New Zealand is ripe for an alternative: a new Left party

Contrary to the views of Garth George and Chris Trotter, the time is coming for a different kind of politics, Victor Billot argues.

You can usually tell how worthwhile an idea is by those who oppose it.

Thus when Garth George and Chris Trotter both publicly denounce the concept of a genuine left party emerging in New Zealand (ODT, 4.2.11), it should encourage those of us in favour of the concept.

If people are spending so much time and energy attacking something, they must feel threatened by it.

Mr George's opposition is par for the course.

He is the print equivalent of the talkback hosts who take a dramatic position to keep up the ratings.

One week Mr George rails against the moral degeneracy of modern New Zealand, and the next he heaps praise on the National Party, whose policies have created the conditions in which moral degeneracy flourishes.

The reality is unemployment, casualisation, the 24-hour society where family life and community is shoved aside for private profit, and the widening gulf between the wealthy and the dispossessed.

These conditions are all acting as an incubator for the violence and hard edge of modern-day New Zealand, courtesy of the respectable National Party.

Mr George's breathless hype about John Key's "business background" is the common cap-doffing attitude from those who believe the accumulation of personal wealth, by whatever means, gives an individual some special quality.

In the Prime Minister's case, it is not even accurate.

John Key emerged from a strata of global finance-industry parasites.

The self-interest and incompetence of his tribe led directly to the world financial crisis.

After that debacle, the mighty warriors of the free market were bailed out by the taxes of the long-suffering working class.

Mr George's basic inability to link cause and effect is an example of the most glaring deficiency in political discussion in New Zealand today.

So much for the objections of the Right.

Chris Trotter, on the other hand, goes for a patronising approach, rather than a serious analysis.

His column entitled "From the Left" should be renamed "From the middle of the road", in order to conform with advertising standards guidelines.

Mr Trotter throws around the "far left" label which seems to have gained currency in the media as a way of discrediting any emerging movement.

The "far left" tag conjures up images of wild-eyed fanatics bent on bringing down Western civilisation.

Western civilisation is doing a perfectly good job of bringing itself down.

It is obvious we are on the edge of a precipice, lurching towards a broken society where technology is advancing but relations between people are devolving towards a dog-eat-dog, survival-of-the-most-vicious arrangement.

Unemployment is zooming up again, towards 7%.

Among certain groups, such as the young, it is much higher.

Once this would have rightly been seen as a national disaster.

Now it is not even seen worthy of comment.

It's not clear how having tens of thousands of people trapped in unproductive misery fits in with all the "aspirational" National Party propaganda.

The so-called opposition Labour Party is not a party of the left.

It is a centrist party of capitalism led by an architect of the right wing Rogernomics era, Phil Goff, who is an advocate of free trade.

Does anyone seriously think Labour would deal with unemployment any differently from National? They might be a little more embarrassed by it.

They will tinker where fundamental change is required.

The Greens are a liberal environmentalist party who can't even bring themselves to oppose GST.

Mr Trotter describes my own party, the Alliance, as part of the "far left", which is interesting, because of course the Alliance is not far left, by any stretch of the imagination.

Most of its policies, as Mr Trotter well knows, are required to create the type of society he once claimed to support.

Consider the legacy National and Labour have left us in housing, with the unprecedented surge in house prices in the last decade.

They have allowed a situation to unfold where many people, especially the young, are now denied the ownership of a family home, and the personal and economic security this brings.

Many others are locked into a lifetime of mortgage debt to Australian banks, and capital that could have been invested in productive industry has been soaked up into highly expensive but often crummy houses.

The beneficiaries of this situation walk away with their untaxed capital gains, while young families are hit with rises in GST on basic living costs.

There is ample room for an alternative strategy here.

A managed and regulated economy, with a commitment to full employment and higher wages, public ownership of key assets, free and high quality public health and education, and a progressive tax system, are all policies that make sense to me.

In much of the developed world, for example Europe and Scandinavia, these policies are represented by sizable left parties in elected office and in wider society.

These policies find support with large numbers of New Zealanders.

Many are reluctant to vote for them because they have been petrified into thinking they may "waste" their vote on a smaller party.

Instead, they waste their vote on a bigger party they don't agree with.

People change their minds all the time.

New parties emerge, old parties die.

Pretending to be able to read the tea leaves on what things will look like down the track is a mug's game.

Support can evaporate overnight, or appear in unexpected places.

Mr Trotter insinuates New Zealand politics has re-entered a frozen time warp of conservative dominance.

I contend National's present popularity may be a short-term phenomenon.

We live in a time of economic and political instability.

The very fact there is widespread discussion of a New Left Party indicates there is a level of interest.

Victor Billot was a founding member of the New Labour Party in 1989 and stood for the Alliance Party in Dunedin North in 2005 and 2008.


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