Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol 35 no. 10. 24 May 1972
labour party conference
labour party conference
'I dreamed I saw Norm Kirk last night,
As big as two or three.
I told him: 'Norm, your party's dead',
"It's half alive said he.
'Its half alive' said he.
The handsome moon like face of Norm Kirk, Leader of the Opposition (from the verb to oppose Mr. Kirk) has been wearing an unhappy frown lately. Not that you would have seen it unless you happened to be at the Labour Party Conference, because Norm has taken to sending his mate Arthur Faulkner along to the TV studio to front for him. The last time was when the polls showed National in the lead and Norm couldn't go along to explain it away because his eyes were all red from crying into his pillow.
But there he was at the Conference as bold as a brass nose. It was a loverly Conference, with cups of tea and scones with jam and butter for morning tea. Joe Cote had seven. They do a lovely morning tea at the Labour Party. There had been some changes from last year though. In 1971 a cup of tea was fifteen cents and this year it was two bob, which just goes to show that Mr Muldoon hasn't been able to cope with inflation. Last year too, they had this big sign up the front which said It's time for a change. This year it said: It's time for a real change, which means they didn't really mean it last time I suppose, And everyone was there except Hamish Keith and Keith Sinclair - I wonder what happened to them). Brian Edwards was there sitting next to that well known northern carpetbagger Sue Kedgely and all the delegates had something to say including the man who introduced the Farming Report who was possibly an entrant for the most boring man in the world contest. It's unfair to the other competitors I say. Well loved mob agitator Dan Riddiford simply sparkles by comparison. David Shand said it wasn't very democratic, which is ridiculous because it's a well known fact that it is, as foppish John (Youse Maoris Got It Too Good) Wybrow quite rightly pointed out. The fact that the Policy Committee hasn't met for two years has got nothing to do with it. Well known democrat Bill Rowling told some young Wellington delegates that if they staged a demonstration against Frank Kitts and his unspeakable views on apartheid he'd expel the lot of them, which stilled their piping voices. And Mike Hirshfield got the push. Goodbye Mike. There was much weeping and wailing and wearing of sackcloth and ashes and playing upon the loud cymbals, (should that be symbols). There was throwing up of cloth caps and beating of hobnailed boots upon the floor, and on Friday everyone went home. The caretaker came out and put back all the seats, and caught a bus to the suburbs and said to his wife:Well I'm glad that's over, and that was that.
Ah hah. But what was it really all about, Keith Jackson aside for the moment. The truth of the matter is about damn all. The party conference is an embarrasing horny excrescence on the arse of the Parliamentary Labour Party. This is because the conference represents nothing but itself, not the Labour Party and certainly not the electorate at large. In the first place it's gerrymandered all to hell because it's one of the easiest things in the world to become a delegate if you know someone who knows someone. For some years a delegate.
For instance the aforementioned Hirshfield represented the Seamen's Union, when in point of fact, like a certain character in HMS Pinafore he had 'stuck close to his books and never gone to sea', and fat good that did him. So there are some very odd representatives of this or that union at the conference. This year Mike shared representation of the Ice Cream Workers Union with Sir Francis (Wog Flogger) Kitts. Strange bedfellows. There is also another reason which relates to the consensus politics practiced by all New Zealand political parties, and I want to come back to that in a moment. In the meantime suffice it to say that all those young hopefulls who go along to the conference to influence party policy would be better advised to try that from a seat in parliament. How they go about that is another matter but it will involve them in a number of interesting party games like moveing the Substantive Motion tor the Umpteenth Time, Follow My Leader, Stabbing the Friends, and cringing. If they can last that course they deserve to get into parliament. So let us have done with the Labour Party Conference. Into a burlap sack it goes and into the canal. Heave. Splash. Right, now we can talk about politics.
Whatever happens at the Conference Norm Kirk must continue to cry himself to sleep and subsequently wake up screaming in the night, because no matter how you look at those poll figures, even upside down they bode no well for the electoral prospects of the party. Very nasty they are.
