Corbyn, Little and political atheism

Chris Trotter has long despaired (intermittently) about the chances of a proper socialist leaning Labour Party and government in New Zealand.

He has just spent some time in the UK and likes the growth of Corbyn support, but despairs about anything similar here with Andrew Little.

Chris Trotter: Hard to imagine Andrew Little inspiring Corbyn-like passion

It was hard to imagine Corbyn-like passion inspiring many in the UK a couple of months ago.

“Oh, Jeremy Corbyn! Oh Jeremy Corbyn!” The half-chant, half-song rose out of the Glastonbury crowd like the roaring of the sea borne on a rising wind.

The slightly built 68 year old received it all with the aplomb of a veteran rock-star. Microphone in one hand, a sheaf of speech notes in the other, he delivered an address that mixed soap-box oratory with the poetry of Shelly: “Rise like Lions after slumber/In unvanquishable number/Shake your chains to earth like dew/Which in sleep had fallen on you/Ye are many – they are few.” How the young lions roared!

Now, delivering a speech is not the same as delivering a government, and Glastonbury is not Britain, but there there’s no disputing that Jeremy Corbyn has redrawn his country’s political map.

In large part because Theresa May handed Corbyn the opportunity on a platter.

Labour looms so much larger now than it did just two months ago when the British commentariat was predicting electoral catastrophe on a scale not seen since the 1930s. Were an election to be held in Britain tomorrow a sweeping Labour victory is the most likely result.

In New Zealand, however, it’s a very different story.

We don’t have Brexit, and we don’t have Theresa May.

Here, with a general election less than three months away, Labour is languishing in the political doldrums. When Kiwis mutter “Oh, Andrew Little!”, it is with a mixture of exasperation and despair.

There is quite a bit of that. Bill English left a large opening after stumbling over the Barclay issue, buy Little wasn’t able to capitalise, in part due to the coincidental timing of Labour’s intern embarrassment.

If we had a Glastonbury, it’s hard to imagine our own Labour leader receiving the same rapturous reception as the Brits’. Hard because the voters’ ability to imagine a better tomorrow is critically dependent on their political leaders’ ability to describe a future worth living in.

Little is not an exciting or inspirational speaker. I saw him in person in Dunedin a couple of months ago and he was uninspiring.

I watched a video of Little speaking to a meeting on the North Shore three weeks ago and it was just as lacklustre. He has learned his lines better, but fails to fire interest or passion.

As one young festival attendee at Glastonbury remarked when asked for an explanation for Corbyn’s extraordinary popularity: “He’s brought Labour back to its old self again.”

And that, of course, is precisely what Labour in New Zealand hasn’t done.

Trotter wants New Zealand Labour’s ‘old self again’ but I doubt that’s what most voters want. the world has moved on over the last century.

The question that arises whenever three or more Kiwi leftists gather together in the name of social-democracy is: Why?

What is it that holds Little back from making the same sort of unequivocal, old-fashioned Labour promises as Corbyn?

Probably because it wouldn’t be popular here. Competing with the Green and Mana Party for votes is not a winning strategy here under MMP (the UK doesn’t have MMP).

What does he think he has to lose – apart from an election which nearly all the polls say he cannot possibly win?

It’s quite possible Labour could lose even more support, especially if they suddenly lurch towards Trotter’s old fantasy.

Labour in New Zealand – like the Democrats in America and the New Labour Party of Tony Blair – are locked into the politics of subtraction. All their energy is devoted to shifting voters from the Government’s column to the Opposition’s.

Because that’s how MMP elections are won.

They have forgotten that the parties of the Left have always and only been about the politics of addition: of bringing new social classes and forces into the electoral equation; of adding new and exciting possibilities to the lives of ordinary citizens.

Politics isn’t a profession – it’s a calling. And when a political leader answers that call with sincerity and love – oh how the people respond!

I see two major problems with that sermon.

  1. Andrew Little. He is sincere enough, but has shown no sign of inspiring loving devotion.
  2. Kiwis. Only a very small minority seem to have been ever enraptured by evangelical religious or political leaders.

Trotter and a small cadre of socialists from last century may wish for the second coming of Labour as much as they like.

But just as religious atheism is on the rise in New Zealand, so too is political atheism.

Campaigning has changed from last century’s corralling the political flock to the modern day trying to herd cats.

Politicians now need to appeal to people on the basis of competence, and on the understanding of merit based policies, not fire and brimstone political bible bashing.


  1. Blazer

     /  July 4, 2017

    Labour was supposedly dead and buried with the rise of Corbyn…… anythings possible now that Capitalism has been revealed as a..Sham.

    • PDB

       /  July 4, 2017

      It means nothing – the turnaround in vote over there is more anti-May than pro-Corbyn/Labour.

