unpopular the policy of paying Working For Families to beneficiaries had been on the campaign trail. Labour voters on low incomes clearly didn’t think it was fair to use an in-work tax credit to increase benefits.

Yet Labour, under David Cunliffe, dropped that policy. Except that he didn’t highlight the change, so Labour ended up in the worst of both worlds: Reckoned by many to have a policy that it couldn’t defend, and also setting itself up to disappoint the remaining supporters who expected the policy would be delivered.

It should have gone back to the principle of Labour’s Working For Families: that we are the party of work. That’s why we’re called the Labour Party. We represent the aspirations of people who work hard for a wage and want the same opportunity to get ahead as someone who was born luckier.

Reading this helps me understand what went wrong with Labour but not as Josie Pagani intends. Let’s rewrite her piece from a different point of view. Here is what I and many more might say:

At the last election Labour made the principled decision to address the unfortunate failings of their flagship Working for Families policy. That policy was supposed to address child poverty but it had had no impact on the poverty rates of those in families on benefits because it excluded them from much of it.  Labour had come to recognise that all tax credits for children paid for by the taxpayer to reduce child poverty should be paid to all low income children on the same basis. This solid Labour principle signalled a return the inclusive policies for families of Michael Joseph Savage.

The worst mistake Labour made was to drop that policy because of ill-judged comments by people like Pagani. Previous supporters who had expected a sensible and principled reform of Working for Families would be delivered were not impressed by Labour’s half-hearted Best Start policy that refused to grapple with the elephant in the room, namely the In Work Tax Credit.  Labour looked like it didn’t have any solid values at all.

If some mythical working families did not like the idea of paying Working for Families to beneficiaries, they should have been reminded by a strong Labour leader that they and their children are only one step away from losing work in an unstable job market, or when a natural disaster strikes. Paying full child tax credits to all low income caregivers  does not make any working family any worse off, but it would help cushion the impact on children when parents lose work, are sick or are doing unpaid caregiving.

What strength would have come from an alignment with the Green Party on the In Work Tax Credit?  What heart would have been taken by those who despair at the crude work focus of current policies for children? Why was it so hard for Labour to devise a means of making work pay that did not damage children?

The most out of touch  thing that Labour can do in the 21st century is to carry on as if a 40 hour job in the paid workforce is the only work that counts when the labour market is so precarious for so many in an increasingly automated world. Such a dinosaur attitude alienates a huge number of people, including many women who do the critically valuable but unpaid caregiving and reproductive work for society. Why should Labour want opportunities just for ‘”people who work hard for a wage” as Pagani proselytises?  The Party of Labour needs to do some serious rethinking.  I sincerely hope it is not again captured by  the visionless pro-work rhetoric Pagani espouses.

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About the author

Co-director retirement policy and Research Centre, CPAG management committee

33 Comments

  1. raegun says:

    Actually I think far too many people have absolutely no idea what any political terminology is these days right down to thinking that Adolf Hitler’s Nazis were “left wing” simply because the word socialist appeared in there. And actually they weren’t really right wing either, a bit “neither here nor there” in terms of things economic, what they were, was off the scale totalitarian, which can be found anywhere along the left-right divide as can libertarianism.
    I reckon most people could be put into a tail-spin by asking them to define what corporate socialism is or telling them that within communist parties you will find that there are conservatives and progressives.
    Libertarianism is not the exclusive preserve of the right, in fact the only place it could work and did not eventually descend into something like Somalia, is libertarian left where the only rule that applied would be “do unto others” etc.
    The only thing that left wing means for many is “I don’t like it”
    I suppose the simplest way to differentiate these for people who do not wish to educate themselves about all of this is to perhaps say that right is business and left is family. And perhaps the only way to see that they are intrinsically linked is to think, you need money to run a family and money without family is pretty pointless

  2. dave brown says:

    Very good point.

    Same funk that Helen Clark showed when business gave her hell on Closing the Gaps, except this time it was a caving in to the pernicious split in the working class between workers and the so-called ‘underclass’.

