Is Chris Trotter poking another stick into the Labour Party hive? Under the heading We DO need another hero he blogs:
“WE DON’T NEED ANOTHER HERO” sings Tina Turner in Mad Max Beyond Thunderdome. It’s a curiously contradictory song because, if you listen to the lyrics, it soon becomes painfully clear that a hero is exactly what these captive children, “the last generation”, need: someone who does “know the way home”; someone who can lead them “beyond Thunderdome”.Perhaps the popularity of the 1985 hit recording is attributable to the worldwide collapse in the public’s – and especially the young’s – faith in political leaders and political ideologies. This was, after all, an era dominated by the polarising figures of Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher, leaders who made it very clear that they would rather be dead than red and were quite willing to enlist the rest of us in proving the point. Mad Max was itself set in a post-nuclear-apocalypse world. In the eyes of many young people, heroes weren’t the solution – heroes were the problem.And yet, as even the most cursory glance at the historical record makes clear, people not only need heroes but they are ready and willing to follow them. Indeed, modern political marketing is about little else. Just take a look at a professionally produced campaign ad. Note the camera angles, the lighting, the music, the symbolic references: the entire exercise is devoted to making the candidate look taller, wiser, braver, more patriotic, more heroic that his or her rivals.
So where is Trotter going with this? After a reasonably lengthy dissertation on the history of socialism (yes; it was wasted on us), he starts to get to the point:
Heroes succeed because they embody the virtues and have acquired the skills necessary to overcome or divert the forces their communities feel most threatened by. The hero is the distillation of collective aspiration, not its creator.
John Key’s extraordinary success as a political leader owes a great deal to how closely his own career conforms to the heroic monomyth.The story begins with John, an ordinary Kiwi joker with a head for figures, setting out on a risky journey into the fantastic world of high finance, where all but the hardiest and most cunning traders are eaten alive. Having mastered the magical art of making money, and acquired a vast fortune, John returns home from his adventures determined to put his hard-won skills to good use among his own people.It is difficult to imagine a “hero” better suited to the needs of twenty-first century New Zealand. John Key’s very ordinariness confirms his “Everyman” status, and amplifies the potency of his success. The power he wields is not his own, but a weapon forged from the capacities inherent in every Kiwi: those mysterious qualities that allow New Zealanders to “punch above their weight”; that national essence which sanctions John Key’s followers’ vicarious participation in his personal and political success. He is Us, and We are Him. It’s why, until an even more emblematic hero comes along, John Key will remain invincible.
Now we are starting to get to the point; apologies that it has taken so long, but these are Chris Trotter's words, not ours upon which we are commenting! He continues:
For a while, it looked as though Labour had found just such an emblem. David Shearer’s story, like John Key’s, begins with an ordinary bloke setting forth on a journey, during which he encounters all manner of monsters – from Somali warlords to murderous Israeli settlers – learning in the process the magic spells for opening the human heart to compassion, justice and reconciliation. He, too, returns to his people and, at the crucial moment, steps forward from the shadows to declare that he is the one destined to lay low the National Party usurper.Except he hadn’t learned the spells, or, if he had, he could no longer remember them.It’s as if Arthur stepped up to the sword in the stone, gave it a confident tug – and nothing happened. Instead of a sword flashing in the sunlight above his head, proof positive that he was “rightwise King born of all England”, the weapon stays exactly where it is, and the hero, with an embarrassed shrug, picks up a guitar instead.
And at last, Trotter gets to his killer line:
Does Labour have another hero? And, if it does, can we assume that the first obstacles and adversaries he must overcome are all inside his own party?
The jury is out on that. And even if there is another contender for the Labour Party leadership should caucus decide that David Shearer is not the one to lead the attack against the Government, caucus is by no means united. The mere fact that there was an ABC lobby (Anyone But Cunliffe) when the leadership was contested in December last year suggest that Labour is hopelessly divided.
But above all, we don't quite get what Trotter is doing here. For New Zealand to become the socialist utopia he so yearns for, Labour must lead the next government. Is he trying to out the last remnants of Labour's Great Leap to the Right? And does the voting public have an appetite for hard Left policies such as those for which Trotter has advocated over the years?
This is another provocative piece from Chris Trotter. We suspect that it won't be too well received by the Labour hierarchy, except perhaps those whom Damian O'Connor included in the self-serving category in his infamous speech last year.