Uncomplicated Loyalties: Why Cunliffe and the Labour Left Cannot Win



THE STORY of David Cunliffe’s leadership of the Labour Party has been one of missed opportunities and unforced errors. That he was the only choice available to those who wanted to rid the Labour Party of its neoliberal cuckoos is indisputable. Equally indisputable, however, is that he has proved unequal to the task.

It is worth recalling the observations I made back in February following the announcement that Matt McCarten had been appointed as Cunliffe’s Chief-of-Staff:

[T]he Left has been given an extraordinary opportunity to prove that it still has something to offer New Zealand ….. If Cunliffe and McCarten are allowed to fail, the Right of the Labour Party and their fellow travellers in the broader labour movement (all the people who worked so hard to prevent Cunliffe rising to the leadership) will say:

“Well, you got your wish. You elected a leader pledged to take Labour to the Left. And just look what happened. Middle New Zealand ran screaming into the arms of John Key and Labour ended up with a [pitiful] Party Vote … So don’t you dare try peddling that ‘If we build a left-wing Labour Party they will come’ line ever again! You did – and they didn’t.”

Be in no doubt that this will happen – just as it did in the years after the British Labour Party’s crushing defeat in the general election of 1983. The Labour Right called Labour’s socialist manifesto “the longest suicide note in history” and the long-march towards Blairism … began.

The cuckoos (a.k.a the “ABCs”) are now poised to reclaim control of the Labour Party caucus and organisation to a degree not seen since the departure of Helen Clark. Not only will they purge the Leader of the Opposition’s Office of Cunliffe and his immediate entourage, but they will also ensure that the current party President, Moira Coatsworth, and the General Secretary, Tim Barnett, are eased out of their positions. A concerted effort will also be made to rid the party’s NZ Council of all those known to be sympathetic to Cunliffe and his vision. Within the trade union movement there will be a strong push for “left unity” and the choice and management of affiliate delegates to and at regional and annual conferences will be given much closer attention.

By the time the 2015 annual conference of the Labour Party convenes in Palmerston North, delegates will be welcoming a new leader, electing a new president and general secretary, and contemplating a NZ Council already shorn of most of its left-wing radicals. The delegates, too, will likely be a very different bunch. At the level of the Labour Electorate Committees there will be a concerted effort to provide delegate credentials only to those “approved” by the dominant caucus faction. The names of people not wanted at the conference will be discreetly circulated to the new leader’s most reliable supporters. Challenges to dissidents should be expected.

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Right down to the lowest levels of the Labour Party, politics is about to get very ugly.

Is there no way back for Cunliffe and the Left? No way at all?

No, there is not.

To understand why one needs to understand the average Labour activist. While a minority of active members are driven by ideology, the vast majority are driven by a mixture of sentiment and loyalty. These emotions have either been programmed into them by their upbringing – as in “I remember Norman Kirk” – or through a longstanding personal relationship with their local Labour MP. The strength of these emotions means that when push comes to shove the Labour Party’s activist base will almost always defer to the wishes of the parliamentary caucus, or, if that fails, to appeals by the party hierarchy to rally in Labour’s defence.

That these traditional appeals to sentiment and loyalty failed to keep the membership quiescent for the six years after 2008 bears testimony to the iron grip in which Helen Clark held the party organisation for an unprecedented 15 years. Pressures for a more democratic Labour Party had been building for some time under Clark (especially during her final term as PM) and they burst forth in the form of constitutional and policy innovations following her departure. The effective coronation of Phil Goff as party leader in 2008, followed by the caucus’s refusal to acknowledge Cunliffe as the membership’s choice in 2011, gave the rank-and-file’s reforms an even sharper edge.

The high tide of the democratisation process coincided with the election of Cunliffe over the objections of the parliamentary caucus in September 2013. Cunliffe himself was only too aware of the momentous potential for change which his election signified. A left-wing party strong enough to dictate the composition and policy direction of its parliamentary representatives constituted a clear and present danger to New Zealand’s 30 year-old bipartisan consensus in favour of neoliberalism. Cunliffe’s efforts to reassure his colleagues that he had no intention of availing himself of that potential proved unsuccessful. There were simply too many Labour MPs with personal and political fortunes that could not survive the subordination of the Labour Caucus to the Labour Party.

The wider political and business establishment had even more to fear from a Cunliffe-led Labour Party forming a government in 2014. Cunliffe made plenty of mistakes on his own, but these do not in any way detract from the mistakes that were made for him.

