Friday, November 18, 2011

Labour, neo-liberalism, and a blueberry smoothie: a chat with Carmel

A number of commentators have seen the burgeoning 'Tea Cup Gate' scandal as a symptom of a growing estrangement between politicians and voters.

As recently as the 1970s, New Zealand's major political parties had enormous memberships and vibrant internal lives, and general elections were dominated by rallies and debates in local halls. Any politician who made it to parliament was used to fronting up to large local party meetings, and to arguing for his or her policy programme in rowdy public meetings.

In the last few decades, though, party memberships have declined drastically, and politicians have become more accustomed to confronting television cameras than querulous constituents. Election campaigns have become meticulously managed affairs, where party leaders kiss babies and pose with handpicked supporters, and obsessively avoid dissent and debate. Politics has turned from a pastime of the masses to an elite sport, and both the public and the media have been made into spectators.

Now the apparently accidental recording of a conversation between John Key and John Banks offers journalists and voters an opportunity to penetrate the carefully constructed facade of contemporary politics, and to get an insight into how election campaigns are really run, and how politicians really think. Bryce Edwards has argued that the infamous 'tea cup tape' promises to give the media and the public some relief from an over-managed election campaign:

The media’s relationship with politicians is extremely problematic in New Zealand...The political class is so extremely well resourced, the media is at a huge disadvantage in covering the politicians. Parties in Parliament have access to Parliamentary Service and Ministerial Services funding of many the Prime Ministers’ Office there are about 25 communications staff...As a result, the public rarely gets to see what goes on behind the scenes in politics. We are fed a constant stream of scripted campaigning...

I was thinking about Edwards' argument yesterday, after I had an unexpected and sometimes uncomfortable encounter with one of Labour's high-profile election candidates.

Skyler* and I had been having a coffee at the fledgling cafe in the community centre of the West Auckland suburb of Ranui, when I decided to take a look at the pile of withdrawn books in the little library which lodges in the same building. After nabbing a dogeared tome by the great Michael Moorcock for a dollar, I headed back to the cafe to finish my flat white and found Labour list MP and Waitakere electorate candidate Carmel Sepuloni ensconced at my table, talking with Skyler.

Carmel, who had parked a car emblazoned with campaign slogans beside the cafe, was initially very friendly, asking me about myself and about my voting intentions. When I went beyond pleasantries, though, and began to ask some questions about Labour's policies and election strategy, she quickly became defensive. Although Carmel talked with me for five or so minutes, she asked me not to repeat some of the things she said. This request seemed to me very odd: we were talking, after all, about the details of a general election campaign, not about some sensational murder trial or international spy ring.

Carmel eventually got rid of me, after telling me repeatedly that she wasn't really in the mood for politics, and that she had only come to the cafe in Ranui to get a blueberry smoothie. As I wandered away from the cafe, though, I noticed her happily chatting with another patron, and posing for a photo with him.

It seemed to me that Carmel Sepuloni was keen to perform the sort of superficial campaigning rituals which politicians have become accustomed to in New Zealand - to shake hands, pose for pictures, kiss babies, sign autographs, and so on - but very unwilling to engage in any sort of sustained discussion about ideas. And although she reluctantly spent a few minutes discussing ideas with me, Carmel seemed to expect that such a discussion should, as a matter of course, be kept private.

Both Carmel's lack of interest in serious political discussion and her insistence that an ordinary political discussion with one of her constituents should be kept private seem to me to reflect the culture that has developed in the last few decades in New Zealand politics. Sepuloni may be campaigning for a more progressive set of policies than John Key or John Banks, but she seems to share their passion for politics as theatre, and their hostility to real political argument.

I wrote down my conversation with Carmel shortly after I left the cafe in Ranui. The discussion is not likely to trouble the headline writers, but I think it nevertheless touches on some interesting issues - issues which have taken up space on this blog over recent weeks and months.

A chat with Carmel Sepuloni

SH: I suppose it's going to be a close out here in Waitakere?

CS: Yes. There a lot of people who still haven't made up their minds. We are working hard to get the votes out.

SH: Paula Bennett has this image as a staunch Westie chick, doesn't she? The fact that she sits around the Cabinet table with the representatives of the country's wealthiest one per cent, and takes orders from the richest man in parliament, doesn't really seem to have affected that image -

CS: It's just an image, like John Key's image as a nice average guy. But Labour is beating National on policy, people agree with us on policy, and we think Labour can form the next government.

SH: Are you worried about what might happen next year if Labour is elected, and faces a Greek-style economic crisis, along with pressure from international and local business interests to implement neo-liberal austerity measures, of the kind Greece and Spain and Italy are implementing right now? Could we go back to 1984?

CS: I'm much more worried about what National will do if they get in.

SH: I'm not saying we shouldn't be worried about National! But I notice that in Greece and also in Spain it is Labour-style social democratic parties which are doing the work of the International Monetary Fund and local capitalists, overseeing big cuts in government spending, laying off state workers, cutting pensions, cutting union rights -

CS: I don't know about that. I'm focused on my community here in West Auckland, and on my party.

SH: But there's a local precedent, isn't there? In the 1980s it was the Lange-Douglas government that brought neo-liberalism to New Zealand. They did what National could never have done, because they had the support of the unions and the poor. National could never have gotten away with Rogernomics.

CS: Labour is a different party today. And I am focused on the here and now. We need to beat Paula Bennett. I haven't got time to get into arguments about history.

SH: I don't think it's an antiquarian debate. I think it's a real danger. From the statements I've seen you making I think you're on the left of the Labour Party. I think you identify with the social democratic tradition, and want to defend the welfare state and union rights and to redistribute wealth downwards -

CS: Of course. And that's why I am trying to get the vote out against Paula Bennett.

SH: Aren't you worried, though, about some of the more right-wing people in your caucus, people who might be future leaders, people who don't share your vision?

