Reflection on the Elections – Labour’s Loves Lost

It’s been a long time since I have written a blog. My thesis got in the way and I made a promise to my Supervisors not to write a blog as it took time away from that. I was, I admit, bad at keeping some of the other promises that I made to them but I did keep the one about the no blogging – until now.

After one of Nationals’ inevitable victories when I was a kid in the 1970s, my father, who was a railway worker and Labour supporter, said to me; “You know I often think that the working class is its own worst enemy.” Doubtless, if he was still alive he would have said that last night as well. While I feel it’s an overstatement, there is a large amount of truth in that observation. After all, in 1931 in the depths of the Great Depression, the majority of people marched to the polling booths and voted for the Tories. In 1935, the majority of people again marched to the polling booths and voted for the Tories. The difference was that in 1935, the Tory vote was split and the FPP system favoured Labour which won its first election. In 1938, after three years of a Labour Government, the majority of people finally marched to the polling booth and voted Labour.

Not blogging and not being, until relatively recently, politically active has allowed me time to think. To be honest I am really disturbed by the lack of progress that the left has made in the past decade. Certainly, the Labour party needs to have fingers pointed at it. Simply, the party appears to have lost the plot. It does not seem to have any sort of coherent programme or vision. A friend of mine made a similar observation today on his face-book page commenting that once Labour stood for workers. Back in those far-flung days, when my father supported it, Labour did support workers and the poor and it used to get over 40 percent of the vote. We have been informed that times have changed and as a result Labour needed to move and so it therefore adopted neo-liberalism and the ‘third way’ or as the former deputy leader of the UK labour party, Roy Hattersley described the third way “a series of cliques looking for a coherent thought.” Yet, horribly for David Cunliffe his most successful moments as labour leader was when he was actually contesting the position and in the immediate aftermath of his win. This was when he actually had stated positions on programmes and actually renounced the ‘third way’ liberalism of his predecessors. However, this success stopped at his first conference as leader when he fudged over free trade and then continued to fudge thereafter.

Of course, Labour is not alone in its sins and, in this breath, I could mention certain left-wing bloggers who regrettably appeared to spend their time inventing or promoting conspiracy theories or scandals. Certainly, the allegations behind Dirty Politics need to be fully investigated. However, the most annoying thing is the extent to which Dirty Politics and the ill-named ‘The Moment of Truth’ were promoted by these bloggers as legitimate alternatives to serious debate and analysis.

All of this leads me to ask what precisely is it that the left actually stands for? People on the left used to talk about the ‘grand plan’ or ‘grand narrative.’ Essentially that they (we) had a set of ideals for a better society which set them (us) apart from the Tories or the capitalists. This grand plan used to be generally referred to as ‘socialism’ and/or social democracy. While, socialism is a term which I am comfortable with, but which has many unwelcome connotations for others, it nonetheless promoted a society which accepted social justice, equality and economic democracy as its basis. Social Democrats tended to opt for the phrase ‘equality of opportunity’. However, the idea was that in this society people had the equal opportunity to achieve their various aspirations.

I have been told that the social democratic project is over. I would argue that it barely got started in New Zealand and that we adopted a conservative version of it. The Welfare state with its emphasis on full employment, free health care and education, decent standards of living, etc are an important part of such a society. But, they are only one part of the programme. The other part which guarantees economic and social democracy and participation remains untapped. A recreated social democratic grand vision needs to turn its back on neo-liberalism and agitate instead for the restatement of social, economic and democratic justice as a central part of its programme. It needs to restate the ideal that people’s aspirations are not achieved through the ‘free market’ but through the ability of equality of opportunity.

An integral part of socialism (and of Sesame Street) is the concept of co-operation. This is something that the left (and yes, the Labour party) has particular trouble with. To be fair, so does the National party. Peter Dunne and the new forgettable ACT MP for Epson are not co-operating partners with National. Rather, they are vassals to a feudal lord. National has effectively cannibalized the right-wing vote which will cause it problems at some point in the future. But, quite frankly, having partners on the left is not, as many in the Labour party appear to believe, a bad thing. It is, particularly in an MMP situation, a good thing. It is something that should be encouraged. The reason for this is because such parties can actually contribute to building and strengthening the left. They can go places, engage with people and suggest things that might be an anathema to some of Labour’s own supporters but nonetheless shore up a left-wing vote and actually help develop an alternative programme. It has to be remembered that most of the reforms that we have today – the welfare state, employment rights, public healthcare and education were all someone’s radical and revolutionary idea at some point.

