Why I disagree with Chris Trotter
Chris Trotter is one of the leading left wing commentators in NZ, of that there can be no doubt. His book, No Left Turn is one of the most important political contributions to a wider understanding of left wing history in NZ and his moving speech at the Auckland memorial of Rod Donald is a constant reminder that if he ever outlives me, I want him speaking at my funeral.
He is a friend, a mentor and someone who has inspired me from my first moments of entering the media.
But I disagree with his latest column denouncing the prospects of a New Left Party.
Chris is clearly a Jedi Master of the Left, where as I am a mere Padawan however I can't allow his unbalanced analysis of a New Left Party to go by unchallenged.
The thrust of his argument is that fringe elements of the Left are the only constituents for a possible new Party and as such it is doomed to the type of failure his previous attempt decades earlier with the Alliance suffered.
Let's answer that point upfront. Hone Harawira, Sue Bradford and Matt McCarten are not fringe elements of the left, they are respected proponents of the left, to write them off as eco-anarchists, Maori nationalists, unreconstructed 80s feminists and hard-core Marxist-Leninists suggests a gentrification of political opinion that creaks with the onsetting of age.
Claiming that a New Left Party would have no campaign expertise ignores Matt McCarten which is ironic as it was Matt who was so successful in the creation of the Alliance and in an age of social networking and outreach to those alienated by conventional politics, it doesn't seem nearly as impossible as Chris suggests. I note the amazing work and collection of people Sue Bradford brought together with the alternative welfare working group and wonder why that large array of academics suddenly don't count.
New Zealand is governed by a Right-wing coalition supported by close to 60 per cent of the electorate. The dominant partner in that coalition, the John Key-led National Party, has been supported by more than 50 per cent of the voters for two straight years.
John Key has only done 2 controversial things in his first 2 years hence his huge smile and wave political capital, the first was his GST lie, the second was trying to mine conservation land - however in his 3rd year, his announcement of selling State Assets - something that is deeply resented by most NZers - is the pivotal policy shift that will harden people's attitudes.
Will it be enough? I have no idea, what I do know is that if he is allowed to sell our assets, the damage to this country will be permanent and those with social justice at their heart have to do all they can to see him defeated. Hence the idea of a New Left Party, what Chris describes as 'gaming MMP' I describe as playing within the rules of the current system to provide the Left with the MMP math to prevent John Key from privatizing 49% of our assets.
Hone is against this anti-worker, anti-beneficiary, anti-environment Government and his concerns for Maori who are suffering from the worst economic recession since 1929 are exactly the same concerns as Sue has for beneficiaries and exactly the same concerns Matt has for those working on minimum wage.
Just consider the stats: The combined 2008 vote of New Zealand's Centre-Left parties (Labour Party, Greens, Progressives) was 975,734 or 41.62 per cent of the party vote. Altogether, the Far-Left parties (Alliance, Workers Party, RAM – Residents Action Movement) attracted just 3306 votes or 0.14 per cent.
Yes, let's consider those stats, those on welfare make up 14% of the 2008 voter turn out, their quality of life is about to be deeply impacted because of a global recession caused by corporate financial greed. The fringe left political parties Chris names certainly are not enough to attract the Party vote that would lift a New Left Party into a contender position, but those are votes cast by people knowing their party will get zero representation, Hone's electorate seat would guarantee representation and as such that Party vote would no longer be seen as wasted. A much better example would be Matt's 3.6% he won in Mana, on 3.6% a New Left Party would bring in 5 MP's.
Of course this is all hypothetical, I have pointed out what the trigger points of a potential New Left Party would need to be but
those wanting to defeat this Government are interested in exploring every possible way to do so. I'm not looking for a 'second coming' as Chris calls his column, but I am curious as to who Chris would suggest as a messiah? The honey tongued seducer Winston Peters?
Let me end in the finest tradition of 'Inherit the Wind' by using Chris's own words to defend the attempt at seeking a new Left Party to change the MMP math when he interviewed Matt for his run in the Mana byelection...
"Maybe that's what you should ask the Mana electors, Matt. To stop looking over their shoulder at Labour. Could be your slogan: 'Vote - as if you were free'."
...that's exactly what we are attempting to do, vote as if we were free.