CS: I have no idea who you're talking about.

SH: Shane Jones, David Cunliffe -

CS: Cunliffe? You think Cunliffe is right-wing? I wouldn't say that at all. I'd put him on the left of the party. Shane Jones - I wouldn't call him right-wing. I'd say Shane's a centrist. Shane is in the middle of the party. Someone who is on the right, I'd say, is David Parker. Don't quote me on this, please, or I'll deny it. But David Parker is on the right of the party, very much so. But please don't repeat that. Labour has changed since the 1980s. It's not the same party. I know that - I know my party.

[This comment by Carmel particularly interested me: I blogged a couple of weeks ago about how troubling I find some of the talking points that Parker is using over in the Epsom electorate, where he seems to be trying to place himself to the right of John Banks...]

SH: You're not worried at all about a replay of Rogernomics?

CS: I am focused on winning in Waitakere. I don't want to get into this sort of argument with you. We lost last time by only six hundred votes. We're still enrolling people here now. Last time we only lost because we didn't the vote out -

SH: In 2005 it was the big ballot boxes from South and West Auckland which got Labour home in a tight race and kept Brash out. Do you think that the fact that people didn't turn out in such numbers in the South and the West in 2008 indicates that Labour didn't do enough for those areas in its last term? I mean, the party shacked up with the right, with New Zealand First and United Future, instead of looking to its left -

CS: I don't agree with that. I think it was moral issues that kept voters away, especially in the Pasifika community. We didn't have a proper conversation with them on issues like Civil Unions, Section 59...a lot of them misunderstood Section 59, and thought we were interfering in their families. They wondered "What's happened to our party?"

SH: I can see what you mean. But didn't cultural issues like those come to the fore because Labour did nothing ambitious to remodel the economy - Labour had nine years to reverse the damage that neo-liberalism did to our country in the '80s and '90s, but it did nothing radical -

CS: That's not true. Labour did a huge amount. There was Kiwibank, Kiwisaver, Working for Families -

SH: But nothing structural. Those were just surface measures. Labour didn't even reverse the 1991 cuts in benefits, which are acknowledged as the leading cause of the increase in poverty in this country -

CS: Nothing structural? What about the renationalisation of New Zealand Rail and Air New Zealand?

SH: The renationalisation of Air New Zealand was done in the interests of business. Workers were laid off by the hundred ater the renationalisation and Ralph Norris, the head of the Business Roundtable, was put in charge of the company. Nationalisation is not automatically progressive -

CS: I don't think you know what you're talking about. I think Labour did a lot. I think it's a real shame that there are people like you who attack other people on the left instead of National.

SH: I don't want to sound sectarian. I accept there are big differences between Labour and National. One is a party supported by the poor, the other is the party of the rich. One advocates neo-liberalism, the other advocates social democracy -

CS: And that's why I'm focused on beating Bennett. It will send a great signal if she is defeated.

SH: I agree. I'd like to see her out of parliament. But if Labour is to avoid being captured by the right, and forced to push through a neo-liberal agenda, as a response to the international economic crisis -

CS: That's not going to happen. And I've already told you I'm not interested in discussing that stuff -

SH: Labour needs allies. The left-wing people in Labour need allies. I support the Mana Party, which is fighting these elections on a left-wing platform - tax cuts for the poor and raises for the rich, renationalisation of key assets, solidarity with trade unions and with the Occupy movement - and I think that Labour should be allying itself with Mana, against the right. Instead, though, Labour has branded Mana an 'extremist' party and tried to destroy it.

CS: That's not true. I've never said that.

SH: Phil Goff has repeatedly stated that Labour will not work with Mana, before or after the election, because it is an extremist party. And Labour poured huge resources into trying to kill off the Mana Party by beating Hone Harawira in the Te Tai Tokerau by-election. At the same time as Labour refuses to work with Mana, though, it is courting New Zealand First, a party led by a bigot, a party of the right -

CS: I've never criticised Mana. I didn't campaign against Hone. Others may have, but I didn't. Labour is a team. You might disagree with your leader, but you don't attack him in public. That's discipline.

SH: I'm pleased you didn't campaign against Hone. I think Labour should have welcomed him as an ally. Did you argue in caucus against the decision to call Mana extremist? Were there a few people who disagreed with the strategy of calling Mana extremist?

CS: I'm not prepared to say that. I don't want to talk about this. You know, I just came here for a smoothie, I didn't want a big political debate. I don't want to change your mind. You're entiled to your own opinions. But I think it's a shame there are people like you who are always attacking the left and refusing to work with Labour.

SH: I don't think I'm attacking the left. I'm advocating that the left unites against National. Phil Goff might need Hone's support on confidence and supply to form a government. I don't know why he wants to brand Mana as extremist and rule out dealing with the party - especially when he's open to dealing with Winston Peters! Surely Mana and people like Hone and Sue Bradford and John Minto have more in common with the founding principles of the Labour Party than Winston Peters?

CS: Labour has to deal with the people in parliament. It has to use the hand it is dealt.

SH: I appreciate that. But Labour has a history of looking to its right, and trying to wipe out parties on its left. It chose Peters as a coalition partner over the Greens in 2005. And back in 2002 it ran a big campaign against Laila Harre out here in the West, making sure she lost, and that the Alliance disappeared from parliament. Labour threw away a left-wing partner.

CS: I'm very pleased Laila lost, because we got Lyn Pillay instead. And Lyn Pillay was a great MP for the West. It sounds like you wanted National to form a government in 2002 and 2005. Are you friends with that Matt guy, what's his name? The union guy? Matt...

SH: Matt McCarten of Unite? I don't know him.

CS: That's the one. He wanted Laila Harre to win. He said we should have helped the Alliance. There is this real problem on the left of people attacking other people on the same side. It's a shame you don't want to help me beat Paula Bennett. But I don't want to waste my time arguing with you. I only came to this cafe for a smoothie - if you'll excuse me I'd like to drink it.