    To get rid of this split, the Left in Labour needs to take up the universal basic income as a way or reconsidering what Work actually means.

    Defining working for wages as the only form of labour suits business and the right, because it allows a reserve army of unemployed to hold down wages.

    Labour’s Blairite solution is for the state to top up wages at the expense of taxes which are now shifted onto regressive consumption taxes of those same workers! No wonder some of those in work buy the lie that those out of work are bludgers!

    But outside wage work where people have to survive they take on many forms of unpaid work which contributes to the reproduction of society. This is an free subsidy to the employers.

    A Labour Party today to reach out to all those who work should take up the argument for a UBI which pays people for all forms of work.

    To pay for it needs to tax capital gains at the same rate as other incomes and add a Robin Hood Tax of unproductive financial transactions.

    In this way all those who work at reproducing society get paid a living wage and those who don’t work but only speculate in the results of others work pay for it.

    • raegun says:

      A universal income is something that an increasingly mechanized world needs to seriously be thinking about, but it won’t

    • blueice says:

      Great comment from Susan St John, and also Dave Brown. I am disabled with severe rheumatoid artritis so I am receiving the Supported Living benefit. I know many other disabled people. NONE of us has chosen to be like this, but we can’t hold down a “regular” job, if indeed we can find someone who would employ us, as due to medical circumstances sometimes we can work and unpredictably, sometimes not. I voted, but I know many people who are in this situation did not, as they feel there is no-one who will represent their interests. We don’t expect to be kept in the lap of luxury, but neither is it fair to categorise the genuinely sick / disabled as bludgers, which is what so many people these days do. Actually it doesn’t take much for a secure lifestyle, a job, housing, and financial security to vanish like a a puff of smoke, and for someone “normal” and hardworking to find themselves totally in the crap. It happened to a very hard working (minimum waged) friend of mine in the last 6 months, when she was diagnosed with a double whammy of mouth cancer and rheumatoid arthritis. She has had urgent surgery for the cancer, and been given the OK to go back to work, but went back to her old employer(who had told her her job would be kept open) to be told they had found someone else. At the moment she is entitled to a benefit, but who knows how long for. She is now finding life very hard, as would many others in her situation. There but for the grace of God go so many people.

  3. Save NZ says:

    I would go further and say the big problem is that Labour is that it seems to be writing policy based on the media and ‘supposed public reaction’. They need to instead look at policy that has some integrity and own it. They also need to find other ways to show their policy and views rather than relying on mainstream media. In my view NZ is lacking a Guardian type newspaper either online or both paper based. Instead of complaining they need to use new media to actually get their policies across. There website is pretty pathetic and it seems that they don’t actually utilize it in any meaningful way – (bit like all their campaign – it’s there because they somehow know they need one, but then they don’t make any use of it to get policy, views and canvas views from their voters). Anyway Cunliff performed better than most in debates. It is Labour policy that needs reworking not the leader and the should be designing policy on what is right and fair and not what they think will get them votes. Also I think that their capital gains taxes and rental reforms scared voters. Many middle classes are struggling too, and are only a pay check away from not being able to pay their mortgage which is very high. Any radical or even minor changes to property taxes in NZ that could affect interest rates or create a crash is a vote killer. Not sure of the stats but 65% of NZ still own their own homes. If you want to reform property do it SLOWLY. Like the Scottish referendum people wanted to say YES in public but privately voted NO. Do a brand Key ‘in my next term if you vote me in again, I will reform property but will not touch it if you vote for me now’. Labour needs to regain trust with its voters and be more strategic to get back in.

  4. Juana says:

    This is why Labour will not be successful at rebuilding its once powerful brand.
    You do not learn from your mistakes. Even Martin Martyn admitted that Josie was right. It is time you listened to people like her who want Labour to once again become the power house it used to be.
    If you keep doing what you have been doing you will keep getting what you have been getting.Whaleoil and John Key did not cost Labour the election and neither did Dotcom. Labour did this to itself and until it rebuilds from the ground up with a totally DIFFERENT strategy it will lose the position of opposition to the Greens.

