As the shock of my optimism that NZers would recoil from the real John Key as exposed by Dirty Politics and mass surveillance duplicities wears off, I am surprised to find that the right in NZ are not content with National winning an outright victory, the right wing of NZ would now like to appoint the Labour Party leader as well.
I still need some time out from blogging and still intend to step back while I think through some ideas on how we stop a juggernaut like National , but there are 3 things I’d like to focus on as a response to the election and the NZ Herald’s sudden need to pick the leader of the opposition.
1. Can Labour be saved?
2. Why Whaleoil and the National Party won
3. Why the Left needs a new media.
Can Labour be saved?
The Labour Party of NZ need to work out what they are. Are they a modern democratic party whose members and affiliates have an active say in the shape and direction of the Party, or are they merely a political management team who work to not spook the corporate forces of capitalism when National get tired of Government?
That’s the question it faces as it descends into the inevitable blood letting of the next leadership fight.
The changes made within the Labour Party to give members and affiliates real say have always been despised by some within the Labour Party Caucus. They want members and affiliates to be dictated to not listened to, hence the resistance to change, hence the mass sitting on hands some conducted during the election, hence the sudden knives out for Cunliffe.
Cunliffe has attempted to appease those in Caucus so affronted by the members and affiliates decision to appoint a leader they didn’t want and I think that appeasement has created a politician who has both hands tied behind his back. Cunliffe has shown the Party a loyalty those in Caucus have not shown him. Trevor Mallard went on a bloody moa hunting expedition in the middle of the campaign for Christ’s sake, Cameron Slater’s mate, Kelvin Davis, went rogue and ended up being endorsed by Kiwiblog, Whaleoil and John Key and ‘someone’ inside Labour kept leaking as many damaging criticisms as possible to the media.
These same voices are now the forces behind removing Cunliffe because apparently Cunliffe went ‘too far to the Left’. Since when was affordable housing for the middle classes, better investment into education and a Capital Gains Tax on an over heated property market considered ‘too left wing’?
The argument that Shearer who was polling highly could have done better is a total re-write of history. Remember how Shearer performed in the media, do we need a reminder?
There’s a reason why Shearer gained the nickname, ‘Captain Mumblefuck’. Does anyone think he would have survived a minute in the debates with Key? Whoever takes over as leader, surely it should be someone who doesn’t manage to contradict themselves within the first 60 seconds?
The claim that Stuart Nash somehow holds the magical answers based on his win seem infantile at best. Nash won because Garth McVicar split the vote, to think voters who loved someone as polarising as Garth would vote Nash doesn’t help Nash’s cause. Neither does all the undying love being given Nash by Whaleoil.
Cunliffe hasn’t helped his cause by his micromanaging of everything. He trusts so few within his Caucus he takes on every job and does it himself. This alongside his attempt to placate the anger of the ABCs rather than challenging it head on has made him look weak. That was abundantly clear today when he wouldn’t throw himself on his own sword and resign the leadership and demand a primary contest to put up or shut up the ABCs. His attempt to play by the agreements his Caucus have made while his challengers are openly disregarding that might be the honest thing to do, but it looks timid.
Changing leader won’t make a lick of difference. The activist base Labour relies on will walk if a more ‘centrist’ approach is taken because seriously, how much more ‘centrist’ does Labour want to go? Fantasies of Labour being a 40% Party again would only happen if Labour adopted all of National’s policies and ignore the MMP reality of the Greens. The Greens aren’t going to whither and die, they will only grow and expand, to turn guns on the Greens would be remarkably counter productive.
The problem is that the Labour Party is a damaged and wounded beast that is in desperate need of rejuvenation and has been in need the moment Helen Clark stood down. For Cunliffe to be serious about becoming leader again, he needs to take the gloves off and stare down those ABC elements and force them out. Once done, the Party needs a complete rebuild and overhaul. The party machinery is damaged, resources have been blown on people who shouldn’t be there and ABCs have built fiefdoms that have little to do with the functioning of anything other than turf protection.
What is the alternative? David Shearer? He can’t answer questions and that might prove to be a challenge given that the media tend to like answers. Grant Robertson? If the issue was that Labour didn’t connect with ‘real NZers’, how will a central Wellington policy wonk go down with them? David Parker? Parker is a bookish chap, very smart with all the charisma of week old porridge. Nash? Well, Nashy has the absolute support of Cameron Slater so that might be the kiss of death.
If Cunliffe is serious about remaining leader then he has to show some actual leadership and fight the ABCs off. Otherwise it will be Nash as leader with Robertson as deputy who will emerge as the leadership team and set about alienating the entire activist base as they seek to stumble back towards the mythical ‘centre’. If affordable houses, higher taxes for the rich and better funded public services is ‘far left’, where the bloody hell would the ABCs want to take Labour?
The danger is that even if Cunliffe is re-elected by the membership and affiliates, the ABCs will refuse to accept his leadership. The ABCs do not want to have to listen to the membership or affiliates, they want to make the decisions themselves free of such silly things like gender equality and social justice.
The issues that concern the activist membership are being written off by the ABCs as fringe niche madness that will kill the Party. I think that’s convenient and simplistic.
If you look at the Party vote break down for Labour…
Seat Labour MP/Candidate Change
Mt Roskill Phil Goff -8.21%
Hutt South Trevor Mallard -7.86%
Mt Albert David Shearer -7.12%
…there is a stunning correlation between membership of ABC and poor party vote performance.
So why did Cameron Slater and National win such a thundering victory?
