Some of you might have seen Leigh Hart's Mysterious Planet which TV1 have slotted away in an unattractive 9.30pm slot on a Friday night.

It's been described as a 'mockumentary' series and its basically Hart gently spoofing shows like Arthur C. Clarke's Mysterious World which went in search of mysterious phenomena like UFO's and the Loch Ness Monster.

Hart's series got me thinking about another mysterious phenomenon that has been talked about a lot but never actually seen. We don't have to go to Scotland or the Himalayas though in pursuit of this mystery because its right here on our own doorstep.

I'm talking about the 'left wing' of the Labour Party. The Labour left. Fact or fiction? Does it really exist or is it just a load of the proverbial?

Is there a loose network - or even an organised one - of Labour MPs, out there somewhere that meet in secret places and talk the 's' word? Or is it merely the creation of lazy journalists who just repeat what their colleagues say?

So, armed with a magnifying glass, my bullshit meter, a camera and a Moro bar, I went in search of the Labour left. If I didn't actually see it for myself I at least hoped to find conclusive evidence of its existence - I didn't really expect to find a copy of Capital but I was hopeful of finding something by Keynes.

Could I track down such a creature among the rubble of social democracy or would all those strange screeches and grunts just turn out to be mad Mike 'Free Trade' Moore doing Winston Churchill impersonations?

I mean, I keep hearing the 'Labour left' mentioned on the television news and keeping reading about it in the newspapers. I've heard it mentioned year after year after while Labour Government's have enthusiastically implemented right wing neoliberal economic policies. If there is a Labour left it certainly has been asleep at the wheel.

I've heard TV1's Guyon Espiner discuss the Labour left quite earnestly, as has his colleague Francesca Mold. I've heard TV3's John Campbell talking about it as well. They talk as if they have actually seen this creature. What do they know that I don't ?

I say - show me the evidence!

Where are the photos? The documents? And, sorry, passing off Steve Maharey's ''Third Way' as evidence of the existence of the Labour left cuts no ice with me. I've had the photos examined and they are just Roger Douglas in a gorilla suit.

In the UK a new electoral alliance called the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC) are advocating such policies as bringing public services and utilities back into public ownership as well as implementing a progressive tax system on wealthy corporations and individuals.

My three readers will recall that I promised to rejoin the Labour Party if Phil Goff adopted a similar policy manifesto here. Phil hasn't taken me up on my offer.

This manifesto though seemed to be a good starting point for my search. Perhaps I could find a group of Labour MPS with a similar economic platform here.

So I checked out the websites and the articles and the press releases. I came up with nothing.

Undeterred, I rang a member of the Labour Party that I know (one that still talks to me anyway) and asked if he could point me in the right direction in my search for the elusive Labour left. He couldn't help me but he was keen to tell me that John Key was a bastard and everything would be fine once Labour was re-elected. He also asked if I could bring him a new pack of crayons the next time I visited.

I read on the back of a Weetbix box that MPs Clare Curran and Phil Twyford possibly knew something about the Labour Left so I went in search of their articles and blogs. Once again I turned up nothing. In fact Clare and Phil don't seem particularly unhappy with Phil Goff's right wing economic policies. Anyone who could describe these two MPs as left wing is clearly not taking their medication.

It then occurred to me that when the media talks about the Labour left perhaps they weren't talking about various Labour MPs but something that exists outside the Labour Party among its supporters and commentators. Perhaps I had been looking for socialist politics in all the wrong places.

I tried some of the usual suspects.

Perhaps Russell Brown, President of the Auckland Labour Milieu Club, was part of the Labour left? I had my doubts though. After all this is the same Russell Brown who kept on telling us that 'violence is not ok' but didn't seem particularly bothered about the economic violence that his beloved Helen Clark was waging on the community. I wasn't surprised when my bullshit meter went into overdrive the closer I got to little Russell. Yes, he is still the most irritating and patronising Labourite in the country.

Perhaps commentator Chris Trotter was a member of the Labour left. After all TV1's Paul Henry has described him as New Zealand's top 'left wing commentator' and Henry is not someone who makes rash and thoughtless comments.

Perhaps Chris has been using his newspaper columns as a platform to articulate an alternative left wing manifesto for Labour.

Er, no.

But, then again, Chris thinks socialism is a 'continual process' so perhaps he doesn't think we have to worry about little details like economic policy. Its apparently all about the journey and not the destination. It's kind of like reading a book only to find that the last chapter has been ripped out. And, hey, if you don't like the previous chapters then you can just write them again and remove all those pesky elements you don't like. Eventually you end up disappearing up your own rear end. It's called the Edward Bernstein syndrome.

In the end I didn't find the Labour left but I did find a collection of MPs and Labour apparatchiks who, despite the veneer of 'progressive' politics, actually don't have a problem with neoliberal economics. They are just unhappy that its not them who are running the show.

I say all this because Labour Party and its apparatchiks are in the process of 'rebranding' Labour again. Labour's new slogan is, believe it or not, 'for the many, not the few'.

