Why are the neoliberal policies of David Shearer and Russel Norman  any less unacceptable than those of Margaret Thatcher? 

Around the world, the left  has celebrated the death of Margaret Thatcher.  Like perhaps no other politician, she is reviled as having began the neoliberal assault on the post-war social democratic state.

Her austere, arrogant and vicious manner meant she was a woman who was easy to hate.- a lower middle class witch who turned on a British working class  that she reviled. That she is being given something close to a state funeral is an insult to the British people.

Here in New Zealand the left has also celebrated  her death, which wasn't the view that Labour leader David Shearer  took - he described  her as a principled politician.  

The left generally  views her as the harbinger of a neoliberal ideology that found a home in the fourth Labour Government.

But while there be some catharsis in dancing on Thatcher's grave, it would be more than disappointing if the left didn't take this moment for some sober reflection. We can't  afford to allow ourselves to think that 'well, that was then but this is now'. We need to connect the dots between a triumphant Margaret Thatcher and what is happening today.

We can  drink our drinks and wear our party hats, but the ugly and uncomfortable reality is that Margaret Thatcher won the class war. She and her political allies around the world got to screw  the working class and dismantle all the post war social democratic gains. If social democrats thought they could  really harness capitalism for the social good, they were soon to  learn the brutal reality. Perhaps us socialists were right all along.

I agree with John Moore who has observed:

The death of Thatcher is hardly something for the left to get all triumphant or gleeful about. The fact is she was an extremely confident fighter and leader for her class. And she and her class won, and we lost! Rather than metaphorically pissing on her grave, maybe the left should reflect on why it suffered so many historic losses during the Thatcherite era, and also reflect upon why the left is unable or unwilling to break out of the neoliberal parameters imposed by the likes of Thatcher, Reagan and other bourgeois class warriors.

Thatcher won - and her proteges like Tony Blair and David Cameron - have continued to hold sway  because  the left capitulated. There's more than a  book or two in this issue, but I'd like to  point to a couple of my concerns -  trade union bureaucracies that betrayed the people they claimed to represent and to maddening  delusions that the Labour Party could be to made to reassert its social democratic principles.

In New Zealand many of the people not shedding a tear for Thatcher are the same people who refuse to challenge the neoliberalism that emerged with 'The Iron Lady'.  David Shearer, Russel Norman and Metiria Turei not  only accept the dominance of market economics  they promote it. They are, in many ways, much the heirs of Margaret Thatcher as Tony Blair or David Cameron.  They will no doubt take umbrage at this observation but I haven't heard any of them offering a real alternative to the neoliberal paradigm. Despite all the historical evidence to the contrary they think capitalism is, as former Labour leader Phil Goff described it, the pinnacle of human development. There is no alternative. TINA.

This delusion is shared by some pundits and commentators. Despite the huffin' and puffin' they offer no alternative to the neoliberal straitjacket.

On The Daily Blog, which boasts of  its slate of 'New Zealand's leading left wing commentators', we find  Martyn  Bradbury declaring:

Let’s be clear – Thatcher deserves no tears in death, she deserves contempt. Margaret Thatcher was a neoliberal enemy of the people – pretending she deserves respect at her passing is dangerous myth making.

It's disturbing so many of Bradbury's readers have embraced his comments uncritically, because this is  the same Martyn Bradbury who called for a Labour- Green- Mana 'progressive bloc' at the last election and will probably be calling for the same thing at the next election, although there might be room for Winston Peters and NZ First next time  round.  He is the same Martyn Bradbury who, time and time again, displays the same antipathy towards socialist politics that Margaret Thatcher displayed.

Similarly like columnist Chris Trotter, he thinks the way forward is to swap David Shearer for David Cunliffe  as leader of the Labour Party. The way forward is to exchange one neoliberal politician for another one!

Both Bradbury and Trotter support a political party  that defends market  policies and  an ideology  that Margaret Thatcher would not of  walked away from.  They may not like to think that they are following a road that Thatcher played an  important role in building,  but they show precious little evidence that they are about to stop cosying up to Labour and its allies  anytime soon.

If Margaret Thatcher was 'a neoliberal enemy of the people' how come David Shearer and Russel Norman aren't?  That's a question much of New Zealand's so-called 'left' needs to address and answer.


  1. In NZ, Australia and South Africa political parties associated with workers (Labour, Labor and the ANC) were the spearhead of the market reforms pioneered by conservatives like Pinochet, Thatcher and Reagan.

    The very reason for the generalised inability of organised labour to oppose the neo-cons was the legislative and bureaucratic tying of trade unionism to the parliamentary process, which was the legacy of social democracy and labour parties for the last 100 years

    Thatcherisms (and Rogernomics) success was inevitable BECAUSE of the success of social democracy in co-opting the labour bureaucracy, and the bureaucracy’s gut fear of breaking away from their parliamentary party of choice.

    This allowed allegedly worker-friendly parties to impose austerity and market solutions on workers who did not want them, because they had the support of the union leadership. And the union leadership accepted in large part the market rationalisations that the neo-cons championed (having given up on their residual Stalinism), even though they preferred to couch it all in (worker-) friendlier terminology.

    Regenerating the unions and “organizations of worker self-activity”, will require ripping them root and branch from the grasp of the labour parties and social democracy.

    To not do so would be to condemn us to reliving one of those historical “farces” that Mr Marx warned about.



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