Drinking Labourly with Phil Goff
COMMENTARY- Omar Hamed, Socialist Aotearoa
As the sun went down across a glassy Auckland harbour and inner-city workers scrambled for home, I met up with other Socialist Aotearoa comrades who went to see Labour leader Phil Goff speak at the London Bar. After getting there and buying a pricy bottle of beer, we retreated to the back of the bar as suited party functionaries and smart-casual looking centre-left students and intellectuals swilled around us.
The first bitter taste in my mouth came when the organiser of the event, from the group Drinking Liberally, kept using the word “We” to describe the audience at the event but implying that we were all Labour Party members. No wonder people accused the Labour Party of arrogance, when all you have to do is turn up to hear their head honcho to be a member.
Anyway, up to the stage went Mr. Goff, pint of beer in hand, to begins his ruminations. Launching into an articulate attack on the Tories first year, Goff covered his three stand-out issues for the year; cuts to adult & community education and the extra funding for private schools, the restructuring going on within ACC as a prelude to privatisation, and the bungled Emissions Trading Scheme and the legacy of debt it will leave to future tax-payers. All good points, and as Goff said, part of a strategy of the Labour Party returning to “core values”.
No doubt important issues but enough to swing voters away from the John Key and the National Party? Probably not and definitely not enough to reenergise the Labour Party in the coming year. The rising cost of living, unemployment, and the economic recession received passing mention but I didn’t get the feeling that these were pressing concerns for the Labour Party milieu that had gathered around their leader, shandies in hand. As I said to Goff afterwards, the Nats won the last election on tax cuts, Labour could win the next election on wage rises. I think my advice fell on deaf ears.
Into question time and a slightly more candid Goff emerged, drink having loosened the tongue I suppose. On Harawira, “Never let go off the Black Power rhetoric of the 1970s. Blah, Blah, Blah Harawira Blah Blah Blah Racist Blah, Blah.” No soul searching on how damaging the Foreshore and Seabed Act had been to the Labour-Maori relationship, and no surprise that there were few people-of-colour in attendance. The reality is that most capitalists in this world are “white motherfuckers” who really have been raping this land for centuries. Harawira told it like it is and many people respect that.
Socialist John Moore asked a question about Labours’ relationship with the market and Goff responded, “show me a command economy that ever worked”, “the market is the best mechanism to distribute goods” and “Labour saved capitalism”. It seems Goff never really shook the ideology of the fourth Labour Government of the late 1980s that turned New Zealand into one of the rich world’s most unequal societies.
With a BBC poll showing that a quarter of people it surveyed thinking capitalism is fatally flawed, you would think that the Leader of a party that was formed to institute democratic socialism in the depression of the 1930s would be able to criticise our current system a little more than just calling for an overhaul of the Reserve Bank Act. But no- all Goff would admit their role to is to tinker at the edge of the system.
Lastly, Goff’s response to my question over whether we could trust him and his return to a value based foreign policy when he was the one who had done a trade deal with the butchers of Beijing as the young monks of Tibet were murdered in the streets. Goff’s voice boomed across the bar to lecture us on how we could only do business with 1/3rd of the world if we were not to do business with tyrants. I couldn’t help thinking that 1/3rd of the world is still 2 billion people to trade with but I think my words would have been lost on the functionaries who had gathered to hear their leader.
In the end I left with the feeling that Goff was preparing to move his party to the left, just as Clark had done at the end of the 1990s with the rhetoric of “closing the gaps”, but that the core values of the Labour Party were still the suppression of tino rangatiratanga, commitment to neo-liberalism and a pandering to powerful foreign interests in return for trade deals.