Another failure of progressive politics?

By   /   May 13, 2015  /   20 Comments

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Given the reality of commercial media today, progressive parties will struggle to ever receive a fair hearing in the media requiring different strategies to connect with the voting public.

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As many commentators have noted, there were significant similarities with the recent UK election to our own general election last year. Convincing victories – beyond that which had been forecasted for the most part – for the conservative side of politics with “fragmented” progressive parties unable to present a credible governing alternative to voters.

Although different in scale, the media took an adverse liking to the leader of the opposition in both elections hammering away at any mistake – real or perceived. Given the reality of commercial media today, progressive parties will struggle to ever receive a fair hearing in the media requiring different strategies to connect with the voting public.

Alongside this reality is another common factor being the ever present spin doctor element. Lynton Crosby, of Crosby Textor, was a key factor in the Conservative Party’s election strategy. In this country, we are well aware of the pernicious and negative style of politics driven by the Crosby Textor brand initially with Don Brash and then very successfully with the individual who toppled Brash for the National Party leadership.

Assisting Lynton Crosby in the UK was the American campaign expert, Jim Messina. Messina is a town in Sicily connecting the island with the mainland and it is also the name of an excellent gelato shop in Melbourne (on Smith St). But this Messina brings no warm memories for me following his efforts on this campaign. Prior to working in the UK with the Conservatives he worked on the Obama/Biden campaign. He has now announced his intention to return to the US to work on the Hilary campaign.

Personally, I wouldn’t hire him. As someone I greatly respect pointed out to me, this individual has no ethics. (It was my mother who pointed this out to me – and she did it on Mother’s Day making it even more compelling) Messina’s manipulation – because that is what spin doctoring is – of the voting public is driven by no firm political commitment nor ideology to change society for the better. It is a naked pursuit of power for power’s sake.

What we are left with, then, is a concentration of power across the Anglosphere in the conservative side of politics captured by donors. At its core, this is something I cannot comprehend (apart from the donor reference). For me, the global financial crisis in 2008 was the ultimate expression of the failure of the policies driven by conservatives. With the accompanying reality of climate change, surely the business as usual model driven by greed had been fundamentally disproven?

Yet, following this crisis it has been the conservatives that have been able to drive home the myths of the free market to convince voters that the illusive free market provides a road full of aspiration.

Following the global financial crisis, the progressive side of politics across the Anglosphere has failed to come up with a consistent and credible theme to challenge the myths of the free market.

The UK intellectual, Tariq Ali, argues that the UK Labour Party should be left to bleed. He views the result in Scotland as being particularly poignant for the Labour Party given its Scottish roots and history of strong Scottish leadership. Within the Labour Party, he sees an absence of radicalism to drive an anti-capitalist response. Indeed, he sees no tangible difference between the Labour and Conservative centrist approaches.

His despair is understandable. There are, though, strong responses we are seeing from countries outside of the Anglosphere and from parties outside of the traditional political make-up of those countries. The Syriza victory in Greece, brought on by crisis, has been fascinating to watch. Likewise, the ability of Podemos in Spain to grow from its birth to a leading polling party in just over 12 months speaks volumes to citizens wanting a political and economic ideology that is not based on the myths of the free market but on empowering citizens with social justice policies at their core.

But, to consign Labour parties across the Anglosphere to oblivion actually does nothing to strengthen progressive politics. Instead, progressive parties need to look to each other, acknowledge their differences, and draw on their strengths. The challenge is to be able to present a unified, credible, alternative source of government and one that the spin doctors fail to undermine in the eyes of swing/undecided voters.

For me, acknowledging differences is a key point. This is important both internally and with the public. The public needs to know that you will not agree on all issues, but are driven by the same common principles. There is real value in being open about your differences and the progressive parties here should not shy from this.

The challenge now is for Labour parties to re-engage with their core values and translating those values into policies that work in these modern times.

In this country, this can be achieved by placing a primacy on our communities and actually listening to their needs while developing a diverse, sustainable economy serving the entire country. It will not be easy, but the myths of the free market deserve to be exposed and our country needs to prefer equity as our true currency.

