Progressive Politics Is Not A Game: Chris Trotter responds to Rob Salmond



“ALL THE WORLD’S A STAGE” says Shakespeare in As You Like It, “and all the men and women merely players”. Life as a play: as the mischievous scribbling of some amoral dramaturgical deity; is a metaphor as old as the theatre itself.

Closely related, and just as old, is the metaphor of life as a game. Taken as a whole, or broken up into its most vivid elements, the human experience is reduced to something as artificial and essentially meaningless as the turn of a card, the muscular efficiency of a horse or the physics of a rolling pair of dice.

What lies behind both of these metaphors is the desperate need of those who make use of them to empty their personal conduct of all moral agency. Actors do not write the lines they are obliged to read, nor do they control the way their scenes unfold. The shape of the plot is somebody else’s responsibility – not theirs. It’s much the same for game players. They didn’t make the rules, but having opted to play the game they’re obliged to follow them. “Love ‘em or hate ‘em,” say the players, “the rules are the rules.” Or, in the words of a recent blog posting: “The game is the game.” 

The “game” referred to in that posting is the “game” of politics and its author, Rob Salmond, is commenting on the skill (or lack of it) displayed by the National Party in its attempted smearing of David Cunliffe.

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“National certainly knew about it well before anyone else, and were gloating about it on online forums over the past weekend. I’m betting National also had a hand in cajoling reporters to ask very particular questions of Cunliffe just hours before the incriminating OIA would be released.

“And, to be blunt, there’s nothing really wrong with that.”

And right there – in Salmond’s bland sentence – lies the source of all Labour’s woe.

Implicit in Salmond’s exoneration of National is the notion that politics is a game in which deception, entrapment and public humiliation are all well within the rules. A game for players without scruple or regret. Players to be judged not according to any moral code, but simply according to how adroitly they wield the officially sanctioned weapons of the game.

Salmond admits as much when he upbraids National for bungling the job:

“If you are going to orchestrate a smear against your opponent, but hope to fade into the background while the smear unfolds, it really pays to have your cover-up stories straight.”

He then goes on to gloat about how much better Labour is at smearing its opponents:

“Did you ever hear about Labour’s role in forcing [redacted] of the [redacted] party to resign back in [redacted]? No, I bet you didn’t.”

Presumably Salmond expects his readers to offer up a professional chuckle at this little gem. In much the same way that a Mafia hit-man would acknowledge a fellow assassin’s description of how he dispatched his latest victim. After all, when “the game is the game” there’s simply no room for the squeamish. Indeed, Salmond and his fellow professionals have a name for those who feel nauseated by such behaviour. They call them ‘losers’.

The real loser, of course, is the noble calling of progressive politics. The sort of politics that Labour’s Mickey Savage, eighty years ago, was quite unembarrassed to describe as “applied Christianity”. Unembarrassed, because Savage wasn’t a “professional” politician in any sense that Salmond might recognise. Born into poverty, largely self-educated, quietly spoken and diminutive of stature, Savage did not conceive of politics as a “game”. For him it was the only means by which ordinary, decent working people could secure the prerequisites of an abundant life for themselves and their children.

The Labour Party of Savage, Fraser and Nash, Nordmeyer, Kirk and Rowling did not need to master the dark arts of smearing their opponents. They did battle with the National Party on the sunlit field of policy. The only thing their conservative opponents were “forced” to do was to tell the voters why Labour’s policies of social uplift and collective progress could not possibly be implemented. The basements and back alleys of deception and entrapment remained the natural environment of blackmailers and pimps: the immoral milieu into which such criminal elements have always faded.

But that all changed in the 1980s when Labour’s caucus embraced the politics of “professional” neoliberal governance and abandoned the New Zealand working-class to its fate. It was then that the practice of progressive democratic politics ceased to be the open-ended process of collective emancipation that it had been from the 30s to the 70s. With both Labour and National now irreversibly committed to upholding the rules of neoliberalism, politics ceased to be about turning progressive and emancipatory ideas into reality, and became instead a contest designed to identify which team of politicians was most adept at playing the neoliberal game.

And what else but the skills of deception, entrapment and public humiliation would such politicians seek to master? When “the game is the game” what can politics be – apart from an unceasing effort to beset and belittle the men and women of the opposing teams? An endless conspiracy to make your opponents look like losers.


