Trotter on the Man Ban

I have been waiting for Chris Trotter to deliver his thoughts on Labour’s “Man Ban” and it was worth the wait.

Chris Trotter is one of my most respected left wing commentators…he is also one of the few left wingers I can tolerate a beer with..or in his case usually a fine red wine.

Chris explains his thoughts on Labour’s “man ban”.

MIDST ALL THE CLAMOUR of its detractors, the true significance of Labour’s “Man Ban” has eluded most commentators.

Yes, the proposed rule change has undoubtedly damaged Labour’s election prospects.

Yes, there are many more important issues the party would have preferred the news media to focus upon.

Yes, it is further evidence of a party with no reliable political grown-ups in charge.

Yes, Labour’s opponents will dine out on it for months.

And, yes, it’s the only thing the 2013 Annual Conference will be remembered for.

But, the “Man Ban” is also proof of something else: that the distance separating Labour’s rank-and-file from Labour’s Caucus has grown as wide as the gulf that once separated the “old” Labour Party from the “new”.  

Simple and profound…I said to one of my close Labour confidantes that I believe we are seeing the beginning of the end of the Labour party. Chris then goes on a reminiscent exploration of the New Labour party and shows how actually listening and speaking to people/voters rather than sitting in the beltway imagining policy is how Labour have lost touch with their roots. The NLP had gender equity provisions…pushed through by women members.

Imagine my consternation, then, when taking the NLP’s message to the doorsteps of working-class Dunedin, I was taken to task for its gender equality rule. Not, I hasten to add, by working-class men, but by working-class women.

For some reason, the NLP’s quota policy struck a very tender nerve. Unschooled in the subtleties of feminist theory, these daughters of the proletariat roundly took me to task for having such a “bloody silly rule”. When I attempted to explain the purposes of positive discrimination to one stern matron, she held up her hand for silence, and told me in no uncertain terms that I was wrong.

“Don’t you see, son? It’s as bad to put someone into Parliament on account of what they haven’t got between their legs as it is for what they have. All that should ever matter is what they’ve got in their heads and in their hearts!”

As you can see, I’ve never forgotten her words.

Labour has forgotten, they are mired in identity politics.

The public responses of Labour MPs Clayton Cosgrove, Damian O’Connor and Shane Jones make it very clear that the idealism of the party’s rank-and-file is not about to be embraced unanimously by Labour’s parliamentary contingent. Indeed, given the latest remarks from Labour Party leader, David Shearer, the news media will almost certainly make getting rid of the “Man Ban” a test of his ability to rein-in the “stupidity” of the party organisation.

Political journalists and commentators are united in their view that the proposed rule changes constitute a massive political “own goal” for Labour. They seem equally certain that the daughters of the New Zealand proletariat (not to mention its sons!) remain as unenthusiastic about gender quotas in 2013 as they were in 1989. Labour’s problem, according to this argument, is that its apparent obsession with what candidates do or don’t have between their legs will call into serious question what they have (or don’t have) in their heads and their hearts.

Chris Trotter can see the politics and reality of the situation. It’s a pity that Kate Sutton, Sue Moroney and Moira Coatesworth cannot or will not. The first indicator will be the Roy Morgan poll the week after  next, Roy Morgan pollsters will already be picking up feedback. UMR who were polling in Hamilton this week will likewise be picking up the sentiment…by Tuesday, panic will set in amongst caucus…and the party will verge on a massive split between caucus and members…it already exists but it will become obvious by the end of next week.

Though the gender quota rule may have irritated potential NLP and Alliance supporters, these latter parties’ core policies were so unequivocally left-wing in character that annoying internal organisational details could be overlooked.

The same cannot be said of Labour. As was the case in the 1980s, the wishes of the Labour rank-and-file and the political plans of the Labour Caucus continue to clash. Labour MPs remain convinced that, in any battle with the rank-and-file over policy (or anything else) they must never be seen to lose. The rank-and-file’s across-the-board radicalism is, therefore, perennially blunted by parliamentary pragmatism.

The battle is joined…and as usual there will be victims of battle…in this case the Labour party. Destroyed by within by apparatchiks who know nothing of reality. Tim Barnett’s final destructive curse upon Labour. Trotter knows this, I know this.

Can this battle between pragmatism and principle ever be ended? Not, I suspect, without pitching the party into the same sort of cataclysmic disunity that split Labour and led to the formation of the NLP in 1989.

But all those rank-and-filers who yearn, as I once did, to rescue their party from the quicksand of compromise and lead it up onto the high moral ground, should bear in mind this uncomfortable truth.

There are bugger all votes on the high peaks of principle.

If you want to win elections (which is what political parties are all about) then, in the words of Jim Anderton, you must be prepared to “build your footpaths where the people walk.”


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