Only 42% said they'd vote Labour which is a drop of 5% on March 71 while since then National support has claimed to 44%. About 4% of the people asked said they thought they might vote after all as if voting was some sort of significant social act, and 9%, Godbless them, still don't want to vote at all. As it happens, and as Harold Wilson will be glad to tell you poll figures are a load of old cods anyway, but Norm can't afford to believe that.
The nett result of all this is that beneath the Labour Party's gleaming exterior its underwear is full of holes, the reason being that Labour has never had more than a quite small firm electoral base. Right from its early years the only votes it has been able to rely on, even if it policy was that all Labour voters should be shot, are most urban blue collar workers and some specialist groups in other areas - miners, shearers, construction workers, seamen and what not. Even the great victories of 1935 and 1938 netted less than 50% of the votes. In 1935 they got in with 52 seats but only 40% of the vote (which, just out of interest is 3% less than Hitler and the Nazis got in the Federal elections of 1932) To get even this they had to water down their policies and project their leadership to attract white collar and farming votes Since the war the historic social trend has been against blue collar workers. It is not generally known that the FOL has today a majority of white collar workers: Add to these the 48,000 plus members of the PSA, a predominantly white collar union, and you will find that the vast majority of the electorate are white collar workers who are red necks to a man. Labour's reliable support has been eroding for the past 25 years, and the result has been the progressive alteration of party policy to appeal to white collar groups. It has been a schizophrenic and traumatic task because the Labour Party is historically committed to a policy of sackcloth and ashes, and thats something about which white collar workers do not wish to know. The conference, on the other hand, is stacked with socialists, and social democrats and vulgar Marxists with a firm philosophic belief that things are going to worsen before they get better. Some remits they pass are an electoral embarrassment to the party leadership and in the past they have attempted to draw a veil of silence of them. But over the past few years some of these remits have refused to lie down, and the party has employed an advertising agency to cover them up. Labour policy has now become trendy sackcloth and ashes.
Creaming the Losers
But the cream of the joke is that Labour's policy does not win it elections, because there is only majority electoral support for one political party in this country, and that support is currently in the possession of Gentlemanly Jack Marshall and the lads and lasses of the National Party caucus. Possession, as we know, is nine tenths of the law. If I were one of your average white collar workers and voted National I could see no earthly reason for changing my vote to a party which on the face of it is no different from the party for which I already vote, and beneath the surface talks about things I don't want to know. That is unless my party had made such a mess of things that I couldn't bring myself to vote for them without vomiting. And that is precisely what appears to be happening despite the polls. National supporters are browned off. The farming community has been doing a rerun of the Peasant's Revolt, there will be a low poll and I predict that National is going to lose in November Labour is not going to win because Labour has never won an election in its life, it has simply hung about until the other side has lost, and then stepped in and claimed that it can run things the same only better, which it probably can. Which leaves the odd person here and there wondering if perhaps things could be run not only better but different, in short, that it's time for a real change. And there, God help us, the matter rests.page 5
Four days of political intrigue, electioneering and dull remits dully debated, (a dissatisfying experience for all but the party die-hards), make a Labour Party Conference. At the end of it all the delegates trudge back home to prepare for November, not, it seems, nearly as convinced about the inevitability of victory as the party leaders.
The message of the leadership was clear: We must win this election. No matter what the cost. The message began at the Youth Conference, when Rowling, Bennett and Wybrow addressed the young members. 'We must not espouse any cause which will help us lose the election' said Uncle Tom Bennett, a thought enthusiastically endorsed by Rowling.
As the Press coverage showed, at least some delegates refused to accept this ruling, and spluttering against the hierarchy were heard throughout the week.
Party President Bill Rowling began the conference, calling for an attempt to 'rekindle a spirit of national pride' in order to prevent us becoming a 'nation of confrontation.' His was a speech which, true to his temperament, was conciliatory, the reasonable man speaking straight from his heart. The usual tired attacks on the National Party, the monotony of which caused a delegate on the final day to say, 'Lets stop telling the country what is wrong with the National Party, and start telling them what is right with democratic socialism.' Rowling is full of smiles and bullshit, even accusing the National Government of 'abdicating to an army of committees, commissions, and authorities'. (Not bad for the leader of a Party which itself proposed 6 Councils of various types in its 1969 election manifesto).
