What Key will say to me in private vs what he will say about me in public – the negative polarisation of politics



Shortly after he was elected as MP for Helensville John Key phoned me for my insights into West Auckland.

In 2009 Mark Ford asked me to manage the workforce transition at the Auckland Transition Agency. That approach was sanctioned by Ministers. All the feedback from government on our management of the staff transition and the constructive engagement with the PSA throughout was positive.

As National Secretary of the NDU I had many interactions with ministers, including Bill English who accepted an invitation to our senior delegate workshop which Kate Wilkinson had refused. Indeed I think this engagement helped to stave off the anti-union agenda and the attack on funding for union education that became a hallmark of National’s second term.

Not to mention the numerous private conversations I’ve had over years of engaging with this and the former government which have been variously friendly, tense, courteous and critical. And the untold exchanges with officials at the behest of Ministers over areas of public policy in which the organisations in which I’ve had senior roles have had an interest.

I make these points in response to the name-calling that National signalled as an election theme at their Conference last weekend. Those comments signal a polarisation that is being driven by National, and it’s a direction that should be of deep concern beyond those who already support a change of government.

I have never been a fan of polarisation. As a new Minister I returned from a visit to Ireland fired up by the possibilities of delegating the negotiation of major public policy issues to representatives of the communities and sectors directly involved. Ireland’s National Social and Economic Council (similar models operate throughout northern Europe) brought together union, business, farmer and community sector leaders (the four pillars) as an engine room for national development. At the end of my visit – which was looking specifically at how Ireland had developed its children’s policy – I met the Trinity College academics whose research had been key in that process. I reflected to them how consistent the conversation was, not only with them but with the government, union and business leadership I had also met with. One laughed and lilted “do you think we have been brainwashed?”

My emphatic answer was “no”. Here I heard government officials, union leaders and employers talking as passionately about children as academics and community based organisations. Just as such leaders had earlier redesigned tertiary education (making it free) and were tackling other big social and economic questions.

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But when I returned with my report to the Cabinet, my enthusiasm for such a delegation of policy making was met with, well, raised eyebrows and suspicion. We might have MMP, but we still practice an adversarial policy making approach which does not serve us well.

So policy areas like industrial relations, tax, welfare, education, transport, technology, business development – you name it – just get stuck in positional ruts, rather than being addressed as shared issues and problems under a broad framework of social and economic development.

This election things are more polarised than ever. The predominance of John Key and the National Party is extremely risky to the building of a consensus on issues like digital development, climate change, and poverty. The diversity of the parties committed to a change of government and the collective track record of our leaders in and outside government is a virtue for us. It could promise a style of government that engages rather than dictates.

The parties seeking to replace National have an opportunity to demonstrate the possibilities of constructive engagement, and to imagine an engagement that goes beyond Parliament to the frontline of our society. Let’s hope that David Cunliffe can convey that message at Labour’s Conference this weekend.


  1. Nah. I doubt the diversity of parties committed to changing the government is a “virtue” electorally. Much more likely it will turn-off thousands of voters who don’t know what they are getting by voting left.

    This just sounds like wishful thinking to me. Sad.

    • Laila is supporting the idea that a cooperative society is a good thing. Whatever the milieu of the left, it is far more caring, people-oriented, and environmentally aware
      than that which the groupings of the right portend.

      I hope the NZ populace has the foresight to understand this.

    • When you go to a store to buy clothes, what do you want to see? A sign saying “One size only, take it or leave it”, or do you want a range of choices? Like it or not, society is full of a wide range of people, with a wide range of needs. MMP caters to that diversity, and a range of parties, with policies tailored to cater to that variety of needs, is a great thing. We have a fantastic system, and voters should take the time to learn the benefits. Also, the media should be promoting those benefits, instead of playing the Us vs Them game. If you ask me, it’s the refusal of some to embrace the opportunities we have that is the sad thing.

  2. National have taken a God like approach to NZ Politics and the NZ People, it appears MSM have shut all other parties out of the media and only report BS and Smear Campaign.

    • Well, when the performance record and policy offerings are as threadbare as National’s that’s hardly surprising. I guess in their minds divine right is still current – they are antemillenial monsters – living fossils only surviving due to NZ’s geographic isolation. Unlike the moa, once they are gone there will be no interest in bringing them back.

