No Votes Behind the Left

The resignation of David Cunliffe as leader of the Labour Party yesterday means another full leadership contest will get under way in the coming weeks.

Resigning was apparently not Cunliffe’s preferred option for triggering such a fight. He wanted to force the Labour caucus to hold a vote of no-confidence in him — presumably to drive his enemies out into the open. Instead as has been well reported the caucus has not cooperated and has elected Chris Hipkins (a known Cunliffe critic), and Carmel Sepeloni as senior and junior whip respectively.

This indicates that the majority of caucus is not behind David Cunliffe, and the undisguised anger shown by David Shearer and David Parker is further proof of that. Labour is heading into its darkest and most painful period since the late 1980s. There is no avoiding a massive blood-letting, nor would it be desirable to avoid it. 

Opinions differ on who should go. If Cunliffe is re-elected he will swiftly purge the ABCs (Anyone But Cunliffe faction) which would spell the end for Trevor Mallard, Phil Goff, Annette King, and Clayton Cosgrove. The difficulty with those four is they are political survivors, Goff was first elected in 1981 and was a minister in the Lange/Palmer/Moore and Clark cabinets. Cosgrove has the most untenable position being a list MP, and he could be purged rather easily. Mallard, Goff, and King are long sitting electorate MPs who thus enjoy more job security. They’ve enjoyed it too long. Being an MP isn’t a job for life, and Labour desperately needs some new blood. They should be looking at who might be in a position to succeed them in 2017 (if not before) and grooming those candidates.

However, if Cunliffe wins back his crown it is not certain that the ABCs will cooperate in such fashion. Furthermore, I don’t believe that purging the party of David Cunliffe’s enemies will deliver an eventual Labour Government. There is no mass working class movement joined at the point of production that is big enough to be a serious force in politics. It died before most of my generation was born. The nostalgic remnants which characterize Labour under Cunliffe insisted on carting their baggage on the campaign trail. Dissent was disallowed. 

The dirty politics of the right has temporarily obscured the ruthless behaviour of the left. Offering an unorthodox view can lead to a torrent of abuse, or condescending dismissal of one’s point. I personally find the latter worse, which is why my foray as a student into VicLabour (the Victoria University branch of Young Labour) fizzled out after a few wretched meetings. I still get calls and emails from them, but often-times prefer the company of those on the right. A clash of opposites — the dialectical method — is what I seek.

I do not support David Cunliffe. I had argued that he could maintain his position in the face of defeat on September 20 if Labour got at least 30% of the party vote. It would be disingenuous to go back on that. But the Labour Party needs more than a leadership contest, it needs more than a debate over it’s future. Grant Robertson has announced that he will stand for the leadership. The media reported that he has promised to ‘stop the bleeding’. He shouldn’t try to plug a mortal wound. If he’s going to take the reigns the party as we know it has to die. He has the skills to build it anew, and ensure that it’s soul remains intact.

Having said that, there is merit in the statements by David Shearer that the leadership contest should be delayed until the Party has gone through a formal review of the general election. This would allow greater perspective to be gained with the passage of a little time. Blaming Kim Dotcom, or Nicky Hager, or the voters themselves for making the wrong choice is both petty and ridiculous. 

Take a leaf from Tony Blair?

 

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