In response to Phil Quin and the rise of the Right in Labour


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I rushed over to The Standard to read their critique of Phil Quin’s ridiculous opinion  piece in todays Herald. Astonishingly there was none to be be found, so it’s up to me to provide one.

I promise to be nice.

Here’s the most ridiculous part of it…

That the review into Labour’s disastrous election defeat was leaked to the media is only the second most predictable thing about it. The most obvious was its emphasis on party unity as the single most important determinant of political success.

“Disunity within caucus seriously undermined Labour’s credibility,” the report stated. This aligns neatly with a view, ubiquitous in media and political circles, that Labour is prone to destructive factional wrangling; and that MPs were so hopelessly divided under David Cunliffe that it doomed the party’s chances. I think it’s nonsense.

Let’s start with the ABCs. According to proponents of this Disunity Hypothesis, a cadre of malcontents known by that acronym (for Anyone But Cunliffe) ceaselessly undermined the then-leader because they were threatened by his principled approach to politics and revolutionary zeal. The ABCs, in this version of events, are neoliberal careerist scoundrels who would rather lose to John Key than win with David Cunliffe.

It’s a riveting parable – plausible at first, but soon upended by its own logic.

It is true that the more pragmatic, career conscious and ideologically muted members of caucus didn’t support Cunliffe. This applies to Annette King, Trevor Mallard and Phil Goff – along with others. And yet the very pragmatism and ambition for which these MPs are (unfairly) criticised is why the case against them is so weak: yes, they opposed Cunliffe at the outset, but rallied around him with impressive discipline in the lead-up to the election.

Why? Because they are every bit as desperate to win as their critics contend. In fact, with the notable exception of Mallard’s ill-conceived proposal to clone the moa back to life, Cunliffe’s frontbench – aghast behind the scenes at his narcissism and poor judgment – were loyal to a fault during the election period. The ABCs exist mainly in the fevered imaginings of Cunliffe loyalists who would rather blame someone else for his failure.

…The claim the ABCs never existed is utter bullshit. They were furious at being forced to listen to the members when the members selected Cunliffe as leader. They staged a series of public attacks on his leadership leading into the election and Kelvin Davis was plotting to launch attack campaigns against a possible coalition ally in MANA. Throwing the election under the bus and Cunliffe with it while holding onto their positions of power is not the great leap of logic Quin is attempting to make it.

Pretending the ABCs didn’t exist is an attempt to re-write history.

I actually don’t mind the Right of Labour forming their own think tank, as I pointed out…

The think tank could be useful…Cookie Cutter MPs and beige spokespeople who dress like the middle and move like the middle and speak like the middle have more chance of winning the middle.

If this new right wing think tank can be focused on job creation however, tying the forestry industry to training schemes to building state houses and affordable homes then they could be an asset.

…my concern was if Quin and Pagani could park their spite and manage to gag themselves over social issues. Quin’s attack on Cunliffe in the above piece suggests that’s not possible.

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What Quin and Pagani seem to want isn’t a Right wing Labour party think tank to promote strong economic ideas in the provinces, they want the ability to spit on those elements of the Left they despise.

Is this right wing think tank going to be an intellectual vehicle or a vanity project for those who feel aggrieved?


  1. So, if you toddled down to Britomart, or Wellington Railway Station, or the popular bus places in Christchurch, Dunedin, and Invercargill, and trapped, say, 1000 diverse looking people

    could you sort them into ‘middle’ and ‘working class’? Pashminas right, beige middle, saggy jeans left? Probably not.

    If you got nosy and asked – could you sort them into middle and oik by their annual take home pay? Probably not.

    The generalisations are clouding the story and fouling the possible remedies. Send out the clipboards (people and pens attached) and actually ASK. Eyeball to eyeball.

    Then release those innocent commuters to go on their ways. And return to Party Central to haul a few strategists out of cracks.

  2. Certainly a lot of crap that I almost fell asleep trying to read the incessant dribble.

    Clark was a very strong and caring person and not some pariah as he paints her as.

    I even received a part hand written letter from her about our community plight and organised her ministers responsible to work for our cause.

    The next Labour lead Government has to be responsive to the electorate or its good bye pork pie labour.

    National MP’s are not responsive to the electorate at all so labour can get an easy shoe in here with a little effort, – do you hear that – MP for Napier Labour’s Stuart Nash!

    • Clark may have been strong and caring but she also factionalised the party in order to stay in power.

      Divide and Rule.

        • Open your eyes and look at the party.

          There is the evidence.

          She played them off nicely and so for her and H2 it was a nice stepping stone to the UN.

        • AndrewO’s sentiment is far from being a National take on Clark, and the evidence for what he says is the 2005 and 2008 election results.

