Saturday, September 27, 2014

Chris Trotter: Where Has The Election Left The Left?

Where has Labour's worst defeat in 92 years, left the Left? Before answering that question, it might be helpful to offer a few suggestions as to where National’s stunning electoral victory has not left it.
The wailing and gnashing of teeth from some left-wing tweeters and bloggers notwithstanding, the Left is not in some antipodean approximation of Nazi Germany, or even Fascist Italy. Nor has it been deposited, overnight, in the Kiwi equivalent of George W. Bush’s post-9/11 America. John Key is not der Fuhrer, or even il Duce. And Steven Joyce is not Dick Cheney, waiting to be whisked away to “an undisclosed location”.
No. The Left, along with everybody else, is still right here in staunchly democratic New Zealand: still in full possession of all the rights and privileges required to mount another assault on the Treasury Benches in 2017.
And Labour is also here. The largest of New Zealand’s left-wing parties can be found sitting dejectedly amongst the wreckage of a pretty comprehensive election defeat. But that’s alright, because Labour’s been there before, and, if history is any guide, will be there again – although, hopefully, with a decent series of election victories in between!
But before it can raise its arms above its head in triumph, Labour has a very long vale of tears to pass through.
It will be a bitter and painful journey for many within the party. There are groups and factions which have waxed powerful in what used to be Labour’s big tent – not noticing that, as they grew larger, the number of ordinary party members who were ready and willing to remain inside the tent with them was growing smaller and smaller and smaller.
What these groups also fail to acknowledge is that no matter how big and powerful they may have grown within the Labour Party, in the world outside their size and influence is considerably less.
The unions, for example, remain one of the key components of Labour’s institutional architecture, but in the much broader context of New Zealand society as a whole union density has fallen from roughly 50 percent of the workforce to just under 20 percent. (In the private sector it is even worse, with barely one in ten workers belonging to a trade union.)
Similarly, in a country where so many young women still feel the need to preface any discussion of gender relations with the disclaimer “I’m not a feminist …” just how sensible was it to require gender quotas to be written into Labour’s constitution? Or to speak out loud and long in defence of a “man ban”?
Perhaps the Women’s Council of the Labour Party should draw a lesson from the fate of Sweden’s “Feminist Initiative”. Founded in 2005, this left-wing feminist political party has consistently failed to breach Sweden’s 4 percent electoral threshold. In the Swedish general election of 14 September, the Feminist Initiative polled just 3.1 percent of the vote.
Labour women might also ponder the significance of a recent poll showing fewer than one New Zealand male in five being willing to cast a Party Vote for Labour.
Of course, anyone attempting to make this case within the Labour Party will be howled down as a right-wing misogynist stooge of the employing class.
And therein lies the problem. Labour must change. Labour will change. Labour cannot change. Not even under the blows of an electoral sledgehammer called Twenty-Four Percent.
Resolving this conundrum will require some exceptionally canny political management.
One solution might be to commission two external reviews of Labour’s values and structures: one from the democratic-socialist Left, the other from the social-democratic Right. And since it is pretty clear that Labour’s caucus is spoiling for a fight, let the contenders declare their preference for one or the other. That way the inevitable Leadership Contest can double as a party-wide plebiscite on which ideological and organisational future the membership feels most inclined to follow.
If the membership opt to go Left they will be voting to turn Labour into a niche party without the slightest hope of ever again receiving 40 percent of the Party Vote. But, if they turn Right, Labour will lose 40 percent of its members.
As Jim Anderton advised me 34 years ago; so would I advise them now: “Build your footpaths where the people walk.”
Chris Trotter blogs at essay was first published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star.


Brian said...
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More than a grain of truth, but Mr Trotter be warned for the Daughter of time is TRUTH!
The Labour Party has as you stated two faces, and two separate objectives and groups. As any military man will tell you splitting your forces into two thrusts at an enemy is suicidal, especially so when that enemy knows you are fundamentally divided.
What Labour refuses to see is that the days of the flat cap era passed away more than a century ago, and what the Labour Unions refuse to do knowing that, is to change with the times, believing that Engels and Marx are still with us and dominate!
They have never realised that for all Engel’s 1844 book (Conditions of the Working Classes in England) and Marx’s diatribe at the inhumanity of the excesses of the Industrial Revolution. It was a single capitalist writer Charles Dickens, who more than anyone else stirred a nation to reform with his publications “Hard Times” and “David Copperfield”. For everyone read Dickens, and few then as now, had the time to plough through the theoretical doctrines of embryonic socialism.
Perhaps this is still a bitter pill to swallow, but medicine even political medicine should be taken, as the reality of not curing oneself is virtual oblivion, as we have seen in the recent election.
It is not so much that a new leader is needed for the Labour Party as that a new thinking is required in line with 2014 onwards, that will be the real cure.

