BOB ATTACKS LOCAL DEMOCRACY


According to Mayor Sideshow Bob it's 'constructive' that local people have had their basic democratic rights trampled over with the sacking of the duly elected councillors of Environment Canterbury. It's 'constructive' that the people of Canterbury will be deprived of their voting rights until 2013. It's ' constructive' that big business interests - the organisations who Sideshow represents - should have free access to Canterbury's waterways regardless of what anyone else thinks.

What's more Sideshow has praised the two Ministers responsible for removing the ballot box. According to Bob, Nick Smith and Rodney Hide are 'courageous'.

What next? Bob declaring himself Mayor for life?

No one should be surprised by Bob's arrogance and his disdain for local democracy.

He sees democracy as an inconvenience, an obstacle in the way of getting things done his way, a roadblock in the way of the agenda that he is pursing for his business mates.

Parker had barely arrived in the Mayor's office when he purchased the naming rights to the Ellerslie Garden show for an extravagant $4 million - without consulting his council first. Indeed Sideshow was more concerned in basking in the media spotlight than following anything that resembled the normal democratic process. He rubbed salt into the wound by refusing to divulge how much the local ratepayer was paying for the garden show - until he was forced to by The Press lodging a request for details under the Official Information Act.

In another two-finger salute to local democracy, he gave councillors barely twenty four hours to digest the information that he was going to purchase five nondescript city buildings from his supporter Dave Henderson .

Then he ignored normal procedure when he tried to put the rents of council tenants up a massive twenty five percent. The issue was taken the High Court and Sideshow Bob lost - the proposed increase was struck out because Bob and his council lackeys had not followed the due democratic process. Even the High Court's criticism of his actions failed to convince Bob that he had done anything wrong and he even considered lodging an appeal.

Sideshow Bob's latest insult to the people of Christchurch is his attempt to build a concrete block in the middle of the Arts Centre. - a plan that was hatched behind closed doors among Sideshow's 'commercial network'.

In 2008 Sideshow declined a request from two local Tibetans to speak out against the Chinese regime's violent repression of an uprising among the Tibetan people.

Bob pontificated that he 'wasn't going to take sides'.

Shortly after, Bob visited China to witness the signing of the China-New Zealand Free Trade Agreement.

Safely ensconced in Beijing, Sideshow decided that he was going to take sides and publicly defended the Chinese regime. According to Bob, the Chinese Government had been unfairly misrepresented in the western media.

The fact that the Chinese regime routinely does many brutal and tyrannical things doesn't appear to concern Bob. Nor does it concern him that the Chinese people are denied the democratic rights that we take for granted. Nor does it appear to concern him that the regime murders and tortures citizens whose only crime is to oppose the regime.

All this is of secondary consideration to Bob because, when it comes to down to what is really important, the Chinese Government is 'getting things done'.

VOTES DON'T COUNT, SAYS SIDESHOW BOB




While the behaviour of our elected 'representatives' rarely surprises me, I'm appalled that Ministers Nick Smith and Rodney Hide have gone ahead and sacked the democratically elected councillors of Environment Canterbury (Ecan). The two councillors I voted for, Eugenie Sage and Rik Tindall have, along with their colleagues, been removed from office. They have not been democratically removed by local voters but by two Government Ministers pursuing an agenda driven by powerful business and rural interests and their political allies in the Christchurch City Council.

The Government has drafted legislation in order to remove the democratically=elected councillors and replace them with government functionaries until at least 2013. They will be led by the ubiquitous Margaret Bazley.

The Ministry of Environment's own impact statement is hardly an ringing endorsement of what Smith and Hide are up to. We read:

There are significant risks associated with the Review Group’s recommendation to temporarily suspend planned triennial elections for regional councillors (scheduled for October 2010) and to transfer the functions and responsibilities of Environment Canterbury’s (ECan) elected councillors to government-appointed commissioners until elections in 2013 at the latest. Elections are a right and privilege of any citizen in New Zealand. The suspension of such a right should only be considered in exceptional circumstances. Such a decision is correct to sit with Parliament.

The Minister for the Environment intends to progress the proposed legislation under Urgency. This, alongside the proposal to limit appeal rights on decisions/recommendations made by commissioners on Canterbury’s Natural Resources Regional Plan and on water conservation orders in the region potentially alienates Canterbury rate payers and the general public from decisions made on natural resources in the Canterbury region. This raises equity and access to justice issues.


'This raises equity and justice issues.' Smith and Hide will take as much notice of this warning as Paula Bennett did of her own Attorney General who warned her that her welfare reforms were discriminatory and breached the Bill of Rights.

Instead we will continue to hear a whole of spin from these two wide boys. They have justified trampling over basic democratic rights by claiming that the councillors are being sacked because of 'urgent problems with water management' and lack of an allocation plan.

The people of Auckland presently being shut out of the decision making processes in their city will be familiar with this sort of mendacious language from Hide.

Did he or Nick Smith consider giving Ecan more resources to do its job? Of course not.

What this move is really about is opening the door for rural and business interests to acquire control over Canterbury's waterways and allowing them to proceed with controversial irrigation projects involving the Hurunui, Rakaia, Waimakariri and other main rivers.

Regional councillor Eugenie Sage said today it was a sad day for democracy: 'I didn’t think they’d go so far. The arrogance of power. This is a major change to policy making without any public consultation. The commissioners will do what business interests want.'

And Central Christchurch MP Brendon Burns has commented:

'It is also a two-fingered salute to Canterbury voters. They will have to keep paying rates to an organisation over which they have no influence.

Environment Minister Nick Smith and Local Government Minister Rodney Hide are saying quite openly that Canterbury voters are not intelligent enough to elect a council that can deal with water management issues in Canterbury.

That’s what they mean when they say that these issues cannot be resolved by the normal electoral cycle. They are saying in effect that Canterbury voters are too thick to work things out for themselves, so let’s take the vote off them, and we’ll do it on their behalf. That’s incredibly arrogant and condescending.'
Bob often talks about the need for democratic accountability, transparency and the importance of community involvement in local issues. These words ring hollow given his support of the Government's decision to deny local people their basic democratic rights.

