Right versus left


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In New Zealand politics National and Labour are not separated by a left right dividing line. Instead, this line runs down the middle of the Labour party.

In 2013 it was revealed by party constitutional reform, partial restaints on caucus power, David Shearer`s departure and by the leadership contest involving Jones, Robertson and Cunliffe.

The Labour right were curtailed but far from defeated. As of now there is an uneasy truce between the two sides, the division is submerged by David Cunliffe`s authoritative leadership. Gaining office is no longer a remote possibility. Behind the two major parties of course is the ruling class establishment. In election year they can choose from two options depending on how events unfold.

Option one is to support the Key government; the economy is doing well, steady as she goes, don`t put it all at risk by electing a Labour-Green coalition government etc. However, if National`s poll ratings dip and a change of government looks likely then option two will come into play, namely, support the Labour right and marginalise the left. The codeword here is `responsible government`. If voters want change then the dominant political bloc must remain in charge.

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Behind the partisan party rhetoric mainstream National and the Labour right are indistinguishable from each other. Jose Pagani`s recent political column in the New Zealand Listener illustrates my point. If one forgets the author`s name and background then it reads like a National aligned piece. Under Cunliffe, she claims, Labour has developed an `assertively anti-development tone`. There is no evidence cited in support of this proposition. And, no clear definition of `development` is put forward. Instead,`development` is counterposed to `social issues`, a much inferior term which, in this context, evokes economic ignorance. David Cunliffe`s supporters are described as `vocal and militant` yet they are not identified, a familiar right wing tactic.

A keyword analysis of Pagani`s column would look like this; `development` and `pro development` equals good,`Cunliffe`,`vocal and militant supporters ` and `social issues` equals bad. Now, if Pagani`s political background is, in fact, taken into account the left-right division in the Labour party becomes abundantly clear. There are several litmus test questions which will help us track the intra-party struggle between left and right.

  • Will the `working-for –families` support package be extended to beneficiary families in Labour`s manifesto?
  • Will public debate concerning the TPPA be openly encouraged?
  • Will a set of shared policy positions with the Greens be openly articulated (as opposed to muddling through in the hope that New Zealand First will beat the 5 per cent threshold to become a viable coalition partner)?
  • Will Labour`s leadership agree to some electoral accommodations with the Mana party?

If most of these questions are answered in the negative then the Labour right will have prevailed before the election campaign begins. Until then, the questions outlined should be put to your local Labour candidate or MP. Where do they stand?  At this stage the Labour right preference for muddling through won`t work.

John Key commands the apolitical world of the Labour/National swinging voter, a change of government requires the electorate to be politicised. And, for this to happen poorer non-voters must be encouraged to the ballot box with policies that will help them financially. These might include increases in the minimum wage (not just for state employees), extension of the working –for – family package to beneficiary families, tax rate reductions for the lowest paid and a restoration of Adult Community Education funding which National removed in February 2010. The Key government, in my view, is vulnerable in the following areas.

First, equality of opportunity and basic fairness. The existing tax system is highly regressive, increasing the rates for those on high salaries would bring in the tax revenue necessary to provide the less well off with a chance in life. The increased revenue needs to be targeted for specific policies and projects such as re-establishing night school classes and contributing to the community reconstruction of east Christchurch.

Second, the economic sovereignty issue is also a government weak point. Steven Joyce`s recent decision to award an $8 million Tokelau ferry contract to a non New Zealand boatbuilder should be exposed as part of a pattern. Under National offshore cut throat companies win, New Zealand businesses and workers lose.

One final but crucial point. A Labour-Green government will not prevail unless they win the media battle. On the positive side the objective is to help voters envision David Cunliffe as the new Prime Minister. The Greens need to identify key portfolios and position their top performers as shadow Ministers in waiting. On the negative side the Labour and Green strategy should be to paint John Key as vague and forgetful , a clever juxtaposition of the appropriate television clips could really do the trick. Television clips of Judith Collins, Paula Bennett and Simon Bridges appearing as mean and irrational can be added to mix. No shortage of material here. Dystopian images of what New Zealand might look like after an extra term or more of National government would also help. A deep sea oil drilling disaster ,the end of Kaikoura`s whalewatch business, rivers further polluted by dairy effluent, New Zealand`s clean green image in tatters, is this the country you want to see? The negative stuff could be driven through social media as the television campaign positively highlights the new government in waiting. If none of my suggestions transpire then the Labour right will have succeeded, David Cunliffe`s leadership notwithstanding. Their success , however, will make it easier for John Key to win a third term, at which point the Jose Pagani`s of this world can blame David Cunliffe and say `I told you so`.


  1. I’m sick of the right, regardless of their stripes – if you’re a right winger neo con, get out of the labour party – join your like minded cretins in Act or the Nats….but then, being opportunists, it seems the right will get into power through whichever channel they can see and the left are too dumb to recognise them, or do anything about them! – pox on them all!

  2. The divide about Labour is an opinion. Labour has always been a broad church party. If you don’t belong in Labour get your arse out of it. But there can be debate about policies. I’ve been around a bit longer than most of you. So if you post bullshit I’ll reply.

    • Peter as an ex Labour Party member I can tell you that the idea of Labour being a ‘broad church’ is now a fiction. They are an ideologically devastated party, who have never fully recovered from Rogernomics, despite the superb political management of Helen Clark. The prevailing political view across NZ is centrist, and John Key has that sewn up. IN my opinion by taking Labour further left, David Cunliffe is set to do even further damage to the left overall. He will bastardise the Greens vote, and therefore gain nothing overall, while losing votes in the centre to, dare I say it, NZ First. In all honesty, until Key goes and unless National move further right, Labour are an also ran for the foreseeable future, beholden to an assortment of minor parties for even a shot at Govt.

