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

Wednesday, June 01, 2005

which party should lefties head to?

Further to the discussion about the Alliance at No Right Turn, and the debate about the left outside Labour on this blog, Idiot/Savant has got me thinking about which party lefties should really support.

Clearly I think that it's the Alliance - I'm in it, I have been for nearly five years, and I'd really be quite stoked if we could rebuild into a potent Left force for 2008.

But obviously other people think differently, or the Alliance would have thousands of members, hundreds and thousands of dollars, and I'd be in the (currently thankfully impossible) position of having to shift to Wellington by the end of the year.

I think there are some interesting options for the Left (those who are bothering with Parliamentary politics):

1. Join existing leftish parties and help them - the Greens, the Progs, Labour (I think between IS, Jordan and myself we have rather ruled out the Maori Party as a force for socialism) - Should we join/support one over the others? Should we form a faction within an existing Parliamentary party and push for medium term control (ie entrism)?

2. Rebuild an existing extra-parliamentary party - the Alliance is the one for me, obviously, but I suspect there are other possibilities out there for this. What would that really take, in terms of money, volunteers, work - and how would you achieve that, aiming to return to Parliament in 2008? Is it easier to build a new party or to rebuild an existing one? An existing party has the advantage (and disadvantage) of already having a network and a profile, but a new party may have more potential to get positive media coverage (eg the largely non-critical coverage the Maori Party has had since its launch.)

3. Build a brand new electoral vehicle - cobbling together the remnants of several parties that have all split from each other over the years, and trying to mop up those disaffected with parties entirely. Discussions with many people who have been Alliance supporters suggest they are waiting for a totally new vehicle - they feel the Alliance is too tainted. As for the rebuilding option, what would be needed to do this effectively?

4. Steal an existing MP or high-profile candidate who was guaranteed to win a seat and build (or re-build) around them - all of the third parties currently in Parliament had MPs before they faced an election (except of course for Act, who had past MPs), but who would be ripe for the plucking?

I'm sure there are other options that haven't occured to me, and frequently I wonder if all this parliamentary politicking is a distraction from the real work of education, organisation and action, leading to a fundamental change in the way our society is ordered, ie bringing an end to capitalism.

Thoughts and comments, particularly from those with leftish tendencies (rather than the usual lobbing of rotten tomatoes from some of those on the right), much appreciated.

Update: Maramatanga has commented on his/her blog too: Leftward and upward.

27 comments:

Xavier said...

I really don't know what you should do. As you know, I was in a position to start shopping around for something other than Labour, but I rejoined the fold (in part due to the advice of your man in the comfy chair) because I thought that was the best place to get stuff done. I dunno. I really have no idea.

Krimsonlake said...

I'd go with trying to rope in someone high profile. People need someone they know and like. Familiarity is what people tend to go with. Any new, or existing party, has to work with familiarity. The Alliance has sort of fallen off the general political radar, but I don't think it's due to bad policies. Right now I'd vote Alliance if I thought they had a chance. But the profile is just too low.

The problem is the lack of appropriate high-profile lefty types. And you just don't want people like Tamihere, who have more issues than you can count. Maybe pick someone internal who is appropriate and attempt to raise their profile.

Merging of factions is always going to be problematic. I wouldn't go for it personally. Because factionalism is what screwed the Alliance last time, right? And I think it's indicative of how that sort of merge is going to turn out.

[I'm focusing on the Alliance here, because I think they would be a good vehicle, if they could just make themselves prominent again)

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Xavier: do you think you have been making a difference within Labour? What stuff have you gotten done?

Krimsonlake: if you'd like the Alliance to regain prominence, join and give us a hand!

Greg Stephens said...

Well I joined Labour as by filling it with lefties (as opposed to Tamiheres, Cosgroves, Douglases etc) some true action can actually be done. The Greens/Alliance are never going to achieve anything without Labour, and it is about making Labour prefer to coalise with them than United Future.

Idiot/Savant said...

I am not a "party" person - but I'd suggest option 4, if only because it increases your chances of getting in, and therefore provides the visibility required to keep on building. But just don't pick John Banks, OK?

That's not the only thing that needs to be done, of course - you need a strong membership and committed activists. But unless you look like you have a credible chance of getting into Parliament, then people will justifiably write you off and cast their votes elsewhere (insert anti-threshhold rant here).

