Wednesday, 13 June 2012

Despising The Working Class: A Reply To Josie Pagani

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 He responds by arguing that her urge to rid Labour of "outdated, misplaced dogma" only proves her inability to distinguish the winning of an election from successfully making history.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.

18 comments:

Anonymous said...

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...

The point will be, if Ms Pagani's dream comes true, that her family will be "winners" getting what they so richly deserve.

That is what the parliamentary Labour Party has become: people like the Pagani's parasiting on the poor - wolves in sheep's clothing growing fat from predating on the weak, the sick, the very young, and the old. Culling the herd and snapping at the heels of those that remain to keep them in line until it is their turn to be sacrificed for the greater good of the fortunate few.

Allan Alach said...

Right on, Chris. Great response. Time to dispense with the 'we're not quite the same as them' approach and return to a feeling for people and their needs.

peterpeasant said...

The parliamentary LP has been drifting away from its foundation members since 1984. It is hardly surprising voter turnout was low in the last general election.

The parliamentary LP has become irrelevant to its own parents.

The LP needs funds. This can only come from members (snort) or businesses. The LP tread a delicate line in advancing policies.

The rabid so called "neo-con" economics touted by the Nats are a demonstrable failure and have been so for decades.

Thoughtful business heads must realise this. Warren Buffet certainly does.

The LP has to put up a positive sensible achievable vision (matching Oz is not, despite what the Nats said, once).

The LP (via focus groups) placated angst ridden middle class folks and bored or irritated everyone else shitless.

If the Paganis grasp that then we might see some sense rather than Blairlike blathering emerging from the LP.

Anonymous said...

So Chris lets have the Labour Party as you imagine it and then we can all walk into paradise, into the sunshine where everyone has everything they want, no one is hungry or cold...ever again.
A Socialist Paradise - Yeah Right!

Anonymous said...

So brainless this current crop. Only if the party elite suicide by way of reform of list selection might we see anything like a resurgence.

They'll take over simply because National's wealth consolidation agenda is becoming blatantly apparent. Then we might see a more aggressive statist approach (and even this only if Cunliffe's timid Keynesian gestures gets some oxygen), ultimately resulting in only a growing managerial level in the public sector. No courage to address wage slavery and corporates gorging on profits. This political impotence necessarily sprawls out obliquely into the kind of micromanagement of people's lives which disgusted people about the late Clark years, and, in conjunction with a bit of public sector troughing (junkets, misappropriation of funds, etc.) eating great chunks out of departmental budgets and a few crony jobs for the boys, will ultimately disillusion the punters, who will proceed to put them back out on their arses. Then back to wealth consolidation under National (probably Alfred Ngaro (?)).

Anonymous said...

What we need is someone with the stones to propose a genuine alternative to neoliberalism, which obviously does not work.

This will mean losing for a while, because it takes time to get people to come around.

But the Labour caucus (and those of the other parties, to be fair) is composed of careerists, who are more interested in keeping themselves in a job than in serving the long term interests of New Zealanders. That makes them followers of public sentiment rather than leaders. Sure, they'll probably win the next election, but we'll end up being worse off for it.

I've said it before: the world at this time desperately needs leaders, not followers. That means people with real ideas about what to do: not people who have taken "leadership" courses. Of all the Labour MPs only Cunliffe appears to have anything like a mind.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@8:12 PM

I despise this sort of comment. It offers nothing but a sort of glib cynicism - no thought; no counter-argument; nothing at all.

What it means is that those who oppose the ideas in this posting have no ideas of their own; no strategy except the oldest and the most morally bankrupt: shoot the messenger.

Olwyn said...

It is worth remembering, when tempted to speculate about 2014, that Labour has returned from the 27% low of 2011, to the plus or minus a point or two around 30% where it has yo-yoed for most of the past three years. It has not quite risen the 34% of 2008, in which it lost the election but was relieved to have at least retained its core vote. I would not be ordering the champers just yet.

More importantly,supposing it does win in 2014, Labour under Shearer has so far failed to galvanise people, and 30% or so of mainly lukewarm support readily evaporates. Clark, in comparison, did galvanise people, which is part of the reason why Labour retained its core vote when they lost in 2008.

Sacrificing your core vote for roughly the same percentage of itinerants may look like the same thing on a graph, but does not amount to the same thing. The itinerants do not love you, and find it easy to leave you.

Becoming the leader of a one term government of nice people being nice to each other, voted in by politically indifferent voters at a time when much more was needed, could well prove to be Labour's last stand as a political force.

Nick said...

These two Pagani people.....I never voted for them. Who the hell are they and how come they appear to have influence beyond you and me? Is this a demonstration of how the Labour party is going to operate (in a nice cuddly consultative but ignore you manner)?

Jill Ovens said...

