Who is the left’s Rodney Hide?

I had some thoughts on Rodney Hide’s latest column in the Herald on Sunday:

And they kept developing so I figured I had the makings of a blog post there!

Who’s the left’s Rodney Hide? I submit we don’t have one. Many people have equally-extreme leftwing views, but not a weekly column in the Herald on Sunday. Hide is a commentator – not a blogger. There’s a lot of authority in that distinction, and a lot more influence.

We have some great progressive commentators – like Michele A’Court, Dr Susan St John, Deborah Russell. They get some column space and a few TV spots. But they’re usually talking about real issues. (Shocking!) Rodney Hide talks in narratives. Like redefining the word “industrious” to mean “people with a lot of money”. Or reinforcing the idea that the only good thing is economic value, and the only proper frame for deciding what’s right and wrong is profit and loss.

He’s not discussing a real issue or a concrete policy. He’s tearing down a reverend who dared to say money isn’t everything, and people’s lives are more important than one man’s wealth. The rightwing narrative is so entrenched that we don’t even notice that he’s basically arguing against everything Jesus ever said.

There are staunch left commentators – like Helen Kelly and Robert Reid – who get op eds and panel seats on The Nation or Q&A. But they aren’t the equivalent of Rodney Hide, because they’re not actually extreme. They talk about fairness and decent working conditions, not, say, the immediate need for compulsory unionism and the renationalisation of all private property.

And some people who get to comment “from the left” are significantly to the right of Labour.

daenerys fire

Across the Anglo world, we’ve seen rightwing parties get into power and stay in power, despite passing harmful, often unpopular policies, because (in part) they’ve got a loud voice on their right making them look reasonable by comparison. The UK Tories have UKIP, National have ACT, the US Republicans have the Tea Party.

(They’ve also got a lot more money and convinced us all that economics is a hard science, but baby steps!)

The respective Labour/Democratic parties have chased the ever-moving-rightwards centre – conceding the basic argument that the economy is more important than people. Not only that, they’ve usually been the most vigorous opposers of their own left flank.

leo west wing what are you doing
This plays out every time Young Labour put forward a remit on, well, anything. Instead of rolling out MPs to say “no, that’s stupid”, these are opportunities for Labour to go “well it’s a bit extreme, but” then re-affirm its leftwing principles and announce a toned-down version as reasonable, progressive policy.

That is, do what National do when their right flank calls for total privatisation of state assets – “oh no, but what about selling off 49% of the shares in them?” – or a flat tax – “oh, that’s too far, but what about slashing the top rate?”

Expand the frame of available, credible opinions and declare yourself in the middle.

It may seem difficult in practice, because anyone from the left is automatically “less credible” than a taxpayer-rorting ex-MP like Rodney Hide. But our media are crying out for a drawcard, in this age of falling ad revenue and social media distractions. They want drama.

Look at the Goff vs Collins segment on Stuff: the idea (however well you think it’s executed) is to get a bit of argy-bargy going, post something which will simultaneously outrage the lefties and the righties, and voila: more eyeballs on product. Consider Radio NZ’s Panel, which gets a lot more buzz among the #nzpol blogosphere when it’s not Matthew Hooton vs Mike “I agree with Matthew” Williams. Want to get the left and the right tuning in? Have a real argument. That means having real differences of opinion.

gladiator entertained

I think there’s space for a few more staunch, out-there leftwing voices in our discourse. But there’s a final wrinkle: it only works if Labour wants it to. Only if we want to be the party which puts people first, and isn’t afraid of doing the right thing even when the high priests of the economy scream the sky will fall, which refuses to play the right’s game on their terms.

Find the right people. Put them up there. Shift the centre. Or it’s just going to be two more years of Rodney Hide making it easier and easier for National to get that fourth term.

The line between political activist and commentator

Owen Jones wrote a great piece the day before Jeremy Corbyn was elected leader of the UK Labour Party, reflecting on his own role and how people’s perceptions of his writing might be affected if Corbyn won.

It was never my intention or ambition to become a writer. … All I’m interested in is reaching people with political ideas that are otherwise banished. Obviously, the role of any individual in political change is limited and modest. I’ve spent the last few years trying to contribute to rebuilding an alternative politics, and unashamedly so. I see myself as an equal to any other activist: we’re all trying to achieve political change and contribute in different ways.

That makes my relationship with the mainstream media pretty difficult and conflicted. … Choose your metaphor or simile: but it feels like swimming against an extremely strong tide, without getting out the world’s smallest violin (oops, another one).