The Alliance's problem IMHO is lack of visibility. Not enough candidates (and those they have are pretty much nobodies), virtually no press coverage, and therefore low polling, leading to a vicious negative feedback cycle. And its not really due to lack of trying (though a few opportunities for press coverage have been missed); its the breakup and the subsequent abandonment by the former leadership which has created this situation, and the remains of the Alliance just have to try and claw their way out of it.

Greg: good on you. Someone has to stand up to the cat-starvers.

span said...

I don't think Act picked John Banks, he picked them - seems pretty unlikely he would ever pick the Alliance! Although apparently in our dim dark past there were rumours around Winston joining us...

The role of non-party people is important, you are right, the vast majority of NZers are not in a party and never will be. And I would say that is probably more prevalent amongst left-wing activists than on the right, partly because there isn't one clear natural home and partly because there are many people who (rightfully so) think parliamentary politics is never going to deliver what they want, so why waste their time. At least that's my theory.

Lack of visibility is a big problem. How do you get it? Any or all of these:
- high profile members/leaders (eg MPs, but not exclusively)
- money (buy ads, billboards, host big events)
- grassroots swell - for which you often need the first two, or some particular flashpoint event (case in point the success of peace groups in recent years in gaining profile)
- key people who are organised and competent (and have the time) keeping the organisation ticking
- a media who are interested

Currently the Alliance really only has one of these (the key people) and even what we have in that dept is barely enough - everyone who is a key activist is also working (paid or unpaid) full time on other stuff, so Alliance work happens around the margins of our lives.

Very difficult to compete with parties that have parliamentary staff, leaders' budgets, media who actually phone them about things, people who are available virtually 24/7 to pump out press releases for them, etc.

I don't mean this to be a big book o' woe for the Alliance - somedays I feel very positive about what we might achieve. I guess I am trying to find a way that we (as in the lefties who are interested in having a clear party to organise around) can rebuild, whether that is focused around the Alliance or not.

A few years in the wilderness, without the money and media oxygen the House provides, has made me realise just how hard it is to get in once you are out. Especially for a party whose supporters are not exactly rolling in it. (money I mean, you filthy minded bloggers ;-) )

Joe Hendren said...

The key thing that keeps me positive about the Alliance is the continued involvement of a group of very capable younger activists that came into the Alliance in the late 1990s, and found immediate affinity with the younger activists from the NLP days. Despite our leadership attempting to throw the toys out of the cot a couple of times, the majority of the younger activists have stayed staunch.

This, and the fact we now have a more proportional electoral system may be the difference between the Alliance and other parties that have failed to make it back to parliament in the past (NZ party, social credit)

Many of those that began voting in the NLP days have never associated the Labour party with the left - at best they remain on oversized centre party. Many of these lefties only ever voted NLP or the Alliance (with some occasional greens).

While it may at times seem easier to start a new party, I suspect people underestimate the money and resources needed to launch a new party (new website, logo etc).

IS: The problem with 4 is that many in the Alliance are very wary of basing the party on a personality given that this stategy has ultimately failed in the past. While it might be faster to put the party up on sand, I prefer to place it on a solid foundation so it doesn't get washed away.

Lucyna said...

You want to bring an end to capitalism???

Lucyna said...

Ok, this is where I back out slowly, making no sudden moves ...

span said...

yeah not a big fan of the whole The Market Will Provide mantra. Bit too religious for me - i mean "invisible hand"?

span said...

Joe you are very right about the younger activists, just to pat ourselves on the back a bit ;-) I have a lot of respect for many of the people I work with in the Alliance, they constantly amaze me with their staunchness, their knowledge, and their abilities.

The amount of resources to rebuild are big, let alone those required to start from scratch. And imagine all those painful "what shall we call ourselves" discussions (although I do have a few party names stashed up my sleeves if the time comes!)

Idiot/Savant said...

Joe: Simply getting in to Parliament will help raise others to visibility, and allow you to reconnect with that support base. While the Alliance relied on Jim's electorate seat, it didn't actually need it, as it got well over 5% in both 96 and 99. Provided you don't run the show like NZFirst (where everyone really is just a spear-carrier for Winston), its a way forward.

Waiting until things are perfect may mean not getting elected. And I'd far rather have an imperfect vehicle which can effect change than a perfect one which is irrelevant.

(Not that this means you should ignore the other stuff, of course - it is vitally important. But I don't think it will get you there...)

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

Lucyna: what exactly is it about capitalism that you don't want to lose?

Lucyna said...

commie mutant traitor - the ability to trade for money... amoung other things. Considering I am a descendant of two people whose families were seriously stuffed around by communism, I consider it an incredibly dangerous ideology, and will rest easy only when all it's spawn is consigned to the scrap heap of history.