SH: It is a nice-looking smoothie.

CS: It's a blueberry smoothie. I love them. I feel like a kid when I drink them...

SH: Thanks for talking with me anyway.

*Skyler might well have something to say about this post. She is an active supporter of Carmel Sepuloni and disagrees with many of my criticisms of the contemporary Labour Party.

[Posted by Scott/Maps]


Anonymous Scott said...

I should emphasise that this transcript is based on memory, not a tape recording. I do have plenty of experience writing down interviews and speeches from memory - my book on EP Thompson for Manchester University press is partly based on the technique - and I did write down my memory of the talk very shortly after it occurred.

Skyler had a look at the post, and pointed out a couple of places where my memory was inaccurate, so I've made pulled a couple of sentences...

2:43 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

You put an interesting spin on "don't quote me on this", don't you?

6:38 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Nonetheless, this is interesting material. It indicates that Labour is still a 'third way' party. It still adheres to the neo-liberal economic norms while trying to offer a liberal 'social' policy. Labour is essentially a modern version of early 20th Century liberalism (Liberal Parties) – trying to be kind to the poor while remaining tightly conservative in the economic sense.

7:50 pm  
Anonymous Ted said...

Kiwibank? That was an Alliance policy, Labour went along with it reluctantly and deserves zero credit for it. Lynn Pillay a great MP? Compared with Laila Harre she's a nonentity. The depressing thing is how this shows Labour's culture hasn't changed in ten years. The visceral, bone-headed hostility they had for the Alliance is still there and aimed at anyone else on the 'left'.

8:35 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

'You put an interesting spin on "don't quote me on this", don't you?'

I don't see any reason why a voter can't report on a straightforward political discussion with their local MP. As Bryce Edwards and others have observed, there's a massive power imbalance between professional politicians and the ordinary members of the public who have to decide, often on the basis of inadequate information, whether or not to vote for them.

We have very little idea about what direction Labour will take if it does end up in power, and very little knowledge of the ideologies of leading Labour MPs like Parker and Cunliffe, and yet we know the country is quite likely heading for a major economic crisis. We don't want to see a repeat of the '80s, when a lack of knowledge of what was going on inside Labour and a lack of public discussion and debate led to the faction around Roger Douglas taking over the party and subjecting the country to neo-liberalism. The more information we have the better, I reckon...

9:00 pm  
Anonymous AHD said...

Interesting Scott.

To a certain extent, I do understand what she is talking about when the reflective and reflexive left tears itself to bits while the right bluster on unproblematically. A broad-left wing alliance is probably good; invoking a left-wing alliance in order to stifle debate, isn't. Isn't that what makes the left distinct, for better or for worse -- the open, evidence-based and vigorous discussion of Philosophy, Politics, Economics and History?

9:04 pm  
Anonymous red sepi said...

this blog has been in the herald twice this week...latest

9:14 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Andrew,

I certainly agree that Labour members have at times been victims of sectarianism from groups and individuals to their left. Not only Marxists but other social democrats have at times equated Labour with National, and characterised all Labour members as right-wingers.

Back in the 1990s Dave Bedggood and his group Workers Power used to argue, in the face, I think, of considerable ridicule, that the Alliance and Labour should unite, or at least set up a good working relationship, because both were social democratic parties, even if Labour was well to the right of the Alliance. But there were some quite sectarian bunfights between Alliance and Labour supporters in the unions, and in the 1996 election Jim Anderton used the 'a vote for Labour is a vote for National' line, and refused to commit to supporting Labour after the election. The result was the Alliance vote shrinking from 18% to 10%, and Winston Peters being able to make a deal with National.

Then in 1999 Anderton went to the opposite extreme, and dampened down all Alliance criticism of Labour. Good old Dave and his tiny group of Cassandras argued that the Alliance should support a Labour government on confidence and supply but refrain from entering government. I think the disasters of 2001, which more or less destroyed the Alliance, proved their advice right.

And then there are the Marxists who can't get their attitude to Labour right. The Communist Party refused to support Labour in 1935, when the party was storming to victory with overwhelming support, and then turned around, on the advice of Moscow, and gave totally uncritical support to Labour in 1938, when the Savage government was beginning to fracture as British banks called in their loans and left-wing radicals like John A Lee fell out with moderates.

More recently we've had the Workers Party claiming that National and Labour are virtually one and same, and shouting 'scabs' at trade union delegates going into Labour Party conferences.

And don't get me started on the anarchists! Metiria Turei the anarchist ran as a McGillicuddy Serious candidate in the 1996 election, insisting that there was no difference between National, Labour, and the Alliance at a time when National policies like market rents for state houses were doing tremendous harm. Now Turei, who still quotes Chomsky and identifies, in some abstruse way, as an anarchist, is defending the Greens' decision to keep open the possibility of a coalition with National!

This is an issue where analysis rather emotion is needed. It's a real pity that our left-wing intellectuals have felt the need to get so heavily involved in political parties and campaigns, and have thus lost the ability to analyse political and other issues carefully and calmly. Lenin was quite wrong when he said that left-wing intellectuals needed to submit to party discipline and routines. What they need is isolation in a bourgeois library! Marx had the right idea when he holed up for years in the British Museum Library...

9:55 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Maps - assuming you didn't invent this meeting! Tiso might be thinking of the teacup tragedy, yours was more a smoothie rebellion...with a minor actor (some obscure Labour sheila) in the terrible drama enacting before us...

So you revealed all!!

Well, I am 63 nearly 64 and this has all happened before! Nothing new...

Labour (anyone) can say: "We will do this do that" But if things change they can and will.

And political parties have always kept things away from the public and always made deals and always talked out of both sides of hter mouthes and there isn't f/all difference betwixt Labour and National (and there never has been.) Either of them will shaft us, don't worry about it.