And now the Labour Party membership and affiliates find themselves between a rock and a hard place. They must decide between engaging in a long and bitter internal struggle for ideological and organisational supremacy with their own MPs; or, by rediscovering their former, uncomplicated loyalties to party hierarchy and parliamentary caucus, avert the bloody consequences of a civil war that neither side would be likely to emerge from as a viable political force.

All my experience of the Labour Party tells me that it will capitulate to its parliamentary wing. Rank-and-file and affiliate union members know that their MPs are full-time political professionals who, in this sort of battle, can count on the support of virtually the entire New Zealand establishment. The news media, in particular, can be relied upon to portray the caucus as reasonable and responsible, while painting Cunliffe and the party as a bunch of loony lefties dangerously out-of-touch with “Middle New Zealand”. That being so, and with such wise old Labour Party heads as its former General Secretary, Mike Smith, and its current Policy Council sage, Professor Nigel Haworth, counselling moderation and caution, the membership will, once again, like Orwell’s “Boxer” in Animal Farm, allow the pigs to harness them to the plough.



    • They as i write this are,not outside Labour but within.Their main chance of new blood and full blown centre right is new /old Johhny on the block,Nash.

      So much is their contempt for the party,rank and file, to have a choice in who should be leader, a age old Lord held decision only to them and them alone, those elected to the house and lately those listed.

      What these self Lords refuse to accept aside from their distate for their present leader,is they like their present leader was shafted at this election and they also are just as distastful to the voting public.

  1. Jim Anderton showed the way forward some thirty odd years ago. Though he failed in the end this is not to say his approach will always end in failure, At any rate it has to be tried. Is there any other alternative.

    • YES there is a MAJOR and OBVIOUS alternative:

      Work hard within the party to make sure that the next Labour Government is a strong left-wing Government. Protect our policies, and our platform. Protect our left-wing caucus members – whether they be “activists” or “careerists” – if they support OUR policy, let’s support them. Fight-back against the rhetoric of Shearer et al who want to blame our policies for the defeat. It wasn’t about our policy or positioning.

      It isn’t all about who the bloody leader is. Cunliffe as leader didn’t lead to more left-wing policy. If anything, there were a few steps back taken in the employment relations space (industry standard agreements in the first 100 days – that’s what he promised during the leadership battle, and then majorly backed down from).

      For me, Cunliffe has never been likeable. Not because of his politics – but because he is disingenuous and manufactured. I never trusted he was really left-wing anyway. I think the public felt that too.

      Nash as leader is terrifying. No way that will happen. But there is a young group of left-wing caucus members who can lead us. You may think they are a bit careerist. Okay – but they are the only ones who truly have the ability to bring about a strong left Labour Government. They need the help of left-wing members.

      • Who are the left wing caucas members you speak of? I’m not doubting, I’d like to know (pls excuse my ignorance). Nash would be a disaster for NZ, and a victory for Simon Lusk and his ilk. Horrified by this imminent drift to the right.

  2. Mikeish –

    Jim Anderton was actually fairly right wing. He was one of the MPs in the 70s that voted to curtail the power of the unions within the Labour Party.

    • Right wing? Must be a different Jim Anderton. The one I remember was progressive, sensible and even handed and strongly pro union. And he was one of the few who had the integrity to leave when Labour REALLY went right wing – how many of Helen Clark’s government could say that?

      • And 10 or so years later got right in bed beside Helen, allowing Labour to take the credit for the Alliance’s policies.