It is, therefore, disconcerting when you decide to ‘kill off’ your potential partners. Last night, Labour killed Internet Mana. It may deny that, but that is what it did. For Laila Harre, it would have been a situation of déjà vu, as she was the leader of the Alliance when the Labour party decided to kill it off in 2002. The outcome of that killing was Labour coalitions with Jim Anderton, Peter Dunne and Winston Peters.

Simply, the days of the Labour party being the only major force on the left is over. Subsequently, it should (needs to) embrace other parties on its left as perhaps bothersome, but nonetheless useful potential allies.
This is already occurring in terms of the party vote. Although, the campaign slogan is “only two votes for Labour can change the Government.” People largely know that this is not true with the result that people are casting their electorate and party votes for different parties. This I feel explains some of the discrepancy in votes in various seats. The media, fixated as they are on simplistic reporting, overlook the combined votes of the Greens and Labour in a seat and instead decide to focus on the single large National vote. Mostly, because the vote for National’s right wing partners are virtually non-existent.

Lastly, there remains the need to engage with people. I have been told, but am yet to check that the turnout in this election is low. If it is low then National’s grand victory is illusionary and that the engagement process has failed. People remain disengaged and feel that the current electoral system does not have a place for them within it. It is little good to encourage people to advance vote if the only people who do so are those who would have voted anyway. If the turnout was reasonable then the left has simply failed in its attempt to engage with people. Certainly, the National party has a simple message to engage people by tying their aspirations to those of its leader. He is a self-made man and you can be too. National’s message is like a Tony Robbin’s advertisement or a verse from Hot Chocolate, “Everyone’s a winner, babe, that’s the truth.” Only, it ain’t.

It would be best at this point to reflect on the attitude of Labour’s first (and only Marxist) leader Henry Edmund (Harry) Holland. Holland knew that the progress of a party was based on more than simply an electoral cycle. It was a long-term project which required patience and education. To conclude this is not the time for fear. Now is the time for reflection and rebuilding. To quote the old catch phrase, “Things are always darkest just before the dawn.” The dawn is coming. It might be a while, but it is coming. People just need to have a little patience and a little faith.

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How Labour Won in 1996 – How Helen Clark was not Michael Foot

Several days ago I received a link to a story about an aborted coup against Helen Clark by Labour Party right-wingers in 1996.  Titled, ‘The Anatomy of a Failed Labour Coup‘ it was written by former Labour Party staffer Phil Quin and published in the New Zealand Herald on Saturday 2 April. Quin was an inside member of the Labour Party’s right faction and his description of the aborted coup against Clark was an interesting account of that part of Labour Party history.

It had the effect of setting me thinking about the various strengths that Clark had and also of the importance of her role as leader of the Labour Party in that period. 

I have felt that Labour’s predicament in the mid 1990s could be readily compared to that of its UK counterpart in the mid 1980s.  Both had lost seminal elections twice, NZ Labour in 1990 and 1993 and UK Labour in 1979 and 1983, both were seen as having lost significant support and direction, both lacked credibility and both were seen as lacking determined and dedicated leadership.  What was important for UK Labour in 1987 was that it re-established itself as the second party in United Kingdom politics.  In 1983, it had been strongly challenged by the SDP-Liberal Alliance, which had come within two percentage points of overtaking Labour’s vote in the General Election.  Labour still had a large number of seats in the UK Parliament due to the First Past the Post Electoral system, but lacked credibility.  In 1987, Labour had to convincingly defeat the SDP-Liberal Alliance to retain its status as the major opposition party.  In doing so it would allow its new leader, Neil Kinnock the ability to cement himself as an alternative Prime Minister to Margaret Thatcher and thereby reinforce the perception that Labour was the alternative Government.   

In 1996, Labour in New Zealand had to do the same.  In 1993, Labour had simply been outdone on a number of fronts in terms of direction and credibility.  While, the particularities of First Past the Post may have meant that Labour, as had its 1983 UK counterpart, gained more seats in Parliament, there was little debate as to the fact that it had been beaten in seeking voter’s hearts and minds by the Alliance and New Zealand First. Added to this was Moore’s, some might say, ‘unhinged’ behaviour on election night in 1993.  If UK Labour’s 1983 Manifesto has been labelled as the world’s longest ‘suicide note,’ Moore’s rambling incoherent speech conceding defeat in which he blamed everyone else for Labour’s failure, combined with references to a ‘long dark night’ was, without doubt, New Zealand’s longest political suicide speech.  It was in those moments that Moore cemented his fate as Labour Party leader. 

