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What will Cunliffe’s team learn from Aussie Labor’s fear of Tony Abbott – and jeering at Rudd?

  • September 15th, 2013

Some in the Labour caucus are talking already about the "Ruddliffe" era just starting. They may be right. We'll see within a year whether David Cunliffe has the understanding Rudd lacked, that people will only be lead and inspired, long term, by a leader who shows frequently that he would sacrifice himself for their cause if necessary, and for them collectively, instead of the other way round. But even if he has it, the nature of his party may mean it is not rewarded with loyalty. Selflessness may be treated as the weakness of a political mug.

Young Labour may have made traditional virtue so  risible that it would now take a prodigy to resurrect it among them. All politics attracts misfits. But the left has been for too long a  more comfortable berth for envious, unhappy people who project their own blackness onto others and despise personal responsibility. The nobility that could emerge from the solidarity of hard working under-valued manual and trade workers is now just a memory, invoked by people with no legitimate claim. Shane Jones has been warning of this.

Labour here should be looking closely at how hard it has been for Australian Labor to overcome their internal culture. It is not possible to build an inspring party out of people without bottom lines in behaviour, even to their opponents. They've all been reared on ends justifying means, so it is not surprising that it is now applied to competition within the team.

Australian Labor's years of self blinding loathing for new Australian PM Tony Abbott were mentioned in the wall-to-wall post election analysis, but the main theme was awe at Abbott's discipline, and mockery of Labor strategists for expecting that discipline to falter while they indulged in civil war without the excuse of doctrinal division.

There was a chorus of  awe that Abbott could climb away from being bracketed in unpopularity with two detested Labor leaders despite having been a principal author of that unpopularity, given the political wisdom that negativity hurts the author as much as, or more than the target.

I expect to see now in New Zealand similar sanctimony from the left media establishment as Cunliffe is urged to re-earn the trust of their flock. No one I saw from the Australian left had the self awareness or humility to wonder whether the flock could summon the qualities of character to make them worth leading. None asked whether a party composed of young professional identity politicians with no genuine connection with real workers or real business leaders could draw on the experiences of self-sacrifice that generats men and women with the selflessness needed to lead.

The Spectator has identified the nastiness of the Australian left's supporters as their achilles heel.

To see lack of self knowledge try David Marr's short biography "Political Animal – the making of Tony Abott" . At A$20 from the airport bookshop it  makes clear much was previously inexplicable. Abbott simply does not share most of the trivial modern pieties of the cultural elite. To Marr this is sinister though Abbott's passions and temptations would have seemed natural to the leading elements of the Christian Anglo world during its heroic age of expansion, late 19th century.

Marr may have  tried to be objective according to his lights. But the book reflects a thin intellect and tight lipped anxiety outside his class. He describes but cannot empathise with what he sees as an enigma. I see in what Marr describes the simplicity of a genuine man in a world of intellectual cowards. Marr can't, for example, describe Abbott's reflection of the popular anxiety about unauthorised boat people immigration, without fashionable revulsion at the peoples' fears. Marr blames those fears on the low cunning of Howard and Abbott even though it came to be shared in spades by both Rudd and Gillard.

I think his book nevertheless captures the essence of the reasons for Abbott's success even if Marr paints them in dark colours. Intelligence, wide curiousity, courage, seriousness of purpose, ambition and persistence, the capacity to inspire, to build loyal teams, good relations with bureaucrats when a Minister are all acknowledged, and must play a part.

But my impression from all the coverage, exultant from his supporters and ruefully impressed from those who will dedicate themselves to destroying him after the shock wears off, is that Abbott now provides something he himself worshipped in his heroes, as described.  The Anglo democracies may be craving it, having partially destroyed their capacity to cultivate it, and to respect it where it still emerges.

It is a quality partly innate. But our forebears believed it needed nurturing. They considered that it could flower as a virtue only with self conscious long preparation and practice.

Abbott is cited in the book referring to it as he saw it in John Hewson. Abbott is unabashed about identifying and cultivating qualities he describes as manliness.  .


  • Brendan
  • September 16th, 2013
  • 10:36 am

Hi Stephen

Very insightful reflections. The headline of my blog contains the following quote: “Only a virtuous people are capable of freedom. As nations become more corrupt and vicious, they have more need of masters.” Benjamin Franklin.

The loss of old fasioned virtue from Western civilization, not to mention the Labour party, is a problem not just for them, but for all of us.

