Labour back on to the front foot

Kapi-Mana News - - OPINION -

Though you wouldn’t know it from some re­sponses to last weekend’s Labour Party con­fer­ence in Christchurch, Labour leader David Cun­liffe is not, in fact, plan­ning a Bol­she­vik re­vival.

Cer­tainly, any­one at­tend­ing the con­fer­ence would have been hard pressed to find ei­ther sight or sound of rev­o­lu­tion in the air.

The main poli­cies un­veiled were a pro­posal to cre­ate a com­pet­i­tive Kiwi insurance com­pany along the lines of Ki­wibank, and a de­tailed blue­print for re­solv­ing the af­ford­able hous­ing cri­sis in Christchurch.

Hardly the Com­mu­nist Man­i­festo.

With­out ex­cep­tion, the con­fer­ence re­mits were a mild mod­erni­sa­tion of the party’s tra­di­tional di­rec­tion.

The quota re­mit to in­crease the rep­re­sen­ta­tion of women among Labour MPs from the cur­rent 41 per cent to 45 per cent (af­ter the 2014 elec­tion) struck party Pres­i­dent Moira Coatsworth as read­ily achiev­able, given the cal­i­bre of women can­di­dates com­ing for­ward.

For years, Coatsworth added, fe­male can­di­dates of merit had been dis­ad­van­taged on the grounds of their gen­der.

As a con­se­quence, women are 51 per cent of the pop­u­la­tion but still com­prise only a third of all MPs in Par­lia­ment, 120 years af­ter uni­ver­sal suf­frage.

As the con­fer­ence demon­strated, Cun­liffe en­joys sup­port from a broad spec­trum of the party, which ap­pears mo­ti­vated less by ide­ol­ogy than by con­cerns that many New Zealan­ders are be­ing poorly served by cur­rent gov­ern­ment poli­cies. Again, hardly a rad­i­cal view. The del­e­gates looked like a fairly rep­re­sen­ta­tive sam­ple of mid­dle New Zealand.

Young Labourites in their 20s rubbed shoul­ders with vet­er­ans of Labour Party con­fer­ences since 1971.

Grey Power mem­bers sat be­side young In­ter­net en­trepreneurs.

Lorde’s hit song Roy­als (not The Red Flag) was the pref­ace to Cun­liffe’s keynote speech.

All this bears re­peat­ing if only be­cause con­for­mity be­tween the two ma­jor par­ties has held sway for so long.

For years, Labour has been slowly chunter­ing down­hill on an empty tank from the so- called Third Way poli­cies that it bor­rowed whole­sale from Tony Blair and Bill Clin­ton in the 1990s.

In their in­fi­nite wis­dom, the Third Way ad­vo­cates have ar­gued that Labour needed to aban­don its blue-col­lar con­stituents and fo­cus on try­ing to win over those whitecol­lar pro­fes­sion­als who seem lib­eral on so­cial is­sues.

Prob­lem be­ing, the so­cial is­sues that be­came Labour’s sole badge of authen­tic­ity also earned it mock­ery as an out-of-touch party of po­lit­i­cal cor­rect­ness.

Along the way, Labour qui­etly em­braced the dry eco­nomic poli­cies that were sys­tem­at­i­cally de­stroy­ing the jobs of the party’s tra­di­tional base.

That ap­proach needs to change, as Cun­liffe pointed out in a speech last year.

Labour has to de­fine afresh what it stands for in the wake of a global fi­nan­cial cri­sis that has driven the last nails into a ne­olib­eral eco­nomic or­tho­doxy that has failed many vot­ers over the past 30 years.

As Cun­liffe put it: ‘‘ When the right-wing party says it’s go­ing to cut your leg off, vot­ers don’t want to be told that the left-wing party is also go­ing to cut your leg off, but cut it off a bit lower down and give you some anaes­thetic.’’

Un­for­tu­nately, some Chicken Lick­ens now feel the sky is fall­ing be­cause a ma­jor op­po­si­tion party has be­gun to op­pose cur­rent prac­tice, and to pro­pose al­ter­na­tives.

That is demo­cratic choice, not rad­i­cal­ism.

It is only be­cause we haven’t seen it for long that some are find­ing it hard to recog­nise.

GOR­DON CAMP­BELL

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