          Clark’s accommodation with United Future and NZ First was all about her desire to “stay in power” (no offence to current supporters of the revived NZ First). As a party, Labour would have been better to let National swallow that poison pill, and tear chunks off the three-headed monster headed by Don Brash for the incoherent and indefensible mess that would certainly spew forth from such a combo. That would have given Labour time for a new leader to be elected and for the public to get familiar with them, returning them to government refreshed after a term or two.

          But that would have meant only two terms as Prime Monster for Helen, and she clearly wasn’t going to sacrifice her own CV for the sake of the party, or the country. As a result, Labour went into the 2008 election looking compromised and exhausted, and “led” (if you can call it that) by Phil Goff, whom too many voters remembered as one of Roger Douglas’ most loyal hatchet men in the 1984-90 Labour government. It will remain difficult to believe the Labour leopard has changed its neoliberal spots while people like Goff remain on the front bench, and the ABCs who have ham-strung Labour’s reinvigoration ever since are merely the bad smell left by Clark’s determination to stay in power, whatever the cost.

      • What I would say about Helen Clark was that rather than turn the country back towards a better direction she simply presented a slightly softer version of the same old paradigm that started with the 1984 Labour government and all Labour and National governments after that. So in that sense, her tenure as Prime Minister was a failure as it still allowed this present horrendous government to come to power. We now have only two choices, a genuinely progressive government as presented by the Greens and some factions of Labour, or more of the same except worse than ever.

  3. Right wing think tanks are only ever PR spin machines. Completely barren of anything resembling a progressive idea.

  4. We don’t lack for passion, admirable or otherwise, on both sides of the policy/positioning debate. No problem there, debate is good and constructive, usually. Where we fall short is in discipline.

  5. Why oh why must the left always fight amongst itself. The tsunami approaches and there would be the left-wingers dividing themselves into ever smaller groups arguing which was the best way to get to higher ground.
    We in the left are facing ever, ever big challenges – not least, the rise of the very wealthy right. Yet we so compliantly fall into the trap of dividing and letting the bastards rule. Of course losing is hard – but given the resources of the right (money, media, fear in the face of huge change – technology, population growth, climate, etc etc) it’s not surprising. It is not possible not to lose in present times. There is no excuse for adding to the destruction by destroying ourselves.

    • With all due respect Eileen, I think you are missing the point. This is not a trivial squabble inside the “left”. It’s a desperate struggle by the neoliberal rump within Labour to make sure the “right” keep control of the party, keep it offering “National lite” spin, and stop the majority of the membership reinvigorating the party as a vehicle for their genuinely “left” politics.

      An excellent example of the neoliberal rump is the recently departed Shane Jones. His comments in this Herald article read like something an ACT leader would say:

      It’s deeply disturbing to see any Labour MP supporting this kind of neo-colonial anti-Māori sentiment, particularly one with Māori whakapapa himself, and Jones will not be missed. The same is true of the rest of the rump MPs, and the sooner the Labour membership finds a way to rid itself off its neoliberal cling-ons, the better for the party, and the country. The same is true of the handful of apparatchiks who manipulate to keep the rump MPs in safe seats, just as Slater and Lusk get their neoliberal mates into safe Nat seats, as exposed in Dirty Politics.

  6. I still think that sometime in the next few years, the Labour Party is going to split down the middle. The right of the Labour Party will form a new party and call themselves something like the Social Democrats, and the left will struggle on as the Labour Party, possibly amalgamating with other smaller parties to form another alliance. I suppose time will tell whether I am right or wrong.

    • Mike, if nothing is resolved, that might indeed be the case.

      In many ways NZ is re-enacting what Labour in the UK went through during the Thatcher era with Ben and Foot at the helm.

      Check out ‘the wilderness years’ on youtube for a great documentary on it.

      • Absolutely nothing like it at all.

        For a start – we live post – neo liberalism. Therefore we have in Labour – because of Douglas – a sizable number of neo liberal backers have been left behind in that party to ensure the neo liberal agenda remains.

        What we are seeing is pure neo liberal subversion. Nothing else.

        And if those neo liberals in Labour really gave a damn about core Labour ethics and values – they would either get out and join National or Act.

        But that’s the thing with traitors – they actually hate to have to carry on the charade – they feel the burden of duplicity every waking moment of their lives but do so because of their inherent viciousness.

        Such as your neo liberal heroes in Labour. Who really should have been unceremoniously expelled from that gutless party 35 years ago.

  7. I don’t pretend to have any inside knowledge of Labour’s inner machinations but what is obvious from the outside is that every Labour leader from Phil Goff to David Shearer to David Cunliffe to Andrew Little has virtually had to fight the battle on their own. They have immediately become isolated from the moment they have become leader, completely encircled by the opposition, while almost nothing is heard from all the other senior Labour MPs which all the reason needed to kick the lot of them out as dead wood.

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