They are already saying they will raise the pension age. I agree with Tariana Turia that it needs to lowered. Maori don't (not sure if this is true but I assume she was right) live as long as Pakeha but Pakeha don't live that long either. I was impressed by her by the way. Also by Hone Harawira. Even Dunne. But they are all ultimately working for capitalism

I'm not sure which way to go. Either not vote at all, or vote to NOT get a pension and hope Labour (who were the Govt. elected in 1984 I recall); HOPE they don't do it before I reach 65, or for National to bash beneficiaries and sell assets keep workers poor (and Labour wont make a a paradise either) etc (the assets aren't sold in so far as they disappear but...).

In the long term, get rid of political parties, have people elected from various sectors cf the community and of many levels of 'class' and expertise to "run" the Government. Have no agendas simply work for the optimum for a society working on problems (social political etc etc as they arise and they arise continuously and are basically similar in kind always.)

As so on as "parties" are formed and (also those who are the Government to be paid slightly less than others or the same or average wage to stop people being in power for power and money.)

This process (of a TRULY democratic) government) (which I have only sketched) is in fact an idea similar to what would be in fact a communist government. Except that in theory communism can only exist when the state has "withered away" (anarchism in fact...

Anarchism is not totally stupid (I understand the impulse! [and "Who hasn't wanted to burn down a public building!?"]), but it is an end point not a starting point.

11:31 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

'assuming you didn't invent this meeting!'

You mean assuming Carmel Sepuloni isn't the new Roger Rountree? But I were going to invent a conversation with a high-profile politician I'd invent something a bit more exciting - I'd want to work in some scandals involving sex or drugs or rock 'n roll...

Did you get my e mails about Dart (apparently it's Old Devonian for oak) last night?

11:40 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

And Banks. Banks was the one who rang up radio pretending to be a Maori on the dole and so on. Not someone I would care to have tea with.

"You odious little man!"

(Addressed to Gulliver in Swift's 'Gulliver;s Travels' when he tells the "giant" King how he could do as they do in Europe and their "advanced" civilization, and use explosives and great weapons of war to annihilate his enemies....)

ACT~= [ ]

Is there a sufficient expression for them? Who will rid us?

11:40 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Yes. Dart I got. I fire darts and want darts but was always hopeless at darts.

Yes, I read that, I would love to read it.

That is if the Act-NAT Gestapo allow us to have books etc after the elections. At least Clark could and did read books...had some cultural sense...? No? Another illusion gone!

We always like to think well of other people, or I do...but it is sadly dangerous.

(Yes,I was leaning toward a the way that was one of the best things you have done! And the one with the fellow in the boat going mad and thinking he had re-proved or creatively disproved Einstein's equations etc or he had proved some mystery about God or something...!!)

11:49 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...


But you have to remember that Skyler was with me at Ranui, and she'd never let me mix literature and sober politics in a post like this!

Talking about books and politics, did you see Farrell Cleary's interesting response to the Titus election statement from last week? He wrote it in a comment under the relevant post...

11:57 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

That was it - Crowhurst!

But Skyler hasn't commented on here!

I believe she is preoccupied with other matters!

You launch your book the day after election! Coincidence? That Titus magnate fellow is highly devious. What's his game?

12:15 am  
Anonymous Scott said...

Brett Cross likes De Gaulle's maxim that 'power must be exercised discretely, behind the scenes', or words to that effect. He has also adapted Bismark's famous adage that 'the people should know as much about governance as they know about sausage making', substituting 'writers' for 'people' and 'publishing' or 'governance'...

12:19 am  
Blogger Richard said...

I have to say though... despite everything I know I will vote. At the local library the pre-Election special voting people (what are they called who run the voting booths etc?) used the word "duty". But it is something more basal.

It is like the rugby etc, we (can) get caught up in what we are - we are social animals and we do indeed feel (as we are) in fact a part of society.

Voting (small and individual act as it is) is one of the few times we get to exert any political power at all in most of our lives.
And the individual becomes a part of the larger group.

Other times (we can exert an ..however small..political influence*) are protests, demonstrations etc and I have been on many many of those.

But then it has always been fascinating to see who would win each election. Like a game. Life is a game.

*But the accumulation of each of these many pebbles of voting actions makes a mountain in its political totality. One day there will be a greater and more direct political peoples' power exerted.

12:32 am  
Anonymous Commie Blaster said...

Try becoming Bill Gates' personal body guard and see how quick you get the job. Don't you think they have things called interviews or background checks?

12:38 am  
Blogger Richard said...

Ahh!! The old de Gaulle-Bismark complex!!

He is turning all our great creative gems into philosophic sausages!

But how could you Dare to invoke the Great Man's name?

I hope we are all Allowed to go to your Regal Launch. There might be some Rule that forbids us the Day after the Election...

BC moves in deeply Mysterious Ways.

12:39 am  
Blogger Richard said...

"Commie Blaster said...

Try becoming Bill Gates' personal body guard and see how quick you get the job. Don't you think they have things called interviews or background checks?


You mean me old mate Bill? Bloody good joker he is. He doesn't have a body guard! (In fact some unkind personages say he doesn't have a body). I'd have a cup of tea with Billy G. anytime...great bloke, bloody good bastard he is.

12:43 am  
Anonymous Commie Blaster said...

Hullo? Was i talking to you? ARSEHOLE.

What state are you in Kalifornia I bet.

12:53 am  
Anonymous Mark said...

Richard, it was John Carter (Nat MP for northland a while back) who rang up talkback radio and impersonated a maori, not John Banks. for reasons to despite Banks, go here

9:28 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Jail suits some

12:46 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

I don't see any reason why a voter can't report on a straightforward political discussion with their local MP. As Bryce Edwards and others have observed, there's a massive power imbalance between professional politicians and the ordinary members of the public who have to decide, often on the basis of inadequate information, whether or not to vote for them.