In comparison, Jim Anderton’s political behaviour in the aftermath of the 1993 election, especially when compared with Moore’s, saw him being lauded.  Jim’s status was upgraded to statesman.  And, for a brief few months, James Patrick Anderton was the preferred Prime Minister of a significant number of New Zealanders. Labour slumped in the polls. 

Given those circumstances, Helen Clark had to take over the reins of the Labour Party. She was the only plausible option. 

But, unlike, Michael Foot who stood aside for Neil Kinnock, Moore had no intention of going quietly. What followed was a period of bloodletting in the Party combined with even more strange behaviour from Moore, before Clark could settle into her role as Labour Party leader.

But, it paid off.  Labour was, even though it lost, the victor in the 1996 Election.  Like 1987 was for the British Labour Party, 1996 was for the New Zealand Labour Party.  The aftermath of the 1996 Election secured Labour the position as the dominant party of the centre-left and crippled the Alliance as a potential and potent left-wing force. This had occurred despite Labour having lost the election and dropping in percentage points.  The Alliance did as well.  But the difference lay in how they reacted. Labour emerged from the wreckage of the 1996 Election sounding confident.  Clark emerged sounding like a potential Prime Minister.  This is in comparison to the Alliance, whose campaign consisted of a petition that failed to fire, a series of ads and sound bites that were simply embarrassing and an organisation that was wracked by inter and intra party strife. Unlike the Alliance, the Labour Party ran a coherent and competent campaign.  The fact that its vote fell in the 1996 Election had more to do with the campaign and message projected by Winston Peters and New Zealand First which substantially increased its vote, than with a failure on Labour’s behalf.  However, in the end what really counted was Labour and Clark’s ability to dust themselves off  and pick themselves up. 

Moore or Goff did not have the ability to project that level of leadership in the aftermath of 1996.  They lacked the ability to sound like winners despite a loss and of having the ability to unite a Party around them. Both were too tainted by their experiences with and in the Fourth Labour Government.  Both were seen as part of the Party’s right and both lacked the resolve and determination that Clark presented, especially in the aftermath of 1996.  Retaining Moore in 1993 or electing Goff as Leader of the Labour Party in 1996 and toppling Clark would have almost certainly would have had the effect of killing the Party’s chances.

Helen Clark was a leader – it remains to be seen whether Goff can match her in the aftermath of an election defeat.


Being My Brother’s Keeper – The Public Health Sector that Never was.

Several days ago was the 139th anniversary of the birth of Michael Joseph Savage, the first Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand. Savage’s Labour administration is credited with the creation of the welfare state in New Zealand.

Several days ago a friend of mine was watching ‘Sicko’, Michael Moore’s expose of the American Health system. She commented about the favourable aspects of our health system as a consequence. While, these two events might appear unrelated, it set me thinking about the original intentions of Labour and of Savage in the health sector and how those intentions never came to pass.

For the original intention of the senior members of Labour’s first administration was to actually create a comprehensive, universal and fully publicly funded health service, just like the NHS in Britain. From its earliest years, Labour had consistently promoted a comprehensive and fully state funded health system which was accessible to all people and, likewise, it did so in its 1935 manifesto. This health service would cover all aspects of a person’s health from GP visits to surgery, from dentistry to optometry. It was all to be freely available to people and it would all be funded from the taxpayer’s purse.

Such was the belief that Labour was going to replace the existing medical system upon its election in 1935, that as Janet Frame records in ‘An Angel at My Table’ her father burnt all the family’s doctor’s bills. This was a scene that was repeated elsewhere in New Zealand. People had complete confidence in the new Government’s commitment in this area.

In Government, Labour moved swiftly and appointed one of its new members, but someone with some interest in the area, Arnold Nordmeyer (later Minister of Finance in the 2nd Labour Government), to chair the Select Committee looking at proposals for a National Health Service. Nordmeyer was ably assisted by his friend and later Minister for Health, DG ‘Doc’ McMillan in proposing the new service. McMillan also had the benefit of being a Doctor and having been in private practice before being elected to Parliament. Both McMillan and Nordmeyer were supporters of a comprehensive and state funded health system. Mary Logan in her biography of Arnold Nordmeyer, ‘Nordy‘ notes that Nordmeyer and McMillan had even won support from Walter Nash, Labour’s Minister of Finance for a completely public funded health system.