JimmyBen said...
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I wonder if anyone really knows what these terms mean
democratic-socialist Left, the other from the social-democratic Right

Not even sure if left and right really exist for that matter.

There is a fundamental difference in Labour voters and Nat voters. Labour voters are largely in the pay of the Government and ask what their government will do for them.

National voters see themselves as aspirational and hardly think what the government will do apart from running the country sensibly.

And that means without the feeling that their government is taken over by special interest groups who have strayed from Jim Anderton's footpath.

There are at least some in Labour who seem to understand the importance of wealth creation and jobs. But probably not enough.

Anonymous said...
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Labour claims to be the party of “the workers” but has long since lost any claim to that.

In Helen Clark’s first term, her Caucus contained just two individuals, Dover Samuels and Jim Sutton, who’d ever employed another New Zealander with their own money.

The balance was made up of former teachers, university lecturers, and trade unionists. Some, like Phil Goff, had been both.

Labour’s Caucus and party apparatus overwhelmingly consists of people who have always been affixed to a very bountiful public tit, and who know nothing about what it’s like to run a small business or scrape by on a low wage.

They’re cake cutters, not cake bakers.

That’s their mentality.

Labour is today the party of urban intellectuals, whose membership of “Club Virtue” is based on spending other people’s money to fix the social problems that, in most instances, decades of their misguided policies created in the first place.

There is also a growing cohort of individuals who are politically active in order to use the law to enforce public acceptance of their sexual preference.

The early 1970s marked the beginning of the takeover of the Labour Party by radical leftists, many of them glove puppets of the Socialist Worker’s Party and the Socialist Unity Party. The devolution of party power from those grounded in traditional Labour Party liberalism to street radicals and narrow interest groups warped by grievance and with an underlying allegiance to international socialism, marked a fundamental intellectual shift and the eclipse of liberalism as an energetic force in New Zealand politics.

The election of Helen Clark only confirmed what everyone knew by then: traditional Labour Party liberalism had been replaced by radical leftism as the predominant ideology of the Party. And there it has remained, though Helen Clark was particularly good at sugar-coating this and presenting to the public as moderate centre-left.

The difference between traditional Labour Party liberalism and the radical leftism that replaced it is that the latter is less moored to New Zealand traditions of liberty and individualism than to an authoritarian European redistributionist tradition that celebrates the primacy of the collective over the rights of the individual.

Labour’s radical leftism is foreign and bears no resemblance to what it traditionally means to be a New Zealander. It rejects the assumption of individual achievement while providing a hand up to those who really need it, embracing, rather, government as the instrument of a "social justice" taking from those who do to give to those who do not.

The very terminology of this radical leftism rejects the basic assumption of our freedom: the power of the individual to transform society and his consequent entitlement to the fruits of his labour. The term "redistribution" suggests that there has been some sort of initial random distribution of wealth improperly conferring prosperity on some and not others. Individuals do not earn - and therefore have the right to retain - what they derive from their labour. Barack Obama summed this attitude up rather succinctly in his statement “If you have a successful business, you didn’t build that.”

In this view everything is given and can therefore be taken by a "just" society that "redistributes" it in accordance with the diktats of a government dedicated not to the protection of its citizens but to the re-shaping of a society according to the vision of a self-anointed, self-serving intellectual elite. That is why the term “social justice” is so abhorrent, assuming, as it does, something that is fundamentally and transparently false.

Anonymous said...
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In Chapter 10 of The Road to Serfdom, entitled “Why the Worst Get on Top”, Friedrich Hayek says of the central planner or “potential dictator,” “… he will be able to obtain the support of all the docile and gullible, who have no strong convictions of their own but are prepared to accept a ready-made system of values if it is only drummed into their ears sufficiently loudly and frequently.” Every election, the docile and the gullible are firmly in the tank for the Labour Party.

The statist demagogue, reminds Hayek, appeals to “hatred of an enemy” and “the envy of those better off” to gain the “unreserved allegiance of huge masses.” For the Labour Party, it’s the “greed” of private employers and those who work, save, get ahead, and quite rightly want to keep more of what they have earned. The worst love to employ bigotry to score political points on the road to accumulating power.

Says Hayek: “It seems to be almost a law of human nature that it is easier for people to agree on a negative program – on the hatred of an enemy, on the envy of those better off – than on any positive task.”

He notes “an increasing tendency among modern men to imagine themselves ethical because they have delegated their vices [such as the urge to enjoy the fruits of someone else’s labour without having earned it] to larger and larger groups. To act on behalf of a group seems to free people of many of the moral restraints which control their behaviour as individuals within the group.”

Maybe the Labour Party would oppose an individual who forced his boss at gunpoint to raise his pay, or an individual who tarred and feathered a successful business owner, but it is quite ready to make these activities national policy.