  1. Although I feel you’re probably preaching to the choir here, Chris, you did put it nicely.

  2. And I’m so sick of it. This is what turns younger people off politics.

    Its actually got nothing to do with running the country and nothing to do with representing the people who voted for them.

    I do wonder if the development of politics into a dirty sideshow is partly done to divert our attention from what really matters; asset sales, environmental plunder, and entrenchment of a Milton Friedman style free market ideology with its destructive results on ordinary peoples lives.

    • LARA: Absolutely right.

      WikiLeaks recently exposed the existence of an International agreement to promote Corporate World governance by taking control of both private and PUBLIC services within its member countries.

      In short – Multinational Corporations are aiming to take over, among other things, the public services, (including education) of those countries that are foolish enough to sign up to the “Trade in Services Agreement” (TISA).

      What ? You’ve never heard of of the “Trade in Services Agreement”?

      Well I hadn’t either before the wee small hours of this moring when the WikiLeaks release got a brief mention on Radio NZ News, then seemed to disappear from their later bulletins.

      Here is a quote from “”:

      “The TISA negotiations follow the corporate agenda of using “trade” agreements to make privatization non-reversible, and to promote mergers and acquisitions and deregulation, in order to ensure greater corporate control and profit making of national economies and the global economy. ”

      The article also notes that NZ is among the “good friends” of this utterly draconian, self-serving attempt at further world domination by the big Multinational corporates.

      This is the most devatating piece of news that I’ve heard in a while. And of course, just like the Pan-Pacific trade agreement, its being negotiated in secret (surprise, surprise!) and has similar long-term aims ( i.e. to allow American and European Multinationals to further dominate and exploit the world economy in order to further “line the pockets of the 1%”).

      No doubt the news item was moved aside to make room to discuss a trivial memory lapse that dates back 10 years or so?

  3. Fascinating how the Authorities will release Cunliffes Letter from 11 years ago asking about time frames however they will not release National Party Letters supporting Liu’s Residency Application.

    One would have to say the game is rigged and the NACT’s are doing all they can to stay in power, crooked more accurately describes it.

  4. It’s certainly a game for these bored millionaires. Just for jolly.

    It’s a game to live in a car or garage or shed, it’s a game to not be paid properly or paid at all, it’s a game to have next to no hope, funny game John Key!

    It’s a game to lie to the public ad infinitum and to ensure that the full story is never heard.

    It’s a game to use privileged public resources for smear campaigns.

    It’s a game to exploit those unable to do anything about it and keep exploiting them.

    But most of all its a game to ensure that those bored self-interested millionaires become even more wealthy and that the worst that they can fear is boredom itself.

    • Spot on, XRAY:

      Now whats the likelihood that dotKey won’t return from his meeting with Obama clutching some grubby little agreement in his hot little hand? Or perhaps more likely, carefully tucked away in the inside pocket of his best pinstripe suit?

      Like – you know – a document showing NZ support for the Government Procurement Act, or the Pan Pacific Trade Agreement, or the Trade in Services Agreement (or all three) that he has signed in exchange for his long awaited crack at a seat on The UN Security Council?

      Government OF BY FOR .

  5. You cannot be serious. If the Labour pantheon battled its National opponents on the ‘sunlit fields of policy’, that was what the convention of the time demanded. Labour’s internal history is marked by factional warfare in which almost any tactic was justified.
    Politics is not a holy cause championed by saints and martyrs (it was only the accidents of history that allowed Savage to take that part so successfully in the 1930s). There is too much of the personal as well as the political at stake. It belittles it to call it a game but it is certainly a contest. Sad, then, that Labour doesn’t have a leader who is up to it.

    • FOSSIL. That was a poor poor effort , based on ignorance more than anything else I suspect.
      Politics should be a contest of ideas that’s sole purpose is to enrich the lives of the populace as a WHOLE.
      That is the ONLY datum for ALL ideas.
      Once you deviate from that benchmark, you are on a one way track to oblivion. It may take awhile to get there ,but get there you will.
      It’s called the jungle and is only fit for animals!
      David Cunliffe is New Zealands’ saviour !

