Guest post: Chris Trotter doesn’t like modern social democracyPosted: June 14, 2012
This is a guest post by Josie Pagani.
In replying to my criticism of his post, Chris Trotter reveals he doesn’t like modern social democracy.
He’s entitled to be disappointed by every social democratic party in every developed liberal democracy if he wants – but he shouldn’t pretend that they are all selling out, or abandoning their principles.
He says talk of “hard work and personal betterment” is the language of Labour’s opponents. In this he is wrong. Since it was formed Labour has fought for the right of working people to have the same opportunities as someone born into money or privilege.
It is periodically fashionable for there to be outbreaks of existential angst in the Labor Party where the cry goes up ‘we don’t know what we stand for’. Even if Labor isn’t raising the cry, media commentators raise it for us with never ending predictions of our imminent demise. Let me say to you tonight, I am deeply intolerant of this bunkum. I am absolutely clear what Labor stands for, what we aspire to achieve, what our culture is and our role as a party of government. The historic mission of our political party is to ensure the fair distribution of opportunity. From the moment of our inception our mission has been to enable the son of the labourer, the daughter of the cleaner, to have access to the same opportunities in life as the son of the millionaire, the daughter of the lawyer. Creating opportunity and enabling social mobility has required different policies in every age. We have moved beyond the days of big government and big welfare, to opportunity through education and inclusion through participation. But at every stage in our history fair access to opportunity has been our historic mission.
This is the tradition Labour in New Zealand today fits easily into. Trotter implies Gillard is another great disappointment. Every social democrat leader to him is a disappointment. Schroeder, Obama. He even slags off Neil Kinnock as a modernising sell-out.
Well I saw the ferret faced sneers of too many people who said that about Kinnock, and they did more than Murdoch ever did to elect Margaret Thatcher.
(Apologies to Nick Cohen)
If every social democratic government in modern liberal democracy has been a disappointment to him, then that suggests his problem is with modern social democracy, not with its practitioners.
“The British Labour Party wasn’t rendered unelectable by holding fast to its founding principles, it was kept out of office by the deliberate defection of its right-wing MPs,” he claims.
I was there, at party conferences, on picket lines at the coal mines, and Wapping, and branch meetings with Sinn Fein, Arthur Scargill and Ken Livingstone. Someone who had never left NZ at the time should be careful about condescendingly providing a “short historical and psephological lesson for Josie.”
It wasn’t just Militant – it was an entire school of Trotter-like groups who preferred dogma to actually governing for working people. One individual at a conference assured me an election defeat was a good thing because the more working people suffered, the more likely it was that they would rise up and revolt, bringing in the Socialist utopia.
I’ve been suspicious of anyone on the left or the right who talks about utopia ever since.
If he thinks David Owen and Shirley Williams were the reason Labour was kept out of power, then he knows too little of what happened. The counterfactual is not that Labour plus SDP would have beaten the Tories; it would be more accurate to add up the Tories plus SDP to see where Chris Trotter’s wishfulness gets you.
He might not like the kind of social democracy that the Labour party stands for, but he doesn’t get to dismiss it as ‘National-lite’ just because he doesn’t agree with it, nor to hound every modern social democrat as a Rogernome heretic in the wings, waiting to pounce.