The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Tuesday, May 31, 2005

Push-Me Pull-Me

(This is partly in response to Jordan's post, The Left & Beyond, that was a reply to my earlier post about my bitterness over the Labour Party.)

From time to time I find well-meaning Labour types, of whom there are many, harangue me about how I am wasting my time in the Alliance and I would be much more useful for the Left in the Labour party.

The argument is that it would be better for the Left to make a concerted effort to push Labour leftwards, than to try to pull it towards them from outside, whether that is through another party or more general left activism.

I'm not convinced by this. I think a dual strategy is best - some pushing from within, some pulling from without.

Quite apart from my personal circumstances which would make being in Labour and trying to push it Left difficult, here are my reasons I think it's important that the Left fight Labour on two fronts:

1. Pushing Labour left is a long term project. It's not really about just pushing Labour left, it's about reclaiming it as a party of and for working people, that challenges capitalism and upholds the ideals of democratic socialism (it's all still on the back of the membership card, as Olo pointed out to me). And for a party of that nature to retain the success that Labour has had in recent years it is all about shifting the political paradigm, not just one party. For that to succeed some need to be in, to shift the party and those associated with it, and some need to be out, to appeal to those who are scathing of the party itself. Which is why it's good to have lefties in other parties but also outside parties entirely.

2. Actually it might not work. Labour may not be salvageable. I know many hold this opinion. Somedays I think it is a complete waste of time, capitalist sell-out party and other days I hold out a little hope (usually after National policy releases). If we can't push Labour left then we need to have other vehicles, electoral or not, to push the paradigm, and to challenge the PC-ness about the Mighty Market.

3. It's more accomodating. Different people prefer different activist routes. Giving them options outside the Behemoth that is Labour is a Good Idea. In particular some people are not good at dealing with the bureaucratic nature of political parties with arcane rules developed since early last century, which seem to make no sense. Those people get bruised very easily in the rough and tumble environment of Labour and are much better off in the local GPJA or PAW equivalent, where a community focus, and consensus approach, is not only respected but indeed valued.

Ultimately Labour as it is now is not a Left party - so why would lefties join? I don't mean to belittle the work of many good people inside Labour. I think they are doing an important job and I wish them good luck. But for others on the Left it is too hard to forget the Fourth Labour Government, it is too hard to look at the inaction of this Labour-led Government on so many core Labour issues (or what would have been core in Ye Olde Days).

Let us fight in our way, and you will fight in yours, and hopefully one day we will all win together.


Brian Boyko said...

The process seems similar to the American Greens - the theory is that the only reason for a lefty to vote for the (Center-right) Democrats is that the (Nationalist-far-right) Republicans will win if the Democrats don't. That's a two-party system. Under MMP there's no reason to do so - if Alliance can get 200,000 votes (5%) that is. If they can't, then that's a big chunk of votes which aren't getting represented, and hurts the overall cause of the Left. If the Alliance can't muster that amount, then there's no hope of forming a coalition with Labour, but in a tight race like the 2005 elections are becoming, those votes would better be served by going with Labour or the Green Party.

Tactical voting - something that MMP should have eliminated. *sigh* But it is a reality.

The question you have to ask yourselves is: Is the Alliance a viable party?

If it is, then it is best to continue pushing to work without Labour or the Greens, acting with your own representatives, acting with your own initiatives.

If it is not, then practicality implies that the best course of action is to work from within Labour, pulling it to the left (btw, it doesn't work with the Dems in America) or work within the Green Party, pulling it towards the issues that you espouse.

It would be a tragedy if the Greens and the Alliance each pulled three percent of the vote this election. That's all I'm saying.

Anonymous said...

Fair enough - I am one of those in Labour that want to see it further left - and I have a positive feeling about Young Labour ... perhaps when todays Young Labour become MPs and higher up in the Party we will see a party of social democracy again ...
But there do need to be a leftwards forces on the outsides too. Good on you Span.

STC said...

Something I have heard mentioned is a change to MMP so that a Party only needs .8% to be elected - the minimum you would need for 1 MP.

That way minor parties could be much more confident of election - though it would also bring in crazies like Destiny...

Idiot/Savant said...

STC: Even crazies like Destiny deserve political representation (and certainly if you think that you do, you must grant it to every single one of your fellow citizens as well).

Make Tea Not War said...

I think it depends on what you understand politics to be. I see it, in a democracy, as about the process of democratic discourse and contestable ideas- whereas others see it as about being in power. So I think you are right that it is good to have other parties providing alternatives. At least that way alternative ideas get a platform.

And I don't really think it has to be all about Labour in terms of either being in the party or trying to pull the party to the left externally. Taking a long term view political parties come and go. Who is to say Labour will still be around or a major force in 20- 30 years? Other alternatives will very likely in time come to dominance.

Graham Watson said...

It is good to test Labour. They tax like a left wing government but fail to spend like one, end result, the ordinary people miss out.

Labour needs to work out what it stands for and either continue to tax high and spend it on social programmes (not my preference but I'm sure this resonates with many who identify as left) or leave the money in workers pay packets and only tax to the degree they need to fund current spending.

At the moment New Zealanders are getting squeezed at both ends by a govt suffering from an identity crisis. Keep it up Alliance and Greens, flush them out.

