Grant Robertson is not as much like Joseph Stalin as some would have you think

Chris Trotter wants a Labour purge. Again. 

It’s not often you see a New Zealand political figure compared favourably to Stalin, but this is what Chris Trotter has done to that decidedly non-genocidal non-lunatic Grant Robertson.  

To be fair, Trotter credits a “friend” for coming up with the Stalin analogy (which extends, perhaps even more risibly, to casting David Cunliffe as Leon Trotsky), but it bears the hallmarks of the kind of apocryphal friend who wants you to ask your parents where to buy condoms.  

To be fairer still, the Stalin comparison extends only so far: “There is, [the ‘friend’] insisted, the same easy familiarity with the party apparatus; the same willingness to wield it ruthlessly in his pursuit of power”. Hmm, yes, a bit of a stretch. This sentence groans with unwarranted heft: subtract the sinister terms, “apparatus”, “wield”, “ruthlessly” and “pursuit”, and you are left with the contention that Robertson is like Stalin inasmuch as he uses his position in the Labour Party to advance his career. By that definition, the ghost of Iosif Vissarionovich Djugashvili looms large over anyone who’s ever sought elected office.

Beneath the hyperbole – and who I am to deny Trotter his fun? – there is a serious argument: Grant should emulate Stalin’s intolerance for dissent and enforce a “recognisable – and recognised – party line” in a process Trotter calls an “ideological gleichschaltung” (emphasis his).

This is Trotter’s way of saying he thinks Labour is due a purge (has there ever been a time when he doesn’t?); moreover, he thinks Robertson agrees with him:

Speaking last Sunday (19/10/14) on TVNZ’s current affairs show Q+A, Robertson made it very clear that, as leader, his line would be the party’s line:

ROBERTSON: If people step outside of that, there have to be consequences.

Q+A: Does that mean they have to leave the Labour Party?

ROBERTSON: It may well do – for some.

Dissenters in the Labour Party – piss off. Grant has everything to lose – and a new generation to win.

It’s no wonder Trotter finds nothing but disappointment in politics.  In his reading, by saying “it may well do – for some”, Robertson is making “very clear, as leader, his line would be the party’s line”. He is seeing what he wants to see; to most people, Robertson’s response on Q&A is bog standard political equivocation that means, like pretty much everything he says, as little as possible while still moving your lips.  

But Trotter is far from alone in believing that Labour could do with a touch of gleichschaltung.  Gina Giordani, a member of the party’s ruling council, took to Facebook recently to express concern about the flurry of new members joining up to take part in the leadership election:  “joining the Labour Party should be a wholesale examination of values and policies and being sure that yours aligns with the Labour Party’s”. Giordani requires none of Trotter’s rhetorical flourishes to achieve the same chilling effect.  

To purists like Giordani and Trotter, Labour’s problem is that it’s too inclusive, too accommodating of competing views, too tolerant of dissent.  This is the cultish clique who ripped into David Shearer for saying Labour has become excessively beholden to sectional interests and that Cunliffe should exit Parliament to avoid becoming a destabilizing influence; arguments that not only fall easily within the bounds of acceptable discourse but have the added benefit of being true.  These are the people who believe, in defiance of all logic, that Labour lost the election by failing to cuddle up closely enough to the Greens and Internet Mana.   

But what the heretic hunters seem not to grasp is that they already have the party they want. The winner takes all rules for internal ballots means the Left’s control of the party’s levers is complete: the President, General Secretary, as well as sector council and regional reps on the NZ Council are elected en masse from a single ticket. The so-called centrists have long been run out of town, unless they refer to a handful of caucus members like Damien O’Connor who won’t read the memo and keep winning their electorate seats. Labour's future is not threatened by internal enemies, real or imagined, but by the bad ideas and self serving delusions that have gained ascendancy in a party already purged of dissent.