The Light Dawns – The Penny Drops!
It was a favourite saying of my old middle school teacher, Mr Hislop. It was a mildly sarcastic form of congratulations when one, or all of his pupils finally showed signs of understanding something he had been at pains for some time to explain.
The words came to my own lips as I read an opinion piece in New Zealand’s own Herald newspaper/website. The writer was commenting on the woes of the NZ Labour Party in the lead-up to this year’s General Election. The conservative National Party has been in power since 2008. The Prime Minister for most of those years was an unabashedly rich finance mogul whose standard response to news media questions about the numerous scandals that broke during his term of office was, “Oh, nobody cares about that!” New Zealand has a ludicrously inflated housing market, a playground for wealthy local and foreign “investors”. The country has received dishonourable mention in global reports on child poverty and international money laundering.
In spite of that, and more, the main opposition Labour Party is plunging rather than rising in public opinion polls, and the party’s panicked response has been to choose a new leader, four months out from Election Day. It’s “the beginning of the end of Labour as an automatic major political force,” says this political commentator.
Interesting choice of words, don’t you think? “automatic major political force”? Unfortunately, that’s what it is, and has been for the last 40 years – and not just in New Zealand A brain-dead response by people unhappy with the social injustice created by traditional conservative economics. Political pundits in the UK are desperately trying to convince voters that the local Labour Party has found, in Jeremy Corbyn, a leader to take them back to their roots. The US Democrats managed to sell Barack Obama to their well-heeled, trendy-lefty supporters, and nearly did it again with Bernie Sanders. The sad fact is that Labour Parties (and their alter egos) in these countries and Australia, and others for all I know, are just a construct of the established financial elite who wield the real power while conning a pathetically gullible electorate into thinking they have a choice at the ballot box.
Let me quote you some facts and figures. New Zealand voters elected their first Labour Government in 1935, in the depths of the Great Global Economic Depression. That government did actually manage to implement some genuine socialist reforms, on which their successors have been dining out ever since. By 1949, however, they had turned their back on most of their founding principles, got rid of any dissenting voices in their own ranks, and were deservedly thrown out in that year’s general Election.
68 years have passed since then. Conservative National governments have held the reins of power for 47 of those, and pale pinkish-blue pseudo-Labour governments, the remaining 21. The last possibly true old-style Labour Prime Minister, Norman Kirk, was elected in 1972 on the slogan, “It’s time for a change” – which voters were ready to accept after twelve years of National rule. Unfortunately, Big Norm died two years later, and Labour were thrown out in 1975, having failed to achieve much at all.
National returned to office and proceeded to make themselves pretty unpopular, nevertheless winning again in ‘78 owing to their own electoral gerrymandering and Labour’s predictable incompetence. Despite NZ’s manifestly unfair first-past-the-post electoral system, a rejuvenated force had appeared on the NZ political scene. The Social Credit Political League began picking up support from voters fed up with the lies and deceit of the two main parties. After giving the National Party two shock defeats in by-elections, Social Credit actually replaced Labour as the country’s preferred opposition party in public opinion polls in 1980.
That was when the business/financial elite showed their true colours. Going against almost total international opinion, the National Prime Minister arranged for the NZ Rugby Union to host a tour of the country by a team from apartheid South Africa. Whatever naïve political writers tell you, it was a deliberately cynical ploy to divide the country along conventional lines, with the rugby-mad and the libertarians supporting the tour, and left-leaning union-leaders, armchair liberals and “intellectuals” coming out strongly against it. The 1981 General Election returned to the same-old-same-old, manipulators-extraordinaire National and a temporarily ideologically renewed Labour.
The victory went again to National, but by 1984 NZ voters had definitely had enough of them. Seeing the writing on the wall, the same business/financial elite set up a well-financed straw party to siphon off the protest vote and ensure that Labour would finally return to office. But what a Labour Government!! Their public relations creation windbag Prime Minister led a government that implemented libertarian reforms drawing inspiration from the UK’s Iron Witch Margaret Thatcher and US Wild West hero Ronald Reagan.
The simple fact of the matter is those who hold the real power in New Zealand (and other Western pseudo-democracies) want to retain the Labour Party as the main political “opposition” to maintain the illusion that voters have a choice. “The end of Labour as a political force?” Sorry, mate, that happened decades ago. They’ve been dead for years – they just won’t lie down.
I’d like to believe that the light is finally dawning in New Zealand, and the penny will drop to activate the machinery of a new political age – but I don’t hold out much hope. Too many people want to believe in the yellow brick road.