Monday, July 14, 2008

New politics for the 'left'.

Needed - a new caring and conserving vision for the future.

I have just read a Australian book on politics ( 'Beyond Left and Right' by David McKnight) which suggests the political 'left' needs to rethink it's position. Although it does not mention New Zealand it is very relevant for our Government in the months ahead. As an aside, although published in 2005, it also fails to mention Kevin Rudd. Things can change quickly in politics!

The 'left' worldwide, the book suggests, has lost its sense of direction while the radical neo conservative 'right' has held the high ground since the 1980s. Centre right governments have simply watered down the worst excesses of privatisation policies ( 'third way' politics) without defining a new position for themselves.

The book argues current political thinking is trapped within a linear political spectrum of left to right beliefs which are now largely irrelevant. This irrelevance, the writer believes, offers a new opportunities, or ways of seeing the world to be developed.

Issues about the environment, the family, economic inequality, cultural diversity, and even deeper issues concerning purpose and meaning in our lives, cross traditional 'left/right' boundaries and need to be re thought through by the 'left'.

The writer suggests the 'left', once the party with ideas of vision and conviction, has lost its radical lead to the 'neo conservatists' since the days of 'Thatcherism', 'Reaganism' and, in new New Zealand, 'Rogernomics'.

The most powerful ideas, in the minds of people are now with the 'right'. The 'left' is increasingly being dismissed as as too focused on intervening into all aspects of our lives - summed up by the phrase 'nanny state'. The 'neo conservative' right being seen as valuing individual responsibility, self sufficiency, less government, more competition, pro business, deregulation, and privatisation of government services. It will pay to be a 'winner' in such a 'free market winner takes all' society; profits before people!

The ills of privatisation are being in danger of being forgotten as the politicians of the right are keeping a return to this radical agenda to themselves ( nothing in the first term !). The 'right' focus prospective voters on the excesses of the 'nanny state', too many highly paid bureaucrats, tax relief, and a sense of a need for change for its own sake. As a result the labour government is forced into an unproductive defensive role.

What the government needs to do is define what it will do in the future along with pressing the opposition on its 'privatisation' policies and what such policies would mean for such areas as education.

Up until now 'privatisation' policies have created a 'winners and losers' society without any promised 'trickle down' to the less fortunate.

The countries following neo conservative policies ( including New Zealand), according to the The World Health Organisation surveys, have higher amounts of distress,anxiety and social problems in their societies than the continental Western European democracies. These European democracies pay far more tax for welfare and social services than we do and, as a result, do not suffer from the stresses that countries like New Zealand do. It is a clear contrast between 'Selfish' and 'Caring' capitalism.

There is a way forward for a revitalised left is the thesis of the book.

Neo conservative policies have left many on the traditional conservatist of the 'right' uneasy as 'new right' policies are putting pressures on the environment, our resources and in the process creating unnecessary social distress. A 'new left' movement needs to tap these conservative feeling towards our environment, and the need to give all citizens a 'fair go'. A society based on consumerism is simply not sustainable.

Traditional conservatists believe in 'conserving' natural resources. The future demands that this need to conserve resources be placed above wasteful unsustainable short term profit motives. The climate crisis needs to be laid at the feet of unsustainable 'free market' capitalism. New policies need to sponsor sensible growth and not simply believe in progress at all costs.

A second area of focus is the family
. Families are under stress and polices to assist would be appreciated. Caring is an area that the new right are uncomfortable about unless such services can be privatised. Provision of an income to encourage mothers to stay home to look after children, if they wish, for the first three years would be worth considering. Another welcome innovation would be to dramatically raise the hourly rate given to all those in the caring institutions that look after the sick and the elderly. People in care should be seen as citizens with rights not 'clients' or consumers.

Older conservatives equally value this need for dignity and care and are uneasy about everything being defined by a monetary value. New 'left' politics need to value peoples need for protection and security.

New concepts of multiculturalism will need to be thought through. Too many conservatist citizens see 'left wing' politics as favouring cultural groups and differences at the expense of the majority. Core New Zealand inclusive values need to be developed that all cultural groups need to live within while at the same time respecting individual and cultural differences. There has been too great an emphasis on differences rather than obligation to the common good and social cohesion.

A 'new left' vision needs to be developed to encourage people to see beyond limited horizons. If this is not achieved people will continue to limit their thinking to short term selfish gains.

The world simply cannot survive with the 'selfishness' of free market capitalism
.There are are caring and conserving values that the 'free markets' are unable to consider. Everything cannot be left to the 'invisible hand' of the market - new left politics must develop the equally important 'invisible heart' of a caring, civilised and sustainable society.

Neither the current pragmatic left wing politics nor the neo conservatist monetary politics will provide solutions to the problem facing individual countries such as New Zealand or the bigger issues facing the sustainability of the earth itself.

To face up to the new realities and to achieve such a vision will demand of the 'left', according to the author, a rethinking of basic assumptions and the goals of a 'good society'.

Capitalism could be a powerful force for good, not greed, if it became 'green', conserving and caring.

New visions have the power to encourage people to act to be part of a better world.

The ideas in the book represent a need for new of values and a battle of ideas. Humanistic values need to confront the self interestness of the libertarian free market values.

New visions have the power to encourage people to act to be part of a better world to develop a conserving 'better society', one that all gain from and feel part of . To do this 'new left' politics needs to combine with older conservative ethics of care.

Building a moral framework for such a vision, based on humanistic rather than monetary values, is the challenge for the 'new left'.

We haven't seen much of this new vision so far.


Anonymous said...

Sounds like an excellent book and relevant to NZ but I fear the rising cost of living will be the biggest concern of self interested voters plus the feeling that there is need for a change without really knowing why - except for this 'nanny state' feeling. Can't see John Key having any real answers but no one seems to mind.

Bruce said...

A National victory seems inevitable and this is all the more reason for Labour to define what they stand for in the future. National seem to be attracting traditional ( but 'conservatist') labour voters.

Conserving our country for the benefit of us all ( not just the wealthy) is a vital future issue, as will valuing those inlvolved in caring for others and valuing security of families ( mothers, or dads, paid to be at home with their kids if they wish).

And ensuring that obligations to the common good and responsiblity for ones actions are taken seriously rather than seeing people as victims of their history or to be dependent on the state.