Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a bumpy night!


MATV-14WELL, IT’S BEGUN, and it looks like being a bumpy ride. The release of the Labour-Green Energy Policy has provoked virtually the entire neoliberal establishment into fits of hyperventilating shock and splenetic rage.

I imagine something similar happened during the Copernican Revolution.

“What do you mean the earth travels around the sun? Utter nonsense! Have you never seen a sunrise? A sunset? You must be mad!”

The people to watch now are Labour’s MPs. It’s been a very long time since their party’s been subjected to such severe criticism. And it’s not about to stop. The policy David Shearer and Russel Norman jointly released yesterday afternoon (18/4/13) is a serious – a very serious – blow against the status quo (see: Labour’s release and Green release).

For the first time in thirty years a major political party has committed itself to reversing a significant suite of neoliberal reforms. The sheer panic which Labour’s policy release has unleashed is welcome proof of the extreme fragility of the entire neoliberal edifice.

Unwittingly, National Party Ministers, Steven Joyce and Simon Bridges, and Fairfax Media’s political blogger, Colin Espiner, have revealed just how run-down the system’s ideological bastions have become. When the best neoliberalism’s defenders can do is throw around insults like “crazy”, “insane” and “mad”. Or, sneer at “the local branch of North Korean economics”. Or (my personal favourite) accuse their opponents of wanting to set up something called the “Soviet Socialist Republic of New Zealand”. Well, that’s when you know all the rational and evidence-based arguments are on your side of the debate.

But will reason and hard evidence be enough? Will Labour’s MPs remain united and hold the line against such incendiary attacks? Or, will the more timorous and conventional members of Labour’s caucus lose their nerve, break ranks, and start bad-mouthing the policy behind their hands to the news media?

Then again – and this is both more likely and much more dangerous – Labour’s enemies might simply decide to follow the example of the neoliberal pioneers of the early 1980s and set about subverting Labour from within?

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I used to think that’s exactly what we were witnessing in the rise and rise of David Shearer. But, after yesterday’s performance, his putative puppet-masters must be contemplating broken strings.

In just about every way, what happened yesterday is a very big deal.

Neoliberalism’s longevity is due, almost entirely, to its skill in transforming its most effective slogan: “There is NO alternative!”; into electoral reality.

National and Labour have been carefully manoeuvred into forming a sort of permanent ideological condominium. The Alliance, the Greens and NZ First could rail against the neoliberal regime until they were hoarse, but so long as no National or Labour leader was willing to break with neoliberal orthodoxy nothing important was going to change.

The preservation of this Nat-Lab condominium was especially important to the news media. Providing both of the major parties kept to the script, editors and journalists would have no difficulty doing the same. Preaching neoliberalism wasn’t “ideological” or “political” because by doing so they conferred no particular advantage on one side or the other. Neoliberalism became a non-contentious lingua franca, a shared orthodoxy binding government, opposition and news media in a conspiracy of ideological exclusion.

Karl du Fresne’s recent attack on Radio NZ’s “left-wing bias” illustrates the case nicely. The individuals singled out for criticism – Kim Hill, Chris Laidlaw, Jeremy Rose – were judged to be leftists, not on the basis of their actual ideological convictions, but simply because they refuse to embrace the neoliberal faith without question or reservation.

The discussion which took place on The Nation between du Fresne, Brian Edwards and Bill Ralston on this subject recently was as instructive as it was hilarious. None of the participants questioned the basic premise of du Fresne’s critique: that failure to endorse the right-wing creed of neoliberalism is proof of left-wing bias. Certainly, neither Edwards nor Ralston were ready to call du Fresne on his own extreme convictions. In a political environment permeated by neoliberal extremism – they had become invisible.

But now New Zealand’s ideological monoculture has been altered. One of the major parties has decided that in the case of electricity supply and pricing, the market is no longer king. Now, the political party representing at least a third of the New Zealand electorate is saying: “Actually, there ARE alternatives – lots of alternatives!”