      • sorethumb

         /  July 4, 2017

        Chris Trotter’s argument is predicated on that. He has a trade he has peddled all his life and never managed to step outside his own paradigm to take a look. Apparently, we form well-worn tracks through our neural circuitry so our thoughts race like a high-speed train ignoring by paths.
        One thing I notice about Chris Trotter is that his arguments are packed with literary skills and historical knowledge, which indirectly supports the argument by giving credence to the advocate.

    • sorethumb

       /  July 4, 2017

      Capitalism hasn’t been revealed as a sham. A market economy described by Adam Smith is the same process found in an ecosystem, with the exception that we have government systems to set rules. Those rules are based on theory and power and influence and that is where the problem lies. The human economy is a subset of the Earths ecosystem. Human populations outstrip resources and then they have to migrate/invade (unless they build a successfull trading economy like Japan. Humans come with embedded behavioural modules – Frank Salter says an ethny is the largest unit of bonding and identity. For multiculturalism to succeed the state needs to suppress the (white) majority. After that another ethnic group dominates [Perhaps] I realise that is a bit rough but I would put money that being closest to the truth. The left dominate the academy; vested interests and the left share the same goals, otherwise vested interests would pull the left off it’s perch.

    • John Schmidt

       /  July 4, 2017

      The rise of Corbyn can be attributed to those who have forgotton or never lived through the disastrous Labour socialism years that lead the UK to Margaret Thatcher. What we are seeing is history repeating itself and old lessons having to be learnt again. Socialism has never succeeded. In comparison history shows that Capitalism in general terms have been a much more successful system.
      There are some aspects of socialism that have been very good in particular the humanitarian side of life and those ideas have continued under capitalist leadership however there are some core socialist principles that are simply disastrous as history has shown. Its no coincidence that there have been more captalist governments that socialists.

  2. sorethumb

     /  July 4, 2017

    They have forgotten that the parties of the Left have always and only been about the politics of addition: of bringing new social classes and forces into the electoral equation; of adding new and exciting possibilities to the lives of ordinary citizens.
    I note Little says it:s Greens (globalist ) first and NZ First (Nationalist) second. But that is oil and water.
    I haven’t got a clue why Corybn won (do the young not know history – people respond to incentives)? However, you would have a tough time convincing the population that our “inclusive” immigration policy will make us better off?

    • Alan Wilkinson

       /  July 4, 2017

      It’s quite obvious why the young support the Left. They respond to the virtuous goals and don’t have the experience and knowledge to realise that the solutions advocated will do more harm than good.

    • “I haven’t got a clue why Corbyn won”

      Possibly because he didn’t. Despite all the trumpeting of the Lefty Media, the Conservative Party actually won the election, albeit by a much smaller majority than predicted. Hopefully this might frighten the electorate sufficiently that they won’t allow it to happen again.

      • Sorry, just realised that is ambiguous. I mean that hopefully the electorate will, the next time, return the Conservatives with the majority that was expected, so that Corbyn and his witless cronies can be consigned to a much-needed oblivion. They make the old Callaghan Government seem positively sensible, for all its 25% inflation and IMF begging bowl.

  3. sorethumb

     /  July 4, 2017

    It is scary to think a younger generation may have lost the lessons of the British and New Zealand Unions and the Soviet Union? But Hello, I have read and read and read commentary over the years and it is only occasionally I read a Bingo that hits the nail on the head. One was a scathing attack on Marine Le Pen because she pointed out that the issue at hand (in France) was one of nationalism versus globalism – the vested interests did not even want to acknowledge an issue there. Likewise, when will they acknowledge ecology and human nature?

  4. sorethumb

     /  July 4, 2017

    Comment in Telegraph
    “You have to be over 40 years old to have even been born during the last truly Labour administration of the Wilson/Callaghan years of the mid 70’s. The Blair/Brown years could not have been called traditional Labour governments, they were generally far too right wing for that. So the young voters of today have yet to understand that whilst Corbyn’s manifesto sounded absolutely wonderful (indeed what was not to like about it?) it would once again have sent government borrowing soaring to uncharted heights to the point where the IMF would probably have had to be called in again, just like what happened under the Callaghan administration.

    I also fail to understand why anybody would think that the recent Conservative governments have imposed austerity on the country. Gordon Brown doubled government debt from £0.5 -to £1 trillion from 2008-2010 but the last Conservative administrations of Cameron and May have seen a further increase of some 70% to £1.7 trillion. Austerity? Hardly. What a shame Mrs May didn’t hammer that point home. ”

  5. sorethumb

     /  July 4, 2017

    Could be behind the greens change of heart?

    • Brown

       /  July 4, 2017

      Nope, they don’t change. Its just window dressing to get the influence they need to do what they really want to.

