Who will deliver the telling blow to Labour's centrism? Come on down, centrist David Parker. These are desperate days indeed.
THESE ARE DESPERATE times. That desperation can be seen in the struggle against the rising cost of living and the inability of ever more people to simply put food on the table each day. That desperation can be seen in the difficulty that many are confronting in the search for affordable housing. That desperation can be seen in the number of people living on the streets. It can be seen in the struggle to access basic health services. And that desperation can be seen in the devastating impact that climate change is having on the lives of folk struggling with extreme weather conditions.
Of course, none of this has happened overnight. In 2017 even Jacinda Ardern recognised that the country faced serious challenges when she declared that tackling poverty and climate change would be priorities for her new Labour-led Government. She was also widely reported as arguing that capitalism had failed, although what she had actually said was that the wrong policies were being employed to administer capitalism. While she might have not declared a top-down revolution, some of her supporters may have well thought that at least a return to a regulated form of capitalism was on the cards. For liberals who are prejudiced against socialism, this would have been akin to 'Labour coming home'.
But Ardern's entire political history was one of careerism and centrism. Inevitably her Labour Government was neoliberalism's willing bedfellow, supporting not only the status quo but exacerbating New Zealand's already chronic levels of poverty and inequality. While Ardern talked of her 'team of five million' and her supporters went into raptures over her alleged 'empathy', it went unnoticed that ever more folk were being left behind. And some of those people decided that enough was enough and occupied Parliament grounds for twenty-four days in February and March last year.
There is a strong argument to be made that the Wellington occupation eventually toppled a rattled Ardern. And it has been left to Chris Hipkins to pick up the pieces. But rather than chart a new direction for Labour he has maintained the dour centrism that characterised the Ardern-led Labour Government.
But the problem for Hipkins is that centrism neither explains the world nor offers any solutions to the problems we are confronted with. How do you 'manage' an economy that has failed to meet basic social needs while, at the same time, continues to enrich the already wealthy? How do you 'manage' an economic system that cannot provide sufficient affordable housing? And how do you 'manage' an economic system that is the root cause of climate change?
It is obvious that Chris Hipkins has failed to come to terms with the waning appeal of the free market model. Many of Labour's supporters though have suddenly twigged that the game is up - but it is much too late to do anything about it. That some are suggesting that former Revenue Minister David Parker, another centrist, can become Labour's progressive voice illustrates just how diminished the Labour left has become.
Perhaps Labour supporters could show more humility and more cognisance that it is their acquiescence to the inequality and austerity of the Ardern era (error) that got Labour into this mess in the first place.
Now more than ever, it should be obvious that a society driven by the imperatives of capital accumulation has to give way to a more humane and democratic social order. For such a transformation to take place, the main moving force will still have to be class struggle - not the machinations occurring within a Labour Party that abandoned working people over three decades ago.