Gordon Campbell on Labour’s latest love letter to the centre-right

Yesterday, Labour leader Andrew Little chose to appoint Winston Peters – and not Greens’ leader James Shaw – to Parliament’s committee on the security and intelligence services, as replacement for Labour’s David Shearer. Little justified the decision on these grounds:

[Peters has] had ample experience of briefings from the intelligence and security committees.” said Mr Little. “He’ll now what their work is, how they operate. There’s only a few months left of this Parliament this committee can meet and I just judged that it was best to have that level of experience straight away,” Mr Little said.

Not surprisingly, Peters agreed with the proposition that his vast experience would be useful to the nation. PM Bill English also agreed that Peters was preferable to the Greens. Even James Shaw gamely tried to argue that being passed over for Peters when it came to the job of ensuring parliamentary oversight of the security and intelligence services, was actually a very good thing:

Mr Shaw said he was not worried about Labour backing New Zealand First, therefore excluding the Greens. “I think it’s a good thing, I mean I think it demonstrates we can work with New Zealand First in the event that their numbers will be required after an election.”

Keep in mind that the committee in question is a toothless thing, long decried as inadequately empowered for carrying out the tasks of oversight that are commonly entrusted to parliaments in other social democracies. But hey… lets just imagine, for a moment what a genuine centre-left leader might have said yesterday. Maybe, it would have been something like this:

“In a democracy, ensuring the proper oversight of our security and intelligence services is essential to protecting the civil rights of all New Zealanders. The balance between the needs of security and the due respect for privacy is not a given; it has to be actively pursued, and zealously protected. Recently, I was very disappointed that the review of the powers of our security agencies carried out by Sir Michael Cullen failed to recommend that the powers of Parliament should be enhanced, in order to bring our ability to discharge this crucial balancing role more in line with modern expectations. In the circumstances, it is therefore even more important to me that critical voices are heard around the committee table, and for that reason I am appointing James Shaw of the Greens to the committee on security and intelligence, in the sure knowledge that he will hold the agencies’ feet to the fire on these civil rights issues that Labour also holds dear….”

Instead, Labour has chosen to exclude the Greens from the process entirely, and has used the vacancy as an opportunity to blow an air kiss to Winston Peters. No doubt Little will be applauded for his ‘pragmatism’ in doing so, by the centre right commentariat. Frankly, when you start on rely on your opponents to award you brownie points for credibility and pragmatism on their terms, you’re truly doomed.

How, for instance, can Little continue to claim that the Greens are a credible coalition partner in an alternative government when he chooses to infantilise them in this fashion? Apparently, Labour is willing to govern in tandem with a party with which it isn’t prepared to share security and intelligence information. How is that supposed to work? Yesterday’s decision plays right into the hands of his opponents, who will need no further encouragement to depict those wacky Greens as unfit to be allowed anywhere near the reins of power.

And what gain is any of this to Labour? Peters is polling well below the Greens, who bring more numbers to the coalition calculation. Nor is Peters woo-able. In an election context, this gesture over the parliamentary oversight committee can easily be trumped by National, who can offer Peters the entire Foreign Affairs ministry and a knighthood to boot. The latest gesture would be tolerable if it had come in the context of Little putting forward a series of strong alternative centre-left socio-economic policies. Instead, this security committee gesture comes in the wake of other overtures by Labour to the centre right – Willie Jackson, Greg O’Connor – in its candidate selection. And where is the old progressive policy of instituting an effective capital gains tax? In the dustbin.

As a consequence, centre-left voters are currently being given very little to vote for this year. At this rate, Jacinda Ardern looks like being deployed like Florence Nightingale, to tend society’s victims at the bottom of the cliff. The Greens are being deployed to do the same, as the stretcher bearers for the environment. Instead of just bemoaning the outcomes, when is Labour going to mount a challenge to the premises of the government’s economic settings?

Identity, schmidentity

Remember how the centre left used to bang on about identity politics, and the need for policies to empower women and minorities? In the age of Trump, that’s just so old hat, as you can see from this photo:

Click for big version.

Seeing Red

In any election year, this 1966 soul track by James and Bobby Purify always strikes a chord:

And while we’re in a mid 60s groove and concerned about the existence of a genuine choice, what about this Chicago soul classic by the Radiants :

Yet if you’re talking about political anthems, its been hard to beat this one over the past 12 months… BTW, the chorus shouldn’t obscure the inclusiveness evident elsewhere in this song, in plain sight. It is Trump and his ilk (and not white folks in general) who are seen as the enemy, and Mexicans and other minorities are described as subject to the same oppressions.