Salient. Victoria University of Wellington Student's Newspaper. Volume 31, Number 9. May 21 1968
I was a Big Norm yesterday out, boy' you ought to see me now
I was a Big Norm yesterday out, boy' you ought to see me now
In the country of the politically maimed, the one-armed man is king.
Side by side at Labour Conferences with Big Boy Norm, who climbed to power by stabbing Labour's last leader figuratively in the back, sits Norm the one-armed bandit, symbol of Labour's housie generation, the man who first abandoned Labour leader Savage and then Democratic Labour Leader Lee, and is now Labour's president. They run the Party conference as if it were a cross between the annual convention of Al Capone's gang during Prohibition and the Central Committee of the Soviet Communist Party.
Lining the platform table of Labour's conference are the framed (in how many senses?) plush photographs of the Leaders of the past; from the platforms come encomniums of the leadership—"Norm and I are very close" (Hugh Watt), "of all the leaders in Labour history, Kirk is the best" (Hugh Watt again), "the most important thing in the Party is loyally to the leadership" (Fraser Colman); all that is missing are larger-than-life photographs of Big Norm smiling down from every wall and copies of the Thoughts of Norm bound in shocking pink. Sir Francis Kitts will be hauled over the coals for these omissions.
The two Norms—both related, I am credibly told, to that leading Australian figure. Norm Everedge—are too shrewd to rely on anybody else to do their own dirty work. There's nobody that loves you like yourself, as they say. When some academic or other criticises, they are quick to recommit the resolution (that she persuaded conference to pass) when almost half the delegates are gone, carefully making the issue one of confidence in the leadership. When Big Norm stands before the conference with incipient tears glistening in his eyes, to tell them how a political scientist has betrayed their conference and delivered them into the hands of the National Party, who could say him nay? Who knows, perhaps he even believed it himself.
By Owen Gager, our political editor. He did his M.A. (Hons.) in History at Auckland. He is now at Victoria writing a book on the structure of the New Zealand Labour movement from 1916 to 1949. He is also editing Dispute, doing English III and English III additional, and working for the Students' Association as Publications Officer. He proof-reads for the Dominion at night but calls himself a Trotskyist by day.
The proper reaction to this enactment of what could almost be a scene in Bonnie and Clyde or The Threepenny Opera is Brecht's comment—
Those who lead the country into the abyss
Call ruling too difficult
For ordinary men.
The two Norms should be shown up as what they are—men who seek individual power With the minimum of scruple. Their opponents are such different people in outlook and personality from the two Norms that in their characteristic generosity (especially to those in power) they are willing to overlook such minor episodes in their leaders' lives as the deposition of earlier leaders. They try to persuade men who know only the language of power with sweet reason and political science. In part this is because they genuinely regard the Labour leadership as honourable men because incapable of regarding anybody otherwise; in part it is because they have more in common with the Labour leadership than often appears. Both the two Norms and the university branches which oppose them want to maintain the Protection money racket—the system whereby in return for donations to Party funds manufacturers (collectively) are given unlimited Protection (also known as import substitution) from overseas competition. By this system manufacturers can be as inefficient as they like provided only they employ enough people to satisfy the trade unions (this is what Dr. Wall called the essential humanism of the Labour Party). The businessmen also get low interest rates if they say they can't get enough ready money to keep on employing people. As Dr. Finlay once said, if you don't believe in import substitution you shouldn't be in the Labour Party. People in the universities don't want to end this system—not only does the system keep the money coming in, but their real aim is to set up an educated middle class to participate in the "industrialisation" protection has been supposed to produce over the last fifteen years and never has. If you build up manufacturing, you place a greater premium on education—and so build up a bigger and better class system.
The university Labour group at the 1968 Conference was this year in its seventh year as a distinctive group there. This is the first occasion when it has produced a 'radical' programme on such issues as SEATO, Malaysia, and the Police Offences Amendment and Public Safety Conservation Acts. The Princes Street branch has in previous years refused to adopt an anti-SEATO branch as has Victoria University branch, while as president of the Auckland Campaign for Nuclear Disarmament Dr. Michael Bassett refused to take an anti-SEATO stand. The only reason for the sudden step towards ''radicalism' is the desire to win over the trade unions which blocked the universities' plans for constitutional reform last year. But the universities have always opposed most of the steps toward socialism endorsed by the 1968 F.O.L. Conference, and, as Mrs Rosslyn Noonan stated at the youth conference reject socialism as an alternative for the Party. This is not to suggest that trade unions, given a choice between full employment under capitalism or socialism would not reject socialism out of hand as they did in 1929; but the unions' claims for higher pay and a more egalitarian society are not sincerely supported by Princes Street, which aims for a politics of "values" not "material interest" whatever this may mean; and trade union radicalism finds no echo in the university branches. The university branches' unofficial public relations officer, Professor Robert Chapman, took great pains to cleanse the branches' image over the NZBC by suggesting, quite wrongly, that the university branches received no union support, showing what the universities really think of the unions. The unions have always suspected the university branches of joining the Labour Party simply to get safe seats for pale pink academies at the expense of wage-earners, and they are quite right.
The biggest outcry against Party HQ Victoria University branch raised last year was when a watersider was selected for the Eastern Maori seat. This year the campaign to win over the unions won, Murray Rowlands the most 'left' candidate the universities could dig up (he variously describes himself as Trotskyist, an anarchist and a Labour Party loyalist) even pot one union block vote when standing for the Party's national executive. But the universities have run out of radical ideas after their radical splurge this conference and it will take them some time to think of some more. In the meantime, the universities' one unshakeable alliance, with the worst elements in the Labour Party, the apathetic branches willing to delegate representation to anyone, will in the long run dictate their policy by making them dependent for representatives at conference on the rotten boroughs of the Party.
The universities have changed Party policy on human rights and foreign affairs in a desirable direction, if for their own motives, at this conterence. But as the New Zealand Herald said contradicated, a Labour Government would probably ignore such a directive (on SEATO) and a party whose conferences are run as dictatorially as this one cannot take a very effective stance as a Party of Freedom. This leaves Labour offering a repetition of its 1935 economic policy—minus a Social Credit policy for the farmers and an adequate welfare programme. Labour will do better than National, we are told, but National's question of where the money will come from remains unanswered. Labour is still hoping for a blank cheque—in every sense—from the electorate, which will probably be filled by Black Budget-style taxation.
As economist Dennis Rose told the Labour Youth conference, "Labour has not got an economic policy for the 'sixties and as the problems of the 'seventies are going to be much the same as the 'sixties Labour will have no policy for the 'seventies either." Indeed, the result of a new clampdown on import licensing by Big Norm will probably be exactly what he says he abhors most—unemployment. All that Labour now offers New Zealand is the Cult of Big Norm.