Labour Should Lose This Year’s Election

The word “should” is ambiguous. Or even polyguous. Here are a few:

1. If you set the kindling properly, the fire should light.
2. You should refrain from punching old ladies in the face.

The first one is a prediction, and the other is a moral imperative. So when I say, “Labour should lose the election,” while most people would be making a prediction, I’m actually issuing a moral imperative: do the right thing, Labour, and lose.

Yes, it’s pretty likely that Labour will lose this year’s election, though there is plenty of time yet for some absurd bullshit to come out. And that’s kind of what I’m talking about here. The absurd bullshit. Because at this point, what’s going to shift the average voter’s vote is either a competition of tax cuts or some stupid scandal where it turns out John Key’s boning Gerry Brownlee or something.

And really, neither of those things should have any impact on sensible voters at all. TV3 News authoritatively declared a few weeks ago that Labour would have to promise a $25/week tax cut in order to retain power after the next election. Seriously, this was national 6pm news. “Here is how much each person in New Zealand must be paid by the political party in order to get their votes.” As if, you know, that’s what democracy is all about – voting for whoever promises you the shiniest balloon and the sweetest lollipop.

And the stupid scandals are just stupid. There will be some this year. And they are stupid.

Throughout the past century, there has been a shift in attitudes towards democracy, from voters being seen as rational individuals who should be exposed to arguments about the best policies for the nation as a whole, to voters being seen as essentially consumers in a market economy of votes, driven by irrational desires rather than rational thought.

This shift has infected what used to pass for left-wing parties in Western countries. We saw it with Clinton and the Democrats, and then Blair and British Labour. Both parties were responding to tactics that had already been introduced by Reagan and Thatcher, appealing to the atomised society of selfish individuals who don’t see themselves as part of a community. The emphasis shifted from good policy to good marketing – echoing a shift already effected in the economy, from rational purchasers to subconscious desire-driven consumers.

In New Zealand, the political left is already basically non-existent. The nature of parliamentary politics in the market economy of votes has a feedback effect on the policies of “leftist” parties. Over time, there is an inevitable shift from true left and true right towards the “centre” – which is essentially a compromise between capitalism that accentuates the rewards for those at the top and capitalism that mitigates the effects on those at the bottom. “Left” or “right”, New Zealand political parties are capitalist, which makes them essentially right-wing in my book.

There was a conversation between Clinton and one of his advisers, when he started creating policy based on phone polling. “What’s the point of being elected if we don’t have any real policies?” asked the adviser.

Clinton replied, “What’s the point of having policies if we don’t get elected?”

At first glance, this sounds like a sensible practical view. In a representative democracy, politics must surely involve some compromise. The problem is, though, that the compromise is no longer a political or economic ideological compromise (“OK, we’ll raise taxes, but also offer incentives to start-up small businesses”), but instead are cynical vote-buying strategies akin to the marketing of retail products.

Labour’s on the defensive. They’re down in the polls thanks to skilful spin and misinformation from National surrounding the repeal of Section 59, the Electoral Finance Bill and tax cuts – misinformation that was picked up and carried by Kiwi media too excited by revenue to tell the (very) plain facts. It is simply the case that when things are going pretty well (well enough for Kiwis to have the education and wealth necessary to move their families overseas if they choose), people stop caring whence good living conditions come and start caring about who’s going to give them personally something they want in exchange for their vote.

Unless there is a radical shift in the attitude of the Kiwi populace (unlikely), the only way Labour will win the upcoming election is by focussing even less on good policy and even more on the kind of brand marketing National has spent the last few years perfecting. Even if they win the election, they will lose what remains of their integrity. And the effect on the voting populace will be one that shapes a nation of voters who care more about stupid shit than about rational policy.

So, Labour, boldly lose the next election. Concentrate on coming up with policies you think will work in the long run, campaign on information about those policies, don’t continue to stoop to National’s level of brand-marketing politics, and let National fuck things up for everyone. It’s the only way they’ll learn.

(more from the comments)

You supposed that Labour will lose the next election.

I said it certainly looks like Labour will lose the next election, though there’s time yet for that to change.

You also supposed that Labour will fight the election with cheap stunts rather than real policies.

I said that campaigning with good policies rather than brand marketing probably wouldn’t win it the election, and the chances are that Labour wants enough to win to prefer emulating National’s tactics to losing.

You decided that Labour ought to lose the election, so that the public will be taught a lesson about how silly they were to vote National.

