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Salient: Victoria University Students' Paper. Vol. 26, No. 9. 1963.

Shand' Nordy debate ... — "Pressure-Groups" form Party Differences

Shand' Nordy debate ...

"Pressure-Groups" form Party Differences

The Minister of Labour, Mr. Shand, outshone Mr. Nordmeyer in the Point of View programme of July 16. But despite the tactical victory, his argument is highly questionable, and the chief reason for his success in creating a favourable impression was his quiet neo-intellectual approach.

There was here no suggestion of the provocative statements such as led Comment. 15, to label him the ministerial kite-flyer, whose function was to test the electorate's reaction to controversial policies. His statements were slow and gave the impression of being considered; in contrast to which Nordmeyer's sounded like quotations from the party's handbook.

Shand was concerned with stating the difference between the major political parties. He conceded the two parties have the same aim—the "protection of the weaker members of society" such as the ill, the aged, and the young within the wider aim of maximum welfare for all. This he declared to be the common heritage of both parties but that the difference between them lay in the method by which this was to be attained.

Shand's picture of the conservative i.e. National Party's method was that of allowing society to develop freely, altering it only when it becomes obvious that a very great gain could be expected. He leaned heavily on Burke's political ideas (which, unlike some people. I am prepared to believe he read himself Society is an organic body, and once a social institution is destroyed, it is exceedingly difficult to replace it.

Against this, Shand saw Socialists such as Labour Party leaders as ready to pursue change whenever it was possible. They would promote change without investigation of its consequences.

It is difficult to think of any major change initiated by the Labour Party since its introduction of Social Security In the 1930s. It certainly did not appear to want to change anything offering between 1957 and 1960. Nor does its present election programme so far announced appear to confirm Shand's claim.

Nor is the Burkean concept of an organic society unacceptable to a socialist. In essence it asserts merely that society is not the sum of the individuals who happen to be living at a particular moment of time; that it has a history and presumably a future, both of which must be considered in forming present policy.

Care must be taken in altering a social institution, but the Burkean concept does not preclude change and there is no reason why a socialistic change should be less carefully considered than any other; or in more concrete terms, why a change initiated by the Labour Party should be less calculated than one initiated by the National Party.

Thus Shand's attempted distinction breaks down. But we are now left with the problem of establishing the difference between the parties, assuming this exists. Here we are aided by the topic to which Professor Pocock so ably guided the discussion—the aggregation of power within society.

Shand asserted that numerous small foci of power within society are desirable and that they perform a useful function in keeping government alert and sensitive to public opinion. But this evades the issue; small foci tend to merge into a smaller number of large foci able to wield considerable power on their own, e.g. Federated Farmers, Manufacturers' Association. FOL. And Nordmeyer's comment on the prevalence of interlocking directorates, although poorly phrased, is of significance.

Shand's assertion that the Labour Party aimed to destroy these foci and aggregate all power within the government is patently false.

We cannot conceive of Nordmeyer trying to replace the FOL with a government department or to engross Federated Farmers within the Department of Agriculture. But Nordmeyer's statement that such foci should be subordinate to the elected government is perfectly valid.

Government must take decisions with a view to national interests and not be unduly swayed by any such pressure group or focus of power. But again it is difficult to imagine Shand disagreeing with this very conventional proposition.

Nevertheless, we can see some difference between the parties in this general area. Prof. Pocock suggested that the major aggregation of power was taking place in the hands of those who arbitrate between these pressure groups—"Mr. Walsh and his opposite number" in the past. But here he was focussing his attention too much on the Arbitration Court—most arbitrations must be made by government when it decides on its short term policies, draft bills, etc.

It is in the relative weight that is given to each of the competing "pressure groups" that we can see differences between the parties. The Labour Party is concerned directly but not solely with the "small man," the labourer, the clerk, and skilled worker. The National Party appears more willing to believe that the welfare of this group is served by attending to the business man and farmer and gives more weight to the pressure groups who present the case for this group.

But the issue is by no means clear-cut and Nordmeyer's characterisation of the National Party as the "party of privilege" is a very great simplification.

Nevertheless, it is in areas like this that we can find differences between the parties, not in methods but in the interpretation given to the nebulous concept of "aim" as outlined by Shand. And it may be noted that these differences are apparent in short-term policies, whereas neither party appears to have any long-term policy, thus precluding any conflict between them.

While it is useful to have debates of this kind, such essential differences as Shand and Nordmeyer were trying to establish will not be decisive in elections. There the explicit electoral programme, habits and differences between the leading personalities of each party will be more important. And there it will be even more difficult to find essential differences between the parties.

If either party could find a long-term policy which marked it off more clearly from its opponents, and which was acceptable to the electorate, it would win this year's election. But the prospect of this is remote. Perhaps it is more likely that such a policy should come with a new party—Nordmeyer may be right in his suggestion that the Labour and National parties may not exist in 1980 (Evening Post 29/5/63).

Differences between the present parties are difficult to find, but we suggest that they do exist in attitudes to different groups in society. The analysis of these differences printed in this year's Cappicade (remember the blank space) is not complete.

—G. R. Hawke