    • ‘Broad church’ has become a Labour buzzword which is used to mask their neoliberalism. Its also used to try to justify why Labour and National why actually make quite a coherent coalition.
      How long before Labour drops to 15% and the Greens rise to 30%, and then Labour become the kingmaker? As soon as the boomers start dying this will happen. Labour have royally screwed Gen X & Y and we will not forget it. National appeal to the greasy Young Nats, but youth Labour? Doesn’t exist. Cunliffe is supposed to appeal to us? With what, an insurance policy? ‘Affordable housing’? Some more WFF middle class welfare?
      Poor old Labour, addicted to neoliberalism like a sad junkie. Shame we have to live with their consequences. Do us a favour and hurry up and O.D.

      • Agreed fatty. Admittedly I’m a centre right voter, but good democracy needs strong opposition, and the second party in NZ (Labour) is divided and confused. That certainly can’t be said for the Greens, who I most certainly don’t support, but from whom I see consistency and a clear ethos.

  3. Wayne, I agree with the diagnosis, but not the prescription. Running a social media campaign of personal attacks and dystopian futures is what Muldoon tried with the dancing cossacks. It didn’t work then, and it’s unlikely to work now. People are tired of politicians behaving like kindergarten kids, and indulging themselves in petty put-downs. What we want to see is an inspiring big picture vision for a more egalitarian, more sustainable Aotearoa, and a handful of ambitious policies which will push the boat out in that direction.

    I also disagree that the “Right” (both in National and Labour) can be defeated through the corporate media (including the totally compromised state-owned wing). To me this is like expecting to win favourable coverage on National’s own website. The only way to elect a government not hog-tied into business-as-usual is swarmise:

    When people have personal contact with people from the opposition parties, see them active in their communities, and realise how badly the those parties and the state of the country, are being misrepresented in the corporate media, they will get angry, and vote against the “Right”, both in the Nats and the Labour.

    • IIRC, Muldoon’s “Dancing Cossacks” campaign won the Nats a landslide victory in 1975; a series of not-so-subtle reprisals kept them in power until 1984. After that, the Right retained power via the stratagems we know so well: divide and rule being a perennial. I agree with Dr Hope’s location of the principal political fault line in 2014; his litmus tests seem spot on to me, too.

      • My mistake. I do vaguely remember the Nats ads from that election being similarly doom and gloomy. My point works just as well though if I insert a more recent example, the “Thank you very much” ads which lost Brash the election in 2005. Key’s strategy in 2008 was to talk about vision instead of attacking Labour. The rest is history we need to learn from.

  4. While I tend to agree with Wayne, the reality is, that the bulk of the population are anything but politically aware, and most do not really care about the “left against right” debate. Indeed it turns most people off, as they view themselves as being “pragmatic” (rightly or wrongly), and they ultimately want to vote for the party and persons, whom they trust that they will give them the most of what will benefit them personally.

    The elections will be largely influenced by the mainstream media, despite of the rise of the political and other blogs. It is to this day only a small fraction of the population and potential voters, who regularly follow blogs. The MSM still holds most influence, and regrettably the bulk of the staff and media “personalities” they now employ, are all rather “cosy” with the present government, and somewhat “centre” to “right of centre”.

    So all those regularly watching television, with their news, listening to radio, and also reading print and online mainstream media publications, they will read and suck up what they report.

    It is all influenced and even dominated by commerce, by the interests of the advertisers and the agencies doing the advertising, and by mostly commercial media operators, who will not want to change anything.

    So with all good ideas, policies, and a strong will and determination, the “left” will face a major challenge to get the message across. As we have seen over the last two elections, the media tends to be rather biased, and if Cunliffe – or any other leader or MP from the opposition stuffs up just a little, they will be all over them, and Teflon Key will get his third term, with or without the small party mercenaries he may need to engage.

    That is my great worry. With Labour still not having sorted itself out (or rather their caucus not sorting their direction out), I have too little trust in them offering the policies, messages and personalities I can vote for. So my vote will go to some other party.

    I will with interest listen and see, what David Cunliffe will have to say in his speech in about ten days. It could make a difference, and it better will do so. So far I see and hear no party really offering anything to beneficiaries, seemingly the “crap” of society, as we are viewed by too many.

  5. Excellent article Wayne, it is generating a great discussion. The bottom line to me is that the populace is not politically naïve, it is politically bored.
    Nobody in politics has the ability to inspire, to do that you need to propose a different agenda. One that covers the concerns and fears of people.
    Politics and politicians are stuck in the fetid swamp of the so called “centre” people understand that this means government pandering to corporate demands and pressures from the likes of the USA.
    With no one offering any kind of inspired alternative why should anyone vote other than those happy with the status quo. Don’t blame the populace for switching off from politics.
    Oh for some politicians who represent something different and have the courage to lead and inspire.
    Rather than those we have who get fat off our backs enjoying the self awarded rewards that would be put at risk if they threatened the current state of affairs.

  6. Another excellent article on the same theme by Seumas Milne in the UK Guardian newspaper. Shows that we are not alone in our troubles. It also indicates that National and the UK Tories are as one and have the same strategies.
    You can find it at theguardian.com.

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