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About the author

Michael Timmins

Michael Timmins is an expert in international human rights law. Specialising in refugee rights, Michael has worked in Egypt, the United States, Australia, Thailand, Pakistan and his home country of New Zealand across roles in advocacy, academia, and government. He is also a member of the Child Poverty Action Group's Management Committee. Michael’s writing covers international human rights, counter-terrorism, international environmental law, rule of law and accountability issues, as well as anything interesting happening in international relations.

20 Comments

  1. Mike the Lefty says:

    Progressive politics and progressive parties are becoming rarer in the democratic western world. We can see it happening in New Zealand too. When did we last have a truly progressive government? Some might say the last one was the Michael Savage’s first Labour government, some might say the third labour government and some might say the fourth Labour Rogernomics government.
    But note the recurring theme here: they were all Labour. Can anyone honestly remember a National/conservative government that could in any way be described as progressive?
    Of course, the right would say that National is a CONSERVATIVE government so it can’t possibly be progressive at the same time. I disagree, you can be a fiscal and social conservative and yet introduce some progressive policies. Even National have done it on occasions, such as ACC, electrification of the main trunk line as two examples. It is more about what you want your policies to achieve. If you want your policies and government to make meaningful and durable changes in society for the better then your policies are progressive. If you merely want to enhance the status quo and entrench the bureaucracy that surrounds it then your policies are inherently conservative.
    However, just because you are progressive doesn’t necessarily make your policies good. The fourth Labour government’s dismantling of the better aspects of New Zealand society may have been progressive, but it did a hell of a lot of damage that has never really been repaired.
    One could arguably claim that the only true progressive political party with any sizable following in New Zealand is the Green Party. One could also include ACT I suppose but they don’t really have much nationwide support.
    In Britain one could say the only two sizable progressive parties are the Greens and the SNP.
    In the US there are none. The Republicans and the Democrats are both inherently conservative movements and there is absolutely no room for any genuine progressives there, at least not since Teddy Roosevelt.
    There has been a worldwide anti-progressive industry built up over the past few decades, led by self-serving spin doctors like Crosby Textor. For progressive politics to succeed, the progressives must form their own organizations to spread the word that it is conservatism that is the enemy, not progression.

    • Ovicula says:

      Labelling ACT and the first ACT government of Lange and Douglas as progressive is just sad and shows how lost we are. Both entrenched the power of finance capital and put the market above everything. To be truly progressive, a party must be anti-capitalist. I agree with Tariq Ali on this – Labour is a brake on progress and should be left to bleed.

  2. Kate Kate says:

    Yes,…why do we have to pay to live where we are born? Who are we actually paying to be alive here? Who made them the boss, who put them in charge… ? Interesting questions I heard on the web.

    ‘Born as an original – die as a copy’. (What a sad waste of precious expressive life, believe me I am an artist and it is really tough just to hang onto some originality and individuality, in this deep sheep state we live in.

    The institutions are run like a dinosaur we need to be thinking like a shoal of fish, respond quickly, and work together, be resilient, distribute intelligence….
    Deconstruct the dinosaur, create global support structures and transition needs to happen. It will be a dark future for humanity if nothing changes very very quickly. (Notes from a climate change meeting).

    Hello! We have a state of planetary emergency! Why we are acting normal? Money markets and celebrities dominant the news… What a bunch of soft bodied muppets gorking at mass extinction with glazed eyes. I am embarrassed to be a human these days. Thankfully I don’t fit into this mass delusion, we call civilization. It has become a big sick joke, on us all. Now I can go back to painting what we are losing literally and emotionally. But most people have lost the ability to even appreciate these things these days. The new flag will be a logo by a Frizzell, why don’t they just make it Tiki to Mickie and get it over with, the sheep love his insensitive crap. Or Four Square Man, that rips everyone off that fits NZ under Key’s cronyism.
    Have a nice day

  3. Stephen says:

    Boo hoo hoo, get over it! The right has won in the Anglosphere as people are sick and tired of supporting troughers and the bludgers and being lectured by intellectual wankers who have never done a decent days work.
    The left has lost the blue color vote as the left political sphere is dominated by people who go straight from university to politics have no idea about the outside world and can’t understand why the working class gets hacked off paying tax to support people who don’t want to better themselves.
    You have lost the middle class through your policies of tax everyone who makes money and wants to better themselves.
    In short the left wing political spectrum is populated by spiteful losers who expect the hard working tax payer to foot the bill for everything they want and need.

