Q+A: the city/rural divide

Fonterra have been doing a lot of advertising on television lately – are they trying to win over public opinion? Or is it too late?

On demand:

‘The fundamental divide between left and right’

Food for thought (and comment);

It’s like we’ve forgotten a basic fact of leftwing politics. It’s built on solidarity.

That’s the fundamental divide between left and right.

We believe in community and cooperation. They believe in self-interest. We’re about the collective. They’re about the individual.

We know that the important question is not “how does this benefit me personally?” It’s “how does this benefit us all.”

Standing together, not because we’re all the same and we’re all after the same thing, but because we have the same enemy: capitalism, which takes many forms: patriarchy, white supremacy, social conservatism.

From The political prospects for 2017: living our values (in which there are some other interesting points).

It is common for those on the political left (and also on the political right) to see their own views and ideologies as close to ideal, and opposing views and ideologies as close to totally misguided at best, and despicable and evil at worst.

Religious terrorism aims to divide and recruit

Terrorism aims to divide. Religious based terrorism aims to divide religions, to divide people with different religious beliefs.

They aim to disrupt societies.

By alienating one group from another, by provoking animosity and fear of each other, they think they will bolster their aim of being a superior religion.

And they aim to appeal to the disaffected of their religion, those who bear the brunt of division and animosity, because that is where they get new recruits.

Al Jazeera: Don’t let ISIL divide us

We are not united in our misery – alas, it is dividing us, for that is terror’s aim.

These terrible, daily realities are bad enough – but what makes it so much worse is the division and polarisation that such acts of terror have created. Pointless, destructive debates over the “right to offend” rage across Europe’s media landscape. So, too, do attempts to downplay or ignore the realities of either Islamophobia or anti-Semitism, as though the existence of both at the same time cannot be comprehended.

ISIL’s horrendous killing spree in Libya has prompted renewed calls for military intervention – stepping up existing bombing campaigns in Iraq and Syria, putting boots (though it is not clear whose boots) on the ground.

It is as though the endless war on terror and the horrors it unleashed – ISIL being one of them – have taught us nothing, have not instilled even the basic realisation that ideologies cannot be bombed away; that air strikes are no substitute for political so

Guardian: I was held hostage by Isis. They fear our unity more than our airstrikes

As a proud Frenchman I am as distressed as anyone about the events in Paris. But I am not shocked or incredulous. I know Islamic State. I spent 10 months as an Isis hostage, and I know for sure that our pain, our grief, our hopes, our lives do not touch them. Theirs is a world apart.

Central to their world view is the belief that communities cannot live together with Muslims, and every day their antennae will be tuned towards finding supporting evidence. The pictures from Germany of people welcoming migrants will have been particularly troubling to them. Cohesion, tolerance – it is not what they want to see.

At the moment there is no political road map and no plan to engage the Arab Sunni community. Isis will collapse, but politics will make that happen. In the meantime there is much we can achieve in the aftermath of this atrocity, and the key is strong hearts and resilience, for that is what they fear. I know them: bombing they expect. What they fear is unity.

ABC News: Paris attacks: What Islamic State is trying to achieve

If Islamist extremists can strike at will at the heart of Paris then, it seems, none of us are safe. And, of course, we all sympathise deeply with the victims of the attacks.

But while we and our allies work ourselves into another moral outrage, tighten already restrictive security provisions, and drop yet more bombs on distant targets, we seem to be missing the point.

And that point is that terrorism is, and always has been, designed to provoke exactly such a backlash. We and our allies are singing from the terrorist’s song-book.

The first aim of terrorism – and often warfare – is simple enough. It is to strike at one’s enemies, real or perceived, to punish them for their crimes. We and our allies hurt people – sometimes innocent people – where they live. IS in turn appears to have decided to hurt ‘us’ back where we live.

The second aim of terrorism is to attack specific targets, often individuals, who are seen as representing or being a leader of an enemy.

The third aim of terrorism, which is the most important, is to engender a backlash in order to bring to one’s side those who are not yet committed to the cause. The US-led invasion of Iraq created an extremist Islamist response where one had previously not existed.

This attack is intended to produce a similar backlash, to turn non-Muslim Europeans against Muslims both in Europe and elsewhere, legitimising the claim that there is war between the West and Islam. Europe’s xenophobic right-wing will be strengthened in the process, and the greatest long-term victims will be those people who have been fleeing just such terror in the Middle East.

