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.

Screenshot 2014-04-23 00.31.01

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.


10 thoughts on “The red bush tea party

  1. It’s MMP. It’s natural tendency is for cliques on the margin to peel off (if they feel confident enough) to create their own parties. National have done better as a party for multiple hues than Labour. It’s position on the centre naturally makes ones on the left look for alternatives, such as the Greens. No one has told them yet. But personally, as a white middle aged man of working class roots, I don’t find Shane Jones that appealing. We don’t all drink at working men’s clubs, sorry.

  2. I think your article is an excellent and incisive piece. I hope you don’t mind me sharing of it on twitter.

    You hit the nail on the head in every sense. The activists are pushing the party into a space that makes electoral success faint. Labour in NZ is now significanty

    Yet Labour party voters outnumber Labour party activists by 1000 to one. Labour party voters are more like Josie Pagani and Shane Jones in that their primary concern is about jobs and the living standards of working people, rather than identity politics.

    Insular trade unionists or student hack politicians don’t appeal to most voters either, yet such individuals dominate the Labour caucus.

    I am a soft blue voter, who voted Labour in 2008. Yet I can’t see myself returning to Labour in September. I mean why would you bother? Key is not particularly conservative, in fact he is largely a US Democrat who is socially progressive and has done a solid job in returning the managing the economy through the GFC and various earthquakes.

    • Sorry the line at the end of the second para should say “Labour is now significantly to the left of any its center left party counterparts in the developed world”.

    • Hi Mark,

      Thanks for the kind words. Absolutely, feel free to share this post on social media.

      Yeah, Labour is not doing to well at the moment. I hold out hope that they’ll get their act together, but it’s looking increasingly unlikely. And as you say, it’s not as if John Key is Don Brash. In fact, I suspect any reasonable leftist would acknowledge that Key is one of the most centrist Nat MPs.

  3. I absolutely agree. I’m a MANA member, so significantly to the left of Labour, the Labour Left, and where Shane’s generally portrayed, but my only chance of ‘coming home to Labour’ would’ve been if Shane was in charge.
    I’m also sick of the characterisation of those identity politics social liberals as representing the left of the party. Surely the real left would be those concerned with social justice for the poor and disaffected, giving a leg-up to the struggling worker, giving an opportunity to the unemployed, homes to the homeless, and better working conditions and a say in the workplace for those on the front lines.
    The identity politics brigade are the descendants of the liberal lawyer Rogernomes who sold out the working-class for middle-class sav-swilling urban liberals, too concerned with their ‘enlightened’ personality projects to keep the car plant or the meat works open. Let’s not forget that the two most right-wing Labour government’s have been the one’s obsessed with identity politics projects.

    • Hi Red,

      Thanks for the insightful comments. You’ve hit the nail on the head in regard to what counts as the ‘left’ of the party. I think most people consider the ‘left’ of the party to refer to both those with identity and poverty concerns, right? We almost seem to use the ‘left’ to refer to strength of feeling, rather than a set of fixed policy prescriptions.

      The right has the same issue- ACT and the Conservatives are basically complete opposites, but are considered ‘right’. I’ve been meaning to do a post on this for a while now.

      The terms left and right are really problematic and quite arbitrary. But there’s seems to be near consensus around their meaning, even if it is a bit fuzzy.

      Out of curiosity, why would you have ‘gone home’ if Jones had been elected leader?

      • I’d be interested in reading that post. Yes, undoubtedly you’re right in how ‘left’ is used to refer both camps, and with regards to the Labour left, it seems to be applied much more to those associated with the identity groups in the party. A rather strange discussion to be having over who can claim to be left – usually people are scrambling to present themselves as sensible centrists.
        I suppose it’s how we look at what is ‘the left’ in New Zealand, and whether Labour can be, or wants to be described as a social democratic (or socialist, or democratic socialist) party, or a social liberal party. When you look at those in Labour whose driving motivation is identity concerns, they are uniformly social liberals, and the ideological principles that that implies, I think makes it problematic to characterise them as belonging ideologically to the left.
        A good example of this is the rather controversial issue of abortion. When pushed, almost uniformly I find those with a socially liberal position on abortion, when issues of personhood are strongly raised resort to a ‘My body, my property, full stop’ reductionism that is born completely of a conception of morality that relies on property and a conception of property that relies on a hyper-individualism that is anathema to the collective underpinnings of leftwing politics, and looks more at home in ACT party. It’s also easy to see how those who take a permissive attitude to issues of morality would also fall short of the strong moral justifications that establishing a socially just society demands. It’s impossible in the long run to quarantine one form of moral reasoning to just ‘social’ issues, and apply a completely opposing one to economic issues. Laissez-faireism begets laissez-faireism making Lange’s Government in-fact incredibly ideologically pure.
        Anyway, sorry about that rant. In terms of only ‘coming home to Labour’ if Shane was leader, that was a lie. I’d also consider it in case of an Andrew Little leadership (I don’t really share the problem that the Jones, J.T., O’Connor lot have with unionists, although I readily concede that the large unions have become bureaucratised and are hardly radical fronts for workers’ democracy anymore). But in terms of Jones, I would be lying if the fact that he was a strong Māori leader from the North wasn’t a part of it. He has a strong understanding of the issues that Māori are facing, and can speak to those in a way that is patronising, or sycophantic. But also as someone who saw the problem with the obsession with divisive identity politics in Labour, and in willingness to combat that, I saw someone who could restore Labour into a united working-class movement again. But I suppose that ship’s sailed.

  4. […] dated, but I think the fundamental analysis is ok. In rough order of relevance- here, here, here, here, here, here. Apologies for the verbose writing. I had just finished postgrad […]

  5. […] Left needs the division of Labour, Progressives vs workers 1, Progressives vs workers 2, Labour’s Tea Party, Young Labour needs to move on, and Only Robertson can go to the centre. Apologies for the verbose […]

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