An ongoing errosion of virtue from both personal and national life, will see us ruled by a strong man, or the Army. Check out Egypt, Syria and much of the middle east for examples.

Sadly, very few can see this obvious destination on the road ahead.

Tony Abbot’s election as PM is a welcome relief from the ideological foolishness that drives much of the MSM and the political debate. I’m more optimistic about Australia than I am about NZ. Can you imagine Tony being elected here regardless of how awful Labour turned out to be? What would be his chances of even headding up the National Party?

  • AngryTory
  • September 16th, 2013
  • 4:36 pm

You don’t get it.

But the left has been for too long a more comfortable berth for envious, unhappy people who project their own blackness onto others and despise personal responsibility

By definition, the left despises “personal responsibility” and replaces it with “social responsibility” or “social justice” – that is, socialism. That is simply what being “left” means – and has ever since the Estates General in 1798.

And that’s why leftism simply has no place in any modern democracy with a modicum of a belief in liberty – and why, all thoughout the entire world since at least 1900 the vast broad sweep of politics has been away from leftism in all its forms, and towards personal responsibility.

  • Colleen
  • September 17th, 2013
  • 10:42 am

I know we all have our biases but I couldn’t read your article without shock at your subjective and overly vitriolic rant about Young Labour supporters (and I assume you would include any left-leaning, socially-minded group in this).

To say, “Young Labour may have made traditional virtue so risible that it would now take a prodigy to resurrect it among them. All politics attracts misfits. But the left has been for too long a more comfortable berth for envious, unhappy people who project their own blackness onto others and despise personal responsibility” is as true as me saying that all the Young Nats I have had the unfortunate experience of meeting fit on the autistic spectrum, (often at the extreme edges) with no social empathy, pompous and self-righteous to the core.

At least the left-leaning youth I know really want to make the world a better place than the Young Nat types who are only interested in becoming non-productive rich corporate lawyers or merchant bankers.


Our country NZ position is quite straight forward.
Cunliffe is not liked, NZ NAT Govt follows 2014.
The queston is can a NZ Nat Govt win the 5th election. I have money already to say yes
paul scott

  • Graham Cliff
  • September 22nd, 2013
  • 8:52 am

Stephen, Your description of “manliness” as an admirable trait, is, even if not fashionable, nevertheless a much-needed reminder of what is so often lacking amongst our political leaders. Regrettably, though, it also means something quite different to a sizeable cohort of the population; to these, it is manifest as the following: a belief that women are inferior to, and therefore should be subservient to, men; that to be manly is to be “staunch”- that is, to put one’s loyalty to the group or gang before the general good; an attitude that promotes the physical resolution of disagreement rather than through reasoned discussion; that it is manly to drink to the point of insensibility; and lastly, to never admit to the faults of oneself or one’s culture.
It is the persistence of these atavistic attitudes that accounts for much of this country’s appalling social statistics, and unless there’s a bit more honesty and rather less political correctness based on cultural cringe, we are, as a nation, doomed to suffer more, and probably worse, social disorder and dysharmony.

  • paul scott
  • September 22nd, 2013
  • 9:24 pm

google the words
Rudd grandiose narcissism, or
Cunliffe grandiose, narcissism, hubris

Eventually you are defined by google, in Cunliffes case sooner rather than later

  • Robert M
  • October 2nd, 2013
  • 2:53 pm

Agree. Just how far left is the NZ Political Class, 80 % of the Media and Bureaurcacy is shown by their unthinking adoration of Julia Gillard and her Gillardines. Julia is basically a fairly average union hack lawyer, with zero suitablity to have been an Aussie PM, where the usual requirement to Labour leader is to be the most far right, remotely sane and competent member. Being strong on defence and have been educated at Oxford usually helps as well. As usual the NZ media fails to notice the great difference between Australia and NZ, one of which in Australia women politicians are inclined to have been active hetrosexuals at least until their 45 or 50, and the Gillardine partner will usually be a bead for the opposite reason than is the case with NZ women politico’s. In other word they cover in Aus for the pursuit of hetro variety in Canberra bars. Of course recent scandals in Australia, have required them to at least superficially appear to behave.

  • Mike Houlding
  • October 27th, 2013
  • 4:02 pm

Cunliffe’s Achilles heel will be his vanity. Pride goeth before a fall and all that. Cunliffe’s vanity and narcissism overwhelms him and squashes every vestige of the humility necessary to make him a leader. This trait is peculiar in someone who claims to be a Christian. It begs the question too, of his so called social conscience.

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