Jacindamania has taken the country by storm. Jacinda Ardern’s rapid ascension to the leadership of the Labour Party was initially met with feelings of elation by those on the left. 

However, these feelings of joy were rapidly replaced by a sense of despair, confusion and expressions of ‘Fuck Labour’, when Ardern was seen to have thrown Green co-leader Metiria Turia under the bus. John Moore argues that Labour’s sanctimonious condemnation of Turei’s past benefit and electoral ‘fraud’ should have been expected. 

That Ardern's ‘betrayal’ came as a shock to many on the left points to the left’s failure to recognise the Labour Party for what it is – a party firmly embedded within the political Establishment.

WITH FRIENDS LIKE  Labour, the Green Party hardly needs enemies. Metiria Turei will now be feeling completely gutted after new Labour leader Jacinda Ardern has ruled out the Green co-leader from any ministerial role in a future Labour-led government. Jacinda is the new ‘smiling assassin’, taking on the outward charisma and inner ruthless streaks of former prime ministers John Key and Labour’s Helen Clark.

And as with both Key and Clark, Ardern’s ruthless pragmatism points to her fitting the mould of a calculated centrist politician: lacking any sense of deep convictions, and whose politics is defined by the pursuit of power and fame.

With the appointment of Jacinda Ardern as the leader of Labour, many on the left felt the party would move to the left and so embrace the new radical zeitgeist. Could Jacinda, as the former President of the International Union of Socialist Youth, be the type of ‘authentic left leader’ as seen with Jeremy Corbyn in the UK or with Bernie Sanders in the US?

Many felt that Jacinda was ‘the one’, and would transcend the ever-so-cautious centrism of Labour up to now. It was hoped that she would project a bold and maybe even relatively radical image. However, the new Labour leader’s move against the now left-leaning Greens, dashed hopes and caused confused outrage from those on the left. ‘Fuck Labour’ replaced the initial cheerleading from elements of the left-twitterati and left-leaning political pundits.

The left’s cries of outrage at Jacinda, betray their naivety, or perhaps illusions, over what Labour actually stands for. The Labour caucus is made up predominantly of middle class professionals, who seem to be incapable of transcending their pragmatic and soulless political personas. Many of Labour’s MPs would have been generally aghast at Metiria Turei’s admittance of benefit fraud. For Labour’s leadership and careerist politicians, obeying the law is sacrosanct, or at least publicly appearing to obey and give deference to the laws of the land.

That the co-leader of the Greens has effectively given a one finger salute to unjust laws and the state’s treatment of the poor, is clearly unacceptable to Jacinda Ardern and the rest of her party’s core-leadership. For Ardern, the most important response was one of condemnation, and an assurance that Labour stood for compliance of state rules. Also, the Labour leader would have been conscious of the need to put to rest any concerns coming from economic and political elite circles that she might be about to do a ‘Jeremy Corbyn’ and pull Labour to the left. Ardern’s attack on Metiria for her anti-Establishment stance, let the political and economic elites know that they had nothing to worry about with Labour, and that Jacinda was very much their woman.

Are the Greens now New Zealand’s anti-Establishment party, with the traditional party of the left – the Labour Party - in contrast positioning itself firmly as a party of the Establishment and of politics as normal? On the face of it, this seems to be the case. It has certainly been the Greens, rather than Labour, that has embraced the new radical zeitgeist that has taken hold in the western world. The Greens announcement of their leftwing welfare policies, along with Metiria Turei’s admittance of past benefit fraud when she was a solo mum, point to how the Greens get that there is a new demand for radical and bold politics.

There is now a growing constituency that want to see politicians give the finger to the Establishment, and to express an authenticity that has been lacking from career politicians. The Labour leadership on the other hand just don’t seem to have it in them to project themselves as radical, and Jacinda’s calculated move against Metiria shows how the party will, at all costs, maintain its image as a mainstream party that won’t rock the boat.

Both Labour and the Greens are parties that are dedicated to operating within the confines of New Zealand’s state political system. That is, both parties play the capitalist political game. And Labour and the Greens aim for governmental power, which generally necessitates projecting themselves as sensible and rational political actors. For both parties, this commitment to the state parliamentary system, as well as a commitment to ‘rationally’ managing the country’s capitalist economy, severely limits the ability of either party to project an authentic alternative form of politics. However, the growth of radical politics on both the right and left – signalling a hegemonic shift of ideas and politics in the west – is starting to have an impact in New Zealand. And in many ways, it is the Greens, rather than Labour, that are more able to tap into this radical shift in western politics.

Labour is a pro-Establishment party; however one with a contradictory history. Labour has a history as seeing itself as a party of working people and of organized labour – that is of trade unions. Historically, the party has projected itself as the political arm of the labour-workers’ movement, and even as ostensibly socialist and anti-capitalist in its early days. The Labour Party has certainly shifted rightwards since its formation in the early 20th century. None-the-less, Labour maintains some of the same contradictions evident in its formation period, as a party that represents some form of working class/labour politics, while at the same time being a party of the capitalist system.

However, Labour has been in a deep crisis of identity particularly since the 1980’s, when a Labour government enacted rightwing economic reforms that led to a rapid growth of unemployment and staggering levels of inequality. And since the 80s, Labour has generally failed to attract dedicated and sincere left activists and intellectuals, rather attracting middle class professional careerists. As leftwing commentator Chris Trotter recently pointed out: "Labour seems no longer to have a cause, and its MPs no longer even seem to have a party. They seem to have themselves and their careers."

Unlike Labour, the Greens have been able to attract idealist activists and intellectuals. However, the Greens are not a consistent leftwing party, and have wildly swung from left to right and from pro-Establishment to anti-Establishment positions.

The Green Party has consistently espoused a socially liberal agenda – in terms of support for liberal issues around areas of gender politics, LGBT+ concerns and support for tino rangatiratanga. However, the party’s economic platform has shifted between ostensibly pro-market and anti-market positions.

At times the Greens have wanted to present themselves as a party of state intervention and state management of the economy, while at other times leaders from Russel Norman to James Shaw have expressed strong pro-market/laissez-faire sentiments. The ideological flexibility of the Greens, if not somewhat schizophrenic nature of their economic policies – flows from their position as a minor middle class party lacking deep roots within the corporate establishment, as well as within poorer and working class communities.

None-the-less, the Greens lurch to the left needs to be taken seriously. And the party’s embracement of relatively radical politics has clearly shown Labour up as a firm party of the Establishment. The Greens, rather than Labour, have therefore brought to an end the era of beige and boring politics in New Zealand. And expect the Greens to continue to benefit from their new anti-Establishment stance.

This article was first published by Liberation.


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