A Cry From The Heart: Wrong-headed and ham-fisted though Clare's postings on the Red Alert blog undoubtedly were, they at least attested to the fact that this Labour MP, unlike so many of her colleagues, still possesses a pulse.
CLARE CURRAN has done what no modern politician is supposed to do: she has spoken from her heart.
In a series of angry and transparently honest postings on the Labour Party’s “Red Alert” blogsite, the Dunedin South MP has given us just a sip of the gall Labour’s caucus is daily required to swallow. Laid bare is the hurt and shame of Labour’s unremitting political failure. Clare and her party feel scorned and abandoned. Defeat looms. No wonder she’s lashing out.
In the first of her postings, Clare tells us she’s “had a gutsful of the white-anting of Labour from both the right and the left of politics”. It’s not exactly clear what she means by this, or to whom, exactly, she’s referring. (Although, by the second posting, it’s pretty obvious she has the Greens in her sights.) Coming through loud and clear, however, is Clare’s immense frustration with what she obviously regards as the puerile quality of contemporary political discourse in New Zealand.
Why is it impossible to have a serious political discussion about the social and economic problems bearing down on Australia and New Zealand, or the major parties’ policies for dealing with them? Why are there so few forums for such discussions? Why is the news media so obsessed with trivia?
As an accomplished public relations practitioner, Clare should know the answers to all these questions. But then, Clare has always demonstrated a somewhat Pollyannaish understanding of PR. Seeing it, rather naively, as a suite of techniques for enhancing public understanding. That PR might, more realistically, be understood as the techniques employed by those with power to confuse and/or misdirect the public’s comprehension of important events and issues never seems to have registered.
Which is a pity. Because a little more familiarity with the dark arts of politics would do Clare and Labour the world of good.
Instead of calling dibs on that ever-decreasing pool of well-educated, middle-class New Zealanders interested in “politics”, and snarling at the Greens for dropping a line into what used to be Labour’s favourite political fishing-hole, Clare and her comrades should strike out for an altogether larger pond, bearing much more effective tackle.
Do that, and the feelings of impotent rage will quickly disappear.
In her third posting, Clare describes a man who turned up at her electorate office weighed down by burdens no single human-being should ever be expected to carry alone.
“This man was a valuable contributing member of our society. He paid taxes. His skills were worth something to our economy. As a direct result of this government’s policies, he, and others like him, do not have jobs.”
But then Clare says: “What are his options?”
And right there you have it – the reason why Labour is performing so badly. Less than 100 days to go before the General Election and Clare still cannot tell her constituent in unequivocal, easily understood language what his options, under Labour, would be.
Her constituent used to work at the Hillside Railway Workshops. Has Labour guaranteed to expand them? Will Labour, upon winning office, tell the world that henceforth all of Kiwi Rail’s rolling-stock will be manufactured in New Zealand?
Will they change this country’s industrial relations laws so that trade unionists employed in other Dunedin industries are free to stage solidarity strikes in defence of worksites like Hillside? Or make it possible for the Maritime Union of New Zealand to prevent the unloading of foreign-built machinery on the nation’s wharves?
Will Labour, in short, undertake to bring working-class New Zealanders back to the centre of the political stage (from which the Labour Party of the 1980s ruthlessly expelled them). Will it arm them with the same weapons the First Labour Government placed in their hands?
Or won’t it?
Has Labour got a story to tell the desperate working man on Clare’s doorstep?
Or hasn’t it?
Clare knows that Labour will not, and that Labour has not. And that is why she is so angry and so ready to lash out at others.
The Maori have a proverb: Ka pu te ruha, ka hao te rangatahi. The old net is cast aside, the new net goes fishing.
Labour must weave a new net, Clare, if it is to land the catch it is seeking.
If it is to become a fisher of men.
This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 26 August 2011.