John Key told Parliament last month that he wanted to remove obstacles to irrigation and water storage in Canterbury. Minister of Agriculture David Carter thinks there is huge 'potential' for far more irrigation in Canterbury.

And more 'potential' for dairy farmers to, among other things, dirty the waterways.

He also didn't mention that Christchurch ratepayers would still continue to subsidise the use of water by dairy farmers and other major users. This is because farmers and other major water users aren’t being directly charged a single dollar for water management.

Carter's views have been echoed by Pete Townsend, the CEO of the Canterbury Chambers' of Commerce and one of Mayor Sideshow Bob's political allies, albeit they had a brief falling out over the $17 million bailout of failed property developer Dave Henderson.

In a speech to Parliament last week the Green Party MP Kennedy Graham said:

Canterbury’s water has become the bell-wether for the current political debate in New Zealand. This is between two alternative philosophies embraced by different sections of the New Zealand public and also in this House.

The first postulates economic growth as the paramount value, yet in the primal mists of the political jungle this Government has an instinctive awareness that not all is right with the environment. It intuits that the people also are concerned, so it utters soothing noises to assuage the masses. “We shall balance our economic opportunities with our environmental responsibilities”. And we have a subgroup—the Blue-greens—to salve your conscience. The Prime Minister himself is a member, so nothing to worry about.

The second philosophy embraces sustainable development: the economy is for ever subordinate to the environment whether or not humans choose to acknowledge it.

These alternative world views play out before our eyes over Canterbury water.


And what has been Mayor Bob Parker's role in all of this? Well, like his predecessor and mentor, Garry Moore, he has been antagonistic toward Ecan ever since he donned the mayoral garb - and he has been backed by councillors like Sue Wells and Barry Corbett.

Sideshow Bob was the initiator of a letter by local mayors demanding that the Government intervene in the affairs of Ecan and he supports the sacking of its councillors.

Bob often talks about the need for democratic accountability, transparency and the importance of community involvement in local issues. These words ring hollow given his support of the Government's decision to deny local people their basic democratic rights.

Joe Hendren also made a good point recently when he commented that the Christchurch and Timaru City Council's are seeking to take control of pubic transport from Ecan and because of neoliberal driven legal constrictions the Christchurch City Council would be required to sell the Red Bus Company

Red Bus is currently 100 percent owned by Christchurch City Holdings, which acts as the holding company for Christchurch City Council's trading assets.

In 2006 Mayor Garry Moore succeeded in removing the Red Bus Company from the Council's list of strategic assets.

In 2008 Moore was employed by the Christchurch City Council as a 'consultant' on urban renewal.

Joe Hendren writes:

Sideshow Bob must know that taking over control of transport will necessitate the sale of Red Bus. Not surprisingly he has not been upfront about this. Given Bob's previous mismanagement, some citizens will wonder if the expected proceeds from the sale of the company will end up propping up another one of David Henderson's dodgy property deals..

This is an election year for Sideshow Bob and his councillors. Bob and his council supporters are trying to maintain a low profile this year in the hope voters will have forgotten about they got up to in the preceding two years.

Among other things, Sideshow Bob's privatisation agenda needs to be well and truly exposed so he doesn't get a chance to implement it if he unfortunately gets reelected.

And he needs to be hammered right now for supporting Government moves to trample over the democratic rights of the very people he is supposed to represent.

CHEERLEADING FOR GERRY


If you needed another reason why we need a strong public service television network, then you only had to take a look at TV3's new stab at current affairs, The Nation.

Because its on at stupid times - 11am on a Saturday morning and repeated at 8am on a Sunday morning - I taped it to look at a time when I didn't have something else to do or was awake.

I thought I had dropped into a National Party talkfest.

There was Gerry Brownlee, the Minister of Energy, discussing the mining of precious conservation land with two panelists who also support the mining of precious conservation land. They were journalists Fran O'Sullivan - whose right wing views are familiar to most - and Mitch Harris.

Mitch Harris?

I suspect most people won't have struck Harris before. He used to be a talkback host on the now defunct Radio Pacific where he spent most of his time attacking the Clark Government and expounding his dreary neoliberal views.

In fact, when he was doing the midnight to dawn shift, Harris took to reading out entire right wing articles he had taken a fancy to.

How right wing is Harris? Very. He's so right wing that he has a close affinity with the views of Lindsay Perigo and the other Ayn Rand following fruitcakes.

He was also a fervent supporter of President George Bush. I recall one talkback caller asking him whether he had a part time job with the CIA such was Harris's pro-Bush jingoism.

Harris justified the American invasion of Iraq by claiming - like his beloved George Bush - that Saddam Hussein had weapons of mass destruction. When even Mitch realised that Saddam had no such weapons, he simply switched tacks and said that Hussein had to go anyway and that good old George was ushering in a new era of capitalist freedom and the Iraqi people would soon be enjoying Big Macs and Fox TV.

Fortunately Harris rarely pops up on the radio these days because he's now the station manager at Radio Pacific's successor, the low rating Radio Live. The station has failed to attract listeners despite Harris's big claim that Radio Live would eventually out- rate its rival, Newstalk ZB.

I'm actually surprised he's still in the job given his failure to deliver the ratings that the Australian owners want. It's no coincidence that Harris thinks the Minister of Broadcasting should force 'changes' on Radio New Zealand because its continuing popularity highlights the failure of commercial radio stations like Radio Live to be anything other than cnnduits for commercials.

So Harris has now popped up on the TV and he seemed to think he was back on the radio. He just went on and on. And on. And on. No one could stop him. Presenter Stephen Parker seemed powerless to stop the torrent of words belching from the mouth of Harris.

Despite the near collapse of global capitalism and the complete failure of neoliberalism, Harris, if anything, is even more of an neoliberal zealot than he was when he was a gung ho talkback host.

To make matters worse, Stephen Parker used to be Gerry Brownlee's press secretary.

Parker owned up to his previous life as Brownlee's spin doctor but The Nation hardly inspires confidence about its political independence when its presenter used to work for the Minister being interviewed.