That’s where I was unclear. What I meant was “it’s the only way they’ll learn to vote for good policy rather than be swayed by brand marketing”. The manner of learning would indeed probably be National fucking a bunch of things up.

I didn’t say that Labour should intentionally lose just to demonstrate how bad National is. I said that Labour should campaign on good policies even if that means losing the election.

If the current trends continue, elections will be more and more fought in terms of competing brand marketing rather than good policy, and in the long run that will be increasingly bad for New Zealand as a civic society. Labour could set a good example and try to push the trend back in the direction of policy, but to do so might result in bad things for New Zealand in the short term – a National-led government. But in the long term, I think we will suffer more if politics continue down this path.

Labour should campaign on policy, even if that means losing.

12 Comments Labour Should Lose This Year’s Election

  1. Dominic

    It’s been interesting to see the shift in sentiment regarding Labour in the past few years. Interesting because you get to see how facile the median voter’s decision is, and how much the media (and the mob) have to do with it.

    There’s been, for some time, that growing feeling in the minds of the swing voter that it’s “time for a change” – not for any rational reason, but just because “it’s time”.

    I went to pick up a TradeMe item the other day, and stumbled into two middle-aged men having a discussion. “She has to go” was the gist of it. There were smiles all round; they were confident in their prediction. But I gathered they had no real reasons to want a National government – just a touch of the-grass-is-greener and more than a little misogyny.

    I have a friend. She’d be 18. National supporter. And while we talk rationally about why, I’m secretly convinced the only reason she supports National is because she can’t remember them in government. Her liberal convictions (youth is great) are overridden by a sense that Labour are the conservative establishment – that they need to be moved out of the way. It’s almost as if National are a friendly underdog.

    You’re right: the only way to reset the growing irrational resentment is to see National into government, and hope like hell they screw it up sufficiently that they don’t get a second term.

    The way forward can’t be to scramble toward National’s position, chocking up votes. I, too, hope Labour let this election slide.

    In the meantime, I’m probably voting Green. Because, hilariously, I agree with their policies on pretty much everything but the environment (to which I’m apathetic more than anything). Labour, for me, lost it at the Copyright Amendment Bill.

    Reply
  2. Ryan Sproull

    Yeah, the “it’s time for a change, they’ve had a fair go of it” attitude is a sign of irrationality in voters. And so is the political amnesia.

    One problem with “teaching everyone a lesson” by showing them what a National government is actually like (the reality, rather than the buzzwords and brand imagery) is that the good or ill consequences of policy aren’t apparent for some time after its implementation.

    For example, regardless of who wins the election, we may see a decline in crime during the next decade. If so, it’s likely to be the result of education and social-welfare funding made by Labour during the formative years of tomorrow’s potential criminals. In a few years, we should see the drop in violent crime that is a consequence of the banning of leaded petrol. But the average voter’s understanding is almost magical – if such a decline in crime occurs, it will probably be attributed to whomever is in government.

    I didn’t mention in this post, but I should add: if Labour wants to boldly lose this election, they should follow it up by spending party energy and funds on critical-thinking and civic education. They had their chance to enhance civic society in New Zealand during their reign, and for whatever reason, they didn’t (perhaps it didn’t occur to them). The Electoral Finance Bill is a last-minute attempt to make up for that failure, and it places a band-aid over a gaping head wound. Disproportionate campaign funding by wealthy minorities is not the problem – it simply exploits the problem. You can’t solve consumerism by outlawing advertising.

    I believe that if the average New Zealander was better educated, they would vote more in their own interests and the interests of their community as a whole – ie., they would vote left. Perhaps, if that demand existed, some actual left-wing parties would exist in New Zealand (and I agree, the Greens are the most viable we have, though they’re not doing enough to fill the labour gap left by Labour when Labour left labour. Ahem.)

    Reply
  3. Psycho Milt

    Because, hilariously, I agree with their policies on pretty much everything but the environment…

    That was me, last election. Now they’ve pissed me off on the non-environmental stuff too, so I’m fucked. I guess I’ll vote Green if it looks like they may not make it back into parliament, but otherwise I’ll be seeking out suitable joke candidates.

    Perhaps, if that demand existed, some actual left-wing parties would exist in New Zealand…

    I’ve pondered this on occasion. The problem seems to lie in the desire of people like me for some actual left-wing party to exist, with the strict proviso that we musn’t have to raise ourselves up off our arses and do something to make it happen. I’m a staunch supporter of the principle that others should labour to construct a party I feel like voting for…

    Reply
  4. Ryan Sproull

    While my problem is that I believe that political parties inevitably end up reinforcing privilege and disadvantage.

