Will Labour turn left at the crossroads? Or will the 1980s stranglehold remain?



Since losing the 1990 election Labour has had many opportunities to rid itself of its 1980s legacy which devastated the economy and whole communities of Labour voters.

Today’s hundreds of thousands of desperately struggling families has its origin in the aftermath of Labour’s 1984 election victory which gave us Prime Minister David Lange and a group of extreme right-wing ideologues whose names should be etched in stone as Labour’s eternal shame. Betrayal doesn’t get close to describing the behaviour of these Labour Party politicians who destroyed more kiwi lives in six years than all New Zealand’s foreign wars put together.

It was plunder and looting on a grand scale – a catastrophe for the country.

In the time since Labour has had many opportunities to repent and renew itself but it has failed at every turn.

Traditionally when a party gets thrown out of government it does a reappraisal and chooses a new leader. Labour has done the new leader thing regularly but has refused to change economic direction or recant on its abuse behaviour towards people who put their trust in a party claiming to back workers and their families.

Helen Clark was a less extreme free-marketeer but she never broke with the 1980s either in vision or economic direction. She did introduce Working for Families which eased the burden for families of those in work but deliberately left in poverty the families of beneficiaries.

Instead of dealing directly with unliveable incomes and massive corporate profits Clark subsidised employers by topping up low wages and instead of dealing directly with high rents she subsidized landlords with the accommodation supplement.

TDB Recommends NewzEngine.com

And despite nine years of strong economic growth she left office with 175,000 kiwi kids still growing up in poverty.

Losing the 2008 election was the next opportunity for change but Phil Goff as leader was always going to be more of the same. (I remember speaking alongside him at a Labour Socialist Youth meeting – yes that’s what they called themselves in the early 1980s – where Goff gave a militant speech full of passion and fury at the unfairness of capitalist economies. Within a couple of years he was sitting around the cabinet table with Roger Douglas planning the plundering of the welfare state economy) So Labour limped on.

When Goff was defeated in 2011 it was another chance to search their souls. But no – the 1980s brigade still had their hands firmly around the party’s throat. The likes of Trevor Mallard, Annette King, Phil Goff, Ross Robertson and their fellow travellers from the 1980s installed David Shearer as leader.

From the outset David Shearer, the decent man, was hopelessly compromised and the party continued to lurch from policy to policy without a coherent vision. It still doesn’t have a clue what it stands for and why it’s even there. It’s become a party seeking power for its own sake – to get its MP’s more lucrative jobs as cabinet ministers is the only obvious aim.

David Shearer’s resignation last week gives Labour another chance to break the stranglehold from the 1980s. The only person capable of doing so is David Cunliffe.


  1. Get a grip. Silent “T” will be eviserated by Key.

    The fact of the matter is that the current government is the most left-wing NZ has ever seen – certainly since 1975. Whether it’s Whanau Ora, signing the UNDRIP, school meals, affordable housing, building Auckland rail – Key is governing to the left of Clarke. There’s no room for Labour to move to the left, going further left of the Greens – and certainly going to the right of National would be suicidal.

    Labour’s only hope is that the National majority government in the next term or two moves decisively to the right of the Clarke policies at least, much further to the right of the centre of gravity of NZ politics, so opening space to the left of them for Labour. Key shows absolutely no sign of doing so!

    • lol. So angry. So utterly clueless. Am picturing Scrooge clutching his moneybags to his chest right now. Even sadder if angrytory is actually working poor.

    • Cruel Paula Bennett is an example of what the Tory calls left of Clarke. I suppose charter schools smuggled into the NZ educational system is a move that is left of Clarke too? Jeez, tax cuts for the wealthiest NZers paid for by the poorest must also be politically left of Clarke in Tory world… What a dumb-arse.

    • Silent “T”? The wit of a 10 year old. I suspect this idiot is a teaboy at some corporate headquarters, on minimum wage or less.

      Meanwhile, if Labour choose anyone but Cunliffe they don’t want to win. Robertson seems like a non-entity who wakes up every now and then and makes a speech. Little comes from the Engineers’ Union background – the people who invented the 3rd way and perfected class collaboration and surrender as industrial weapons. Jones should have stayed in his motel room. He only seems to pop his head up to support slave ships or attack the Greens.

      Labour is a mess, but Cunliffe may actually be able to win an election and form a government with Greens and Mana, which could do something to undo the legacy of the failed pig farmer. It’s well past time.

