Say no to the Cup of Te

No way should Labour do a 'Cup of Te' deal.

Labour should stand up for its own strong values.


Mana-Internet supporters have been vocal that Labour should accommodate a deal to sacrifice Kelvin Davis and make sure Hone Harawira wins Te Tai Tokerau. Labour MPs are dismissive, as Stuff has noted

I'm less dismissive than Phil Goff, Chris Hipkins and David Shearer about the Internet-Mana collaboration itself.  I commented last week about the value a stronger non-Labour left party could add.

There is a genuine place for a socialist party to the left of Labour, and if they can get someone to cough up the cash to pay for it, good on them. 

But we are already seeing the right wing depicting the fringe politics of Internet-Mana as representative of the wider left - a kind of authentic form of left.  If New Zealanders were asked to pick between the Mana-Internet and National, they would pick National. (In fact the strand of the left that is drawn to the non-Labour left identifies itself by its opposition to the dominant political trends; they define themselves by what they are against, which is why they are best described as the Reactionary Left.)

Labour must be clear about this: Labour's job is to advocate and organise for Labour. For Labour values. Labour principles. When they do that, they’re capable of getting 50%, not because they’re being ‘National-lite’ but because Labour principles are popular; opportunity no matter where you come from, fairness, social justice, active management of the economy to create jobs and distribute wealth.

If Labour’s not at 40-50% it’s because people either don’t think we can deliver on those principles, or they think we’re not prioritising them.

Labour is different to the non-Labour left. It is not a 'watered down' version of the left, and its principles in some ways conflict with the principles of Internet-Mana, as with those of the Greens and NZ First. 

If Hone Harawira, the Mana-Internet Party, NZ First, Greens or anyone else want to be in parliament, they need to advocate for themselves. They need to win in their own right, not as the recipients of largesse or dirty deals with other parties. (There is definitely a case for lowering the threshold for parties to get into parliament, so our parliament is more representative. But the lack of that provision doesn’t justify keeping the ‘coat-tailing’ clause.)

That is how MMP is meant to work. In the old days, each of the two big parties had to contort themselves to accommodate all their side in a single tent. Now if you want to be in the tent you have to win your own place.

Kelvin Davis laid out Labour principles when he spoke about his priorities on returning to parliament: Jobs for Northland, promotion of te reo, opportunity for all through education, and fury at men raping women. 

To ask that Labour should set his candidacy aside to help Hone Harawira is to express a lack of confidence in Labour values. It asks Labour people to believe there are principles that are more authentic and a higher priority for Labour than its own.

Just as importantly, Labour must not appease the practitioners of the politics of abuse. I've blogged already this year that the tolerant, open and compassionate left must stand up to vilification and abuse when it is practised by sections of the left. One of those times is apparent in Christ Trotter's comment telling Kelvin Davis to "STFU".

"There is an anger in Davis that calls into question his suitability for any kind of public office." He calls him an "angry representative" and twice uses the phrase "barely concealed aggression." All this is extrapolated from Kelvin's statement that he is proud of his kids for being 'respectful'.

To depict a strong, appealing Labour man like Kelvin Davis as the angry Maori is to use the language of the racial dog whistle. 

Many Maori will be watching now, waiting to see if the "STFU" politics will be appeased or accommodated. If it is, there will be a huge backlash in other Maori seats.

On Q+A on the weekend I said Labour should come out publicly this week, renewing its call for parliament to pass anti-coat-tailing legislation. The tactical confusion on the left was illustrated by commenters on The Standard who said I should have mentioned this is already party policy (although David Cunliffe was equivocal in his interview about whether it is still a priority), while Martyn Bradbury said an attempt to amend the law now would foment a civil war. That’s like saying if Labour backs its own policies and gets behind its own candidate, it’ll be war on the left. That's just wrong.

The way for Labour to win government is to reject the strategy that governments lose election, opposition don’t win them. Go after the aspiring working class and the struggling middle, and win those votes back for Labour.

And they need to stop trying to win by coming second. Labour is capable of being the most popular party in New Zealand because its values are more popular. That’s something to embrace.