  6. Oh should the following be true

    The darkest places in hell are reserved for those who maintain their nuetrality in times of moral crises!

  7. Interestingly, I think both you – Chris – and Rob, have valid points in your respective writings. No, not having a bob or bobbette both ways, but there is more than truth to both your points of view.

    But really, what it all boils down to is that if voters want this sort of thing, they keep voting for it. Or not voting, as the 2011 General Election showed.

  8. I remember when I was about…12-14 years old?..there was a tv series done by Milton Freidman during the 1970’s. I found it strangely fascinating back then ..he was an amiable and quite interesting host of that documentary series. For some reason it stuck in the back of my mind for years.

    It was many years later when the Labour Govt of 1984 came in..progressively I watched the news in horror at the changes taking place..a lot of it as a young person in my twenties I didn’t quite understand but over the years…learned just what it was..neo liberalism.

    The exact same thing advocated by Milton Freidman all those years before.

    The new Zealand that I grew up in was a generally stable country despite the 1970’s oil shocks, our markets to Britain being severely reduced..but we still seemed to retain a reasonable wealth in the community..we still seemed to have a sense of egalitarianism.

    We never had the glaring levels of poverty as we do now…we practiced a Keynesian economic general.

    Yes there was the usual scuffles in parliament ,we had our fair share of social issues , higher prices for imports..but not this 200k children in poverty, this low wage economy ,destruction of our manufacturing potential , families constantly needing food high rents , mortgages etc etc …you all know the rest…

    And at the same time..(presently) we have glowing reports of a booming economy..alongside of such poverty in the community ????? !!!!!

    That was never the New Zealand I grew up in..I would far rather see contented families , healthy communities , wealth amongst the general populace than this horrible, negative , self serving neo liberal ideology touted by the think tanks of the Mont Pelerin society and their advocates such as Milton Freidman .

    As for the mud slinging..I remember the cossack adds run by National and suchlike..but there was never the vicious ongoing cloak and dagger points scoring as we see now..

    Indeed..while our country sinks..these clowns create nothing but spectacle after spectacle..trying to outdo each other with ever increasing heights of their ludicrous antics.

    No wonder elections have such poor turn outs now.

  9. The game will only skate on the thin ice of it’s deception as long as the rumbling of empty stomachs, and shivering in the cold, of millions allows it to continue. We must hope the vote is the way they chose to end the hypocrisy.

  10. I too, grew up in what would be called poverty these days. Nothing could be further from the truth. Our parents took their responsibilities seriously and fed us and clothed us ans sheltered us because that is what they were supposed to do. We had a happy household but did not have all the “things” that people expect to provide today. Shops like the Warehouse play a big role in raising expectations for the purchase of consumerables and rubbish.

    Politicians seem to be governed by the so called “rights” they are fed from journalists. Comments like “It is the public’s right to know” Where did that come from?

    • It came from the school of brainwashing Jennifer.
      First established in Germany in 1935.They now have schools in America (head school is in Chicago) ,UK, Australia and New Zealand.
      They are quite easy to qualify for.
      You just have to be a certified psychopath!

  11. Chris, you’re such a romantic idealist.

    However reality intervenes.

    By the 1980’s most Western nations had figured out that Socialism was broadly, a failure. Rather than uplift the masses, it dragged them down. It broke their spirit. Entrepreneurs left for some place else.

    As Thatcher so aptly said: “Socialism works until it runs out of other peoples money”.

    So Chris, now you’re left on an island of delusion, dreaming your dreams.

    [Post this if you dare. It’s an integrity test]

    • Andrew…People such as yourself demonstrate a complete lack of economic history….as well as confusing socialism with communism. Your constant references to the extremes … lacks critical thinking and analysis … and is emotive at best.

      One could say you , are in fact , the romantic idealist.

      If you were a child brought up in the 1960’s and 1970’s you will remember the relative wealth in the general community..

      That was not brought about by neo liberal economics but by Keynesian economics. Indeed ,you owe your very place in the community to Keynesian economics..Those policies developed by Labour in the 1930’s based on Keynesian economics. It was based on this …that created the egalitarian society we were famous for..indeed we were a model to the world for decades of just how successful those standards were.