I’m not sure how you go from “there’s a power imbalance” to this little exercise here. I think at the very least you’re being disingenuous about your speaking position. This wasn’t a “chat”, it was an interview. And you’re not a man in the street, you’re a prominent political blogger. Except you didn’t identify yourself to Sepuloni, nor respected her wish to speak off the record in order to answer you at all in at least one circumstance. Then you went off and published the transcript of this “chat” according solely to your recollection, without allowing Sepuloni to check if it coincided with hers.

There have been a number of examples of you treating other people’s privacy very poorly on this blog, also presumably based on this notion that the ethical rules of journalism don’t apply to you. I really see no reason why they shouldn’t.

1:16 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Hi Giovanni,

Surely 'privacy' doesn't come into it, any more than privacy comes into the controversy surrounding the Key-Banks chat?

I wasn't talking to Sepuloni about her private life outside politics -I was talking to her about political ideas and strategy.
And I, along with other New Zealanders outside parliament and the rarified world of professional politics, have a right to know about Labour's ideas and its political strategy. This is the party which may quite possibly be in power in a week or so, and may have to deal with an economic crisis unprecedented in recent New Zealand history.

I also have a right, as a supporter of the Mana Party, to know why Carmel's party is branding the policies I support as 'extremist' and trying to quash them.

I'm not saying that there was anything sensational that emerged in the chat with Sepuloni but, just for the sake of argument, would you support the suppression of the details of a chat which revealed that Labour does have a secret agenda to revert to Rogernomics-style neo-liberal policies if the financial crisis does reach New Zealand? If Roger Douglas had gotten boozed and blabbed his secret agenda to a constituent in an Auckland bar a few weeks before the 1984 election, would his interlocutor have been obliged, by some bourgeois notion of ethics, to keep mum?

Bollocks to that sort of ethics, I say - I prefer the image in Lenin's State and Revolution of ordinary citizens discussing 'even the most august affairs of the state' with politicians.

1:32 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

If Roger Douglas had gotten boozed and blabbed his secret agenda to a constituent in an Auckland bar a few weeks before the 1984 election, would his interlocutor have been obliged, by some bourgeois notion of ethics, to keep mum?

Oh for chrissakes. First of all, you caught Sepuloni doing no such thing. Secondly, you were speaking to a relatively junior MP, not to the finance spokesperson or the leader in pectore; somebody bound by party discipline when it comes to speaking candidly on some of her colleagues, which she wouldn't have I imagine had she known that you would have simply disregarded her request to "don't quote her on it". Pointing out at that point that you reckon that this sort of ethics doesn't apply to you might have been the civil thing to do, if nothing else.

Bollocks to that sort of ethics, I say - I prefer the image in Lenin's State and Revolution of ordinary citizens discussing 'even the most august affairs of the state' with politicians.

Yes, it's you and Lenin.

I take it that when you wrote your attack on Victor Billiot earlier this year, and when it transpired that you had got him mixed up with somebody else didn't apologise or anything, just quietly rewrote the post, you were also rejecting a bourgeois notion of ethics. Good for you.

1:44 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

You're mistaken, Giovanni - I didn't just quietly amend my post, I wrote an apology to Victor Billot at the bottom of it - you can read it here:

I am of course thoroughly, thoroughly outraged that you displayed such a gross lack of ethics as to make this most outrageous claim about with me without getting my consent in duplicate a week in advance! Seriously - I think you're being a bit too serious and legalistic about all this, in the same way that you were, in my ever humble opinion, too legalistic about the union vs Peter Jackson saga last year.

Bugger the technicalities, I say - what's the larger, overdetermining picture? I reckon there's a good chance comrade Carmel will be sitting round a Cabinet table, either next year or in 2014, working out ways to obey the instructions of international creditors and local capitalists and destroy our welfare state and public sector. And her mates Parker and Cunliffe seem like Roger Doulases in waiting to more than a few observers.

The notion that an obscure bugger with a blog like me is somehow oppressing these folks by having the temerity to report what one of them actually, you know, said, just seems a bit rich.

But on a more positive note: I enjoyed your piece in the latest brief. It got me reading Primo Levi's book, which had been sitting on my shelf for some time. And what a book it is.

3:28 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

You're mistaken, Giovanni - I didn't just quietly amend my post, I wrote an apology to Victor Billot at the bottom of it - you can read it here:

You rewrote the same post, minus the attack on Billiot, in such a way that those who had read the first version wouldn’t very easily have worked out that it was in fact a new post. Unless they read all the way to the “footnote”, I suppose - but that’s just not good enough.

I reckon there's a good chance comrade Carmel will be sitting round a Cabinet table, either next year or in 2014, working out ways to obey the instructions of international creditors and local capitalists and destroy our welfare state and public sector. And her mates Parker and Cunliffe seem like Roger Doulases in waiting to more than a few observers.

Sepuloni protests otherwise, but you seemed too busy hectoring her to discuss Labour policy for its actual content (which is rather a different proposition than intoning that Cunliffe (or Parker) is a “neoliberal”). And guess what, perhaps that simply wasn’t the place for it, nor was Sepuloni the right MP to harangue. At any rate, I’m not sure what you think that Sepuloni’s answers actually demonstrate. You succeeded in embarrassing her with a colleague by publishing something that she told you in confidence. And that helps anybody how exactly?

The notion that an obscure bugger with a blog like me is somehow oppressing these folks by having the temerity to report what one of them actually, you know, said, just seems a bit rich.

The contention that Sepuloni has all the power and you none of it is far too simplistic, and you know perfectly well that you’re not an obscure bugger. I think you should stop pretending otherwise.

4:03 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Oh c'mon! The original, mistaken post was only up for an hour or so. Victor Billot certainly didn't seem to think any harm had been done.