    • Juana, what does it benefit Labour to be a “powerhouse” if it abandons it reason for being?

      What should Labour be espousing, if not social justice and an economy that benefits all people, not just the privileged.

      • downwithnats says:

        Which it did in this election, Frank. But was shot down by the noise of big money. Unfortunately the revelations of dirt were also plastered over by slick national money noise. I like Labour on the left, but am now watching the bought MSM (replete in its power to sway voters) try to suppress that element totally.

    • Richard Christie says:

      Whaleoil and John Key did not cost Labour the election

      That’s the only part you’ve got correct.

      The left principally lost to the MSM.

    • Who Gnu says:

      “Labour did this to itself and until it rebuilds from the ground up with a totally DIFFERENT strategy it will lose the position of opposition to the Greens. -”

      And your constructive proposals are – ???

  5. Jenny Kirk says:

    If you want an even greater understanding of what went wrong with Labour, Susan, please read Wayne Hope’s post dated 24 Sept.

    The left/right divide within the Labour caucus is evident throughout the entire party and until Labour rids itself of the notion that it is a political party that can be all things to all people and reverts back to its concern for the disadvantaged and workingclass people, then we’ll continue to get the sort of debacle we saw on Sat 20 September 2014.

    • Malcolm says:

      labour just want to be a softer National. As long as they continue along that line, they will always be in Nationals shadow. They need to look at what the majority are missing and provide answers for them – National does not represent the majority. 36.9% of the electorate voted for them. That is 63.9% that either didn’t vote for Nats or didn’t vote.

      They are the ones Labour needs to address. Leave the 36.9% to rot in their own filthy politics.

      I have a young female friend. 24 yrs old. Put herself through management course, big student loan. Only job available afterwards, hotel receptionist – minimum wage. Two years later, no pay rise, despite more responsibility. No other jobs available. Walks home in dark at 11.30 pm, no car, can’t drive, can’t afford to get lessons or a car. See’s no hope for future, can’t see any chance of improvement. Wonders why she doesn’t just give up & go on dole, where she wouldn’t be putting her life at risk by walking in the dark.

      We wrote to John Key six months ago regarding her dilemma – should get a reply sometime soon.

  6. Janine says:

    If Labour’s policy is to keep the children of beneficiaries hungry and ill clothed then why vote for them. National is far more efficient at keeping the poor down.

  7. I suspect the reason that Pagani and other “centrists” are advocating for more middle-class policies is that Labour’s traditional voters have given up voting.

    The under-class, poor, disenfranchised, have given up voting.

    The 700,000 that this year and in 2011 did not materialise, and therefore allowed National’s overall percentage to be higher than it would have been.

    The trouble is, catering to the middle-classes is a position wholly occupied by Key and his party. As long as the Nats don’t touch Working for Families and other middle class welfare, they’re cool voting Tory.

    Unfortunately, Labour’s other policies (NZ Power, using Kiwisaver instead of Reserve Bank interest rates, and other progressive policies) weren’t promoted as hard as they should have been.

    I have no idea who did Labour’s advertising campaign. But they need to be changed. Has Labour looked at successful advertising campaigns around the world?

    Perhaps most important is that Labour needs to treat it’s potential coalition partners with the same respect that Key treated ACT, Dunne, and the Maori Party. Even his rejection of the Conservative Party was done without rancour, leaving the door open for future co-operation.

    If Labour can’t work with potential coalition partners in Opposition, and during an election campaign – why should we think they can do it in government?

    If Cunliffe goes as Leader, fine. But we also need a clean-out of all the Old Guard in Labour’s MPs. Some of them have been there for longer than I can care to remember, and need Wikipedia to remind me what decade they entered Parliament.

    The Labour Rank & File need to look at their Long Timers in their electorates and look for new talent. If they don’t, they get the same old, same old.

    Rejuvenation is not just about avoiding ossification. It’s about eliminating the entrenchment of factionalism to such a degree that it becomes cancerous.