      Hardly the extreme views put forward by those on the extreme right to justify their largesse..and to gloss over the current appalling social conditions we see today whilst boasting of a booming economy…

      It was that ideology (Keynesian )that pulled the western world out of the Great Depression , it was laissez faire ( essentially classical neo liberalism developed by the Austrian economic schools in the 1890’s ) that caused it.

      Even the USA gives lip service to such-what do you think the rescuing of the world economy was about in 2008?..more of the same neo liberal tripe? was using a Keynesian principle of encouraging nations to trade..not retract.

      After the Great Depression John Maynard Keynes travelled Europe with his economic reforms…most of those nations and even Japan adopted it..and in less than 6 months all were back in the black.

      The USA initially rejected it as too simple..but a year later adopted it…and hence created the New Deal..with the same results…in 6 months…the USA came out of the red and into the black.

      After World War two…a continuation of the same ensued..with the rebuild of Europe…there was generally in the west a growth economically and political stability.

      However Mont Pelerin society think tanks (they had over 200 such) developed plans to infiltrate universities with their economic brand…Margeret Thatcher herself had one of these advisers adjacent to Number 10 Downing Street , Milton Freidman was one of the public faces advocating against Keynesian economics and for neo liberal economics.

      If you look on who were on the members of Mont Pelerin regarding New Zealand , you will find both Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson..both holding the finance portfolios….it mattered not which major party you voted for…

      So now when you look at the poverty and social chaos which besets our nation , perhaps you will be more enlightened as to the who and how..and hopefully cast off your simplistic and naive political and economic views , and refrain from attributing socialism as communism…

      Otherwise , laughingly… you will be stating that the current most affluent nations per capita at this time…those in social democratic Scandinavia and West Germany are communist.

      Save yourself the embarrassment publicly and do some research please.

      • If you were a child brought up in the 1960′s and 1970′s you will remember the relative wealth in the general community…

        It depends on where you were brought up.

        If it was NZ then you’d likely have experienced the isolationist/socialist state that by the 80’s was bankrupt. Memory is a strange thing and rose tinted glasses tend to forget the need for ‘hard’ currency if you wanted to buy a car or ‘fridge and the lack of choice in the shops.

        Instead, I was brought up in Harold Wilson’s socialist experiment. I recall the incompetence of the nationalised industries such as British Rail, British Steel and the National Coal Board. All essentially broke by the time I left in the mid 70’s (don’t let anyone tell you that Thatcher finished them off – they were well doomed long before she got into power). I remember the 95% super tax which drove the wealthy away (Mr. Tax man – The Beatles). The 50 pound foreign holiday allowance. Rent freezes which meant there was no flats to rent. I couldn’t leave fast enough.

        So I’m not referring to Communism (although the Communist agitators in British industry assisted in its demise). I’m referring to Socialism and it’s destructive effect on innovation and entrepreneurialism – you know, the bits of the economy that feed us.

        Be careful of rose tinted glasses. You sit in your posh cafe sipping your chai latte recalling all the wonderful days of your youth. Those endless summer days at the beach (pre global warming) when everyone was overpaid and did half a days work… I wonder why it didn’t last?

        [PS Chris, thanks for posting my comment]

        • If it was NZ then you’d likely have experienced the isolationist/socialist state that by the 80′s was bankrupt.

          You might want to study up a bit more on NZ history before making nonsensical, simplistic statements like that.

          The two main reasons NZ’s economy was in dire straights had little to do with our “isolationist/socialist state”.

          Instead, it was more to do with two major oil shocks (early ’70s and late ’70s/early ’80s), and Britain entering the EEC, which damaged one of our major export markets.

          Before that, that exports actually resulted in a Trade surplus, peaking in 1973, just as the oil shocks hit.

          Britain’s entry into the EEC took away one of our major markets – a lesson we seem not to have learned very well as we become reliant on the Chinese export market.

        • Ok buddy- as for sitting in some cafe drinking latte’s -I’ve been a laborer most of my life -and yeah that means heavy construction work out in the bush.

          Not having anything more than certificate level tertiary education I can debate with the likes of you- how about Thatchers poll tax? for a start?…and if neo liberal was your cup of latte’ why didn’t you stay there?… no..instead you came to reap some of the benefits of our ‘Keynesian ‘ based economy. Or was it just for the sun and fun you came?…or the better wages back then perhaps?

