Salient: Victoria University of Wellington Students' Newspaper. Vol. 32, No. 7. 1969.
Where else could it be? Row upon row of dedicated knitting women, huddled groups of ardent young politicos, despondent party hacks, irritated unionists. In the public galleries a few small clusters of meek, chattering, limp-wristed, glassy-eyed pensioners in love with Big Norm, limp-he's promised to "give us more". At the front, the ogres of New Zealand politics. Towering on the stage, a line of boorish, chainsmoking, gum-chewing, fat and restless whitehaired men.
One in particular draws attention to himself by continually fidgetting, gesticulating to the audience, picking his nose, belching, reading a grubby newspaper pulled every few minutes from the depths of a shabby formerly grey double-breasted suit. During Big Norm's speech on Monday night this Party hack rose nine times from his seat and lurched from the stage—either to urinate or grab another drink—the latter most likely judging from his deteriorating stance and his frequent drinking motions meant to encourage other "leaders" outside for a quick whisky.
This is a Labour Party Conference. This week in Wellington. And the old group on stage is the Old Guard, the leadership of the New Zealand Labour Party. This is the image of the Labour Party that comes across on TV, through the News Media. An old and tired party with an entrenched and bureaucratic USSR type hierarchy.
In front of the ogres are lined the party adherents. On the sides the media men—in particular New Zealand's two political experts—Professors Chapman and Jackson, who've been reporting the Labour Conference for years. They know by heart their lines for the numerous radio and TV interviews and comments which they'll do during this Conference. They've learnt them al the three or four or five or ten previous Labour Party Conferences they've attended. Nothing ever changes.
The young radicals each year come full of hope, and at the end go away shattered. Or else, as was the case last year, they think they've won, because now they're "listened to by the Old Guard."
That's what they think anyway. The "young men of the Party"—the Mike Hirschfelds, the Hamish Keiths, are called to the platform to perform their ritual obeisiance to the leadership. They might have some influence on smaller issues, but certainly no power. The Old Guard might promise all sorts of things (like seals on the National Executive as they did in 1968) but when it comes to the crunch the Old Guard forgets about the Hirschfelds, Keiths and Boshiers. If the young prove too troublesome they're thrown out—like Gager and Blizard.
Big Norm wants to lower the voting age to 20, but he's not really sure about his reasons. He wants to "foster the opinions of the young within the Party"—but whether he is willing to lake notice is another matter. It is quite obvious he doesn't like university students (one reason of course why the lime of the conference was shifted forward), for he says "you won't change anything by demonstrations . . . young people shouldn't advocate lost causes, it's important to roll up sleeves and be involved in good works." What a paternalistic and unrealistic view of young people, and what a poor future for youth in the Labour Party!
On one thing only was Mr. Kirk a little frightening, and he gives a good insight into his personality and that of the Old Guard; Big Norm has tried to jump on the morality keep New Zealand clean" jag. He wants to "increase the New Zealand Police Force"—in fact if you read between his lines he wants to double the police force: "to keep the vicious elements off the streets ... the most effective deterrent is the certainly of detection and the certainly of conviction." This authoritarian and outmoded plea for more police might get a few more voles—but who wants this reactionary type of vote for what's meant to be a progressive party?
Big Leader Norm might be bright, but his speeches, policies and actions so far give little indication of this. One-armed Norm (President Douglas) might be a good president and future cabinet minister, but he is the leader of the Old Guard and there have been changes of nepotism levelled against him. The Labour candidates elected in November (e.g.. Professor Keith Sinclair, Dr. Michael Bassett etc.) might be of good quality, but for any new and progressive policies to emerge inferior MP's and stolid conservative party organisation have to be beaten down.
The Parliamentary Labour Party has to realise that the lime has passed for meaningless catchphrases and "acceptable" statements which used to pass for policy. Labour MP's will have to unlearn their diatribes and stop repeating endlessly Big Norm's favourite quips. "Bad administration by the National Party, "the destruction of welfare services" and so on might all be true, but criticism alone doesn't win elections. New policies have to be determined and promoted, but given the present situation, I can't see Labour attempting the task.