Labouring the Point by Trevor Plumbly

NZ labour leaderHard Labour

It’s interesting how things develop over the years, especially politics. We recently saw our labour party get handed its worst election defeat in 90 years and it was fun noting the waffle of the faithful and those credited with extensive knowledge like ‘chair of political studies’ or just plain ‘political commentators’. It didn’t take long for the proverbial stuff to hit the fan with a vengeance: the Leader, far from being humbled by mass rejection and going the ‘mea culpa’ route, decided, without bothering to consult his colleagues, to grandstand a bit, declaring ‘I am resigning as Leader, but I want to make it clear that I am putting my name forward for re-election.’ I think Jewish people call this sort of thing ‘chutzpah’, others less charitable might say ‘egotistical stupidity’; I guess that depends which side you’re on. He has subsequently withdrawn from the contest, realising, perhaps belatedly, that in politics the praise elevator goes up and the blame one goes down. The fact that he didn’t seem to grasp that simple truth makes me feel grateful that the guy is highly unlikely to run the country.

Pick and Shovel

The contest between the prospective candidates has thrown the party into yet another bout of self-mutilation. All sorts of chicanery is in the offing: thus far we’ve had a bout of gag orders, anonymous whispers from ‘inside sources’, leaked texts and emails just to froth things up. We don’t descend to the much beloved back-stabbing of the Aussies; we’re more inclined towards the polite poisoning of the Brits. The four contenders are an interesting mix: number 1 is something of an elder statesman, a former finance spokesman he has an assured approach and promises to heal the party’s internal wounds; number 2 is a bit of a ‘young Turk’, openly, but not overtly gay, who, for reasons best known to himself, insists on reminding everybody in earshot that he likes rugby and beer; number 3 is an ex-union executive, who I strongly suspect is more at home with ‘picket’ as in a garden fence than workforce action; number 4 is a protégé of the former leader, which, one would assume, is handicap enough – she is the least bland of the bunch but tends to sound a bit like a tour bus driver in the debating chamber. If this motley crew share anything, it’s the distinct impression that none of them have actually physically ‘laboured’.

Working Classes

Analogies are always a somewhat cheap form of argument but the current state of the NZ labour party seems a bit like an ageing punch-drunk fighter shambling into yet another losing round. The problem is that there’s no ’cause’ anymore, therefore no anger or motivation; the low wages and punishing hours have pretty much gone and today’s breed seem obsessed with ‘capturing the centre left’. I am not quite sure where that is or what it means in the great scheme of things, maybe it’s just a political hidey-hole for people who can’t make up their minds. The old breed was made up of far more distinctive characters, tough aggressive debaters totally dedicated to eradicating economic inequality. Labour was ‘their’ party and the workers were ‘their’ people. Things change, I guess: the cloth cap image has gone, along with the hard boiled unionists, neither of which is any great loss, but when the old brigade left they took the honesty, fire and plain old-fashioned guts with them, and those we will sorely miss.

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