Polity by Rob Salmond

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Polity: In defence of the centre

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    To clarify, I referred to the Wilson/Callaghan governments perceived failures in the 1970s, and the subsequent election of Thatcher.

    Blair won 3 straight general elections

    How did he deliver different policies to those which John Major would have pursued in those years? If anything Major might have been less likely to ally himself with the United States' most extreme right president since the 1930s to take part in an illegal war? Or to criminalise teenagers for arbitrary offences on the whim of a magistrate?

    The only difference between New Labour and the Tories is one of tone. In return, as I said upthread, British voters are denied any practical choice in their government.

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

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Also, can I ask a question of Nick (and anyone else of that alignment)? Why, if you think that broadly centre-right policies are a good idea, do you support Labour? Why not just vote/join/support National?

    (I'm not snarking, this is a genuine question that I'd like to hear answers to?)

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

  • Nick Russell, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    How did he deliver different policies to those which John Major would have pursued in those years? If anything Major might have been less likely to ally himself with the United States’ most extreme right president since the 1930s to take part in an illegal war? Or to criminalise teenagers for arbitrary offences on the whim of a magistrate?

    It's a good question. You could argue that Blair provided the ultimate vindication of conservative hegemony: he could only win by becoming a de facto Tory. But what is the alternative? The left in Britain has a long and painful history of arguing that the voters don't know what is good for them and will eventually see the light etc. This has been successful precisely never. It will not be successful now. It is politically illiterate. You either appeal to mainstream voters who actually vote, or you fail.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 129 posts Report Reply

  • 81stcolumn,

    The left in Britain has a long and painful history of arguing that the voters don’t know what is good for them and will eventually see the light etc.

    TPPA anyone?

    Nawthshaw • Since Nov 2006 • 790 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    1945? Attlee could have gone to the electorate on a platform of similar policies to Churchill, keeping the mines and railways in private hands, no social security, no free education, hanging on in India as long as possible, etc.

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

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    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.

    They could do worse than to look to Iceland for a least worst solution.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    They could do worse than to look to Iceland for a least worst solution.

    We hope. Even Zimbabwe might offer a few lessons. Because this imaginatively bankrupt where-Britain-goes-we-go hiding to nowhere passed its use-by date around a couple of generations ago.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to Rob Stowell,

    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?

    And sadly today's hyper-class can opt out of such redistribution when it suits them, simply by flying one-way to Switzerland or the Cayman Islands. How best can modern social democratic regimes guard against it? Transparency by the likes of the Tax Justice Network is only the start.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5441 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens, in reply to Nick Russell,

    Hmmm, this is meant to be a reply to Rob, not anyone else…

    First, actually let’s not consider the alternative. Let’s first consider where clinging to the “centre” has got the anglosphere Labour parties. Look at the UK – Kendall. Blair. Mandelson. Cooper. UKIP hosing up their traditional working class support base. Annihilation in Scotland. Yeah, The centre is working out real good for the UK Labour party. In NZ being “centrists” has seen Labour follow a similar trajectory. A bunch of dull careerist MPs who are mostly interchangeable with the National party. A massive non-vote from their traditional base. Annihilation in the provinces. How is the “centre” working out for NZ Labour again, Rob? If the centre is the future, then lets admit the truth, and wind the Labour party up (mission apparently accomplished in 1940). Most of their MPs will fit right on in with National backbench anyway and the few that don’t can join the Greens. But let’s not keep it alive just because it’ll be sad to see it go, like dear old granny on a ventilator.

    Secondly, whining that

    …“pulling the centre back towards the left” is massively, massively hard…

    as a reason not to try is lily-livered defeatism. If you think it is too hard, get out of the way and find someone more interested in trying.

    Thirdly, assuming only an ideologically malleable collection of self-serving centrists are competent to run a country is a typically Blairist thing to say. That is the problem with Blairite thinking nowadays. It isn’t that they offered a sort of pale pink “leftish” managerialism when capitalism was triumphant. It is their current towering arrogance, ideological vacuity and their utter, utter, utter contempt of democracy. The behaviour of the Blairites in the UK Labour leadership race has been a toxic disgrace (seeking to cancel democracy, stage palace coups, threatening and browbeating their own supporters) to the point every utterance they make simply increases Corbyn’s support. The representatives of Rob Salmond’s “centre left” in UK politics are actually loathed by a huge percentage of working class UK voters, to the point that they’d need a police escort to prevent being lynched by the same crowds cheering Corbyn. No wonder they fear democracy!

    Times change. Neoliberal capitalism is a zombie ideology discredited everywhere except in its extreme supporters in global financial markets and the inertia of it’s colonised establishment bureaucracies. All the other contenders in the UK leadership election – and most of our Labour party – are interchangable memebers of that colonised establishment, as are the Tories. That isn’t democracy, that is a one party state with a charade of choice, a charade that is increasingly being seen through with declining voter participation as people give up in disgust.

