Around the 2012 US Presidential Elections (while I was working in the Labour Leader’s Office), I took a holiday to the United States. Somehow I found myself at a debate watch party for the first debate between Romney and Obama in Denver (where the first debate was being held, which Obama bombed) with a bunch of youngish Republicans. One guy asked me, “So you work for the Labour Party in New Zealand – that’s the equivalent of being a Democrat right?” My response was, “Well actually, the ‘right wing’ party in our country is arguably more left wing than the Democrats here, and I work for our ‘left wing’ party, which is too right wing for me.” He was confused and I think he definitely thought I was more dangerous than a communist.
What this story shows is “the left” and “the right” is pretty arbitrary. It makes a difference which country you are in, what the political climate is, what the economic climate is, and at what point and time you are speaking. There’s been much discussion about National’s lurch to the right to increase support after their 2002 showing and the need for Labour to do the same. People have all sorts of ideas about “what Labour should do”. A friend of mine told me that Labour needed to focus more on “the economy”. When I pressed him harder as to what he means by “the economy”, he didn’t seem to have an answer. So let’s make one thing clear:
- Poverty and income inequality IS a product of the so-called “economy”.
- Housing crisis IS a product of the “economy”.
- Inability to access adequate healthcare IS a product of the “economy”.
- Inability to access higher education of choice IS a product of the “economy”.
- Employment opportunities limited to part-time or low-wage IS a product of the “economy”.
- Climate change effects are a direct result of actions taken in the name of the “economy”.
- The privatization of law enforcement and access to the justice is an “economic” decision.
- Even mass surveillance is presented as necessary to protection our “economic” interests.
There are many more but in essence, the difference between public good and the protection of private interests is ALWAYS about the economy. The question is, whether a government should engage in the former or the latter? I see no evidence that National won because of “the economy”. I do however, believe that they have successfully presented themselves as good managers of “the economy” and that’s what won them the election. They didn’t need to have a policy; not having a policy WAS their policy. Perhaps we as a nation no longer believe that Government should intervene in “the economy” because all of the things I have mentioned above are not associated with “the economy”.
Let’s go back to the story I told you at the beginning of this post. You might be wondering, if Labour doesn’t reflect your political views, then why would you work for them? I not only worked for them but I’ve also voted for them – party and electorate. I have also voted for other parties and candidates from other parties. I’m not a member of the Labour Party and I don’t feel I have to always vote for them. BUT, and this is a big but (not butt), I am generally a pragmatic person. After I left Labour, I worked in the public service of NZ under a National government – it wasn’t the end of the world for me. If I were to talk one of those compass tests, I would bet that it would tell me to vote Greens or Maori Party. Because I put a lot of emphasis on environmental and indigenous issues. I also care a lot about civil rights and social justice so Labour would be up there too. But truthfully as much as I love Greens policy, I don’t see them mastering enough support of the nation to be running this country so when I do/did vote for them it is usually tactical.
The way that Labour MPs behaved last week was absolutely despicable. They essentially told all Labour voters that they were lying this whole time. That they didn’t support their leader and that they didn’t support the policies they campaigned on. That the entire campaign was a self-interested endeavor to get Ministerial positions. It was wholly unprofessional. (This obviously doesn’t apply to the MPs who managed to keep their mouth shut.)
The fact that:
- They obviously knew that Labour would lose the election and did not have a post-election messaging strategy is a failure of the leadership.
- David Cunliffe didn’t manage to unite the caucus and garner their support is also a failure of his leadership.
- Labour and Greens weren’t presented as an alternative government is a failure of both parties. (Note: I said parties not leadership)
- Labour isn’t united internally is not going to change just by changing leadership.
- The failure is being attributed to identity politics or far left policy is insulting to those who have supported Labour for addressing those very issues.
As it stands, I have no one to vote for in 2017. Greens election results is troubling to me. It is also interesting to me that their ‘failures’ haven’t been translated to a leadership failure whereas Labour’s ‘failure’ has. The Labour caucus is deeply divided and the actions of some of the MPs on Sunday morning also left me troubled. That they couldn’t stand behind their leader after his pretty impressive debate showing and a campaign that was extremely volatile was disappointing to me. Labour MPs should take responsibility for their policy position collectively. It isn’t like David Cunliffe held a gun to their head. I know for a fact that this so called “lurch to the left” is not just a DC position. I say “so-called” because it really isn’t a lurch to the left. Labour’s policy positions are a reflection of where the government has been – ie largely a response to this Government’s policies. National have cherry picked when they go left and when they go right and on issues they have gone slightly to the left has inevitably forced Labour to mimic that movement.
I am not going to presume to know the answer. I don’t know the answer. Those who presume to know the answer are kidding themselves. But any answer, I believe, should be based on reflection and evidence. Show me the data and not just your frustrated outbursts. The next three years will be interesting. Some believe we have already handed National their fourth term. Those people ought to be proven wrong. I myself am going to think some more. There will be posts here and elsewhere but for the sake of my degree I will be off Twitter for a tiny little bit.
My final thought is that the Labour Caucus should consider having open dialogue with each other and coming to some kind of understanding of support and compassion for each other’s position. There are a lot of personalities and points of views, which is good. But their anger and denigration of each other not only hurts the party but is costing the country.