Tuesday, July 31, 2012

A dying party

I am inclined to agree with Paul Little that we are, in his words, witnessing the long, slow and inevitable death of the Labour Party. There is nothing inherently tragic about this. Parties are formed, rise up, win power, lose it, fade away all the time. Exactly 100 years ago it might have seemed to New Zealand voters that the Liberal and Reform parties were the only games in town, so dominant were they; yet within 25 years both were history. The same fate would have befallen Labour sooner or later, whatever it did; but it seems to be happening sooner for one overwhelming reason: the party has never truly recovered from what it did to itself in the 1980s - a time of political betrayal, I'd suggest, pretty much unequalled among Western democracies. Something broke in Labour then, and although it kept going out of sheer historical momentum, even winning power again under the wily Helen Clark, it feels more and more, with every passing month, as though it's running on empty now. No matter how it flossies itself up and piles on the pancake make-up, it can't conceal that, essentially, it no longer has a clear core of political philosophy. In the immediacy of the daily grind of politics that might not seem to matter much but in the long run it begins to tell with voters. A party has to stand for something distinctive and different; and Labour these days is at best National-lite. Even so, it could have gone on for quite a while yet as 'one of the two main parties,' so long as a credible alternative didn't arise. That, as Little says, has now happened with the emergence of the Greens as a real political force. Whatever you think of the Greens, it can't be denied that they have a clear core of political philosophy - and one much more in tune with the times than Labour's blurry jumble. Everything points to the Greens gradually supplanting Labour as National's major rival, either by subsuming it, merging with it or simply overtaking it poll by poll in voters' affections. It could even happen relatively suddenly, if there were another global or national crisis, or Labour did something seriously stupid. The Greens won't last forever either; probably in time their name will come to seem as much of an anachronism as Labour's is now. But for the moment, and for the first half of this century anyway, they have a following wind; and Labour has run out of puff.


Pete George said...

You could be right about Labour, they are really struggling to find a unified and coherent purpose.

But I have my doubts that Greens will take their space - I think there's already signs of a strong "some Green's good but not too much" feeling.

Mark said...

Well it's just a nonsense. You build an argument by saying the something went wrong in the 1980s. That may be true but it was far from the end of Labour, its ideals and supporters.
MMP has helped our political discourse by allowing many different parties to claim their place. Does this mean there is no place for a mainstream, ethnically and socially diverse party to promote fair and progressive economic policies and equally responsible social protections?

Denis Welch said...

I take your point; and I'd be happy to be proved wrong, as Labour has many good people and good policies. It will probably survive for many years yet, in one form or another. But it does seem to me to have lost that quality of distinctiveness that a successful party needs; there is not enough political glue binding it together to make it work properly. Just look, for instance, at what David Parker is saying and then at what David Cunliffe is saying.
Only the momentum of its own history keeps Labour going; but it looks more and more to me like a mourner at its own funeral.