Mike Treen : 'I'm against centrism, so I'm voting for centrist Labour instead."
The national secretary of the Unite Union, Mike Treen, has been criticising centrist politics - but he's still thinks people should vote for the centrist Labour Party in September.

A FEW DAYS AGO MIKE TREEN MADE some considered criticisms of centrist politics or what he described as 'Third Way' politics. He observes that under the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, U.K Labour has effectively put a knife through the heart of centrist politics. The beast may not be quite dead, but the diagnosis is terminal.

He writes that the fundamental problem with centrist politics "is that the vast majority of people are actually on the left when it comes to solutions needed on big social and political questions." And that, he adds, also applies in New Zealand.

He takes a swipe at both the Labour Party and the Green's for their continued loyalty to centrist politics:

"What the Green and Labour parties have failed to do is to get people to believe they are serious about tackling the problems that exist. The joint pledge for “Fiscal Responsibility” both parties made recently is actually a pledge to the establishment, not their supporters.

Jeremy Corbyn, in contrast, is being seen as a rock star of British politics at the moment because people know he is an anti-establishment politician with a serious programme radical change which the unashamedly called “For The Many Not The Few”.

But what is immensely frustrating about Treen's politics is that while he identifies the problem, his "solution" is actually to perpetuate it.

In 1945 George Orwell wrote that whenever A and B are in opposition to each other, “anyone who attacks or criticizes A is accused of aiding and abetting B. It is a tempting manoeuvre, and I have used it myself more than once, but it is dishonest.”

In the New Zealand context, Treen's argument always ends with an implicit accusation: if you won't vote for Labour than you are  aiding and abetting the National Party.

On the one hand, he understands that the curtain is coming down on centrist politics but he is still suggesting that it is the only show in town. You must, he continues to insist, vote for the 'lesser evil'. The fact that the over 750,000 people who no longer vote don't believe Labour is the 'lesser evil' seems to have escaped his notice.

But there are external political forces at work here. As national secretary of the Unite Union, Treen - as he does at every general election - will wheel in behind a Labour Party that the union bureaucracy continues to support and fund.

So we have little to look forward to other than Labour once again fighting National on its preferred battleground - the so called 'centre'. Perpetuating the myth that Labour is the 'lesser evil' does little more than enable this failed and visionless strategy.

It was Karl Marx who originally wrote that we still 'have a world to win' and Jeremy Corbyn referenced Marx's words when he spoke to the crowd at the Glastonbury Festival. It is the kind of emancipatory vision missing from the language of Andrew Little and Labour who prefer to sign a set of fiscal rules with the Green's and boast about them at corporate lunches. National Party spin doctor David Farrar rubbed his hands with glee. He wrote:

“I’m delighted that Labour and Greens have signed up some Budget Responsibility Rules. This represents a huge shift for the middle ground of NZ politics.”

“For the last 20 years or so the parties of the left have campaigned on tax increases and massively increased spending. Now Labour and Greens have said that will keep government spending to under 30% of GDP.”

“In 2008/09 Labour left office with core crown expenditure at 35.5% of GDP. It took a massive effort by National to get it down to under 30% by 2015. Labour and Greens opposed pretty much every one of those spending cuts or restraints yet now they are saying they will stick to a similar expenditure level. Again, this is a huge shift, and a massive victory for the forces of fiscal conservatism.”

This, folks, is Mike Treen's 'lesser evil'. Perhaps if people like Treen - and much of the New Zealand left - hadn't been so eager to accommodate Labour's right wing politics all these years then perhaps we might not be the pickle that we find ourselves in today.


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