  2. Yeah, and black is white, AngryTory.

    I’m hoping New Zealanders will reject National next election. I’ll vote for pretty much ANY party in order for that to happen. Sometimes it’s a matter of picking the least bad…

  3. How about considering the New Zealand First party. They have been a very strident opposition in Parliament this term, doing the job that Labour should have been up to. Winston Peters is a match for Mr Key, there is no doubt about that! Their policies are designed to put New Zealanders first, not to cuddle up to overseas corporations and governments. We would not have a housing problem if NZ First’s policy of forbidding sales of land and real estate to non-residents.

    • Have to be careful with NZF. First MMP election “everyone” knew that a vote for Winston was a vote for Helen clark, Labour, the Greens. Jim Bolger, National, hated him; they and the media assured us so.

      MMP gives Winston blance of power (what, 13 MPs?) After 6-8 weeks of “dealing” which “should” have been a formality, right – Winston came out and assured “the markets” he would choose to support “economic stability and good management” and go with National.

      Ie, he wanted to bring the goodies to the Nats policy, rather than bring limits to Labour’s supposed spending binge.

      That govt was a lame duck, but still, I wouldn’t suggest anyone vote for NZF over Labour; only NZF instead of National.

      • Yes, New Zealand First is shaky ground. They tend to be a more traditional conservative party (as opposed to National, which is by enlarge a libertarian party), which will mean that they pick up voters from National who really aren’t happy with a lot of their policies but don’t want to align with a left-wing party (New Zealand First is officially around the centre of the political spectrum).

        Therefore, if you know anyone who’s not happy with National, but is not willing to vote for any parties on the Left, you should suggest that they vote for NZF. Otherwise, any left-leaning person would be far safer to vote for either Labour, the Greens, or even Mana.

  4. I do question whether a left shift will win Labour govt though, however much that is needed. Where do they need to get their votes from? The left will vote for them anyway, or the Greens. They need votes off the clueless centre. Which narrative will work better: making similar sounds as Key, growth led, etc with a few eye-catching bold policies, and so pick up those disillusioned with Key, and the young ones who have found that things aren’t so fun on Planet Key; or what, go with the cost-of-living narrative that will be attacked by the status quo dittoheads in the media, and therefore confuse/scare swing voters?
    Play conservative, tuck your feathers in, then hit cost-of-living when you have power.

    • I have to agree. The clueless centre usually vote right by default because they’re easily influenced by our corporate media whether they pay attention to the news or not. They regularly vote against their own interests because they don’t have the capacity for critical or lateral thought. Unfortunately Labour needs this demographic to win elections which mean they have to play centre-right politics. We’ll never see real social or economic progress as long as the clueless centre exists. Labour must look long term and put everything they’ve got into fixing our education system and rebuilding independent media so the clueless centre is diminished.

    • considering the left was only 10 thousand votes short of gaining power at the last election and that 800 thousand plus registered voters never bothered to vote I would suggest that the votes may come from that pool, a pool that couldn’t bring themselves to vote for a party that had betrayed them in 84 and through the clark era.

  5. And getting back to the “left of Labour” thing – let’s not forget HUGE intrusions into working conditions (3 months bill, unions only allowed access with employer’s permission, new employees no longer start on collective agreement, youth rates back, intervening unnecessarily in the Hobbit situation…). Put these along with selling off of assets, bribing Rio Tinto to make the Meridian float look better… Get a grip!

    In response to the original post: JM, Cunliffe is smart, articulate, charismatic… He has many good qualities as a politician and a possible leader. It’s stretching it a bit to say that he helps Labour to distance itself from the Clarke government, though. He was a high ranking Minister and very much an insider in that government.

  6. Well it is the old dilemma, while the left can support certain reforms (paid parental leave, 4 wks ann hols) it cannot really support ‘reformism’ an ideology that tinkers with capitalism rather than seeks to remove it.

    However each era is different, it would have been a brave marxist that said don’t vote Labour in 1935. The main parliamentary strategic aim is to remove the Key/ACT lot next year which will require like it or not a stronger NZLP which substantially repudiates neo liberalism, and led by David Cunliffe it would have at least a more combative and understandable public face.

    Mana movement, the hybrid Māori nationalist class based party is there for all working class kiwis, the blue/greens are there and in combination can get shot of the Hawaiian refugee Key. John is correct though, this is Labours last chance to dance this decade.

  7. Given that we now vote MMP there is no way that the left should ever be defeated if all voters vote unless they do something stupid like neo liberal finance ala lange era or political engineering ala clark era.

    If you go back through history there are only a handful of elections that labour did not claim more votes than the right , the difference of course was it didnt matter what the collective amount of votes secured was because of FPP.

Comments are closed.