Imagine a knock on your front door one afternoon. You open the door and there stands a guy in a grey suit. He's wearing a red rosette and carrying a bunch of Labour Party leaflets.

He smiles and says. 'Good afternoon. I'm your Labour Party candidate and if you vote for me I promise to kick you in the head less often than my National Party rival'.

Does that sound like much of a deal to you? Me neither but I'm part of commentator Chris Trotter's 'sterile' socialist left so I'm obviously not clever enough to comprehend that having the shit kicked out of me by a Labour Government is much better than having the shit kicked out of me by a National Government.

Poor old Chris. He just cannot understand why we bloody socialists won't support his Labour Party. Why can't people like me just admit that he's always right?

He seriously wants us to believe that Labour is a 'centre left' party although the last time I looked, Phil Goff was saying there was no alternative to neoliberalism and the free market. If that's what it means to be 'centre left' then someone who writes a blog called Bowalley Road is just making it up as he goes along.

Of course Trotter is just rehashing the argument of 'lesser evilism'. Ah, it brings back 'happy' memories. Who can forget those golden days when CTU chief Ken Douglas tried to justify the CTU's support for the fourth Labour Government on the grounds that National would be worse? While he was busy excusing Labour, Labour was selling state assets , putting more and more people out of work, basically sacrificing the working class on the altar of the free market.

But at least it was 'the lesser evil', right?

Actually, to Chris's credit he finally baulked at all this and went with Jim Anderton when he formed NewLabour - which, incidentally, I joined as well. I still have my 'Foundation Member' certificate.

I'm obviously not clever enough to comprehend that having the shit kicked out of me by a Labour Government is much better than having the shit kicked out of me by a National Government.

But, over time, Chris has become more relaxed and flexible in his political views. Like Jim Anderton, he's gone back to Labour and seems to have forgiven it for just about everything. Selling all the country's major state assets? No use crying over spilt milk. Increasing levels of inequality and social deprivation? Hey, Chris can go with that. Dismissing Clause 4 of the Labour Party constitution? Chris got a bit shirty with Phil Goff over this one but he seems to have got over this now. Clearly it was just a wee tiff between friends.

Yes, being part of Labour's 'centre left' means there is never a bottom line.

Despite Trotter's bluster we all know that a Labour Government under Phil Goff would pursue the same neoliberal agenda that we have all come to loathe and our lives would not improve. We'd still get crapped on by Work and Income, we'd still get paid the minimum wage, we'd still not be able to access health services when we need to, the rich would still get richer. And Paul Henry would still be on TV.

And Trotter wants us to believe that this is the 'lesser evil'?

But the 'lesser evil' is still an evil.

In fact the ideology of 'lesser evilism', of pretending that Labour is 'centre left', only hinders the development of a genuine left wing alternative in this country. Perhaps Chris wants that - he certainly hasn't shown any affinity for socialist politics in recent times. He even felt he had to berate me for supporting the Chavez Government in Venezuela!

While he's fond of quoting the great Marxist thinkers when it suits him, he never advocates any socialist policies himself but is quick to criticise anyone who does propose such policies.

In practice 'lesser evilism ' is dangerous and insidious because it tilts New Zealand politics further to the right. It implicitly accepts that there is no alternative to neoliberalism and to capitalism. Indeed Chris thinks the job of a Labour Government is merely to 'revitalise capitalism'. I heard the Minister of Finance Bill English talking about revitalising the New Zealand economy the other day. I guess Bill must be 'centre left' as well.

The long transformation of the Labour Party into the right wing neoliberal party that it is today has, as the socialist left warned it would, led to a crisis of political representation. it doesn't matter who the working class votes for it still ends up with a government that pursues anti-working class policies.

Labour's economic policies are well to the right of the political spectrum. Labour long ago abandoned keynesianism and the mixed economy. At meetings of its 'think tank', the Fabian Society, all its speakers are business and corporate 'leaders'.

As Bryce Edwards has written about extensively on his excellent blog Liberation, Labour's structures and composition has changed markedly as has its relationship with the working class. They have not been changes for the better.

Nothing I'm saying here is particularly new . In fact the socialist left have been saying similar things for nearly a quarter of a century!

The frustrating thing is that we have to keep on saying these things in order to counter the nonsense we keep on getting from Labour apologists like Chris Trotter.

Perhaps in the future I will simply repost this post whenever someone blabbers rubbish about Labour being 'better' than National and tries to con us into believing Labour isn't a right wing party.


  1. I agree that Labour's actual policies are right of centre, but the rank and file of the party are not - especially the emerging next generation of leaders.

  2. Really? And who exactly are Labour's next generation of left wing leaders? Andrew Little?

  3. At the risk of contributing further to what is already a rather alarming obsession with my political views, Steve, I offer the following comments.

    You talk about the "Socialist Left" as if it actually means something: as if there is a substantial and thriving radical culture of socialist parties, journals, think-tanks and trade union confederations - all jostling for position and eagerly awaiting the next election (or the next big strike) to demonstrate their power and influence.

    Oh, that it were true!

    The reality, of course, is that New Zealand boasts one of the smallest and least influential "Socialist Lefts" in the world.

    It's representatives, far from presenting new and exciting ideas to the New Zealand working-class, seem capable only of berating it for having the temerity to cast its votes for the NZ Labour Party, and of castigating all those who (like myself) choose to make the expressed political preferences of working people our starting point.

    Oh, and one more thing before I go, Steve.

    The CTU was, objectively-speaking, quite correct when it cast Labour as the lesser of two evils in the late 1980s. If you require proof, just count the number of trade unionists in 1990 (650,000) and 1995 (300,000).

    But, of course, in Steve Cowan's world, the National Party's demolition of organised labour as an effective economic and social force is a political act indistinguishable from the admittedly undesirable, but ultimately much less damaging, political acts of the Fourth Labour Government.

    It's precisely these sort of woeful historical judgements that makes the "Socialist Left" so utterly irrelevant to serious working-class politics.

    You've become a dismal cluster of empty seed-pods, rattling uselessly in the neo-liberal wind.


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