On the campaign trail in Dunedin North with Victor Billot

Alliance Party blog

The Great Tertiary Debate – my rankings

with 11 comments

Today was the first real debate of the season. The Great Tertiary Debate was held as part of the NZUSA national students conference at the Dunedin College of Education Auditorium today at 3pm.

I arrived early after a hectic day getting radio and print advertising sorted out, and getting in some work on the Maritime Union magazine I edit as well. Student delegates from throughout New Zealand were milling around and I spoke to a few which was fun and relaxing as they were a pretty mellow bunch.

On to the debate. Well, we all know there was a bit of to-ing and fro-ing to get onto the panel but I am pleased to say NZUSA did me right in the end. Lined up were Conway Powell (National, Dunedin South), Hilary Calvert (ACT, Dunedin North), Joe Burton (United spokesperson), Meteria Turei (Greens, Dunedin North), Pete Hodgson (Labour, Dunedin North), and a woman who had travelled up from Invercargill for the Maori Party, whose name I didn’t catch in full (hope to update this when I find out.)

The debate was run smoothly enough with the two NZUSA co-prezzes on site and Marian Simms from the Pols Department adding her inimitable dry Aussie humour to her duties as Chair.

And of course yours truly.

Here are the results, once again in the interests of fairness I have not rated myself but have uploaded my speech to You tube for you to rate it yourself. (E-democracy?)

Conway Powell (B-)

Mr Conway, as the Otago Daily Times refer to him, must be the unluckiest candidate on the planet. Not only did National send him into Dunedin South where he has fruitlessly doorstepped every pensioner in the vain hope of finding a stray vote, they then put him at number 563 on their list. Cruel blow follows cruel blow.

Now the Tories latest insult to Mr Conway is to send him along to get a pounding at a student forum, probably to let Mr Smooth, their Dunedin North candidate, off the hook so he doesn’t tarnish his John Key Lite image. (John Key Lite – yes, it is possible. Lite lite.)

Anyway Mr Conway knew he was on to a loser from the start and tried to jolly along the audience, even at the expense of making jokes at his own Party’s lack of policy on anything. Maybe he is beginning to sense he has been left out as sharkbait. Conway is a nice guy, and as we all know, in the National Party Universe, nice guys finish last. However God loves a trier and CP is certainly that. We grade him on his sincere but plodding efforts.

Hilary Calvert (-9000%)

I don’t usually give out complete failures, but since the ACT Party want to return to traditional pass/fail educational standards, I feel I can make an exception in this case.

Hilary gave the worst presentation possible. Even I was surprised at her total, resounding lack of any clues about how to deal with this debate. 

I will ignore her politics entirely, for I simply fail to understand how any civilized, modern human being could subscribe to such a half-baked mash of gruesome social darwinism and basic gut-level greed worship. So it would be unfair of me to judge her on her politics.

On her presentation, however, some basic notes:

1. Do not start your speech by telling everyone how they will probably disagree with you. In ACT Party language, a loser attitude will get you a loser result.

2. Do not tell your audience they are stealing money off taxidrivers and grannies. This indicates a sort of political self-destruction urge.

3. Try to find common ground with the audience and present your philosophy as motivated by some kind of positive vibe that connects you with the human race, rather than Nietzsche without the sense of humour.

4. Do not repeat tired cliches like money doesn’t grow on trees or there is no free lunch, because people resent being talked to like they are thickos.

This was always going to be a tough debate for ACT, but someone like Rodney Hide would have bulldozed his way through like a rhino on steroids. Oh well. 

Pete Hodgson (Must try harder, just coasting)

Skeletor” was only going through the motions today. 

His speech only featured a few of his characteristic snarls at the audience and his habit of using punctuation marks in his sentences is becoming increasingly strange.

(i.e Vote for Labour, brackets, vote for Pete Hodgson, close brackets, comma, ampersand, full stop.)

