Polity by Rob Salmond

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Polity: In defence of the centre

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  • Rich of Observationz,

    I think that there are three main reasons why people vote for right-wing parties at the moment:

    a: the flood of propaganda in the media, not just Mike Hoskins style blatant partisanship, but the more insidious narrative of division that we are continuously fed, even from ostensibly liberal sources (imaginary roofers, boat people, etc)

    b: the tendency, driven by that propaganda, for the middle classes to identify with the small cohort of the very affluent, often under the delusion that they have the chance of joining them. See also house porn.

    c: property price inflation giving the illusion of wealth to a segment of the middle class (like any Ponzi scheme, this is dependent on them not withdrawing any of their 'wealth')

    There isn’t much the Left can do about much of this immediately (not paying for media is one thing) but it’s pretty clear that one day, property prices will collapse. That’ll create a window for a Left government to get elected – and to do so, it needs to present a clear and better alternative to the right-wing solution (austerity, mostly). Once elected, they’ll be in a position to undermine the mass media (they’re already suffering and to some extent existing on bailouts from a grateful state) and hence break the cycle.

    It’s whether we get parties that offer an alternative or merely minor mitigation of austerity that’s in question – and whether if the parties don’t step up, an alternative grassroots movement can supplant them.

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 5550 posts Report Reply

  • Simon Lyall,

    I'm not sure the situation in the UK is a 100% fit for NZ since we have PR. In the 2014 election if people didn't think that Labour is far enough left then they had the option of voting for the Greens or Mana.

    Also if people don't think National was right-wing enough they could have voted for Act or the Conservatives. Probably not as good as option on that side since both were struggling to make the threshold.

    Between National and Labour things are harder. United Future, Maori and NZ First are not really traditional centre parties. United Future might be the closest but doesn't really seem to have been able to capitalise on it.

    Auckland • Since Feb 2007 • 57 posts Report Reply

  • Rob Stowell, in reply to Rob Salmond,

    when it lasts longer, it helps more poor, oppressed, exploited people. That’s why Working for Families is better than a UBI and high marginal taxes – it’s broadly popular enough that the right can’t afford to undo it

    Hi Rob. I'm genuinely curious - do you think WWF is in itself a better policy? If you could chose WWF or a UBI and high marginal taxation, with the power to make either endure for 20 years, come what may - which would you chose?

    Whakaraupo • Since Nov 2006 • 2091 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock,

    Well, I've got skin in the game directly, since I'm in the UK, and was enthused enough about Corbyn/Watson (and disgusted enough by the alternatives) to pay my three quid and cast a vote. And it's the first time I've actually felt enthused about 'The Mainstream' for years.

    Anyone thinking this is an ultimately pointless silly season bullshit media confection like Milifandom (a highly embarrasing last-minute pre-election (barely) sideshow that was only given legs by a bored media) is, I think, dead wrong.

    I could easily be misreading the augeries, but this feels different. People who don't normally talk about politics are talking about this, they're going to see him speak in packed out venues (and he's constantly having to upsize to get more available seats).

    The difference is, I think, that what is offered is 'hope', as cheesy as that sounds. People know what he stands FOR, they know what they are voting FOR. For once, there's some fucking positivity, rather than a general discontent and endless voting against 'to keep them out'. No-one voted FOR labour in the last election, because what they offed was about as appealing as last night's overcooked sprouts. He's acted as a lightning rod for a lot of people who wanted something different, but were despairing of the options on offer.

    And, yes, there is an element of 'fuck you' to it as well (a minority element). The opportunity to stick a middle finger up at the Blairites and their toxic legacy is really quite irresistable.

    ETA: if nothing else, it's been wonderful entertainment watching the cosy Westminster/Islington columnist-and-MP-circle-jerk get their legs kicked out from under them.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2728 posts Report Reply

  • AMBSmith, in reply to Russell Brown,

    Corbyn is the only one offering policy for late-stage capitalism in the 21st century. Quantitative easing for the people instead of bank bailouts has some significant support http://www.theguardian.com/business/2015/aug/19/corbynomics-why-we-should-take-it-seriously

    Since Aug 2015 • 1 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    I enjoyed reading George Monbiot's article and would quickly add the following:

    - I think the bar chart Rob provided is really important;

    - the centre-left emphasises the way in which majoritarianism lends legitimacy to change. The tension between authenticity and the allegedly compromised character of the centre-left is too often based on a failure to account for the views of other voters;

    - revolutionary and radical ideologies tend to overlook the way in which incremental, trust-led change can overhaul systems over time and thereby open the Overton window;

    - The enthusiasms of motivated voters give little insight into how a political movement will fare under sustained media scrutiny.

