Polity by Rob Salmond

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Polity: In defence of the centre

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    Attlee was elected immediately after WW2, with the UK finances in dire straits. He managed to create the NHS, a free education system, nationalise coal and railways, implement social security and build houses for the many who’d lost them in WW2 bombing. He did this mostly by taxing the rich - when you go to the UK and get to visit stately homes now belonging to the National Trust, that's why - the government took the money from the people who lived in Downton Abbey style houses and gave it to the ordinary people. That is the answer to people who say such things are impossible in today's (much richer) world.

    That’s what I call a successful left wing leader (the problem they had was an excessive authoritarianism – they didn’t give ordinary people any more control over their employers, suppliers and institutions than private ownership had).

    All Blair did was to remove from UK voters the ability to choose between left and right, replacing it with a choice between a rurally based right wing party and an urban based one. In many ways Blair was worse than his Tory predecessors, because he had no effective opposition.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Wildo,

    What's the point of Labour if they can't offer anything other than watered down Neoliberalism. They can't offer anything new or positive other than repackaged Blairism and corporate welfare masquerading as left wing policies.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2014 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • keeaa,

    And yet, the best quote from Monbiot’s article is probably “Rebuilding a political movement means espousing what is desirable, then finding ways to make it feasible. The hopeless realists propose the opposite.”

    Electing Labour just to “stop the rot” of right-wing policies is not enough. Too many people, and the planet itself, are suffering, for that limited vision to be desirable.

    Since Nov 2014 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • simon g,

    How did UK Labour break out of this funk? Tony Blair.

    Actually, John Smith. A social democrat.

    The alternative to pie-in-the-sky left (which Foot's UK Labour was, in electoral terms) doesn't have to be diluted Thatcherism. It's the popular fallacy that says "A was bad, then B happened, so B must have been the only way".

    Muldoon's command economy was bad, therefore Rogernomics was the only possible response? Tsarist Russia was horrific, therefore Bolshevism was justified? And so on. Babies, bathwater, etc.

    Social democrats can and should win the centre. Polling has consistently shown majority support for many NZ Labour economic policies. The problem is that voters don't then match that support for the Labour caucus. They aren't "too left", they are just a bit rubbish at politics. A lot rubbish, sometimes.

    That's the real problem, but it's the hardest one to solve. Self-awareness is in short supply down there.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 1330 posts Report Reply

  • Danyl Mclauchlan,

    If left-wing centrists are going to occupy the central place in left-wing parliamentary democracy they seem to feel they deserve they need to either (a) be able to beat right-wing parties in general elections or (b) beat left-wing candidates in party elections. Blair was able to do both but his successors haven't been able to do either.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 927 posts Report Reply

  • keeaa, in reply to Danyl Mclauchlan,

    central place in left-wing parliamentary democracy

    What is this place and what does it look like? What policies reside there, if any?

    Since Nov 2014 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to simon g,

    How did UK Labour break out of this funk? Tony Blair.

    Actually, John Smith. A social democrat.

    Snap! Labour’s opinion poll lead was shown to be as high as 23% in early May 1994.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell,

    I think we are watching history repeat itself in the UK Labour Party. Blair got to win elections because (a) Foote, and the Militant group, took the party left, split it (remember the SDP?) and into electoral oblivion; (b) Kinnock led a more centrist fightback but paid the price in terms of his own leadership; and (c) this left the way open for John Smith and Tony Blair. In the meantime, Britain got 4 consecutive terms of Conservative government. I think with Corbyn we are back at (a). Which suggests Labour might get another shot at Government in about 2030 or 2035 or something.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 126 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell,

    Monbiot also said-

    The middle ground is a magic mountain that retreats as you approach. The more you chase it from the left, the further to the right it moves.

    And

    What is attractive about a party prepared to abandon its core values for the prospect of electoral gain? What is inspiring about a party that grovels, offering itself as a political doormat for any powerful interest or passing fad to wipe its feet on?