Unsurprisngly, both Brownlee and the mining industry got treated with kids gloves. Hard questions were avoided because no one wanted to ask them. I imagine Mitch Harris thinks it was a job well done.

I made an effort to watch The Nation this week but I won't be watching again if its going to continue to promote both the National Government and the failed creed of neoliberalism.

EARTH HOUR FLOPS


I hope everyone ignored the corporate propaganda spectacle otherwise known as Earth Hour. I did.

While I was watching television I happened to see a commercial for McDonald's - the well-known corporate enabler of rainforest destruction. Ronald McDonald was congratulating himself for switching off all the lights at his fast food joints.

Actually, despite the propaganda, it seems like this attempt at corporate greenwash was a flop. Northland, the Bay of Plenty, Taranaki, South Canterbury and Otago-Southland saved no power and in Auckland - where most of New Zealand lives - only a one percent saving was achieved. Apparently that was due to someone in Grey Lynn deciding not to have their usual hot bath.

New Zealand's estimated total savings of electricity was two per cent. Last year the saving was 3.5 percent.

Well done, New Zealand. Let's go for one percent next year...

NB. Comalco carried on burning all that cheap power at its Bluff aluminium smelter..

IS HENDO GOING NUTS?


The 'urban visionary' threw a bit of a wobbly last week.

There was food festival in SOL Square last weekend which saw local singer Tor Sutton give up trying to entertain the crowd.

She gave up because Hendo blasted music from speakers attached to the wall of his Ishimoto Yakitori Restaurant and Living Space Apartments.

It seems that he apparently went to all the trouble of compiling a short collection of songs that were repeated ad nauseam, They included 'God Defend New Zealand'. God Save the Queen', 'Rule Britannia' and the 'Hallelujah Chorus'.

Sutton eventually gave up trying to sing over Hendo's unwanted cacophony of sound, informing the crowd that there wasn't anything either she or the SOL managers could do about it.

This was met with a collective 'boo' from the crowd for Hendo.

Of course Mayor Sideshow Bob's good mate has an excuse and a justification for any occasion and Hendo later fatuously claimed that the complaints were 'nonsense' and the music was no louder than at any other time.

If you believe this then you'll believe just about anything. I've strolled through the area on several occasions and there has been no music coming from the Hendo speakers.

Hendo, of course, was the former owner of the SOL bars until it they were put into receivership last year. He still resents that he is no longer the owner and this aural assault on innocent concert goers is motivated purely by spite.

Perhaps Mayor Sideshow Bob would like to tell us again why Dave Henderson is good for Christchurch?

LET THEM EAT CAKE


I sometimes wonder why people send me nasty emails.

I have had emails that are obscene/defamatory//incoherent. In fact I have had emails that are obscene, defamatory and incoherent all at the same time. Which has left me wondering about the mental state of the anonymous writer.

I read them and then delete them and that's the end of that. However yesterday I received an email from someone who took offence at my piece about Paula Bennett. He/she thought I was implying that Bennett was fat and ugly.

True, the post was titled 'The Ugly Face of Paula Bennett' but that was a reference to her ugly politics and not a reference to her physical features.

Similarly, I called Bennett an 'intellectual lightweight' because that's what she is. For my anonymous fan to suggest that I was making some kind of subtle reference her to being a physical heavyweight really is pushing the boat out a bit.

Frankly given the amount of misery she is inflicting on the poor and vulnerable, I'm not particularly concerned that people often say that she is the size of a small elephant.

And, as 'The Voice of Reason' noted on The Standard, she seems to have got bigger since arriving in Parliament. When the people she is bashing often have little money left to spend on basic groceries, there is something offensive about her telling the poor how they should conduct their lives.

I like this comment from 'The Voice of Reason':

' ...I have many ways to criticise Bennett, and I don’t think it’s fat-hate to point out that while dealing to the poor she has guzzled herself to the size of a house.

I saw her on telly wearing what looked like a designer bin liner. Some sort of shiny satin poncho arrangement presumably intended to make her less like a troughing Brownlee wannabee. Didn’t work. Bet she can’t even fit in the leopard skin car anymore.'

EARTH HOUR: CORPORATE GREENWASH


I wrote extensively about Earth Hour last year and my intention was just to ignore it this year, especially since it appears to have lost its 'novelty' value and the level of public interest in it - at least here in New Zealand - seems to have dropped away a little.

However I saw Oliver Driver and Carly Flynn talking nonsense about it on Sunrise this morning. Mediaworks (of which TV3 is a part) is one of the main supporters of Earth Hour in New Zealand so it wasn't surprising that Oliver and Flynn gushed enthusiastically about it all.

It was, incidentally, ironic that the two presenters should be enthusing about 'all of us' coming together for this 'great' environmental campaign when, just two days earlier, both Driver and Flynn were agreeing that it was a good idea for Paula Bennett to bash beneficiaries.

Apparently the love and good vibes only go so far...

One of the other main New Zealand supporters of Earth Hour is Toyota. Given that cars spew tons of pollutants into the air every year, I'm not exactly sure how Toyota are contributing to creating a cleaner environment.

The World Wild Fund for Nature (WWF) are the organising body behind Earth Hour.

I wrote extensively about the shocking politics of the WWF last year and I'm not going to repeat it all here, suffice to say that the WWF has a dismal record of jumping into bed with corporate polluters in return for sponsorship dollars.

Such has been its eagerness to attract corporate backing it has accepted funds from oil corporates like Chevron and Exxon Mobil - both oil giants with dismal environmental records.

The WWF also has taken millions from corporations like Citigroup, the Bank of America, Kodak, J.P. Morgan, the Bank of Tokyo, Philip Morris (yes, the cigarette manufacturer) , Waste Management , Coca Cola and DuPont.

As I wrote last year:

The World Wide Fund for Nature (WWF), formerly the World Wildlife Fund, has long been pushing a market-friendly brand of environmentalism.

Interestingly, given the recent local controversy about the importation of palm oil into this country, in November last year some 31 countries signed a letter attacking WWF’s founding role in the 'Roundtable on Sustainable Palm Oil'. The letter said: 'WWF's involvement is being used by agrofuel companies to justify building more refineries and more palm oil power stations in Europe.'