The Labour Party is going through a review which shifts the balance of power from the caucus to rank and file members, and seeks to increase the participation of members of affilated unions.
Policies like capital gains tax and clamping down on tax avoidance trusts aim to increase the tax contribution of the top 10%, while a $5000 tax-free break and taking GST off fresh fruit and vegies helps improve both the income and health of those who struggle to get by.
During the Clark years, successive Labour-led Governments got rid of the Employment Contracts Act, brought in vulnerable workers protection against being done over when contracts change, increased the minimum wage by 50%, dramatically increased nurses' pay and that of hospital cleaners, kitchen workers and orderlies, bulked up workers' incomes with Working For Families scheme, increased annual leave to 4 weeks, increased sick leave and bereavement leave, introduced paid parental leave, free childcare for 3 and 4 year olds, bought back Air NZ and TranzRail, poured heaps of money into public transport in Auckland, renationalised ACC, introduced an emissions trading scheme to address climate change, protected conservation areas from mining, took interest off student loans, introduced Kiwi Saver and Kiwi Bank, increased superannuation to 2/3 of the average wage, brought in the Gold Card so elderly people could use public transport to get out and about, etc, etc.
This is NOT the same as National which is slashing public services, is selling off our assets, attacking workers' rights, increased GST which hits the poorest hardest, and given huge tax breaks to the rich.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I have my doubts about the veracity of David Cunliffe’s Road to Blockhouse Bay conversion to social democracy, there is no doubt that Josie Pagani and her ilk pose a serious threat to it.
Pagani is essentially espousing a middle class project. There will be no attempt to mobilise the disenfranchised and marginalised. Labour must tough it out in the middle ground with the National Party and if necessary “Out Tory the Tories” (as John Pilger so eloquently put it once when describing “New” Labour) to win over the hearts and minds of the good people of Epsom.

In my assessment she is a Victorian-era liberal prone to rightwing temperamentality and infantilism. Her analysis of the malaise of the British Labour Party is as pathetic as it is irrelevant. Much serious debate has been entered into on the Left about the failings of the British Labour Party. She makes no worthwhile contribution whatsoever. Her reference to the great recanter himself, Nick Cohen is interesting (a disciple perhaps?). Her references to the Miners’ Strike, Wapping and Sinn Fein and are less clear. Was the support of the Left for workers’ struggle and Irish freedom a bad thing? Certainly the British Labour Party support for workers struggles over the last 30 years has been, at best, very lukewarm and Labour has an appalling record on Ireland.
These are the days of the politics of diminished expectations and even lower horizons. The problem that Pagani faces is that if New Zealanders want a rightwing government they will vote for one; a genuine one. They don’t need people like her to construct a pretender to the throne by seeking to move the Labour Party’s trajectory further and further to the Right.

Join the National Party, Josie and take your husband with you.

Anonymous said...

Whilst I have my doubts about the veracity of David Cunliffe’s Road to Blockhouse Bay conversion to social democracy, there is no doubt that Josie Pagani and her ilk pose a serious threat to it.
Pagani is essentially espousing a middle class project. There will be no attempt to mobilise the disenfranchised and marginalised. Labour must tough it out in the middle ground with the National Party and if necessary “Out Tory the Tories” (as John Pilger so eloquently put it once when describing “New” Labour) to win over the hearts and minds of the good people of Epsom.

In my assessment she is a Victorian-era liberal prone to rightwing temperamentality and infantilism. Her analysis of the malaise of the British Labour Party is as pathetic as it is irrelevant. Much serious debate has been entered into on the Left about the failings of the British Labour Party. She makes no worthwhile contribution whatsoever. Her reference to the great recanter himself, Nick Cohen is interesting (a disciple perhaps?). Her references to the Miners’ Strike, Wapping and Sinn Fein and are less clear. Was the support of the Left for workers’ struggle and Irish freedom a bad thing? Certainly the British Labour Party support for workers struggles over the last 30 years has been, at best, very lukewarm and Labour has an appalling record on Ireland.
These are the days of the politics of diminished expectations and even lower horizons. The problem that Pagani faces is that if New Zealanders want a rightwing government they will vote for one; a genuine one. They don’t need people like her to construct a pretender to the throne by seeking to move the Labour Party’s trajectory further and further to the Right.

Join the National Party, Josie and take your husband with you.

libertyscott said...

"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 Levenson Inquiry"

Why do you persist with this myth of the UK's political discourse being dominated by "right wing tabloid press", when far more people in the UK get their news from broadcast media - which is overwhelmingly dominated by the BBC (7 free to air TV channels including the most and third most popular, 10 nationwide radio stations and umpteen local stations), with Channel 4 being the other state TV outlet.

I'm astonished that there remains commentators on the left who think that the people they claim to care about are so damned stupid that they get "tricked" by the other side into voting for those who aren't in their best interests.