  3. #teamkey offers predictability and a track record of reliability inspite of some relatively minor mishaps. The voter may not like everything #teamkey are doing s(he) aren’t being unsettled by what is happening.

    #teamcunliffe#norman#harawira#dotcom are an unknown and some of the players have no track record or a record that is worrying to M(r)(rs)(s) average.

    • Do tell who are the players who have no track record. You’ve put Dotcom in there but actually Laila leads the party. All of these people have considerable experience.

      The Nats have a record of ignoring the long term real issues, the poverty for kids, climate change, protecting our environment.

    • @ BryansPondre,

      One way of losing fear of the unknown is getting yourself informed.

      The Nats are reliable only in so far as we can be assured that they won’t represent anyones’ interests but those of the most wealthy in this country. You cannot say that the poorest haven’t gone backwards and you cannot say that ‘Mr/s Average’* haven’t remained at best static and as for the real state of the economy – that is anyone’s guess – the information is so fudged. If ‘Mr/s Average’ don’t ‘get’ these things yet then perhaps this is because, despite apparently having an preference for ‘reliability’ they are relying on unreliable information sources.

      Or are you saying that ‘Mr/s Average’ are happy with predictability even if the predictability involves poor consequences? That people would rather that than take a chance on improvement? The political approaches that the National government are taking have been proven faulty – the market fails – GFC is a case in point -intervention is the only way to date that we know how to address this fault – yet are you saying that seeing as we know this approach will fail we would prefer to stick to it?

      There is a wealth of information, research and application on the approaches and theories that underpin what Labour, the Greens, Mana and the Internet Party intend to pursue. It is not enough to say ‘we don’t know what they represent or what the results will be from pursuing such. This is simply a massive cop-out.

      I sincerely hope the society in which I live in isn’t full of misinformed people so persuaded by cop-outs such as your comment implies.

      * ‘Mr/s Average’ is a fictional construct that doesn’t exist in reality. Someone may be ‘average’ in terms of either their income or level of intelligence or ethnicity, or gender or [place any category here] but may be an outlier in some of the other categories.

    • By this logic you will have to rename it #teamkey#dunne#whyte#craig and – as you have said some are unknown, have no track record and a record that is also worrying for John and Joan Average – as the Averages don’t all live in Epsom.

    • A “track record” of fiscal irresponsibility by way of two unaffordable tax cuts, Bryan?

      Tax cuts that benefitted the rich, whilst GST and prescription charges were raised to penalise the poor?

      Plunging this coiuntry into a $60 billion debt after the previous Labour government had paid off near all our sovereign debt?

      Is that your vision of “reliability”?!

      I think we can do better. Much better.

    • North Korea also offers a track record of predictability and reliability, if you want to play that card. Heaven forbid that the citizens of the DPRK should encounter some unknown system such as that of the ROK. Best just to stick with the face we know, right?

      Seriously, if we all spent our lives sticking with what we knew, we’d be scared to get too close to the edge of the world in case we fell off.

    • yes his propaganda & control of the entire media is successful but are you happy being brain washed by the present media Minister Steven Joyce?

      Steven Joyce is John Keys election strategist.

      William Joyce (maybe a distant relative) or Lord haw Haw was part of the last Ministry of Public Enlightenment & Propaganda in 1933 operated by Joseph Goebbels with the blessing of Adolf Hiltler and we all know where that ended don’t we?

  4. Conducting politics from within the belly of the beast while contentious is a necessary part of the broader struggle.

    Work with and struggle against.

  5. An excellent and insightful Post Laila Harré .

    The polarisation you write about here , as opposed to the instinct for co -operation you wish for , is driven by the need for a select few to perpetuate the Great NZ Institutionalised Lie . ( Eye Roll please )

    Creating then fostering a competitive , shit slinging , name calling , abusive political realm within which the scum of our political sewers can breed and prosper does one thing very well . It quells 360 degree thinking , it crushes questions of a most abstract nature and dares you to try that again mate .

