The Dim-Post

June 15, 2015

Progress

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 8:47 am

It’s no secret the Labour Party has problems. The factions. The leaks. The bitter internal rivalries. Happily a group of centrist Labour members have decided to rescue the party from these woes by forming a think-tank called ‘Progress’, and if you want to learn more you can read this account leaked to Matthew Hooton of Progress’s founders having an argument with Labour Deputy Annette King (paid).

On one hand: every other demographic within Labour has its own voice in the form of a formal advocacy group, so why shouldn’t the centrists get one? On the other hand: because they’d almost certainly use that voice to conduct a sustained PR campaign against their own party membership, releasing populist policies designed to wedge the members and the public.

More broadly, I have two basic problems with the idea that Labour should be a centrist Blairite ‘third-way’ party. First: the left’s great intellectual struggle over the past eight years has been about how to reposition ourselves after the catastrophic failure of Blairist third-way centrism. The deregulated free markets that were supposed to fund generous social welfare states worsened inequality, even when functioning, and then they crashed and needed to be bailed out. The centrist argument boils down to ‘Let’s go back to that system that failed!’ It is not intellectually serious.

Secondly, we already have a Blairite centrist third way party in New Zealand. It’s the National Party. If you take Labour and nudge it slightly along the political spectrum while taking away the identity politics and token environmentalism you have a smaller less popular version of John Key’s National.

‘But that’s the point!’ Progress would probably say. ‘National is popular! If Labour wants to be in government it should be more like National. Then it will be popular too.’ But popularity in politics doesn’t work like that. It’s complementary. The trick is to make National unpopular. People just aren’t going to switch their vote to a less credible version of the thing they already like.

I do wonder why more of these people don’t forget about their quixotic mission to change Labour, and just support National? I don’t mean that in a glib way. National are pro-business and ‘aspirational’ but they’re doing loads of social democratic stuff like free doctor’s visits for kids and increasing benefits to poor families, plus they really hate identity politics and the environment. That is basically the centrist manifesto. Shane Jones is the patron saint of these folk and he’s crossed the aisle. Why not follow him?

30 Comments »

  1. I wish they would just go and join National, and then we wouldn’t have to put up with Josie Pagani claiming to represent the left in the MSM, and maybe Phil Quin could stop saying he is a one time advisor to the Labour Party while not mentioning that was back in the 1990s when he tried to persuade Phil Goff to roll Helen Clark. This group have done a lot of damage to the Labour Party over the past few years.

    Comment by Karen — June 15, 2015 @ 9:17 am

  2. In the same spirit, a lot of the far left nut bags in the Labour party (typified by the majority of the mouth breathers at the Standard) should bugger off to a party that better suits their ideologies and values, like Mana for instance

    Comment by King Kong — June 15, 2015 @ 9:27 am

  3. “The trick is to make National unpopular.”

    That and look better than them, or at least organised and capable of running a coherent government, which I guess you’ve said elsewhere.

    Over the past 12+ months there have been plenty of reasons for people to consider National a terrible government, or simply be outright disgusted in how it and its MPs and its Ministers right to the very top have conducted themselves. Labour needed to do barely anything for this, and yet people look at Labour as the most obvious alternative and, for whatever reason, rightly or wrongly, it’s been perceived as worse.

    Comment by izogi — June 15, 2015 @ 9:28 am

  4. It’s the whole Blairite programme – turn the party of the left over to the right so that people have a choice of one right-wing party or another. Puntofijismo

    Comment by richdrich — June 15, 2015 @ 9:28 am

  5. You don’t succeed in politics by copying failing policies. You stand your ground on policies you believe WILL work…and be ready for – working toward! – time and tide turning to your favour.

    If voters are faced with the same policies with different names they will have no real choice when the policies fail or require revising to pry the cold dead fingers of vested interests off them.

    It’s fairly clear that Labour has lost its founding impetus. Like the Canadian Liberal Party is has devolved into a party with habit if power without the rationale to support it.

    The Greens are now the natural policy alternative to National. Today, they are increasingly the party of clear policy goals based on a solid scientific evidence. If you want a clear alternative to neo-liberal / third-way environmental and social laissez faire, then you have to be voting Green. Labour shot themselves in the head in 1984….and the corpse is still twitching.

    Comment by truthseekernz — June 15, 2015 @ 9:36 am

  6. The irony in king kong’s “mouth breather” comment is too rich to ignore. I recognise it now.

    Comment by truthseekernz — June 15, 2015 @ 9:39 am

  7. “plus they really hate identity politics” does national REALLY hate “ID pol” or is that just the packaging?

    to be honest ive never given it much thought – but it seems to fit in the same camp of claim that parties are “post ideology” or whatever term gets used to try and claim they arent staffed by career politicians with ideological platforms and paid for by backers with the same

    Comment by framu — June 15, 2015 @ 9:55 am

  8. First: the left’s great intellectual struggle over the past eight years has been about how to reposition ourselves after the catastrophic failure of Blairist third-way centrism. The deregulated free markets that were supposed to fund generous social welfare states worsened inequality, even when functioning, and then they crashed and needed to be bailed out. The centrist argument boils down to ‘Let’s go back to that system that failed!’ It is not intellectually serious.