The palm oil industry is a leading cause of destruction of tropical rainforests.

As was the case last year there has been no critical analysis of Earth Hour and the WWF. Instead we have media organisations like Mediaworks acting as an advertising agency for the WWF.

It has also has the backing, among others, of various city councils - and former Prime Minister Helen Clark.

How many New Zealanders know they are supporting an organisation that takes money from cigarette companies, supports uranium mining in Australia and is playing a central role in the promotion of the palm oil industry and the consequent destruction of more of our precious rainforests?

If they did then its likely a lot of Kiwis would probably stay well clear of Earth Hour.

ANOTHER BENNETT BLUNDER


Oh dear. The Minister for Social Development has shot herself in the foot again.

Last year Paula Bennett trampled all over privacy legislation when she disclosed the financial details of two beneficiaries.

But Ms Bennett has obviously not learnt anything from last years's blunder because this time she has spectacularly breached the Bill of Human Rights.

Her own Attorney General warned her that her plan to bash women on the domestic purpose benefit was discriminatory.

Christopher Finlayson couldn't have it made it more clearer.

He advised Bennett that work testing sole parents on the DPB was an unjustifiable breach of human rights.

Staggeringly Bennett has chosen to ignore Finlayson's counsel and is carrying on regardless, boots and all.

Bennett can't bluster her way out of this mess and any credibility she once had has well and truly gone.

More importantly her planned welfare reforms now stand condemnd by her own Attorney General.

So that's two strikes against Bennett. Will it be a case of three strikes and she's out?

THE UGLY FACE OF PAULA BENNETT


PAUL LOVES PAULA
'The week, I have to say, belongs to Paula Bennett. She connects. She speaks normally. She talks the average person's language. We know where she comes from and she remembers where she comes from. She has the X factor.

Charisma, in its extreme form, can be elevating and inspiring. It can also simply be an aura, a quality, that makes us expect something interesting, something we will connect to or relate to, from the person who has it. So it is with Paula Bennett. She has a little of the darkness that stars have, too, and she is becoming, in her own way, a political star. Paul Holmes in the NZ Herald



In a time of mass unemployment along with high levels of social deprivation and outright poverty, the Government's new welfare reforms are an aggressive attack on beneficiaries. They aren't about helping beneficiaries but they are an attempt to reduce the size of the welfare budget at the expense of the poor and more vulnerable members of our society.

John Key as much as admitted it when he commented: 'The Government remains concerned about the prospects of a growing welfare roll in the decades ahead, accompanied of course by an increasing welfare bill.'

Paula Bennett, who Q+A presenter Paul Holmes lauded as 'a political star' last year in one of his NZ Herald columns , is the one doing the bashing.

The Social Development Minister has mounted a campaign against state intervention in the growing social crisis in favour of blaming beneficiaries for being too lazy and feckless to get jobs.

Bennett, who is an intellectual lightweight, told the media that for many beneficiaries , 'the dream was over'.

What was the silver-tongued Bennett referring to? The dream of never having to live in poverty again? The dream of never struggling to meet the rent? The dream of being able to buy new clothes for the kids?

None of the above. Bennett was referring to the fabulous jetsetting lifestyles beneficiaries are enjoying. According to Bennett the party never ends for beneficiaries and she's the party pooper.

Bennett, who thinks glib phrases and rhetoric passes for informed comment, wants us to believe that too many beneficiaries are spending all day in bed. They should all be in jobs.

Er, what jobs Paula?

The fact that we are in a deep economic hole appears to have not landed in Bennett's consciousness. Instead she's still going to force women on the DPB into low paid jobs (if she can find any) once the children reach school age. She's going to threaten the unemployed with the cancellation of their benefit if they haven't found a job after a year.

Bennett doesn't care about such silly things as economic circumstances, local labour markets with no jobs, the difficulties of trying to juggle some crummy low paid job with raising children singlehandedly.

Bennett, because she's a stupid and reactionary bourgeois politician, would rather moralise. Some people like Paul Holmes have tried to depict this as straightalking from a good old, down to earth, working class gal. Its nothing of the sort. It is a deeply conservative and unpleasant moral outlook on how the poor should be treated in this country.

While the Bennett Morality Show will appeal to the rednecks who ring talkback radio, at the core of her ugly philosophy is a belief that people living in poverty are less deserving of human decency than others.

So sickness beneficiaries are going to be harassed more frequently and the unemployed are going to being living under the constant threat of having their benefit cut or cancelled. I'm sure some of the more unpleasant case managers at Work and Income will be loving that they are going to be given an even bigger stick to bash over the heads of their clients.

Those of us who are not moral authoritarians like Paula Bennett know that being on a benefit is not a reflection of character. We also know that the social crisis is the product of a failing economic system that needs to be replaced.

READING FROM THE LEFT


A few months ago a reader of this blog, ''Country Lane'' asked if I could point him in the direction of some socialist material of a more instructive nature, particularly on economics.

I kind of let his request slide because it would of involved me trying to come up with some kind of reading list and ensuring that it was all freely available on the net. A bit problematic

Anyway, I've come across a website called Reading from the Left which fits the bill for anyone wanting to learn a bit more about socialism.

This is a non-commercial site to promote socialist pamphlets and books from a wide range of publishers.

All of the pamphlets and book chapters posted on Reading from the Left can be downloaded without charge and without registering.

One pamphlet recently posted on the site is 'Can the Working Class Make a Socialist Revolution?' by the noted Marxist economists and theoreticians Ernest Mandel and George Novacks. Also available for download as a PDF is Mandel's classic 'An Introduction to Marxist Economics'.

There is material available to download as a PDF on such topics as the environment, history and theory, labour struggles, socialist strategy and tactics, women's rights and imperialism and war.

Great site and one well worth bookmarking.