Give government lots of power and small-minded people with little tolerance for the lives and views of others will line up to get government jobs. Those who respect others, who leave other people alone, and who want to be left alone themselves, apply elsewhere — namely, for productive jobs in the private sector. The bigger government becomes, the more the worst get to the top of it, just as Hayek warned us in 1944.

The title of Thomas Sowell’s book, “Vision of the Anointed: Self-Congratulation As A Basis For Social Policy” sums up radical leftists and their coat-tailers rather well, These are people with no interest in whether or not a particular policy will work. Their overriding goal is to maximise their moral preening opportunities.

Sowell says:

“The vision of the anointed is one in which ills such as poverty, irresponsible sex, and crime derive primarily from ‘society,’ rather than from individual choices and behaviour. To believe in personal responsibility would be to destroy the whole special role of the anointed, whose vision casts them in the role of rescuers of people treated unfairly by ‘society.’”

After World War II, ballot box socialists in Western countries began describing themselves as “social democrats,” to avoid being linked to the Nazism many had supported before the war. Today, they call themselves “progressives,” so as to fudge their direct connection to the disreputable “S” word.

Anonymous said...
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These people consider themselves advocates of a “third way” which supposedly charts a middle course between capitalism and revolutionary socialism. This ballot box socialism, or “socialism lite” – sugar-coated in populist pieties such as “the poor” “the needy” “the workers” etc – is incrementally just as destructive of hard work, thrift and personal responsibility as revolutionary socialism.

The great Austrian political economist Ludwig von Mises demonstrated in the early 1920s that ballot box socialism is a slow-growing cancer which ultimately destroys its host. Over time it will wreck any society practicing its immoral policy of robbing Peter to pay Paul. Its coercive, redistributive nature (as opposed to the dynamically free and creative nature of capitalism) renders it an economic, political, and social evil.

Socialism in practice is the political application of the philosophy of egalitarianism.

Socialist “equality” does not mean “equality before the law” as it does in a free society -- it means the precise opposite. It means equality of outcome. Those who work and save must be punished to the degree of their success, while those who don’t work and don’t save are to be rewarded by sharing in the wealth they had no part in creating.

This could be better described as state-sponsored theft.

Ballot box socialism is a political Ponzi scheme taxing the populace to the point of subsistence and mortgaging the future to produce a temporary illusion of a society that can exist without effort.

As Margaret Thatcher reminds us: “The problem with socialism is that sooner or later you run out of other people’s money.”

Economically, socialism can be summed up as “state confiscation of the earned wealth of some for the unearned benefit of others.” “Thou shalt not steal” and “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour's goods” are commandments routinely violated by socialists -- and elevated to the point of virtue.

Socialists regard the successful and prosperous as “exploiters” -- of labour, of the environment, of the poor etc -- and simply by comparing economic outcomes hold them morally responsible for whatever unpleasant or unfortunate conditions others may find themselves in.

In this na├»ve world view, once upon a time a giant pile of money just happened to be lying around. How this came about, socialists don’t know, but some people got there earlier than others and shouldered everyone else out of the way in order to stuff their pockets.

The only redress is government redistribution of these ill-gotten gains. As Karl Marx put it: “From each according to his ability; to each according to his need.”

With their redistributive mentalities, socialists can’t grasp the fact that success and prosperity can only be earned (i.e., voluntarily in a free market) and that coercive wealth distribution ends up harming those whom they profess to help by creating incentives to live off others.

For socialists, the free market economy exists solely for the purpose of providing a tax base for government spending and welfare, not for the capitalist purpose of creating affordable goods and services for as many people as possible. Socialists hate free markets and reject the personal responsibility that free markets impose on people. Being parasitic in nature, socialism is forced to cling to capitalism, for without the creative and productive energies of capitalism, nothing of any economic consequence would be produced.

Anonymous said...
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Morally, ballot box socialism is mob rule. Anything is fair game as long as people can be persuaded to vote for it. The protection of individual rights, particularly private property rights (i.e., protection from mob rule) is always trumped by the politically defined “need” of “the community.”

As one grubby little socialist put it in 1926:

“I want everyone to keep the property he has acquired for himself according to the principle: benefit to the community precedes benefit to the individual. But the state should retain supervision and each property owner should consider himself appointed by the state. It is his duty not to use his property against the interests of others among his own people. This is the crucial matter. The Third Reich will always retain its right to control the owners of property.”

Other than the identity of the aforementioned grubby little socialist, I can’t see the Labour Party having any problem at all with the sentiments expressed.

And, yes, this ideology used to be known as National Socialism, or Fascism.

As Friedrich Hayek further reminds us, “Fascism is the stage reached after Communism has proved an illusion.”


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