    Tony Blair was a British politician, but this is New Zealand. Locally we had a PM called Helen Clark, who adopted centrist policies. The centrists of the NZ Labour party are actually from NZ. Now if you think Helen Clark was the author of a catastrophic failure in government, fine. Say it. Make your points.

    Until then please continue mischaracterising NZ centrists as followers of a war-mongering, big toothed, American loving, protectionist twit from the opposite side of the planet.

    Comment by unaha-closp — June 15, 2015 @ 10:15 am

  9. Oh yes, that will work
    Drive out all those to the right of the Party
    Then let’s get rid of those far out lefties
    Then there is just the two of us and I am not to sure about you!

    Comment by rayinnz — June 15, 2015 @ 10:15 am

  10. I wouldn’t mind a centrist/right think tank producing evidence-based policy. But given the track record of the (presumed) founders, it’s more likely to be prejudice-based policy.

    Which means they assume the voters (fabled Waitakere man) share their own prejudices. Even when the polling evidence (e.g. marriage equality) says otherwise.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — June 15, 2015 @ 10:16 am

  11. Any party that tolerates a faction setting up its own parallel system for development of policy and candidates is not fit to govern.

    Comment by Sacha — June 15, 2015 @ 10:32 am

  12. The problem with the new ideas of the Labour centrists is they are neither new ideas, nor Labour or centrists. I made a couple of longish posts on the standard about this – I shall crave Danyl’s indulgence to link whore…

    http://thestandard.org.nz/the-third-way-according-to-tony-blair/#comment-1030130

    http://thestandard.org.nz/the-third-way-according-to-tony-blair/#comment-1030169

    Suffice to say, I am heavily influenced by the Latin American pink tide and the rise of Podemos and Syriza and I think that if you want “new ideas” for the left then you have to look just a wee bit further than the tired, 1990s prescriptions of the English speaking sell-outs like Quinn and Pagani.

    Comment by Sanctuary — June 15, 2015 @ 10:39 am

  13. Well, that would rule out most parties in other democracies.

    It’s only because of our small size and tight caucus system that NZ rejects this kind of thing. We need more ginger/pressure groups and individuals, not fewer. The low quality of the Labour and National caucus is the result of hackery being valued above independence.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — June 15, 2015 @ 10:43 am

  14. Replying to Sacha, that was.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — June 15, 2015 @ 10:43 am

  15. I present for everyone’s enlightenment (and without further comment from me) Tariq Ali’s views on how this approach is working elsewhere in the world – The Extreme Centre: A Warning.

    http://tariqali.org/archives/2912

    Comment by Bill Bennett — June 15, 2015 @ 10:56 am

  16. Sammy when you have lost several elections in a row and previous voters are telling you in focus groups that it’s because of lack of unity (see Rob Salmond’s post http://publicaddress.net/speaker/unity-success-chicken-egg/ ), you do not let factions pretend they are more important than the party’s agreed systems. Unless you plan to lose a fourth election in a row. Which hurts all of us.

    Fine, be a ginger group, but do not purport to be creating parallel policy and candidates because you’re so special the party’s processes do not apply.

    Comment by Sacha — June 15, 2015 @ 11:25 am

  17. Let’s be honest here. This is advice to help Labour given by somebody who clearly just wants Labour to go away and be replaced by the Greens.

    Comment by kalvarnsen — June 15, 2015 @ 11:48 am

  18. How is that honest? Isn’t that just redifining ‘ad hom arguments’ as ‘honesty’? Why would we want to do that?

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — June 15, 2015 @ 11:52 am

  19. The deregulated free markets that were supposed to fund generous social welfare states worsened inequality, even when functioning, and then they crashed and needed to be bailed out. The centrist argument boils down to ‘Let’s go back to that system that failed!’ It is not intellectually serious.

    Calling the banking and finance sectors “free” markets is what is not intellectually serious, although I understand its populist appeal to people who would not know an IPO from a CDS. In fact that “thinking” is what produces giant kludges like Sarbanes-Oxley and Dodd-Frank. Not to mention the fact that there were any number of banking CEO’s who refused TARP bailouts because they did not need them – only to be told by the US government that they were going to get the money whether they liked it or not.

    As just one example; before Dodd-Frank there were any amount of regulations that told financial institutions that they had to hold certain amounts of money in triple-A rated vehicles – because safety. And who rated them as triple-A? Moody’s and a couple of others. And why did their opinions matter? Because they had the stamp of government regulatory approval. The boutique financial analysis firms that analysed sub-prime-based investments and concluded that it was a catastrophe waiting to happen got ignored by all the big boys because they did not have the stamp of government approval. In addition people were all surprised that the analysis of S&P and company were corrupted – and the answer was tougher regulations and regulators. FFS.

