CHRIS TROTTER likes to describe himself as 'left-leaning', almost as if he's keeping his political options open. One day, like a particularly flimsy tree in the wind, he might be leaning slightly to the left. On another day though, depending on which way the fickle wind is blowing, he might just be leaning to the right. It all depends on what's best for Chris Trotter. Given that he doesn't have to face the economic hardship that many people are facing today, he can choose to be indulgent.
While Trotter displays a political flexibility that won't ever rock the boat, his failure to commit himself to the progressive cause means that his politics have become inexorably more conservative. However he still feels he can legitimately criticise a left he has little connection with and finds difficult to understand.
So, in recent times, he has characterised opponents of his right wing and neoliberal Labour Party as 'ultra leftists'. And he claimed - wrongly - that an anti-TPP protest group was a police front. And, while he's happy to lend a helping hand to Cameron Slater of Whaleoil and write for his publication Incite, he hasn't been inclined to help out New Zealand's brand new progressive think tank, Economic and Social Research Aotearoa. He attacked it instead.
Trotter's politics hit a new low recently when he tried to defend the neoliberal Hillary Clinton as a 'progressive' - while, at the same time, describing supporters of Bernie Sanders as 'ridiculous'. Even the readers of The Daily Blog found this too much to stomach.
So Trotter's attack on an article by Bryce Edwards and John Moore, came as no surprise. Given Trotter's readiness to pour cold water on anyone and anything circling outside the dismal orbit of the Labour Party, the only surprise is that it took him so long. Trotter has taken over a fortnight to respond to an article published in the NZ Herald on November 11. The delay hasn't improved the article for it comprehensively fails to respond to the views of Edwards and Moore in any substantive way.
At the heart of the article by Edwards and Moore is an attempt, a first draft if you like, to articulate what a progressive anti-establishment political movement might look like in a New Zealand context. In a subsequent article published a week later , Edwards puts forward a thoughtful 10 point manifesto for real and substantive change. This includes such far reaching measures as the fundamental reform of the electoral system, taking big money out of the political process and developing a political system where 'Grassroots activists and mass participation would replace the duplicitous advisers and spin-doctors.' It's certainly a million light years better than anything Andrew Little and the Labour Party have come up with.
The proposal is for radical change, the kind of 'revolution' that Bernie Sanders would approve of, but there is no suggestion that this is a blueprint for overturning capitalism - as if there it could be indeed be such a 'blueprint'. But Trotter, nevertheless, attacks Edwards and Moore for not proposing a revolution that would overturn and replace 'the existing order.' But, to quote Edwards: "A new movement would relentlessly point out the political system isn't working for most people and democracy is in decline. The goal would be to bring about major reform."
Trotter then goes on claim that 'Populism, in almost every instance, is about restoring the old one.(order)".
Did Trotter actually read and consider Bryce Edwards' manifesto for change? That he can claim that a proposal for kicking the political class - the 'politicians and their advisers, public officials, and activists ' - off their pedestals of power can only help to restore the old order is only comprehensible if we understand that Trotter has decided, regardless of the facts, that all populism is reactionary.
It may well be true that populism takes a reactionary form when its articulated by someone like Donald Trump. He raged at various times, against 'the Washington establishment', the media, immigrants, minorities and Alec Baldwin, but still tapped into the real economic anxiety prevalent in the American hinterland. But,as Edwards and Moore suggest, without the presence of a progressive alternative, the danger is a reactionary populism will take grip.
The rise of a progressive populism helps to explain the rise of Podemos in Spain, Left Bloc in Portugal and of course, Bernie Sanders in the United States. The failure of the Democratic Party to choose Sanders as their presidential candidate opened the door to a Trump victory.
Edwards and Moore are attempting to map out a possible much-needed course of action for the left in New Zealand. While Trotter is clearly no supporter of such a proposal, he never tells us what his alternative is to an ascendant right. In fact, his conclusion seems to be an unhealthy admiration for the 'folksy' populism of John Key. He claims it has won the day. Wow, that's a really inspiring call to organise and fight!
For the rest of us, who are not quite ready to give up yet, the question remains on how to break the neoliberal stranglehold that has suffocated ordinary folk in this country for the past three decades. Neither Edwards and Moore are claiming they have all the answers, but surely it must involve encouraging the development of a politics that rallies people against the political class that Edwards and Moore describe?
If not this, then what? We all know what 'that' is, according to Chris Trotter - voting for a lifeless and reactionary Labour Party in 2017. That, in the end, is all Trotter has to offer - and that invitation has been declined by most people for three general elections in a row, including a million or so people who are no longer interested in more 'politics as usual'. There is not the slightest chance of that changing in 2017 so why are people like Chris Trotter determined to repeat the same old mistakes? Perhaps its because he himself is part of that very political class Bryce Edwards and John Moore would like to see dislodged.