Tuesday, August 30, 2005

It's good to see that the Left remains vibrant elsewhere....

"Live better without nazis" - Red Julia storms Germany

A young German politician, whose bold anti-Nazi protests on aT-shirt and cover-girl looks have made her a national celebrity, has become one of the new Left party’s strongest election campaign weapons. Though only 19, Julia Bonk already has a year’s experience in a regional Assembly, where she began her career in style by wearing a shirt bearing the slogan ‘‘Live better without Nazis’’ to greet the far-right NPD. Pictures of herself on her shirt stole the show from the NPD on their first dayin the Saxony Assembly that landed her on the front pages of 87 German newspapers and won her wide applause. ‘‘We wanted to make a statement that they were not just another party coming inbut an anti-democratic party,’’ said Bonk, who became the youngest state parliamentarian in German history, having left school just three monthsearlier.

The Left party is a month-old merger of the Reform Communist Party of Democratic Socialism, for whom Bonk stood in Saxony, and Left-wing defectors from Chancellor Gerhard Schroeder’s Social Democrats (SPD). It hopes that even though she isn’t standing herself for the national parliament, Bonk will win over young voters, especially in the pivotal eastern battleground, and win back thousands whose protest votes helped the NPD in Saxony last year. ‘‘The far-right has to be tackled head on,’’ she said.

Articulate arguments, abundant confidence and an ability to advocate her party’spolicies belie her age and helped make Bonk a regular guest on a number ofheavyweight political talk shows. ‘‘It’s right and also important that the Leftist forces in Germany are coming together now,’’ she said.

She is studying history and political science at the University of Dresden alongside herfull-time state Assembly job. ‘‘It’s an exciting time for the Left in Germany. When two separate worlds come together, there are some areas where noteverything matches up the way it should,’’ she said. Nicknamed ‘‘Red Julia’’ by German tabloids and called ‘‘Socialism’s prettiest face’’ by the communist Neues Deutschland daily, she got swept into one summerstorm between the PDS and west German Leftists who fused to make her party. She was with ex-SPD Chairman Oskar Lafontaine at a rally when he used a loaded term for foreign workers (Fremdarbeiter) that is widely shunned because it was used by the Nazis.

Bonk and many others in all parties accused Lafontaine offishing for far-right voters. He denied this and even apologised to the Left party Congress on Saturday for ‘‘misunderstandings’’. Bonk has had communication problems herself. Last year she said drugs should be decriminalised, creating an uproar that only abated after her party noted itwas part of their platform. ‘‘It’s funny that a lot of people expect politicians to know the answers to everything,’’ she said. ‘‘It’s not the case’’.

Sunday, August 28, 2005

MMP and Poetic Justice

On one of the right wing blogs, people are being advised to keep the champagne under lock and key, despite a lift in the polls for National. As well they might, for while the polls have shown a lift for National, they are (apart from one poll) still behind Labour. More importantly, National's potential coalition partners (ACT, New Zealand First and United Future) have not improved their poll standings.

Indeed, New Zealand First has actually dropped behind the Greens and is, according to the latest Colmar-Brunton Poll, hovering on the 5 percent threshold. However, and fortunately for them, they have Winston and Tauranga. United Future remains on 2 percent, but, fortunately for them, they have Peter Dunne and Ohariu-Belmont. However, ACT looks like going the same way as the Alliance and the Dodo, with its poll ratings fluctuating between 1 and 2 percent.

So, National is in danger of having no substantial supporting coalition partners in the new parliament. Well, that’s the miracle of MMP and mathematics for you!! You campaign for both the constituency and list votes, drive your potential coalition partners under the threshold and lose….tut...tut...tut…

Though, I feel that there is an element of poetic justice involved in relation to the demise of ACT. It appears that Roger Douglas and other ACT sympathizers conspired with National Party right wingers to help remove Bill English for Don Brash. Their logic appeared sound enough, Brash was a known Monetarist and Supply-sider, importantly he had previously made sympathetic overtures to ACT and it appeared that he might be prepared to cut a deal with them. However, once he had been installed as National Party Leader, Brash steered the party into a more right wing orientation and subsequently ruled out any electoral deals with ACT. All of which had the result of nicely severing ACT from its electoral base and essentially sealing its political fate.

Of course, National isn’t the only major party guilty of trying to kill off its potential partners. In 1996, 1999 and 2002, the Liberal (sorry, Labour) Party tried to do exactly the same. It launched a strong campaign in all these elections (usually in the last week) designed to undermine the second vote preferences of the Alliance and, later in 2002, the Greens. This was despite promises made by Labour to the Alliance in 1999, that it would not do so.