    The polarisation you should focus on , in my humble view , is the polarisation marketed by the MSM against the dirty , filthy old farmer and the Uber Flash elite latte sippers of Epsom . ( No disrespect to Latte Sipping . I was once a farmer and now I sip lattes and I know which I prefer on a cold , sleeting , Southland winters morning . )

    In there , in the wool sheds of the Kiwi hinterland , there’s where you will find out why we Kiwis flounder like a broken winded horses .

    Why , I hear you ask ? Because that’s where the money is . In the Farm Lands . Out there , in the Clean-Green . If you want to make sense of our economy , or of where our money has gone and of why the ordinary New Zealander is in such a fragile state look to the polarisation of Rural / Urban NZ and then find out who those are who most benefit from that rift . I dare you . x

  6. @ Tuna . Fish are such cold blooded creatures .

    It is true , that you say people don’t know what they’ll be getting by voting Left .

    But they do know what they’ll get if they vote Right .

    Liars , swindlers and cheats , cheating , lying and swindling . They will get a mincing Queen with a con-mans charm who morally condones using Israeli weapons to murder New Zealanders without trial on land occupied by hostile forces . They’ll get plump , obscenely rich frights in frocks enjoying torturing the most vulnerable , they’ll get old , fat , rich , white pricks hoisting their blubber to applaud the above mincing Queen of conmen as he and his Freak Show comes to towns near us . They’ll get colder winters and fleeting summers of hard work and increasing costs . They’ll get sick because it’s now known that stress causes heart attacks and strokes . They can watch as their beloved kids have to move off-shore to find culture and class , bleached out of us by a banal MSM kissing west coast USA TV show arse .
    Now that , dear Tuna , is sad .

  7. Now we see the problems in being a small, island nation in relative isolation…

    It is easy to practice the politics of an adversarial approach , and yet..there are large cities round this globe that have populations the same as ours yet are governed only by a mayor and council…

    There is no excuse as to why this has to be so save there being ‘other motives’ and ‘interests’ that certain people do not want changed.

    It is these self interest groups that have such a grip on the country…and that do not want change – or open dialogue regarding a unifying solution…rather- they are determined to keep the status quo and retain a unilateral decision making monopoly.

    This is very unfortunate..and is indeed why there exists the factions , and divisions in our country.

    It has been shown that the impoverishment of a country works counterproductive to the aims of the wealthy in the long term…primarily because…it is a situation of ever diminishing returns.

    The foolishness of the advocates in this country for neo liberal monetary policies based on Mont Pelerin society ideology is evident to all …

    It may be claimed we have a ‘rock star’ economy but far too many people now see it as a bald faced lie. This is an irreversible fact as people now view the 1980’s term ‘trickle down effect’ as a manipulative and clever heist of our economy and political system.

    It may have been that these unscrupulous characters thought they could welch on the fact that the NZ character was traditionally laid back , mild mannered , and not a people to make a big fuss….qualities we held dear …

    But it appears to have been viewed and used by these types as some sort of weakness..

    I would advise such as these to not mistake being polite as being weak…not to mistake being laid back and relaxed as lazy , not to mistake mild mannered as being incapable of anger and certainly….to not make the mistake of the public being blind to what is really happening in our communities.

    These neo liberal advocates desperately need to see the wisdom of co-operation, of compromise, of revoking unpopular and manipulative legislation, of realistic wealth sharing and redistribution where needed, ….and even…the abandoning of economic globalization in favor of such concepts as national sovereignty , nationhood ,and community ,…. concepts foreign to many of them.

    • Good comments the neo-liberal experiment has been a crock of BS with the benefits accurring to a few selected families & individuals.

  8. This is all very nice Laila, but the fact is you’ve sold out to a rich capitalist for 30 pieces of silver and some new clothes. The hypocrisy of the left is a gem indeed.

    • A rich capitalist who , like many recent immigrants was not aware of the subterfuge present in those on the political right. And hence became radicalized against them due to the shoddy Waco Texas style treatment that was dished out to him.

      You do not need 82 paramilitary police officers to abseil down from helicopters flying overhead when a squad car with a police sergeant and a few constables would have achieved the same result.

      Patently obvious it was all a show put on to impress the FBI and Uncle Sam that we really really really wanna be seen as active members of the 5 eye network. Nothing more.

      Good on Laila for taking up the challenge of leading the Internet party ,- I cannot think of a better choice than a seasoned, well liked and respected individual such as her.