  3. Good analysis. However, I think you might underestimate how angry the rank-and-file members are feeling right now. I would rather see the Labour Party burn in flames and be in opposition for another three years than give my blessing to these self-seeking, neo-liberal bastards.
    As a Generation Xer, I am too young to remember Norman Kirk, although I do remember my UK-born parents’ jubilation when Muldoon was ousted, only to be replaced by outrage and a sense of deep betrayal by Lange that he allowed Rogernomics/Thatcherism to take root in our country like an aggressive cancer. We never had photos of Michael Joseph Savage in our home, but when a friend from the north of England came to see me, I took her to his memorial site in Auckland and explained that he was one of the greatest prime ministers we have ever had.
    I was full of genuine optimism that Labour could return to its social democratic roots when Cunliffe became leader, yet only days after this devastating election loss, I feel utterly disgusted at his shabby treatment by his ABC colleagues. No wonder the country didn’t want to vote for Labour – the disunity of message and goals was clearly evident for all to see, but I was too emotionally invested to notice, or care.
    At this point, I feel the Labour brand is now poisoned beyond hope. So I can either join the disenfranchised non-voters in 2014, vote for the Greens, or hope that a new Alliance-style left-wing workers’ party emerges from the rubble.
    And yet the media tells me I am supposed to be a member of the “aspirational middle class” that cares not a jot for the sufferings of the Maori, Pasifika and working white poor, nor our beneficiaries, homeless and elderly.
    As for poor David Cunliffe, I fear the media was never going to allow him to remain the people’s champion unless he won the election, which was always going to be an uphill battle against Teflon Key, his internal enemies and numerous other distractions.
    So perhaps he should resign, dish the dirt on all his TPPA-supporting enemies like Phil Goff and Shearer, join forces with Laila Harre and form a coalition of true left-wing progressive parties.
    Then leave the neo-lib Blairites in Labour to stew in their own juice, because they are unelectable even as centrists. Yes, bigoted white males will vote for them, but who else?
    I’m probably too young to feel this angry, but I am because their selfishness has cost me my future in this country. I’m just another political refugee “radical intellectual” weighing up my options in Australia, the UK, Europe or the US. Anywhere but here to be frank.
    I have no love for my country anymore, I despise the All Blacks for helping Key get re-elected, and I don’t respect the 48% who voted for National because they are heartless and brain-dead. I hope they will feel the pain and suffering already experienced by the disadvantaged, it’s the only way to make them regret their decision.
    Thank you Chris, you are a superb writer – now do your best to focus your energies on attacking National for the next three years, it’s our only hope.
    Good luck everyone.

    • I guess you are a very lucky person indeed to have the option to run away from our country just because your party failed to inspire enough people to vote it into power. It sounds as though you are both aspirational and middle class and your run away option is one that is probably not shared by a large number of maori, pasifica wwp beneficiaries homeless or elderly that you claim to champion. Are these groups you show concern for treated better in any of the countries you list? I gave my heartless and brain dead vote to a party that showed it could form a government, I wanted to give it to a party that had introduced some good policies but they are so riven by idealogical factionalism that they are not to be trusted with anything as important as our country. So run away but don’t blame me or the all blacks or john key for your own failings.

      • Yes, you’re right I am lucky to have the option of leaving NZ – just as thousands of others have already done so, because they were simply treading water here with the low-wage, casualised jobs and high cost of living.
        That’s before we even get to Nat crimes against our environment, Pike River manslaughter, ChCh earthquake ballsup, chronic under-funding of public education and health, charter schools, sale of profitable public assets, corrupt ministers…the list goes on.
        Yes, previous Labour govts are responsible for some of the current-day mess, but this was a once-in-a-generation opportunity to try and correct some of the damage. So I’m gutted.
        I’m not pretending everything is rosy in other countries, but it bloody well rips my heart out watching NZ going down the gurgler. I need some distance and time before I feel ready to fight back.
        And how has this happened? Because many National supporters are swayed by a cult of personality, empty rhetoric and unfair prejudices against the poor, as opposed to Labour’s well-thought-out, moderate centre-left policies. When challenged by Lisa Owen to come up with some new ideas for NZ’s economy, Bill English couldn’t name a single one! Even mainstream economic commentators agree that we need a capital gains tax and less reliance on dairy.
        You don’t even see the ideological fanaticism within the National party do you? Their obsession with privatisation, lower taxes for the wealthy, and reduced funding for social agencies such as Women’s Refuge.
        I’m not “running away” as you phrase it, I’m making a rational decision to get the hell out and start afresh somewhere else, where I’m not reminded of ‘Paradise Lost’ every single day.
        Plus, there’s an economic shitstorm headed directly this way, and it will spare no mercy on the “aspirational middle class”.

        • I arrived at this site following a link from NBR because I have always respected and admired Chris Trotter’s clear political analytical skills even though I am probably diametrically opposed to his (your, and that of the other commenters on this site) politics. Your obvious disappointment at being so out of touch with the bulk of the NZ electorate (or maybe you would say ‘they’ are out of touch with your ‘reality’) is maybe a sufficient reason to go somewhere else and see how things turn out. There is indeed ‘an economic shitstorm’ (as you put it) coming but it won’t single out NZ and will hit the global economy when Great Recession 2.0 rears up. Best of luck wherever you find yourself; you’re probably going to need it.

        • Only idiot’s keep pushing a Capital Gains Tax and yes some of the economic commentators on T.V are idiots and know jack about economics or finance. It is clear you are kind of some delusional socialist who only likes left wing parties ever being in power and can’t handle democracy. By the way there was nothing at all well though out about Labours Policy the don’t do well though out.

