Guest post: Chris Trotter doesn’t like modern social democracy

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.

Here’s Julia Gillard:

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.

6 thoughts on “Guest post: Chris Trotter doesn’t like modern social democracy”

  1. I don’t really understand how the experience of the British Labour Party is that relevant to the NZLP’s future. The Brits lost power and were banished for years because they swerved off to the left. We lost power and were banished for years because we swerved off to the right.

    For the record I reject the impoverished politics of the Third Way precisely because of its failure to deliver the material gains that Labour voters and supporters need and want. Opportunity is only half the solution: equality matters as much, if not more. And so I do not think that the Gillard quote above summons up an adequate project for the left in the twenty first century.

    I’ve written before about the contempt issue. No party can win when it dislikes its own supporters, or when its supporters dislike it. NZLP fell into that trap a bit at the end of the Clark government, and we need to get well away from it. I think we’re getting there.

    Finally: really, could Hooten or Farrar be the targets? Chris is often wrong but I don’t think he is trying to keep National in power.

  2. Once upon a time labour moved – onto the streets and into work places to gather the individual small fry into the equivalent of the big fish so fairer deals could be struck between owners and workers. Lives were on the line and many responded accordingly to win the ‘rights’ we take for granted now, once there was greater equality at the negotiating table.

    Trouble is – after those heady days there were key people in unions who got to thinking they had actually become ‘big fish’. That’s my opinion of Scargill.

    The Labour Party became ‘posh’ – apart from delightful battlers such as Dennis Skinner, the Beast of Bolsover. Now, for me, he’s truly working class and a fit representative. Not Ed Miliband and Co.

    So we asked: where was the UK Labour Party when Jimmie Reid was fighting for the Clydeside? Once Maggie had done her worst – again, where was the Labour Party to renew the north – including those coalfields where you picketted? Missing in inaction for thirteen miserable years. And remains so. Sequestered in the southern counties and looking over the Channel to Europe.

    Where were Obama and team when the recall was working its way through in Wisconsin just this last year and week? Even though unions were under serious attack, and their own Democrats war chest was under threat of losing donations – they weren’t there. I hope Wisconsin isn’t there for the Democrats in return.

    And it’s no different here.

    We’ve gone from ‘red feds’ to pinkos to a delicate shade of chantilly – and it’s not enough of a vision to get through the well-earned scepticism.

    Is there any common language between the workers here still struggling with the ‘sweatshop’ conditions – cleaners and caregivers for two; and the people who are sturdily independent? Maybe.

    But it’s been a long time since I heard Labour saying anything that recognises that duality and shown it has the will and skill to effectively govern (not ‘manage’ in that tiresome Clark way) for the good of both.

  3. Whilst I have my doubts about the veracity of David Cunliffe’s Road to Blockhouse Bay conversion to social democracy, there is no doubt that Josie Pagani and her ilk pose a serious threat to it.
    Pagani is essentially espousing a middle class project. There will be no attempt to mobilise the disenfranchised and marginalised. Labour must tough it out in the middle ground with the National Party and if necessary “Out Tory the Tories” (as John Pilger so eloquently put it once when describing “New” Labour) to win over the hearts and minds of the good people of Epsom.

    In my assessment she is a Victorian-era liberal prone to rightwing temperamentality and infantilism. Her analysis of the malaise of the British Labour Party is as pathetic as it is irrelevant. Much serious debate has been entered into on the Left about the failings of the British Labour Party. She makes no worthwhile contribution whatsoever. Her reference to the great recanter himself, Nick Cohen is interesting (a disciple perhaps?). Her references to the Miners’ Strike, Wapping and Sinn Fein are less clear. Was the support of the Left for workers’ struggle and Irish freedom a bad thing? Certainly the British Labour Party support for workers struggles over the last 30 years has been, at best, very lukewarm and Labour has an appalling record on Ireland.
    These are the days of the politics of diminished expectations and even lower horizons. The problem that Pagani faces is that if New Zealanders want a rightwing government they will vote for one; a genuine one. They don’t need people like her to construct a pretender to the throne by seeking to move the Labour Party’s trajectory further and further to the Right.

    Join the National Party, Josie and take your husband with you

    1. I’m sorry but remind me how it is that driving moderate voices out of the Labour Party is going to help us? I have never seen anything from Josie that defines her as being outside the Labour fold, though I have plenty of disagreements with her approach to politics and the media.

      The Labour Party would be a much healthier beast if it would actually debate the issues raised by the David Cunliffes and the Josie Paganis, rather than going into shut down mode or into panic whenever something other than “the script” gets mentioned.

      1. “The Labour fold” must be an impressive superstructure because I recall Pagani lecturing the Maritime Union of New Zealand about the glories of labour flexibility (read: casualisation) for the Auckland waterfront.

        However, since you are up for debate Jordon – script me this – what is the difference between a “moderate voice” and a “rightwing voice” in the Labour Party?

  4. I was in Britain in 1984, and voted for Mike Moore from New Zealand House. I was bloody glad we did not have right wing nut-jobs like Thatcher in charge of the National Party. Two years later I got home ….

    Neither Labour and National stand for anything except the pursuit of power. National accepted Muldoon’s wage and price controls so long as they held power. Labour accepted Douglas flogging state asset until defeat was inevitable. Neither of them stand for anything but keeping their ‘eye on the prize’.

    BTW – who is Josie Pagani’s husband? (.com?) doesn’t mention a husband.

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