Labour MP Clare Curran’s recent rants and attacks on the internet will seem to many both puzzling and peculiar. She has told the Green Party to get out of Labour’s territory, has taken a leaf out of Winston Peter’s book in railing against a fanciful threat from China, and has lashed out at perceived critics on the left and right. However, her desperate and ill-conceived remarks need to be contexualised. In this guest post, John Moore argues that Curran is a minor MP of a party that is desperate but unable to make political headway and is heading towards an historic electoral defeat. Curran therefore is merely a personification of a party in crisis, a party that is devoid of ideas or vision. [read more below]
On Labour’s Red Alert blog site, Curran lashes out at left-wing critics implying that they are out of touch with the realities of poverty, ‘Dunedin is just one place where there is rampant poverty and need. But it’s where I live and these are the people I represent.’
Using a classic political technique of attempting to silence critics by saying they need ‘to be in touch with the people’ Curran lets loose:
Go and knock on some bloody doors will you and stop pontificating. Get down to South Dunedin and see what it's really like. Foodbanks are empty. People are desperate. Yes I am angry and it shows.
Of course the problem facing Curran and her party is that, despite continuing to highlight the reality of poverty and growing unemployment in New Zealand, Labour is failing to make any traction with voters who see the party as lacking substance. It is telling that Curran’s recent posts do not reference any policy or grand ideas that could actually act to alleviate the suffering of her constituents and Labour’s supposed base. Curran and Labour have effectively dug themselves into a corner with their ostensible shift to the left and a newfound love for the working class, but with a continued lack of real solutions to tackle genuine issues of poverty and hardship.
A vacant party
Is it little wonder the general electorate is so cynical and dismissive of Labour? The party’s attempts to champion itself as the party of the underprivileged, rings as hollow and disingenuous. Phil Goff’s recent decrying of privilege and his show of sympathy for struggling workers at a recent CTU conference may have impressed its union listeners, who fell into line and ‘spontaneously’ applauded the opposition leader 5 times. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/employment/news/article.cfm?c_id=11&objectid=10746432 However, Labour’s lack of concrete policy and its continued positioning in the centre political ground means the party’s ‘return to it roots’ will have little impact on its abysmal poll results. Added to this is the fact that the leadership of Labour is made up mainly of its old guard, who the electorate chose to chuck out at the last election.
I have followed Curran’s, and other Labour MP’s, online attempts to gain traction amongst that section of the electorate suffering under the present National government. Wanting to draw out some clarification from our Labour representatives, I’ve even had the audacity to ask some tricky questions. In regard to Labour’s stated opposition to asset sales I asked MPs Clare Curran, Grant Robertson and former Labour president Andrew Little:
In regards to the LP's 'Stop Asset Sales' campaign, can you guarantee that a future Labour government will not sell off, either partly or completely, any state asset? And would you resign from the Labour Party if a LP government you were part of did sell off any state asset, either partly or completely?
After three attempts to get an answer, Curran eventually stated ‘Labour will stop the sale of state owned enterprises’ but made it clear she would not resign if Labour reneged on this policy:
And I will resign from parliament when the time is right. Which wont be for some time I hope.
Andrew Little offered no guarantees that Labour would follow through with its policy on state assets:
I can't make any guarantee about any party or organisation I belong to. That's the nature of a collective organisation. I've stated my personal conviction and I can guarantee I will stick with it.
He added that he wouldn’t resign if Labour broke their promise on opposition to asset sales, ‘No, I wouldn't. I wouldn't accept defeat so easily.’
Grant Robertson did offer some form of guarantee, although interestingly he stated that Labour’s policy did not amount to a blanket opposition to sale of all state assets and property:
What I can guarantee is that, like the 5th Labour government, the 6th Labour government will not sell off our community owned assets. As you know, we in fact added to our core infrastructure assets (major stake in Air NZ and Kiwirail being the main examples). I am not going to promise that, for example, every single farm that Landcorp owns will stay in state ownership because those things may happen within the SOEs and crown entities from time to time.
Clare Curran’s facile politics were recently highlighted for me when she refused to comment on several questions I asked of her. After Curran had posted on her facebook site ‘Some govts actually set out to reduce unemployment. This one does...well...benefit card. This is good.’, I asked ‘What are the Labour's specific plans and policies to reduce unemployment.’ and ‘Will Labour increase benefit levels beyond a subsistence level?’.
No reply. When I previously asked Curran, ‘As a member of the Labour movement, what do you propose needs to be done to secure jobs at Hillside Workshops?’, I again received no reply.
Curran’s recent blog posts seem to indicate that her, and Labour’s, only solution to redundancies is to bash the ‘great evil’ China. In another thread, after Curran had posted on her facebook site ‘What's on your mind?’ I asked, ‘Why don't the Labour Party take up the very mild left-wing policies of the Mana Party?’
Clare’s response was to delete her post and so avoid any comment on Labour’s new left-wing foes.
Clare Curran and her fellow Labour MPs may well argue that they have no obligation to answer question from pesky bloggers. However, her and other Labour MPs’ avoidance of tricky questions does act to reinforce an image of both arrogance and shallowness. Interestingly Curran’s strange response to my question on the Mana Party, by deleting her post, indicates a likely aversion by Labour to discussing any matters related to the new ‘Maori’ party’s left-wing policies.
A threat from the left
Indeed, Labour’s faux-leftism is highlighted by the emergence of the Mana Party. The new party certainly has its problems and contradictions, but it has been able to draw up a set of policies that do attempt to address concerns around growing poverty and inequality in New Zealand. This must be of real concern to the Labour Party, who will be aware that their claim to be the natural home of unions, the underprivileged and workers in general, is under threat. Mana may not yet be registering very highly in the polls, but it has attracted to its ranks a group of sophisticated and dedicated left-wing political activists, including Unite Union leader and former Alliance president Matt McCarten and well-known activist John Minto. We can expect Labour will continue to avoid any discussion around Mana policies. However they run a real risk of alienating more of their desired electoral base by showing such arrogance and dismissiveness to this genuine left-wing party.
Nothing to say
Curran’s recent rants against Labour’s critics point to a deep crisis within the Labour Party. Whereas Labour is making an apparent shift to the left, this shift is not backed up by any genuine left-wing policies. So for MPs like Curran, they are in a rut in that they wish to highlight their concerns for the underprivileged and struggling ‘working families’ but at the same time have nothing meaningful to offer ‘their’ constituency. Clearly Curran’s rants come out of frustration from being in a party lacking substance and so leading to her having nothing meaningful to say.