Identity politics did not cost Labour in 2011

(This post was written and scheduled before the announcement of David Shearer’s resignation – it’s still applicable though, especially as the Labour Party figures out what kind of leader it wants going into 2014.)

The bulk of this comment was originally posted here.

Sosoo said:

The problem is traditional Labour voters staying at home because their interests are continually put on the back burner in favour of identity politics issues that they don’t really care about, and that don’t affect them personally. Some of these people no doubt wonder whether folks like you are saboteurs funded by National and its business backers.

To which I responded:

Fuck I hate this line.

Class politics have never been put “on the backburner” because of identity politics.

The big gains in identity-politics areas – ignoring weka’s very good point that class politics are identity politics – have almost always been through Private Members’ Bills, not Labour-in-Government Bills.

The reason class politics have been put on the backburner is because some fucking idiot white dudes bought into the idea that class politics weren’t vote-winners. That being More Like John Key was the way to go. That pushing the idea of the “deserving poor” as compared to “bludging beneficiaries” would get the votes of Middle New Zealand.

Don’t fucking blame women and queer folk and people of colour for the consistent, deliberate efforts of the Phil Goff and David Shearer-led Labour Party to paint themselves as “good economic managers” who would be “fiscally responsible”.

The party can’t even design a solid, leftwing state housing policy – they have to make it about encouraging the private sector, framing $300k houses as “affordable”, and then slapping Michael Joseph Savage’s face all over it.

That’s got nothing to do with identity politics and everything to do with a party still in denial about the damage it did to our country and its own soul via Rogernomics.


Seriously, I must have missed the 2011 Labour Party election manifesto which was printed in rainbow colours with a wheelchair-using woman of colour on the cover, entitled: “KILL ALL MEN” with a First 100 Days plan consisting entirely of day spas, pride marches, nurse-ins at Workingmen’s Clubs and nationwide rallies to smash pink penis-pinatas.


  1. Chris Miller

    I read a UK piece about identity politics vs the working class and how it was destroying the left. Made it sound like identity politics was all rich white people, like LGBT and disabled people etc aren’t statistically more likely to be in debt or abused by their carers or too scared to go out with their friends because they’ll get beat up. What bullshit. The funny thing is the comments were all going on about how noble and mannered and not bigots the working class are, which… if that’s the case then why are they voting against their best interests to avoid voting for anyone progressive? (Someone did call a couple of them on their magical rose tinted glasses at least.)

    The problem with how great it was back in the 50s ™ is that it was TERRIBLE for a lot of people in the 50s. It doesn’t mean we have to choose though. We can have economic policies that favour the working and lower classes AND equal rights. We just need a political party willing to stand for both.

    • QoT

      One thing that totally pisses me off? Is how many “identity” issues actually are class issues – in terms of your basic wealth/labour/power dynamic. Because we live in a capitalist society which judges and treats people based on their economic value or output. So when people with disabilities can’t access their workplace or can’t “fit in” with the boss’ demands, they’re economically oppressed. When people assume cis women are less productive because they (must) menstruate, people who are identified as cis women are economically oppressed.

      The pay gap, parental leave, accessibility, racist hiring practices … all shit that The Left should be concerned about, if the movement really gives a toss about workers.

  2. giovanni

    The other problem with this theory is that in fact Goff signalled as soon as he became leader that Labour had lost in 2008 on the grounds of it being “too social”. And as soon as Shearer came in, the first thing that was leaked to the press was that lower GST on fruit and vegetables and extending WFF to beneficiaries would go. So clearly they felt that the they had strayed a bit too far from strict neoliberalism in economics in 2011.

    Which is not to invalidate your more important point that the distinction between class politics and identity politics is unadulterated bullshit – but just to make the point that sadly it’s the party itself that buys into it time and time again. The pundits are just responding to signals.

    • QoT

      Oh, they absolutely do. It’s a vicious cycle at this point, as the recent Herald editorial which was pearl-clutching over a threat to the “economic consensus” in NZ politics showed. Labour either needs to take a big sexy step in the opposite direction from that bullshit, or stop pretending they want to.