Tuesday, 5 May 2015

Drowning In Lattés: Why Labour’s Future Must Not Be Dictated By The “Metropolitan Elite”.

Latte Sipping, Mac Using, Prius Driving, Liberal Elitists Need Not Apply: So long as Labour's policies are framed according to the priorities of the metropolitan elite, its chances of reclaiming the 150,000 to 200,000 suburban and provincial votes it needs to once again become a "40 percent party" are negligible.
 
WHETHER THE UNITED KINGDOM has a Labour Prime Minister by the end of this week remains to be seen. What cannot be disputed, however, is that among Labour’s traditional working-class constituency, much of the Conservative/Liberal Democrat Government’s programme remains surprisingly popular.
 
Four out of five trade union members, for example, told pollsters that they thought the £26,000 cap on benefits was a good idea. Indeed, Matt Ridley, Member of the House of Lords and author of the bestselling book, The Rational Optimist: How Prosperity Evolves, reports that “Tory candidates out canvassing tell me they are finding that welfare reform, while horrifying the metropolitan elite, is most popular in the meanest streets — where people are well aware of neighbours who play the system.”
 
If this wasn’t true, it is hard to explain how, after five years of swingeing austerity, the Conservative Party is polling neck-and-neck with Ed Miliband’s Labour Party.
 
To hear the British Left tell it, the last five years have been an unmitigated social disaster. It’s a claim which, if true, would be propelling Labour towards a landslide electoral victory. But, if the experts are agreed on anything about the 7 May election, it’s that, outside of Scotland (where the Scottish National Party are poised to win every one of Scotland’s Westminster seats) it’s not going to be anyone’s sort of landslide.
 
What horrifies “metropolitan elites” has, however, come to dominate the policies of both the British and New Zealand Labour Parties. Highly educated and socially liberal, the party activists of both countries would rather see their parties split in two than endorse the “reactionary” views of their working-class supporters. That these views might be shared by sufficient voters to materially boost Labour’s chances of winning general elections deters them not one bit.
 
Take, for example, Phil Goff’s “Nationhood” speech of December 2009. Designed to undermine the Maori Party by driving a wedge between its elite backers in the Iwi Leadership Group and ordinary working-class Maori, Goff’s speech immediately drew sharp internal criticism from his party president, Andrew Little, and the new MP for Wellington Central, Grant Robertson. Rather than see the Labour Party flare into open factional warfare over its leader’s alleged appeal to the redneck vote, Goff’s strategy was quietly abandoned.
 
And yet, six years later, Andrew Little is being advised to woo precisely the same redneck vote which he and his current finance spokesperson were so quick to disavow back in 2009. Not in so many words, of course, but under the oft-quoted objective of restoring the Labour Party to its former status as a “forty percent party”.
 
To lift Labour from its shattering 2014 result (604,534 votes or 25.1 percent of the popular vote) to the 41.1 percent it received in 2005, Little will have to locate an additional 375,000 votes. In other words, he needs to lift Labour’s game by at least 15 percentage points.
 
Now, 15 percentage points is a very large gap to make up, but it’s not impossible. In July 2002, the National Party’s vote fell to just 20.9 percent, and yet, on 17 September 2005, led by Don Brash, National polled 39.1 percent – an 18.2 percentage point recovery in just 38 months! It can be done.
 
But, if Labour believes it can haul itself back into electoral contention without, as a vital part of that process, playing to the “reactionary” views of the 150,000 – 200,000 voters who have, in the nine years since Labour last won a General Election, crossed over to National, then they’re dreaming. And if they were to convince themselves that such massive losses could be made good without offering these “reactionary” turncoats a full-blooded “Orewa Moment”, then they would be even more misguided.
 
At Orewa, Brash spoke over the heads of the “metropolitan elite” to National’s angry electoral base, reassuring them that their instincts about the country were sound and would be heeded. Andrew Little, at a place of equal symbolic resonance (the Michael Joseph Savage memorial?) needs to do the same. Labour must reassure its remaining – and potential – voters that it is determined to be guided, once again, by the needs and aspirations of ordinary, hard-working, law-abiding provincial and suburban New Zealanders.
 
