No Enemies To Labour’s Left?

By   /   April 17, 2018  /   17 Comments

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THE BIGGEST THREAT to NZ First’s and the Greens’ political survival is Labour deciding that it doesn’t need them.

THE BIGGEST THREAT to NZ First’s and the Greens’ political survival is Labour deciding that it doesn’t need them.

Practically from the moment it moves into the Beehive, the Labour Party has a nasty habit of displaying an entirely unjustified confidence in its own political competence. This unfortunate mindset may be traced all the way back to the fourth Labour government of 1984-1990.

The so-called “Rogernomics Revolution” was very much a top-down affair for which the new Labour government possessed not the slightest electoral mandate. David Lange and his cabinet justified this turning away from democracy by convincing themselves that ordinary Kiwis were neither ready, willing nor able to make the tough economic choices being demanded of New Zealand. They masked this frankly elitist view of politics beneath the slogan: “There is no alternative!”

Labour’s extraordinary arrogance persisted into the MMP era. Scant respect was given to the ideas and priorities of coalition partners by senior Labour ministers who tended, if they were feeling charitable, to dismiss their allies’ policies as unsophisticated and ill-conceived or, less charitably, as just plain nuts.

Little has changed.

Labour’s core assumption still appears to be that only its ministers possess the skills and credentials necessary to deliver effective government. What do they mean by effective government? Once again, the legacy of Rogernomics is evident. “Effective government” generally appears to mean implementing policies designed to earn Labour the respect of the other members of the power elite: business leaders, the news media, senior civil servants.

These policies are embraced by Labour because its leaders are either already convinced or, at the very least, prepared to be persuaded, that no other policy prescriptions possess the slightest chance of working. It’s a mindset best illustrated in the oft-quoted parliamentary response of the Labour cabinet minister, Steve Maharey, who described a broken policy commitment as: “Just one of those things you say in opposition, and then forget about when in government.”

Such a mindset would regard it as politically suicidal for NZ First and the Greens to resist the power elite’s policies of effective government. It would argue that, in the face of such recalcitrance a snap-election would have to be called and the recalcitrant parties (Labour’s erstwhile coalition partners) would be bundled out of Parliament. With the support of NZ First’s and the Greens’ more “realistic” voters and the assistance of a significant “Trash Vote”, either of the two major parties would be well-placed to win the election outright. Hence the Labour leadership’s confident assumption that their allies will always be persuaded to see sense – just as they were over the Trans-Pacific Partnership.

The recent history of populist parties in New Zealand demonstrates the enormous danger of entering into political relationships with parties more interested in the good opinion of the power elite than the people. As NZ First, the Alliance, United Future, Act and the Maori Party have discovered, the only reliable companions for populists are – other populists. Certainly, formal coalitions and confidence-and-supply agreements negotiated with “mainstream” political parties have proved extremely costly to their junior partner/s electorally.

The explanation for the sometimes-fatal outcomes of these political deals is simple. Large political parties – be they of the centre-right or the centre-left – have absolutely no interest in allowing electoral competitors to grow at their expense. In the ruthless political calculations of political centrists not even ideological soulmates, such as Act, the Alliance (and now the Greens) can be spared.

Consider the actions of the National Party under Don Brash. Having seen upwards of 13 percent of the right-wing vote drift across to Act and United Future, he was determined to reassemble National’s errant supporters under the party’s tattered banner. In this, at least, Brash was astonishingly successful. National’s share of the Party Vote rose from a record low of 21 percent in 2002, to 39 percent in 2005.

Labour’s motto: “No enemies to our left!” references identical strategic thinking. In the 2002 general election Labour’s “enemy” was the socialist rump of the Alliance. Had Helen Clark wished to preserve a radical “pathfinder” party to her left, she could have tipped the wink to Labour supporters in Waitakere to cast their electorate vote for the Alliance’s Laila Harre – just as she had to Labour’s Coromandel voters in order to get the Greens’ Jeanette Fitzsimons into Parliament in 1999. Three years on, however, no wink was tipped and the Alliance died.

It might be objected that the present Labour-led government, by fulsomely fulfilling its promises to its partners – especially the Greens – is demonstrating an entirely new approach to coalition politics. Upon closer inspection, however, it is clear that all Labour has done is convey an impression of environmental activism. As the former Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman – now the NZ Director of Greenpeace – was quick to point out, Labour’s decision to issue no new oil and gas prospecting permits offers no impediment to utilising fully those already granted.

The greening of the Labour Party may be more apparent than real. Which is why, as he listened to Jacinda Ardern talking-up Labour’s environmental credentials last week, James Shaw’s broad smile may have been misplaced. Did he not realise that, looking out from the stage, he was standing to her left?