Listening to Morning Report this morning, I almost felt sorry for Radio NZ. How were they supposed to handle Labour’s apostasy? How does one report heresy?

The standard journalistic response to something like yesterday’s Labour-Green announcement is pretty straightforward. First, tell people what the policy is. Second, seek out the opinions and judgements of experts in the field. Third, interview the main protagonists (i.e. Shearer and Norman). Four, interview their principal opponents. Five, wrap-up the segment with a summary from Radio NZ-National’s political editor.

But that was not what happened this morning (19/4/13). Instead, Morning Report focused its coverage on National’s and others’ criticisms of the policy. And at no time during the peak listening period (6:30am – 8:30am) was either Shearer or Russell interviewed. The Energy Minister, Simon Bridges, was much more fortunate.

In the new situation which the Labour-Green repudiation of neoliberalism has created, this simply will not do. If the news media refuses to engage with ideas and policies that neoliberalism’s Procrustean bed cannot accommodate, then its political alignment with right-wing ideology – and the National Government – will be undeniable.

That is, of course, its right, but turning itself into an antipodean version of Fox News will come at a price. An absence of fairness and balance will eventually cause readers, listeners and viewers to migrate to alternatives where such qualities are more in evidence.

Meanwhile, as the news media (and the rest of us!) adjust to these new realities, Labour and the Greens are going to have to make like Bette Davis in All About Eve. The 1950 movie in which she, memorably, warned her friends to:

“Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night.”



  1. Excellent article. Thank you Chris.
    There are other ways of communicating the message than waiting on the whims of the mainstream corporate media.
    When invited to mainstream media programmes, (as Russell Norman was on Sean Plunket’s show this morning) and treated with civility, be very well prepared on the policy and clearly articulate that there is an alternative to neo-liberal doctrine.
    If invited on to a show (such as Larry Williams show on ZB), be aware you are on hostile ground, where the host will join in any debate against you. So don’t treat him/her as a neutral arbiter; take the offensive; be prepared and take the argument to them. They only know how to parrot slogans and spew vitriole. It’s quite easy to push back on that as long as you’re not defensive to such hostile interviewers.
    Finally, bypass the mainstream media as much as possible. For the young use the Internet and learn from Winston and use public meetings to communicate with the elderly. Both the young and the old are particularly affected by steep power prices.
    Above all, the strategy must be to be united,strong and stick to principles.
    As you say Chris, it will be bumpy and the opposition will need to learn some courage and persistence.

  2. I concur, Chris.

    The historic nature of just what took place yestrerday (18 April) will only become apparent in years, decades, to come.

    As I’ve believed for quite a while; since 2008, the pendulum has begun to swing back. The momentum is glacial – but’s it’s happening.

    Combined with the Roy Morgan Poll (, and history is being formulated even as we live and breathe.

    • The Roy Morgan Poll appears rather diligent and credible; polls taken about every two weeks with the results released four days after polling. Compare this with the One News Colmar Brunton Poll. It’s rather sporadic taking place every month or two and the results released two weeks after polling, therefore when the results are released they’re not currently relevant – a rather sloppy effort, in line with their broadcasting.

  3. One swallow does not promise summer (whatever).

    ThE LP cabinet cabal cum Shearer still look suspiciously similar to Shon Key and Wall Street.

    • Perhaps, Peter…

      Call me an optimist.

      And with MMP, a realist. If Labour doesn’t deliver the goods, there is always the Greens and Mana. I think that’s a prospect not lost on Labour’s strategists…

  4. Tipping Point Goulash:

    Steep a liberal base of hand-picked mediocre scribblers for 30 years until it runs with the foxes ad lib.

    Toss in enough Brainfades, Weapons of Mass Destruction, Soviet Kiwis, Moms, Mumandads, and Blatant Lies until it begins to turn.

    Allow to cool while roasting the main with a succulent trotter and Standard heat.