He gave a depressingly empty explanation of why the Government was subsidizing Cadbury’s to set up their new chocolate crumb facility in Dunedin, although I would have picked Pete as more of a compulsive minty TicTac chomper than a chocolate crumb man.

However Pete was in a chipper mood beforehand with the other candidates and is probably looking forward to his relaxing new job as opposition spokesperson for veterinary affairs.

Joe Burton (PhD candidate)

Joe Burton is the United pointsman in Dunedin. A highly qualified Englishman, quietly spoken and personally likeable, Joe’s main problem is that he is in the wrong party. I believe this is dawning on him slowly.

Metiria Turei (7.6 feelgood vibes)

Metiria was her usual cheery self and had loads of supporters with those stupid “I only date boys who vote Green” stickers. No wonder they all look like depressed vegans.

Trouble is with these greenies is none of them actually seem to realize that to fund the Green promises you would have to completely reverse capitalism, which would result in a massive backlash from the rulers. 

The Greens would last about as long as the Happy Valley Snail under a coal truck in such circumstances, because they don’t seem to have any appreciation of these political realities. Why can’t we all just get along, maan?

I actually challenged Meteria on this point during the debate, as to where they were getting their cash from. I think her answer was a little bit of a porky actually because I am still to see any convincing taxation policy from the Greens.

However that’s why I’m not a Green and it was obvious that the liberal hippy crew loves the brand. And of course, it’s hard to dislike these shaggy peaceniks. Hell, some of my best friends are Greens, including my old mate Quentin Jamieson who lives with his tribe of kids and organic chickens next to a swamp in downtown Karamea. (Now that’s a real Green!)

The people who really irk me are ex-Alliance voters who are fudging around supporting the Greens because they don’t have the spine to get back where they should be in a proper democratic socialist party like us. However, some of my best friends are also Alliance refugees hiding in the Greens until someone else does all the hard work of getting the Alliance steaming along again. We’ll get there. But it would be a lot quicker if you guys saw the light . . . 

Maori Party candidate (Pass)

I can’t remember this ladies name, but she was from Invercargill (that’s a start). She had a nice demeanour, seemed genuine and had her heart in the right place.

Politically though I thought she didn’t really have a clue about anything and to be honest I can’t actually recall anything much she said about policies. If the Maori Party cut a deal with National, they deserve nothing but disdain for selling out their people.

Finally I was pleased to see the Jim Anderton’s Hi I’m Jim Anderton and I used to be a relevant politician and this is my little kingdom the Progressive Party flunking out as usual, they couldn’t even get someone to the debate. They are probably too embarrassed by their hideous new website to show their faces in public.

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Written by Victor

October 3, 2008 at 11:34 am

11 Responses

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  1. I thought the Maori Party person was nice, but she never really got into policy at all – she had less specifics than John Key.

    The only National policy Mr Powell brought out was 110% loan credits on repayments over $500. That to me seems like being a 10% discount for wealthy families who pay their child’s bill at the end of the year, rather than up front.

    ACT had the gall to tell the students to “think about something other than your own wallets”, and that “people come before the planet” (so Pete resurrected a previous joke about starting a fund to send the ACT person to Australia and said “send this woman to Mars”). The Greens were feel-good, but no back-end explanation of how they’ll fund it.

    To give Labour their due, things are better now than if we’d had 18 straight years of National (eeep – what a thought!). The platform “we’re not as bad as them” is just a bit uninspiring.

    Victor was the only candidate who got the audience enthusiastic, was honest about paying for policies, and presented a coherent philosophy for those policies (rather than a hodge-podge of “pander to group A, pander to group B …” policy line items).

    That’s why I’m Alliance, and it was well expressed by Victor.

    Andrew Wicken

    October 3, 2008 at 10:02 pm

  2. “Trouble is with these greenies is none of them actually seem to realize that to fund the Green promises you would have to completely reverse capitalism, which would result in a massive backlash from the rulers. ”

    You could say the same of the Alliance, Victor. Your party’s program is a great deal more radical than that of the Greens, and if you think THEIR policy would provoke a backlash, just imagine what yours would trigger!

