The Labour Party has reached a new low with its recent playing of the race and anti-foreigner card in regards to the housing crisis in New Zealand. Rather than formulate a comprehensive policy that could start to address the problem of a widespread lack of affordable housing, the Labour leadership has instead gone for the 'blame the foreigners' and 'blame the greedy Asians' narrative. John Moore explains how Labour's descent into xenophobic and racist politics comes from the party being completely devoid of big ideas that can tackle serious problems such as those concerned with housing. Labour's leadership no longer has a core set of beliefs, and its recent dog whistle politics shows that the party is desperate to gain support through any means. 
And the lack of big ideas coming from Labour's leadership also points to a deeper crisis of modern social democracy, and of mainstream left politics in general. That is, modern left wing parties no longer offer any programme of bold ideas and radical reforms. Instead contemporary social democratic parties such as Labour operate in barely indistinguishable ways from their right-of-centre political counterparts, and are equally enmeshed in cynical and dirty politics.

NEW ZEALAND HAS A REAL housing crisis, where the prospect of owning a home is now a pipe dream for an ever larger sector of the population, and where a combination of low incomes and high rental prices for properties are exacerbating issues of poverty and inequality. This issue would seem to provide a party like Labour, which still claims to believe in social justice, with the perfect opportunity to promote imaginative and effective left wing policies.

But the problem is that's Labour's leadership, including the ever so cautious Andrew Little and Grant Robertson, just don't belief in bold and imaginative politics. And so they cannot offer anything that can address the concerns of their traditional working class electoral base.

But the one thing Labour's leadership is concerned with is their continued poor poll results, and the concern that they will fail to win governmental power for years to come. So as with former National Party leader Don Brash's playing of the race card in 2004 – as a way to connect with so called middle New Zealand's concern with so called 'Maori privilege' – the Labour leadership is now whipping-up xenophobic sentiments in an attempt to cash in on growing unease over foreign and especially Asian investment. Both cases are examples of cynical and cheap politics, and also reveal the moral debasement of modern politics.

 The blatancy of Labour's racism is disturbing, and is a sign of the reemergence of xenophobia politics in New Zealand. Labour's leadership have deliberately targeted a single ethnic group, knowing full well that anti-Asian feelings continue to fester away in New Zealand. And it’s disappointing that more of the left aren't showing their disgust at Labour's actions. Labour is deliberately producing a scapegoat to blame for New Zealand's housing crisis, because it has no real policies to deal with this issue.

The Labour Party still adheres – officially at least – to a programme of social justice and equality. But the problem for Labour is that as a pro-capitalist party, it must accept the fundamental paradigm of economic liberalism and the structures of the modern global economy that define modern capitalism. Both Labour and National see the global capitalist system as a given, and so any New Zealand government is both constrained and defined by the realities of the shifting nature of this international system. Therefore for nominal left parties like Labour, a crisis of identity persists because today even minor left wing reforms seem impossible.

 It shouldn’t be like this. After all, concerns around issues such as poverty and inequality have dominated people's consciousness since the financial crisis. Yet throughout the Western world, traditional parties of the left like Labour have completely failed to benefit from this growing sense of unease over stagnating living standards for the majority, and disquiet at the lavish lifestyles of the West's economic elite.

 Labour, as with other social democratic parties such as in Europe and Australia, no longer offer and promote bold reformist programmes to the electorate. Instead we see such parties playing around with any populist rhetoric that they hope can gain them traction. And so here in New Zealand we are now seeing the hollow shell of a party that is Labour, descending into the politics of racism in attempt to differentiate themselves from the more openly pro-globalization National Party. Equally, Labour is now trying to win over voters who currently support the outright anti-Asian and xenophobic New Zealand First Party. Cynical politics indeed.

The global capitalist system conditions how modern 'left wing' parties like Labour act and behave. Whereas social democratic parties of old could implement programmes of sweeping reforms, such reforms were based on the ability of particular government ability to have significant control over their respective national economies. This is simply no longer possible. That is, modern globalised capitalism is no longer consistent with nationalist-welfarism and interventionalist social democracy.

 Therefore, the choice now is not one of internationalism versus nationalism. If the left wants to be relevant again, it must aim to develop and promote its own pro-globalization agenda, on its own terms. That is, an internationalism and globalisation – not for the 1%, but for the majority of working people in all countries.

 But if the left succumbs to the temptation of promoting economic nationalism and xenophobic policies as an alternative to capitalist globalization, then it has merely morphed into the most vile representatives of the most reactionary backlash against globalization. For those on the left wanting to serious grapple with questions of globalisation and the rise of a xenophobic backlash, the dying and morally empty Labour Party must be rejected.

This article was first published by Liberation.


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