Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Messiah Ward

Well hell, it's been an amusing couple of days as I've watched my last post go a bit viral. At one stage, someone linked to my post over at Red Alert and was censored / moderated until yesterday morning, causing me to get slightly grumpy at Labour's lack of humour and insight. The velvet lined brick I threw might have been painful to the Labour powers that be, but it was meant in the best possible taste. So here's a more prosaic explanation of what I was getting at, lest I get saddled as a homophobic reactionary or something.

The NZ Labour Party is stuck in a number of ruts, some not of its own making. Just as Key's government is taking swathes of cues from the UK's CamAuton-led government (Lord Ashcroft link optional), Clark's Labour government mirrored closely the corrupting Third Way schema of Blair's Labour government. It is no coincidence that the 2005 - 2008 years of the Clark government largely mirrored the moribund leadership of Gordon Brown. Just as there's that bland boy Milliband bookmarking the leadership over there until someone with a clue comes along, Phil Goff is the unfortunate placeholder over here.

Secondly, the NZ Labour Party was never as smart as Helen Clark. Lacking the boyish charms of John Key, the everyman of Norm Kirk or the searing wit of David Lange, Helen Clark played to her strengths (guile and Machiavellian cunning among them), and planned for generational leadership. David Lange provided the motive. In Trev's own words:
Helen Clark was I think unfortunately not made an under-secretary. She represented the left wing of the party and had a direct access to it. She was and is a terribly formidable political opponent to have. I think that from the day Lange did not make her an under-secretary, there was animosity growing. I accept it was not without reasons.

It says something about Clark's resolve that nine more years were to pass before she took the helm of the Labour Party. It said more about the Labour Party that she remained in that position for a further fifteen years, lopping down her successors and potential threats to her reign. The 2011 Labour Party List continues to represent that detritus of her passing as official Labour leader.

During the 1960's, my father was among a group of Labour party members who encouraged the hierarchy to broaden the Labour church beyond well-meaning but ignorant unionists and self-aggrandizing teachers. The first signs of this thaw in thinking came with Norm Kirk parachuting into the Party to become leader in very short order.

In the 1970's, a group of Labour party members also encouraged the hierarchy to look to the intelligentsia for their prospective members of parliament. University education was looked at askance by the "Jack's as good as his Master" Unionists, but eventually the need for brains as well as brawn in the party became evident.

The Fourth Labour government held the smartest line-up of talent in its history. Even then, there were a few mushrooms in cabinet. Trev ibid.:
Caucus and myself never got on well together. I was very cynical about the quality of the members that democracies so often vomits to authority over us. Although the Labour Government of 1984 and 1987 to '90 had a very high intellectual capacity and had a lot of members with degrees from the university, another amazing proportion of the caucus wouldn't understand a balance sheet if it was placed in front of them. People in the caucus who were dictating as it were the Government's economic policy, or supposed to, tried to look learned about matters upon which they had not the slightest knowledge or understanding.
Aside from Helen Clark and Michael Cullen, I suspect most of the cabinet courtiers and nodding bobble-heads that Clark surrounded herself with in the Labour 5.0 cabinet were as ignorant as the above. Regulatory Impact Statements were routinely ignored while the Minister for Everything ran the show.

The 2011 Labour List shows this mindset still in place. Worse still, the redder elements of the political spectrum that split off with Anderton way back when have been reabsorbed into the Labour body politic. Meantime, the right wing of Labour never recovered from the split with the Backbone Club and what would become the Act party. You could fit the centre right faction of the Labour Party MPs on a Koru Club lounge suite and it shows.

The rational approach to take on a Key led government is to out-National National. Key did the same thing last election, out-Labouring Labour. This jump to the left that the Labour hierarchy are pushing is quite the reverse of sanity, and the party risks a very long furlough in Opposition as the centre ground is abandoned.

The Labour Party needs to broaden its search for talent beyond the rarefied confines of union wonkery and narrow identity politics. Or, at least if you're going to attempt identity politics, do it right. Is Ashraf Choudary really the smartest Muslim in Labour's room? Is Raymond Huo really the most effective Asian representative in their fold? Rob Salmond can slice and dice til the cows come home, there's still no representation of the disabled, unemployed, small business owners, and all the other little people that Labour supposedly stands for.