    Most of what you support in your manifesto is good stuff that, if implemented, would be hugely positive for working-class people. This doesn’t apply to all of it – the commitment to an “adequately resourced police force that… provides [a] speedy response to crime” is a downright reactionary policy. Why would a socialist party like the Alliance be wanting to fund the armed thugs of the capitalist state? So they can be better equipped to escort scabs across the picket line, beat up Maori prisoners in their cells and break down the doors of activists around the country? You mentioned in your speech your own experiences of police brutality during the occupation of the Otago University registery building, so it seems strange that you want to give these thugs more money!

    But regardless of minor cop-outs (no pun intended) like that, on the whole your program is a progressive one that while it isn’t overtly anti-capitalist, would rattle the capitalist system were it to be implemented.

    And yet you still appear to cling to the belief that this could be achieved through legal, peaceful and parliamentary means, without the ruling class moving against you. I think it’d be a real shame if the face of Victor Billot ended up next to that of Salvador Allende in the socialist movements hall of martyrs.

    You criticise the Greens for not comprehending the power of the forces they’re up against and what these forces are prepared to do to retain said power, and yet you don’t seem to understand it any better than they do (I suspect you personally do, at the least, but the Alliance Party doesn’t have any polcies that reflect this).

    Thannkfully though, there is an organisation in NZ called the Workers Party, and from what I’ve seen of these guys they look pretty clued up. 😉 They recognise that there’s no possibility of building a socialist society based on workers power and a rationally planned economy without running into the wall of capitalist repression, and they recognise the need for revolutionary methods to break through this wall. They realise that it’s necessary to dismantle the police and military, not continue to fund them, and to build armed organisations of the working class to take their place.

    Obviously a revolution isn’t on the horizon any time soon, but we’ll get there. It would happen a lot quicker if you guys saw the light . . .

    By the way, I letterboxed all the houses on Larnarch Road between my place and the fish and chips shop with your pamphlets, so you can thank me for the resulting surge of votes!

    Alastair Reith, an unbiased commentator

    October 4, 2008 at 1:48 pm

  3. Ah yes, the “armed thugs.” Well, they are the people I called when drunken members of the young proletariat stole my $3000 car and drove it into a hedge. Wait a second – that would mean police have a useful function, protecting citizens from aggressive and dangerous individuals, as well as functions that are used to oppress and maintain capitalist power.

    Hmmm – this is a paradox. How could this possibly be?

    What about the retired policemen I know? One was an Alliance MP who now works a community lawyer and the other voted Alliance. Wait a second – how can this possibly be? You mean there could be police officers who aren’t slavering beasts in the service of the capitalist ogre? Just like those fascist militarists in the army! Like Hugo Chavez . . . or my wife, who served four years as a soldier.

    Hmmm. Yes, an adequately resourced police force . . . perhaps one run on more professional and humane lines than those implemented by those self-appointed vanguards who use revolutions for their own ends . . . like the secret police.

    I think this may indicate something. Perhaps that it is possible for contradictory forces to be at work . . . that it is possible that there may be grey areas that do not fit easily into the pre-packaged, cartoon like reality of the Workers Party? Could it be that revolutions, likewise, come in all shapes and sizes, and the desire for the final conflict on the barricades stems from religious impulses or indeed a darker, violent side of our nature?

    Could it be there are no simple answers and no easy solutions . . . and that a civilized society may be reached by many paths, not all of which involve shooting people we disagree with?

    Just wondering comrade. And thanks for the letterboxing. 🙂

    admin

    October 4, 2008 at 10:58 pm

  4. “Ah yes, the “armed thugs.” Well, they are the people I called when drunken members of the young proletariat stole my $3000 car and drove it into a hedge. Wait a second – that would mean police have a useful function, protecting citizens from aggressive and dangerous individuals, as well as functions that are used to oppress and maintain capitalist power.”