    If I were Labour Rank & File, I’d consider a time limit on MPs. Two, maybe three terms max. After that, move them on to Boards of SOEs (as National does).

    And FGS (For Gods Sakes) stop changing your Leaders like I change my socks! The signal sent to the public is that Labour Leaders are temporary, until the next election. If Labour has no faith in its Leader, even in defeat, then why should the Voting Public?

    The message I’m getting is that a Labour Leader is Leader only until the next time. Not very reassuring.

    But that’s ok. If Labour wants to slowly disintergrate, the Green Party awaits in the wings. And a New Labour Party may yet arise from the ashes.

    Maybe a Green Labour Party – one predicated on environmental protection; truly sustainable growth; and progressive social policies that address child poverty, unemployment and under-employment; and sensible economic policies – will be the way of the future?

    • Geoffrey Dunbar says:

      Frank — What you call a “Green Labour Party” already exists: the Internet-Mana alliance (most particularly the Mana Movement part of that alliance). Key, Cunliffe and Peters ALL know it, and this is why they were especially interested in destroying it at the election. The way things are going, I’d say 2014 has heralded the death of the Labour Party, not the Mana Movement, which has the depth of coherent policies and heart to make a SPECTACULAR comeback in 2017…

      • Crunchtime says:

        Kim Dotcom was poison to this, he needed to build a better brand for himself and also distance himself more from the party. I don’t think he quite understood how him getting involved in Left politics would affect the Left.

        The view that he represented some foreign influence on NZ politics was widely held… Few realise that the real foreign takeover of NZ is already well underway, headed by John Key.

        Mana has a lot of very good policy but is lacking in detail…

    • word says:

      “Labour’s traditional voters have given up voting.”

      And hasn’t that been the strategy from the national party and their mainstream media to achieve exactly that?

      What can Labour do when the wall of opposition from a national biased mainstream media here and even Australia for example is against them? national have it all sewn up tight.

      And why take any notice from Pagani when she is the same kind of vulture as Slater, Hooten and Farrar, et al, and the few so called leftist bloggers that post on here and elsewhere are more right wing as well.

  8. hunter says:

    Ever since Roger Douglas put many kiwis on the scrap heap to enrich his oligarch fan club and Clark failed to rein in the excesses of the employment contracts act , Labour has become totally irrelevant to the working class. Cunliffe in an attempt to take the party back back to its core values was sabotaged at every turn by the “centre” faction. Isnt it ironic how Cunliffe who couldn’t gain any traction with MSM during the election is now spashed over every publications front page.

  9. Win says:

    http://www.vineyardsaker.co.nz/2014/09/24/the-forgotten-coup-and-how-the-godfather-rules-from-canberra-to-kiev-by-john-pilger/ You don’t think it will happen here? Think again.

    Do you think a left government would really get in though? I think the US may have something to say and do about that. The election is so nicely set up for Key; NZ in 5 Eyes, NZ about to go into the TPPA so nothing holding them back now, Winston – no semblance of power, no silly conservatives mucking things up for him, Hone et al out (people the estb. just wouldn’t want in parliament – no way – particularly with KDC in the background hated as he is by US moguls), ABCs, the National lites about to, and ready to take over the Labour Party, Cunliffe who went to far left demoralised, demonised and about to be destroyed, the Greens whom I paid $25 for to ‘get Jack in’ just prior to voting because they were polling so well didn’t actually poll so well when it mattered, and the news media brainwashed and compliant. Puuuurrfect.
    Now we can all close our eyes and just go along for the boat ride. Because we’re not going to be changing anything anyhow. Probably not in the next 6 years or ever. I’m going to buy a lifestyle property, grow grapes, make wine and never vote again. Democracy as far as I’m concerned is dead.

    • LilaR says:

      Cunliffe far left? Don’t make me laugh! A comment such as yours just shows how far to the right politics have gone.