    • Tom says:

      The right has won in the Anglosphere as people are sick and tired of supporting troughers and the bludgers and being lectured by intellectual wankers who have never done a decent days work.

      While your initial statement is true, your explanation is simplistic and lacking in any real explanatory power. The interesting question is why people have started thinking this way. There are many causes, rather than one.

    • The Other Mike says:

      You forgot to mention even working people have to be topped up by a Govt WFF handout – some even have two or three jobs and STILL get a handout from you and me. I blame the Govt myself.

      Wait! What Blog is this????

    • Mike the Lefty says:

      Yes, well it takes a bit of intelligence to be progressive and that’s where you fall down laddy.

    • Brigid says:

      I quite agree, troughers and the bludgers like Rio TInto accepting a 30 million dollar bride from jongkey and then posting a multi-million dollar profit. This is just one case, of hundreds. of corporate welfare, paid for by the had working tax payer. Corporate welfare is what you’re referring to isn’t it?

    • Ovicula says:

      The right gets its support by funding troughers and bludgers. This includes the Canterbury dairy farmers, any consultant drawing government contracts, land bankers, real estate agents, bankers, speculators, and any other non-productive groups who rely on government largesse and legislative frameworks.

      The only thing you almost get right is that Labour, not the left, is out of touch.

  4. J S Bark J S Bark says:

    Wow! Thanks Stephen, a great opening lecture for Generalisations 101.
    If you are a progressive you have successfully illustrated why the left are in such disarray at present.
    If you are a conservative then I suggest you go to a conservative blog where you will get heaps of kudos for those sort of comments.

    Michael, thanks for a useful blog. The magic of the spin doctors has really been in ascendence since the good ol’ days of Joseph Goebbels, though many examples can be found in ancient history.

    I can never remember a time when the progressives were ever in agreement and I’m 64. Your reading of the solution is interesting and has a lot of common-sense to it but I doubt I have enough time left to see it happen now!

    For the right it’s a lot simpler; they just want power at any cost…

  5. Tom says:

    Instead, progressive parties need to look to each other, acknowledge their differences, and draw on their strengths.

    All of this is predicated on the realistic possibility of a left wing party winning an election, staying a left wing party, and then being able to govern as a left wing party. In the Anglosphere left wing parties can’t even manage the first most of the time, stop at the second if they do win, and even Syriza can’t manage the third.

    Life isn’t like the movies. Sometimes the bad guys win, and that is what has happened here. Those of us on the left need to stop deluding ourselves and get on with our lives.

  6. Bully Beef and Chips says:

    “Blue color vote” HA!

    I thought the ladies with blue hair tended to vote National!

  7. Nick says:

    Radical or progressive? To define worthwhile policies needs a restatement of objectives. Those objectives may sometimes seem self-evident, but it it the establishment of goals and the hierarchy of those goals which allows us to paint a compelling picture of the better society we hope to create, a way to measure our current position and the success or otherwise of our efforts and a base to construct a blueprint for future action.

    It isn’t enough just to hate the current abuses. Abuse exposure may create what the fashion now calls “shy tories” but probably not enough changed votes. What will win a vote is hope and the perception of shared vision. If we don’t know, or can’t enunciate the kind of society we wish for, good luck getting there! And good luck persuading any one to come along.

  8. reason says:

    Right wingers are often selfish,greedy and nasty people …….

    Their world view is that greed is good and you exploit everything and every person you can …………. They claim total self interest is what drives humans and is the basis of society …………. and in their own instances they are correct.

    Ruthless greedy people who exploit the environment and society for their own personal enrichment are the right-wingers hero’s.

    They are ugly greedy planet fuckers and even though they think in their own twisted ways that they have ‘won’ …………. the real winners are those who do not share their horrible world views and diseased personality s

    Every morning you get up and your not a right-winger then your leading a better life than those greedy grasping trash …….

    Enjoying the environment our community s and humane relationships is part of the joys in being a human …..

