The Enduring Legacy That Labour Needs To Expel


Roger-Douglas-and-Mike-MooreI HAD WANTED THIS BLOG to examine migrant workers and their exploitation in New Zealand and the GSCB Act in light of the detention of David Miranda by Britain’s spies. But then came news of the beheading of David Shearer to give Labour even more the look of a headless chook.

It is not just a failure of the Leader that has had Labour lagging in the polls but a failure of leadership by the Parliamentary Party as a whole. And why should the public vote for a Party with pallid neo-liberal policies when it can have the full red-blooded version with National?

Why should it vote for a Party whose MPs have a history of loyalty to a leader only if that leader is guaranteed to give them the easy life in Parliament and they don’t have to go back to union offices, the paid professions or some other means of actually earning a living?

Napoleon is famously quoted as saying that in the knapsack of every French soldier was a Marshall’s baton. In every briefcase of a Labour MP it seems are their Koru Club membership cards, airpoint records, shares in the privatised industries and invitations to corporate boxes for the next All Black match.

Clearly Labour MPs have been very busy in the last weeks pushing the Leader whom they chose to be the Saviour not so very long ago, to commit the ritual disembowelling .For a group of people bound not by ties of comradeship to work for a sensible alternative to capitalism but to their own self-advancement they have been unusually active.

John Armstrong has written that they will be so busy this weekend lobbying each other that their taxpayer paid phones will be running white hot.

Oh that they could be so busy campaigning 24/7 , with whoever was the Party Leader, on all of the key issues that a genuine social democratic party should be focussed on. But if you have MPs who have never bothered to study economic and political theory developed by all the great thinkers dedicated to the well-being of the mass of people , or even bothered to actually read a liberal economist like Keynes, then your politics will be the type of hotchpotch of dishes that Labour has been serving up. The policies are not cohesive and are not linked to a fundamental transformation of the neo-liberal policies that have made New Zealand a leader in inequality within the OECD.

The last great search for a charismatic leader to lead Labour to an electoral victory gave them David Lange over the serious Bill Rowling. The fact that a drover’s dog, to use Bill Hayden’s famous quote about Hawke toppling him to face the doomed Malcolm Fraser, could have beaten Muldoon in 1984, didn’t stop the self-interested Labour MPs of the time (with such worthies as the principled Peter Dunne in their midst) putting the Lange-Douglas clique intro a position where they could foist Chicago school economics onto an unsuspecting New Zealand public.

TDB Recommends

David Shearer clearly struggled to be a convincing leader. But where was the strong leadership team buttressed by a solid phalanx of MPs to work with him ( not just attend stunts) throughout the country advocating economic, social and international policies that would capture the imagination of young and old? Policies that would end the constant casualization of the workforce, the sale of public assets into private hands, introduce ( at last ) the smaller class sizes enjoyed by John Key’s children at private schools, end the cutbacks of essential social services and public service redundancies ,renew the transformative regional and economic policy introduced by the Alliance, expand the role of the Kiwibank in the financial sector , bring the spy agencies under democratic control and repeal the GSCB Act , promote effective climate change measures and once again give us an independent foreign policy.

The Party has never analysed what allowed its MPs, with a few (very) well-known notable exceptions, to collapse in such a cowardly fashion into the arms of Roger Douglas not with a bang but with a whimper and introduce the catastrophe that was Rogernomics. Nor how its MPs could stand by and allow the security forces to fabricate evidence and imprison for two years without charge a political refugee declared innocent by the Refugee Status Appeals Authority. Such political and moral failures suggest a sickness that goes deep.

The solution is not a revolving door of leaders until the Saviour appears. The solution is a Party that rids itself of political opportunism and gains public respect by selecting MPs who work for and advocate a set of social democratic principles that set them apart from the selfish neo-liberal policies of National and its allies.