    Painting Sanders and Corbyn as 'hard-left' for espousing policies that are popular with their electorates, and mainstream in much of Europe, puts you further right of centre than you may think.
    And the historical analysis is a weak basis for future action if you believe we/NZ/the world are currently on a fundamentally wrong course.
    If you don't, you might as well vote National - no?
    (Another thing I think Labour here keep failing to grasp is something along the lines of Josh Marshall's 'bitch-slap' theory of politics described here.
    A good part of what we vote for is someone who will stand up for our values, stand up for us, in a steadfast and public way. When politicians back down, hesitate, switch values, equivocate or capitulate, they send a meta-message that their values are weak and they won't fight for them. And that's petrol on the fire of cynicism and disinterest in the political process.)

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2108 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Nick Russell,

    I think with Corbyn we are back at (a).

    Somehow 2015 doesn't feel like the 1980s. Different times call for different solutions.
    The economic challenges and the societies we live in have changed massively. Much of that change has been a move to the right. That's led to many things - economic inequality, weak labour unions, loosely regulated and out-of-control financial markets, a huge ballooning of public and private debt, climate change, and very different geopolitics - many of which the right have no answer for because they don't see them as problems.
    Tinkering with the rough edges of the market won't be enough - and I think a lot more people are starting to see it.

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2108 posts Report Reply

  • Wildo, in reply to chris,

    Blair also won because those Tories who weren't self destructing were hanging themselves in women's underwear.

    Auckland • Since Sep 2014 • 10 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    I wouldn't be making a local case based on first-past-post UK. Or on elections where the voters happened to deliver viable coalition numbers for Labour and parties to its right.

    Coalition might go to the left this time - if Labour can pull its weight, and Winston doesn't slime back to the Nats. Big ifs, I know.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19707 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to keeaa,

    What policies reside there, if any?

    90-day employment trial periods, for instance. Not increasing benefit levels, for another.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19707 posts Report Reply

  • keeaa, in reply to Sacha,

    Nope, right-wing. Try again.

    Since Nov 2014 • 19 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Somehow 2015 doesn’t feel like the 1980s. Different times call for different solutions.

    I guess the question might be whether someone perceived as an old-school class warrior is the best person to address late-stage capitalism in the 21st century.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 22830 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to keeaa,

    Of course the right of Labour seems right-wing. It is. Broad church, etc.

    Little has said Labour will keep trial periods. Clark presided over 9 years of widening the gap between wages and benefit payments.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19707 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Russell Brown,

    the question might be whether someone perceived as an old-school class warrior is the best person to address late-stage capitalism in the 21st century.

    People tend to forget how much we owe to socialism. Public health, progressive taxation, free education, everyone either employed, independently wealthy, or begging on the streets.
    As those things are eroded, or disappear, at the same time as a class of super-wealthy has emerged, it's not ridiculous to think redistribution of wealth is part of the answer.
    Is that 'old school class warrior' talk? Or stating the obvious?

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2108 posts Report Reply

  • chris, in reply to Wildo,

    Blair also won because those Tories who weren’t self destructing were hanging themselves in women’s underwear.

    Well they weren't killing themselves doing so...I'm not that presumptuous about what goes on in the privacy of one's own home.

    Mawkland • Since Jan 2010 • 1302 posts Report Reply

  • llew40,

    Small family footnote: our Dad - a coal mining engineer whose own dad was a red-ragger who marched - was asked to stand for Labour in the local south Wales electorate. He declined and Neil Kinnock ended up accepting the nomination.

    Since Nov 2012 • 140 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    How did UK Labour break out of this funk? Tony Blair.

    Not exactly –

    This makes the presumption that no one else would have been electable at the time. Given 17 years of Tory rule there was a lot of anything but a Tory will do. Failures in the previous election turned myself and many others into door knocking Labour activists. Blair’s predecessor was in fact John Smith who died in opposition before the 95 election. Neither Foot nor Kinnock, Smith was Scottish Labour, a Lawyer and member of the Bilderberg group. He wasn’t Murdoch’s pick (what Murdoch did to Kinnock was more than unkind). The most likely outcome based on the figures going into 1994 was a Labour victory, though probably not as substantial as the one Blair obtained. At the appointment of Tony Blair as leader, much was made of his marriage to Cherie Booth and the blessing of Tony Booth a well-known actor and unionist. When I went door knocking I thought I was supporting someone with left wing credentials. In subsequent years I wouldn’t be the only one who felt betrayed, I gave up my Labour membership before the next election.