Why Whaleoil and the National Party won
The right wing inside and outside of the Labour Party will say that Labour under Cunliffe was out of touch with ‘average’ NZ. That affordable housing was ‘too left wing’, that a $15 and $17 minimum wage was ‘too left wing’, that a first start payment for new borns and extended maternity leave was ‘too left wing’.
The fact that any of those things are considered ‘too left wing’ is evidence of what 30 years of neoliberalism has done. The centre has moved so far to the right that Caligula is considered a card carrying member of the Communist Party.
There are many reasons why Key and Slater won. One reason was the total disunity within ABCs furious they had to put up with Cunliffe. Voters hate disunity as much as they hate the All Blacks losing to Australia.
Another reason was Kim Dotcom.
Kim became a hate figure in the exact same way Ahmed Zaoui did. Keith Locke has done an incredible blog pointing out how the media spin lines managed to unwind every argument made so that it was Kim who suddenly became a hate issue in the way the repeal of Section 59 became a hate issue.
The repeal of section 59 closed a legal loophole that allowed abusive parents to escape assault charges on their children in front of the Courts. That’s what the law did, but if you ask your ‘average’ NZer what the repeal of section 59 was, they will stare at you blankly. If you prompt them with ‘the anti-smacking legislation’ watch them wind up and scream. Even though only a few parents have even been prosecuted since the legislation passed, the total wilful ignorance most NZers have towards the repeal of section 59 blots out any rational discussion. If you challenge your average NZer on the law and point out that previous to the law change abusive parents who were being charged for assaulting their children were getting away with it by claiming ‘discipline’ as a defence, they pause, gulp and mumble something about ‘nanny state’. Most kiwis have no bloody clue as to what the law was about and even less understanding that their devout hatred of it would actually allow more abusive parents to get away with abusing their kids.
Kim Dotcom became this elections ‘anti-smacking’ law.
It didn’t matter that Kim was set up in coming to NZ so we could hand him over to the US. It didn’t matter that Corporate Hollywood was using him as an example to be punished. It didn’t matter that days after Hollywood’s chief lobbyist threatened to withhold donations for Obama’s 2012 re-election campaign that the White House launched their legal action against Kim Dotcom. It didn’t matter that 70 armed paramilitary police raided his home, beat him up, frightened his family and stole all his wealth. It didn’t matter that the evidence gathered against him was taken illegally by spying on him. It didn’t matter that the Prime Minister then appointed his old school chum to head the GCSB and made all that spying legal and it didn”t matter that it turned out the very legislation Key assured us wouldn’t lead to mass surveillance actually did.
None of that matters. Kim was suddenly this evil influence of big money in politics. The irony of course is that the big money was with National and allowed them to do this…
…wall to wall media coverage. Just like the repeal of section 59, NZers decided that Kim was evil and no justification could unpick that. Of course Kim didn’t help himself at times and I think was ill advised at crucial moments, but that doesn’t mean that what has been done to him was acceptable nor is it valid to criticise him for choosing to fight back.
The third most important reason why Cameron Slater and the National Party won however was the reason Nicky Hager stated – dirty politics had worked.
I was naive in the extreme to think that 6 years of Slater’s toxicity could be cured months out from the election by the truth and it couldn’t.
The Left will will be told that we didn’t connect enough to ‘average’ kiwis, I think that’s bollocks. The ‘average’ Kiwi was as led in their dislike of Kim as they were led in their manufactured outrage of the repeal of section 59.
Which leads me to the media.
Why the Left needs a new media
When Jason Ede can be sacked/quit on the eve of the election and not a ripple made, that shows you the effectiveness of the bias of the mainstream media. What the campaign did was what Lusk was hoping for, to turn voters off and the pathetically low voter turnout proved what a turn off it was. Yes it was a couple of percentage points higher that 2011, but that was from a smaller number of people enrolled to vote, so the difference between the worst voter turn out in a century and this election was less than 1%.
The character assassination of Cunliffe hit its high tide mark with the farcical Donghua Liu ‘scandal’. There was no $100 000 bottle of wine, there was no $15 000 book and there was no $150 000 donation, the entire thing was another example of Dirty Politics. The compromised NZ mainstream media, many of whom were in bed with Slater as a source, lost its function as the watchdog of power and became the lap dog for power. This narrative construct means no matter what Labour or the Greens try and do in the next 3 years, they will be met with the same Press Gallery hostility.
Helen Clark was crucified for power saving lightbulbs, water efficient shower-heads, a speeding ticket and signing a painting she didn’t paint. Key on the other hand has managed to get away with his henchmen rigging candidate selections, handing over secret intelligence information to humiliate a political opponent, hacking into Labour’s computers, attacking public servants , blackmailing an MP and trying to undermine the head of the Serious Fraud Office.
The double standards when comparing Clark’s supposed sins and the corrupt abuses of power Key has regularly indulged in are a sick joke.
The magnitude of the loss on Saturday can not be underestimated, but if the pool of voters are smothered in the manufactured garbage of the mainstream, then no amount of appealing to the average kiwi will do the opposition any good. We need to articulate a different voice and refuse to be defined and locked in and limited by our opponents in Parliament and those in the overwhelmingly right wing media.
We are not just fighting National, we are fighting the entire media industry of NZ as well.
The day we allow the Herald and Seven Sharp to define who we are as progressive political movements, is the day we end being progressive political movements.
We must present a better vision and provide the medium for that vision to be articulated while constantly challenging the limitations those in the media wish to consign us to.
If we can’t do that, Dirty Politics remains the winner.