  1. Excellent blog, when has Labour actually fronted up and said a big ‘sorry we made things so bad for so many when we sat by and allowed rogernomics to take over, we will redress this situation by….. ‘

    My cyncism about Cunliffe who is touted as the next leader, related directly to him leaving the Iranians in Mt Eden prison without charge, on remand, one of for them for in excess of 4 years. Whilst he was minister of immigration, these men wanted political asylum, they had converted to Christianity and their safety was at very real risk if they returned to Iran. It was in the end a group of protests outside the prison that got Thomas Yardgary and the others their freedom. Cunliffe allowed one of these prisoners to hunger strike for close to 50 days before doing something. No doubt the hunger striker damaged parts of his body forever!

    • Problem is, Cunliffe is still probably better qualified than anyone else in Labour to take on the leadership at this point, AND who in Labour has clean hands anyway? If you want an ethical party, vote Green, but get in quick because they too will lose their shine with time. Its inevitable that politicians with power and responsibility do bad things (the way our democracy functions requires this). I’m not excusing Cunliffe, just saying that there is a level of pragmatism needed here around the selection of Labour’s next leader.

  2. Great stuff Rob. Any one of these policies that you have outlined and that Labour are not raising would lift Labour in the polls. And differentiate them from National.
    I would like to concentrate, if I could, on the the last two you mentioned.

    “….promote effective climate change measures and once again give us an independent foreign policy.”

    I feel that if next Labour leader was able to skillfully and passionately articulate the reasons why New Zealand should/needs to move on these two issues they would lift their polling enormously.

    As we know, under the Shearer led leadership climate change issues were not to be addressed nor was any position on the TPPA expressed. The reason for this silence and perceived lack of leadership is of course, that the Labour Party leadership are/were generally in agreement with John Key’s government’s stand on these issues.

    In my opinion the most important of these two issues that Labour refuse to take a stand on is climate change. This is the big issue of our time. It is the elephant in the drawing room. It is the German army massing on the Polish border.

    Under Shearer the Labour Party refused to openly confront the TPPPA it refused to confront National’s plans to mine Denniston or drill for oil in the deep sea.

    Yesterday for daring to suggest that the candidates should declare themselves on climate change. My comment was first dumped. And when I repasted it, I was banned.

    What The Standard took particular objection too. Was my link to news story that showed with just just the tiniest bit of political leadership, hundreds of new jobs in the renewable sector could be created.

    “The project is fully consented and with the right policy settings it could be built in stages over time.”
    New Zealand Wind Energy Association chief executive Eric Pyle

    • There is an even bigger elephant in the drawing room; energy descent – the fact that we have now extracted and used about half of the Earth’s oil. Most of the same transition practices that will mitigate climate change will also at the same time lead us away from our culturally suicidal oil habit (see:, so I just find it curious that it’s currently more politically correct to argue climate change in defence of such solutions, rather than oil decline, even though it seems to me to be a weaker argument.

      Anyway, to the degree that elected representatives are of any use to the people of Aotearoa, they will talk loudly and confidently about both climate change and energy descent. They will enact policies which make the transition practices mentioned above much easier, and more immediately rewarding. They will fund this by enacting policies which make activities like coal and oil mining an uphill struggle, where almost all the profit goes back to the country in tax.

    • Exactly what i will be doing.

      The labour party has to many factions in my opinion.

      National party lite is dead right.

      The greens are the only way we will start to get a social democratic new zealand back.

  3. I agree with everything you’ve said. New Zealand wants a political party which stands up for the rights of the common people. Last election, we had the lowest voter turnout in many years. Not because people were happy with the National government, but because many people cannot see the difference between any of the political parties.

    We’ve put up with the “lessier of two evils” for too long. It’s time we brought back the grass-roots labour party which stands up for the millions of people whos lives this government is ruining. Labour needs to elect a leader who believes strongly in fighting for the core Labour principals, and get rid of those who don’t really believe in them.

  4. An excellent post Matt. Unfortunately, the deeper the wealth division becomes, the greater the temptation for MPs to do what it takes to keep their foothold on the greasy pole, rather than run the risk of representing the people who vote for them.

