WHEN DAVID CUNLIFFE took over the leadership of the Labour Party from the nice - guy - but - ineffectual David Shearer, his supporters declared that it represented a new start for the Labour Party. After three long decades, Labour was apparently going to miraculously drag itself out from the neoliberal mess that it had it had created in the first place.
Indeed this was the impression that Cunliffe gave when he announced his candidacy for the leadership. 'It's time for a new beginning, he declared. Ah yes, the 'wind of change' was going to blow through this unhappy land. Cue for Bette Midler to jump on stage singing 'You're the wind beneath my wings.', Cunliffe stares majestically off into the distance, a man with a vision...of getting himself elected Prime Minister.
Well it might be a beginning but there hasn't been anything new about it. William Wordsworth famously wrote after the French Revolution '‘What joy it was in that dawn to be alive, to be young was very heaven’. The Cunliffe 'revolution', in contrast , has been a yawn fest. We 're not in heaven but rather in some horrible purgatory where we are forced to listen to Chris Trotter and Martyn Bradbury telling us how wonderful Labour is. 24/7.
Of course the alarm bell was ringing loud and clear when Grant Robertson baldly stated, amidst approving applause from the business suits, that Labour had no intention of upsetting the neoliberal applecart.
When Cunliffe appointed market technocrat David Parker as his finance spokesperson the chances of a Labour left rising miraculously from the ashes was snuffed out.
But much of what constitutes the New Zealand 'left' (and I'm being generous with the term here) are like the alcoholic who just needs one more drink. After Labour's dismal failure at the last election, the same old suspects are back again for another go this year. As Marx said, "History repeats itself, first as tragedy, second as farce."
Many of factions and fragments and movements of the left, will, farcically, still be supporting the Labour Party at election time.
This has led to some remarkable justifications for continuing to support this dreadful party. You might think, given the huge number folk who don't bother to vote, much of Labour's supposed natural constituency are not exactly impressed with the party.
That's not what the International Socialist Organisation thinks.
In an article published some weeks before David Cunliffe became Labour leader the ISO declared:
Just as a Labour government is preferable to National, socialists must take sides in political battles within the Labour Party.
In reality socialists need to point out that the Labour Party is a political dead end and socialists certainly shouldn't be evoking the 'lesser evil' argument to justify supporting it.
The ISO goes on to say:
Labour’s active membership maybe smaller and more middle-class than years ago, but nevertheless it is still the party supported by the core of the working class. The party can still be characterised a workers’ party, albeit a party of the capitalist system.
The article concludes:
Here’s hoping that Cunliffe will conduct an open fight to oust Shearer this summer.
The ISO has got what it wished for. It now finds itself supporting a 'workers' party 'whose leader has said that 'socialism is not a word I use'.
What the left needs to do is build an alternative to the Labour Party rather than endlessly try to exist within it, supposedly trying to 'reconquer 'it. But, I'm afraid to say, that much of the New Zealand left, organisations like the ISO for example, want to waste our precious time and resources by supporting the Labour Party.
This campaign is counterposed to the idea of building a broad left, socialist, party.
Social democracy is dead and it's time to move on. We're going exactly nowhere if leftists continue to argue that Labour is the 'lesser evil' to National because much of the working class just doesn't believe it.