    It should be one of the great ironies of history that the last great financial regulatory cockup was named after two of the biggest ass-clowns of the whole mess – Barney “we can afford to roll the dice some more” Frank and Chris “thanks for that Irish country manor, Countrywide” Dodd.

    They’re history now but the torch has been taken up by the likes of the Massachusetts multi-millionaire SJW, Elizabeth Warren, whose No. 2 favourite pastime is vilifying Wall Street bankers – right behind her No. 1 pastime of prospering on the largess of Wall Street lawyers. Someone who screams her guts out about Wall Street corporate welfare but is more than happy to feed it to the likes of Bechtel, Caterpillar and Boeing and other corner stores. Someone who talks about revisions to the swap rules as being done solely so “the biggest financial institutions in this country can make more money” is making a far cheaper, easier, intellectually dishonest argument than exploring why mid-sized US banks think the rule screws them vs. the big players, or why agricultural swaps were covered but not interest-rate or foreign-exchange swaps.

    People who complain about the fucked up relationship between business and government but then insist that the answer is more government power that will simply enable worse misbehaviour and more rent-seeking? Now that’s something that is definitely “not intellectually serious.”

    Comment by Tom Hunter — June 15, 2015 @ 12:13 pm

  20. “I do wonder why more of these people don’t forget about their quixotic mission to change Labour, and just support National?”

    I think you just summarised voting preferences of intellectually not-serious ex-labourites for the previous three elections.

    Comment by Lee Clark — June 15, 2015 @ 12:45 pm

  21. Helen Clark – centrist.

    Comment by unaha-closp — June 15, 2015 @ 12:53 pm

  22. “People just aren’t going to switch their vote to a less credible version of the thing they already like.”

    Agree. According to the New Zealand Election Study data, National won because a huge majority of the public thought it did a good job between 2011-2014; because John Key is seen as highly competent and fairly trustworthy; and because the economy was the most important issue and National was seen as being more competent to deal with it. If Labour shifts more to the centre, it will not change either of these perceptions.

    Comment by Seb Rattansen — June 15, 2015 @ 1:14 pm

  23. @ 19 you wrote lots of words without much of a punch line – is your response that we should deregulate? Or re-assess / tweak current regulatory settings? I agree that the banking and finance sector isn’t a “free market” (and would query whether anything can be free given social structure etc etc) but are you suggesting it should be?

    Comment by nw — June 15, 2015 @ 1:18 pm

  24. I would just like to ask the Labour Party to take the advice proffered by Danyl and Sanctuary and, through a link, Tariq Ali. Please, please, please! Take the advice. Or you could simply ask the party to appoint Martyn Bradbury as leader. Either is fine with me.

    Comment by Tinakori — June 15, 2015 @ 1:20 pm

  25. Also, appreciate the name unaha-closp. I hope retirement is treating you well.

    Comment by nw — June 15, 2015 @ 1:21 pm

  26. @ Tinakori.. Oh Yes that would be brilliant nobody does batshit crazy political advice like Bradbury.

    The Labour party in NZ has been buggered since H1 and H2 left the scene, since then no one has had the balls to smack the various factions into line and tell the assorted advisors both paid for and in the media to sod off.

    Comment by Peggity Gwes — June 15, 2015 @ 1:36 pm

  27. Just as the laissez faire waves destroy the roads of Wellington the Gweens will wash over Labo and sweep away the old neo-lib failed order.

    Onwards comrades! the tide of History (umm the good type of proletariat tide) is unstoppable.

    Comment by Simon — June 15, 2015 @ 1:37 pm

  28. “Fine, be a ginger group, but do not purport to be creating parallel policy and candidates because you’re so special the party’s processes do not apply.”

    Excellent comment Sacha @11;25am. There is already a very good “think tank” inside the Labour Party. It’s called the Policy Council. If this group wants to influence Labour policy direction then they need to submit them to the Council like everyone else. There seems to me to be an element of arrogance and elitism in their proposed project. And remember that some of these individuals spent much of 2103 and 2014 running Labour down on various media and other public forums. It is also suspected they were responsible for much of the “leaking” that ended up doing so much damage to Labour in election year.

    Is it any wonder most Labour caucus members to not trust them and will not support them in their current endeavours.

    Comment by Anne — June 15, 2015 @ 7:51 pm

  29. “Let’s go back to that system that failed!’ It is not intellectually serious.”

    Who is not being intellectually serious? Where is your utopian counter Factual? Real Median wages rose strongly under Blair. It depends on what your goal is. Blair was explicit about raising the bottom rather than worrying about capping the top.

    Comment by Matthew W — June 15, 2015 @ 8:16 pm

  30. I can’t help thinking the claim that National are more left wing than Muldoon is bollicks invented by extreme right wingers to soften lefties up and pull righties further right.

    Apart from the benefit increase headlines, everything else they’re doing is right wing: health and safety regs, selling state homes, inaction on AK housing, environmental damage via mining, roading… The list goes on.

    Be careful you’re not buying into Hooton’s beguiling theories again.

    Comment by Vita Thomas — June 19, 2015 @ 11:20 pm


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