Sue Bradford's well-attended talk on the concept of a left wing think tank in NZ has provoked considerable discussion among attendees. Below is a considered response by Geoff Fischer in which he questions whether an institution of the general form discussed by Sue would necessarily represent a solution to any of the Left's problems.
Sue Bradford, has been part of many of the left-wing political parties which have come and gone (or stayed as the case may be) in New Zealand over the past forty years. In each case she has left disillusioned and her disillusion has been attributed at least in part to the fact that her fellow left-wingers have shyed away from serious thinking on the issues that matter. Her proposed solution is a "left-wing think tank" which appears to be something akin to a political party consisting of professional thinkers without any direct connection to the mass of the public, or any involvement in political processes.
Whether the think tank proposal is designed to provide a last line of defence and a citadel from which the left may re-emerge armed with new thinking with which to engage the forces of the right on more equal terms, or whether to provide a comfortable refuge for those old warriors of the left who have been defeated in the political arena, might be a subject of contention, but most of us would opt for the former view.
Despite that, there will be obstacles in the path of such an initiative. Even if the funds can be found to launch and sustain the left-wing think tank project, the essential element of "thought" may be lacking. If the left is incapable of profound thought in its many and various existing parties and associations, why would things be any different when a selection of those same individuals who presently make up the left are assembled under the banner of a "think tank"? Would the name itself make the difference? Would the selective nature of its membership make a difference? I suspect that neither would be the case. If the left is not capable of creating a coherent, cohesive and astute political movement or party, why should we expect it to be able to establish a think tank which would be all those things?
Alan Johnson recently gave a challenging talk to the Fabian Society in Auckland on what social housing has become and might become. He made the point that the biggest deficit in the social housing equation is a philosophical one and that any future for social housing is dependent on finding a firm philosophical justification for this programme. Above all, Alan sees that any lasting solution must be firmly grounded in community involvement.
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