How do the Left lose?
They make it look easy!
The historical struggles for a universal and equal franchise were won by working-class Chartists and by Suffragists in the nineteenth century. The fight for social security was going well in New Zealand by 1938, thanks to freely elected socialist and Ratana MPs. Then there was an even bigger fight against fascism, in part to defend people’s right to freely vote for their representatives. In the 1990s, MMP made individuals’ votes count, by the proportions of party votes, and this change supported the diversification of parliament. MMP means ‘one person, two votes’, but let’s not split hairs. Proportional representation allows for each vote to have roughly equal weight in the system, regardless of who or where you are.
Hence, upholding the principle ‘one person, one vote’ is hardly a ‘dog-whistle’ for racism, despite the recent accusation.
That divisive attack from the left against right-wing parties weaponised the universal franchise, forgetting how it was especially the left who had fought so hard for it. The franchise was a tool for building a more egalitarian and secure society. It stood against the birth-right of a landed minority, in order to reduce discrimination and inequality.
As with the defence of free speech, however, the baton of civil rights has now passed from left to right. Why have the left given their hard-won prizes away to their opponents to own and defend? It’s like giving away one’s savings to the employer who paid the minimum wage.
For the social movements of the 1970s and 80s, the principal aim was emancipation – from oppression and poverty – and the prominent gesture was the raised fist. There was anger in the air, but also togetherness and some hope for a better future.
In left social movements today, the principal aim seems to be pre-emptive accusation – against someone supposedly offending someone else – and hence the prominent gesture is the pointed finger. The pervasive affect, then, is fear – the fear of being accused and cancelled. To avoid being cancelled, one accuses others first.
If this is the best that the political left now hopes for, it may be because they’ve lost hope for collective action and a better future.
Left political aspirations have apparently been substantially defeated, aside from some human rights gains – balanced by losses especially in industrial relations law. While inequality rises and the climate crisis worsens, those who feel defeated now turn on one another and accuse one another of relatively minor deviations from doctrine or decorum.
“You’re a crybaby.” “No, you’re a bully.”
Those who feel defeated can always tell the media that they “haven’t been heard”, thus making sure that everyone can hear their complaints. And it’s the members of their own team who are the easiest targets for accusations of bullying.
The message from the left to the left is that you shouldn’t speak in favour of everyone having a vote of equal value, as that’s being racist. So forget about equality of political rights.
In-fighting of this kind, including incidents noted in last week’s post, is how the left defeats itself.
All that the right-wing parties (now including New Zealand First) need to do, in order to win, is to warn those who are most likely to vote (middle-class folk over 45) that the three left-wing parties would form a coalition that would, if they weren’t so divisive, take a pathway that’s too radical for the majority of the people.
Stealing a phrase from the British Tories, Luxon warned Kiwis about a ‘coalition of chaos’.
National says they won’t work with Te Pāti Māori after the election, regarding TPM as a creature of that left-wing chaos. Mr Luxon killed off any pretensions TPM had of being kingmaker, thus making them captive to a Labour/Green coalition – or, if they prefer, an independent voice on the cross-benches, skirmishing with the next government, issue by issue.
Being ruled out by National could, however, boost election results for TPM, as it removes an uncertainty in voters’ minds as to whether TPM might support National in office again.
Meanwhile, all that the left (as a whole) need to do in order to lose this election is to carry on in-fighting.
What, then, might a pathway towards winning look like?
Left MPs need to recall their history, and remember that they were elected (and get paid) to work for the people – and the planet. Then they could apply at least a modicum of self-discipline, and stop the finger-pointing and door-slamming.
An election, at which the people will pass judgement on them, is only five months away.