    Well sure, they’re the people I called when a pair of drunken idiots were screaming up and down my street on an incredibly icy night, nearly running my and my dog over twice. There’s nobody else to call at the present time, and as you said, the police have a contradictory nature. Hell, that fits right into the Marxist philosophy of dialectical materialism, that everything is struggling and riven with contradictions both within itself and against things around it, and that nothing is static and simple.

    The police do perform some useful functions, but the primary reason for their existence in a capitalist society is to uphold and defend the rule of the capitalist class. And if we were in a time when the rule of the capitalist class was being seriously threatened by the working class (led, of course, by the noble and heroic WP), the police would be acting in a much more violent and repressive manner than they currently do. Some individual cops may switch sides, but it’s safe to say that the majority won’t. Historically, the police have proven to be far more resistant to switching sides than the military. If you guys actually did try to implement your program in full, It’d almost certainly spark of an escalating series of confrontations with the ruling class that would lead to the police and military being used against you.

    “What about the retired policemen I know? One was an Alliance MP who now works a community lawyer and the other voted Alliance. Wait a second – how can this possibly be? You mean there could be police officers who aren’t slavering beasts in the service of the capitalist ogre? Just like those fascist militarists in the army! Like Hugo Chavez . . . or my wife, who served four years as a soldier.”

    You’re right too in that not every individual solder will be shooting socialists in years to come. Hell, one of the Christchurch WP candidates, Paul Hopkinson, is an ex-soldier! But the fact remains that large sections of the military will remain loyal to the ruling class, and will bloodily supress any attempts to overthrow it. You mentioned this yourself, talking about the backlash the Greens will trigger… what are going to do to face this backlash?

    “I think this may indicate something. Perhaps that it is possible for contradictory forces to be at work . . . that it is possible that there may be grey areas that do not fit easily into the pre-packaged, cartoon like reality of the Workers Party?”

    All this talk of contradictions sounds strangely like dialectical materialism, which is an integral part of Marxism. We don’t see in black and white anyway, we see in shades of red. 😉

    “Could it be that revolutions, likewise, come in all shapes and sizes, and the desire for the final conflict on the barricades stems from religious impulses or indeed a darker, violent side of our nature?”

    It’s not so much a desire for that confrontation, but a recognition of it’s inevitability. The capitalist class will not surrender it’s power and privilige without a fight, and it will use its followers in the military and the police to defend it. What you’re asking the capitalists to do is quietly commit suicide as a class, and they aren’t going to do it. We see this in Bolivia at the moment, where the far-right governors are setting up fascist militias to defend their privilige, and Chavez, to his credit, appears to be realising the need to defend his revolution with arms, and is setting up armed militias in the barrios where he draws his support from. There is no such thing as a non-violent revolution, and while obviously it’s too early to be setting up the Red Guard just yet, it will become necessary later on. There’s no way around that.

    “Could it be there are no simple answers and no easy solutions . . . and that a civilized society may be reached by many paths, not all of which involve shooting people we disagree with?”

    The people we’re up against are not civilised, and they wont struggle against us in a civilised manner. They’ll repress us by any means necessary, and we need to struggle against them with the exact same approach.

    Obviously this is all just words at the moment, as NZ probably has less than 100 active radical socialists. But we need to get a few basic things straight, and perhaps the most important of those is that no ruling class in history has even been overthrown peacefully. Why will NZ be any different?

    You criticised the Greens for not undertsnading that they would trigger a backlash from the capitalist class, but you havn’t shown me how you understand that any better than they do. What will the Alliance do to meet and defeat this backlash?

    comradealastair

    October 5, 2008 at 2:56 am

  5. So, at the current time, we need a professional police force. And after your revolution, we would need a professional police force, unless we are going to rely on enthusiastic volunteers to maintain order. And in the meantime, we will need a professional police force. The meantime is going to be around for some time.

