Hehir on the narrowing of Labour

April 30th, 2014 at 1:00 pm by David Farrar

writes in the Manawatu Standard:

When MP Shane Jones announced he is bringing his Parliamentary career to an early end, my mind turned to one of the best bits of Monty Python’s Life of Brian.

In the scene, the protagonist approaches a group of political subversives and asks, “Are you the Judean People’s Front?” The subversives take umbrage to that suggestion as they actually belong to the People’s Front of Judea.

There’s no way the People’s Front of Judea would ever consort with the Judean People’s Front! The joke was a biting commentary on the tendency of political activists to splinter and for the various factions to then marginalise each other.

One of the many hilarious parts of that movie. Have watched it at least 20 times.

Actually, I’m not sure that this really is an immediate disaster for David Cunliffe.

Labour is not going to win the election without making a significant accommodation with the Greens. An economic moderate, Jones has publicly chafed at that idea. He even avoided responding to a question about whether National would be preferable to a Labour – Green coalition in an interview this weekend.

So for all of Jones’ talents, it’s probably better for leader David Cunliffe not to have to manage such a forthright Greens sceptic in his caucus during this particular election campaign.

So might be good for Cunliffe.

That being said – and as I’ve written before – the political interests of David Cunliffe and the Labour Party do not always match exactly. If Cunliffe fails to win this election, he’s toast – he won’t get a second chance.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, will survive and go on to fight other campaigns.

Taking that longer view, the (admittedly self-imposed) exile of Shane Jones appears to be symptomatic of a general narrowing of the Labour Party. The man himself has basically claimed this, saying that he regretted not doing “…due diligence to discover how much the Labour Party had changed…” before becoming an MP.

That was a very telling comment.

All successful political parties are an alliance of different constituencies. Those on the Left can typically be broken down into what is known in American politics as the “wine track” and the “beer track.”

These descriptors are generalisations, of course, but they are convenient and evocative as political shorthand.

The wine track roughly corresponds with the metropolitan middle classes. These are people who usually have tertiary qualifications and who are often relatively secure economically.

They are politically engaged and are proud about their social concern. They are scrupulously politically correct (even if they hate that term).

Of the present Labour caucus, think of Wellington Central’s Grant Robertson or list MP Jacinda Ardern as being roughly representative of this group.

Those on the beer track are less concerned with politics day-to-day. They are economic battlers and their principal concern is the security and aspirations of their family and friends. They are less apt to get directly involved in politics or social crusading. In a politician, they are less concerned with political philosophy and tend to support people they feel are on their side.

Here, one might picture (along with the retiring Jones) West Coast MP Damian O’Connor.

The wine track vs the beer track. Powerful images.

There are legitimate objections to Shane Jones credentials as some kind of working class hero – he is a Harvard alumnus, after all.

Nevertheless, it is worth noting how his critics have bristled at his “blokey” persona.

Labour-aligned consultant Brian Edwards has trashed him as a “Crass, sexist [vulgarian].” Greens Co-Leader Merita Turei said he is ” . . . a 19th century man in a 21st century world . . . ” – a throwback, in other words.

And fair enough – the man’s turn of phrase can be a bit off-colour and that’s not to the taste of everyone.

The problem is that there are millions of people (including many potential Labour voters) who do not think Jones’s style makes him a bigot. On the contrary, plenty of ordinary, decent people find it honest and unpretentious.

Jones thinks there is no room for his type in today’s Labour Party. If true, then at least the party is a purer, more coherent organisation – not unlike the People’s Front of Judea.

A very salient point. Having Jones painted by some of the left as a bigot, makes the left less attractive to a lot of people.

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23 Responses to “Hehir on the narrowing of Labour”

  1. Ed Snack (1,849 comments) says:

    Wine and beer, I like that. One must also add that the “Wine” group are only interested in stating and exhibiting their concern, they in fact have what one could call a negative interest in actually addressing what they are concerned about. Because if they did so successfully, then they’d need to find new “avant garde” causes to push, and their well of willing voters would tend to melt away. Therefore they are always most passionate about social causes rather than economic, and seek policies that socially divide and economically impoverish those who are not “them”…all the time whilst convincing themselves that they mean well and only want the best for “their people” (aka those who foolishly vote for them).

    They’re usually very good haters as well.

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  2. gump (1,635 comments) says:

    I hadn’t heard of the wine track and the beer track.

    It’s a superb political metaphor.

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  3. RRM (9,834 comments) says:

    Those handles “wine track” and “beer track” are absolutely fricking SPOT ON in my opinion. Superb.

    I was certainly a Wine Track Labour supporter.

    The trouble with labour now is they don’t really do either of those sets of supporters a service. They are being led to a very socialist place by following the young stupid Ganja Track extremists from the Green / Mana area…

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  4. Manolo (13,580 comments) says:

    There is also a Rose Champagne track of which Darren Ginga Hughes, Charlie Chauvel and Chrissy Carter were active members of.