    400,000 people have joined up to support Corbyn. And don’t give me any bullshit about Trotskyist opportunists and “entryists”. If there were 400,000 Trotskyists in the UK they’d already have a very successful party of their own. They joined up because for once someone is offering a choice, is offering them hope, and is speaking to their concerns. And that is the purpose of the Labour party, Mr. Salmond. It is not to sit around with a sense of entitlement peering at graphs and triangulating the life out of everything while waiting for some sort of electoral magic trick that’ll give Labour their Muggin’s turn in the ministerial limos. The purpose of the Labour party is to be a vehicle of radical change, to stand for something that gives hope to the poor, the oppressed, and the exploited, and to fight with them to get elected, and when elected use that power to bloody well ram radical change down the throats of the neoliberals.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    (claps)

    That's probably the best post of yours I've ever read on here, Tom.

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

  • Joe Wylie, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    That's probably the best post of yours I've ever read on here, Tom.

    If you had a lifestyle block and Mr Semmens strayed onto it you wouldn't shoot him any more than I would.

    flat earth • Since Jan 2007 • 4593 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    The other thing I’d like to point out is declining participation in politics and in voting, something which 400,000 new UK Labour party members tells me is entirely due to “centrism”, will eventually lead to a crisis of democracy itself. At what point does a ’democratically” elected government lose it’s claim to legitimacy? The UK Tories won a whopping majority with the votes of 24% of the UK electorate. Well, the Scots have already indicated what they think of that sort of “democracy”. Here, National won with around a third of all the potential votes. At what point does declining interest and popular disgust at tweedle dum tweedle dee parliamentary neoliberalism destroy democracy itself? 15% of the voters electing a majority? 10%? And what then? Will the political class still be chattering about the “centre” while the mob burns down the beehive around their ears?

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    400,000 people have joined up to support Corbyn.

    190,000 since the 2015 general election according to the guardian - that was at 9 August. Mostly union members. Look, this is great and all, but it reminds me of the Milifans before the last general election. They formed a lovely little echo chamber and the Tories won the election.

    My only point is this. The Labour Party has offered Britain the same choice and hope that Corbyn is offering before, notably in 1983. Britain said no thanks. One definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing and expecting a different result. But hey, maybe you're right. Maybe everything is different now and Corbyn will romp home at the next election. I'm not holding my breath.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 129 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz,

    Attachment

    UK Labour (possibly in coalition with the LibDems) would almost certainly have won in 1983 if it had not been for the Falklands War, or if the Argentines had won said war:

    http://ukpollingreport.co.uk/voting-intention-1979-1983

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

  • BenWilson,

    This is an old discussion, of course. But it's good to have it in one place here, otherwise we just end up having it everywhere.

    I think the most fraught part of it is that the moving goalposts means that discussion is always comparing apples and oranges. Because Left and Right wing are relative terms, rather than absolute ones, it's nearly impossible to meaningfully compare from one system to another, or from one time to another in the same system.

    I don't know what Left means here. So I'm not sure I like it. So I don't see how or why I could convince anyone else to go there. I only know where my position is.

    It's extremely hard for me to relate to any strategy that said NZ Labour should act like Tony Blair. I'd rather have John Key than Tony Blair. I'd probably rather have John Key than Obama. Even though if I was in the USA, of course I'd rather have Obama than any Republican offering, and the same probably goes in Britain wrt Blair, although I'm not so sure of that, so sickening did I find Blair's willful toadying up to Bush.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    At what point does declining interest and popular disgust at tweedle dum tweedle dee parliamentary neoliberalism destroy democracy itself?

    I think the sad answer to that, Tom, is "at no point". Democracy is not a single system with highly specific institutions and a binary level of satisfaction. You could argue that it's a question of degree, but it's not "destroyed" just because of low participation - that's how most democracies began, and spent long periods that way. The actual destruction of democracy only really happens when free voting is prevented. That might not even be needed by oligarchs controlling the system, if low participation does the job for them all by itself. But it could always leap back into action with sufficiently motivating causes. Only if the actual institution of voting is removed or subverted does the system cease to qualify as democratic.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Tom Semmens,

    One definition of insanity is said to be doing the same thing and expecting a different result.

    And how has the same worked out for UK Labour the last few elections? Like I said, times change. This site is full of forty and fifty somethings who grew up knowing a welfare state that closely resembled Corbyn’s current “radical” agenda. But today’s 18 year olds were born in 1997 and grew up under “new” Labour and neoliberalism. To them, the old is fresh.

    Maybe Corbyn does sound old fashioned to baby boomers and gen xers, but he doesn’t to the under 35s who are lapping up the first ideologically coherent voice of hope on the UK left they’ve ever heard. And anyway, what of definitions of insanity and capitalism in the 21st century? Here is the thing – the UK has tried privatisation, and it’s largely been a disaster. And the nationalisation model Corbyn is proposing isn’t the solutions of Clement Attlee. For example, I’ve heard his advisors postulating a re-nationalised railways that included some sort of active ownership by it’s users.

    The thing about Corbyn is the alternative isn’t more of the same Centrism. The alternative is the SNP, the end of the union, the end of the centre and the rise of parties like UKIP and a radical popular right. In New Zealand, we will not be magically immune to the same forces. To my mind, better a radical popular left led by the Labour party than a respectable radical right led by Farrage being outflanked by the BNP.