What does the chat with Sepuloni show? I think it provides some evidence for the claim I made a couple of weeks ago, on the basis of Labour's campaign in Epsom, that David Parker is a dangerous right-wing figure inside the party who would, if given the opportunity, emulate the neo-liberal response to economic crisis seen from Labour's sister parties in Europe.

The conversation also seems to reveal that the split over relations with Mana, and over the wider question of whether to look left or right for allies, exists, in a tepid form at least, inside caucus as well as at the grassroots of the party (some Labour trade unionists refused point blank to take part in the campaign against Hone in Te Tai Tokerau).

These are useful things for the left to know. What a pity it is that Labour, employing a prohibition of public displays of dissent that might remind us of the worst parodies of Leninist party discipline, doesn't let voters learn about its internal divisions and debates through more conventional means.

As for making life awkward for Carmel inside the caucus - well, diddums. I wish she'd shown some integrity and stood up publically against the attempts to isolate and destroy Mana, and against the courting of that Berlusconi of New Zealand politics, Winston Peters. But doing that would have cost a starring role in Labour's election broadcast - and probably, ultimately, her place in the party.

4:50 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Just to expand on that last point: wouldn't it be a wonderful, wonderful thing if a Labour MP, a single Labour MP, stood up and said, in defiance of the party bosses:

'I don't consider Mana a dangerous extremist party, I consider it a legitimate party of the left. I don't know why we are pouring resources into trying to destroy Mana when we could be fighting the right alongside Mana. If, after the election, Labour continues to denigrate Mana and forms another government with that racist and reactionary Winston Peters then I will resign my seat'.

Catherine Delahunty made a somewhat similar statement a few weeks ago, when she said she'd leave parliament if the Greens went into government with National. Her statement might just be the difference between the Greens going with the Nats or not. It was certainly a sign of considerable personal integrity. And yet it led to her being accused of breaking discipline, breaking rules, undermining her party, and so on. These charges might be tehnically correct - but who cares? She was right to take a stand.

5:12 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

but how is labour meant to govern without nz1st they need support from the right!1

5:37 pm  
Anonymous Mana against evictions said...

Where was Labour?

160 families are facing eviction from their homes in Glen Innes, as the working class face social cleansing to enable private property developers build luxury villas where state houses once stood. It's the age old battle of poor people on rich land- and the greed of property developers and yuppie gentrifiers who want beautiful views of the Bay comes before the needs of poor Maori, Pasifika and Pakeha families.

The Mana Movement sings the old Civil Rights song- "We shall not be Moved". At a time of a massive housing crisis, where many are homeless and jobless, and workers on pverty wages spend over half of their income on rack rents, its time for us to build a massive new 20,000 State Houses over the next two years. This will create jobs, reduce rents and provide shelter for all our people- all of which are basic human rights.

When it comes to the point of eviction, Mana argues for direct action. Houses will be occupied and defended, as Auckland's rent rebel Len Parker did a decade ago with the State Housing Action Collective. G.I. will be occupied, Bastion Point style, and no one will be left without. Housing is a right, not a privilege.

5:40 pm  
Anonymous Shame on Labour - Minto vs invisible man said...

After 20 years missing in action the local MP for Manukau East failed to appear last night at the first candidate forum in the electorate. When it was announced that Ross Robertson was a “no show” (non appearance and no apology received by the organizers) members of the 60 strong audience held up signs (see pic below) asking where their MP has been for 20 years.

Prior to the meeting Mana Party candidate John Minto said publicly he would call for the MP to resign at the forum. “Ross Robertson is an epic fail as an MP” said John Minto “and now doesn’t have the courage to show his face. Sitting MPs normally stand on their record but Ross has no record to stand on."

“It’s an outrage that the MP for one of the lowest income electorates in the country can spend 20 years in parliament, draw a huge salary and yet remain invisible on any of the issues facing the struggling families he is supposed to represent.

“I searched the internet for ANY sign this MP has spoken out on ANY issue facing the predominantly Maori and Pacific Island electorate in ANY of the past 20 years but drew a complete blank.

“It’s hard to believe the Labour Party has supported this gutless, useless MP for so long.”

Socialist Aotearoa says- John Minto takes on the Invisible Man, the Labour MP for one of the poorest areas of New Zealand, Ross Robertson. The Invisible Man has no record of fighting for anything when you google him, and he doesn't bother to turn up for local husting meetings in working class Otara. The people of Manakau East need a fighter, not a tea drinking yes man.

Vote for Minto, vote for Mana, the Movement of the People.

5:44 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

Oh c'mon! The original, mistaken post was only up for an hour or so. Victor Billot certainly didn't seem to think any harm had been done.

It was actually five hours. But the point is that you essentially slandered Billot in your post, and the people who read it before the rewrite would have had some difficulty noticing that the post had changed unless they happened to reread it (as I did). That reflects a remarkably cavalier attitude to personalising political disputes, it seems to me. As well as to basic accuracy, which is not without relevance here.

What does the chat with Sepuloni show? I think it provides some evidence for the claim I made a couple of weeks ago, on the basis of Labour's campaign in Epsom, that David Parker is a dangerous right-wing figure inside the party who would, if given the opportunity, emulate the neo-liberal response to economic crisis seen from Labour's sister parties in Europe.

Not really. You just extracted from a left-wing member of the Labour caucus an admission that Parker is to the right of said caucus. You’re just extrapolating the rest.

The conversation also seems to reveal that the split over relations with Mana, and over the wider question of whether to look left or right for allies, exists, in a tepid form at least, inside caucus as well as at the grassroots of the party (some Labour trade unionists refused point blank to take part in the campaign against Hone in Te Tai Tokerau).

Again, that is no news to anybody who follows Labour politics, is it? You wanted to draw Sepuloni out, and you did - and I’m not even sure what that achieves, seeing as a reasonable goal for critics of Labour would be to strengthen the left wing of the party, not hector it into a show of dissent. (And whilst my own criticism of Labour’s change of heart re: rogernomics is on record, the election of David Parker as leader is far from a sure thing. In Little and Robertson, even Cunliffe, Labour has figures arguably to the left of what they’ve had for some time.)

