New Left or Merely Confused? Thoughts on the New Left Party

I thought that I would blog on the prospect of the new Left Party, which appears to have been a reasonably warm topic in the blogosphere. Quite frankly such blogs also take my mind away from the quake (as I live in Christchurch) and its various aftermaths, which is good.

Several years ago, I and a friend undertook a piece of data research in the aftermath of the 1996 General Election. What we found was very interesting (But, when one considers it, not very surprising). Essentially, the Alliance polled behind Labour in working class areas. This is despite the fact that the social democratic policies of the Alliance would benefit working class voters. Where the Alliance polled best was actually in lower middle class areas, specifically in those areas populated by public servants. It was these areas that showed a tendency to support the left.

The Mana By-election was a case in point. Matt McCarten, (President of Unite and former President of the Alliance) stood on a left wing platform in a poor working class area. If one talked with the proponents of the various socialist groups, then it was perfect territory for the left. They thought that Matt would do exceptionally well. Even I thought that Matt would come a good third, by which he would gather several thousand votes. But, instead he came in an exceptionally poor fourth. Working class voters stayed away in droves and when they did vote they voted for Labour.

It started me thinking about the nature of Matt’s campaign and I concluded that it was about ‘quick fixes’. For someone who talks about the need to have a strategy, it is the one thing that he appears to lack. Instead, his campaign was about stunts. The Mana By-election was a case in point – it was a series of stunts, some of them, like the state house occupation had a serious point. Empty state houses at a time, when the Government is screaming about a housing storage, is frankly embarrassing. It proves the lie to the Government’s allegations. But, after making the point, Matt never followed up on it. Instead, the stunts got more extreme and irrelevant – until finally viewers were subjected to John Key being howled at in a Mall and some ‘dumb-ass’ Labour supporter being subjected to a shouting rant by one of Matt’s supporters.

I understand that Matt and others are now advising the newly independent MP Hone Harawira on the establishment of a new Left Party. The issue of a new Left Party, which being a democratic socialist, I would support, needs serious consideration. I fear that it is not getting it. Indeed, it would appear that any conversation or discussion about the creation of a new Party appears to be directed in an ad-hoc manner and, my fear, is that if it comes about; it will be launched in such a manner as well.

It also, alarmingly appears to be based around the need to have strong central figure leading it. In the 1980s and 90s, this was Jim Anderton, in 2010 and 2011 it is Hone Harawira. Strong leaders, particularly if they know that the Party depends on them, tend to use that for their own advantage. I have very vivid memories of NLP and Alliance Council meetings being used in that way. It has left me extremely cautious about such people. My experiences in the NewLabour Party and the Alliance in the 1990s demonstrated to me the need to counter such people by having a strong and committed membership and to have a detailed set of policies and principles.

The second reason that I am cautious about a new Left Party being led by Hone Harawira is because regardless of what people like Matt have said about him, he has not struck me as being that left wing. He has struck me as being very inconsistent on a number of issues. Before people accuse me of being some sort of ‘super ‘socialist, I would like to point out that my core beliefs remain a belief in the rights of all people to free and comprehensive education, health care, universal social security, full employment etc – all standard social democratic fare. These principles used to be core policies of the pre-1984 Labour Party (when it was a social democratic party) and it was these principles that motivated me to join the Labour Party in 1982 and to leave it in 1989. Simply, I do not know what Hone’s principles are on a number of matters and what I do know about some of them have left me feeling cold. Further, Tariana Turia does have a point, Hone supported the idea of a coalition with National, he voted for many of their policies. True, he is now questioning them, but this does not put my mind at ease.

Lastly, my real fear is that the launch of a new Left Party will be done, as I mentioned previously on an adhoc basis. This will be several months prior to the election (and before electoral registration closes) with great fanfare and lacking detailed policies and principles. It will also be done with no consultation with other existing left groups, such as the Alliance, which still exists in Canterbury and Otago. Cracks and gaps will be filled later after the election. I have vivid memories of strategies like this too in the 1990s, again spearheaded by the Alliance and NLP leadership – it did not work out well.

I want a new Left Party, but I have my doubts. I sincerely hope to be proven wrong on a number of counts.

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