Alliance meltdown in NZ

Philip Ferguson plf13 at student.canterbury.ac.nz
Wed Apr 24 07:57:50 MDT 2002


The article Johannes mentioned on the WSWS is a pretty good basic
account of the Alliance meltdown.
We'll also have a substantial article on it in the next issue of
'revolution', by someone who was in the firestorm.

What has basically happened is that the fact that there is no space for
social democracy these days has brought about the bust-up of the
Alliance.

The demise of social democracy, so evident in France now, has been
evident here for some time.  Labour here is just a liberal middle class
party and has been for quite some time.  It is a party of lawyers,
accountants and academics.  Most of its funds come from business and the
state.  Only 3 percent of the workforce belong to unions which are
affiliated to Labour.  A lot of the far left here, of course, still
refer to Labour as some kind of workers' party and seem completely
oblivious to the facts I've just outlined.  (Most of them are way too
lazy to actually do any research on today's LP, they prefer to repeat
Lenin's view on the British LP in 1924 as if this can be applied to all
LPs at all times and nothing ever changes.)

The Alliance was a kind of last gasp for social democracy.  It was
formed in the early 1990s (not late 80s, as the GLW article says) and
comprised NewLabour (a left split from the main LP), Mana Motuhake (a
Maori party whose founding leader came out of Labour), the Democrats
(social crediters), the Liberals (a left split from the traditional Tory
party here, the National Party) and the Greens.

In 1993, the Alliance won over 18 percent of the vote and two seats in
the last first-past-the-post election.  The following year they were
neck and neck with Labour in the polls, and Alliance leader Anderton (a
former LP president) was way out ahead of labour's Helen Clark in the
polls as the person voters preferred as prime minister.  From 1990-1999
National was in power.

1993-94 was probably the peak of the Alliance.  After that they went
into decline and Labour re-established itself as the main opposition
party in the polls, but with a very Clintonesque sort of politics.

In 1996, the Alliance got just over ten percent in the first elections
held under the new proportional representation system.  This gave them
13 MPs, although one MP went walkabouts and ended up backing National (a
rather strange MP from Mana Motuhake).  The Alliance was basically
dominated by NewLabour, who had most of the MPs on the Alliance list,
headed by Anderton, who was the only MP to ever leave Labour and hold
his seat.

In 1999, the Greens left the Alliance and went solo.  The Alliance vote
went down to just over 7 percent and they got only ten MPs, including
Anderton who won his constituency seat yet again.  The Greens won a
constituency seat and got just over 5 percent of the vote, giving them 7
MPs.

The Alliance went into coalition with Labour, Anderton became deputy
prime minister and a number of Alliance MPs went into cabinet.  These
included Mana Motuhake leader Sandra Lee, and NLP leaders Matt Robson
and Laila Harre.

However divisions began to open up in the Alliance between sections of
the party organisation, led by party president Matt McCarten, and the
Anderton/Lee wing over the failure of the Alliance to differentiate
itself from Labour.  Although the two outfits had been daggers drawn for
a decade, and Clark and Anderton were devout enemies - dating back to
when they'd been close friends in the LP left in the 1980s and Anderton
had left, while Clark stayed behind for totally personal career reasons
- some of the top Alliance MPs took to government like pigs to shit.

Things came to a head late last year over the war on Afghanistan and
Matt McCarten's campaign for the Auckland mayoralty.  Anderton didn't
want McCarten to run and got paranoid that McCarten, a long time close
friend, was raising his profile too much and running too left a campaign
(in fact, McCarten's campaign wasn't particularly left, but still too
left for Anderton).  In parliament, all the Alliance MPs voted for a
motion giving full support for Bush and whatever he decided to do after
Sept 11.  This was in flagrant violation of Alliance policy.  Shortly
afterwards, three Alliance Mps said they were wrong to have voted this
way - Laila Harre, Willie Jackson and Liz Gordon.  Jackson had already
rolled Sandra lee as leader of Mana Motuhake, over discontent with her
leadership and rightward drift.

The three MPs were aligned with McCarten and much of the grassroots of
the party in Auckland and other parts of the North Island.  (The
Anderton base is really in Christchurch, and more conservative, older
people who followed Anderton out of the LP in 1989).