    Right-wingers don’t have this and try to make it up with money ……

    I personally could think of nothing worse and more vile than having to live the life of Cameron Slater, John Key or anyone like that ……

    Jose Mujica shows how to be far richer than right wing creeps http://i100.independent.co.uk/article/8-reasons-why-well-miss-jose-mujica-uruguays-maverick-president–e1t_MupEpl

  9. Andrea says:

    “our communities and actually listening to their needs”

    In one little chunk – the typical detached patronising stinting barely-meet-the-needs mentality of the ‘let us be your brains’ brigade.

    Naff off.

    If the likes of you have to ‘meet our needs’ you’ll miss the gravy and the crackling and the naughty but nice bits. You know you will.

    How about listening to the WANTS, for a change? Or is that too hard?

    And then, if you should happen to know how to bring about the changes that start fulfilling the wants to be efficacious in the world and reap the rewards, please share and adapt and then learn from others who are just as smart and able as yourself.

    You could start with the community to which you feel you belong. If you can define it.

    • Janice says:

      It’s a dog-eat-dog world at the end of the day, I guess. “Share and adapt and then learn” to me sounds like, share and then relinquish and then acquiesce.
      No. Is the only honest answer I can give to that. Share, yes, relinquish, no, acquiesce, never.

  10. Mike in Auckland says:

    This is a good post, I must say, although it also leaves a fair few questions unanswered.

    It is my view, having observed the increasing manipulations not only in politics and elections that occur in the “Anglosphere” and other developed democracies, but also in financial and economic management, that an international approach is needed.

    Syriza in Greece are really feeling the squeeze now, where fractions are arguing about how to further proceed with the European Central Bank, the European Commission and the IMF, and solve the socio economic problems. Some now want to work out a deal with the creditors, others want a different solution, perhaps leave the Eurozone, perhaps even the EU altogether.

    We see again, as it is the rule, that one progressive government in one country only tends to end up getting pressured by the global financial sector, by the creditor banks and multinationals and competing nations with their agendas.

    So this tends to lead to governments caving in, and also losing credit with the electorate, so they do not get voted back in again. It may be overdue for progressive parties to work together across the globe, and thus bring about needed change, as otherwise we get nowhere.

    The enemy is clear, and the financial and economic clout behind the “conservative” or rather “neoliberal” parties and governments are well known. It is not going to work to simply focus on New Zealand, as this country is too small and easy game for the big economic and strategic powers to play with.

    We have an irresponsible, laissez faire, neoliberal government, that is getting this country into a real mess. Having followed the news today was shocking, the Reserve Banks is desperate to take new measures, which may be good in some way, but will likely be insufficient to stop foreign and also local investors and speculators continue driving house prices up into the sky.

    Also was there a warning about debt laden dairy farmers, and I heard that 90 percent of milk powder exports now go to one country, Mainland China, which is shocking also, making us overly dependent on that economy, which is slowing more and more.

    Radio NZ National broadcast this piece today, which should send real alarm bells, about the high indebtedness of farmers, who may soon see no other way out but to sell, possibly sell their farms to more overseas buyers:

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/checkpoint/audio/201754230/consultant-says-debt-levels-among-farmers-are-a-worry

    House and farm prices crashing would be a disaster for New Zealand now, as it could lead to banks crashing also, just imagine that.

    This country is run almost like a modern day banana republic, when it comes to economics. Boasting about an earthquake rebuild creating GDP, huge migration creating “growth” and dairy intensification and production earning much of our income, that is insanity, but the government, Key and English, seem so out of touch, given their ideological obsession, they are risking to run this place into the economic abyss.

    We may soon get enough people see a raw and horrible awakening, after the too long dream about their charming leader Johnny Boy the Key to destruction.

    The tide will turn, but it will probably only after disaster hits, and I dread to see this coming.

    The media are traitors in my view, too busy with themselves and their entertaining advertising salesmen and women, such as Paul Henry, talking rude, silly and yet hip in his morning show.

    Yes, back to the grass roots, but many do not even know where these are to be found. I despair at times, about how the MSM have been taken over by vested interests, that in effect are destroying democracy and the fabric of society.

    Let us hope the crash will not be quiet as nasty as it may be, it will certainly shake this country up.

    We need a progressive movement, based on basics, and determination, that reaches people and can catch on internationally, a movement, that people can identify with. If every follower would donate a humble membership fee, the money would be there to run a good and effective campaign.