Sunday reads

A lot of critical thinking about the state and prospects of the left this week – no surprise!

Giovanni Tiso: A fresh approach no more: the return of politics in New Zealand at Overland

All of a sudden in Aotearoa New Zealand there is an election campaign worth following, and not just for its immediate result, but to test the boundaries of left-wing politics: what is acceptable, what is thinkable, what brings votes and hence the power to make change.

Sue Bradford: Why we need a new left wing party at ESRA

I suggest that the time is ripe for building a new kind of left party in New Zealand. Many of us are aware of this but the task is not easy. As my doctoral research showed, we are conscious of the failures of the past, and often lack confidence in ourselves. But it is time to move past this, and start to actively conceive and build new forms of organisation, now. In this challenge, which I hope we will relish rather than fear, there are at least eight central things I believe we must take into account.

Morgan Godfery: The left was fucked. And then it wasn’t at The Spinoff

Yes, Ardern is left, and her first official meeting took place with the Pike River families, a powerful signal that she intends to lead very much as a “labour” leader. But the same was true of Andrew Little, a former union lawyer who spent his entire working life fighting for his class, and even David Cunliffe, the former Labour leader most comfortable denouncing “neoliberalism”. Great men and women don’t shape politics – social forces do. Ardern can only occupy the left if social movements create space for her to do so.

A quick response to Rob Salmond

This has all the makings of one of those terrible leftwing blog wars (strangely not featuring Martyn Bradbury for once) but I think I can sum up my points quickly and leave it there.

Rob Salmond got a little patronising in his response to people’s responses to his response to Monbiot.

austin powers cross eyed

He starts off saying, “Rule 1 in politics is “learn to count.” 33 < 50.”

Hey Rob. You know what’s less than 50 and less than 33? Labour’s last two general election results.

emma stone burn

Since 2008 – Labour’s most-deliberately-“centrist”, trying-to-win-National-votes-by-mimicking-National period – Labour’s vote has gone down. It’s not only not attracting new voters, it isn’t even keeping its “base”. And the disillusioned leftwing vote isn’t going to other parties. It’s staying at home.

Rob says, “anyone who looks at Labour’s successful 2005 platform and sees anything other than an appeal to the centre is dreaming.”

I’m going to let Giovanni Tiso handle that one:

On the noble history of centrism-as-political-strategy: let’s not confuse popularity with “moderate” policy-by-polling. It’s meaningless to say “centrism has always been a thing because you always need to get lots of votes.” By that logic, Syriza is centrist because a lot of Greeks voted for them.

It’s a mug’s game to redefine anything short of the National Front or Socialist Aotearoa as “centrist” given the right circumstances, and declare victory. It’s easy to talk about “being relevant to more people” or “perception is reality” or being “data-driven”.

But the theory doesn’t work in practice. You know what the majority of New Zealanders were against back in 2011? Asset sales. How did Labour try to appeal to them in 2011? Campaign against asset sales. Result?

independence day white house explosion
Finally, competence: it’s a core part of looking like a government-in-waiting and inspiring confidence. But competence doesn’t mean giving people the answers you think they want.

There are a lot of teachers in my family. In 2008 one of them commented: “I think I’ll vote for National. At least I know what to expect from them.”

breakfast club double take

A party cannot look competent when it’s unpredictable. And a party looks unpredictable when, instead of having well-advertised principles guiding its actions, it’s jumping all over the place trying to please everyone except its own supporters.

I would rather stand for something.

parks and rec mic drop

Blogging, forgetting, and legacy

Giovanni Tiso has some good serious thoughts on the efforts of one Dirty Politics-affiliated blogger to get her writing stricken from the national record:

The case of lawyer Cathy Odgers is even more interesting. Odgers deleted her first blog in 2005, before embarking on the very popular Cactus Kate. This too she deleted in 2013, long before its contents became relevant to stories uncovered by Nicky Hager and other investigative journalists. It was at this later time, however, that Cactus Kate went through a second, deeper deletion, as it now evidently became important to Odgers to remove all existing traces of it. This had the opposite effect to what she might have intended.

There has been a lot of thought-provoking debate about this – the right to be forgotten, how we define the “public interest” or “national good”, the pointlessness of trying to ever permanently delete something from the internet – and a lot of silly debate, largely encapsulated by the efforts of some commenters at The Standard to compare the National Library’s collation of Kiwi blogs to the GCSB’s mass surveillance of personal communication.

It’s super ironic that the same kinds of people who would’ve murmured darkly about leftwing plots and untrustworthiness when John Key’s blatant photo op with John Banks was accidentally recorded – and who say all kinds of nasty things about journalists publishing their edited emails in pursuit of speaking truth to power – suddenly get all precious about confidentiality and privacy when it’s one of their own being hoist by her own petard.

Personally, I’m quietly chuffed that the National Library has included my little blog in its web archive. I’m sure in ten or fifteen years’ time I’ll look back on it and feel a little rueful about some things I commit to screen, but on the other hand, one of the things we really have to get used to in the internet age is that there’s no hiding the fact people change throughout their lives. Even if your core ideals remain relatively fixed – I’m pretty sure no amount of time is going to make me a fangirl of short-term capitalism, for one thing – we’re always learning new things and finding different ways to express our ideas.

Change is good. I think we should embrace it more. It shouldn’t be a shameful thing to say “yep, I thought that was the right thing at the time and I was wrong” – god knows it would shut down any number of pointless political mudfights about who said what in 1985. (Of course, both sides would have to maintain the ceasefire or it’d be churlish. And hypocritical.)

I’m not entirely certain where I stand on the argument about blogs-as-national-records-versus-the-right-to-be-forgotten. But when someone is attempting to eradicate their past from the record – a past which possibly involves underhanded activity aimed at manipulating our political system – I’m a little leery.

On the other hand, who’s to say whether a particular site or post is relevant to that issue? You’re not going to find many people who don’t have a stake in it one way or another. But I reckon the National Library of New Zealand are probably the most qualified to make that decision, and I’ll be interested to see what they decide to do with the archives of Cactus Kate.

QOTD: Boganette on Thomas the Tank Engine

An epic rant from my good buddy Boganette on Thomas the colonialist tank engine and Sodor the capitalist nightmare:

Sodor is quite frankly a capitalist nightmare. Trains are sent to the scrapyard if they’re not Useful. And we all know what that means – it means they’re executed. They execute workers who don’t work hard enough! Anyone who isn’t Very Useful is goneburger. There are no unions in Sodor that’s for sure. And that’s not even the most fucked thing about Sodor either. Don’t get me started on how lacking the representation of women is on the show. The women trains are actually girl carriages. You don’t need to have a masters in gender studies to read between the lines on that one.

Read the whole thing, it’s beautiful (and makes me dread having kids and getting first-hand experience of the Watching One DVD Over and Over parental hell).

It pairs well with Giovanni Tiso’s 2009 post, Reverend Awdry’s Revenge:

The titular hero of the modern cartoon and toy empire, Thomas, turns out to be an insufferable character with an inflated sense of self and an overriding desire to grow up to become, in the words that he often parrots from his master, ‘a really useful engine’, and therein is encapsulated the bludgeoning moral of conformity and compliance of the whole thing.

I have a younger cousin who, from ages 2 through 7, demanded a “Thomas and Percy”-themed birthday celebration. They were terrifying all-blue-and-green-everything times.