      And by the way…if you cant see the correlations between the GSCB, the choosing of Ian Fletcher and the time frames of his coming and going , the arrival of USA’s head of security , the meetings held at night between ambassadors and the same etc etc…check out TV3’s John Campbell documentary regarding those events to refresh your memory.

    • Its also a gem indeed that when the right feels threatened they will resort to airing their collective hypocrisies even more vehemently.

      Such as the above comment…

      Inasmuch as its fine for the right to have rich supporters, but when the left manages the same,..like spoilt brats who hate the thought of having to share the sandpit – they howl and bawl like little children.

    • Your sudden enthusiasm for idealogical purity on the left is perhaps, like Rolf Harris’s love for children, comprised by other agendas. If Laila had indeed sold out you’d be all over her you sycophantic far-right creep.

    • Intrinsicvalue says:
      July 2, 2014 at 4:15 pm

      This is all very nice Laila, but the fact is you’ve sold out to a rich capitalist for 30 pieces of silver and some new clothes. The hypocrisy of the left is a gem indeed.

      Sez Anonymous ACT Supporter Intrinsicvalue, attempting to parody a left wing critic.

      Now you really are just a troll.

      I think your presence on this (or any other blogsite except, perhaps, Whaleoil) is a waste of pixels.

    • Jesus, get over yourself. The vast majority of the political left are not Luddites. They are not against a society that enjoys technological, medical, and social advances. What they are against is a sector of society who looks to exploit and undermine the progress that was built by generations of their nation, in order to advance the interests of a few, at the expense of the many. They are against the bull-headed ideology that success must be measured only in terms of bottom lines and exponentially increasing growth charts. They are against the notion that the interests of the shareholder are sacrosanct while the interests of the stakeholders are not.

      There is nothing wrong with Capitalism as a system, nominally speaking, any more than there is with Communism, nominally speaking. Each systems flaws are exposed not by the structure itself, but by the abuse of power that is exercised by those who are in control of the system. Capitalism, as it happens, tends to foster extreme exploitation of the system via morally bankrupt but legally accepted loopholes. An opposition coalition that seeks to question those who support that exploitation, and close those loopholes in order to advance the wellbeing of a greater number of its constituents is not something to be reviled, but celebrated.

      It is NOT hypocritical for Harre to team up with Dotcom, if she is doing so in the interests of displacing control of the system from a government who work against the interests of the majority of NZ. If you want to talk about who is selling out… Try the bunch of selfish wankers who sold our SOE’s, and any of the myopic fools who voted for them.

      • There is nothing wrong with communism, nominally speaking, other than as an ideology it killed around 100 million people and has no proven track record of working, anywhere

        • Wow you really want to get into a whole who killed the most people type thing. Look up how many people have died in Africa of starvation not because there is a lack of food in the world but because capatalisim means their country can’t afford to buy it.

          Communisim seems to be working in Vietnam. Not the best place to live in the world for a large part of their population but working none the less. Capatalist countries could probably receive teh same review.

          All of this missed the actual point of the post you were replying to that actually said that they didn’t want to get rid of Capatalisim but want to make it better.

    • That’s all very nice Intrinsicvalue, but you’ve sold out to capatalism for 30 pieces of silver. The hypocrisy of the your comment is a gem indeed.

  9. Well said, Laila – our voting system is MMP but our parliamentary is still two-party FPP with notions of the “government” and the “opposition”.

    Even something so basic as the seating in the House sets up an adversarial approach from the get go – in my view, members should sit in alphabetical order. The behaviour would improve markedly and over time so would the collegiality just through changing where they sit. (Plus there’d be some great matchups – Adams/Ardern, Bridges/Browning, Delahunty/Dunne, etc)

    Our beloved lovers of business would never run a business the way parliament is run with a Board split into opposing factions. As they say, the one institution that hasn’t been restructured in the last 50 years is parliament. It’s about time, and the parties on the left can show the way.

  10. “Let’s hope that David Cunliffe can convey that message at Labour’s Conference this weekend”.

    There’s not much hope of any message being conveyed if the media has been locked out.

  11. If only there was a tape of Key swearing like a sailor at Joyce about Mediaworks, with the PM saying: “I fucking TOLD you not to do that but you went ahead and did it anyway!”