6:48 pm  
Anonymous raych said...

Excellent piece Scott - a good follow on from the previous piece of why the tea cup scandal matters...

As a child of a single mum in the 80s I remember well attending protests as a kid (the effects of such neo-lib policies was significantly experienced in our household)..

It is good to see these issues linked into their much broader context; and perhaps more interesting still to see such reactions, or lack thereof (as in the case of Carmel)...


6:48 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Tiso has some points here (one has to respect what another person says or if they ask for privacy etc, which is why I feel John Key is right to bring in the police in the tea cup saga) but Map's general points are quite valid.

The problem is that politicians are always so bland and unspecific in their responses.

But "Don't quote this" means just that though Maps! So you risk CAN be justified, but is certainly moot...

But on the other hand Tiso, you seem to be (too?) serious in all these issues. Maps has mellowed! I've known him for years. He makes things up about me all the time! (But he didn't invent it when he said I was an (albeit eccentric) genius and a greater writer than Smithyman..) But he is getting better (as we mostly are with age!) and does a great job on here...he is indeed no ordinary blogger, or son (sun?) for that matter...

There is always room for some creative invention even in politics...We have to decide who our main enemies are.

And YOU didn't reply to his praise for your report or essay about Levi's book which I also read, it was good and I have read one other of his books and have another here ('The Mirror Maker').

Maps was clearly giving an olive branch. You ignored it (pointedly as they say in the trade.) You seem over serious. It is good to have strong views but a sense of humour might assist you. No?

Maps erred but he didn't commit the crime of the century.

9:16 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

I saw something disturbing though. In Panmure (Pilkington Road, not far from where I live.), on a Labour banner, today I saw that someone had spray painted (in red):


9:20 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

Cheers Raych. I too grew up with Rogernomics. I can't say its effects were felt in my household, but they were certainly felt in the neighbourhood. No (wo)man is an island and all that.

I think Giovanni is quite wrong to consider the likes of Little and Robertson as bulwarks of left-wing politics in Labour - they're typical products of a 'bourgeois workers party', bureaucrats who will act for the preservation of the system which gives them power and social being in any major crisis. They're like the leaders of PASOK in Greece or the Socialists in Spain.

I think that the goal of socialists should be to persuade the good people in Labour and Greens away from their parties before it is too late.

By working together with the good folks in Labour and the Greens in United Fronts against neo-liberalism - like, say, the campaign against evictions in Auckland - we can put pressure on the leaderships of Labour and the Greens, which will inevitably side, in any major struggle, with the establishment and with neo-liberalism against a mass grassroots movement.

We should put demands on the Labour and Greens leadership - demand that they work with Mana to raise issues in parliament, demand that they embrace causes like the Occupy movement and the anti-evictions campaign - and let them expose themselves, in the eyes of their supporters.

Once they see the rightward direction of their leaderships, the grassroots members of Labour and the Greens can make a decision about their allegiance. There are reportedly quite large number sof Greens activists preparing to jump ship now, as they see their party leaders ready to disown activism and jump into bed with the Nats.
Sue Bradford is wooing them in the direction of Mana, though they might not necessarily join that party (I don't want to argue that Mana has to be the only focus around which the left can realign).

Some Green MPs, like Delahunty, might make the jump to the left. I'm not so sure whether anyone will come over from Labour, even after - and I do think it is well-nigh inevitable - the party endorses neo-liberal austerity as a response to the crisis.

9:43 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...


That certainly is idiotic. I'm not exacly a fan of old Key but I do think it is great that New Zealand has a history of having Jewish and atheist, as well as Christian, leaders, even in the nineteenth century. It's nice to be able to cite atheistic Dommett and Jewish Vogel when Brian Tamaki types start talking about how this country was supposedly run by Christians back in the good old days...

9:47 pm  
Anonymous Labour and National both for austerity? said...

Political parties are trying to convince us there's a real choice for voters. But just how meaningful is this choice?

In terms of the main election issue, the economy, there appears - at least, superficially - to be a definitive left-right difference on offer.

We're seeing some interesting ideas thrown around: capital gains taxes, partial privatisation of energy companies, compulsory superannuation, GST off some foods, and raising the age of superannuation to 67.

Severe global economic conditions have pulled the rug out from beneath most of the old assumptions about economic policy, leaving parties searching for new tactics.

Parties have an interest in marketing their policies as being different from one another by magnifying their slight differences with partisan rhetoric.

What should be apparent - but is never advertised - is just how much they agree on. An analysis of the policy and manifesto promises of the two major parties shows Labour and National are in virtual agreement on something like 99 per cent of the way society is run.

It's actually only in the margins that they differ.

On the whole, neither a Labour-led nor a National-led Government would take NZ in very different directions.

Both are strongly fixed to the politics of austerity. Sometimes they leapfrog each other on the political spectrum.

For example, Labour now promises to reduce entitlements to national super - raising the age of eligibility to 67 - which effectively moves it to the right of National on the issue. And National is pushing the more "left" line of retaining 65 as the super age.

Added to that, National is now promising to extend kids' free GP visits - which is being heralded by unions and welfare agencies.

Parties and their cheerleaders will emphasise their differences, but not put these in context. Take a supposedly clear policy issue such as National's policy of partial privatisation of the four state-owned energy companies. This one apparent area of difference between Labour and National is exaggerated by a lack of context.

Both parties wish to keep the companies operating as private firms in a totally deregulated energy market in which profit is the only goal, and consumers have had to pay stiff prices.

They differ over the ownership structure - which actually has little effect on the supply of energy - but have no real differences on those bigger questions of energy use and availability.