  6. sorethumb

     /  July 4, 2017

    According to Ward and Masgoret’s (2008) national Attitudes towards
    Immigrants, Immigration and Multiculturalism Survey, New Zealanders have a
    strong multicultural ideology, with 89 percent agreeing that it is a good thing for
    a society to be made up of people from different races, religions, and cultures.
    This is significantly greater than the agreement found in national surveys in
    Australia and in 15 European Union countries (Figure 1.1). Reflecting this
    multicultural ideology, New Zealanders also strongly endorse integration. Eighty-
    two percent agree with the notion that immigrants should be able to maintain
    their traditional culture while also adopting New Zealand culture. In contrast,
    only 21 percent endorse assimilation – the notion that immigrants should give up
    their original culture for the sake of adopting New Zealand culture (Ward and
    Masgoret, 2008).
    In addition, the research found support for government policy on the numbers
    (53 percent) and the sources (61 percent) of immigrants.
    So 89% depends on the numbers [and remember these are advocacy polls]. They wouldn’t cheat would they?

    Parr (2000) writes “[T]he views of New Zealanders are not conducive to the population of New Zealanders becoming more diversified globally.”
    From localism to globalism? New Zealand Sociology, 15(2), 304-. 335
    To which they would claim that we now know better?

    • sorethumb

       /  July 4, 2017

      No need for that expensive Race Relations Office – after all we – Once Were Racists. Therefore Devoy is Redundant (DIR).

  7. adamsmith1922

     /  July 4, 2017

    Michael Cullen once remarked to a luncheon group that I was part of that he thought that Trotter, who apparently he once taught, had a romantic view of socialism.

    By implication he implied that Trotter had no regard to reality.

    In this regard I would suggest that we look at Venezuela where Chavez, with his many imperfections, was a charismatic leader though Maduro is not and tends to despotism. Socialism in Venezuela despite the huge oil reserves has led to poverty, rampant inflation and massive shortages.

    Corbyn aspires to Stalinism, and a worker’s nirvana, ie old style Marxism not democracy. He fosters class hatred and McDonnell actively stokes the fire. In part this is aided by the failure of the education system to actually teach history anymore. Similarly in NZ. In addition in the UK and NZ we see a media elite with a visceral hatred of economic reality and devoted to denigrating anything they disagree with. Consequently we see soft treatment of Labour and the Greens, thereby virtue signalling

    Conversely in the US we have seen the rise of Trump an authoritarian plutocrat who despises the normal elements of governance. He admires ‘leaders’ such as Putin, Duterte and Erdogan. Indeed he has much in common with North Korea’s Kim with his desire for adulation and his bragging. Like many dictators he promised and promised much to his base ( similar to Peron) all the while looting the poor to reward the rich. Like Corbyn and McDonnell he fosters class hatred as well.

    Neither Corbyn or Little, nor Trump or Peters in NZ will lead us to a promised land. Their ‘visions’ are abhorrent.

    • sorethumb

       /  July 4, 2017

      He admires ‘leaders’ such as Putin, Duterte and Erdogan.
      In so far as they are populist who break establishment moulds? The media has become a priesthood. WO wasn’t wrong to coin “the Media Party”
      I heard one of RNZ’s commentators say “My friend (possibly herself) says she wouldn’t sleep with anyone other than her husband, but she would for Jeremy”.

      • OMG – he’s about 5ft 4inches and I can’t imagine he’d be any good in the sack. He’s far too earnest, takes himself far too seriously and he’s always right(left).

        The recipe for dullsville in the bedroom dept.

  8. Corbyn couldn’t run a sausage sizzle outside Mitre 10 without crawling in hock to the IMF. He makes Andrew Little look quite statesmanlike. The British PM should have given every voter a free trip to Specsavers to ensure they could see that.

    The result came not from his ability, but from an appallingly bad campaign by clueless May and a worryingly good one by clueless Academia. However – fortunately for the grownups of Britain – as Clausewitz might have said, “His smirking popstar idiocy will not withstand contact with a real enemy.”

    Even Trotter seems to grasp that in the end: “Now, delivering a speech is not the same as delivering a government, and Glastonbury is not Britain”. Quite. And while Screaming Lord Sutch may have provided an amusing outlet for protest votes back in my day, no-one would want him, or Corbyn actually running the Government.

    Thank goodness – as you say of Kiwis – “Only a very small minority seem to have been ever enraptured by evangelical religious or political leaders.” Long may it remain so. The job of a government is to govern, as the job of a builder is to build. It is not to seek quasi-religious adulation by gaily promising the feckless youth bucketloads of other people’s cash, without consulting the other people. History drowns in the tears in which that always ends.