ON THE ROAD TO NOWHERE WITH THE FABIAN SOCIETY


What's wrong with the Labour Party? It's an important question and one that this blog has addressed on many an occasion but if you want another insight into the wreck that is Goff's Gang you cannot go far wrong by looking at some of the main ideas generated by the recent Auckland seminar held by the New Zealand Fabian Society. This was one of a series of seminars presently being held throughout the country.

While the Fabian Society has been slow to post any reports of this seminar on its website according to one sympathetic blogger it arrived at four fundamental conclusions:

1. New Zealand needs leadership. It doesn't have it.
2. NZ’s currency needs to be regulated.
3. We need a Capitol Gains Tax (of which, more later) and;
4. An economic crisis is coming. We can manage our way down through it, but if we ignore it, it will be more calamitous than we seem able to imagine.


Of course the Labour Party's blog, The Standard, gave the seminar 'a big tick'. The person giving the seminar 'a big tick' was Mike Smith.

He wrote: 'I found it the most grounded and stimulating discussion about the critically important issues facing the New Zealand economy that I have heard in years.'

But Smith would say that because he is chairperson of the NZ Fabian Society. It's hardly a neutral assessment then but if Smith wants to blow the Fabian trumpet all over the place then that's up to him. We don't have to treat anything he says seriously after all. Smith has a major credibility problem anyway because as, General Secretary of the Labour Party, he enthusiastically and unswervingly supported the neoliberal policies of the Clark Government.

Smith hasn't had an 'road to Damascus' experience though. He still supports free market economics - he just thinks 'his people' can do a better job making it work. He hasn't quite figured out yet that the motor is stuffed and no amount of tinkering will get it to start.

What is sorely apparent is the Fabian Society, like the Labour Party, have absolutely no vision of a future without the free market. It has failed to prevent a clear economic alternative. Advocating a capital gains tax is hardly the product of a sweeping vision - even a capitalist zealot like Don Brash doesn't turn his nose up at the idea of such a tax.

And New Zealand needs 'leadership'? And Phil Goff, an enthusiastic supporter of neoliberalism for the past twenty five years, is going to provide it? Give me a break. The guy is a walking car crash looking for an accident.

Here's the thing. Both the Labour Party and the Fabian Society think its their job to save the free market. They want to treat the symptoms of the disease but not the disease itself. We on the left want to eradicate the disease. By the left I mean the genuine socialist left rather than the pseudo-left represented by the likes of Mike Smith and The Standard.

Our mediocre and bankrupt political and business elite and their allies in Parliament are desperately trying to save a system that cannot be saved. More importantly, they are trying to save themselves.

The NZ Fabian Society is on the road to nowhere. And, in accordance with its political philosophy, its traveling down that road in a gradual way.

YOUTH HEALTH CENTRE FACING CLOSURE


Today several hundred people gathered to protest the likely closure of the 198 Centre in central Christchurch.

The 198 Centre is free drop-in health centre for young people but will close at the end of April unless new funding can be found to cover rising costs.

The centre has been in operation for some fifteen years and while money has always been tight the centre has now reached the point of no return. Bankruptcy looms. This is even despite the fact that the centre is run on the smell of an oily rag and no-one works there will ever feature in the high income tax bracket - unlike the considerable number of Canterbury District Health Board administrators on more than a $100,000 a year.

I've read hat nearly 7,000 young people use the centre's services every year and I can well believe it. This is a centre that does an invaluable role providing crucial services for working class youth with little money.

The 198 Centre has been there to provide medical checks ups, health advice, pregnancy tests, counselling and simply a friendly place where young people can meet and talk. In these days of the so-called 'me generation' there is still a lot to be said for good old community solidarity.

One third of 198 Youth Health Centre’s young patients seek help for sexual health issues, and another third for issues with mental health, two areas for which research shows young people are far less likely to go to their family doctor.

The closure of the centre will effectively mean that young people in Christchurch will miss out on the health care they require. Where are these young people expected to go with other health services are already to struggling with budget cuts and increasing demand?

Despite the centre's invaluable role in the local community it is faced with closure because no-one - from the Canterbury District Health Board to the Christchurch City Council is prepared to give a helping hand.

Health minister Tony Ryall has refused to step in to save the centre.

The Christchurch City Council's failure to come to the financial assistance of the 198 Centre is another example of this council's skewered priorities. It can find $17 million to bailout out a discredited and almost bankrupt property developer and it can find $5 million to spend on the 'naming rights' to a garden show but it cannot find he money to help out a health centre that plays a crucial role among Christchurch youth.

This is a time of deep recession and youth unemployment has rocketed up over the past year or so. Yet, despite this, the young people of Christchurch are facing the ugly prospect of having another support organisation kicked out from under them.


Save 198 Youth Health Centre!

MEDIA MADNESS


I imagine Labour MP Charles Chauvel has been reflecting on the state of the New Zealand media over the last couple of days.

Indeed, choosing his words carefully, he expressed some of his views to Maggie Barry on Radio Live yesterday afternoon.

Chauvel said that, on occasions, he had at least ten journalists pursuing him for comment about the allegations of a right wing blogger that he had told his children to shut up during a weekend flight.

Chauvel is Labour's spokesperson on climate change and he pointedly observed that he has difficulty getting the media interested in Labour's views on climate change issues.

Chauvel isn't the only victim of the media's obsession with trivia and pap.

Last week the evolutionary biologist and popular science author Richard Dawkins gave two sold out lectures in Auckland and Christchurch.

He was ignored by both TVNZ and TV3. Neither media organisations thought that Dawkins was important to warrant an extended in-depth interview. But they were quite prepared to waste journalistic resources on pursing a ludicrous story whipped up by a right wing blogger with an axe to grind.

Then again neither channels have any serious interview shows. These days, everything is just a bit of a laugh and a giggle.

One person did think Richard Dawkins was important enough to warrant a comprehensive interview. Congratulations to Graeme Hill on Radio Live who talked with Professor Dawkins for over an hour on his Saturday show. Fascinating stuff. You can hear the interview here.

SIDELINING PUBLIC BROADCASTING


I find it bitterly ironic that the people now tubthumping about the prospect of TVNZ being privatised are the very people who had nothing to say about the ludicrous 'hybrid' model that Labour imposed on TVNZ.