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  1. David Stone says:

    I imagined as the campaign for MMP was going on that it would result in minority governments. No party would get a majority and the result would be that decisions on all legislation would revert to parliament where it should be in my view, instead of all important decisions being made behind closed doors in cabinet involving only a handful of people in secret.
    I firmly believe that if the minor parties refused to enter coalitions and did not compromise on their policies democracy would be infinitely better served. And those minor parties would flourish.
    The objection would come that legislation couldn’t be passed and the work of government would be stalled. I think the approach to operating under that setup would change , there would be constructive debate in parliament instead of bickering and deriding the other side . Legislation that didn’t pass shouldn’t. And legislation that should pass would.
    D J S

  2. e-clectic says:

    THE BIGGEST THREAT to Labour’s political survival is Labour deciding that it doesn’t need them (NZF/Greens).

    • Sam Sam says:

      The National Parties fate was sealed when John Key declared he would not enter into a coalition with Winston.

    • Louis says:

      Labour wouldn’t do that. The biggest threat is people making up falsehoods like the article we are commenting on.

      • Glen says:

        Very true, what a load of rubbish this article is.

        • Sam Sam says:

          If some one taking up the Prime Ministers precious time is untalented then it pays to just ignore them and focus on discovering talented individuals with the government and ministries. Creating a ‘pyramid’ of talent like this is useful for getting people to do stuff with in an organisation that they don’t really like.

  3. G.A.P. says:

    I blame RUSSIA!!!!

  4. Afewknowthetruth says:

    Throughout my entire lifetime Labour has been a business-as-usual party, fully committed to facilitating the international bankers’ agendas.

    I understand that was not always the case, and that the labour movement of the early part of the twentieth century was very much concerned with changing business-as-usual.

    Now that business-as-usual has brought humanity to the brink of the collapse -that is a natural consequence of ignoring the mathematics, physics, chemistry and biology of the real world- we see that the Adern government is primarily concerned with promotion of yet more business-as-usual, to the detriment of EVERYONE, and especially to the detriment of those who follow us.

    ‘1.5°C of warming is closer than we imagine, just a decade away’

    ‘By 1.5°C, a sea-level rise of many metres, and perhaps tens of metres will have been locked into the system in the longer term. In past climates, carbon dioxide levels of around 400 ppm (which we exceeded three years ago) have been associated with sea levels around 25 metres above the present. And six years ago, Prof. Kenneth G. Miller noted that “the natural state of the Earth with present carbon dioxide levels is one with sea levels about 20 meters higher than at present”

    • garibaldi says:

      I agree 100% AFKTT. Labour cannot please anyone on the left because they are only pretenders. The only thing they have going for them is that they aren’t quite as bad as National.
      The realities of cc are being ignored/denied deliberately because remedial action interferes with human greed.
      Of even greater concern to me is the threat of all-out war brought on by the Anglozionist’s modes of achieving world domination. We won’t have to do anything if we are all dead!

  5. SC says:

    If Labour doesn’t start delivering a bit for the ordinary working class Kiwi it will be toast which is why it needs to embrace sensible fiscal expansion as opposed to continued pointless austerity.

    Given a recession Labour will decline in popularity significantly like almost all of the other social democratic parties that embraced Third Wayism.

    Something populist and chaotic will emerge in its place.

  6. let me be frank says:

    I’m not sure your analysis of the Labour Party as it is currently operating is entirely correct….the only supporting fact that stands out to me would be the reaffirming of the fiscal responsibility pledge…and that may soon be tested (or worked around)

    While a more radical and rapid move away from the status quo could certainly be attempted I think what Jacinda Adern (and I say that because I think she is the driving force) is attempting is a significant move while ensuring Labour dosnt move to far ahead of its support base WHILE assisting the other members of the coalition…as E-clectic misquotes..the biggest threat to Labours survival is indeed deciding it dosnt need NZ First or the Greens…something National and Steven Joyce discovered to their great displeasure.

    A little bit TINA may not go astray however, not in advancing the interests of the already well heeled (a la Douglas et al) but in the future of functioning society…and that will mean taking the flack from the corporate media and their paymasters and trusting the electorate.

  7. Louis says:

    Regardless of your assumptions Chris Trotter. Labour has always said they need the Greens and NZ First, that will not change. Unlike National clinging to its backward FPP mentality, Labour understands MMP and will not abandon it.

  8. Observer Tokoroa says:

    To: Chris Trotter

    Unfortunately MMP is a gateway for some quaint wayward minds, while FPP is a disciplined “pull your head in” troop.

    National is a totally untalented lot; but it looks and feels good, even when it flops around and lies like a Trooper.

    So Labour under Jacinda – and Andrew Little, will be proud of Maori Support, NZ First – and The Greens.

    Even this day, Labour’s Minister for Business Mr Nash, has managed to get Fonterra to pay their debts to Contractors within a reasonable time frame. A big break through.

    Chris, I think we have a good current Government.

    • Louis says:

      Well said OBSERVER TOKOROA

      • Lone comet says:

        Yes, this is not an arrogant Labour government like the Clark government was, who did disdain the minor left and so ostracized Maori that the Maori party was born, and then joined up with National. I am glad those bad old days are gone. Viva La Adern, she gives me hope, a wonderful thing, that real directional change is gonna come, socially and environmentally. It has to and everyone knows it

  9. Jack Ramaka says:

    The current Coalition Government is doing a good job IMHO.

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