Alliance MPs pay one-tenth of their parliamentary salaries to the party,
and as the conflict escalated between the McCarten/Harre group and the
Andertonites, 7 MPs ceased paying this, thereby trying to whip the party
organisation into line.  Anderton also got a number of people who worked
at parliament for the Alliance sacked.  People were locked out of their
offices, had their email gone through and were sacked.  Among the half
dozen people sacked from their jobs working for the Alliance at
parliament were a number of 'revolution' supporters, plus Alliance
general-secretary Gerard Hehir, party president McCarten and several
other party office workers.  (I should add here that the 'revolution'
supporters were not members of the Alliance; they were workers employed
in the offices of the Alliance at parliament.  But Anderton was totally
determined to get rid of them, using Parliamentary Services -
technically their employers - to sack them, especially as they tended to
help put some extra left fibre into the Alliance organisers they worked for.)

Various emails from people like myself were uncovered, of course, in
their computers, emails to do with antiwar protests.  Some of our
slogans ended up getting in the daily papers, which was kind of amusing.

Although Anderton has a majority of Alliance MPs - 7 to three - he
doesn't have control of the national leadership of the Alliance.
Moreover, the Alliance parliamentary caucus was organised in such a way
as to prevent a repeat of what happened in the old LP, where MPs just
ignored party policy.  This meant the Alliance parliamentary caucus
consisted of a majority of non-MPs.  So Anderton was stuffed and ended
up losing control and announcing he and his supporters, who include my
parents, would be setting up a new party.

At the weekend, the Alliance national council formally expelled Anderton
and the MPs who support him.  Laila Harre, currently the minister of
youth and women's affairs, was elected the new leader.

Anderton's deputy-leader, Sandra Lee, is still a member of Mana Motuhake
but I think Willie Jackson might move soon to have her kicked out of MM,
since she's already been expelled from the Alliance.

In the latest opinion polls, the Anderton group was polling 1.5 percent,
and the Harre/McCarten Alliance 1.9 percent (or maybe it was the other
way round).  Since Anderton will win his constituency seat again, his
group will still get a few MPs.  The Alliance, however, is unlikely to
win any constituency seats - although Harre has an outside chance in a
new seat in Auckland - and they are unlikely to get 5 percent of the
vote, so that will be the end of them in parliament.

To me, this confirms what 'revolution' has said since we started.  That
there is just no space for social democracy these days.  Old
social-democratic parties, like the LPs, have become liberal middle
class parties totally devoted to administering capitalism, and backed by
powerful sections of the bourgeoisie (eg Clark's LP in NZ; Blair's party
in Britain, but also the SPs in France, germany and elsewhere).
Attempts to re-establish social democracy, the Alliance in NZ being
probably the most successful, have come unstuck as they have had to face
up to contemporary capitalist realities.

Anderton and co. were prepared to trade the blood of the people of
Afghanistan, and whoever else Bush chose to attack, for a few minor
tinkerings to the system in NZ.  yet the reality is that the current
Labour/Alliance government, which describes itself as centre-left, is
economically to the right of the old National Party tories in government
for most of the 1960s and 1970s.

It's quite interesting times in NZ, because we have a substantial
disenchantment with bourgeois politics, but an incredibly weak left.
Not just weak, but minuscule.

One bright development is that 'revolution' and the Workers Party of NZ
(WPNZ), a Maoish (not Moaist, but Maoish) group have come to an
agreement to run a joint election campaign.  Although 'revolution' and
WPNZ come from very different political backgrounds, we have formed a
very good working relationship and the electoral platform was agreed in
barely a few days.  Our joint election campaign is called the
Anti-Capitalist Alliance.  We will be fielding candidates in Auckland,
Wellington and Christchurch, with a particular emphasis on challenging
government ministers in working class constituencies.  We will be trying
to sign up the 500 members necessary in order to get the ACA on the
party list, which would allow us to be on the ballot nationally as a
party, to get the party vote.  While this is a big ask, and we may well
not achieve it, it isn''t totally beyond the realm of possibility.  In
any case it is a good way to expand our influence as revolutionaries,
meet lots of new people and set down a marker for the next elections.
WPNZ and 'revolution' are also looking at other ways of collaborating
as, despite our very different backgrounds, it seems we have common
positions on a lot of contemporary questions.

We also invited the ISO, which is aligned with the American ISO, to get
involved, but they declined on the basis that they didn't think a bold
election campaign was feasible.  However they have been informed that
the door remains open to them.

I'll post the platform the ACA is standing on in a later post.

Philip Ferguson



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