Labour's astonishingly inept view that TVNZ could somehow meet public service obligations while at the same delivering a commercial dividend to the Government was always doomed to failure.

And I'm not personally being wise after the event. I said so at the time. Indeed so did many other people including former TVNZ chairman Ian Fraser. He urged that the Labour Government turn TV1 into a purely public service channel along the lines of the BBC in the United Kingdom and ABC in Australia.

Sadly his advice was not heeded. It was apparent that Labour's ideological tunnel vision would eventually be TVNZ's downfall and it would appear that we were are now fast approaching that point.

Its a pity that the critics of the Minister of Broadcasting's plans for TVNZ didn't display the same kind of opposition to Labour's ludicrous approach to public broadcasting. While Jonathan Coleman is now deservedly fielding flak the same can't be said for former Minister of Broadcasting Steve Maharey who got treated with kids gloves by the likes of The Standard and Tumeke's Martyn Bradbury.

Jonathan Coleman is suggesting that public service broadcasting be ghettoised on the digital channels TVNZ6 and possibly TVNZ7. TV1 and TV2 would supposedly continue to deliver the lowest common demoninator rubbish we are all too familiar with now.

Effectively Coleman is seeking to sideline public service television to the periphery which, not coincidentally, is what the Rupert Murdoch's of this world want. Murdoch is deliberately portraying public television as a 'niche provider'. Murdoch wants private media corporations like his to dominate the media affairs of countries like the UK, Australia and New Zealand.

This is an attack on media freedom and political diversity.

In Britain the BBC has caved into pressure from Murdoch and cuts its budget by some 600 million pounds as well as reducing its presence on the internet. This is a direct response to Murdoch complaining that the BBC was adversely impacting on his profit margins. Rather than allowing a possible Conservative Government make even more unpalatable cuts, the BBC has, grudgingly, made cuts itself.

Murdoch has opened a second front in his home country of Australia.

In language reminiscent of our Minister of Broadcasting columnist Mark Day writing in the Murdoch-owned The Australian has declared the public service broadcasting model to be 'broken'. He has commented:

It is time we had a full debate about the role of the ABC. It was established in a vastly different media landscape as a taxpayer-funded entity designed to, in part, fill in the market niches not served by the commercial sector. Now, thanks to pay-TV and the digital revolution, those niches are hotly contested.

Day concludes;

Politically, it is probably impossible to flog it off, but the government has in the recent past got out of businesses such as banking, telecommunications and airlines. Does it really need to be in media?

If you think Mark Day is bad, then The Australian's foreign editor Greg Sheridan is in a league of his own. On one of his many trips to the United States to see Rupert he wrote:

'The US is the greatest possible argument for media deregulation. Every morning, I flick between Fox, CNN and MSNBC as I eat my cereal … why did it take so long for pay TV to get to Australia? …'


Sheridan has displayed the same sort of antipathy towards noted journalist and prominent Murdoch critic John Pilger displayed here by writers on The Standard and, ironically, by TVNZ's own Gordon Harcourt. Sheridan has, bizarrely, blamed 'Pilgerist Chomskyism' for 'ideologically fuelling the followers of Osama bin Lenin, sorry Laden.'

Like TVNZ, ABC is vulnerable to attack from Murdoch because it is funded directly by the government - rather than through a licence fee as is the BBC - and therefore more vulnerable to the pernicious effects of Murdoch's lackeys lobbying government ministers and officials.

Martin Hirst on his Ethical Martini blog also makes the point that the campaign against public service broadcasting is a global phenomenon. Hirst, who is a lecturer in public communications at the Auckland University of Technology, writes:

'The media industry is in trouble and public service broadcasters are actually doing OK. We tend to trust them more; they’re reliable; they’re staffed by people who care about good journalism; and they don’t have greedy shareholders sucking the life out of them.

Now the greedy slugs and layabouts want a slice of our pie too.

We need to tell them to “piss off” in no uncertain terms.'


In 1983 the world's media was dominated by some 50 media corporations By 2002 that number had rapidly declined to just nine. Rupert Murdoch thinks that eventually just three media corporations, including his own, will dominate the world's media.

So it's more urgent than ever to actively defend public broadcasting. Here in New Zealand the Broadcasting Minister is seeking to portray himself as a defender of the public broadcasting ethos. But his desire to fence public broadcasting off in a niche wilderness betrays that he is a wolf in sheep's clothing.

The fact that Coleman has no idea of how TVNZ6 would be funded suggests that what we would end up with is a TVNZ6 that won't look much different from what we have now. Labour's Broadcasting spokesman Brendon Burns got it right when he said that Coleman was just looking for a 'face saving measure.'

And, of course we may sell see TV2 sold off to the highest bidder, if not TV1 as well. No doubt Rupert Murdoch will be first in line to lay an offer on the government's table.

WORLD PEOPLE'S CONFERENCE ON CLIMATE CHANGE


With the industrialised countries failing to come to grips with climate change - as the debacle of Copenhagen demonstrated = a World People's Conference is to be held in Bolivia from April 20-22.

Sixteen working groups are presently developing draft documents on such issues as the structural causes of climate change , the dangers of carbon markets and action strategies. These will be discussed by the conference as a whole.

Bolivia is expecting over 5,000 activists environmentalists and scientists to travel to the country to attend the three day conference in the city of Cochabamba.

The Cochabamba conference, called for by the Bolivian Presdent Evo Morales, is presented as an alternative to the views expressed by the large industrial powers at the UN Climate Change Summit in Copenhagen last December, which failed to support a reduction in toxic emissions that are causing a dangerous rise in global temperatures.

More information on the conference can be found here.

GREEK UNIONS SHOW HOW IT IS DONE


In Greece yesterday skirmishes broke out between riot police and protesters as unions and workers stepped up their resistance to the austerity measures that the Greek Government, under pressure from the European Union, is attempting to impose.

Riot police used tear gas to force back protesters.

There have been two general strikes this week involving hundreds of thousands of workers. Not surprisingly workers have no intention to accept the burden of an economic crisis they are not responsible for.