    Add one dead witch, one TSB antiprivvy ad with roasted Neolib architect and a delicious Morgan as inherent contradictions come to boil.

    Serve hot on a freshly-polished Unity plate of proven principle, garnish with soundly slashed fundamental homophobe finance, and enjoy.

  5. The neoliberals have succeeded by means of a very subtle fallacy.

    From the (true and proven) claim that a completely free market (which can only ever be notional, not actual) is necessarily perfectly efficient, they reason that the closer to a perfectly free market the actual economy is, the more efficient it is. This has been known to be fallacious for decades.

    Every left winger should be familiar with this theory. It’s a doomsday weapon against the market nuts, as it means that no general preference for freer markets can be justified on efficiency grounds.

  6. Excellent article. I wonder if we’ll see some variant on the trite Muldoon “dancing cossacks” election campaign…

  7. Gosh. Just for the moment it looked as though Labour and the Greens might actually be about to do something sane. But then I read the links.

    It turns out to be business-as-usual bullshit, on a planet that is being ‘murdered’ by business-as-usual, of course.

    Abrupt Climate Change, accompanied by collapse of industrial Agriculture and the Sixth Great Extinction Event, here we come!

    Looks like we have two to three decades before NTE (Near Term Extinction). On the other hand, with atmospheric CO2 up 3.3ppm year-on-year (and rising) it may be only one to two decades before NTE.

  8. Instead, Morning Report focused its coverage on National’s and others’ criticisms of the policy.

    Then during nine to noon you could hear the barely disguised panic in Kathryn Ryan’s voice as, no doubt, she contemplated her investment in MRP shares losing value.

  9. yes – now National Radio is too right wing, I’ll have to switch to Radio Sport. They are so much more balanced.

  10. Brilliant Chris.
    Clear, concise, and well reasoned response to the ridiculous vitriol coming from an out of control “establishment”.
    Also reassuring to read my recent concerns about Radio NZ being voiced. They have always been my go-to for credible, balanced coverage, but I’ve noticed a definite slant in their political reporting lately. Very sad.
    Great piece. I’m sharing it immediately.
    Keep up the great work!

  11. As one who has registered interest in the Mountain River float, I anm very pleased indeed to see that Labour has grown a pair and committed itself to reversing the total insane plan that National is promoting. I’ll probably still buy, but will have no objection if a future government were to buy them back at cost. I’d far rather that than have banks, abetted by this Government, rifling though my accounts to prop up their Ponzi schemes.

    I guess you can’t ignore the neo-liberals (although quite what is ‘neo’ or liberal about them passes my comprehension). They are too numerous, too powerful, and too beglamoured by the advices of Neo-Classical economists. And the NC economics is still the theoretical basis upon advices to governments all over the world.

    It was NC economics that issued among the already wealthy the licences to loot the Common Weal, and I do not think a single country on the planet escaped its baneful and destructive influence. It is NC economics that advises the likes of Paula Bennet, as it did Jenny Shipley and Ruth Richardson, that the unemployed are indeed deserving of blame, since all unemployment is voluntary. I am not making this up (though not all NC economists share that view, but you can bet your boots Nats and ACT types will swallow that one chook, swine and stinker).

    It is NC economics that advises Governments to reduce spending when the economic screws tighten, when that is absolutely the worst thing they could do. I nutted this one out for myself 20-30 years ago. Proof? Look at New Zealand since 1975. And look now at Greece, Italy, Ireland, Spain, Portugal. The IMF-sponsored (with Germany cheering them on) ‘austerity’ measures in the Euro-zone, ostensibly designed to hoik those countries out of near-insolvency and high unemployment, have actually driven them into greater debt, whilst robbing them of infrastructure, of sovereignty, of gold reserves, of jobs. It’s a good thing Esau didn’t have the IMF to bargain with!

