In Britain, the call has gone up for a new left party that will give voice  to policies that  Labour won't advocate. In New Zealand,  we're being told that our salvation lies in supporting Labour and the Green's - two parties that have no intention of abandoning their neoliberal policies.

In Britain the call has again gone up for a new left wing party that will provide an economic alternative that the Labour Party won't.

The new initiative  has been sparked by filmmaker Ken Loach. He has just released a new film,  The Spirit of '45 which charts   the post war advances of social democracy and the welfare state.

In a co-written article in The Guardian, Loach observes : 'the promise of opportunity, dignity, health and work, fulfilled by Labour's welfare state after 1945, is not to be one that we can look to today's Labour party for. Yet contemporary Britain – and beyond – is precisely where such policies are needed.'

Loach observes that while economic alternatives are being widely discussed  they lack the voice of an organised  political party. There are the 'fireworks' of one  issue campaigns, isolated protests and a torrent of words on websites and blogs, but  conspicuously lacking is the political party   that can gather together the forces of the left.

Loach is dismissive  of Ed Miliband's  Labour Party. He observes that  Labour, within the past fortnight, failed to oppose the Tories  punitive workfare legislation. Miserably,  Labour abstained on the vote in Parliament. Abstained!

Loach writes: 

We need policies that reject Tory cuts, regenerate the economy and improve the lives of ordinary people. We are not getting this from Labour. There is no doubt that some of Labour's past achievements have been remarkable – the welfare state, the NHS; a redistributive economy making unprecedented levels of health and education possible. But such achievements are in the past. Now Labour embraces cuts and privatisation and is dismantling its own great work. Labour has failed us. Nothing shows the contrast more clearly than The Spirit of '45.

He continues:

The anomaly which leaves Britain without a left political alternative – one defending the welfare state, investing for jobs, homes and education, transforming our economy – has to end.

There  are obvious parallels to be drawn with what is happening in New Zealand. In fact we are in a worse position.

As in Britain, we lack a party that can clearly give voice to the policies of the left.  But it is worse than that. There  is  also no discussion or debate about the need for such a party.  While there is a lot of analysis and a lot of the comment,  the elephant in the room is continued  support for the Labour Party.

We are expected to believe  that our salvation lies in a Labour - Green - Mana 'progressive bloc'. When the  two major  parties hail the 'power of the market' (Russel Norman) how exactly is this a 'progressive bloc'?  The question remains  unanswered but that is what the  mileau of activists , union officials, and bloggers  that gravitate around these parties, are offering you.

Writing on The Daily Blog   columnist Chris Trotter observes

If being left-wing means anything, it means being willing to challenge the existing architecture of power and wealth. It means being willing to take big risks on behalf of those who cannot take such risks themselves. It means aligning oneself unequivocally with the poor and the marginalised, and refashioning the agencies of the state, which this National government is fast turning into weapons of oppression, into the tools of enlightenment and emancipation that Labour has always intended them to be.

Fine words indeed, but can you spot the obvious contradiction? Yes, Trotter continues to support Labour.  Not only does he continue to support Labour he maintains an outright hostility to the socialist left. Its all very well to wax nostalgically for the days of post-war social democracy but those days  are gone and cannot return. It is time to move on  but  Trotter, averse to socialist politics,  can't move on.  He is not the only one suffering from this affliction. 

Supporting Labour means NOT  being  willing to challenge the existing architecture of power and wealth. Supporting Labour means NOT being willing to take big risks on behalf of those who cannot take such risks themselves. Supporting Labour means NOT aligning oneself unequivocally with the poor and the marginalised, and refashioning the agencies of the state.

But with  Labour Party supporters like Chris Trotter  there is always a fundamental difference between what they support and what they say they want.

As in Britain it is time for a political party that offers a clear and unambiguous alternative  to neoliberalism. It is not time for the warmed over market polices of Labour and the Green's. More of the same is not good enough. 

As the last election illustrated, this 'alternative' is well past its use-by date.  It should be kicked into the dustbin of history but, unfortunately, this unappetising gruel is   going to served up again at the next general election. 

If Labour loses again it'll be  leader David Shearer who'll wear the blame. But the cabal that is presently  urging us to support the 'progressive bloc' will, as they did at the last election,  walk quietly away.  If  Labour wins they will bask in the reflected glory. If Labour loses, they won't shoulder any of the responsibility.

He's been quoted often before but Antonio Gramsci's observation that 'the crisis consists precisely in the fact that the old is dying and the new cannot be born; in this interregnum a great variety of morbid symptoms appear' is appropriate.  It certainly applies to the New Zealand political landscape.


  1. We've had this argument before, Steve, but since you have, once again, concentrated your fire upon myself, a single individual, I feel obliged to respond.

    I would ask you, for example, to focus your criticism on what I have actually done - not on what you believe I represent.

    I have always been a left social-democrat - fighting for the very things Ken Loach celebrates in The Spirit of '45. I fought against Rogernomics and helped to establish the NewLabour Party. (In other words, I did what Ken Loach is urging the people of Britain to do).

    I have not been a member of any political party since 1990. In the 23 years since then I have supported the Alliance, The Greens and the Labour Party.

    It has always been my view that, as Jim Anderton used to say, "we must build our footpaths where the people walk". Any honest analysis of the results of recent elections will confirm that the "socialist" left (as you call it) has constructed a track that is trod by very few.

    My support or opposition to Labour is determined by my assessment of its potential to do good or ill.

    Post 2008 there was a discernable shift to the left among the party's rank-and-file. That, I believed - and still believe - was worth encouraging.