Commie Mutant Traitor said...

I think money is a very useful concept, and I have no problems with trading for it - with appropriate restrictions to prevent excessive concentration of wealth. The "communist" states that have existed to date have all been horrible betrayals of actual socialist ideology, and there's probably not much difference in our respective opinions of them.

millsy said...

And you want to get rid of it by abolishing pensions, welfare benefits, public universal health and education, employment legislation to protect workers, free trade unions, collective bargaining, minimum wage laws, 4 weeks leave, unfair dissmissal laws, the right to job security, etc and so on..

Now thats really big of you...getting rid of all those things so you can sleep soundly in your bed...

You make me sick...

Glenn said...

I see some still cling to the deluded notion that Stalin and Mao were "abberations" and not actually the logical consequence of Marx and Engels in practice.

Human nature, like it or not, is just not built for socialism. It attempts to fit a squishy, blood-filled, square peg into a small round hole - with a very hard hammer. How many more millions have to die before you get this?

Anonymous said...

I think the Alliance can usefully campaign for social justice in a mixed, but largely capitalist, economy. I think any moves to detroy capitalism, in toot, are doomed to failure. This is an old debate on the left side of the political field and I would have thought it obvious by now that the only way capitalism is ever going to go away is if it destroys itself - and it it does that (eg environmental degradation) it takes us with it. Better to find ways to make capitalism serve the public interest, rather than the other way round - a functioning welfare state that doesn't stop people making money seems a good point to aim for.

Conor said...

They just can’t help themselves those angry rightys...

Span, I suggest looking at recent history. It seems almost a function of our parliament that new parties are formed out of disaffection or personality clashes within the old parties eg:

Act - although arguably a ‘true’ MMP style party
UF
Green even (if you count Donald leaving Labour in early 80's, however even more than ACT, true grass roots issue party, yet born from disaffection with old party)
Maori
NZ First
New Labour
Etc

I think your best bet is a Labour/NZ 1st coalition that becomes so unpalatable to some supporters that there is a small split, but that is looking a bit far in the future...

For a while now I have been thinking about whether MMP will settle down . I think that if it did, your chances for establishing new third parties lessen. More likely I think that it will remain somewhat volatile, this is where I think there is room for your new vehicle.

Problem with starting a new party on Labours left is the ability, in the words of one of my CIA plant lecturers, for the government to reform monger…

Ray said...

Well this from the right wing position but
The best way to start a new political that will have clout and traction without a hugh heap of money (as Act and its supporters had and look where it is going even with that help) is to start from within
Join Labour and build a true left wing faction of like minded people, there must be some in there somewhere!!
When you have some strength either move the party to where you think it should be or then split and start a new party
It has been done before but is the only realistic way for the left
Ray
PS keep me in mind after the revolution

Mellie said...

Go the greens!!!! I'm waiting for their industrial relations policy to come out. Should be interesting....

Phantasmagoric Political Junkie said...

Yeah, the main way of creating a new party will be to split from an existing party unless something big happens that centres around a group of people who become popular.
The idea of a split from Labour could work, especially if it got a few MPs from other parties such as the Greens.

Rich said...

Arguably the people who now form ACT were brilliantly (if temporarily) succesful in taking over a nominally left-wing party and moving it to the hard right.

Why can't a left-wing group do the same?

Maramatanga said...

Well, as you say, the right-wing faction of Labour was only successful temporarily. If the party had stayed on that course, I doubt it would have survived. (The brand name might have, but its support base would have been completely altered). Hijacking a party might generate a temporary swing to the left, but I don't think it's a viable option for building a long-term leftist faction. Hijacking the party doesn't mean that you hijack it's support - Labour's rightward swing was workable only because there wasn't any realistic alternative for its voters to flee to, but in the modern multi-party environment, that isn't the case. Just my opinion.

Idiot/Savant said...

Maramatanga: And the departure of Labour's traditional support-base in reaction to its adoption of right-wing policies is arguably exactly what we saw in the 1990 election. Hijacking cannot work long-term. Any new left party has to carefully build and cultivate its own support base, rather than trying to borrow someone else's.

Jordan said...

I'd prefer to see an organising strategy that gets Labour moving the centre to the left.

span said...

why does Labour have to move the centre to the left? not to say they don't need to be part of the equation, but that attitude basically writes off all the lefties (of whom there are many) who are outside Labour.