Democratic socialism from the bottom up? Not in Neale’s yard.
IF YOU WANT to understand what is rotting the political soul of the Labor Party, read Neale Jones’ latest article on The spin-off. A very good novelist would be hard pressed to create a narrator more characteristic than Neale. With refreshing candor, he scorns all elements of participatory democracy and praises the overwhelming power of the centralized state.
As Andrew Little and Jacinda Ardern’s chief of staff, we can only assume that Neale ticks all the boxes of the contemporary Labor Party.apparatchik. As the current CEO of the public relations / lobbying firm, Capital Government Relations, it’s just as safe to assume he’s familiar with the capital’s electricity grid. In short, Jones is the very model of a modern labor movement.
That is why we should all be very worried.
Neale’s post is about Wellington City Council’s spatial plan and how it will pave the way for wealthy real estate developers to raze the capital’s architectural heritage to rubble. Not that he is presenting his case so bluntly. Rather than presenting himself as the friend of soulless high-rise real estate development, he established himself as the fearless champion of the poor and the oppressed. The homeless must have homes, and Neale is adamant that the same beneficent state that gave us Kiwibuild, is going to provide them with shelter from the storm.
And who do you think is the bad guy in this local government morality game? That’s right! This is none other than our old friend “Nimby”. These aging, selfish, and well-heeled owners of Wellington’s architectural history, whose lovingly maintained homes make Wellington the finely-carved cultural gem that New Zealanders so admire. It was they, the baby boomer bastards who are not in my backyard, who dared to oppose the idea of ââreplacing the city’s rich building heritage with buildings that look like the boxes in which buildings that would have had to be built entered.
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Worst of all – from Neale’s perspective – Nimby is winning! All those demonic defenders of ancient siding and iron roofing; red bricks, stained glass and ceramic tiles; beat the forces of concrete and steel by arming themselves with – with all things! – the instruments and processes of democracy. And, my boy! is that driving Neale crazy.
Here’s how he describes how the Wellington City Council planning process worked:
âIt’s fair to say that until recently Wellington City Council’s planning processes had not been the subject of fierce public debate. The council would issue consultation papers, residents’ associations and a few local government anoraks would respond and nothing would change. Property values ââhave increased steadily, owners’ views and amenities have been protected. Capital gains were mobilized and real estate portfolios created. From the owners perspective, the system seemed to work well.
These “owners” – just in case you were wondering – make up the overwhelming majority of Wellington’s taxpayers. So, yes, the system worked exactly as democratic theory says it should.
And, just in case you missed it, note the use of the word “anoraks”. It is clear that any citizen who is interested in the life of his city is a sort of sad obsessive; someone who urgently needs to live. Isn’t it great to know how the movers and agitators of Labor see the active citizen? Apparently, only CEOs of public relations / lobbying firms are allowed to influence the outcome of official decision-making processes. CEO and big government. Because Neale was just starting to warm up with his sarcastic reference to anoraks.
Try this on for size:
âEvidence around the world shows that local government is structurally incapable of resisting Nimbyism. Low voter turnout strongly favors existing landowners, leaving councilors too politically exposed. Public consultations are dominated by special interests: those who suffer most from the housing shortage are the most transitory, the least engaged. The answer is that the central government is simply forcing the councils to allow more housing. “
Hooo-pee! Isn’t that a doozy? The answer is that the central government is simply forcing the councils to allow more housing. Neale wants all the strength of the state to be wielded against anyone – Nimbies, anoraks and city councils – who dares to attack the “more fleeting” and “less committed”. (Although, if you think about it for a minute, you’ll wonder how, in the absence of a full-fledged political organization, transient and less committed people could find themselves in a position where anyone necessary get in their way.)
Alright, alright, I know what you’re thinking. Shouldn’t all good Socialists be cheering on Neale at this point? Isn’t Labor supposed to be the party that brings state power to the aid of the poor and needy? Well, yes, it sure is. Unfortunately, this Labor government does not contain the modern equivalent of John A. Lee, or Mickey Savage, or Peter Fraser. We only have Phil Twyford, âJacindaâ and Grant Robertson – which isn’t quite the same!
No. Neale’s solution has very little to do with the democratic socialism of the 1930s and 1940s. The Labor Party of the 21st century does not aim to organize the poor and marginalized into a mass political movement capable of taking over city councils and to win a majority in Parliament. It is about clearing the way for private enterprise to make its profits. What if that means cleaning people’s homes to make way for tall buildings: homes in which you can be sure the âpassengersâ and the âless engagedâ will never set foot; so be it.
I’ll tell you what, though. I could be persuaded to change my mind. So Neale were to step down as CEO at Capital Government Relations and become a community organizer dedicated to seating passengers and the less engaged in city council planning hearings. If he could call on the best and most progressive architects in the country to work with the poor and oppressed in the design of the type of housing they or they would like to live. And, if these same poor and oppressed – now with something to vote on – could be persuaded to vote for the candidates who pledged to build these homes. Well, then I would know that the soul of Labor has not rotted, and that its motors and shakers move and tremble for someone other than the rich and the mighty.
If not â¦..