Only Robertson can go to the centre

In 1972 Richard Nixon visited China and met with Mao Zedong, and the expression “only Nixon could go to China” was born. It comes from the idea that if a virulent anti-communist like Nixon went to China, it must have been necessary. Nixon’s anti-communist credentials were beyond doubt. So it would be with Labour under Grant Robertson and appealing to the centre.

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At present, the Labour left has an established and disproportionate influence over the party. If the progressives in Labour refuse to join one of New Zealand’s genuinely progressive parties, then Labour needs a leader that can bring the progressives with them to fight National for the support of swing voters. A leader with robust, established identity politics credentials has better odds of doing so. Being from a sexual minority group gives Robertson these credentials.

Normally, the Labour left doesn’t want to move to the majority – they want the majority to move to them. But under Robertson, fighting for the centre would be fighting for New Zealand’s first openly gay Prime Minister. Such an historic identity politics achievement would likely focus the desires of the Labour left, and help them tolerate a shift to the centre. Labour could again pitch their strategy, policy and messaging at the moderate, apolitical, relatively conservative voters that have twice put John Key into power.

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Of course, being able to move to the centre is only half the equation. The centre has to be receptive to the message AND the messenger. There’s no guarantee that someone like Robertson would appeal to working kiwis in the provinces as much as Shane Jones’ arch-blokiness did. While Robertson may not be the perfect candidate from the centre’s perspective, he is an excellent candidate for pulling the Labour left into line.

Admittedly this isn’t strictly a ‘Nixon goes to China’ dynamic, but you’ll forgive me for sacrificing accuracy for a snappy metaphor. The Nixon-China dynamic was about ideology instead of identity, about initiating rather than reinstating contact, about convincing observers rather than corralling the base. What is more, comparing Robertson to Nixon is hardly flattering. The analogy is helpful nonetheless. Like Nixon’s anti-communist credentials, Robertson’s identity politics credentials are beyond question. If he says Labour must go to the centre, I suspect much of the Labour left will believe him.

Good news, but enemies remain within the party

Imperator Fish

Shane Jones’ decision to leave Labour is to be celebrated. But we must be on our guard, because others within the party hold similar views. Now is not the time for complacency!

Comrades!

Let us all celebrate the political demise of that most hated class enemy, Shane Jones.

Jones was the very epitome of everything we have worked against: he did not share the same political views as us on every single issue. The wrecker!

But our celebrations must be muted, for now is not the time for complacency. There are other enemies within the party to be flushed out! Soldiers of the great socialist revolution, be on your guard! Be on the lookout for anyone within the party who might hold incorrect opinions. And do not be swayed by those within the party who claim Jones’ departure is a bitter blow. How can anyone who disagrees with us on…

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Labour’s crumbling lock on Māoridom

I am no expert on Māori politics, but it’s hard to see how the loss of Jones helps Labour.

Labour want to grow their Māori vote and recapture the Māori seats. Labour need Māori voices to do so. Jones is a capable and prominent Māori leader. Although Labour have capable Māori MPs, they simply do not have Jones’ profile. Now Labour (and the Labour left in particular) have driven away one of their most effective and prominent MPs; an MP who is proudly Māori, yet appeals to white working class voters.

The door is now open for National to claim Labour has lost its lock in Māoridom. They can even take it further and claim their party is better for Māori. As Morgan Godfrey (from mauistreet.blogspot.com) and Lew (from kiwipolitico.com) noted on twitter, Labour now only have three Māori MPs in their top 20. These are Nanaia Mahuta at #9, Louisa Wall at #16, and Moana Mackay at #18. Hardly rockstar performers, even with Wall’s marriage equality bill. National, on the other hand, are relatively strong. They also have three Māori MPs in their top 20, but they are Hekia Parata at #7, Paula Bennett at #9 and Simon Bridges at #18. In addition, they also have two Māori Party MPs as Ministers. Admittedly, Bridges and Parata haven’t performed that well, but this still amounts to five Māori Ministers, all with important portfolios and high profile.

Cries from the far left about Jones’ ideological impurity simply don’t cut it. As Morgan Godfrey argued in his excellent post ‘Shane Jones: the political obituary‘, “Maori political history isn’t rich with choice. Telling us to wait for a more “progressive” candidate is deeply offensive… Shane was an opportunity and one many – including myself – were willing to back. He wasn’t perfect, but he was as close as we’ve come in more than a decade to the centre of power… Forgive us for working with what we have.” Is this what the Labour left really wanted; to drive away Māori leaders who disagree with them? This is not a victory.

At the end of all of this Labour are left with one less capable Māori MP, and a shrinking claim to Māori votes. They may have just broken the crumbling 100-year edifice of Māoridom’s alignment with Labour.

The loss of Jones also speaks volumes about the ill-will in caucus. Labour’s chief press secretary apparently still didn’t know about Jones’ departure 15 minutes after it was announced on the 6 o’clock news. The fact that Jones didn’t seem interested in helping Labour stage-manage his departure and shape the narrative says a lot about feelings within the party. It’s hard to view the (mis)management of Jones’ departure as anything but a failure by the Labour leadership.

The red bush tea party

If social media is any guide, the Labour left are ecstatic about the resignation of Shane Jones. They have cheered a resignation that gives their party LESS appeal to voters. But this is not surprising, since the party’s left seems to scorn the values of most kiwis anyway.

