Matt McCarten and Chris Trotter are at odds with each other after David Shearer’s big speech failed to really fire.
McCarten says it is good that Labour is moving to the centre:
My Labour mates who didn’t support Shearer in their leadership ballot last year now feel justified.
But they miss the point. I believed Shearer had a better chance of becoming Prime Minister in the next election than any of his colleagues on offer. Under MMP, it’s not the biggest party that wins, it’s the leader of the main party who can form a majority coalition.
If Shearer went further to the left, he wouldn’t grow the coalition but merely succeed in taking votes off his potential allies – the Greens, Mana and NZ First. He’d lose the next election.
That’s why I can see why he believes he has to move to the centre. This opens up space on his left for those three parties to increase their support, promoting more progressive policies than his party does. These parties are already on the left of Labour, on economics anyway, and the Greens and Mana are also on social policy.
After the next election, if these three support parties expand their numbers, they can make legitimate demands that any Labour-led government would have to adopt. It’s called having your cake and eating it, too.
But, is Matt justified in assuming that Labour’s coalition partners will be either inclined, or permitted, to keep their nerve and negotiate an agreement at significant odds with that of the dominant coalition partner?
If, as Matt concedes, Labour’s political trajectory is now firmly set; from Goff’s hesitant (and personally discordant) leftism, to Shearer’s eager embrace of the policies associated with the conservative Finnish prime minister, Esko Aho; then a 2014 “win” by Labour will be attributed (both by itself and the right-wing news media) to the electorate’s endorsement of the very same policies. In this context, the ability of the smaller left-wing parties to “force” Labour to embrace radical policy initiatives – policies already “rejected” by a clear majority of voters – will be extremely limited.
The other problem with Matt’s analysis is that it makes no allowance for the impact a right-wing Labour Party is bound to have on the national (with a small “n”) political environment. By reinforcing the Right’s overall ideological dominance, Labour will make it that much harder for all political parties to evince radical left-wing ideas.
This is likely to be especially true of the Greens, who, having broken through the 10 percent threshold in 2011, will be especially reluctant to revert, at least in the public’s imagination, to once again being a radical party of the political fringe. In other words, if Labour shifts to the Right, the Greens are much more likely to shadow them than they are to increase the ideological distance between them. New Zealand leftists should not forget that the Green’s dramatically improved their electoral position in 2011 by tacking to the Right – not the Left.
Trotter also suggests that the Mana party are too poor, dumb abd stupid to actually deliver anything either than an angry hone Harawira to parliament.
Matt’s thesis would be much stronger if the Mana Party could be relied upon to motivate and mobilise a significant proportion of the 2011 “Non-Vote” of close to three-quarters-of-a-million New Zealanders. But building a truly mass-party of the Left is almost certainly beyond the intellectual, organisational and financial resources of Mana. And even if, by some political miracle, Hone Harawira proved equal to the task of creating a massive new block of radicalised voters from harassed and impoverished workers and beneficiaries, the change his success would bring to the national political environment would, almost certainly, see Labour tacking back towards the Left. In the circumstances of an electoral uprising of beneficiaries and the working poor, the political centre would no longer be a safe place for Labour to be found.
No matter which angle is valid it is pleasing to see the left wing at odds with each other.