In the history of the NewLabour Pary (NLP) – which this series of blog posts is covering - the question of whether the NLP would simply constitute just ‘another Labour Party’ was clearly intertwined with the struggle inside the party over its adoption of a particular ideology. The NLP was being pulled in two directions. On one side were those who wanted to re-create the NLP in the image of the old Labour Party, with its parliamentary bias, and generally Keynesianist economic approach. On the other were those in the radical left and social liberals who wanted a party concerned with bringing about more fundamental social change, or even some form of ‘socialism’. [Read more below]
Socialism vs labourism
Even some of those who came out of the old Labour Party wanted the party to be more leftwing and socialist orientated than the pre-1984 Labour Party had been. For example, Matt McCarten argued at one point that, ‘The first six months in the life of the New Labour Party have shown, if nothing else, that we must be more than Labour revisited’ (McCarten, 1989: p.2). Initially, there was substantial debate and interest in issues of socialism within the NLP, however by 1991 this had ceased. While the party constitution asserted the desire to build a ‘sustainable socialist society’, the word socialism was rarely mentioned outside this document. According to Matt McCarten, interviewed on this topic at this time: ‘Socialism isn’t a driving force in the party, that would be true’ (quoted in CPNZ, 1991a: p.11).
As we have seen in previous blog posts, this had much to do with the elimination of much of the radical left from the party. However, even after the dominant forces within the NLP had largely managed to marginalise socialist and radical voices within the organisation the party leadership was still unsure about what the NLP was going to stand for. Many policy conflicts were still unresolved — such as those between the socially-liberal and the socially-conservative; and between the environmentalists and the Keynesians.
According to Chris Trotter: ‘Anderton, never strong on ideology, found it difficult to define the NLP’s vision’ (Trotter, 1992d: p.24). It was also made difficult due to the diverse interests inside the NLP, as any strong definition would have undone fragile processes of working together by disparate groups. After all, if you want to be a big party, it is probably helpful to avoid defining the organisation’s vision too clearly.
Mainstream vs social liberalism
While Anderton was determined that the NLP’s ideology was not going to be in any way revolutionary, he was also concerned that it was not going to reflect a party of social liberals. Although not adverse to most social liberal ideas, he wanted the party to concentrate primarily on economic issues.
Anderton had little time for social liberals — he had already been burnt by his experience with them in his time in the Labour Party. While president of the Labour Party, he had played a crucial role in bringing into the party members of the new social movements, and helping get many of them selected as Labour candidates in the 1984 general election. However many of these social liberal MPs and party workers had no interest in, and very little understanding of, issues of economics. Therefore, according to Trotter:
To Anderton’s horror, the social liberals turned out to be economically conservatives. One by one they fell into line behind Rogernomics. By 1987 Anderton had been abandoned by nearly all of his former proteges. This experience soured Anderton on the middle class, he felt uneasy in their presence, unsure of their ultimate ambitions (Trotter, 1992d: pp.20, 21).
It was [Erin] Horsley who first promoted the concept of a ‘red-green alliance’ to keep the middle class environmentalists on board. Anderton was having none of it. He was... already highly suspicious of the social liberals. Were the NLP to allow itself to be taken over by the swandri-and-sandal-wearing brigade, Anderton was fairly sure he would lose his workers, his superannuants and his men of power (Trotter, 1992d: p.23).
However many of the members of the new social movements had already become involved in the NLP — making up the ‘social liberals’ section of the party, and had already been partially successful in shifting the ideological nature of the party away from a simple labourite stance.
As Anderton was to later realise, incorporating such policy into a modern political party could actually be electorally valuable in New Zealand’s post-industrial social base. In terms of a changing value structure, the development of a new electoral cleavage has been suggested. According to Ronald Inglehart, a ‘postmaterial’ model is now central to western value structures. This theory asserts that the growth in affluence has had a transforming effect on political behaviour in many advanced industrial democracies thereby bringing about the transition from class-based to values-based alignments. In contrast to the classical materialist issues like ‘full employment, industrialisation and economic growth, social-welfare protection, and strong defence alliances’, it has been suggested that parties must champion a new set of postmaterial ‘ideas centred on promoting equality, aesthetic values, and self-realization’ (Wilson, 1994: p.267).
A party of ideas?
Although Jim Anderton was not initially in tune with this development and its consequences for the NLP, others in the labourite group and even in the radical left, like Bruce Jesson, were. Like others on the left of the party, Jesson was concerned that the NLP needed to forge its own distinctive ideology. He argued that the NLP was still too much in the image of the old Labour Party, and that consequently the party was having difficulties creating a constituency of its own. He argued that,
What we need is a series of policies that will mark us out as quite different to old Labour, and that will give some force to the ‘New’ in New Labour....[For example, the] logical position for a radical reforming party should be to favour an independent and democratic republic (Jesson, 1989b: p.11).
Most importantly, it was felt that there was a need for the NLP to be ideological rather than simply electoral. Many felt that the problem inside the old Labour Party had been that the organisation had ceased to be concerned with ideology and intellectual debate — in particular economic ideology and debate. It was believed that this ideological vacuum had encouraged the party to be taken over by neoliberal market ideology and those that pushed it. People like Jesson, therefore argued for broad internal debate on ideological questions which would not be strictly limited to policy development. Without such debate, he argued, ‘We could end up with a movement of politically fickle people with as little sense of principle as the Labour Party’ (Jesson, 1991b: p.1).
A materialist and postmaterialist hybrid
In the end, the ideology of the NLP was a mixed affair — reflecting the hybrid nature of the party membership’s diffuse beliefs and politics. However, central to this ideology was a particular economic framework, which reflected the fact that the NLP was an economic-focused party born out of a rejection of a particular rival economic ideology.
This economic framework was distinctively defensive, rather than attacking. It represented a defence of the achievements of the first three Labour governments. An NLP government would attempt to roll back the economic reforms of the Fourth Labour Government, and therefore reintroduce a comprehensive ‘wage-earners welfare state’. This involved a high taxation policy and universalist welfare measures. However, this essentially ‘statist’ ideology was mixed with a somewhat contradictory emphasis on ‘community’ control of many non-economic affairs.
These traditional social democratic politics were blended with some postmaterialist values — due primarily to the existence of the social liberal grouping. For example, the NLP’s strong environmental identification was recreated as a form of ‘eco-socialism’. The radical left were also influential in influencing the more internationalist ideology present in the party’s foreign policy. The diverse nature of the NLP origins had served to determine that rather than the party being simply another labour party, a social movement, or a revolutionary party, it was instead a new kind of hybrid — albeit one heavily dominated by the ideologies of social democracy.
Next blog post: Party structure and organisation