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  5. Piob (16 comments) says:

    I’ve been reading the biography of Norm Kirk and it’s striking how this beer and wine track stuff was even an issue right back in the 1960’s and 70’s. The difference from today is that Kirk was on the beer track.

    Slightly off topic, but my favourite quote refers to Bob Harvey having coached Kirk and changed him so that he was now “straight and calm, and refrained from any hint of hectoring or overstatement in his talk, of which he had sometimes been guilty in the past.” Cunliffe could do with Bob Harvey’s help I reckon.

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  6. Alan (1,087 comments) says:

    Narrowing of all political parties, and their fracturing into smaller components is an inevitable consequence on MMP.

    Labour has defo lost a chunk of its support base to the greens.

    Parties like Labour and National as broad churches came into existence as a means to win under FPTP. Key has skilfully held National together but in the longer term it will splinter into social conservaties and the more liberal fringe. If ACT had got it’s stuff together it would have already have happened.

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  7. davidp (3,580 comments) says:

    There are two main sources of entertainment in NZ these days. The first is pirated downloads of Game of Thrones. The second is the Opposition, where a large number of unsavoury characters manoeuvre and plot to form the next government while all hating each other. Life imitates art. So why not combine the Opposition with Game of Thrones to create new and improved television entertainment? Here is my suggested casting:

    Tyrion Lannister played by Shane Jones. The only even slightly lovable character. Mocked and loathed by his “family” and colleagues. The loathing is mutual. Probably cleverer than all the rest put together.

    Jaime Lannister played by Russel Norman, and Cersei Lannister played by Metiria Turei. Both indisputably evil. Cersei is a particularly nasty character who happens to live in a castle. She absolutely hates her brother Tyrion. Jaime and Cersei are rooting each other… yuk!

    Littlefinger played by Greg Presland. Creepy little fucker. The power behind the throne.

    Tywin Lannister played by Matt McCarten. Thuggish “family” hard man who terrorises the others in to line. Tywin certainly doesn’t pay any taxes.

    King Joffrey played by David Cunliffe. Weird and vain, and scared of the people. Hated by everyone around him. Should be careful about his food, otherwise he won’t make it to September.

    Sansa Stark played by Claire Curran. Vacuous bint. Has no idea what is going on. Initially had the hots for Joffrey, but he treated her badly and so now she loathes him as much as the rest of us.

    Ramsay Snow played by Kim Dotcom. Insane fascist. Likes to manipulate and toy with others for his own sick enjoyment. Don’t worry… Justice will catch up with him in the end.

    Theon Greyjoy played by Hone Harawira. Ramsay Snow’s bitch. No cock.

    Walder Frey played by Winston Peters. Old and a bit senile. Can still dish out a bit of nastiness from time to time, but it is erratic these days and the nastiness is all a bit pointless.

    Meanwhile, in the Government… John Key has dragons.

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  8. Rich Prick (1,682 comments) says:

    davidp, I do like that. A lot.

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  9. unaha-closp (1,158 comments) says:

    davidp,

    Jamie Whyte – shouting at a wall, no one listening.

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  10. Alan (1,087 comments) says:

    “Tywin Lannister played by Matt McCarten. Thuggish “family” hard man who terrorises the others in to line. Tywin certainly doesn’t pay any taxes.”

    I think you are being very kind to Matt, Tywin Lannister is a ruthless genius and serial winner that gets things done regardless of the cost. As for taxes, everyone know a “Lannister pays their debts…………”, Matt on the other hand…………..

    Littlefinger should be Murray McCully as seen by taking out Jones so well.

    Cunliffe is more Stannis Baratheon, followed by a dwindling band of true believers in thrall to the red priestess………

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  11. davidp (3,580 comments) says:

    I think you’re missing the point, unaha-closp. You need to name a GOT character, cast them, and then write some text that ambiguously applies to both the GOT character and the politician. It also helps if the politician is vying for a position in the Westeros coalition comprising Labour, Greens, NZ First, Mana, and Dotcom. Although you could also include the Maori Party if you think the Westeros coalition are going to be really desperate.

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  12. wikiriwhis business (3,883 comments) says:

    “If Cunliffe fails to win this election, he’s toast – he won’t get a second chance.”

    Definitely be interested in who will be the new Labour leader in 2015.

    A woman of course. But can’t see it being Moroney…yet. No party confidence and she’s too canny to be used. She wants a long career.

    Neither Jacinda. Still a tad young.

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  13. Grant (436 comments) says:

    … and Trevor Mallard’s wafflings make him the perfect Hodor.

    G

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  14. gazzmaniac (2,307 comments) says:

    Neither Jacinda. Still a tad young.