Protesters have chanted 'Make the bosses pay”'and 'Where has all the money gone?'

The Greek Government is attempting to impose the same kind of 'structural reforms' that were imposed on African, Asian and South American countries in the 1980s with such devastating consequences for ordinary people.

Thursday's strike was called by Greece's main private sector union, GSEE, and its public sector sister union, ADEDY, which together represent half of the country's five million workers.

GSEE leader Yiannis Panagopoulos told the Associated Press: 'They are trying to make workers pay the price for this crisis,'

While the Greek union leaders show no reluctance to flex their industrial muscle when the jobs and living standards of workers are under threat, the same cannot be said for New Zealand's private and state sector unions. They have failed to put up any resistance to the Government's austerity measures and the growing job losses. Indeed they have actively colluded with the Government to ensure that redundancies are processed with a minimum of fuss and bother.

The Public Service Association's dismally limp response to the Government's austerity drive into the state sector mirrors the lack of any resistance shown by union 'leaders' in the private sector.

The PSA has simply raised the white flag and surrendered. The casualties will be the workers who lose their jobs - you won't see any PSA officials taking the long walk to Work and Income.

According to the hopeless Brenda Pilott, the national secretary of the PSA, it will be monitoring the impact of the jobs cuts. She has made no mention of actually resisting the cuts. This is simply a betrayal of the basic interests of her members.

Just as pathetic has been Labour's Darren Hughes call for Grey Power to protest the proposed cuts to the travel discount available to SuperGold card users.

Hughes, just like the Labour Party, is simply grandstanding on easy issues while all the time failing to speak out and act for workers when it really matters most.

Not only is it time to seek to create truly democratic and fighting unions but we also need to demand answers as to why the union bureaucracy continues to channel considerable amounts of money and organisational resources to a Labour Party that has shown by its own policies and actions that it is aggressively anti-working class.

PSA OFFICIALS REFUSE TO FIGHT JOB CUTS



The Government's austerity drive is now targeting the state sector, despite the fact that John Key and the National party said during the 2008 election campaign that would be no major reforms to the state sector during its first term.

This promise has gone the same way as John Key's promise not to increase GST.

Both Stephen Joyce and Anne Tolley have announced cuts in education funding although neither minister will own up to wielding the big axe.

Joyce is claiming he's just improving the tertiary system but his so-called 'improvements' will see a swathe of course scrapped because they are deemed to have too high a failure rate and there will be more job losses.

Similarly, fresh from taking the axe to community education, Tolley wants to see the $25 million cut from the education sector by 2012.

So how many jobs are to go? The Government is claiming it has no figures on possible job losses but its hardly believable that they have not been provided reports from officials.

Already some 3000 jobs have gone in the public sector since National came to power. These job losses have met with no resistance from the union bureaucrats in the Public Service Association (PSA). They have done absolutely nothing.

And the PSA officialdom are threatening to carry on doing absolutely nothing in response to Tolley's demand for $10 million worth of savings this next financial year.

Brenda Pilot, the national secretary of the PSA, has clearly been reading Andrew Little's How To Be A Really Dismal Union Official.

Pilot's response to Tolley's demands? She and the PSA are 'going to be keeping a close eye on any impact the cost cutting has on the delivery of education services.' I'm sure that this will have Tolley shaking in her high heels.

So Pilot has unilaterally decided that job losses are inevitable and she's just going to sit on her bottom and let it happen with the minimum of fuss and bother.

Pilot and the PSA are, once again, betraying the very people who pay their big fat salaries.

A proper fighting union - which the PSA isn't - would be organising state sector workers with a clear message to the government that the PSA intends to resist not only the new round of cuts but the attack on the public sector generally.

IS MARK SAINSBURY THE NEW DAVID HARTNELL?


You might recall a TVNZ promo from two years or so ago which featured Mark Sainsbury explaining to an unseen interviewer what his job was as the host of Close Up.

It ran something along the lines that it was his task to ask the hard questions and get the answers.

His moustache bristling, Sainsbury informed us that in an one on one interview situation politicians could not escape his deadly journalistic scrutiny.

Which, in reality, is a little like being interviewed by Krusty the Clown. And I'm probably insulting Krusty.

Even by Sainsbury's own low standards, last nights Close Up must rank as one of TVNZ's more desperate moments.

The world and the country are gripped by the greatest economic crisis since the Great Depression, bringing with it high levels of unemployment and social deprivation, yet Sainsbury and Close Up have other ideas about what is relevant and important.

Sainsbury clearly spends his times scrutinising the entertainment and celebrity news for 'inspiration'. Indeed few politicians ever appear on Close Up these days to undergo the 'Sainsbury experience' - which I imagine is a little like swimming in custard.

Moustache opened the show with a bit of the old 'wink, wink - say no more'. The silly and meaningless relationship soap opera presently occurring between an Australian cricketer and his girlfriend was deemed so important that Sainsbury needed the views of two people to explain what it all meant. So he hauled in some Australian gossip journalist and former New Zealand cricketer John Morrison.

What do think of it all?' asked Sainsbury of Morrison. Clearly Sainsbury was struggling to come to grips with this complex issue.

Morrison managed to get in an off colour remark about the physical appearance of the woman in question - Laura Bingle - but Sainsbury just shrugged it off. It looks like blatant sexism has just got the green light from Close Up.

Sainsbury then moved on to the next crucial issue of the day - an interview with the guy who fronts the Beaurepaires Tyres television commercials. This is not the first time TVNZ have done a story on Vince Martin and this one went over the same old dross again.

But it was great advertising for Beaurepaires which just might have been the point of this lunacy. Was this advertising masquerading as 'news'? Given that TVNZ plays fast and loose with just about everything else I wouldn't be surprised if TVNZ are now dropping 'paid stories' into Close Up.

Finally we were subjected to a song by a former Australian Idol winner, Guy Sebastian, This was an opportunity for Sainsbury to ask the question that only he could think needs answering - what has happened to New Zealand's idols? All two of them.

Is Mark Sainsbury the new David 'my lips are aealed' Hartnell? Or is he David Hartnell in disguise - that would explain the moustache. Has anyone seem Sainsbury and Hartnell in the same room?