Ultimately, this means that there is no security for Labour on the Left. The demise of the Alliance did not mean that Labour maximised the left vote – which is all important in a proportional system. True, there were/are still the Greens, however; only 7 percent of 1999 Alliance voters in 2002 went to them, 42 percent went to Labour, while the rest tended not to vote. These were/are essentially wasted left votes, which could be used to ensure a real left – centre left government without having to rely on the ‘commonsense’ of Peter Dunne or the ‘xenophobic populism’ of Winston Peters.

It now appears that the Tories having done the same to ACT are facing similar circumstances. Ah well, in this situation, I can’t bring myself to shed a tear…..

Friday, August 26, 2005

It's time for the first 'Tweek of the Week.'

It's been tough to chose a winner this week as there are so many contenders, Nick Smith and Brian Connell ( It pays to read your policy Guys!!), Donna Awatere (I'm completely innocent) Hutua and the Great Satan himself, George W (How would he know that the Iraqi thing would continue on for so long??).

However, there can be only one and the 'Tweek of the Week' goes to a man who is so gallant that he allows a woman to verbally mutilate him in a debate because she's a woman and he's just an old fashioned gentleman - in the words of the Tui Ad, "Yeah, Right!"

Don Brash - 'Tweek of the Week'

Thursday, August 25, 2005

Why Doesn’t God Just Strike Him Down?

Picked up this little snipet from Democracy Now (http://www.democracynow.org).

"Christian televangelist Pat Robertson set off an international firestorm this week when he called for the assassination of Venezuela's democratically-elected president Hugo Chavez. Robertson made the comment on his TV program "The 700 Club.”

Robertson, who is 75, ran for president as a Republican in 1988. He has often used his show and the political advocacy group he founded, the Christian Coalition, to support President Bush. According to his web site, the TV show, "The 700 Club" has an audience of about one million people. At a news conference Tuesday, Defense Secretary Donald Rumsfeld was questioned about Roberton's comments.

Robertson's comments were also denounced by the State Department which called them "inappropriate," but the White House has remained silent despite repeated calls for repudiation."

Wednesday, August 24, 2005

The legacy of Jim and Matt – Tales of Modern Bushwackers…

Occasionally during the downtimes at work, I go blog hopping. In doing so, I come across blogs with which I don’t agree – that’s the democratic process after all - however, the other day, I came across a blog that was just really annoying for lack of a better word. It was not just the arrogant smarminess of the blog in question, but the sheer absurdity of the argument proposed by the blogger, which was essentially that the Greens might not make it over the 5 percent threshold and therefore Green voters should vote for the Progressive Party (sorry, Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party) as a responsible partner for the Liberal (sorry) Labour Party.

Personally, I think that it is more logical to propose the converse of the argument, which is that people should vote for the Labour Party given the current polling of Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party and the more important fact that there really isn’t much of a policy difference between Labour and the Progressives. Certainly, a number of the themes (anti-drugs, lowering the drinking age etc) emphasised by the Progressives are held by some Labour MP’s such as John Tamhere, Phil Goff et al. Indeed, thinking more about the situation, Jim should really do the decent thing and rejoin Labour.

If there ever was a New Zealand political party built on cult of personality then Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party is certainly it. Even Winston has resisted the urge to call his party Winston Peter’s New Zealand First.

I can image the discussion that occurred in Jim’s Beehive office about changing the name of the party from the Progressive Party to Jim Anderton’s Progressive Party.

Phil Clearwater, Progressive Party General Secretary stands ashen faced in front of Jim. “Jim,” he intones quietly, “We’re not rating. The last poll shows us on 0.3 percent below…”.Clearwater stops and blows his nose before muttering,”The Alliance and the Revolutionary People’s Front.” Jim snarls, “Good God, Phil! You don’t need to be a rocket scientist to work out the problem! Just rename the Party to emphasise me and then we’ll get votes!”

However, I am reminded that the demise of the democratic left in New Zealand is not just the result of the social and economic conservatism of James Patrick Anderton. While Jim has been (rightly) criticised for his role in the Alliance’s demise, it should be remembered that Matt Mcarten is equally responsible. For years, Matt and Jim were political Siamese twins with one using the political virtues of his parliamentary office to snuff out dissent, whilst the other used the various forums of the Alliance to isolate alternative views and build up the Alliance around the cult of Jim’s personality.

So what will Jim and Matt’s legacy be? After Jim’s retirement, the Progressive’s will cease to exist as a coherent entity as they don’t have a mass membership anywhere, except maybe Wigram. More importantly, they just don’t have a political constituency. The Greens proved in 1990 (when they first stood) and in 1999 and 2002 that they do have a significant consistency and I am certain that they will be able to weather any downturn.

