• What More Can Labour Do?

    The recent poll showing that Labour is losing rather than gaining ground will have been very disappointing to the Labour leadership – particularly because their improved performance across the board might have been expected to produce a lift in popular support.

    The Labour party seems, after all, to have put behind it most of the deficiencies that have held it back.  The parliamentary party is more united and has largely eschewed the kind of in-fighting that gave such a damaging impression of disunity.  The front bench is competent and working hard, holding the government to account for its deficiencies, of which there is no shortage.

    They have a competent and respected leader who is clearly demonstrating his credentials as a prospective Prime Minister.  They have agreed a collaborative arrangement with potential coalition partners and are ready to remedy the oversights – such as the failure to focus adequately on the importance of the party vote – that cost Labour votes in the last election.

    So, what more can be done?  We should not assume that Labour MPs are necessarily best-placed to provide the answer.  This is not because they are ill-equipped to do so, but because of the demands that our parliamentary system places on them.

    As I know from my own experience as an MP (admittedly in the British rather than the New Zealand parliament), parliamentarians work long hours and are dragged in a dozen different directions at once.  There is little time to reflect on whether the best use has been made of the available time.

    The danger is that this leads to a focus on day-by-day events rather than new strategic thinking.  It can lead to the conclusion that each new issue requires a new and immediate policy response.

    There are of course instances of particular policies on particular issues moving opinion substantially.  But elections are more usually decided by wider considerations – what might be called value systems – and, for a party of the left, and by definition one that purports to offer a vision of a better society, this is surely the most promising avenue.

    This may be where Labour is falling short.  They have perhaps failed to grasp that what they are really up against is a hegemonic force – a neo-liberal revolution – that has shaped political attitudes in western democracies across the globe for more than a generation and that now represents a norm so powerful that it is not even recognised as such by those who might be expected to oppose it.

    This hegemony cannot be changed or challenged just by nibbling at the edges – by attacking short-term policy failures on specific issues, or by sharpening up campaigning techniques.  What is needed is a fundamental statement of what the Labour party stands for, and a persuasive account of why it will produce a better and more successful society than has been delivered by the current neo-liberal orthodoxy.

    Many of those who might consider voting Labour do so precisely because they are looking for a different set of values than those demonstrated by our current government and than are reflected in today’s New Zealand.  The National government makes no secret of its belief that the market – which they see as the mainspring of economic activity and as an infallible moral arbiter of what is and is not worthwhile – must always prevail.

    Many of our more thoughtful fellow-citizens, however, do not want a society where the bottom line is all that matters, where the market decides who prospers and who is left behind, where social and environmental issues take second or third place to the drive for profit.

    They want to see a society which is stronger, happier and healthier because we have learned all over again that we are all better off if we look after each other.  They are ready to learn the lesson, increasingly reinforced by experience around the world, that we do not have to choose between market efficiency and social justice – that those societies which fairly share the fruits of economic success also produce the better economic outcomes.

    Labour should, in other words, be braver in taking on their opponents on these big issues – the ones that matter most.  Yes, personal competencies, the correct policy options, campaigning effectiveness, all have a role to play, and Labour owes it to their supporters to get those things right.

    But voters will feel more confident in voting Labour if they are convinced that a Labour government will approach individual issues from a consistent viewpoint – one that will give priority to the values of tolerance, mutual respect, compassion, care for each other, and a recognition that “we’re all in this together”.

    It’s not that values are all that matter.  The voters will still want to know what a Labour government might do, in practical policy terms, about particular issues, such as the housing crisis.  But they will be more receptive to those policy proposals, and will understand them better, if they can locate them within a moral framework, if they are not just a solution to a particular problem but are an expression of a different and potentially superior view of how a successful, happier and healthier society might function.

    Bryan Gould

    18 September 2016

     

     

9 Comments

  1. Brendon Harre says: September 18, 2016 at 2:06 amReply

    Hi Bryan A point I tried and probably failed to make with Chris Trotter -is that sure Labour needs a meta-narrative that signals to the public what values it holds dear. But that cannot be a return to the 1970s -the pre-Rogernomics era because for anyone under the age of 50 this doesn’t mean anything.

    What we would be better doing is stressing a future Labour government will uphold tried and tested social justice values like -fairness -reducing inequality.