The obvious problem here is that Phil Goff wishes to continue pursuing policies that will benefit the few at the expense of the many. That's what he's been doing for the past twenty five years. The hypocrisy and opportunism is blatant.

The Labour Party can come up as many snappy slogans as it likes and run websites called Red Alert but none of them - from Goff downwards - can deny the roles they have played in implementing and defending the neoliberalism of the Labour Party. They are guilty people.

They cannot pretend to be friends and allies of working people when their recent history has been about implementing and supporting economic policies that have made New Zealand one of the most unequal societies in the world and produced a level of poverty that is nothing short of obscene.

Many of us, of course, weren't prepared to go down this road of betrayal dressed up as compromise, complicity dressed up as pragmatism.

In my own case I jumped the Labour ship in 1985 when I was President of the Labour Club at the University of Canterbury. I had just been nominated by Geoffrey Palmer for the Labour Youth Council but I already had had a gutsful of what Roger Douglas was doing - and what David Lange was allowing him to do.

Many of these people - who are now talking about 'for the many. not the few' were also in the Labour Party at that time and have spent the last twenty five years as committed supporters of the policies of greed and division. All they were ever interested in was climbing the party ladder. I never heard them protesting when Labour put GST up to 12.5 percent with no compensation in terns of an increase in benefits, etc.

So what is the difference between the left and right? Well, many an university essay has been written on this subject but, I think, the left always seeks greater equality and the right always creates greater inequality. I borrowed this definition from the Italian political philosopher Norberto Bobbio because I think its a good definition to be guided by right now.

The Labour Party bears the responsibility for creating an unprecedented level of economic inequality in this country and it wants to pursue exactly the same policies if it ever gets re-elected.

Yet these very same Labour MPs are now travelling around the country in a red bus declaring their opposition to a proposed rise in GST. Someone should bail them up and demand to know why they continue to support neoliberal economic policies . Someone should tell them no one is going to be convinced by Labour jumping on single issue bandwagons.

The debate about the future of progressive politics in this country cannot be allowed to be dictated by the guilty people who pursued the policies that inflicted such economic inequality and hardship on our community. They deserve to be run out of town.


  1. One of your 3+ readers. Suspect we will indeed continue reading you here rather than at 'The Standard' for quite some time yet...

    It would take somewhat more than Phil Goff's inevitable departure after the next loss in 2011 to change the party's direction. Labour's only institutional goal is re-election, and their only vision to achieve that is to out-National National. National, by definition, is doing the right/Right thing, because they got elected. Therefore, Labour must shift in that direction (witness Goff's Maori-bashing, acquiescence to stripping remaining voting rights from prisoner's etc, etc, let alone not the slightest attempt to formulate an alternative economic strategy).

    You'll have a bigger chance of being served fresh moa drumsticks at the Bealey Hotel than finding the elusive left wing of the Labour Party.

    Brilliant post, anyway.

  2. Excellent post Steve. I like your straightforward language and lack of pretentious academic spiel. The capitalist institution of academic knowledge and discourse, one which I enjoyed but also struggled with as I tried to relate it to the lives of 'ordinary' people, is a tortured one on this subject of leftism.

    A leftie friend here on the West Coast recently described the right wing /left wing divide like this: to be left wing is to give more than you take; to be right wing is to take more than you give. What do you think of that?

  3. I guess as the third reader of your blog I should make a comment :)

    I'm a member of the Labour Party and tend to agree with what you say on your blog - we do exist, we're just anonymous and disembodied ;)

  4. Hi Sandra. Hope all is well.

    Is your friend anti-capitalist?

    I think we have to define - or is that re--define? - what it means to be left-wing in this country.

    If we say to be left is to seek greater equality then, as I suggest in my post, that automatically rules out the Labour Party because it follows an economic ideology that has created, and will continue to create, massive inequality.

    I am firmly convinced that the Labour Party has no role to play in the development of a new left wing politics in New Zealand.

    Declarity - Thanks for your always interesting comments. I don't disagree with you that Labour will lose in 2011.

  5. Ditto declarity, Sandra and Anon.

    For what its worth: I see the left as acknowledging that the planet contains finite resources, therefore the right's mantras of endless growth and endless profits are simply at odds with this reality.

  6. Labour is a lost cause for the left - the problem though is what is our alternative?

    The Greens can't make up their mind where they sit on the political spectrum and appeal only to the middle class and alternative lifestyler types while groups like the Alliance, WP and SW/RAM (while they contain many good comrades) are seemingly more interested in boosting their own narrow political brand through a strategy of evangelical recruitment or hyperactivism than building a broad, pluralist socialist alternative. Hardly surprising then that the majority of leftists in this country are currently outside the ranks of all political organisations and feeling fairly cynical about the prospects of the situation improving any time soon!

    The problem as I say is not people having illusions in Goff or Labour, but rather the lack of any obvious *credible* alternative...


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