Idiot/Savant said...

Brian: it's not just about the Alliance; there are other (IMHO more viable) left-wing parties, and the same argument applies to them and their supporters. As does Span's answer: that a diversity of approaches will be more successful. As for tactical voting, the aim is to get a government that pursues policies you want; if those policies are somewhat to the left of Labour's mainstream, then it makes perfect sense to vote for another party which will pull policy leftward. MMP means we are now voting for influence, not to form a government.

I'll also add that those who call for "unity on the left" usually want nothing more than for people to shut the fuck up and toe the line. Which is in itself a powerful reason to promote a diversity of (effective) vehicles...

span said...

who are the other, more viable, leftparties IS? I can understand the view that the Greens may be in that heap, although I disagree, but I'm curious to know who else qualifies...

Idiot/Savant said...

The Progressives. I don't like Jim Anderton at all, but his party's policies - cutting student debt, funding education and health - would be a leftward pull on Labour (wheras I think his corporate tax-cut plans would be stymied by Cullen). But they're more an option for one type of disgruntled Labour voter; given the bad blood, I don't really expect people from the Alliance to be able to hold their noses that much.

Sock Thief said...

The reason that Labour became electable here in NZ and in Britain is that it dropped some of the left wing rhetoric and appealed to a wider range of voters. If you want to pull Labour away from the centre the most likely result is a centre right government not a Labour givernment with more left wing policies.

There just are not enough people who think like you span. Most people are towards the centre of the political spectrum, even those that are not well off.

Jordan said...

I think the challenge that faces Labour and other left groupings is less about dragging Labour left, than about coming up with effective ways to persuade Kiwis to move left. If the strategy just focuses on moving Labour, it'll just lead to the left being out of power forever. Graphic happenings just over the last couple of years - the response to Brash's orewa speech; the French NO vote in the EU Constitution referendum - all demonstrate what happens when an elite gets too far ahead of public opinion.

I can think of a number of fronts where we need action to help persuade Kiwis to move left.

There's the institution-building part of the project. We need a good centre-left think tank or two. We need a stronger union movement. We need a better left voice in the mass media.

There's the policy part. We need to find clever ways in public services of implementing our values (more equality of opportunity and outcome, and provision based on need not ability to pay) in ways that resonate with people's instinctive fairness, but don't ring their "nanny state" alarm bells.

There's the ideology part. People still paint Labour as being far left when it's not, and Labour hasn't done enough to "challenge the forces of Conservatism" (as Blair might say) in the NZ context. 2000 might be seen in future as a watershed in that regard. Labour still does not have a persuasive language to talk about equality in a way that isn't easily caricatured and mocked (effectively) by the Right.

There's the organising strategies part. Political parties are pretty difficult things to be involved with. People are not always welcoming of newcomers, and parties get bound up in bureaucracy instead of really engaging with the public in ways that might persuade them to change their minds a bit more to the left.

So there is lots to do, but the heartwarming thing is that there are lots of people out there doing it, and while we manage to hold power at the parliamentary level, the pressure other parts of the left can bring to bear have more prospect of having an effect than they would under a National government.

I agree with Span that there is space and need for people outside Labour - both in other parties and in activist groups, as well as civil society. Most of all, I agree with her comment: hopefully one day we will all win together. Sorry this is so long. :)

Jordan said...

PS - I hope I have never harangued you to join the Labour Party. If I have it must have been years ago ;)

Brian Boyko said...

Jordan. I'm good at thinking and I have a snorkel for the tank...

span said...

no can't think of any time recently that you have harangued me Jordan - i think you are more understanding than most of the personal forces that lead me away from Labour!

i don't mind the haranguing largely, it makes me feel wanted ;-)

sock thief - i did actually say in my original post that it wasn't just about shifting Labour leftwards, because you are right, that alone would just lead to National led Govts, it's about
shifting the political paradigm - it isn't just about Labour, it's about the whole damn country, and really it's even broader than that, it's about the world.

IS - in terms of the Progs, I think there are certainly individuals who other individuals in the Alliance would not be able to work with again (but then look at the Labour-Alliance lovey-doveyness in 1999, I don't think anyone would have thought that likely ten years ago). There is certainly much frustration in the Alliance when they put forward those policies, when many of us remember key figures like JPA urging the moderation of these exact same policies (and how "no one" believes in things like free education and free healthcare anymore). But I wouldn't rule out people working together again once Anderton has shuffled off.

Icehawk said...

If the Labour Party was more of a democracy, I'd probably have joined it a couple of years ago. But frankly, it's not. To an outsider it looks like it is run by an old-boys (and -girls) network, with a party consitution designed to push that.

It is just unimaginable that Labour would do like the Greens do and hold an STV vote of all party members to select the party list.

span said...

that is one of the many reasons I never joined Labour either (and in fact it is one of the most important things that would have to change for me to ever consider it).

Internal party democracy is vital - in both senses of the word. Both of the Alliance's "leadership departures" have arisen from a lack of respect for internal processes by said leaders. I guess Alliance members are stroppier than Labour ones.

As long as MPs can say "well it might be party policy but it's not caucus policy" and get away with it, I will never seriously consider joining Labour.