    Sevilla, Espana • Since Nov 2006 • 2217 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Pitching for the youth vote in this day and age is a waste of time. There are too few of them and they don't turn out to vote. Danyl McLauchlan has blogged on this point repeatedly and he is right. Admittedly that was in the NZ context but I would be astonished if Britain were different.

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 129 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Maybe Corbyn does sound old fashioned to baby boomers and gen xers, but he doesn’t to the under 35s who are lapping up the first ideologically coherent voice of hope on the UK left they’ve ever heard.

    I'd feel a lot more hopeful about that if you had some evidence. It sounds like wishful thinking.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10657 posts Report Reply

  • Nick Russell, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Also, I really doubt you will ever have a radical popular left. I'd have thought it would have to be one or the other...

    Wellington • Since Jul 2008 • 129 posts Report Reply

  • william blake,

    I used to have a room with a wonderful family and Don used to run a large successful electrical company. He was always saying that under Muldoon having more than half the country employed by the state was a recipie for disaster. He had a good point. He also said politics was a pendulum from Left to Right and it all balanced out over time. But since the end of the 1970's pollies like Regan, Thatcher and Douglas have shifted the pivot point of the pendulum way over to the right, so the swing to the right is much harder and the return to the left is less and less.

    What beggars belief is that a system that is designed to benefit the few can be supported democratically by the many.

    Since Mar 2010 • 380 posts Report Reply

  • KiwiBarnes,

    "Here are some of the best, clearest centre-left communicators in modern political history. Clinton and Obama in the US, Lange in New Zealand, Hawke and Keating in Australia, Blair in the UK. Clear communicators, all. Politically competent, all. Hard left? None"

    Politically competent maybe but that does not equate to good ideology and practice. Clinton - signed off on harsh welfare reforms, loosened control of banks etc that eventually led to 2008 GFC. Obama - selling everyone down the river with the TPPA, let the GFC banks off the hook. Blair, Lange, Aunty Helen all on board the neoliberal train boogying to destruction. Centre-Left? There is no Left left. That went down the gurgler with the 4th Labour Govt in NZ, the sacking of Whitlam in Oz, Blair-ite politics in the UK, and Clinton in the US. Who cares if they hold power if all they are doing is giving us Tory-lite?

    Manawatu • Since Aug 2015 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • KiwiBarnes, in reply to Tom Semmens,

    Right on the money!

    Manawatu • Since Aug 2015 • 3 posts Report Reply

  • Alex Coleman,

    Clarity is always a good quality in a politician. Saying what they’re for, and saying why they’re for it in simple, accessible language, are cornerstones of good political communication. But you can have clarity, and be competent, no matter where you stand on the ideological spectrum. “Clear” does not mean “extreme.”

    One thing I find endlessly frustrating about Centrists, or Blairists, or whatever we want to call them, is this repeated stating of the fairly obvious.
    '
    I mean, the advice like this post, and the criticisms of 'The Left' just keeps on rolling out. 'Here's what we would do, here is what it ought to sound like', blah blah blah.

    Get. on. with. it.

    Show, don't tell. Look at what the Bl;arists are doing in the UK. Does their campaign actually follow their own advice? Or does it sound like complete vacuous waffle,just stating the effect they want to have, rather than saying things that might cause the effect.

    Getting on a box and saying 'I'm a centrist who believes in what you believe sensible aspiration for happy days' makes you look like a grasping vacuous pillock. There is no there there.

    If the centrists are actually so darned on to it about how to get the center, then why don't they just get on with it instead of lecturing their parties about how much they suck? Is that part of the plan? Does that actually send the clear concise aspirational messages shown to be effective in the literature with swing voters?

    Sorry for sounding grumpy, but this has been going on for years now.
    To me, from the outside, it looks like just more whinging and blaming. No different *at all* from what the centrists accuse the left of doing. It does have an added meta nature of being talk about doing politics, rather than just actually doing politics though. Which doesn't help.

    The party insiders and MPs and all the rest have to maintain the support of the party. Look at your graphs. It;s about a third in each of centre, left and right.

    Pissing off the left to win 51% of the centre will not get you a win. The Blairists have to take the left with them if they want to move.

    That's why that metaphor is stupid. The centre isn't a place, it's a group of people, and it's fluid. Shift a bunch of them over to supporting you (with policy, rhetoric, or whatever) and nothing has *actually* moved. It is a metaphor. You have defined 'a center' with whatever it is you shifted the voters with. The thing(s) you shifted them with will now be called 'the centre'. But you haven't moved to them, and they haven't moved to you. You've spoken to them, and they heard you. All this talk about moving is just a huge symbolic fail, imo. It's seductive, but it's bollocks.

    Maps/territories

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 247 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    What Alex said. Centre is a really poor and unhelpful expression.

    Also, if it's so hard to move the centre against whatever objective yardstick we choose, what enabled the right to do it in the last 30 years?

    In fact I don't like this metaphor of "pulling people toward you" either. We don't have to tell people they're wrong and bad. We know that New Zealanders like actual social democratic policies, so how about showing them how they already agree with us?

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

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