A further aim of such terrorism is to prove that the terrorists are a force to be reckoned with and that, as such, the West will turn on itself and ultimately divide and weaken itself over its confused responses.

There are no simple answers to terrorism, and in particular this type of Islamist ideology. It is a struggle which, very likely, will be with us for decades.

However, buying into a pre-arranged narrative and responding exactly as intended is perhaps the first thing we, as a collective of nations, should not do.

If we fight amongst each other, if we fight over what sort of response is needed, if we divide along religious lines and fight, the religious terrorists are achieving their aims.

Straddling the political divide

Some see politics as a big division between one thing or another but in reality there’s far more fairly common ground than there are extreme differences.

But today the ODT chose to call their editorial Straddling the political divide, looking ahead to the year in Parliament kicking off. However i think what they are referring to is more of a divide between what the public would like to see of their Members of Parliament and how those MPs present themselves in Parliament.

Parliament resumes tomorrow with the Prime Minister’s statement taking precedence over other business.

While official business takes centre stage tomorrow, the political year started earlier with the State of the Nation speeches by political leaders.

Mr Key can take all the time he needs as his statement has no limit in length. The debate in reply has a limit of 14 hours but the Government can, if it chooses, and it probably will, adjourn the debate and get on with other business. The year needs to start strongly.

The debate in reply begins with the Leader of the Opposition moving a no-confidence vote in the Government and moves on from there into the Opposition parties trying to score some political points against the Government in general and Mr Key in particular.

Mr Key has been untouchable for seven years and will point to the achievements of his Government as he outlines parliamentary priorities for the year ahead. In the past, Mr Key has deviated from his set speech to get a march on the Opposition, which has an advance copy of his address.

Tomorrow can really be the time for Mr Key to put aside the political agenda of trying to make his opponents look silly and provide some uplifting goals to which he aspires.

The Opposition can use their time to avoid making personal attacks and focus on providing some alternatives to what it sees as damaging policies.

All of this seems sadly unlikely and New Zealanders will again be left frustrated on the sides of the political divide.

As I said at the start, I think one of biggest divides in New Zealand politics is  not left versus right (the main parties are often called National Lite and Labour Lite) but a divide between how our Members of Parliament behave in Parliament and how the public would like them to behave.

Robust debate with opponents and challenging policies are very important aspects of a democracy.

But far too often our politicians resort to petty attacking and opposing for the sake of opposing rather than based on common sense.

The tone of our politics and of Parliament must be set from the top, by the party leaders. When did we last have a leader who led by example?

John Key has been a very successful leader but I don’t think he has yet been a great leader. He often tries to be a person of the people, quite successfully going by the polls but that’s probably as much to do with a lack of strong opponents.

Andrew Little is yet to step up as a credible leader.

The party leader I’ve been most impressed with over the annual Waitangi debacle is Winston Peters, who spoke honestly about the core of the problems. Perhaps the wily old campaigner can rise above his usually futile game playing and end his career on a respectable high.

Is Key capable of providing ‘some uplifting goals”?

Or will he continue to massage the masses with meanderings, policy-wise?

Likeable (to half the population) but with modest achievements who eventual fades away? Or can he become a leader of our times? If he aspires to the latter he will need to do more than just wave a flag.

Can Key find a way of straddling the divide between successful politician and aspirational leader? Does he want to?

Goodbye left/right, hello conservative centre

The resounding success of the Conservative Party in the UK (who increased their seats by 24) and the disaster for Labour (who decreased their seats by 26) seems to reinforce a change in politics over the last few decades, at least in the New Zealand-centric world.

Centre right parties:

  • Canada – since 2006 (third term)
  • New Zealand – since 2008 (third term)
  • UK – since 2010 (just won second term)
  • Australia – since 2013 (first term)

Centre left parties seem to be struggling to adjust to changing voter habits and preferences.

There seems to be insufficient appetite for radical left politics and that seems to scare voters away from the centre-left.The centre right seems to be able to downplay the radical far right elements who aren’t big enough in numbers to wag the centrist dog.

New Zealand’s centre left (Labour Party) has shrunk since being ousted in 2008 and is still struggling to recover. It is also burdened with sizable harder left parties that scare many voters off giving them power.

It appears that electorates prefer conservative centrist government – steady stable management and avoiding ideological lurches.

In this situation ‘conservative’ means avoiding radical changes as opposed to far right politics.

