The short article below was written in late 1998 and first appeared in the December 1998/January 1999 issue of revolution magazine (issue 8), one of the print predecessors of this blog. It deals with Labour, a year out from the 1999 election which brought the fifth Labour government to power, led by Helen Clark. The original title was called ‘Labour farcade’; we used a made-up word to best express an analysis of the Labour Party at the time of its late 1998 conference. While written almost 16 years ago, the piece succinctly notes those very characteristics of Labour which are even more pronounced today. The piece also proved accurate in its predictions about the fifth Labour government, 1999-2008.
by Linda Kearns
What can be expected should Labour get into government in 1999 was made clear at the party’s national conference in Auckland in November. While the mood was quite upbeat, indicating the party’s confidence in forming the next government, it was the lowering of expectations which stood out most.
The key phrase was “the National government has left the cupboard bare” and therefore “we” won’t be able to afford new expenditure. Instead, it looks like Labour will aim to reform things which don’t have any fiscal implications.
In other words, more tokenism for women and Maori, more social control for society at large, and more support for western intervention in the Third World, all of it dressed up, of course, under the guise of ‘human rights’. Deputy-leader and finance minister-in-waiting Michael Cullen gave a speech at the opening of which he disputed criticisms that a Labour-led government would be radical. Instead, he said, they would be very pragmatic. It was also clear that Labour is opposed to increasing the cost of workers to employers – ie they want to maintain low wage levels. While this is argued partly under the guise of helping the unemployed into jobs, it is really a message to business that Labour will serve their interests better than National.
It is also clear that important sections of the ruling class are swinging behind Labour. Right-wing papers such as The Dominion and NZ Herald have come out saying it is time for another election. Sir Dryden Spring, until recently head of the Dairy Board (NZ’s largest company) and a leading corporate fundraiser for National, was well-received when he spoke to the conference. Currently alienated by National’s ‘radicalism’, he listed all the areas that he agreed with Labour on, and pleaded with them to moderate on the areas that they didn’t yet agree on. Both Labour leader Helen Clark and Cullen emphasised how much in common they had with him politically.
As usual, the event was heavily stage-managed, there was a low level of political debate and anything at all controversial was marginalised by being relegated to ‘workshops’. Most noticeable to anyone who hasn’t attended a Labour confeence for a few years was that the days of a powerful influence by the trade unions are clearly long gone. Even the make-up of the conference was distinctly middle-class. It is these people and their ruthless careerism, devoid of any principles let alone attachment to the working class, that drives Labour today.
Further reading: Labour – a bosses’ party