  10. By the way…

    “If some mythical working families did not like the idea of paying Working for Families to beneficiaries, they should have been reminded by a strong Labour leader that they and their children are only one step away from losing work in an unstable job market, or when a natural disaster strikes.”

    Nailed it.

    Working families might consider that in 2007, unemployment stood at 3.5% – or 78,000 people.

    By 2012, that had risen to 7.3% – or 173,000 of our fellow New Zealanders.

    That’s 95,000 men and women who went from wage and salary earners – to the “lifestyle choice of luxury living on unemployment”.

    That is a salient point that Labour should have pushed when the debate raged for extending WFF.

    173,000 people would have nodded in agreement.

  11. Ross says:

    Children are children who deserve a start in life regardless of whether their parents work or are, for what ever reason, on a benefit. It is the first step to break the cycle.

  12. The remaining workers look for representation of the kind that is now referred to as far left. In this expectation they have been gravely cheated by our politicians whose both eyes are on the baubles of office and have no concern for this group of people. It’s not only the lack of concern but also a pathetically apparent lack of any viable alternative to fluffing around at the fringes of the existing flawed system that makes their just being in office such a rape of the senses. This situation is the precursor to mass disillusionment and the venting of frustration by way of civil and other types of disobedience. Once again I say out loud and clear Labour should not even be entertaining any sort of rightist tendencies and devoting itself to the primary objective of equitable distribution of resources and wealth. Whether this alternative takes on a completely contemporary and novel methodology or the revamping of traditional methodologies is of minor concern as long as those (Workers) afflicted by the present system can know there is party and true people in it who are dedicated to changing the status quo . Anything less is a gross deception and betrayal of this group.

  13. T to the C says:

    Labour didn’t shift too far to the left, National just stole one of the left’s master-signifiers which is “work” ie labour, and the left didn’t do enough to contest them for it.

    It let National totalise the discourse.

    Pagani is right, but in the way of a stopped clock is right. Labour needs to reclaim that master-signifier but that doesn’t mean they need to throw the poor, beneficiaries, women, LGBT etc under the bus. The left has a a couple other of totalising signifiers they can already deploy such as “fairness” that is just as applicable to identity as it is to labour.

    But “work” is an important one, and holding the most effective signifiers is the key to the left’s ideological struggle.

  14. Save NZ says:

    In order to change society you need to mobilize the middle class. IF you look at any changes in society and it starts there. The poor are easily manipulated – all blacks tweet they respond- all parties say don’t vote mana – they change their vote. Quite frankly Hone was not much of a threat to the establishment until he teamed up with KDC and LH. He nearly made it too so that is the sad fact that by a 1000 votes they missed out on 4 MP’s. Anyway fights are always won by the middle class do you need to mobilize them and that means not being a fringe party but being a center party – still have social justice, unions, human rights, no corruption but the middle class and even rich are not the enemy. It all starts with education and decency which is next on JK list for further reform. God help us all.

  15. JonL says:

    Labour went to far to the left only in the eyes of the neo-cons inside labour, the MSM, and the Nats and their sympathisers, most of whom, wouldn’t know a far left party if it bit them in the bum. If they roll Cunliffe and install another “MSM approved National Lite”, then Labour is finished. They should be sued for misrepresentation of the name!

    • Lou says:

      That’s it, in a nutshell, JONL! I for one, certainly hope they won’t dump Cunliffe, but I am not optimistic.

      And Susan St John, you also couldn’t be more correct!!

  16. word says:

    Mainstream media who in my opinion, won the election for national, are trying to dictate over the Labour party and have stepped up their attack against David Cunliffe, and thats even more reason for Cunliffe to remain as Labour party leader. Despite Labour losing the election, national and the media obviously still see Cunliffe as a threat, and are using this as an opportunity to get rid of him.
    If I was labour I would completely ignore everything the right wingers are saying and do the opposite, and that includes the questionable advice from the so called “left” pretenders as well.

  17. word says:

    national suffered the worst election defeat in 2002, only gaining 21%
    Did the media go on a witch hunt when Bill English remained as leader, until John Key back stabbed him in favour of Don Brash?