More people in the UK rejected leaving NATO, the EEC, nationalising the largest industries and embarking on a steeply progressive tax system than rejected Thatcher. The SDP was formed because by Labour MPs who didn't want to turn their back on Britain's European and US allies and adopt policies of certain economic bankruptcy - and had Labour stayed on such policies it would now be Britain's third party.

Anonymous said...

Not hard to be difficult to be cynical about Labour and the failed philiosophy of the socialism. I grew up in a working class family-the sort of family that really doesn't exist any more. The current Labour Party MP's and workers for the party have really nothing in common with what is left of the working class and are generally dispised by them as intelectual wankers.
I certainly believe in the power of the individual human being to strive for a better life. Something that in my experience the left really couldn't give a rat's arse about.
Trevor Mallard as the people's hero.... yeah right!

Scouser said...

Have to disagree with your analysis why Labour lost out to Thatcher. Many of the working class began to see increased financial mobility and were also fed up with the unions' and thus Labour party's behaviour of the 70s.

The whole use of Marxist\Troskyist terms, portrayal of everything in terms of ideological class warfare, creation of its own elite who behaved hypocritically and an inability to understand that the times had changed combined to make the unions (and thus Labour) unpalatable to those they claimed to represent. Frankly, they represented a more extreme minority who quite rightly did not deserve to run the country.

Not unlike the Greens cannibalising the Labour vote as they lose favour with the traditional base who will not vote National the 3rd party vote in the UK was traditionally the not Labour or Conservatives vote. Wasted under FPP of course.

From memory it was pretty common under FPP for the majority parliamentary party to have as little as little as high 30's percentage of the overall vote and exceedingly rare for the majority party to get to 50% so reference to 42% is a bit of a red herring. The SDP joined with the Liberals who were the real 3rd party and it's arguable the Liberals gained the bulk of votes as they had moved between about 8% and 20% over previous elections. The Liberals were always more natural partners with the Conservatives anyway.

There are similarities with NZ though. Many of the left still appear to be fighting on old battlefields using historical weaponry and seem to have missed the world moving on.

cheesefunnel said...

Reading the comments on this blog cannot help but leave one confused. Some commentators seem to think we exist in some kind of far-right neo-liberal (whatever that means) concentration camp, whist others seem to think we exist in some far-left failed socialist dystopia. Obviously neither is completely true, it seems to me most people are just concerned with getting on in life and are blissfully unaware of all the hot air expended on the internet in their honor. Back to the subject of the post, I grew up in one of those 'working class' families, my Dad would be spinning in his grave if he knew I'd voted for anything other than labour. But to be honest, none of the popular parties seem to represent anything other than extremism of one type of another disguised as centrism in an effort to win votes. Watching the TV news all one sees is pointless irritating posturing. When faced with a choice between Trevor Mallard or Bill English, I think I might just sit the next election out, neither is going to make the slightest difference in the long term.

Sanctuary said...

A commentator above notes she sounds like a Victorian era liberal, infantilising the lesser classes and given to bouts of Victorian sentimentality in her desire to "help" a mythical hardworking, God fearing working class. But the problem with such high neo-Victorian sentimentality is it has it's vicious side. Pagani conflates "working" with "working class" - a telling bit of Victorian morality. Therefore, like reading Pravda, we need to read Josie Pagani's response as being as much about who she didn't mention as who she does. Pagani completely fails to recognise the existence of the unemployed, the solo mums, the sickness beneficiaries, indeed all the beneficiaries who constitute the great neo-liberal "reserve army". In Pagani's morality play of life, these people are the "undeserving poor", best swept under the carpet, to be ignored or that won't do, punished and controlled. When it comes to their middle class views of the poor, there is no real difference in the moral tone of a Josie Pagani and a Paula Bennett. To my mind this highlights Labour's wider trust and credibility problem. If the only difference between the vicious paternalism of a Pagani and a Bennett is the degree to which the former is prepared to engage in intellectual sophistry to hide it, why would someone who warmly agrees with them bother to vote for the bigger liar? And why would someone who is a prospective victim of their stern Victorian judgementalism bother voting at all? It would be like asking a chicken to decide between a fox and a stoat to spend the next three years in the hen house with them.

Josie Pagani is rapidly becoming the Shelley Bridgman of the Labour party, I agree with the commentator above, she should join the National Party.

Olwyn said...

Josie's identification of the working class with "those who work" seems, from what I have read, to be happening in Britain as well. As I understand the term, it actually means "those who lack independent means so must sell their labour or else turn to begging or starve."

This includes a large proportion of the NZ population, from most of the middle class to the beneficiaries. The NZ middle class is largely made up of tradespeople, small business people and professionals, most of whom could not take a year off without going on the dole and/or losing their homes.

The above reconceptualisation of "working class" is sinister. It appeals to the hierarchy that exists among "those who must sell their labour" so as to justify discounting the ones that are presently at the bottom of it. The middle class and their supporters should understand that once the bottom end has been dismissed as worthless, a new bottom end appears, of which they could well find themselves members.