Farewell To The Working Class: Former Labour candidate, Josie Pagani, takes issue with Chris Trotter's Refugee Status posting. He responds by arguing that her urge to rid Labour of "outdated, misplaced dogma" only proves her inability to distinguish the winning of an election from successfully making history.
POOR JOSIE PAGANI, it’s just so unfair that politics won’t let her have her cake and eat it too. Apparently, it’s not enough to be told that your hubby’s strategies are working, and that the outcome both you and he desire most, a Labour victory in 2014, is looking more and more like a safe investment on iPredict. No, Labour victories have to be made of more than mere spin and gimmicks and tawdry compromises, they should come decked-out in all the finery of “genuine social democracy that is radical precisely because it stands beside working people who worry about their jobs and need more money in the weekly wage packet to pay the bills.”
The sort of victory that Labour won in 1938 – with 55 percent of the popular vote – and all the banners bravely flying: that’s what Josie wants. The pity of it is that everything Labour did back then, in the 1930s, to merit such a decisive electoral mandate involved the very policies that Josie now dismisses as being fit only for a “romanticised” and “pretend” Utopia.
What she wants are the sort of policies promoted by “successful, history-making social democratic leader[s] the world over”. Stand-out characters like Barack Obama (servant of Wall Street and master of the killer drones) and Gerhard Schroeder (whose policy of making Germany’s exports unfairly competitive, by suppressing German workers’ wage growth, lies at the heart of the Eurozone’s present crisis). These are the sort of blokes Josie’s looking for: social democrats who refuse to “indulge” the ideas of … um … social democrats.
Part of Josie’s problem is that she confuses “history-making” with success at the polls. It was precisely this confusion that Refugee Status – the posting Josie so vehemently denounces on her Facebook page – attempts to address.
Far from sneering at the notion of Labour winning back its former supporters by convincing them that Mr Shearer respects their values and admires their commitment to hard work and personal betterment, I recognise it as a potentially winning rhetorical gesture. What Josie doesn’t appear to understand, however, is that the statement is also a direct steal from the rhetoric of our political enemies; the sort of language you hear in the mouths of right-wing voters who “despise working people” and “look down on their values”; those very same “creatures from the barbecue pit and the sports bar” who brought down the government of Helen Clark in 2008.
As the American political psychologist, George Lakoff, constantly reminds us: using the rhetoric of our political enemies only becomes truly effective when we also embrace the values that their language expresses. That is the real historical lesson to be drawn from the careers of nominally social-democratic leaders like Tony Blair, Gerhard Schroeder and Barack Obama. Blair, in particular, became prime minister of the United Kingdom not by repudiating Margaret Thatcher’s neoliberal, militaristic and authoritarian legacy, but by convincing the English middle-class that he was the only politician fit to inherit it. Only when Labour had ditched “Clause 4” and every other shred of “outdated, misplaced dogma”; only when Rupert Murdoch felt safe to let Blair’s party bask in the radiant glow of The Sun; would “New Labour” finally be permitted to come first past the winning post.
Let’s pause here for a short historical and psephological lesson for Josie. The British Labour Party wasn’t rendered unelectable by holding fast to its founding principles, it was kept out of office by the deliberate defection of its right-wing MPs. The party they formed: called, interestingly, the Social Democrat Party; was intended to (and did) exploit the inherent unfairness of the FPP system to prevent Labour winning the 1983, 1987 and 1992 UK general elections. Throughout the 1980s, the British Conservative Party never won more than 42.4 percent of the popular vote. Between them, the Labour Party and the SDP-Liberal Alliance regularly won more than 50 percent.
Rupert's Reward: Neil Kinnock's expulsion of the Militant Tendency notwithstanding, "it was The Sun wot won it" in 1992.
So you see, Josie, it’s a very moot point as to whether it was the Militant Tendency that kept Labour out of power in the 1980s, or the right-wing MPs that Militant was lining-up for de-selection – the ones who led the split. And, paradoxically, it was Josie’s hero, Neil Kinnock, who, by expelling Militant, opened the doors to Blair’s “modernisers”. (Kinnock’s reward, incidentally, was the infamous Sun headline of 1992: “Will the last person to leave Britain please turn out the lights.”)
It is also worth noting that the image of Labour that Josie grew up with: one of endless internecine squabbling and general left-wing lunacy; was a fiction carefully contrived and nurtured by the right-wing tabloid press – the power and reach of which (not to mention its moral delinquency) continues to be exposed at the Leveson Inquiry.
It is, perhaps, no accident that Josie’s take on Labour politics should have been imbibed from headlines in the Murdoch press, or that the fetid, the fatuous and the downright fake version of history and politics promoted in the “mainstream” news media should shine through practically every line of her Facebook posting. Josie is the sort of politician who, like the Prime Minister, John Key, really does believe that “perception is reality”.
Reality, however, is made of sterner stuff. Which is why the only social democrats who possess the slightest right to describe their time in office as “successful’ or “history-making” are those who left the society they presided over more equal, more free, better housed, better educated, in better health and working for higher wages in a union shop.
Mr Shearer may win in 2014, Josie, but if, when he finally leaves office, New Zealand is a less equal and a less free country, whose working people are still living in damp and over-crowded houses, and which is still failing to address the educational needs of Maori and Pasifika students, still making people pay to see the doctor, and still allowing workers to be bullied into signing individual employment agreements in non-unionised workplaces, then I ask again, as I asked in the posting which so upset you:
What will have been the point? And who will notice the difference?
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.