The first day also saw an attempt by David Shand to question the constitutional arrangement of the Party He attacked the fact that the Policy Committee was not elected by Conference, and tended to be dominated by the Parliamentary Party. No-one spoke in support of him and the protest dies, but apart from the fact that his complaints were justified, the incidents revealed two things of interest. First, the general docility of the delegates, and second, Shand's complete lack of political know-how in getting up to speak on such an issue without arranging following speakers.
As if to underline the object lack of ideas amongst the leadership, Bob Harvey, the head of their public relations firm, addressed the conference. Harvey underlined the crucial political significance of getting advertisements on the right-hand side of the page, and of beginning messages in classified columns with a letter early in the alphabet. It was this type of brilliant analysis which made the 1969 campaign the tremendous success Harvey assured them it had been. Conveniently forgetting that the Party had in fact lost the election, Harvey promised them more of the same.
Public relations appear to be headache for the Party. Peter Debreceny, their P.R.O. runs around looking after the Press, with occasional pats on the head from Bill Rowling, but rumour has it that Big Norm is not so keen. He spent an hour attacking Debreceny and the general P.R.O. situation in a recent caucus meeting. Perhaps this is just another example of the Kirk-Rowling split which is starting to show. Kirk is well in control of the party, though he stayed fairly much in the background most of the time.
Uncle Tom Bennett was easily re-elected Vice-President and played the tame Maori role to perfection. 'I accept this honour with humility and gratitude. An honour bestowed on the Maori people as a whole'. Bennett chaired some of the Conference, but it was noticeable that whenever anything which was even slightly controversial came up, Rowling would elbow him out of the chair.
Piss-up on Monday night at John Hunt's office. Mostly attended by Youth delegates, who relished the free piss and the chance to talk with an M.P. They are human though, as one delegate found when he surprised one Auckland M.P. in his office with a young girl. Music playing and the lights out, and the wife 400 miles away. Politics can be fun.
Brian Edwards seems to be sticking his neck out. A good speech attacking Kirk on law and order just before the Conference, and a strong pro-abortion speech at Conference. He has had a firm rap over the knuckles from Kirk already, who confided in an N.Z.B.C. man recently that he didn't think Edwards would 'make it to the post' in the election. He seems now even more determined to make it, though he is very dissillusioned with the party. He is not liked much by the rank and file, who treat him with some distrust.
Edwards delivered an informative and intelligent speech on abortion, before Big Norm sat on the proceedings. Kirk's anti-abortion reform speech illustrates beautifully the complete lack of integrity in Labour Party policy making. After all, Kirk has confided privately on occasions that he is in fact in favour of such reform. But we musn't lose the Catholic vote we got over private schools though, must we?
All the bally-hoo in the daily press over "radical" Mike Hirschfeild getting the heave-ho was just bullshit. He certainly was pushed rather than falling, but there's little evidence that it was his "outspokeness" that got him. After all, last year Mike represented the Seaman's Union at Conference, but what did he have to say when they were deregistered? Nothing at all. The Seamen were not present this year, and without their support Hirschfeild was arsed out by radicals who didn't like his purpleshirt socialism, and some old unionists who liked it even less but for different reasons. Mike still claims he represents the youth voice, but there is no evidence of youth support. President of the Youth Advisory Council Garth Houltham is in fact issuing a statement denouncing Hirschfield. The family money is all in importing, which no doubt has something to do with Mike's antipathy towards import controls.
The careful media managed "revolt of the youthful masses" has probably done little in the long run to hurt the party bosses. Rowling and Kirk both smiled indulgently while the young idealists ranted before them. On all counts the radicals were outmanaged by the old tricks Leaving all the controversial events till the end, Kirk's beautifully timed speech on abortion which no-one interrupted though it lasted five times the three minute limit.
The debate on the censorship further illustrated the inability of the young radicals to cope with Rowling's stage management. His claim that the appendix was cut because it contained motions" as a round about way of getting discussed", was never countered by the observations that the Women's Report also contained such motions. In the end, of course, the goodies won, spearheaded by young hopeful David Caygill, who announced that, "the only significant act we can take this year is to elect a Labour Government". It may well be Time for a Real Change, but the Labour Party cannot provide it.