Chris Trotter's No Right Turn is approvingly described in the latest University of Otago's Critic magazine as 'a fervent, thorough, and idiosyncratic account' of NZ history. Not so much a review, as a springboard for dealing with the state of the NZ left and the union movement, Writing left-handed by Matthew Littlewood interviews leftists Trotter, Brian Roper and Matt McCarten about past and present politics. [Read more below]
One of the more interesting discussions of the book so far, Writing left-handed draws attention to the influence of prior NZ histories by Bill Sutch and Tony Simpson on Trotter. Trotter wrote No Left Turn apparently because it'd be a long time since such leftist histories had written a purely political history of New Zealand. Yet another reason, according to Trotter, 'was to remind people that there was a form of New Zealand socialism, which was democratic, peaceful, and based very much on participation'. Hence the focus of the book seems to be on subsequent Labour governments and their battles for reformist change against The Establishment. This means that Trotter in both No Left Turn and this interview-article is a stalwart supporter of the current Labour administration. Trotter apologises for the conservatism of the Clark Government: 'This is Clark’s incrementalism. We’re in a period of ‘deep capitalism,’ so there’s only so far you can go. Many people decry it, but it’s hard to see what kind of strategy you could employ without generating the massive resistance from those who command a laissez-faire economy.'
Matt McCarten sees things a bit differently in the article, commenting that 'Labour is not a workers’ party these days' and it only gives out progressive concessions when it's been forced to. He also differs to Trotter on MMP, saying 'MMP has stopped the excesses, so it’s more about consensual politics. Which has its advantages, but it moves things towards a status quo – the free-market order remains'.
In the extended discussion on the state of the unions, McCarten is critical of the movement's closeness to the Labour Party: 'The trade unions have sided with Labour over the last nine years, but their membership hasn’t increased. That in itself tells me a lot'. Littlewood notes that although the movement 'is currently a mere shadow of its former self, there has been a minor resurgence in union activity recently', and discussion ensues. In particular, McCarten talks about the problem of 'partnerships' in the union movement - which has meant that unions are less likely to fight for their members.
The best quote in the article, however, is from Trotter: 'The system we live in is not geared for critical thinking. So what you have to do is to write better than anyone else…. You need to be sceptical of not just of your ideological opponents, but also your ideological friends.'