Labour’s reshuffle makes no difference to anything

Posted: December 1, 2015 by Admin in Labour Party NZ, Limits of capitalism, National Party NZ, New Zealand economy, New Zealand history, New Zealand politics
Little meeting business leaders to reassure them they have nothing to fear

Little meeting business leaders to reassure them they have nothing to fear from Labour

by Phil Duncan

As he and his party continue to wallow in the polls, Labour leader Andrew Little has had a little shadow cabinet reshuffle.  He has named the team that he says he intends to lead into the 2017 election.

Don’t believe it.  As Labour’s electoral fortunes continue in the doldrums, and Little remains far behind Key in the leader stakes, there will be more reshuffles.  Even Little himself is not really secure.  He hasn’t got a lift beyond Shearer or Cunliffe.  His position is secure at present because to have another  change of leader would make six leaders since 2008, if we include Clark.

What of the new faces?

Well, a few Labourites seem excited: Labour supporters seem to have extremely low horizons and be really easy to please – or maybe they just like to cheer-lead for whoever happens to be leader at any point in time.

There’s nothing of any real significance in the change of a few faces.  Nanaia Mahuta is down and Kelvin Davis is up, being Labour’s new Maori star.  A few other MPs are demoted and, not surprisingly, Jacinda Ardern’s star continues to rise.

The only thing about the changes, in terms of who got promoted, is that the MP who fronted their latest racist campaign against Chinese – or people with ‘Chinese-sounding surnames’ – namely, Phil Twyford, was bumped up a bit.

What is most noteworthy, however, is that there is not a shred of principled political differences between any of those demoted and promoted.  The ones who have fallen in their rankings are absolutely dedicated, above and beyond anything, to two things:

1.   preservation of the exploitation of the working class by the capitalist class

2.  their own careers

These are the two things at the very core of the being of every Labour MP and every would-be Labour MP.  There’s nothing else there – there really is nothing – and any Labourite who says there is is just spoofing you or deliberately lying and trying to trick you.

NZ Labour can’t even produce a Jeremy Corbyn to attract a new draft of enthusiastic young people and/or older alienated ex-members.  They’ve soaked up a few ex-Alliance figures like Jim Anderton, Matt McCarten and Megan Woods, and turned them into Labourites, but they can’t match the thousands of activist-members the Alliance had in its heyday in the early 1990s.

Management of capitalism and nice little parliamentary careers, leading to even more lucrative business careers later, is what Labour is about.  Its function, its entire reason for existence, is to provide a second horse in the race for the ruling class.  When National governments get old and tired, the ruling class needs its other horse to take over.  Indeed, sometimes – the 1930s and the 1980s – the also-ran becomes the star, carrying out policies that National (and its United-Reform predecessor parties) can’t or won’t.

So, the two times NZ capitalism has been up shit-creek without a paddle, Labour has been called into power to do what is necessary.  Most recently, the 1980s, this meant launching the biggest attack on workers’ rights and living standards since the Depression.  The National government of the early 1990s which gave us the Employment Contracts Act and the ‘mother of all budgets’, simply carried on what Labour had started.  Then, having exhausted its neo-liberal arsenal, National drifted from 1993 onwards and was exhausted by 1999.  So the ruling class dumped National and in came Labour as the replacement team to try to inject some new ideas into the system.  After nine years of managing the malaise and solving nothing. Labour was exhausted and the ruling class lined up again behind National.  After a certain number of years of managing the malaise and solving nothing, the Key-English government will be exhausted, the ruling class will move back to Labour and we’ll have whoever is leading Labour then – it might be 2017, although it may more likely be 2020 because at present Labour, far from looking fresh, looks as stale as National.

And so the merry-go-round continues, with more people switching off from what really is a parliamentary circus.  After all the bullshit from Labour and National about wanting to end poverty and blah blah, you really do have to be very gullible indeed to believe that any of them are going to do any such thing.

Personally, I think that most National and Labour MPs would like to end poverty – the problem, however, is that their first allegiance is not to ending poverty but to managing capitalism and as long as we have capitalism we will have massive inequality and high levels of poverty.  If capitalism couldn’t abolish poverty during the long post-WW2 economic boom (from late 1940s to early 1970s), it sure isn’t gpoing to do it now, when booms are much shorter and less dynamic than the postwar boom and the general economic situation is one of ongoing malaise.

So a key part of the job of National and Labour is to lower expectations.  Although more blue-collar workers voted National than Labour in 2014 – Labour generally has more working class support than National and so it still has some important role to play in lowering workers’ expectations.  Moreover, Labour still has links with a number of unions, allowing it to exercise a more debilitating role over organised workers than National.  The function of Labour-union links is, after all, to subordinate organised workers to capital through subordinating them politically and organisationally to one of the two main capitalist parties.

A positive is that these days the biggest party that workers opt for is neither Labour nor National; it is probably non-voting.  This is a far preferable option than voting Labour or any of the other capitalist parties.  It at least indicates that a significant and growing proportion of the adult population, and of the working class in particular, understand that National and Labour are in essence the same – ie they represent the interests and needs of capital.

What is missing, however, is any class-based resistance on the scale that could actually lead to the formation of a new political movement; at long last, one of, by and for the working class.

  1. Barrie says:

    I agree with your article. Another aspect of the re-shuffle and the whole concept of a cabinet (whether shadow or actual) is the deeply undemocratic way they operate. No vote among the public or even the party membership is taken to determine its composition. yet the pretence exists that these people are working on ‘our’ behalf. Instead Little or Key operate like mafia godfathers, demoting or promoting individuals on the basis of loyalty or lack of, combined with who has ‘performed’ well for the media. Its the cabinet when in power who ultimately make decisions for the country and they are handpicked by a single individual (no doubt after consultation with advisors, spin doctors and the competing wannabe ministers themselves). How this circus gets successfully passed off as ‘democratic’ is a mystery to me. Maybe its 1984 newspeak and we have always been at war with Oceania?!

  2. Phil says:

    Cheers, Barrie. That’s a very important point (or set of points) re cabinet/shadow cabinet. I agree totally and really I should have said all that in the actual article. Damn!

    Thanks again.

  3. Barrie says:

    Thanks for your positive reaction. The other thing about Little as an individual that further reflects on the undemocratic nature of the system as a whole, is the fact nobody directly voted for him. He got into parliament on the list after being rejected in an electorate seat. At best (and that’s not saying much) it means he was considered a sufficiently loyal party functionary by the movers and shakers inside the upper Labour hierarchy to have ‘earned’ a safe position. It would be hard to find a clearer case of ‘jobs for the boys’. Given his background as a career student politician and union functionary and now a member of the loyal opposition, anybody within the Labour rank-and-file (to the extent that there is one lol) who is expecting something innovative, let alone ‘socialist’ from Little and his gang, should think twice. As you said, there isn’t even a Corbyn-lite alternative for them.