For my sins, over the past week or so I have been engaging at The Standard again. It’s been a rather tiresome business (for them as well, I’m sure) but has yielded some lucid moments. One exchange between “Puddleglum”, Anthony and I in the bowels of an open mike thread has been particularly useful, and since it contains my views on a question I am often asked, I’d rather it not end up down the memory hole. I reproduce it here in full (without the benefit of editing; so it’s a bit rough).
[I originally said Anthony was the author FKA “r0b” at The Standard — this isn’t the case; it’s some other Anthony. My mistake, and thanks to the r0b, Anthony Robins, for pointing it out.] Puddleglum has a blog himself — thepoliticalscientist.org — that is well worth reading.
If Armstrong is correct in the following quotation (and this leadership race has all been about the â€˜blokesâ€™ battling the â€˜minoritiesâ€™ and the â€˜politically correctâ€™), then wonâ€™t the election of Shearer shift Labour more towards the right wing, social conservatism that you appear not to like about NZF?
â€œShearer will bring change by making the party less hostage to the political correctness that still plagues its image. He is interested in things that work, rather than whether they fit the partyâ€™s doctrine. â€œ
I may misunderstand where your â€˜loyaltiesâ€™ or preferences lie, but it does seem odd if you are supporting a shift in Labourâ€™s focus towards something that would be much more compatible with NZF (including Prosser and Peters, neither of whom strike me as staunch upholders of â€˜political correctnessâ€™), given how little regard you appear to have for NZF.
(As an aside, Iâ€™m not sure why Armstrong is so sure he knows Shearerâ€™s mind â€“ heâ€™s obviously heard Shearer say more than heâ€™s been reported as saying â€“ but I guess he is a political journalist â€¦ It would have been good to hear Shearer say these things to the public if, indeed, Armstrong has it from the horseâ€™s mouth, as his tone strongly implies â€“ â€œShearer will â€¦â€, etc..).
Iâ€™m not convinced by this argument that Shearer represents the forthcoming defenestration of MÄori, women, gays, the disabled, and so forth as a matter of doctrine, although folk who hope it does have been eager to say so â€” Armstrong, Audrey Young, Trotter amongst them. Shearerâ€™s MSc was on the tension between MÄori cultural values and environmental resource management, and he has worked on behalf of MÄori in that field, preparing Tainuiâ€™s land claim to the Waitangi Tribunal and looking at sultural issues around wastewater treatment in Auckland. I have as yet seen no evidence that Shearer represents the social â€œrightâ€ of the party either. His pairing with Robertson as deputy certainly seems to counterindicate that argument. He says heâ€™s â€œright in the middleâ€ of Labour, though I suppose he would say that. I am open to persuasion on both these points, however, and if such defenestration does occur I may yet come to regret my support for Team Shearer.
But I think thereâ€™s also a misreading of my â€œloyaltiesâ€. The much-loved canard around here and at Trotterâ€™s place is that I want Labour to be an â€œidentity politicsâ€ party, whereas, in actuality, I want an end to the infighting that pits â€œthe workersâ€ against other marginalised groups or seeks to subsume everyoneâ€™s needs to those of straight white blue-collar blokes. All must have a presence within any progressive movement. I think thereâ€™s a false dichotomy that to appeal to â€œmiddle New Zealandâ€ a party must be just a wee bit racist, homophobic and sexist, because thatâ€™s what â€œmiddle New Zealandâ€ is. I donâ€™t agree; although I can see how that is one route to popularity, I donâ€™t think itâ€™s one thatâ€™s very suitable for Labour.
Notwithstanding all of that I do think that being able to break the factionalisation and patronage â€” crudely expressed by Damien Oâ€™Connor â€” that has resulted in a weak list and a dysfunctional party apparatus is the most crucial task facing Shearer, and I can see how this could be spun against him. But on balance, getting the overall institutional and overall health of the party back on track is the priority. As long as itâ€™s not simply replacing one lot of factions with another.
It really depends if he plays zero-sum loss/gain, instead of fixing problems that when addressed help everyone. But even though I preferred Cunliffe I donâ€™t think Shearer is a evil bastard who will throw women, gays and Maori under the bus.
Itâ€™s just convincing insecure pricks like Armstrong that theyâ€™re not missing out (and normal people who are perfectly fine), while they lift everyone up.
Been one of the problems with the left for a while â€“ not taking middle NZ with them in their thinking and just expecting them to â€œget itâ€ after itâ€™s done and dusted.
You can see how the Nats do it better with their policy formation and with the task forces they set up, they admit there is a problem that needs to be solved in some way, get a team of â€œexpertsâ€ in place, get feedback from all quarters then create policy based on it (even if they were planning that policy all along). Itâ€™s a great way to create a narrative that the electorate can follow to understand policy or at least get some understanding that a problem that needs to be solved exists in the first place.
If it looks in the slightest way controversial or a potential wedge issue they will use this method.
As I said, â€œIf Armstrong is correct â€¦â€
I think previously youâ€™ve noted the importance of symbolism (e.g., in the early days of the MP coalescing with National).
There is a danger that the symbolic projection being attempted (â€˜we are ordinary New Zealanders tooâ€™ â€“ whatever that means) can box Labour in when it comes to â€˜judgment callsâ€™ on those social issues.
Trying to benefit electorally from symbols you donâ€™t really believe in (in its crudest form, â€˜dogwhistlingâ€™) can bite you back.
I think, for example, that Shearer may well be keen not to â€œget in frontâ€ of middle New Zealand on any of these issues (wasnâ€™t that one of the concerns about Clarkâ€™s government, for â€˜middle New Zealandâ€™?).
Thatâ€™s fine and pragmatic, and doesnâ€™t mean necessarily being a little bit racist, homophobic, or whatever. But it might mean muting your commentary and positioning on those issues a tad.
And that could make some, at least, leap from the windows rather than waiting to be â€˜defenestratedâ€™.
I think thatâ€™s the challenge with the more â€˜centristâ€™ positioning.
Anthony, I agree with all of that.
PG, I think that is the challenge with a more â€œcentristâ€ positioning, but ultimately the long game is what matters. Itâ€™s mostly futile to try to campaign outright on unpopular topics â€” or those that are â€œin frontâ€ of popular thought, as you aptly put it â€” when you donâ€™t control the agenda. Clark found out in 2004/5 when Brash hijacked the agenda at Orewa after a very progressive first term, and again in 2008 when the s59 repeal became a de facto government bill about the childless lesbians Helen Clark and Sue Bradford* wanting to personally bring up Waitakere Manâ€™s kids.
I daresay there will be a lot of ideological austerity shared about over the coming term, not limited to the usual whipping children of progressive movements, but likely encompassing the unions and hard-left factions as well (and much of this may be pinned on Shearer to frame him as a â€œrightâ€ leader, when his hand may have been forced by political circumstance.) The project is to rebuild Labour as a political force, because if Labour continues to decline nobody â€” not MÄori, not women, not the unions â€” is going to benefit.
Sometimes discretion is the better part of valour. My major stipulation is that whatever gets nudged out onto the ledge, as it were, is done with due engagement and consideration of those it impacts, not simply decreed by the leadership as being â€œnot a priorityâ€ (and if you disagree youâ€™re a hater and a wrecker).
* Notwithstanding the fact that neither are lesbians, and Sue Bradford isnâ€™t childless.