The other trump card that Nordmeyer and McMillan had was the support of Prime Minister Savage. Along with Labour’s commitment to implementing social security, Savage took an active interest in the organisation and outcomes of this ‘new’ health service. He perceived it as an integral part of Labour’s social security system and another step toward creating a society which catered for all people from ‘the cradle to the grave’.

But, the one person that they could not convince was Deputy Prime Minister, Peter Fraser. Fraser had close contacts within the British Medical Association (BMA) and consistently thwarted attempts to impose a comprehensive system. Fraser’s opposition and that of the BMA finally angered Savage to such an extent that there was, as Gustafson records in ’From the Cradle to the Grave,’ a ‘showdown’ in the Prime Minister’s office between Savage and the Head of the BMA.  The BMA told Savage that they would oppose the new system to their utmost. In response, Savage stated that the Government would treat the BMA Doctors as being ‘locked out’ and that the Government was committed to implementing its policies to the betterment of the people and as a result it would hire immigrant Doctors if necessary to ensure its policies were enacted. A furious Savage then walked out of the room leaving an apologetic Fraser.

Of course, Savage died in 1940 of cancer and his desire of a universal state funded health system died with him. As Prime Minister, Fraser struck a deal with the BMA for a more limited scheme which allowed Doctors to be subsidised by the state. It also set the standard for the private sector to operate in cooperation and later, competition with the state sector. In the 1980s and 1990s this commitment to public health service was scaled back even further with funding to the public sector cut, the public sector corporatized and the private sector making great gains in the supply of health services.

Presently, Labour is involved in a debate over its leadership. However, of real importance to me is who picks up the mantle for supporting similar policies such as those that I have detailed. Labour needs people who have the same steely forthright resolve as Savage in this regard and a commitment to implementing policies that benefit all in society. Currently, I don’t see any Labour MPs who are being touted as potential leaders at the moment making that commitment. That is, however, not to say that they will arise.


Will He Stay Or Will He Go? Phil Goff and the Leadership of the Labour Party

The Darren Hughes saga may not just claim the political scalp of that MP. It could, it appears, have far reaching consequences for the Party’s leader, Phil Goff. News is leaking through the media that Goff is in danger of being rolled by members of the parliamentary and extra-parliamentary party due to his (mis) handling of the Hughes affair. It is rumoured (rumours are dangerous things) that one of those seeking to actively unseat him is former Labour leader and Prime Minister, Helen Clark.

I remember meeting Phil Goff when I was a young Labour Party member and activist in the 1980s. At that time Goff was Minister of Youth Affairs, and became Minister of Employment and Education. He and I did not hit it off. At the time the Labour Party was in open revolt. Indeed, there was open civil war in the Party, which eventually destabilised the Government, bringing to an end the Prime Ministerial leadership of David Lange and providing National with a 30 seat majority in the 1990 election. It also led to the creation of the Alliance and ACT, two parties which are diametrically opposed to each other, but whose membership and leadership were mostly Labour Party activists in the 1980s.

The problem for Goff has always been that he is a tainted man. When he was an up and coming Labour high flyer in the 1980s, he was given the ‘problematic’ portfolios of Education and Employment. These were ‘killer’ portfolio’s for any Minister, particularly a Minister in the most right wing Government the country had experienced since the 1930s. He quickly became identified with Roger Douglas and the right wing faction in the Labour Party. It was Goff, for example who first increased state house rentals in the 1980s, it was Goff who replaced employment schemes with training programmes and it was Goff, who implemented the Hawke Report, which advocated high fees, loans and a tertiary tax for University students.

I actually have a letter from Goff to me, when I was President of Labour Youth in 1989, in which he praises Margaret Thatcher, as creating a low inflationary economy in the United Kingdom and therefore setting the economic basis for future employment and economic security.

In the 2000’s under Helen Clark, he was seen as a conservative Minister who played it safe and opted for conservative social and economic solutions. Any semblance of the left wing ‘fireball’ that Goff was in the 1970s is well and truly gone.

But, to be fair to Goff, it is also under his leadership that Labour has again started to move to the left. Labour MP’s have actively started questioning the basis behind the neo-liberal market agenda that has underscored their policies since, well, the first time that Goff was a Minister in the Fourth Labour Government.  True, these have not been big questions, but they have been significant enough policy changes for a number of people to start talking about Labour recapturing its social democratic soul.

Still, to many people, Goff was always an in’-between’ leader. A man whose role it was to ‘babysit’ the Labour Party until a new leader could be appointed. It was commonly assumed that this would occur after the election. He was a ‘Michael Foot’ type leader. But, without the left wing credentials, duffle coat and unkempt look that Foot was famous for. 

