National is putting a brave face on its loss in the Mt Albert by-election, stating that it was always the underdog and that it never expected to win. However, this merely masks the extent to which it has tumbled since it started the campaign. Initially, it had brave hopes. Labour was at a very low ebb, National, on the other hand, had popular support on a number of issues. The Government’s attitude in Parliament reflected this new reality, with National and ACT members running procedural and oratory rings around their hapless Labour counterparts.
National was very confident that it had a real chance in Mt Albert. At the beginning of the campaign, it was Labour that was seen to be on the back foot, lacking coherent policy and seemingly, any charisma. Political commentators opined that it would be a close run between National and Labour. In short, the by-election was National’s to lose. And, lose it, National did.
At the beginning of the Parliamentary term, a newish National MP asked John Key a patsy question in the House. The gist of the question was how confident was the Government that it had popular support. John Key answered that the high level of support for the Government was reflected in the opinion polls, which showed Labour in the mid 20 percent rate and National in the mid 50s. This was followed by snickering from the National MP’s and blunted wailing from Labour’s. Key would have done better to have kept in mind the political proverb attributed to UK Labour Prime Minister, Harold Wilson, who commented that ‘a week is a long time in politics, and a fortnight an eternity.’
National chose the wrong candidate in Melissa Lee. A favourite of John Key and of the party leadership, she was seen as having been parachuted into the position over the previous National candidate, Ravi Musuku. She then proceeded to blunder from one gaffe to another as the campaign progressed. Her comments on the motorway, followed by her refusal to front at meetings in the electorate provided the impression of a candidate who was afraid to appear in front of voters. Even her jokes backfired on her, with her comments about MPs working long hours for low pay which she gave at the launch of the Unite Union’s campaign in favour of raising the minimum wage, making her look ‘out of touch’ and arrogant.
Into this mix was the decision by National to press ahead with the motorway, which meant bulldozing hundreds of residential properties, the somewhat teenage stalking by MP Richard Worth of two women and the continuing saga of the Auckland Super-city, spearheaded by ACT Minister, Rodney Hide. When you have friends like ACT, one wonders, who needs enemies? By the end of May, National looked slightly seedy and slightly shabby.
However, despite its convincing win, Labour should not take the Mt Albert result as vindication for its strategies and programme. In spite of Labour swamping the electorate with its workers and its supporters, what really superbly aided its campaign were National’s own appalling political decisions and their final one to desert Melissa Lee, leaving her to sink.
Labour still lacks a coherent programme, its policies and strategies offer the same approach as they did prior to its General Election loss (Tory-lite). In this, Labour’s candidate David Shearer is a prefect representative, presenting himself as conservative and bland, much like Labour’s leader, Phil Goff. Labour, remains an aimless Party, pursuing an aimless agenda.
At the end of the day, Labour won in Mt Albert, because National lost.
Word has finally filtered down about the date of the Mt Albert By-election. John Key has announced that June 13 will be the date that people get to decide who the new MP should be, and from which party. National, has already publicly announced that it feels that it could win the seat and Labour, has already publicly announced that it could lose it. Hence, the campaign will no doubt be bitterly fought in the full glare of the media.
However, as these two paragons of modern right wing political activity contest the seat, my own thoughts turn to the problem that the left has in contesting the seat and upcoming elections. Maybe, it is the thought that a clear consistent left wing point of view and programme needs to be articulated that prompts me to say that members of the democratic left need to be singing from the same song sheet. So far, the Left has proven itself incapable of doing so. In the last General Election, three parties from the left stood, the Alliance (of which I am a member), RAM, which is mostly Auckland based and the Workers Party. None of the aforementioned Parties broke the 1 percent barrier and none of them look likely too in the near future.
The onslaught of the Recession and the inability of the Government to deal with the cumulative crises that are rolling across the economic landscape bring the need to have a united democratic left ticket into focus more sharply. After all, the recession has brought the free market experiment to a grinding shuttering halt. Merely tinkering around the edges which appears to be the economic programme of both the Tories and the L(iberals) is not going to restore economic or social well being.
In such a situation, a rejuvenated democratic left would be well placed to offer an alternative to the tired right wing agenda that is being promoted. Although, it would need to be a left that in a sense returned to ‘first principles’. One of those principles being that a society needs to be inclusive and democratic in the real sense of the word. This is contrary to the idea that paradise can be achieved through the teaching and action of a small elite.
Chris Trotter wrote some time ago about the glee that appeared on some of the faces of the extreme left when they talked about the deepening recession. With every piece of misery that appears, some people on the left appear to have a public orgasm. As far as they are concerned each piece of misery brings us closer to the ‘Revolution’. Of course, this is far from the truth. As the recession cuts its way across economies, for the most part, people become fearful. They become fearful of losing their jobs, their homes, their standard of living and they start to gravitate toward parties and organisations which can offer them and their family’s stability in an unstable time.
However, Chris’s comment also reminded me of the remark of a German Social Democrat at the beginning of the Great Depression. They noted that the socialists were in the inevitable position of being doctors wanting the patient to recover, but also impatient heirs who wanted the patient to pass on, so that they could inherit the estate. However, bad economic news notwithstanding, I do not think that capitalism is about to collapse. And, even if it did, I really don’t think that the revolutionary left in this country is a long way away from being capable of either mounting or accepting such a challenge.
The real emphasis is on the democratic left to promote a radical and alternative democratic vision.
Mount Albert could be the start of that realignment.