The point I’d make is this. I make my opinions and biases abundantly clear. But there are news journalists who are as opinionated as me, but pretend to be impartial. Indeed news and opinion are extremely blurred in this country. It is often possible to read through a news article about British politics and have a fair guess at the political convictions of the writer. As for the mainstream press as a whole — while, it serves as a very sophisticated de facto political lobbying operation, overwhelmingly promoting the cause of right-wing politics.

Go read the whole thing, it’s excellent.

It obviously gave me a bit of pause for thought. I don’t have anything like Jones’ reach or platform (no paid media gigs is a significant one) and I don’t think I’m anywhere near his level. But I am a party activist. I was fairly closely involved in Andrew Little’s campaign for the Labour leadership (enough so, and proud enough of my work, to stick it on my LinkedIn page like a total nerd, prompting a few interesting “who’s viewed your profile” results.) I work for the biggest Labour affiliate union, and blog in my free time on a clear understanding I am expressing my personal opinions.

There are plenty of other people in the NZ political blogosphere and commentariat who wander back and forth across the pundit/activist lines. Many, unfortunately, don’t draw clear lines about when they’re acting as one or the other – and that goes for people on the left as well as the right. And many, I believe, don’t reflect Jones’ commitment to only put in print what he would say behind closed doors anyway.

I can tell you I’m happy to make that commitment. I may choose to comment or not to comment on different issues, but when I comment, you’re getting my opinion on the matter. (Of course, if you already think I’m a party hack regurgitating Head Office’s key messages you aren’t going to believe me, but that’s up to you.)

I have an agenda, just like Owen Jones and just like anyone else who believes passionately in their politics. I want to see “my side” succeed. But a pillar of my ideology is that democracy is the bedrock of our society, and for democracy to function properly it needs an informed, aware electorate.

If we start telling voters what we think they want to hear, in order to gain power at any cost, we don’t deserve power. The other side don’t deserve power either, but I’m not willing to destroy everything that makes our movement worthwhile to get them out. What precisely would we achieve then? The same cold-hearted value-free government with a different arrangement of faces on the front bench.

Words are my tool. I love to write and express my political beliefs through writing. Sometimes that’ll be within the Party of which I’m currently a member. Sometimes that’ll be here. Usually it’ll be on Twitter.

I do work in communications, and I haven’t always worked for employers whose policies or processes I agreed with. And yeah, in those instances I’ve given advice on how to communicate their terrible policy or process best, if that was my job. But when I tell you something is my opinion, you can believe it, and you can believe I will say it to anyone behind closed doors who wants to listen.

If someone wanted to pay me to say it in a major newspaper I’d be down with that too …

freddie mercury wink

60 tweeps to follow this election

Bryce Edwards had his go at a list of the top 100 tweeters to follow this election, but with only 24 women making the cut he faced terrible accusations of “a perceived lack” of gender balance. The silver lining is that his follow-up post was chock-full of the women who complained! Pesky, pesky women, as ColeyTangerina put it.

I thought I’d try my hand at a list – with a lot of women, an entirely obvious leftwing bias, and a big disclaimer right up front that these are just people who I think have interesting things to say about the election and NZ politics. Please suggest your own faves in the comments!

In the interests of deflecting criticism, tweeps are listed alphabetically by username. Click on their name to see their Twitter feed and give them a follow!

Mainstream media

Get the inside scoop on the night’s top stories/the front page/the stuff that gets bumped because an All Black has a career-threatening injury.

Politicians

The good, the weird and the always-interesting-even-if-I-disagree-with-them.

https://twitter.com/asenatitaylor/status/501607601721704448

(Editor’s note: I am, like, 95% sure this isn’t the parody Asenati account. But who can tell?)

Nerds and h4xx0rs

Knowledge is power, innit?

Thinking folk

My people. And me. It’s my list, dammit.

https://twitter.com/DorothySarker/status/502335746062024704

https://twitter.com/tripthestation/status/503136017067429888

https://twitter.com/verbscape/status/503325468439748608

https://twitter.com/VishOnAMish/status/503293412045385728

https://twitter.com/writehandedgirl/status/501658041498869760

LOLz

It’s a laugh, isn’t it?

What?

That noise you make at the back of your throat.

Oh yeah, that’s a laugh.

https://twitter.com/johnkeysemotion/status/501939506346332161

Token rightwing pundit for “balance”

Hear the National Party’s key messages whole hours before they show up on The Panel!

https://twitter.com/MatthewHootonNZ/status/499984634302574593