  18. Cagey says:

    I think Josie Pagani should understand that it’s not a sexist thing, the complains about her, but that she purports to speak for all Labour (she uses ‘we’ all the time) when she does not. To use her as ‘the voice of Labour’ is unfair to the part of Labour which she doesn’t represent – especially as she is used so often as the voice of the left in programs like Q & A etc. The underestimation of the right wing smear campaign in the results on Saturday is something she herself has said “don’t blame the media” but to look at the result and not realize the importance of this is to see the disconnect the ‘left’ commentators have from the left actual. However she is still welcome to give her own commentary and I wouldn’t deny her that.

  19. Nick says:

    It is not so much about locating the party on the side of the poor, working or otherwise, rather the reinvented vision has to encompass that, but be far broader. To create a more balanced, more productive, more caring, more inclusive society means finding a place in our schema for the majority, not merely forcing the majority to guiltily flick more money the way of the most disadvantaged, although that makes up some part of the whole. The poor you will have with you always as someone once said. the trick is to change our system so that the poorer part of the population is actually included in decisions which affect them. Not simply patronising them with more largesse. Obviously I am not suggesting that more money is not also needed.

    By the way, I wouldn’t give Josie Pagani a moment’s thought. She is a bitter, rejected former candidate and a member of the Left in name only, these days.

  20. Michael says:

    If Labour listens to Pagani, it’s finished as a political force. Unfortunately, it looks like the caucus is doing just that.

  21. TeWhareWhero says:

    There’s a lot of moaning from the MSM about being blamed for the election outcome. With a few exceptions, they deserve the slaps but, while they played an important role – we can’t avoid the fact that some members of Labour’s caucus shot Cunliffe in both feet, engaged in a lot of lazy running themselves, and are now blaming him for Labour losing the race.

    You could be forgiven for thinking that they threw the election so they could sacrifice him and get back to business as usual – turning the LP into a NZ version of the US Democratic party.

    We have a poorly unionised workforce in an increasingly low wage economy that rests on a narrow and precarious base of extractive industry and cash crop agriculture, viticulture and horticulture.

    A lot of people are doing very nicely – able to afford to live the individualised, digitised lives of Bill Gates’ asocial vision – a lot of others are struggling to stay afloat and some are drowning.

    Traditional working class jobs haven’t disappeared from the planet, they’ve been moved to places where the costs of production are lower, i.e. lower wages and conditions, poor H&S and environment controls etc. The only way corporates will bring those jobs back is if those costs are reduced here so they can extract the same levels of profit.

    For the corporates, the means to that end are maintaining :
    a large pool of unemployed;
    a low paid ‘service’ class;
    a massively indebted working class (which includes everyone whose only means of living is by exchanging their labour – be that by hand or brain – for a wage); and,
    an affluent buffer class which includes the upper echelons of the public service and the media, and rightwing professional politicians.

    This stratum of people have a vested interest in maintaining the manifestly unfair and unjust status quo and to ensure that the state’s service to the corporates is seamless.

    When you drag political discourse back to the Right and redefine the Centre, you also redefine the Left. Moderate, totally unremarkable and easily achievable structural changes that would be as socially beneficial as the Right’s structural changes of the 1980s were destructive, are labelled as ‘far-Left’ and unrealistic. The way that message is conveyed is, for the most part, via the mass media which for the most part is owned and controlled by corporates.

    The way forward for Labour is: to challenge that control of the media through support for a non-partisan well funded public broadcasting and by creating its own voice; and, to rebuild its membership and supporter base. It has too small a membership and lacks National’s big bucks to compensate for that.

    The only way Labour would attract the big bucks is by continuing to betray domestic labour in favour of international capital. It simply cannot compete as a Labour Party worthy of the name unless there is mass participation at the base which in turn demands accountability from its democratically elected leaders.



Authorised by Martyn Bradbury, The Editor, TheDailyBlog, 5 Victoria St East/Queen St, CBD, Auckland, New Zealand.