I am also certain that there is a Left constituency of 5 percent of voters who believe like I do in free education and health care and in public services which are fully funded through a heavily progressive taxation system, that major assets should be in public hands and that the economy should be democratically controlled and operated for the benefit of all.

Certainly, an analysis of recent election results (1990 – 2002) suggest that a separate left consistency is an actuality in New Zealand and co-exists as a separate entity along side the Green consistency. In most other Western democracies there exists a mass party of the liberal left, a green party and a left party.

I am feeling increasingly disenfranchised at the moment due to the fact that I don’t feel like supporting either Labour or the Greens. While I have sympathy and support for some of the Greens positions, I do not consider them as a party of the left and, I’m certainly not going to waste my support the various sects who argue that if only we could rid ourselves of capitalism and whom promote themselves as the way, the truth and the light…So, I have decided that I am going to support the Alliance as I would rather support something that I believe in and not get it than support something that I don’t believe in and get it…

I’m hopeful that in the near future the democratic left will be able to regroup sans Matt and Jim. Like sour milk they both need to be expunged from the fridge.

Monday, August 22, 2005

New Zealand Democracy- Signed, Sealed and Delivered

It is just under 12 years since New Zealanders decided that they would opt for a new voting system in the form of MMP rather than the plurality system that they had voted under for the past century. The rationale behind the change was that New Zealand had become a more diverse society and voting habits reflected that diversity.

No longer were people content to vote solely for the two major parties, National and Labour. Rather, they wanted a diverse range of parties going from the right to the left reflecting the multiplicity of political opinion. Yet, 12 years on from 1993 New Zealanders have managed to come back to a system that is very close to the one that they departed from, despite having proportional representation, in which two large parties (National and Labour) compete for the majority of votes having over a matter of years driven smaller parties to the left and right of them to extinction.

Is it the fault of the media? Certainly they have a lot to answer for. While, I’ve been aware that what passes as political commentary and enquiry in New Zealand is pitiful, I’ve become more aware of the shortcomings and superficiality of political reporting as a result of the election campaign. For example, I’ve always disliked Jane Clifton’s political commentary and while she might be passable as a writer, her analysis is often appallingly shallow. It has caused me to wonder how she and many others came to the profession that they are in…

…Scene: Barbie’s house in the late 1960s. Barbie is sitting at her bright pink toy Formica table eating something sweet and saccharine with hundreds and thousands on top. She looks up as her mother enters the room and declares loudly, “People say that I’m an airhead, but I’m going to prove them wrong Mummy!!” Barbie’s Mother well used to her daughter’s tantrums, stops, smiles and pats her on the head. “You’ll see Mummy!” Barbie sniffs, “When I’m grown up I’m going to change my name and be on TV and radio then people will like me.” …maybe not….

Partly, it is the centralising nature of MMP, which was designed to be a stabilising force rather than a radicalising one. This is helped along by the inane unquestioning nature of the majority of New Zealanders. Of course, most Western populations tend to be somewhere in the centre politically, however, only in New Zealand are people told that liking extreme right wing neo-liberal economic policies is normal and liking conservative social democratic policies or principles is abnormal and then appear to accept it, while at the same time lamenting that there is nothing else on the menu.

So what ever happened to the ideal? What happened to the big picture? No longer is it just enough to want something and then work toward it. Rather, the entire purpose of politics appears to be to settle for second best, to just accept the lesser of two evils and nothing else. Hence, a number of people on the left settle for the Greens or for the Labour Party in the safe and sure knowledge that while it is not what they want, they can achieve it. Their mantra appears to be “if you set your sights low, then gains are easy to achieve.”

…And are they? While, the liberal neo-classical ministrations of Labour and the Greens are preferable to the harsh and brutal neo-classical frankness of National and Act, the fact is that the Left has ceased to exist as a coherent force. Instead of getting the representation and political voice that the Left needs and has the numbers (in the outside community) to obtain, it instead vacates the field to others.

Thankfully, the Mother Jones, Ben Tillet’s, Harry Holland’s and co were built of sterner stuff. They realised that the Left needed its own political independence and that the programme and policies that the Left desired could not be achieved by the Liberal Parties (or by Greens) no matter how individually sympathetic some of them were.

It is bad enough to be kicked about by capital, it is worse when we do it to ourselves.
However, a piece of good news; the ‘worm’ that mythical television creation appears not to have managed to rescue Peter Dunne this election. In 2002, Peter “Victor Von Frankenstein” Dune managed to bring life to a corpse (United Future) courtesy of the “lightening” wrought by the “magic” worm. This time, however, it appears that the worm was more securely “grounded.”

Thursday, August 11, 2005

Comrade Tweek has arrived!!!!