      • Maori and Pacific Islanders do just as well as Pakeha in Aussie. Maori have marae in Sydney and now in Melbourne they are very much a part of the multicultural mix in Oz. The idea of separate Aboriginal seats in Australia’s parliament which is being championed over there right now by an independent Tasmanian MP is because of the influence of the large number of Kiwis who have made OZ their permanent home in the last 30 years. Hone has been to numerous conferences there and workshopped political ideas with progressive aussies.When are our useless academics going to collate any real data on the effect of the ever increasing Nz diaspora. NZ is a haven for the world’s power elite and a whole bunch of middle class Asians with access to cheap credit. We are lost. We have been colonized and have lost control of country. And we will never get it back.

    • Agree totally. I also would rather destroy the party that have those neoliberal bastards, once again, destroy it anyway! I was one of those who worked their guts out for Labour all through the 1980s, only to be kicke din the guts by the Rogernomes. I rejoined the party this year, to be part of the movement to TAKE BACK our party from those right wing trolls, and I will NOT sit back and watch them, again, turn OUR party into “National lite”.

      And yes, I know what we are up against, I have seen it all before, only this time I am a lot older and wiser, and this time I know how to fight those FAKE socialists.

    • You are so right in much of what you say. The main weakness in Chris’s article is that it says nothing about the appalling way that Labour treated its allies. Why should any potential ally like Internet Mana ever trust Labour again? It would appear to be better if the party split and the left wing found a different partner.
      Whether or not it could work depends on the 700,000 who didn’t vote. People are assuming that these are essentially the same as those who didn’t vote in 2011. There is an anomoly between the large number of people keen enough to vote early and the large number who didn’t vote at all.
      I suspect that early on the IMP especially did persuade a lot of people to vote this time and that when they saw the shonky manouvreing late in the campaign they lost heart and stayed away. In short there still are votes to be had among the non-voters but only by Parties of integrity. The Labour Party is not one.

    • Totally agree, but there us no where to run. Oz is in the grip of worse neo-liberalism than we are and xenophobia runs rampant. Britain is no better (I considered it). But you are right and I think the Labour brand is fatally flawed all over the world. We DO need a Left wing coalition. I hold hopes that we will get one but it wont be labour. If Cunliffe goes, I will be resigning my membership. But I dont think we have seen the end of the left wing. We are now and only now angry enough to do something. Dont go. We need you.

    • My sentiments exactly, I feel sick thinking about it, and just want to leave also or try and stick my head in the sand as if nothing has happened. I wish it was that easy. I feel totally emotionally exhausted.

    • Nailed it.
      I feel exactly the same, and I too am looking at leaving the country, if for nothing but to gain some perspective. What happened on Saturday was a tragedy; we lost the big one. The next 3 years will shape the way this country sets out into the great unknown of the new generation growing up over the next 30 years.
      Watch as the education system is radically reformed, people will have no idea about the history of NZ unless they can be bothered looking it up. Folk will become more and more disconnected from politics as the media shift even further into infotainment.
      The world will burn this century, and everyone will ask “how did this happen?”.

    • Angrywhitechick, the system allows me to Like your comment once only, so here are some of the additional Likes I would have given were this possible:

      Like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like, like.

      That the TPPA hardly featured as an election issue–was not *the* central issue for Labour–wasn’t a surprise but it was a massive disappointment. Along with anthropogenic climate change, the TPPA and allied instruments of corporate hegemony are the main threats facing free people here and abroad; in the TPPA’s case, it is possibly just a few short months away from being signed into effect by National Party quislings and their international counterparts.

      I agree with your view of the All Blacks. A lot will have to happen for that brand to rehabilitate itself in my eyes and win my support again, but I neither see that happening nor care whether or not it does.

      New Zealand was once the small country on the fringe of the world that packed a punch in the areas that mattered. No longer. But worms turn, woodwork creaks, the continental plates shrug, and I have no doubt that the spirit that once defined this place as special, kind, caring and decent will again be released.

      • Grant .
        You have to learn to spell before you call yourself Grant on this blog site. I don’t want to be thought of as being that illiterate.!

    • Join the party. Vote it left from within. It will take numbers! Or will you be like those that didn’t turn out for the election?

  4. I look forward to your article next week where you argue that the only way forward is to keep Cunliffe and form workers’ soviets. As much as the “neoliberal cuckoos”, Chris Trotter is part of the problem.