    Alas, a teapot tape does not come around every election, necessarily. Sigh.

  12. Interesting… we were at “Backbenches” tonight, watching the filming of the TV programme of the same name.

    Hone Harawira spoke, and he spoke well. By the end of the night, there were five converts to Mana-Internet sitting at our table.

    Right wingers might hate him because of what Hone stands for, but he comes across every passing day as a man with alternative solutions to the neo-liberal mess we now live with.

  13. But when I returned with my report to the Cabinet, my enthusiasm for such a delegation of policy making was met with, well, raised eyebrows and suspicion. We might have MMP, but we still practice an adversarial policy making approach which does not serve us well.

    I wonder if the difference between European nations and New Zealand (along with Australia and US) is that, relatively we are a young society.

    Europe’s recorded history is at least a thousand years old (or more).

    New Zealand is barely, what, 200? And for the most part of that period, we were an extension of Mother England.

    Perhaps because our own post-colonial history is so short, we are immature as a society.

    We might have MMP – but half the time many people seem confused what to do with it. On the one hand we have National being “strategic in working with allies” – on the only hand, we have the Left “making sordid deals”.

    When Labour recently made the suggestion that the State pays “voluntary” school fees, instead of forcing low income families to spend money they don’t have, we had a Minister of Education making the incredible statement thart it would be an “extra burden on taxpayers”.

    Pardon moi?!?!

    Did I hear that right?

    When did education become a “burden”?

    And why was their no chorus of condemnation to such a patently idiotic remark? (Not one single party on the Left or Right would agree that education was a “burden”. The prosperity of a society is predicated on education.)

    Because, I submit to the reader, the notion of people paying for social services has come secondary to the policy of low-taxation and even further tax cuts. As if we can have good social services and low taxes. (We can’t. Social services need to be paid for.)

    That’s why Tolley got away with her childish, asinine comment. Because every time someone suggests we need better social services, the first reaction is “how much will it cost?”

    Not, “How much will it cost if we don’t do it?”

    Case in point, today, on Radio NZ’s Checkpoint , John O’Neal from the Child Poverty Action Group was interviewed. John suggested addressing child poverty by putting more resourcing into the most disadvantaged families by increasing funding and services to low decile schools (free meals, increasing pay for teachers, etc.)


    The first question from the host, Mary Wilson, was “how much will it cost?”

    Not, “How much will it cost if we allow poverty to grow?”

    Until we widen our vision of the society we live in; and think beyond our immediate needs; New Zealand’s worsening inequality; child poverty; social problems; environmental degradation; etc, will continue to worsen.

    When journalists and others demand tax cuts from National politicians this election year, what they are really advocating is less resourcing to address the growing problems (I refuse to call them “issues”) facing our country.

    In which case, Laila, instead of good people like you going alone to Europe to learn from our northern cuzzies – the entire Parliament of 120+ MPs should tag along as well.

    (We can promise all MPs that we’ll not lock the door after they’ve left and will let them back in.)

    Who knows, they might learn something. In which case, it would be a junket worth every dollar spent.

    • Mary McGregor is just an extreme example of a journalist trained in the economic school of journalism, viz. if you can’t put a monetary value on it then it isn’t relevant. The right will not relinquish their hold on New Zealand journalism until they are dragged kicking and screaming in righteous protest out the door.

  14. Wishful thinking that National will ever be a party that actively engages everyone in its policy and decision making. National stands for the wealthy, the elite and the privileged. It vigorously opposes any notion of any type of collective conscience because this clashes with its unshakeable belief that those few on the top of the economic and social ladders always know best. Whenever a force of reason threatens to envelope some sections of the National Party (like the so-called “Blue-Greens”) a reactive force will intervene to make sure that the status quo remains. This is why National cannot commit to the problems of child poverty, environmental degradation and racial disharmony because to admit their existence challenges how good the National Party members feel about themselves. It is very important for them to feel good about themselves and when they don’t they angrily turn on their tormentors – people like Russell Norman or Hone Hawaira who they regard as bogey men lurking in the alley always likely to pop up to remind them of their failures. When a brave Nat tries to make some progress on these matters he/she is shot down by a party hierarchy who cannot admit that Godzone has any problems.

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