          Too bad about the weather change- dipped out again , it seems. Interesting the English disease didnt happen here- perhaps it was poor management rather than diligence that was the root cause of Englands lurch to Thatcherism. Pity.

          There aint nothing rose tinted about desiring virtually full employment and a decent days pay for a days work either – or do you like 285k kids in poverty , wages so low we have to rely on the state when it should come from our wages -wages so low we are far down on the list of the OECD nations?, housing crisis under socialism?..what do you think we have now under neo liberalism?

          You think family breakdowns ,violent crime caused by poverty are just for giggles? Check out the Sensible Sentencing Trusts stats on the crimespike AFTER neo liberalism was introduced.

          You like seeing obscenely excessive pay packets for management with casualised ,pathetic wages that cant even properly feed a family for the very people who generate the actual wealth for those aforesaid managers?.. we never used to have such a reliance on foodbanks to keep families afloat back then ,either.

          You like seeing no import tarriffs that cause our industries to either move offshore or go into liquidation and workers loose jobs-adding to unemployment and used as a tool to drive down wages even more? – there’s your ‘free’ market- there’s the end result of your neo liberal dream .

          You talk about OUR state owned assets…you like seeing our assets sold off for a song then told the lie there will be competitive prices because of the free market – checked your power bills recently ,mate?…try the telephone one while your at it. ..spose a few families and elderly shivering in their homes means we can always turn a blind eye to that as well ,eh mate.

          I guess people being edged out of first home buying and lack of rentals and exorbitant prices thereof is a good thing by you neo liberal dreamers as well , …

          Always strikes me as almost humorous how you neo liberal fanboys can support the arrogance of the elite who brag about a rock star economy -and like Mary Antoinette -can walk amongst the communities with ROSE TINTED GLASSES and deliberately choose to ignore whats patently in front of them.


          Worse yet- they choose to deny any evidence thereof. Well sorry for the likes of you , fella- but we don’t do class systems over here ,Mate.

          And if England couldn’t get its act together maybe it should look at itself as to straight across in Europe there are STILL examples in Scandinavia and West Germany who run social democracies And don’t base their economy on a neo liberal ideology .

    • Yours and Maggies flawed philosophy is not that earth shattering that it needs censoring.
      Censoring is what neo-liberals teach at the School of Brainwashing
      It’s actually a 101 paper.
      Interesting that you came up with that most vague of vocational constructs -‘the entrepreneur’.
      If anyone relies other peoples money to a) get started and b) to survive, its ‘the entrepreneur.’
      Without everyone else running around working ,earning and saving money to then loan or give to ‘the entrepreneur’, ‘the entrepreneur’ is a dead duck.
      The people running around working their arses off, communicating with each other, feeding each other, looking after each other, is called a society;but Maggie the mental mentor didn’t believe such a thing existed.
      However,because of your blog, the good news is that you have automatically qualified for the New Zealand School of Brainwashing.

      • By the way. I forgot to mention.You will need to book soon as we expect a rush after 20th of September.
        We will have a new lecturer on campus by the name of Key.
        His first lecture will be based on readings from that most enlightening of books,’The Lazy Mans Way To Riches’.
        He will be focussing mainly on how to manipulate currency markets(ie.other peoples money) to gain huge financial reward for oneself.
        This will be followed up by readings from the equally enlightening book, ‘How To Win Friends And Influence People'( with said ill gotten gains), as a way to further increase your influence and wealth.
        There will time for a question and answer session after, but you will need to understand manglish.
        We look forward to seeing you there.

  12. Andrew what happened was that the wealthy found they could get wealthier by having an economy that supported them to do this. The whole point according to Douglas was that the wealth would trickle down to the masses. The wealth hasn’t trickled down and the wealthy get wealthier. Heard about the inequality gap in NZ? How many children are growing up in poverty in NZ? But according to Key et al tho sis a ‘rock star’ economy, unemployment has dropped and so has crime. However I have seen clear evidence of how they are fudging the stats.

    And for the future what does that do for our society? No doubt the crimes will get more violent and the cops will use guns. You’re quoting Thatcher? UK is in a good place economically is it? Europe is humming along? The USA the bastion of the free market is rock star status as well? They spend billions of dollars to support the military industrial complex but ignore cities like Detroit who are at rock bottom.