    The rise of David Shearer, however, has placed that leftward shift in Labour at risk.

    You may have noticed that I am among Mr Shearer's sternist critics.

    By all means, Steve, critique the social-democratic left, but please, do it without resort to the disreputable tactics of misrepresentation and ad hominem argument.

  2. I don't know how many times you have quoted Jim Anderton at me, Chris. I never knew he was the 'go - to man' for socialist strategy.

    As I've said before the problem with Anderton was while he was supposedly building his footpaths 'where the people walk' he was making his peace with neoliberalism.

    Nothing is more corrupting and despairing than the notion that we must move with the flow, that we must simply move with the prevailing current.

    Surely the answer is to stand against the current? In fact that is what you suggest when you write 'If being left-wing means anything, it means being willing to challenge the existing architecture of power and wealth. It means being willing to take big risks on behalf of those who cannot take such risks themselves.', etc. I entirely agree with you!

    But, on the one hand, you argue that we must stand against the current but then turn round and agree with Anderton we must 'build our footpaths where the people walk.' You can't have your cake and eat it too.

    There is no social democratic left in the Labour Party unless your definition of left social democracy is wide enough to encompass a market politician like David Cunliffe. At this point I lose interest.

  3. A classic left-wing impasse, Steve.

    I say: "Flow with the current, if it takes you closer to your goal, or, if it's taking you in the wrong direction, step out of the river.

    You say: "But the current only ever flows one way. If you don't like where it's taking you - stand against it."

    But, Steve, the river will flow over and around you, no matter how firmly you plant your feet in its bed.

    I would rather move in the direction I wish to travel, no matter often my journey gets broken, than simply remain fixed, in space and time, like a rock.

  4. So that means you don't actually believe what you wrote and I can legitimately say that it was empty political posturing.

  5. How on earth do you arrive at that extraordinary conclusion, Steve? Not by logic - that's for sure!

    Is it really your position that unless change happens immediately, and just as they specify, all those promoting it are guilty of "empty political posturing"?

    If it is, then you are as guilty of the offence as I am.

  6. Nothing illogical about it at all. You state unequivocally:

    'If being left-wing means anything, it means being willing to challenge the existing architecture of power and wealth. It means being willing to take big risks on behalf of those who cannot take such risks themselves...etc'

    But from this position of standing against the prevailing order it moves to something else entirely: 'the river will flow over and around you, no matter how firmly you plant your feet in its bed. I would rather move in the direction I wish to travel, no matter often my journey gets broken,'

    So if you aren't standing against the current you must be moving with it. To claim that you moving 'in the direction I wish to travel'. is just obfuscation. What direction would that be, Chris? Sideways perhaps? A bit of a zig zag? A u-turn?

    I will say that the only direction you are going in Chris is a call for another vote for Labour at the next election. That's real progress...

  7. I can see that the literary device known as the metaphor is entirely wasted on you, Steve.

    As, indeed, is every attempt to persuade you to enter the world of honest debate and give away the pet prejudices which, for reasons unfathomable to me, you seem utterly incapable of relinquishing.

    Such a pity.

  8. It's not me who's promoting David Cunliffe as Labour's salvation and our only political salvation.

  9. Yes this is a boring debate:

    Funny that Chris sees fit to remind us of his role in setting up New Labour (was it '86 or '87 ?).

    I can also remember him back then at the CHCH founding meeting of the NLP, in the Sydenham Anglican Church. He was there on the stage, guitar aloft, singing the union dirge, "Solidarity Forever". (I recall thinking that it wasn't a particularly good rendition, and also that Jimbo Anderton didn't seem too chuffed about it either - though possibly more from a consideration of how raised fists and radicalism would play out in the 6.30 news).

    Anyway, re: the NLP. It also reminded me of how a certain Matt McCarten was a big power-player in the NLP at that time (wasn't he also onstage, singing?), and how later, at the Wellington Conference of the NLP, he was a key player in excluding the activist left from the organisation and then bureaucratically over-ruling and directing policy documents prepared by a discussion group led by Sue Bradford...amongst others.
    Rank-and-file prepared policy that didn't fit well with Andertons and McCartens idea of what the NLP should be about.

    So where's Matt now?
    Mana Party isn't it, Steve?

    (after a brief spell leading the Unite union away from its rank-and-file beginnings and into a useful intermediate political vehicle, that is)

    So where’s all this led to: Die hard labourite (Mr C.Trott), who wants to be seen as radical - arguing against a supporter of a radical political party (Mana) who claims personal allegiance to the organising roots of “old” labour (“socialism”). Mana, which is now led in large part by former mate of the labourite (Mr M. McC), who utilised the organising power of workers and youth (via UNITE), and a criticism of the “old politics” of labourism, to catapult his way back into his own version of the parliamentary road.

    And for the workers sitting on the sideline - what has changed: Rank and file unionism harnessed to parliamentary politics under the wing of political actors with demonstrated bureaucratic tendencies. Forget about 1987, its all very 1947.

    Pass me the Jug.

    Ang Galls

  10. I'm not sure if the reference is to me, but I'm not a supporter of Mana. True, I held out hopes for it initially but I've been disappointed by its development. I've written abut this elsewhere, I think.

    As an aside, I also recall watching Chris singing 'Solidarity Forever' at a Labour Party conference - with Helen Clark looking on.

  11. Trotter is such a blowhard. He brags about his revolutionary perspective, but when he gets challenged he wanks on about moving in his own direction and whines that he's been misquoted and misrepresented by Cowan.

    Come on Chris - just own up. We all know you a right wing social democrat so why bother pretending that you something else altogether.


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