There’s certainly wide support for conservative centrist governments. Is the twenty first century saying goodbye to the left/right divide and goodbye to revolutionary shifts?

That’s how it looks and feels to me.

A Little chance of bridging the divides

One of Labour’s biggest problems is disunity, and in particular a growing gap between the activist/union leaning left of the party versus the centre-left. At times it looks like a gulf, especially tight now.

David Cunliffe tried to shift to the left and he partly succeeded, he got majority union (affiliate) support in last year’s leadership contest and he still has the support of the labour left leaning Standard blog. But Cunliffe also tried to lean back to the centre at times and with his authenticity problems, the dire election result and his poor handling of the aftermath he is going to have trouble getting the leadership back.

The other confirmed contender Grant Robertson may be able to work across the divide in caucus but there’s substantial doubt he could do it across the party. He doesn’t seem popular in Auckland, and he would have to win over the union left and that would be very difficult. The left of the party are far more entrenched in their views than the more impressionable centre.

Labour’s best chance of bridging the divide is someone who already has some union support but who is able to reach across to the center.

Andrew Little is an obvious option here. He has a union background but seems pragmatic and conciliatory enough to connect with employers and with Labour’s centre left and just as importantly, the swing voters in the centre that Labour has to win win back if they want to regain major party status.

On bridging the divide Little said yesterday:

I think the issue is crucial which is why my main contribution to Labour’s IR policy this year was to back off major change to the present framework pending an audit of the labour market. We need to get a decent picture of how people are engaged for work and exactly what is happening work wise before we think about how we might improve job security and lift wages more fairly. It means engaging with employers too since they have more influence over more workers than ever before.

He says he wouldn’t have delayed the scrapping of the 90 day trial law “because it would have been accompanied by clarification of probationary law” but would have “wanted a more moderate pace on minimum wage increase”.

Stuff reports that Andrew Little considers Labour leadership bid.

Little faced the prospect of losing his place as an MP as Parliament waited for special votes to be counted.

Shortly after the result was confirmed, Little said that he would now mull whether to throw his hat in the ring.

“It’s not something I’ve considered, because  I’ve been waiting to see whether I would be confirmed in Parliament, it’s something that I may well now consider, but I will also be considering how realistic my prospects are, and that’s where it’s at,” Little said.

Little has little to lose by joining the leadership contest, and potentially a lot to gain. He is only an outside chance but if he can promote himself as union sympathetic but pragmatic and conciliatory towards the centre he would improve his credentials in the desperately needed Labour rebuild.

And there’s a small chance the leadership contest could swing his way as an alternative to the failed Cunliffe and a potentially to unpalatable Grant Robertson.

Little is one Labour MP who looks like he has learnt from initial mistakes and has grown into his job as an MP.

Labour would also benefit if Little joined the contest. His presence would diffuse the tension that’s obvious between Cunliffe and Robertson. He could highlight the need to join the factions in a common purpose.

There seems little downside as long as Little is prepared to expose himself to a higher level of scrutiny and inevitable attack.

Another prospect for bridging the divide is Louisa Wall. She would would add an up and coming Maori presence and reward South Auckland support for Labour, she has a good tertiary qualifications plus a high profile sporting background, and she proved her political worth working successfully cross party to be a driving force behind the passing of the Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill last year.
Both Little and Wall are relative rookies in politics but Labour desperately needs new blood to rebuild – with strong support from the old hands.

David Parker is one of Labour’s best bets for a steadying hand at deputy level and with Little as leader and Wall high on the bench pecking order Labour might finally start to look like a party intent on putting failures and animosities behind them with the  capability to build a party that can seriously contest the next two elections.

Two of the worst outcomes of Labour’s leadership contest:

  • Cunliffe to get back in despite a major loss of confidence from the Labour caucus and the electorate.
  • Robertson to win and appear to favour cronies over rebuild capability.

If Robertson wins the leadership contest then Parker, Little and Wall should be a prominent part of his rebuild plans.

If someone like Little sneaks through and he gets the caucus support that should be a given then Labour will lack in experience but will gain substantially in future prospects.

If Labour comes out of the leadership contest with their divides entrenched they may struggle to survive as a major party.

Whoever can step up and look most capable of bridging Labour’s divides will be their best chance of recovery.

Labour really needs to look like a virtually new party that can bridge it’s own divides, widen it’s appeal from the union and activist left across to the centre, and then they might get into a position where they can pose a serious threat to National – and present a credible next government to the voters.