    With respect to the graph you present it conflates political views with actual voting patterns. I understand there is quite a lot of concern that many of the 7% that haven’t turned out NZ after 1999 election are those on the left who don’t have anything to vote for. This situation is complicated by the MMP threshold where it is quite possible to vote on the left and not have your vote represented in parliament. Mine was one of those votes in the last election.

    In a context where ill-health, poverty and inequality is conspicuous, related debate here in NZ would suggest something has changed. Whether that change demands a shift in the centrist at all costs agenda remains to be seen. I do think the scrabble to put the “zombie of the old left to death” has been somewhat unseemly and to the advantage of people like Corbyn. What interests me about this article in the New Yorker, is the cold presentation of all the things that the still growing working class aren’t receiving and what it may revive.

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    Somehow 2015 doesn’t feel like the 1980s. Different times call for different solutions

    Corbyn isn't offering new solutions. He is a fossil. As far as I can see he is promising to wind the clock back to Labour's 1983 manifesto, aka the longest suicide note in political history (copyright G Kaufman). This seems to appeal mainly to people who were not around in 1983 and who think that the voting public secretly yearn to renationalise the railways, abandon nuclear weapons, etc, etc, and that the big problem with Ed Miliband was that he just wasn't left wing enough. I think the technical term for such people is "deluded". Or possibly "non-voters".

    I grew up in England in the late 70s and early 80s. All I can say is that anyone who thinks of that time as the good old days is not someone I would vote for. Although some of the music and TV was good. But hey, who knows, maybe Michael Foot was a man ahead of his time and the voting public will flock to the banner this time around. Personally, I would put this in the "snowball-furnace" field of probability. More likely we get a solid 15-20 years of Tory government.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 126 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    In my view, for as long as the currently perceived benign economic and political environment continues, Labour won't win an election.

    Received wisdom is that there is no support for their moving to the left.
    It's unlikely, given ACT's poor showing, that they could usefully move back to the Roger Douglas era and position themselves to the right of National.
    And it's hard to see how they can compete with John Key-led National on the same ground as better managers of capitalism.

    However, economic and political conditions are rarely steady state. China is going downhill fast - we'd expect to see the economic impacts from that eventually hit the consciousness of the average Auckland breeder at some stage.

    The question for the NZ left's leaders is thus not what policies they favour just now, but what they'd do about a banking collapse / house price crash / Fonterra bankruptcy etc.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell, in reply to 81stcolumn,

    With respect to the graph you present it conflates political views with actual voting patterns. I understand there is quite a lot of concern that many of the 7% that haven’t turned out NZ after 1999 election are those on the left who don’t have anything to vote for. This situation is complicated by the MMP threshold where it is quite possible to vote on the left and not have your vote represented in parliament. Mine was one of those votes in the last election.

    Labour and the Greens have repeatedly demonstrated that chasing the votes of people who don't vote is a good way of losing elections. I wonder if Corbyn is making the same mistake in the UK.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 126 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    I grew up in England in the late 70s and early 80s.

    So did I. I got a free university education, just as one thing I wouldn't get today.

    Sure, it wasn't the easiest place to become very rich, but the working and middle classes were somewhat better off than today.

    Where Labour failed was that they applied authoritarian, top-down policies instead of empowering people. If they'd turned the mines into co-operatives where the miners chose their managers and worked out a strategy, they might have turned out a lot better.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    I don't buy the "Labour failed" argument at all. Blair won 3 straight general elections. Name me another Labour leader who did that.

    The real failure is the succession of Labour leaders who each went down in a hail of ideologically correct bullets. But that's the left for you. Better to lose gloriously than be tainted by victory. Winning elections is what Tories do.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 126 posts Report Reply

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