For this to work, the fundamental power of decision must be returned to the communities in which the problems of social and economic deprivation manifest themselves. In matters relating to employment, welfare, education, health, policing and justice, local citizens must be given much greater choice; a much louder voice; and much more security.
 
Labour needs to stop seeing the existing state bureaucracy as the answer to all of society’s problems. Instead, it must convince the ordinary voter that his/her problems can only be addressed effectively by equipping society with a new kind of state.
 
And if that horrifies the “metropolitan elite” – too bad.
 
This essay was originally published by The Press of Tuesday, 5 May 2015.

34 comments:

pat said...

Devolution....an interesting proposal and the devil would be in the detail. One note of caution however...the current examples of the Auckland super city debacles (transport funding,housing and port) and the removal of democratic control of Ecan may make such a proposal a very difficult sell.

Anonymous said...

Look in the mirror, Chris.

Nick said...

Strange thing happened on the way to the office this morning. A picture of sartorial inelegance there I was, in a cafe on the Terrace supping on a latte.
Absent mindedly observing the well cut designer suits passing by the window heading into the portals of "gummint" departments, I reflected on their well healed appearance and fine short haircuts..much tidier than mine..until one thing occurred. These were to a man, well, all women!
One burst through the door, headed for the counter and to my horror caught me staring fascinated. It was one of those eyes off looks...I glanced away and caught sight of another specter in the mirror. A slightly disheveled man supping latte, reaching for his cell phone as I reached for mine. My God I thought, its Waitakere man, that fabled Trotteryte creature, he does exist. He's calling for back up! Better get out of here before latte lady and Waitakere clash I thought. Heading for the door I watched in mirror glass wall as aggressive glances were exchanged between W and L....
Safely at work I went to the toilet. My God I thought again, looking in the mirror, whats Waitakere man doing here? Then it dawned upon me, it was no longer safe to walk the streets of the capital.

Nick J said...

Labour needs to stop seeing the existing state bureaucracy as the answer to all of society’s problems. Instead, it must convince the ordinary voter that his/her problems can only be addressed effectively by equipping society with a new kind of state.

Could you at some point elucidate upon what you mean by this, what you see it looking like?

Anonymous said...

Well, Winston will be more than happy to represent those suburban and provincial views thank you very much.

Anonymous said...

UK Labour is still flailing around in the shadow of the Blair and Brown years. Tony Blair killed turnout in urban areas (he got fewer votes in 1997 than John Major in 1992, and only 35% in 2005), while the zeitgeist in Scotland can be similarly traced back to thirty years of Westminster neoliberalism.

Considering that UK Labour essentially finds itself in a situation not dissimilar to where NZ Labour was in the run up to the 1993 election, it isn't doing too badly.

neilandersonish said...

In my limited experience from up here in the Waitakeres, Latte Sipping, Mac Using, Prius Driving, Liberal Elitists are the ones voting for the National Party.

Bogusnews said...

Excellent post.

I suspect some of the principles espoused here could also apply to certain elements of the media.

It's very curious that the views of such a large proportion of NZ don't seem to be noticed, often until something so radical happens (such as Don Brashes first Orewa speech) that it simply can't be ignored.

Why does Labour with their extensive polling and focus groups, seem incapable of connecting.

I suspect their commitment to a somewhat outdated ideology is to blame.

Sam said...

Forget about taxing smokes don't worry about paid parental leave, go back to reasonable power prices and have less social engineering. Then concentrate on genuine well paid jobs for everyone and restrict foreign ownership of everything in nz. That will make us vote labour.

Jayson said...

You'll pardon me for saying so Chris, but you seem to be proposing a leap to the right which hardly seems like you.

Anonymous said...

We already have 2 parties that are not dictated by the Metro liberal elite National and NZ First, its why you hate them Chris. Labour and the Greens are there for that 30 odd percent of Trotterian Metro Liberal elites who look down theyre noses at the beer swelling pie chomping socially conservative working classes whose votes they need to create utopia, but who's values they abhor.

Anonymous said...

