Post election political life is a little less exciting. Yet there is much too ponder for the follower of Jesus intent on working out the politics of Jesus here on earth in 2014. My particular zealous interest this past week has been on what it means to be 'left', 'Labour', 'socialist'. Sparked by numerous recriminations and reflections following the gazumping of both the left of NZ politics and the Labour Party, I have also been following the British Labour Party conference in which similar recriminatory thoughts seemed to be at work over which Labour Party will win the next election.
I quite agree with those pundits who have made the point that some policies promoted by the left should not be thought of as leftist but simple fairnesses at the centre of society (e.g. removing child poverty which, funnily enough, our PM has made significant noises about this week). Nevertheless perhaps the left has stronger motivation and passion to address such matters?
I can also agree with those arguing a principled approach to politics which says, "We are working for the implementation of our principles, no matter whether they are popular or not." Stick to that, avoid gaining votes from middle NZ (or Britain) by compromising, by all means. However I would prefer that no further talk comes from your mouths about what you will do in government! In a nutshell this is where the so called 'hard left' or 'socialist wing' of the Labour Party (plural if we include Britain) are or should be at. That's fine, but life has moved on from dear old Karl making his daily pilgrimage to the British Museum to write his prognostications on the proletariat in the midst of the industrial revolution.
But what if the respective Labour Parties wish to regain the government benches. Surely there must be a reckoning with what it will take to be elected? Even more surely, this must take such parties towards the middle of society, asking what will appeal to the middle. An appeal which appeals, to be sure, to the social conscience and sense of fair play of the middle, yet an appeal which does not trash the hopes and aspirations of the middle classes. The middle masses today are not quasi-socialists, one election of a 'real' Labour government away from dropping the 'quasi-'.
The middle masses today are capitalists. They like growing personal capital (especially owning their own homes and small businesses, with opportunity to share in larger businesses via the sharemarket). They want top dollar when they sell a car and to pay bottom dollar when they buy - they think markets are a good thing (albeit keen to retain state-funded education and health services).
If there is one significant error eating away at the voting share of both the NZ Labour Party and British Labour Party it is the not so hidden presumption that these parties do not really embrace capitalism. I think the voters see and hear that, and are nervous. Blair's Labour Party and Lange/Douglas then Clarke/Cullen's Labour Party did embrace capitalism and the voters trusted them enough to re-elect them several times.
But the current amazing embarrassment at the success of Labour governments under those paradigms serves the present parties poorly. In reacting to what is interpreted as a period of socialist heresy (i.e. a reign of neo-liberal 'terror'(!)), these two Labour Parties are returning to principles but have not let go of aspirations to govern again.
No one can serve two masters. As best I can understand the two situations, both the NZ and British Labour Parties are torn between wanting to be faithful socialists and wanting to be in government. To be the latter they need voters who do not agree with the former principles. That is a bit of calculus which does not yield a positive sum!
Are they doomed to never return to power?
Probably not. One day electoral sanity will return.
But, in the meantime, how many people will suffer because governments in NZ and the UK will not be constrained by leftist motivations to build fair capitalist societies and to eradicate poverty?
I have noticed here in NZ some talk about our electoral cycle in which the norm is swapping between National and Labour led governments of two to three terms each. Well, I have news for you: there is another electoral pattern, produced through 1949-1975 in which twenty six years of government produced just 2 x three year periods for Labour. Who is to say that we have not returned to that pattern? Wake up, Labour!!