    Since Nov 2006 • 785 posts Report Reply

  • Sam Bradford,

    This whole analysis is so depressing, because it assumes the sole reason for the existence of the Labour party is to be elected. Maybe it is. I consider joining it sometimes, and then I remember it's run by indecipherable centrist robots who are terrified of disagreeing with anyone. I really believe and hope that the time of Blairism/Clintonism has passed, because it's clear that they did nothing but slow down ever so slightly the collapse of society.

    New Zealand • Since Jul 2014 • 30 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sam Bradford,

    This whole analysis is so depressing, because it assumes the sole reason for the existence of the Labour party is to be elected.

    Well, it's analysis that says being elected is vitally important to Labour, for sure. Which I don't think is false.

    We've got 2 main points in contention:
    1. That moving right towards the center is justified if it moves the center to the left as a result
    2. That moving rightwards towards the center does actually move the center leftwards.

    These are separate questions. One is more of a moral question about how we feel about the means justifying the ends. The other is a factual question: Does these means actually lead to these ends?

    I think Rob is saying both 1 and 2 are true. Tom is saying that 2 is false, so 1 is irrelevant. I'm not sure if I know whether he agrees with 1 in principle - gut feeling is that he does, from other things he's said over the years.

    I would say that we can't generalize about 2 - whether it is true or false is contextual and much in doubt in the context of the UK, and here too. I'd say that I generally actually do agree with 1. It's a pragmatic hypothetical. You can agree with 1, and yet think that moving to the center isn't a good idea, because the IF part isn't satisfied. It doesn't always work, and won't work now, but it could sometimes work, and would be good in those circumstances.

    I have to say that I think 2 is actually somewhat true, though. At least in NZ right now. I don't know about the UK situation. My feeling is that Rob is correct, and that centrism would be somewhat effective in growing the Labour vote and winning them an election, and in doing so, moving the political center of NZ somewhat to the Left. It really depends how far they go. So long as they're still to the left of National, they're either pulling left, or at least slowing down the rightwards drift.

    But speaking of the Left in this way is such a sweeping generalization. It would need to be fleshed out substantially before I could be cool with it. What actual compromises are we talking about? A lot of them matter to me much more than others. I could say I agree with the strategy in the broadest of terms, but still entirely disagree with a particular suggestion for implementing it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic,

    Corbyn and Sanders are basically the Occupy/trade union candidates. Harawira and Dotcom tried, and failed, to do the same in NZ. I’m an avid politics follower, and even I’m having trouble thinking of an equivalent in the NZLP. Cunliffe and Little had the backing of the unions, but they’re not exactly Occupy types. And Corbyn and Sanders have made it clear they aren't for turning.

    Is it possible to take a 2-pronged approach, where a Left strategy is pitched to the core base, and a Centre strategy is pitched to floating voters, without both prongs tripping each other up? Or are they mutually exclusive?

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5420 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Kumara Republic,

    Is it possible to take a 2-pronged approach, where a Left strategy is pitched to the core base, and a Centre strategy is pitched to floating voters, without both prongs tripping each other up? Or are they mutually exclusive?

    I think it's possible. You target each group with different emphasis on what messages you want to deliver, depending what you've judged they most want to hear. You only trip on things that are actually directly contrary between the groups. But the solution is to just not talk about those things to either group. Your political opposition will do that, of course, pointing out any such conflicts if they exist. You'd stick to your guns and just continue to refuse fleshing out the conflict zone, talking instead of the similarities and concessions that are not blockers to either group.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10641 posts Report Reply

  • Sofie Bribiesca, in reply to BenWilson,

    You'd stick to your guns and just continue to refuse fleshing out the conflict zone, talking instead of the similarities and concessions that are not blockers to either group.

    As I see it, Labour should be automatically doing that with Greens and NZFirst. Point out what similarities exist, then how the differences are strengths if they join forces for the benefit of what the public want. Point out the happy middle ground is with working as one together.

    here and there. • Since Nov 2007 • 6796 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Sofie Bribiesca,

    You will recall it is not the Greens who have resisted working together. Labour does not need to 'point out' anything, they need to get over themselves and have a genuine conversation.

    Winston on the other hand would be hard to trust, but he managed to be on-board for the joint Manufacturing inquiry so it can be done.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Colonel Trotter weighs in. h/t Hebe

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd,

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Sacha,

    You will recall it is not the Greens who have resisted working together.

    No, that is National, they refuse to work with anybody unless they promise to back their neo-liberal agenda to the hilt. Labour, after "9 long years" of getting most things right, have been subject to the continuous defamatory and divisive attacks from the right and as such need the support of those that feel National are taking the rest of the country for a ride, a long downhill ride.
    Sure, the Greens and Labour have their differences but if they didn't, well hey, they would be the same party eh?.
    I can't understand why you keep "putting the boot in" here, unless of course you are content with National having another term just to spite Labour.
    What exactly is your problem?.
    We ALL need to work together and resolve all these petty differences, otherwise the outcome will be the end of NZ as we know it.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Sam Bradford,

    it assumes the sole reason for the existence of the Labour party is to be elected

    That is unkind. I would have said it assumes that change can only be made from the government benches, so that winning on a compromise platform of being a bit nicer is better than principled losing.

