I was watching some news coverage of the Labour Party conference over the weekend. What interested me was a brief shot of various Labour Party luminaries and supporters standing on the stage with the Prime Minister.
They were, I think, singing a song - rather self-consciously I thought. Among the luminaries, smiling away, was columnist Chris Trotter.
Trotter writes for the Dominion and The Independent and occasionally publishes his own Political Review. That publication hasn't appeared for sometime, probably because Trotter has been busy writing his own book, No Left Turn, his own interpretation of New Zealand's political history. It was published six weeks or so ago.
Trotter often appears on television and on radio giving his opinion on various political issues. Most of the left regard Trotter as the establishment's tame 'left wing' commentator.
The very right wing and former National Party candidate Paul Henry calls Trotter one of 'New Zealand's best political commentators' .
Away from writing Trotter has had a mixed political history.
He was union official in Dunedin and a member of the Labour Party. Along with several other unionists, he broke with Labour to form the NewLabour Party with Jim Anderton. I well remember Trotter at the inaugural NewLabour Party conference in Wellington getting out his guitar and leading people in a hearty rendition of 'Solidarity Forever'.
NewLabour went on to join forces with some other minor parties to form the Alliance. Trotter however had a falling out with Anderton (one of thousands) and left.
By then Trotter was in Auckland establishing himself as a political commentator, the media's 'left wing successor' to the late Bruce Jesson.
I still read Trotter's stuff when I am able. He writes well and has some interesting perspectives. And, unlike most journalists these days, he actually has an extensive knowledge of political history and theory.
But Trotter is not a socialist.
In fact in an article some years ago he not only dismissed Marxism
as some kind of nineteenth century irrelevancy, but he also concluded that the working class no longer existed.
When you reach these kind of dead-end conclusions there is only one way you can go - backwards, to the right.
About a fortnight or so ago Trotter wrote a column for the Dominion in which he supported the so-called police 'anti-terrorist' raids. He even went on to support the police agenda that there is some kind of 'political alliance' between Maori separatists and 'eco-anarchists' (whatever they are) - even though the police have provided no evidence of such an 'alliance'.
Trotter, a man who likes to think he's fair, had decided that those arrested were guilty until proven innocent.
Trotter's support for the police raids drew an angry reaction from well known activist John Minto, who wrote an open letter to Trotter.
In that letter he pointed out that Trotter had made no mention of the state attack on New Zealanders fundamental democratic rights via the new anti-terrorist laws.
Nor did he mention that political activists have been actively watched and monitored for over a year:
'Dozens of young activists have been visited over the past two weeks by police with thick folders containing transcripts of every phone call, every text and every e-mail they have sent in the past year. Is this not worth a mention? '
Minto also made the point that Trotter often 'loses the plot on the big issues' and observed that Trotter also sided with Blair on Iraq in 2003.
Minto went on to say :
'People who know you better than me tell me the problem is you are not connected in any meaningful way to any groups active in any particular issues so that your commentary is often theoretical and disconnected from daily struggle. I don't know if this is true but it seems the only explanation that makes any sense to me.'
I think there is some truth in what Minto says here. After all, Trotter wasn't outide the Labour Party conference protesting - he was up on the stage with the Prime Minister and co.
But Trotter has been travelling rightwards back to the Labour Party for some years now.
Sadly, it's not an uncommon phenonemon. Many intellectuals and activists have made their peace with the Labour Party. Many of them try to justify it on the grounds that 'National would be worse'.
They are a miserable lot. They are the kind of people who tell you they want to 'build a better society' but they are not prepared to rock the boat to do it. So they turn up a Labour Party conferences, wearing they're Maori pendants, a copy of the latest Naomi Klein book under their arms, and listen attentively to right wing speeches from the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.
And this is where Chris Trotter has ended up.
In his book No Left Turn, Trotter reveals his true colours.
He shows himself to be a right wing social democrat when he dismisses left wing criticisms of the first Labour governemnt by the likes of John A Lee and, later, Bill Sutch.
He tries to defend the fourth Labour Government's 'business as usual' approach by suggesting that the lack of any progressive reform has been because the New Zealand capialist class and its allies have been waging a covert guerilla war against Labour.
In the University of Otago student newspaper Critic recently he defended the Labour Governnment on the grounds that:
'This is Clark’s incrementalism. We’re in a period of ‘deep capitalism,’ so there’s only so far you can go. Many people decry it, but it’s hard to see what kind of strategy you could employ without generating the massive resistance from those who command a laissez-faire economy.'
However in recent times Trotter has steered away from this attempt to defend such an openly right wing governemnt. And, unlike some of his Labour-supporting contemporaries, he also appears reluctant to paint the National Party as the even-more-right- wing bogeyman.
But, regardless, it seems that Trotter is going to stick with Helen Clark.
Hence his attack on those opposing the police 'anti-terrorist' raids and his on-stage appearance at the Labour Party conference.
Perhaps he'll take his guitar to the next conference and sing 'Solidarity Forever' again.