Phooey Chris, Labours tack back to power is simple, become National - with a bit of lipstick and some red flowers in the lapel of the expensive 3 piece suits, that way once the electorate tire of National/Key, if Labour put up a safe pair of hands (think Helen Clark instead of Dangerous Norm Kirk) power will slide to the new face with the same policies.

After all as Michael Cullen made clear in his recent speech - commented on at this blog, Neo-liberalism died in NZ in 1993, its now a term used only by metro liberal elites, National and Labour are interchangeable with the same safe core of policy - praise hail the radical center.

peterlepaysan said...

where did you get those figures for voters crossing over to national?

What are the figures for people who did not vote at all?

Brendan McNeill said...

You are asking the impossible. It has taken years of careful management to fill the Labour caucus and party elite with people who are of a particular ‘disposition’. They are incapable of making themselves in another image. Neither do they see the need, or have the desire to change.

They accurately represent 25% of voters that make up their section of NZ society; probably less as there is still a hard core of ‘traditional Labour’ voters that are yet to reach the grave. I suspect what follows behind them is greener and bluer, although we may have reached peek green.

Absent Damian O’Conner there is almost no one in the room who shares our values, or understands our aspirations.

That said, you still have plenty to be cheerful about. National is every bit as left as Labour has been over recent decades. Either way you win, it’s the rest of us you should feel sorry for. ☺

Olwyn said...

Labour can't get 40% + solely by winning over soft Tories, whatever Michael Cullen thinks - they also have to keep the rough 30% who voted for them in the last three elections. And as Scotland shows, that is never guaranteed.

Your associating welfare reforms with "metropolitan liberals" being appalled reads like a pitch from Labour's right - associate people who are easily mocked with something you don't want to address, handily forgetting those most affected.

In all five-eyes countries, Labour's post-neoliberal position as the establishment's HR department gets more untenable with each passing year. Those working class people who haven't gone looking for representation from alternative parties no doubt accept the welfare reforms because UK Labour doesn't seem to be offering them anything interesting, and at least it's someone else and not them getting picked on.

I would accept the decentralisation thesis if it came with a broad and convincing commitment to the public good. However your story of the metropolitan liberals and the welfare reforms does not make me confident that this would be the case.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"I suspect their commitment to a somewhat outdated ideology is to blame."

Neoliberalism? Couldn't agree more.

Tiger Mountain said...

ah, another archetype to join the ‘creatures of the Bar-B-Que pit’ and ‘Waitakere Man’

macs are still cool, though Prius’s have had their day–it is expensive disposing of the batteries in expired hybrids

the photo at top is great “together alone”, people connected by wifi to who knows what but not acknowledging the humans in their vicinity

David said...

If Labour pursues the right wing voter, a good percentage of its voters will peel off to the Greens.

Anonymous said...

Chris, you say

"In matters relating to employment, welfare, education, health, policing and justice, local citizens must be given much greater choice; a much louder voice; and much more security."

Yet most of your other writings favour a more centralised, statist approach.

As for greater choice, it'd be hard to argue that people generally now have more choice then they ever had before.

What WOULD you prefered government /society look like - care to give as a brief sketch?

Robert M said...

Much could be said about this, but the main reason Cunliffe lost was not his personality or appearance, but simply that the Cunliffe/ Parker labour platform offered little other than a double whammy capital gains tax and offered few bribes or giveaways-where Clark always offered substantial freebies in family support or interest free student loans.
Given the very high rate of student fees in the UK and relatively austere welfare state, Millibrand is offering a generous conventional package.
Brash ran on blatantly redneck reactionary ticket in 2005 and the latte drinks were justified in seeing it as vicious and fearsome. While I support the death penalty for multiple murder I wallpapered the outside of my flat in the Avon Loop with Green advertising.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hmmm... Chris seems in favour of devolution as long as not devolved to Maori :-). I wouldn't mind some clarification on this either.

Anonymous said...

Chris, it's not latte's. It's long blacks (no sugar)!

Chris Trotter said...

Bit cheeky, GS.

My objection to Whanau Ora is that there appears to be no clear indication of how the Maori community either accesses it, uses it, monitors it, or controls it.

Without that all-important transparency and accountability any sort of devolution amounts to little more than an invitation to nepotism and corruption.

Anonymous said...