    That's not an assumption everyone shares. For example, the Greens have rubbed along always being out of government, but undoubtedly using their platform in parliament to advance their ideas and get them into the public debate. And the fact that National keeps spiking left parties' guns by offering weak versions of their policies, or policies that superficially address their concerns, shows that just keeping oppositional ideas alive can be effective if all you care about is moving the policy needle a bit.

    What I keep coming back to is this. Yes, in normal times, appeals to the centre, whatever the fuck that might be, probably prevail. On the other hand, we can think of times -- our first Labour govt, the 84 Labour govt, the Thatcher government -- where radical, long-lived changes could be made, and people accepted them, because the former consensus politics had been made a fool of by conditions. Some of us are always going to want to get elected now, on a platform of incremental change, managing the status quo better than the other crew. Others are always going to want to prepare the ground for the political opportunity that will let us make lasting change, which could be any minute now. And we're always going to argue about what is more likely to help. Personally, I favour the latter angle, partly because I think principled leadership from Opposition is a thing, but I acknowledge that other people think small amounts of jam today are better than pie in the sky.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    Relevant.

    To who?
    An anonymous blogger who thinks blue is the right colour for a "left wing" blog. Gimmee a break.
    That is about as subtle as...

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Stephen Judd, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    Public Address' default branding is slate blue. Hard News is a Nazi brown. I'm not sure this is a fruitful line of criticism.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 3122 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes,

    Labels may not be popular amongst the chattering classes but they sure as hell work with the uninformed and they, my friend, are the problem.
    Going for the "centre" is not the answer, the people need informed and recognisable parties to enact their will. we have to engender that will by making the right choice, the choice that is right for the disenfranchised and thew country as a whole.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Steve Barnes, in reply to Stephen Judd,

    I'm not sure this is a fruitful line of criticism.

    I could critique that anonymous pseudo left wing blog but I would rather not waste my time when I have more important things to do, like checking for navel fluff.

    Peria • Since Dec 2006 • 5521 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Steve Barnes,

    I can't understand why you keep "putting the boot in" here, unless of course you are content with National having another term just to spite Labour. What exactly is your problem?.

    Are you really saying you are happy with how Labour have conducted themselves since about 2007? I am hardly a lone voice in wanting them to pull their socks up for the sake of the whole progressive left - and more importantly all the people who are harmed by not having a coherent competent voice on their behalf.

    If Labour do not demonstrate for voters right now that they can work constructively with progressive allies, we will get another term of the incumbents. Labour's caucus and party are kidding themselves if they imagine getting to 40% this time.

    Seems to me most of the barriers to cooperation lie on Labour's side (and perhaps Winston's as mentioned). The Greens, Mana and others have better track records of openness to working together.

    Do post links if you have evidence to the contrary. I could always be wrong. But not because I support the current governing clowns, ok.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • Rob S,

    Perhaps some of the left wing success in Greece, Spain and the other countries "enjoying" austerity is resonating in the UK also?

    Since Apr 2010 • 136 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Mike Smith responds.

    I don’t know where Rob Salmond was in 1999, the last time Labour won government in New Zealand. Labour went into that election with a declared coalition partner on its left in the Alliance, with declared policies to raise the top rate of income tax, to bring ACC back into public ownership and to restore income-related rents for state house tenants. Labour’s narrative swung left and Labour won; the Victoria University book on the election was titled “Left Turn.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19688 posts Report Reply

  • WH,

    Yes, in normal times, appeals to the centre, whatever the fuck that might be, probably prevail.

    While I can't speak to centrism, the term "centre left" is a widely understood shorthand for a popular set of policies and attitudes about mixed market capitalism, regulation and the redistribution of income. It's a broad term that readily encompasses the approaches of the New Zealand and UK Labour parties.

    Politics is the process by which we share society with those with whom we disagree. The centre left's emphasis on democratic decision-making and good governance is a source of lasting strength and should be celebrated as such. I don't accept that politics gets muddled as it moves to where the people are.

    Without wishing to comment on or locate Bernie Sanders within this debate, this sums up the shortcomings of approaches that value ideological purity ahead of the views of actual voters.

    Since Nov 2006 • 785 posts Report Reply

  • Deborah, in reply to Sacha,

    Attachment

    If Labour do not demonstrate for voters right now that they can work constructively with progressive allies, we will get another term of the incumbents.

    That's a two way street, not helped by this sort of thing.

    New Lynn • Since Nov 2006 • 1445 posts Report Reply

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