    Nobody is going to vote for another childless career politician who looks like a horse. Helen Clark was enough for any country to endure.

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  15. beautox (420 comments) says:

    No prizes for guess which politician has the Whiskey Track all sewn up, demonstrating his commitment by virtually pickling himself in the stuff.

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  16. Peter (1,699 comments) says:

    I was a wine track Labour supporter, brought up on beer. These days, their wine is decidedly off and they have no beer on tap. The wine drinkers they do appeal to clearly have no taste.

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  17. igm (1,413 comments) says:

    It will be a man/woman rainbow leader, so as to appease the gender equal controllers!

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  18. leftyliberal (646 comments) says:

    “The problem is that there are millions of people (including many potential Labour voters) who do not think Jones’s style makes him a bigot. On the contrary, plenty of ordinary, decent people find it honest and unpretentious.”

    This will be why he did so well at reducing the party vote of Labour in Tāmaki Makaurau by 8%. Wait.

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  19. Chuck Bird (4,847 comments) says:

    My local is a working class pub. I reckon 80 to 90% would be Labour voters. Most thought Jones should have led Labour.

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  20. kiwi in america (2,428 comments) says:

    The scene from Monty Python’s “Life of Brian” referred to in the article is indeed a classic. Such a ruthlessly accurate depiction of the ideological purity deemed so necessary for many on the left. Witness the Militant Tendancy in the UK Labour Party that rendered that party unelectable for decades. It was only when Blair dragged UK Labour back to the centre (New Labour) did they regain office.

    The line in the whole ‘People’s Front of Judea’ vs ‘The Judean People’s Front’ segment that is the most telling was the attitude to dissent summed up by the ubiquitous term of derision: “SPLITTERS”! You can almost hear that word (in more modern and flowery language) from the left on The Standard and on Twitter labeling people like Josie Pagani and others concerned at the glee on the left of Jones’ departure.

    Labour will keep shrinking until the People’ Front of Judea has little competition leaving the Judean People’ Front to fight the good fight in Mana or the Greens…. or is it the other way round! Either way National wins.

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  21. Crusader (306 comments) says:

    Alan (932 comments) says:
    April 30th, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Narrowing of all political parties, and their fracturing into smaller components is an inevitable consequence on MMP.
    Labour has defo lost a chunk of its support base to the greens.
    Parties like Labour and National as broad churches came into existence as a means to win under FPTP. Key has skilfully held National together but in the longer term it will splinter into social conservaties and the more liberal fringe. If ACT had got it’s stuff together it would have already have happened.

    The left is far more naturally prone to splitting. Because they are much more ideologically driven, i.e. the world needs changing. The “right” or conservatives are, by definition, happier with the way things are, so less driven to change in a certain direction. I think fringe free-market libertarian or churchy parties are flash-in-the-pan stuff. Their support base swings back to the mainstream of centre-right since the prospect of losing to the left is more important to avoid, than the particular ideology they support. Whereas plenty of folks on the left are so ideologically blinkered they would (perhaps unconsciously) rather see National win than their particular brand of socialism be subverted.

    First read “The Road to Wigan Pier”, then read “Homage to Catalonia”.

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  22. Warren Murray (307 comments) says:

    Gordon Campbell recently commented on this in a piece entitled ‘McCully plan’s hefty price tag’. A few other left wing commentators have also simultaneously attacked the process that was used that led to this point and questioned Jones’ true political value.

    Cambell echoed other commentators questioning whether McCully has used taxpayer funds to hobble his political opponents. When was the role advertised? How does anyone know that Jones truly is the best candidate? Yes, accepted that High Commissioner and Ambassador roles are often filled by former MPs, but this is an entirely new role.

    Im sure McCully wont lose any sleep over such questions or criticism. However the true cost of this political stitch-up is much more than an additional salary for a new Ambassador. “All up, the cost of McCully’s election year brainwave could reach $500,000 a year”.

    Campbell then notes Jones’ political track record, tried and failed so many times to win a constituency.

    Jones must have thought that all his Christmases had come at once when asked if he would be interested in a role that pays much more than he could hope for as an ordinary MP. Jones’ base instincts would have taken over, he has, after all, only been concerned about himself. For McCully, it was too easy.

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  23. Left Right and Centre (2,971 comments) says:

    (1) Labour equality policy dictates that MPs must be 50% wine trackers, 50% beer.

    (2) I read somewhere about the difference between ‘green glass’ and ‘brown glass’ beer bottle drinker social classes (this is now an official non-political tangent). Of course you can guess that brown is ‘working class’ and green is ‘upmarket’ (so – you’re more likely to be given a green one by a drunk rich prick – and smashed over the head by a brown glass one – cos you ‘looked at my Mrs’).

    (3) Muldoon was a brown glass one of us type bloke. Key wishes he was.

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