  5. While I think Chris’ prediction is correct, there is another way one could go about this:

    The formation of a formal left faction within Labour, similar to the Labour Representative Council in Britain, or the Socialist Left of the ALP.

    But as Chris’ points out, the very low ideological level that most Labour activists work on, combined with decrepid trade unions that lost any real power back in 1991, makes such a scenario seem unlikely. I can only hope comrades within that Party can muster enough support to pose some resistance, at least.

  6. Labour lost my party vote, to the Greens, two election cycles ago. If your prophecy eventuates and the ‘pigs are harnessed once again to Neo-Liberal plow – Labour will also lose my candidate vote …. despite my knowing, and having worked for, the local Labour candidate personally.

    Neo Liberalism is now so discredited as to be a set of religious beliefs. Beliefs that internationally fosters immense suffering.

  7. Then it begs the question, if the party moves back towards the right,(not that it’s gone that far to the left),and with the ABCers at the helm, what will their new policy platform look like ?
    Because, if you block out all the white noise surrounding the result and once the navel gazing is completed , policy is what counts.
    Labour had by far the most well thought through,most comprehensive policy of any party. They must have been burning the midnight oil most nights to come up with level of detail they did.
    On the other hand you could fit Nationals’ on a square of toilet paper and it would be an appropriate place for it , so bereft was it of any imagination or hard
    What would the ABCers change?
    I know it’s fashionable to rubbish David Cunliffe. I heard you on the radio the other day joining in as well. He clearly beat Key in the debates. Interviewed well. Showed impressive energy throughout the campaign and always showed control and restraint even when being personally abused in interviews.
    The sad fact of the matter is that we have a media who choose to be very selective with their reporting and consistently play favourites.
    It is almost impossible to counter that.
    Goff got caned for dyeing his hair and riding a motorbike.
    Shearer got caned for stumbling over his words and having a trust fund in America.
    It’s pretty damn obvious that what the media and National are heading for is a ‘single party’ state.
    The venom and bile that is spewed forth when anything ‘Labour’ is mentioned is completely over the top and should be a worry to all those who cherish living in a democratic country!

  8. You’ve got to wonder when a supposed old school social democrat joins the likes of Hooten, Garner, Soper, and a host of other right wingers in the call for Cunliffe’s head. What better indication of the need for the left to keep Cunliffe as Labour Party leader?

  9. A very fair analysis Chris, even though it’s very depressing. Labour losing the UK election in 1983 was what gave the neoliberals their chance to fundamentally change Britain, However, the Labour Party remained progressive for almost another decade. Last Saturday’s election result gave me a very similar feeling to when Neil Kinnock lost to John Major in 1992. We on the left were devastated because the polls suggested a Labour victory. That’s when the term ‘shy Tory voter’ came into being. Labour still had a chance of being a progressive force under the stewardship of John Smith but his untimely death enabled Blair to take the reigns and the rest is well documented. As with the UK, I cannot see a way back into government for the progressive left in NZ, beyond a junior coalition partner. I also think that Labour will now be completely taken over by the neoliberals now. Here’s hoping that we’re completely wrong.

  10. It would be so amazing if Labour would embrace the benefits of modern technology and become a truly progressive party that was attractive to Youth and those concerned with the environment as well as social issues. It was unfortunate that their brand manager chose to portray them so retrospectively this election as it appealed to Maori and Pacific communities for sure but needed appeal to a wider audience. Let’s face it no one has yet to really capture youth and there is a large market there.

    • The Internet party’s aim was to capture the youth vote actually and they had a good go at it. But they were publicly trashed. I do wonder what the youth who became interested in politics through them are thinking now… They’ve had an ugly lesson in the NZ psyche.

  11. I enter this debate with trepidation, but here goes. Stop calling MPs ABCs. It’s so offensive. I thought we were allowed different opinions in the Labour Party. Or at least I thought we were, but I’ve found the opprobrium from the so-called left for having a different opinion worse than the disgusting comments I’ve endured from Cameron Slater’s mates. And this : “I would rather see the Labour Party burn in flames and be in opposition for another three years than give my blessing to these self-seeking, neo-liberal bastards.” Go tell that to the Talleys workers who are now facing losing their collective agreement under Nationals ERA reforms, to be passed in the first 100 days. Spare a thought for them. Please.

    • Darien, I have great respect for your work with the unions, so thank you for that.