Chris, re Whanau Ora, couldn't agree more.
Public $ = public accountability.
There things have a long history of nepotism and corruption, and being a Maori thing you tend to get "that's the Maori way!" or "You're a rascist!" if you object.

Whanau Ora appears to be the price of Nats keeping Maori party on board. If I recall correctly, they aren't allocating extra $, you redistributing existing ones.

Charles E said...

'Labour needs to stop seeing the existing state bureaucracy as the answer to all of society’s problems. Instead, it must convince the ordinary voter that his/her problems can only be addressed effectively by equipping society with a new kind of state.'
I think you are on to something significant here.
There has to be a large chunk of 'average income' voters who have voted National in three elections, partly because they really dislike the metro elite they see Labour infested with, especially in Wellington. They resent their taxes going to pay that lots' high salaries, as so many of them have public sector jobs. There is also a Maori elite too, again overpaid by taxes and mostly Labour supporters. The WO gravy train has spent $40m on this elite alone!
So anyway, these voters will have been disappointed with National because they have not cut back the public sector elite much if any and the Maori section has clearly expanded greatly and will continue to unless there is a long overdue correction back to a colour blind state. So Chris, your new kind of state could be one where the bloated bureaucracy so puffed up with these entitled elite gets a very big serve indeed from a state trimming Labour which can thereby give this low paid group a serious tax break at the expense of the over paid public sector elite. At least that would be the pitch. Actually shrinking the state sector and Maori entitlement racket is almost impossible. But perhaps Little is the man to do it at last? Unfortunately there are public sector unions right in his way I expect. Could he defy them? Not my area.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Maori thing you tend to get "that's the Maori way!" or "You're a rascist!" if you object."
Perhaps, but it makes equal sense to say that being a Maori thing means it gets scrutiny over and above the normal. Or at least there's an equal amount of evidence for both. :-)

Jigsaw said...

Whanau Ora is not just 'an invitation to nepotism and corruption' as you mention -it certainly is both of those but it's also incredibly racist. It applies only to Maori has been 'rolled out' only in certain areas-strange that these match up with Maori party MP areas. Surely no one would suggest that people with problems in our society are ALL Maori?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Here we go again with the "racist". Jigsaw you've no idea what racism is.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Tauhei Notts said...

Chris, I had the pleasure of listening to you with Willie Jackson and Rodney Hide on Radio Live at 2 p.m. today. I got the impression that with you two there Willie refrained from his usual silly comments.
But one comment of Rodney's got me going. He suggested that the fault of Whanau Ora was because those within the beltway bureaucracy did not want to see it succeed. I think Rodney might be right on the button with that comment. You did not follow up on it. Possibly you can use this site to do so. Your comments are eagerly awaited.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Fair enough Chris, I don't really know enough about the lack of transparency, but I do know that lack of transparency is a common problem in New Zealand. The Auckland District health board just made a decision to outsource catering behind closed doors. I doubt there will be a huge outcry in Parliament about that. That's just one example.
And you know that any Maori organisation is going to be looked over and picked over far more than any Pakeha based one, partly at least because Winston Peters plays to that part of his fan base by doing so.
The fact that they don't seem to have a clue what the hell they're doing I put down to managerialism to be honest. It's probably as good a take on it is any.

Simon said...

Metropolitan elite. lol. So true.

Jigsaw said...

Interesting to see the usual comments for the usual people that Maori are being 'picked on' over Whanua Ora of that they lack the managerial skills to run such a programme. Spending more than a 1/3 on admin of which a fair proportion I understand was on vehicles seems to sum up the programme -to say nothing of the $60,000 supposedly spent on an Otaki booze up. That's what happens when you base spending on racists policies. I am sure that iwi elite managed to do well out of the whole programme and will continue to do so.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jigsaw once you stop trying to score points off me, and read my post you will see that I said that they don't seem to know what they're doing. And I suggest you look up the word managerialism. I think it has a meaning somewhat different to what you have assumed.
You incidentally are a prime example. I've never seen you post anything about your normal everyday European corruption or lack of transparency. But as soon as it Maori or in there like a rat up a drainpipe. And you still have no clue as to what racism is.