    Institutions like the big banks who are beneficiaries of the income of the low and middle class, people who make huge money but do little to put wealth back into the economy have done nothing to support the development of a just and caring society. This isn’t capitalism. True capitalism would have let the big banks sink.

    If you’ve got a mate heading the GCSB/SIS?PIS then why not use their technological knowledge and skills to undermine your opposition to ensure you get back into power. I mean who know and then who would believe it right? I really am fearful for our democracy. There are also opportunities to not only rig the polls but rig voting – and who would believe that could happen – right? In little old to NZ. Probably a step too far? Let’s hope so.

    • WIN

      If you wish to look at Europe, consider which bits have fallen on their face.

      > Greece – thanks to the Socialist Papandreou.
      > France – thanks to the Socialist Hollande
      > Italy, Spain, Portugal – all previously ruined by Socialists

      Are you seeing a theme here?

      If you wish to witness a Socialist success I suggest you pop over to Venezuela and see it first hand. Real experience can be formative.

      • Andrew,

        You left out those countries that also most fell on their faces;

        > USA, thanks to the 2007/08 Global Financial Crisis, resulting in billion dollar bailouts

        > UK, ditto, and had to bail out the Bank of Scotland and other too-big-to-fail finance institutions

        > NZ, ditto, had to bail out finance companies

        Are you seeing a theme here?

        If you wish to witness capitalist success I suggest you study the 2007/08 GFC and look into it first hand. Real understanding can be formative.

        Because it it hadn’t been for billion-dollar taxpayer bailouts required for a whole host of financial institutions in the UK, US, and elsewhere, we would have witnessed such colossal collapses that the resulting Depression would have made the 1930s pale in comparison.

        So there’s not much difference between the examples you cite and those of the capitalist economies which came to a fraction of anarchy.

        • Agreed that banking was poorly regulated and oversight was inadequate. So capitalism is an imperfect system.

          But imperfect is better than the zero score Socialism has achieved.

          • Andrew says:
            June 22, 2014 at 9:18 am


            But imperfect is better than the zero score Socialism has achieved.

            Really? You sure you want to go down that road, Andrew?

            Because let me remind you that “communism” (as you call it), lifted the Soviet Union our of being a feudal society from 1917, until it was able to put the first man in space in April 1961. Plus the Soviet system raised living standards by implementing mass-education and free healthcare. They had zero unemployment.

            I’m no fan of the Soviet system, god knows. Their policies in Eastern Europe, post WW2 was enough to convince me that their political one party system was doomed.

            But credit where it’s due. They went from an impoverished society ruled by a corrupt monarchy to the number two super-power in forty years.

            As for China, ditto. The “communist” system educated the masses in reading and writing and forged ahead economically until they are the world’s number two economic powerhouse (a quasi capitalist economy built upon previous “communist” policies). Economists are predicting they will become number one by the end of the century.(Unless global warming wrecks our civilisation first.)

            Again, I’m no fan of their totalitarian systems, but referring to the “zero score socialism has achieved” is ignoring historical truths to prove your point.

            Closer to hom,e, it was the State “socialist” system that built up this country’s infra-structure – not your previous free market.

            The copper lines you used to make your blogposts on TDB was laid down by the State-owned Post Office, pre-Rogernomics.

            You can read and write thanks to “socialist” free education.

            And most likely, you are alive because “socialist” semi-free healthcare has improved child mortality rates in this country.

            In short, be thankful you live in “socialist” New Zealand, and not some Libertarian ‘paradise’.

            • Frank: But credit where it’s due. They went from an impoverished society ruled by a corrupt monarchy to the number two super-power in forty years. –

              Actually they went from a Feudal society ruled by a corrupt monarchy to a prison camp society ruled by Stalin.

              Stalin’s feat of arms was little different from the Czar’s before him. In their day also a world power.

  13. You left out the Muldoon influence between Rowling and Lange. You are so right Chris. I feel so sad for NZ and its society: my children’s and grandchildren’s generations will have to suffer. The ECA was one of the worst pieces of industrial legislation ever because of its influence and implications for NZ. Don’t cry for me New Zealand!

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