    You can see from the way people are discussing the housing debate it is this value which is significant. You can see it today wrt Bernard Hickey’s article on apartments. http://www.interest.co.nz/opinion/83605/rules-around-body-corporates-need-tightening-whole-new-generation-auckland-apartment

  2. Eclipse says: September 18, 2016 at 6:23 amReply

    Labour needs to refute the failed neo liberal experiment. To call out the inequity in income, social and environmental destruction and loss of democracy it has created and to commit to undoing the damage.

    That is difficult when Labour still thinks the TPP can be amended or stood up to. They need to identify it as the multi national corporate coup it is and oppose it outright. This will cost them MP’s and votes. It will gain them more votes and new MP’s.

    The Labour party has forgotten that they are supposed to be fighting on the side of working people in the class war which the elites perpetuate.

  3. Dave Wolland says: September 18, 2016 at 9:52 amReply

    Jeremy Corbyn is demonstrating that pre neo-liberal socialist/guided capitalism ideals are gaining traction. Brexit showed that a sense of national identity is back in fashion too.The British Labour Party has grown recently to be the largest political party in Europe. Now is the time for the NZ Labour Party to do the same and bowing to corporate funders and tweeking changes to the status quo are not the ways to do it. In my opinion! Dave Wolland

  4. Mike Friend says: September 18, 2016 at 7:22 pmReply

    What more can a Labour Party do? Plenty! It could start by deliberately setting out to end the tax evasion policy of capital gains tax! No other country has such an outrageous opportunity for ruining house affordability than our current laws around property speculation. Next it could introduce a minimum living wage, for everyone! No one should have to work for wages that cannot sustain basic needs based on a 40 hour working week. Education should be free, period! A country that does not value an educated population is accounted that doesn’t value its future. Not accent of state money should go to prop up a private education system. If you want to opt out fine, but don’t expect a hand out from those of us who pay to provide a proper state system. And that goes for health system also! All health care should be free. The lives and well being of a nation should not be dependent on the size of your wallet. On taxation people who earn great wealth should pay their fair share of taxes. Businesses that operate in New Zealand should pay the same. A Labour Party that was doing its job will demonstrate that those public services such as power, water, ect are not for private gain they are for th public good, all created wealth should go back to benefit all New Zealanders not just those who can afford to buy shares. A Labour Party that wants to be reelected needs above all else to show that it will favour the ordinary working person above all else. If it can’t do that it will n ver be reelected.

  5. Tom Hunsdale says: September 18, 2016 at 7:36 pmReply

    A substantial reason for Labour’s demise is their duplicitous attitude towards TPPA. Outwardly posturing that they are opposed to it but when their statements are analyzed in depth it is plain to see they will do nothing about it.

  6. Bryan Gould says: September 18, 2016 at 11:44 pmReply

    Brendon, yes, again we seem to be saying similar things. Kind regards, Bryan

  7. Patricia says: September 19, 2016 at 12:13 amReply

    Brendon is probably right. A whole generation has been imbued with the neoliberal philosophy and cannot imagine a different world. For me I can never forgive Labour for what it did in the 1980s. It started the destruction of everything that had been created in this beautiful country. If the left acted as a united force under the memorandum of understanding then may be we could get an MMP parliament of some worth. But as a group of little parties fighting each other as well as National there is no hope for this Country. I do despair.

  8. Patricia says: September 19, 2016 at 12:13 amReply

    Brendon is probably right. A whole generation has been imbued with the neoliberal philosophy and cannot imagine a different world. For me I can never forgive Labour for what it did in the 1980s. It started the destruction of everything that had been created in this beautiful country. If the left acted as a united force under the memorandum of understanding then may be we could get an MMP parliament of some worth. But as a group of little parties fighting each other as well as National there is no hope for this Country. I do despair.

  9. Patricia says: September 19, 2016 at 12:13 amReply

    Brendon is probably right. A whole generation has been imbued with the neoliberal philosophy and cannot imagine a different world. For me I can never forgive Labour for what it did in the 1980s. It started the destruction of everything that had been created in this beautiful country. If the left acted as a united force under the memorandum of understanding then may be we could get an MMP parliament of some worth. But as a group of little parties fighting each other as well as National there is no hope for this Country. I do despair.