However, in replacing Goff, Labour is taking a big gamble. They may be hoping for a ‘Gillard’ effect. That a new Leader will cause the polls to rise in Labour’s favour; that a new leader could deal with Key and, thereby, energise the Labour Party in the lead up to the election.

The Labour Party is no longer a Party that suffers a leader which loses it elections, like it did with Walter Nash, Norman Kirk or Bill Rowling. Both Nash and Kirk eventually won and Rowling was eventually deposed by Lange. It has transformed into a party in a hurry; it is party that actively seeks political power now.  (I even suspect that it might actually see it itself as the ‘natural’ party of Government). 

Either way, if Goff goes, Labour may not win the election. But, if he stays, Labour won’t win the election without massive blundering by the National Party. The choice is Labour’s


Margaret Lives – This Government is Not for Turning

People expecting a radical change of economic direction from the Government are to be severely disappointed as a consequence of recent comments made by Bill English and John Key. To use a refrain that was popular during the Thatcher era in Britain, to describe its economic direction, ‘the Government is not for turning.’ Indeed, the Government has appeared to have used the Canterbury Earthquake as an excuse to announce further cuts in existing government spending.

People are being told that the Government needs to find appropriately $800 million as a consequence of the earthquakes and that we can expect nothing in the Budget. However, Key and National’s line would have been more convincing, if they had not been saying it prior to the February earthquake. It was at that point that Key signalled that government cuts and partial asset sales were on the Government agenda. He then used some exceedingly dodgy explanations to justify them, such as comparing New Zealand’s debt to that of Spain and Greece.

Now, the Government and its economist allies in the banks and finance houses are using the earthquake and an IMF report to the Government as ammunition. Apparently the IMF has called for cuts and balanced budgets. Of course, as CTU economist, Bill Rosenberg noted this morning on Morning Report, the IMF would recommend this solution regardless of the circumstances. The IMF’s refrain is comparable to, not as much as a needle stuck in a groove of a record, but a record that simply has one track and one verse.

But, what I found to be the really interesting thing about the discussion this morning between Rosenberg and Westpac’s ‘pet’ resident economist, Dominic Stephens was the belief that Stephens still had in the free market and spending cuts actually delivering the economic and social goods not only for Christchurch, but in the longer term for New Zealand as a whole. The recession and the resulting failure of market economics as a practical solution (not that it ever was) appears to have simply passed him and his colleagues by. Cutting spending and lower personal taxes, Stephens croaked was the only solution. GST had to increase he said. He made some references to the damage that having a ‘high’ 39 cent marginal tax rate had caused.

Further, Stephens was worried about capital gains as this was causing people not to invest in productive areas of the economy but, to speculate in unproductive areas such as land. Yes, quite. I am not disagreeing with him in this respect, but I would observe that this is an issue, mainly because New Zealand is one of the few countries not to have a capital gains tax. This is partially thanks to the efforts of people such as bank economists who have actively campaigned against it.

Labour and the Greens have gone on record as pointing out how damaging such cuts could be at this point. They are correct. As Rosenberg pointed out this morning, cuts at this point, especially since the recession is not over could have the undesired effect of prolonging it. It brings to mind Maynard Keynes’s famous observation during the Great Depression of the 1930s that the Budget could be balanced while lying on your back.

However, despite their comments, both Labour and the Greens are very light on detail. In my opinion, what is needed is an active government policy of investment and actually more government spending, this will mean higher taxes (read more tax bands)on those on higher incomes and, importantly, the imposition of taxes on areas that are not currently taxed, such as capital gains and bank transactions. Bank transactions have become a hot issue in Europe due to the amount of money involved. Taxing transactions especially those on large corporations would raise more money that GST would ever hope to. And, it would be progressive, something that GST is not. The other area in which New Zealand is being short changed is the area of free trade. New Zealand is in the process of negotiating yet another free trade deal, in this case the TPP (Transpacific Partnership). This deal involves a number of nations, including the US and the outcome of such a deal could be very detrimental to New Zealand’s economic, financial and social sovereignty. Every time such a deal passes, it weakens the productive base of the economy and the ability of people and the government to determine their own economic and social outcomes.

New Zealand stands at a cross roads. We can either build an egalitarian social democratic economy and society or continue on with the half baked failed free market economic theories that are the real cause of our present distress and have caused practically every major economic recession and depression since the 1870s. The choice is ours.


National Unravels

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.


Unity

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.