Friday, 7 March 2008
Got any better ideas, Labour? Chris Trotter FROM THE LEFT DOWN at the pub last Friday night, I received a good old-fashioned bollocking for suggesting in this column that only a change of leadership could save the Labour-led Government. "Phil Goff's not the bloody answer," muttered a stern union official. And the left-wing university lecturer accused me of "doing National's job for them". "Got a better idea?" I replied. "If so, let's hear it. Because what the polls are telling me, in no uncertain terms, is that the electorate's stopped listening to Helen Clark. In the words of Mike Moore, they've taken the phone off the hook. "And I can't think of anything, apart from rolling her, that will persuade them to pick up the receiver. It's also the only political move dramatic enough to distract the news media from its slow-motion coronation of John Key." My critics stared sullenly into their beer, and we all found other things to talk about. And this, of course, is the Left's dilemma. When you demand, as Lenin did, "What is to be done?", the best you're likely to get by way of reply is a resentful silence. Actually, that's not quite true. There are a handful on the Left still willing to meet Lenin's blunt challenge. Unfortunately, their answers are – how can I put this politely? – just a little bit revolting. Socialist Worker's UNITYblog offers a great example. In the face of what these stalwart revolutionaries describe as the "Coke/ Pepsi" choice between Labour and National, the website's readers are challenged to come up with "some Vision Thing" of their own. To set the ball rolling, they're invited to debate the following five policy ideas: (1) Free public transport throughout New Zealand. Massive investment in rail and free buses - an emergency "system change, not climate change" programme. (2) Free tertiary education for all. Cancel all student debts immediately. (3) A Mickey Joe Savage-style emergency housing programme. Rent control, New York-style. (4) A minimum wage of $20 an hour. Huge tax cuts for the working poor, funded by taxing the rich. A massive extension of union rights and power. (5) Free broadband for all – jack the New Zealand network up to Korean standards. Apparently, this eye-wateringly expensive policy cocktail can be paid for by "taxing the rich (till they bleed!)". You can almost hear the hoots and jeers directed at yet another shuffling procession of bruised and bleeding "rich" people, as all those free buses and trains rattle past them, carrying placard waving hordes of revolutionary unionists to yet another system change rally. No doubt the recipients of this derision, the battered remnants of New Zealand's once all powerful capitalist class, are trudging off to perform forced labour on the bleak building sites of the emergency housing programme. It would have to be forced labour because, after "hugely" cutting the taxes of the poor, writing off student debt, laying on all those free buses and trains and supplying Korean-speed broadband, paying these formerly "rich" emergency housing workers the new minimum wage of $20 an hour would be out of the question. The best abbreviation of the revolutionary socialist project I ever heard came from the pen of a Kiwi screen-writer, whose name I have since, unfortunately, forgotten. "It's bloody simple," he had one of his characters, an old communist, say, "you nationalise everything and shoot the buggers who complain." And that's the problem, isn't it? Democracy is simply not designed to facilitate the impoverishment and oppression of whole classes of the population – only the totalitarianism associated with 20th-century fascism and communism can accomplish that. It astounds and depresses me that the boys and girls at Socialist Worker cannot see (or, even worse, pretend they cannot see) that any serious attempt to implement even one of their five policy ideas would involve the complete derangement of our economic and political relationships – and not in a good way. Like the restored Bourbon dynasty, taking up where they'd been forced to leave off by Robespierre and Napoleon, the revolutionary Left has "learned nothing and forgotten nothing". Their understanding of economics has not progressed beyond the legend of Robin Hood and his Merry Men. And their conception of politics confers legitimacy not upon those who win the most ballots, but upon those who fire the most bullets. Phil Goffs a bloody sight better answer than bloody revolution.