    The Alliance is not seeking a revolutionary overthrow of capitalism, unlike the Workers Party. We seek to introduce a democratic socialist society, based on multiparty democracy and a mixed economy but with the commanding heights of the economy owned by the public and operated for the common good. This will no doubt result in a backlash from certain sectors, but will also gain the support of a substantial section of the population, and would have to to be attempted. The correct approach to such inevitable problems will have to be discovered at that time.

    Our two parties are aiming at achieving radically different goals.

    With due respect, Alastair, it seems to me that all this is an intellectual abstraction for you. Your ideas come out of books. You are facing the inevitable reality of trying to apply dramatic episodes of history to our own rather dull provincial city where there is absolutely no preconditions for the type of activity you wish to occur. We should be thankful about that. The struggle for democratic socialism is a lot more likely to succeed in a relatively stable society like New Zealand than “revolution” in nations such as Russia or China in the 20th century which ended in disaster.

    The idea that a “revolution” of this kind will happen in New Zealand is a laughable fantasy, and has been for the last three generations. At the heights of the Great Depression, riots occurred out of desperation and faded as soon as a democratic socialist Government took office and started its programme of reforms.

    My prediction is there will remain around 100 revolutionary socialists in New Zealand for some time to come. In my experience, this equilibrium consists of successive waves of young people coming through the ranks and passing out the other end in disillusionment.

    As far as Red Guards go, just be careful that you don’t end up getting what you wish for. The type of revolution you subscribe to has a habit of devouring its own makers, and I hope we never experience such events in our own country.

    I don’t want to discourage you, as the main problem we have with society is a lack of awareness of socialist ideas and a complete dominance of capitalist mindsets amongst young people, rather than an excess of zeal. But assuming that the answer is to gravitate to some extreme pole of ideology which provides simplistic answers and presents a “macho” solution that appears to encourage a violent and conflict-driven mindset is a road to nowhere we should not want to walk on. Karl Marx was an interesting thinker, not a prophet.

    admin

    October 5, 2008 at 3:53 am

  6. The problem is that your vision of a capitalist society with a strong welfare state and a large degree of public ownership is only viable until the next recession hits, and then there simply isnt a nice big surplus for you to fund your welfare programs with. The programs of social-democracy were only able to be put in place because of the post war boom, and they ended with it in the late 70s and 80s. The parties that tried to administer a fairer brand of capitalism sold out and attacked the working-class, without fail. This isn’t just idealistic rhetoric, it’s concrete facts.

    Public support alone won’t protect you from a backlash. Salvador Allende went to his death proclaiming that the military would never move against the people, and he had huge support. You can’t fight the violent tactics the ruling class will use against you by pointing at the latest poll results!

    My ideas may have come in large part from books, but I don’t believe in them just because I think a revolution would be exciting. Hell, my journey leftwards began with George Orwell and Michael Moore, and I wasn’t always a Marxist. I came to the conclusion that Marx and the other revolutionarys were right because I realised that the ideas of reformism were wishful thinking divorced from reality.

    The goal of the Workers Party isn’t capitalism with a friendlier face. It’s for a radically different society, in which workers control every aspect of the economy, society and their own lives, free from any kind of oppression and exploitation. The goals of the Alliance Party, while progressive, are for a continuation of the status quo with a few crumbs thrown to the working class that actually created all the wealth. More crumbs than Labour would throw, but crumbs nonetheless.

    Obviously revolution isn’t likely in the short term, and it’s entirely possible I’ll die in a capitalist New Zealand. But as France in 1968 shows us, even in the midst of an economic boom there is the potential for the prairie fire to catch alight.

    The Alliance and the WP have roughly similar memberships these days, so we’re starting roughly from the same place. We’ll see who’s ideas win out in the end.

    In the meantime, we can all be friends.

    Alastair Reith, an unbiased commentator

    October 5, 2008 at 9:03 am

  7. Just come across your blog Victor. I’ve gotta say you were very impressive in the debate, which makes me a little disappointed we haven’t seen you more on campus just drumming up support for the Alliance. Even if you guys don’t get in this year (here’s hoping though), perhaps you could consider frequenting campus more outside of an election year. Just to remind people that there are parties that aren’t in parliament that have relevant ideas to them. Build up a base from that level.

