Tuesday, 11 November 2008

Phil Goff? Can't get excited.

Phil Goff has just been named the successor to Helen Clark, but has also been touted as a kind of antidote to her. To the right of Labour, Goff is also thought likely to be more popular with disgruntled conservative Labour voters than the outgoing PM.

Chris Trotter wrote an interesting piece about the demise of Clark and her government, blaming a 'feral' electorate for dumping her out of small-mindedness (http://www.stuff.co.nz/sundaystartimes/4754666a6005.html). Mostly, Trotter argues, a chunk of the NZ public simply had a problem with Helen's being a woman. I do and don't agree with him. Jenny Shipley wore a lot less misogynist crap than Helen Clark did. I think it was not just Clark's gender which got her offside with some - rather, it was the fact that she was a woman advocating socially progressive politics. Jenny was cut some slack because she was a mum - she fit the expected female career path better than the 'childless lesbo', as Young Nats called Clark - and advocated policies which did not challenge gender or family norms, as civil unions and the repeal of section 59 have done.

Goff appears to offer a return to a less threatening politics. But it's worth asking, if Labour moved to the right under Goff's stewardship and took its focus off socially progressive policy, in what way would it differ from the Nats? This would be curiously like the status quo before the fourth Labour government, when the major parties saw eye-to-eye on certain Keynesian institutions, including the welfare state. The Nats saw it as a safety net, and Labour as a means to redistribute wealth, but in practice, the welfare state stayed much the same under both.

It remains to be seen what form the rest of the backlash against the era of Helen will take. I have a suspicion that we will not see another female leader of either major party for a while. The ladies have had their turn. No one would be boorish enough to disagree that girls can do anything - but we don't want them doing it too often, and certainly not as often as men. So runs the logic of those who point out that we have had a female PM, Governor General and Speaker of the House simultaneously, overlooking the many decades in which all three posts were held simultaneously by men.

By choosing Goff, and somewhat disassociating itself (for now, at least) from Clark's more progressive politics, Labour has taken what will likely be a popular direction in the current climate. However, if Labour chooses not to differentiate itself from the Nats, it won't win the 2011 election - and wouldn't have much to offer if it did.


Hugh said...

So would it be fair to say that you feel that the move rightward and the move towards male leadership are linked?

Anna said...

Not necessarily. In this case, I think that the choice of Goff is to some extent a disavowal of Helen. A bloke more associated with socially progressive politics would have suited me fine, but wouldn't have served the purpose of consolidating the disgruntled Labour supporters.

SMSD said...

if Labour moved to the right under Goff's stewardship and took its focus off socially progressive policy, in what way would it differ from the Nats?

I think there would be huge differences, specifically:

Commitment to work rights,
Commitment to keeping public assets public,
not employing a "razor gang" to fillet our civil service,
Ongoing rises to the minimum wage,
Not letting Roger Douglas or other such assorted ghouls near the levers of power,
and thats just for a start.

To be honest, i think the actual difference between Helen and Phil is much overstated. Phil might be a bit more socially conservative, but not massively so, and he will also be restrained by the caucus.

Frankly, i think if we are to win the next election, we probably needed a labour party leader who was a touch more socially conservative. I think that whatever Phil's shortcomings might be, he is the person most likely to lead Labour into government in 2011.

Anna said...

I'm not suggesting so much that Labour will move to the right to meet National, but that the Nats have moved towards the centre (for now at least) to mimic a great deal of Labour's policy platform.

The Nats (and I'm not saying they won't change their tune) have undertaken not to sell public assets in the first term, to trim the public service by attrition, and to keep Roger Douglas away from Cabinet. They may well do the things you've suggested, but that's not the policy platform they're going in on. They've also agreed to continue flagship Labour policies including interest-free student loans and Working for Families.

Their rhetoric around the nanny state was their greatest point of differentiation during the campaign - and this seems to subsume all things 'politically correct'.

SMSD said...

You're quite right that National have adopted most of Labour's policies, although they have also said they will weaken kiwisaver, acc and labour rights.

That is actually a sign of the progress we have made over 9 years, we have moved National towards the centre. I still am in two minds as to whether JK actually has either the will or the ability to hold his caucus or allies to a centrist position.

At the very least, i think they will try hard to sell right wing reforms to the public. i doubt they will straight out break promises, as that would probably be electoral suicide. however, they will be able to run down services and the minimum wage simply by sitting back and letting inflation do its work.

I think the next three years will be fascinating.

Carol said...

Yes I think we should be glad to see any left-friendly action & support it, and be ready to challenge vigorously anything that weakens the gains made under the Labour government, or worsens the circumstances of minorities, people on lower incomes, Maori, immigrants, women, LGBT people etc.

The Maori Party deal looks like a positive one for Maori, though it falls short of entrenching seats. But in the face of possible National axing the seats, it's a necessary deal. However Labour would have gone further and aimed to entrench the seats - though it wouldn't have succeeded without the support of National.

We need to watch carefully to see if National tries to work towards more gender equality within and outside the government, given that their challenge to Clark/Labour on the road to government included the circulation of a load of mysogynistic and lesbophobic chattering in popular discourse.

The National Party leadership and MPs didn't use such rhetoric themselves, but seem to have supported bloggers whose forums perpetuated it, and to have dog-whistled on it: eg Key's subtext of "I am a heterosexual family man with children" in the way he was promoted.

Julie said...

Anjum has written about the first time she met Phil Goff, and her impressions of both him and Annette King, over at her blog.