At the last election in 2008, few voters perceived that there was much difference between the main political parties. A credible University of Auckland survey showed that half of voters (51 per cent) thought there were only "minor differences" between the parties during the campaign, while only 38 per cent thought there were actually major differences between the parties. Not surprisingly, therefore, we had the the second-lowest turnout in a century.

This year, despite claims to the contrary, once again it seems the election will deny voters meaningful choices.

By Bryce Edwards

10:13 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Bryce I agree. Elections give the illusion of a choice, keeping workers hoping (and achieving nothing) instead of taking direct action outside the the law and normal procedures such as bourgeois elections.

We need to get rid of political parties.

11:22 pm  
Anonymous R.S.O said...

Actually, you are a scab if you're in Labour.

Labour slaughtered thousands in Afghanistan (uncontrolled bombing 2001-2002)

Labour invaded Tuhoeland in a continuation of the old wars against Maori.

Labour passed an apartheid law which took land off Maori but not white settlers (SEabed and foreshore act).

But Labour supporters overlook this out of self-interest. A little more from the state. GST off fruit and veges.

They are scabs.

Labour is as bad aas the US Republican Party.

12:07 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

The parasites are excited when you're dead; eyes bulging, entering your head; and all your thoughts yeah, they rot.

12:44 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

You had better be prepared for the full weight of the law coming down on you.

9:58 am  
Blogger Dave Brown said...

Scott is correct in his attitude towards Labour. Nats and Lab are not the same animal. The Nats are an open bourgeois party, albeit trying to hide that fact behind a Bonapartist appeal to nation above class.

Labour began as a petty bourgeois project to seal the victory of the bourgeoisie over the labour militants of the Red Fed in 1913. It was always committed to NZ capitalism, especially NZ farming and manufacturing. But to keep workers onside and marginalise the militants it had to pose as a workers' party.

It still has the endorsement of the CTU relatively weak as it is, and until the working class has anything to put in its place its necessary to give it critical support.

This election has a good example of that concept with the tactical vote for Goldsmith to finally bury ACT. And what is that tactic? To keep the NACTs out and get Labour relected. And we would add, to force Labour to expose yet again its fundamentally anti-workers bosses' program.

Assuming that Labour is elected with NZF and Mana both remaining 'independent'(not entering the government) this would open the next phase in the struggle to replace Labour. Facing a global crisis where Labour will attempt to resolve the crisis by means of austerity 'light' (postponing evil days etc) it will need the votes of NZF who want to challenge the Bankers' coup, and of Mana who want food and jobs now.

All of this parliamentary wheeling and dealing on the 'left' will be judged against the global uprising called Tahrir, Greece and #OWS which is blowing up outside parliament, building a global anti-capitalist movement and finally proving that the days of bourgeois parliaments are numbered.

Of course if the NATs are reelected then all of this tactical stuff goes on hold as we fight to survive.

Which brings me to the final point, Scott's 'interview' as a political intervention. It's a somewhat random individual act separated from the actual class struggle. Far from being an example of the 'independence' of the intellectual in getting at the truth, its a mark of the limits and ultimately the disease of sectarianism most evident in the isolation of the left 'bloggerati'.

Marx originated the communist movement by fusing theory and practice - see his Theses on Feuerbach. In his day the opportunities for practice were limited. But he did found an 'international' party dedicated to the Communist Manifesto. Built into this program was his dialectical critique of capitalism understood as a 'praxis'.

Today we have no excuses for not being part of an international party. It doesnt yet exist but we can see the need for it being demonstrated daily in the global uprising. The social media have an important role as the livestreaming of Tahrir and OWS proves. But its just part of the growing resistance to the crisis of capitalism.

That's where the class war is breaking out today, and without active intervention in this process, there is no way for the individual intellectual to be 'objective', 'independent' and therefore getting at the 'truth'. The truth is concrete and the concrete is the conscious experience of the proletariat as a global class engaged in class struggle.

12:40 pm  
Anonymous Scott said...

It was hardly a planned political intervention on my part, Dave - if pickings had been better in the Ranui library then it would never have occurred.

I was being a bit mischievious when I said that intellectuals should never join parties, but I think the facts show Marx did his best work when he was secluded in a library, and some of his weakest when he was oppressed by his followers. Likewise yourself.

5:57 pm  
Blogger Chris Trotter said...

Ye Gods! What a cold, authoritarian fellow that Giovanni Tiso has turned out to be!

He writes a mean blog, but I wouldn't want him behind me in a fight.

Good on you, Scott. A truly valuable insight into the dear old Labour Party.

Plus ca change ... eh?

12:53 pm  
Blogger Giovanni Tiso said...

I'm still at a loss to work out what insight the bullying of Carmel Sepuloni has actually produced, but it must be my cold authoritarian nature.

1:03 pm  
Blogger Richard said...

Come on Dr. Dante Alighieri Tiso (PHD LLB MMB SBC CCB ChBB AB etc) you have to admit Comrade Professor Trotter Dip Hist. Dip. (Sht. Strrg. LB DCCR BBA MBc GVFTTT BSC BaPOLBA. DDR etc etc) has a point. He's an abrasive bastard but at least he's human. He hit the nail on it's back side! He's a wag as well as rogue!! He knows his history even if...

Maps makes and errors so you are so po faced...o.k. you had him "pinned and wriggling against a wall" but he rightly side-stepped it all with aplomb to force a zugzwang...

We have an Enemy - The Right - (could include Labour) in politics don't expect these guys to be as full of as much righteous probity as you ...

Maps conducted what we call in the trade a "pre-emptive strike"! Lighten up for Marx and The Devil's sake!

2:32 pm  
Blogger Marty Mars said...

Great post maps

keep them honest (as far as they can be considering they are politicians) and apply sunlight.

even now labour are trying to ignore Mana and they don't realise that it is to their detriment. Not long now until the votes are cast - been a very interesting campaign, so far.

and thank you for supporting Mana.

10:23 am  

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