    At the moment Labour MPs are faced with a wake-up call, and I hope that they rise to it and do not simply roll over and turn the alarm off. Seriousness is what is required now – not PR moves, not jockeying for position. Everyone has seen through these things and are sick of them. Government and opposition are serious jobs, not networking opportunities.

  5. Matt, you may be onto it I think. The Labour Party needs to be a Labour Party, is that it? What we have instead is a bunch of unmotivated and confused individuals disappearing under their parliamentary desks.

    It would not be the difficult to find grounds on which to challenge the current government would it? It would not be hard to energise oneself and confidently go on the attack?

    One reason why we have poor government is that we have a woefully inadequate major opposition party. It is not just David Sherer that should be taking a step down, nearly all the others need to take a step down too which would mean a mass exodus from Parliament!

    The above analysis probably explains why there was almost zero reaction to Shearer’s resignation and almost zero interest in who the successor might be.

    This may present an opportunity to the successor – they may find someone prepared to do something, showing some energy, leading by example. Exceeding an expectation of mediocrity at best might be the game-changer.

  6. Not the Greens. Not in their present incarnation. It’s like the return of the Values Party. Ever so naice and don’t rock the punt.

    Matt has said it truly. The issues he has raised are those for the attention of a ‘true’ Labour Party. Spoken with fire and conviction and purpose.

    That’s the benchmark and measure for now – and Labour supporters need to be reminded and refreshed on the standard to be expected and required of whomever they propose for parliamentary service to this country. The issues that matter.

    Don’t let us down again.

  7. I agree with everything you say in this article, Matt; although I still believe that Lange was a decent bloke who was seduced into taking on the leadership by the Douglas mob to be a frontperson behind whom they could carry out there dirty work. His greatest faults were in accepting that poisoned chalice, and then being too averse to conflict to be able to effectively confront the juggernaut that ensued.

    I was one of the few who got ourselves elected in 1987 (and a few in 1984) in a desparate last minute attempt to return Labour to its roots. We were of course, inevitably unsuccessful, but were at least part of bringing MMP to fruition. This gave some of the core rogernomes (but not all unfortunately) the impetus to flush themselves into the sewer of ACT; and also enabled the Greens to assume a position of some influence in the parliament. The Greens still encompass some of our best politicians, although as one of your respondents points out, we can’t afford to be too complacent there either.

    The core task of the moment is to rid ourselves of the Key scourge, but there is as you indicate no point in replacing them with an artificially-red-tinted carbon copy.I don’t know whether Cunliffe is up to the challenge or not, but it is certainly a crucial and a vast one.

  8. Re Labour MPs not supporting their leader – I noticed Phil Goff had to virtually fight the last election on his own

  9. Well said Matt although there is one tragedy you have missed…..Jim Anderton crawling back into Labour’s nest when what was needed was an empowered New Labour/Alliance Party, the only hope of bringing Labour back to its roots. What a lost opportunity losing the Alliance. It is up to the grass roots Labour to do what they have to do now that they have some power with 40% voting opportunity, and not just for the leadership but policies.

  10. Yup! Many of us (wrongly) trusted Labour for 9 years. We trusted them to reverse many of the devastating policies of the evil Roger Douglas, return employment laws to a level that gives (at least) equal protection to the employee as the employer, create fair remuneration across the work force – instead of creaming it off the top for execs, restore benefit levels to pre-Ruthenasia levels, and lift working NZ out of the jaws of poverty!
    Labour created 174 children living in poverty – and moan the National increased this level by less than half of Labours efforts!
    I trusted Labour for 9 years – before I even consider making that mistake AGAIN Labour will have to prove themselves trustworthy!
    Currently they are not! They are scum of National ilk and will be first against the wall come the revolution!

    On a brighter note – I’m looking forward to the grave of Roger Douglas becoming NZ largest open air lavatory … Money to be made in operating tours for appropriate use (Roger will understand the economic benefits)

Comments are closed.