    The Greens could be reformed, but I bet they don’t want to be reformed. And as you both say, they’re the left-most viable party, so to you guys, they’re already the least evil. In accordance with the market economy of votes, they don’t need to change. They’re still your favourite flavour, till you stop eating at all.

    Reply
  5. STC

    I think it is because Labour is principled that they should want to win the election this year.

    It is all very well and good for young, university educated people with no dependents (and this is not just a description of you, Ryan, but of some others I’m aware of with similar feelings towards Labour) to say “Oh, the Nats will be so bad that people will wake up to how bad they are”, but there are real people who will actually have to live through the effects of that, and suffice to say that young, university educated people with no dependents are not the people who are going to be worst off in that situation.

    Reply
  6. Ryan Sproull

    STC,

    Yeah, you’re right. It’s not a game, and people do suffer from bad policy. But if the choice for Labour is between good policy and getting elected, then is it still true that their principles demand they try to be re-elected for the good of the people? I realise that may be a false dilemma, of course.

    If I had children, would I be so cavalier about National being elected? Probably not. But people are going to get screwed either way, just slightly less by Labour, and if the current trends continue, everyone’s going to keep getting screwed for a long time.

    Reply
  7. Paul

    So Labour will screw people, as they did by making student loans interest-free and introducing a comprehensive support system for families. Bastards.

    Reply
  8. Ryan Sproull

    That would be the “slightly less” part. Keep in mind that by “getting screwed”, I’m talking about the economic system that distributes an inordinate proportion of wealth to the minority at the expense of the working majority. But I suspect if you’d asked Savage what he thought of making student loans interest-free, he would have asked, “What do you mean ‘loans’?”

    Michael Joseph, I mean. Not the hip-hop artist. Though you never know. Maybe the same response.

    And while it could be argued that Labour has been pushed to the right by the winds of the will of the people, it’s also true that what people desire (and what people believe is within the realm of possibility) is shaped by the prevailing political spectrum.

    As far as the established spectrum goes, the examples you give, Paul, are examples of what I think are good policy. My concern here is that good policy is not going to win the next election, and that the kind of things that will win the next election are the kinds of things that further dumb down the voters.

    I would rather Labour say, “These are the ways we support families. This is why interest-free loans are a good idea. Here are some of our other policies,” and lose… than for Labour to sink to National’s level in order to win.

    But, as STC says, a National win may mean the end of that comprehensive support for families and students. The cost of trying to champion a policy-based campaign rather than a marketing-based campaign may be too great for it to be a realistic or moral direction to take.

    Reply
  9. Paul

    To summarise your argument so far. You supposed that Labour will lose the next election. You also supposed that Labour will fight the election with cheap stunts rather than real policies. You decided that Labour ought to lose the election, so that the public will be taught a lesson about how silly they were to vote National.

    STC intervened to say that life under National would be unpleasant. You said that Labour screws the voters, although less than National.

    So, should Labour win the election or lose it?

    Reply
  10. Ryan Sproull

    Paul,

    Not quite my argument. I may not have been clear.

    You supposed that Labour will lose the next election.

    I said it certainly looks like Labour will lose the next election, though there’s time yet for that to change.

    You also supposed that Labour will fight the election with cheap stunts rather than real policies.

    I said that campaigning with good policies rather than brand marketing probably wouldn’t win it the election, and the chances are that Labour wants enough to win to prefer emulating National’s tactics to losing.

    You decided that Labour ought to lose the election, so that the public will be taught a lesson about how silly they were to vote National.

    That’s where I was unclear. What I meant was “it’s the only way they’ll learn to vote for good policy rather than be swayed by brand marketing”. The manner of learning would indeed probably be National fucking a bunch of things up.

    I didn’t say that Labour should intentionally lose just to demonstrate how bad National is. I said that Labour should campaign on good policies even if that means losing the election.

    If the current trends continue, elections will be more and more fought in terms of competing brand marketing rather than good policy, and in the long run that will be increasingly bad for New Zealand as a civic society. Labour could set a good example and try to push the trend back in the direction of policy, but to do so might result in bad things for New Zealand in the short term – a National-led government. But in the long term, I think we will suffer more if politics continue down this path.

    Labour should campaign on policy, even if that means losing.

    Reply
  11. ZenTiger

    Hi Ryan. I picked up the Hollow Men from the library on Saturday. I’ve already read most of it. I’ll let you know what I think when I get time (tad busy for me work-wise for the next few weeks).

    Reply

Leave a Reply