I've said it before and I'll say it again - Close Up is a disgrace and an insult to our intelligence.

FABIAN FOLLY


I imagine that most people who read this blog have heard of the Fabian Society. Some though might have assumed that it had gone out of existence. It certainly would be an easy mistake to make. Given the historic failure of reformism it would entirely understandable if people assumed that the members of the Fabian Society had decided to call it a day and had all gone home.

But the Fabian Society is still around and, here in New Zealand, it has its own website and, among other things, runs lectures and seminars. These days though any references to socialism have been quietly dropped. It was all a sham anyway so at least they have come clean and admitted that they have no interest in transforming capitalism - just tinkering with it.

The Fabian Society was first established in England in 1894 and branches were quickly established in New Zealand in both Christchurch and Dunedin.

Interestingly it was one of the founders of the Fabian Society, Sidney Webb, who wrote the original clause 4 of the British Labour Party which talks about the 'the common ownership of the means of production.'

It was Tony Blair who pushed to have this explicitly socialist clause dropped in favour of the present clause which makes no mention of the socialisation of the means of production and instead talks about Blair's 'shared set of progressive values'.

The New Zealand Fabian Society, although is describes itself as 'independent' acts largely as a think tank for the Labour Party. The current president of the New Zealand branch of the Fabians is Mike Smith, a former general secretary of the Labour Party, He is a regular writer for the Labour-aligned blog The Standard and never a critical word about Labour ever features in his writings.

Historically Fabianism has favoured small incremental changes in the direction of 'socialism'. The New Zealand Fabian Society website has reworked this to mean 'gradual, reformist social democracy, applying progressive values to contemporary issues.' Whatever that means. Clearly though it was inspired by Tony Blair.

The fact that Mike Smith was a committed supporter and defender of the neoliberalism of the last Labour Government should alert the reader that the 'progressive politics' of the Fabian Society are dodgy to say the least.

Speaking about British Fabianism Leon Trotsky described it as an attempt to save capitalism from the working class. He wrote;

"..throughout the whole history of the British Labour movement there has been pressure by the bourgeoisie upon the proletariat through the agency of radicals, intellectuals, drawing-room and church socialists and Owenites who reject the class struggle and advocate the principle of social solidarity, preach collaboration with the bourgeoisie, bridle, enfeeble and politically debase the proletariat".

In a recent posting on Public Address Mike Smith make its clear that the Fabian Society's 'progressive values ' are just about different policies to run the capitalist economy. These policies will be implemented and administered by people like, well, Mike Smith.

There is no place at all for the working class in the Fabian scenario. We are simply pieces on a chess board to be pushed around by more 'enlightened' politicians and business people.

Mike Smith and the Fabian Society are holding a series of nationwide lectures and seminars this month to discuss ways to create a more 'resilient economy'. You can bet that they won't be discussing such things as bringing back into public ownership such utilities as Telecom or the entire electricity industry. You can bet they won't be talking about nationalising the banking and finance sector. They won't even be talking about progressive taxation.

None of the speakers that Fabian Society have got all lined up are socialist - in fact they come from the business sector which about sums up the state of play in the Fabian society.

One of the speakers is John Walley, the CEO of the Manufacturers and Exporters Federation.

Another speaker is Selwyn Pellett who is described as a 'hi tech entrepreneur'. Earlier this year he was praising Goff's views on taxation and monetary reform.

The Fabian Society might be determined to show it is business friendly but it is also demonstrating the same anti-working class attitudes that the last Labour Government displayed and acted upon.

There is nothing new on offer from the Fabian Society. All it wants is a reinvented neoliberalism.

ANOTHER BLOW FOR HENDO


This week our mate Dave surprisingly took up an option to buy back one of the five properties he sold to the Christchurch City Council for $17 million.

Option dates for the other four properties will be coming up in the not too distant future.

Of course whether the financially besieged Hendo can actually find the money to purchase the property is another story altogether. However it'll take some three to four months for all the necessary paperwork to be done so he has squeezed out some time before he has to show us the colour of his money.

Don't hold your breath.

The fly in the ointment for Hendo is that the Christchurch City Council can withdraw from any settlement if they are not convinced that Hendo can complete the development. Of course we can fully expect Mayor Sideshow Bob to cut his mate a fair bit of slack.

Regardless, thanks to the stupidity and cronyism of Mayor Sideshow Bob and councillors like Sue Wells and Barry Corbett, the ratepayers of Christchurch are now entangled in the murky affairs of Hendo. Was this what Sue Wells had in mind when she described the bailout of Henderson as 'a very good deal.'?

However the inexorable slide of Hendo toward financial oblivion appears to be gathering pace again, despite the many and varied attempts of 'the urban visionary' to halt the landside that threatens to engulf him.

Yesterday his flagship company, Property Ventures, was put into receivership by Allied Farmers.

Property Ventures, among other things, owned Five Mile Holdings which planned to build a self -contained village near Queenstown but went into receivership in 2008 laving a big hole in the ground.

Allied Farmers, of course, took over Hanover Finance last year.

One of Hanover's loans was some $42 million to Five Mile Holdings -a loan guaranteed by Property Ventures.

According to Allied, this loan is racking up an incredible $23,000 a day in interest.

The poor people who invested their money in Hanover are trapped in a financial nightmare and tales of financial hardship have become common. Some Hanover investors have been forced to sell their homes.

True to form, Hendo is entirely unconcerned about the grief he has helped cause.

He has declared that the receivership of Property Ventures is 'a quite pointless exercise' because it owns nothing.

But Hendo's arrogance knows no bounds and he has hinted that Allied Farmers are just engaged in a PR exercise.

He told The Press: 'I guess given Allied's position right now they do need to be doing something in regard to the loan book they inherited from Hanover.'

Given the fact that he wasted some $42 million in digging a big hole near Queenstown, is it unreasonable to expect Hendo to show some contrition? Apparently it is.

IN SEARCH OF THE LABOUR LEFT



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.

Share

Twitter Delicious Facebook Digg Stumbleupon Favorites More