    It is starting to dawn on a few (none of whom are National MPs in this country) that maybe the lack of spending power among ordinary people – consumers, remember them? – might have had something to do with economic stagnation and decline. That money is being hoovered up by financial institutions means less in the hands of, say, workers, means that goods and services aren’t being bought at the level one would hope for, means the producer sectors have slender incentives to produce what no one can buy.

    Have you heard the bleating by e.g. the Nats that too much saving and not enough spending by the citizenry is harming the economy? Recall, also, The Right Honorable Jno. Key talking up MRP as something into which Kiwi Saver funds might invest in. At present a good deal of it goes overseas, hiatus valde deflendus , benefiting foreign economies (though I would have thought that positive returns from those investments would benefit the New Zealand economy as much). So we’re getting mixed messages anyhow from National.

    The fact is the neo-liberals are benighted, bewildered and bebuggered, but, like the he-man bloke type who won’t ask for directions, dare not even seek guidance out of the shambles they have created or at least connived in the creation, for fear of being shown as purblind, kleptocratic idiots they truly are.

    ‘There is no alternative’ is the catch-cry of the unimaginative Cargo-Cult mentality that has beset this country from at least 1984, if not longer. Or else it’s the excuse laid down by people hell-bent on obtaining for themselves a free run at the nation’s wealth. Of course there are alternatives. For people that talk ‘thinking outside the box’ their horizons are blinkered; for people who see ‘opportunities’ where others see problems, too often it’s the opportunity to moan about the problems, apart from those predatory types who see in others’ problems the opportunity to enrich themselves.

    As for journalism in this country, I don’t rate it. The word ‘investigative’ seems to have dropped out of the journalistic lexicon, but I also discern the shrivelling, ever since Muldoon’s time, of thejournalistic cojones to challenge the powerful. Brian Edwards I had a lot of time for back in the ’60s; Kim Hill too often ends up interviewing Kim Hill instead of her ostensible subject (who would often be far more interesting did she allow them to be). For mine, the jury is out on Chris Laidlaw and Jeremy Rose, but that’s my not paying attention, possibly. But in general, too often so-called journalists try to tell me what to think. Analysis, I want. Facts, I need. Debate, for sure. Editorial opinion, OK, so long as it is clearly labelled as such. I do not require my news to be flavoured with whatever biases the journalist possesses.

  12. as an aside, I believe it was Friday morning that they had a quick segment on National Radio where they asked people on the street for their views on the $300 per year savings that are being discussed. Those in the Wellington segment where asked if they liked the idea of the $300 saving yet in Auckland they were asked if this would make them change their vote.

      • So Paul, I guess you are new to the whole manipulation through media gambit. You must have a tough time in Supermarkets.

    • It would not be the first time a poll question was designed to produce the answer desired by whoever is sponsoring the poll. I’ve even seen National referenda couched in such terms. I no longer recall the details, but I recall one that asked a two-part question, rolled into one. Strongly in support of the first half, I found the second obnoxious. So I voted ‘No’ for the whole thing, even though the original thrust of popular opinion that led to the referendum being put was something I would normally have supported.

      I can see something similar happening if ever they put MMP to a national referendum (if MPs don’t hijack democracy once again in their favour by making the change ‘in house’). What they will do is this:

      Part One: MMP Retain/Change
      Part Two: (Depending on outcome of Part One) List of options, EXCLUDING MMP.

      What’s wrong with this picture? Having voted to retain MMP as an option, if Part One goes for a change, I still want the MMP to be on the list of options. I know a hell of a lot of people won’t ‘get’ this – I’ve never known many to have a clear understanding of true democracy anyway. I have known people – people whom I had thought to be intelligent enough to understand quite complex issues, who would regard a voter having opted for retention ought not to vote on the kind of change. I have been there to see this sort of thing in action. It costs nothing more to keep it on the list, makes a fine ‘are you sure/’ prompt, and retains as wide a choice as is available.

      And, lest I forget, you might actually want a change within MMP itself, which the omission of MMP from the list of options would eliminate this response from the range of optiona available to the voter.

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