Bland and boring have been words bandied about in the last few weeks with regard to the Labour Party leadership contest. I did it myself in September prior to the election in a post titled Labour Party – Bland, Cynical and Lacking Conviction
If Labour want to keep following National down this vacuous, cynical “realpolitik” route relying on a small group becoming just disenchanted enough to switch votes to National Lite; or for Key to retire or hit a rough enough patch that a new Labour leader looks relatively attractive, then that is a game being played for personal career reasons, for power, not out of any genuine belief in what is good for the country. Clark and Cullen excelled at this game. Their government was bland too, neoliberal mainstream, and their anger and sharp wit should not be mistaken for political conviction.
All of the contenders are bright, well educated people but they are products of a modern Labour Party that is hopelessly enmeshed in the status quo.
Helen Clark’s managerial style was little different to her National Party predecessors or to John Key’s as her successor. Slightly more intelligent, empathetic and humane to be sure, but a steady as she goes perpetuation of the policies started under Rogernomics. Little has shown no sign of being any different. It would not matter who had won the contest, the “orthodox” timidness would prevail.
Little, Parker, Robertson and Mahuta exemplify the ostrich like dissonance at the heart of centrist politics both here and the rest of the Anglo Saxon world. We as voters have been programmed to accept a diet of bland, white bread and to regard anything else with suspicion, even alarm. Scared away from alternatives worth exploring. Don’t be a leader, be a close follower!
There is an unspoken Labour/National consensus on the economy that defies logic post GFC, that believes the financial crisis to be merely a hiccup to be ameliorated with a few fiddles and tweaks. In the next few years that blinkered belief will be sucker punched by another financial crisis that will be far more troubling for New Zealand and Australia than the last. Andrew Little and the Labour Party need to work on a viable Plan B to implement when this happens but at the moment he and the party he now leads give no indication of considering anything but minor changes to the blindly accepted orthodoxy.
Chris Trotter summed this up well when examining the four contenders and reflecting on Cunliffe’s failure.
When the moment came to take control of New Zealand’s oldest political party and make it fit for purpose in the Twenty-First century, the man who’d painted himself in the brightest colours of rejuvenation and renewal, proved to be as clueless as the proverbial dog who caught the car.
Cunliffe, alone among his colleagues, had possessed the necessary combination of wit and ambition to understand that Neoliberalism has, in the aftermath of the Global Financial Crisis become a zombie ideology. What he did not possess, however, was the temperament (or, as Herald columnist, Fran O’Sullivan, might put it, the cojones) to usher either his party – or the wider electorate – to the logical conclusions of his own analysis. Truth to tell, when it came right down to it, Cunliffe just wasn’t up to describing, even to himself, exactly what a post-Neoliberal New Zealand would look like.
Where are the full employment policies; the regional development initiatives; the genuine attempts to reign in property inflation and the mortgage credit that facilitates it; the truly independent foreign policy; the sustainable energy and transport policies; and the long term vision of how they want the country to look beyond the next election. It is that which separates a political manager from a true political leader. Yet neither Little or the others seem to have any desire to be a Savage or even a Kirk or Whitlam. I think they are just so encased in the “establishment” bubble they can’t see beyond it. It is too daunting. Political Stockholm Syndrome.
There are many synonyms for bland. Unimaginative, uninspiring, insipid, lacklustre, stale, tired, spiritless, mediocre, prosaic, insipid, weak, watered-down….All of them apply to Labour and National. Key exemplifies these.
Yet this is not a personal character assessment of Little, or Key for that matter. These definitions apply to all the MP’s of both parties at the moment; to the dearth of viable, alternative policies; to the lack of courage and conviction; or even worse, the lack of imagination and curiosity about exploring more sustainable economic, social and environmental options. The Green Party too has been infected with centrism and lack of courage.
One day a leader will emerge and take their party and the country with them in a bold new direction. Unfortunately they may have to emerge from a crisis that rouses the populace from its slumber. That person does not appear to be in the current Parliament.