Labour’s left is starting to look like a left wing kiwi version of the tea party. They would rather purity in opposition than have to work with those who think differently. They would rather preside over a utopia of ashes than actually take power. And like the tea party, if they are unable to compromise and work with people who are not ideologically pure, they will doom their party to dysfunction and the opposition benches.

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It seems the Labour left is more interested in finding heretics than converts. I can understand that Jones was never left enough for the party membership, but he was effective at talking to people outside the liberal hack bubble. Whether you like or agree with Jones is irrelevant. Labour have lost a solid performer. He is a Māori leader who appeals to soft National voters.

The political reality is seemingly beyond the grasp of the party’s left- the Left cannot win without growing it’s vote and taking votes from the Right. We can push turnout all we like, but without eating into John Key’s support, we will always struggle. The party needs to appeal to people who have different values. But the party’s left doesn’t want to appeal to those who think differently; it wants those people to change their views.

To the Rooibos tea party, I say this- as a centre-left party, Labour needs to represent the values/interests of a majority of voters as they are, not as you would like them to be. You cannot implicate the majority in oppressive structures or allege they are all victims of false consciousness and expect them to vote for you. You are not entitled to their support just because you think you know their interests. If you want to fight for genuine progressive change, join a genuine progressive party. The Left needs Labour to be pragmatic and centrist to win the election. We can’t enact progressive policy from opposition. While you dance on the corpse of Jones’ political career, National celebrate their strengthened grip on the political centre. Beating them just got harder.

Gender and Race in the fall of Judith Collins

The Collins and Oravida scandal has the power to dent National’s support for three reasons- gender, race, and raw simplicity. The story contains elements that alienate the soft middle that swung to National under John Key, particularly the ‘working bloke’ vote. Also, as I’ve argued in a previous post Collins has enough power, profile and proximity to Key to tarnish him and change votes.

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Firstly, Judith Collins. She is a strong-willed woman that bucks gender stereotypes. A lot of soft blue votes don’t appreciate that and will be harsher on her than if she was a man. However, the presence of prejudice does not mean the absence of guilt. Rather, many soft blue voters will be less forgiving of her guilt because she’s an unconventional woman. I’ve heard working people say similar things about Hekia Parata. They hate her arrogance, but it’s worse because she’s Māori. This can push some sexist votes back to the blokey blokes on the Left.

Secondly, race. The fact that Judith Collins’ friends are rich and allegedly corrupt Chinese people will antagonise a lot of soft blue votes and working blokes. The fact that Collins has close friendships and business relationships with Stone Shi and Julia Xu does not resonate with many of these voters. Asians are the ‘other’ to many kiwis, especially working bloke voters. Everyone knows that there is racism in New Zealand towards Asians in general and Chinese in particular. The Left is mimicking New Zealand First and dog-whistling to this racism on housing.

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This is our history. Our racism is more subtle now.

Thirdly, simplicity. This is a very easy story to understand. In fact, you don’t even need to understand the story to understand the story. There will be voters across the country that will read this as ‘bossy woman looking after rich Asian mates.’ That is far from the experience and preferences of many of those that have swung to National.

But more than that, this plays into a narrative of cronyism. From Nick Smith and Bronwyn Pullar through Act and cups of tea to Collins and Oravida, a narrative is taking shape. National are smug and only looking out for their mates.

Perhaps the most damaging element for National is the proximity, profile and power of Collins. She is a nationally known figure who sits very near the throne. She is one of a few that can tarnish Key. A 3 News Reid Research poll said 40% of respondents thought John Key should stand Collins down as Minister. The news from the last two days will only increase this number. National’s internal polls may show that the party takes a hit from the ongoing Oravida fiasco. This may force Collins into act of contrition, or even earn her a demotion. Or maybe easter could make everyone forget about the whole thing. Only time will tell.

 

John Key and the return of Māori bashing

Every day I thank the great spaghetti monster in the sky that Māori bashing has fallen from political flavour. Of course, that’s not to say things are fine and dandy now, but compared to the early to mid-2000s, things are noticeably less awful.

Like many politicos, I know too little about Māori politics. Just as many on the Left didn’t give enough attention to MANA in 2011, I haven’t given enough attention to the Māori political scene. But this has to change. From the MANA-Dotcom alliance to John Key fundraising for the Māori Party, Māori politics is increasingly prominent. Thankfully, the Māori media scene is doing a great job covering it. All politics watchers in general (and the Left particularly) should pay close attention to Māori politics. Māori politics, like the rest of Te Ao Māori, has always played a crucial role in this country’s history, and always will.

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This is Winston. Never forget.

In the bad old days outrage at treaty settlements squatted regularly on the front-page, and ‘more money for the maoris’ was a talkback staple. Much of the blame lies with political elites like Winston Peters, John Ansell, and Don Brash. They fed New Zealand’s racist anglo-angst, and reaped a tidy dividend. And now Don Brash is trying to revive this ugly brand of politics. Screw you and your book, Don. I haven’t forgotten your prejudiced brand of politics. You are not a scholarly Casanova; you are the dull and hairy echo of an uglier time.

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No one cares about how straight you are, Don.

Ironically, the fact that the Right are in power seems to have put Māori bashing into hibernation, but no doubt it will return when the Left retakes power. Not because the Left will bring the hate with them, but because racism is a big stick that only the Right can wield. The Left will never hit National for supporting a ‘treaty gravy train’; only the Right can do that, and socially liberal Young Nats would do well to remember that. That is not to say that Labour is deeply committed to Māori. Those of us with long memories remember Clark outflanking Brash with her foreshore and seabed law. Given the same pressures, I have no doubt Cunliffe would do the same.