What a thoroughly abhorrent swamp the parliamentary left presently is. Nothing, it would seem, is safe from opportunistic reaction (though to be fair I never really doubted this to be the case). Over the past few weeks a certain level of revulsion and despondency has gripped some fellow-travelers on the left, which I doubt I could do justice, but that has begun to admirably re-solidify as newly renewed determination. At any rate I thought I’d clarify my thoughts on the matter, if only to exorcise my frustrations.
To an extent, the wretched options available this cycle shouldn’t be terribly surprising. The most recent causes for frustrated misery on the left are really a continuation of a long downward spiral, for which the current period began around two years ago. It’s not exactly a new concept that angery racist grampa and his What If Muldoon But Worse? party are little better than acceptable parochial nationalism with a charismatic figurehead. That many within the Labour Party ranks not only consider but relish a possible coalition with NZ First should itself raise warning signs for any who consider themselves principled socialists of any stripe. But did anyone really take that as an unexpected turn? Phil Twyford’s ‘Chinese last name’ declaration has gone for the most part unchallenged as an implicit assumption since it was made in mid-2015. Indeed, if anything he’s been rewarded for it with the role of campaign chair granted towards the end of last year. And it isn’t as if the claim hasn’t been thoroughly broken down (in this article by Keith Ng), revealing it for the crock of shit it is. Labour even made international news with the well-earned accusations of racism levied at it. For what it’s worth, the most egregious sections of their official policy on the matter are its pledge to cut immigration by up to 30,000 people annually and the fixation of housing policy on foreign speculators. Indeed while it would seem locally based speculators are faced with a few tax changes, foreign ones get the special treatment of being banned outright.
National has thus far made two attempts at outflanking Labour on its own turf, with the overall rather minimal but symbolic budget this year and new immigration restrictions late last year. Labour’s response has been to get progressively worse, reaching the new low of blaming high suicide rates and unemployment on foreigners on Facebook (later edited to only blame them for unemployment). The extent to which one could be shocked by all this with a campaign that kicked off to the boy who cried “Yellow Menace!” is in the air. The latest saga of the party seemingly bringing oversees interns to work on the campaign under false pretenses highlights the hollow hypocrisy of the whole ordeal. As others have pointed out elsewhere, Labour have proven themselves worse than NZ First this time around given the insincerity of their racism. They neither have the spine to reject the Sinophobia ingrained into New Zealand society, nor the earnest belief to win over those committed to xenophobic nationalism. They take the worst of both worlds, coming across as little more than pathetic opportunists. If the polls of the last few weeks are anything to go by, their current attempt to play at a kind of Fortress NZ Lite without the earnest economic nationalism of NZ First has simply deepened their quagmire.
Nor is it the case that the Greens are a clean alternative in this. Co-leader James Shaw committed the party last year to cutting immigration to 1% of overall population growth, something which as far as can be told remains the party policy. As much as Labour’s turn to racist faux-populism can be situated in the long history of hardline anti-immigrant sentiment in the New Zealand labour movement, this too has its own situation. Here I’ll in part give personal anecdote. I attended a party function at the start of the year on campus, just a Q&A with some party functionaries and James Shaw but one with free pizza. While most of the event was standard fare, and my own questions on immigration policy never came up, one of the local party officials took the stage at the end of the event to give a near 10-minute long rant about population levels and carrying capacity. This form of neo-Malthusian population politics has been a powerful tendency in the international ecological movement since the early years, embodied in the popularity of books like The Population Bomb, The Limits of Growth, and Living Within Limits. This was inherent to the original Values Party, as clearly outlined in its 1975 manifesto Beyond Tomorrow. Much of the ideological underpinnings survive into the Greens today, with the justification of the present 1% policy on the issue of sustainability. A fairly thorough analysis of it, and the hysterical cheerleading by (who else?) Bomber, was published last year by Tim Leadbeater. It was subsequently republished by the ISO and Fightback (recently Tim’s pegged himself to the TERF flag, which sucks because it’s a shit hill to die on and he’s seemingly abandoned his excellent war blog to do so). The Greens, then, have also cut themselves out this election in topping off their rightward economic turn over the past decade with dabbling in its own anti-immigrant policy.
In what might be the most absurd proposal thus far, Gareth Morgans expensive satire party have a policy which calls for opening the borders to those escaping right-wing populism in the US and Europe while cracking down on low-skilled foreigners. This is within the same policy on their website. Meanwhile, Hone finally broke MANA back into the media spotlight on his campaign to retake Te Tai Tokerau by declaring his support for the death penalty for meth dealers, importers, and manufacturers. Specifically, the Chinese ones. Upon questioning on whether specifically dealing extraordinarily harsh penalties on Chinese dealers, he responded in reiterating that the structural inequalities faced by Māori are the real expression of racism in New Zealand. That both these things are entirely true is left, seemingly, out of the question. This argument is made in the context of a troubling recent trend on the left to use structural poverty as justification for often Sinophobic immigration policy. Although the application of arguments around Asian immigration somehow uniquely harming Māori is a newer phenomena on the left, it certainly isn’t new in New Zealand as a whole. It, too, has something of a precedent; going back to hysterical paranoia in early 20th century Pukekohe around the ‘threat’ Chinese men posed to Māori women (something analysed in this excellent NZ Journal of History essay).
Frustration exorcised, or at least written out of my system, it would seem there is a determination to encourage despondent lethargy among the Kiwi left. Or at least those still not besotted with shallow hand-wringing around immigrants to cover an utter lack of even a moderate, but principled, social democratic platform. Oddly enough, given I often disagree almost entirely with his media hot-takes, my old lecturer Bryce Edwards has been rather salient on this point recently. His criticism of the NZ Labour Party in the wake of the UK election targeted the inability of the party to break from the same disengaged centrism it has ridden for essentially two decades now. Further his recent appearance on The Project after a fluff segment about a ‘youthquake’ thoroughly dismissed the notion, and placing the blame at the feet of the major political parties. While he danced around the point in blaming things like inauthenticity and the general banality of New Zealand politics, this was his focusing on politics in the negative (what Labour hasn’t done or won’t do) rather than positive (what they could do). One would presume that given recent circumstances, what they could do is present an actual coherent social democratic platform. The kind one might expect from a party of labour (the hint as to their role as a party of labour is in the name). In the words of another recently, Labour want what the Corbyn campaign achieved without wanting to do a single damned thing to deserve it. The entire parliamentary left is guilty of this, in the end. The question now is who will drown in the shallow cesspit, and who might have the sense get up and leave while they can.