    At the risk of repeating last week(I trust you though), I’d just like to let you know that Michael Woodhouse will be speaking at this weeks lunchtime forum. Perhaps you could turn a little of the fire we got last week onto him rather than us though?

    Cheers.

    Thom Adams - OUSA

    October 5, 2008 at 9:39 am

  8. Hi Thom,

    Thanks for the comment. Point taken about our on campus presence. If I could offer an explanation (not an excuse) the Alliance has had a hard fight over the last several years. We’re now in a position where we are growing again and regenerating as it were. A lot of my energy has been taken up with focussing on national organizing which has meant perhaps neglecting the local scene a bit. However I am confident in saying from here on in we will be having a more active presence on campus.

    Cheers for the advance warning of Mr Woodhouse, I appreciate this and I believe that we are now on the same wavelength with these matters! I will only be too glad to come along and hear what he has to say – and perhaps ask a question 🙂

    Victor

    admin

    October 5, 2008 at 12:02 pm

  9. Alastair, congratulations on some bracing polemic this weekend. I am impressed by your insight, not convinced by your arguments. I hope you will not think me patronizing by registering my positive surprise that the author of these missives is not yet old enough to vote, you are miles ahead of where I was politically at your age.

    In the end, my view is that the idea that there is some kind of revolutionary nirvana faced by a opposite reformist sellout failure is a false dichotomy. The example of Allende is always trotted out, but so what? The current leftward swing in Latin America shows that the ballot box and strong reforms with a clear political direction can succeed, if allied with popular support and international support.

    I don’t agree that the Alliance stands for wishful thinking or the status quo. You seem to swing between admitting our programme would have a major impact on class relations, to saying we are merely handing out crumbs. I think your former idea is closer to the mark.

    If carried out the Alliance policy would create a different society: what direction that society took then would be up to those living in it. The higher level of democracy and equality would allow all people to have a much greater involvement in their society and its direction. Of course, achieving our goals would require the building of a mass political movement that would in itself be part of this mutually reinforcing process.

    Those citizens then might decide to proceed to a more radical socialist vision, they might decide they were content with a moderate socialist society with a certain level of private ownership and wealth differential, or they might decide that things had not worked out and they wanted to return to a capitalist society. Or in the event, probably a complex and fractious process where competing political agendas fought it out. In fact, that would be my preferred result – a society where there was strong democratic debate, but one founded on socialist rather than capitalist principles.

    I think your vision of a post-revolutionary society is naive, and I personally think the mix of utopian idealism with “ends justify the means” approach to getting things done is a fatal flaw running through the middle of “revolutionary” communism.

    I feel that the Workers Party and Alliance have very convivial relations, based on the fact that we have no hidden agendas and it seems to me both parties share at least one thing: a healthy internal democratic culture. Certainly in Dunedin, the left has always had a cordial approach to each other, regardless of party differences, and I think this augurs well for the future.

    Now have you organized that election night party brother???

    admin

    October 5, 2008 at 12:29 pm

  10. Yes, I quite agree that the police would be acting in a much more violent and repressive manner in the event of a workers’ uprising seeking to overthrow the state. I’m not at all convinced that the same thing would occur in the case of the government enacting legislation against the interests of the ruling class. Chile-style military coups do happen on occasion (especially when the US takes an active interest), but it seems very unlikely to me that the NZ armed forces would take such a radical step.

    commie mutant traitor

    October 5, 2008 at 7:59 pm

  11. I’m going to talk to ISO about it in the next few days, it shouldn’t be hard to arrange. I assume it’ll just be held at someone’s house, with TV and radio coverage of the results and plenty of alcohol to drown our sorrows in if the Workers Party and the Alliance don’t get enough votes to form a coalition government! 😉

    We can continue these polemics there. I’ll get back to you with details.

    comradealastair

    October 6, 2008 at 2:51 am


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