      However, many, many Labour supporters are appalled at the behaviour of certain MPs who are doing their best to undermine David Cunliffe’s leadership, when we are already grieving. We expect them to behave honorably and put on a united front, at least in front of the cameras.

      As for the workers, I’m sure they must be feeling very scared and worried right now – having been ‘restructured’ myself in the past due to foreign outsourcing, it’s a horrible feeling.

      Workers also know that a pale-blue Labour Party won’t help them, so any drift to the right will be fiercely resisted.

    • If they were at all in any way left wing politicians, we wouldn’t be telling the ABCs to get the hell out of the Labour party. The ABCs don’t give a toss about workers.

    • Darrien – first off, kudos for raising your head above the parapet. What im about to say is intended to be constructive advice – but im bloody angry at the same time so – please apply a bit of filtering and dont take it completely personally – i guess im talking to the whole caucus via yourself here


      having diffferent opinions and actively, publicly screwing the leader the party chose are two vastly different things and you know it

      of course theres going to be a wide variety of opinions – that bit is human. What staggers most of us is the fact that the caucus seem to think they can run around and play kindy, in public, against the wishes of the membership.

      I dont give a rats arse if you or any other MP doesnt like your leader – put your head down, do your job, be professional and deal with any differences internally, or leave. Those are the only two options that should ever be acceptable

      If myself and everyone else can work with and for people we might not like that much, for vastly smaller sums of money, is it too much of an ask to expect the same from MPs who are asking us to put them into positions of power?

      talking to the media about anything other than the messaging that has been decided is NEVER an option – the MSM isnt and will never be your friend, so why do it in the first place? Its so mind bendingly stupid and unproductive

      Thats the fundamental problem that you guys still dont seem to grasp – and yet another leadership struggle wont change it – you still have the caucus at odds with the membership. You guys need to decide the issue of who runs things before even thinking about who the leader is.

      I dont care what the eventual decision is – but please, for the sake of everyone, stop this charade of increased membership control with a caucus that doesnt want to accept the decisions made.

      Either the membership controls the party or the caucus does – untill you define that this problem will never go away

    • Why not spare a thought for the ones that are already on 0 hour contracts?
      Why not spare a thought for the ones that work work 50 – 60 hours a week and never got overtime pay.
      Why not spare a thought for the ones that have not had a pay rise in 4+ odd years,
      Why not spare a thought for all those workers that never had a collective agreement.

      We could go on and on for ages, fact is that the collective agreement is of days past, lunch breaks will be of days past, smoko’s will be of days past.

      That train is gone. Nowadays people are happy to simply get a job.

        • go into any office and watch the drones that work through their lunchbreaks….not paid for it. Watch the drones that come in early to clean up the emails and don’t leave before five….these extra morning hours are not paid. Watch the drones to stay after five to just finish this report or that email, also not paid for it.
          It is some sort of reverse corporate charity programme.

          I know this because once i was a drone that regularly worked 50 + hours a week and only was paid 40 hours. While my wage looked good on paper, it only looked good on paper.

          That last office i worked in until I and several others were re-structured, now only has a handful of full time workers in admin position. The Call Center Staff that worked there with us is now Casual and Temps. And they hope to make enough hours to meet the end of the week.

  12. I hope it gets ugly. I hope it’s the final show down, because this version of the Labour Party has been giving false hope to people for 3 decades now. Even this time I believed Cunliffe when he said he wanted to go leftward but the reality of carrying the idiots in the ABC club meant he never stood a chance.

    Perhaps the ideal is for the party to split in half. The neo liberal half will eventually go the way of the United party (with Stuart Nash the later day Peter Dunne), because no one needs a watered down version of National. The Socialist half will then have the chance to rebuild, but it will take a long time and a lot of work actually helping people on the bottom of the heap.

  13. The delegates, too, will likely be a very different bunch. At the level of the Labour Electorate Committees there will be a concerted effort to provide delegate credentials only to those “approved” by the dominant caucus faction. The names of people not wanted at the conference will be discreetly circulated to the new leader’s most reliable supporters. Challenges to dissidents should be expected.

    Well, the only thing remaining after that would be to write Labour’s Obituary.

    Any party that treated it’s activists in such a fashion would find itself consigned to oblivion. ‘Cos I sure as hell don’t think my own Labour MP is about to manage the electorate accounts; fund raise; put up fifty-plus billboards; door-knock on ten thousand homes; deliver umpteen thousand leaflets, and find time to eat, sleep, and remember he has a family as well.

    Good luck with that.

    • Here here to that! This activist is NOT going to be loyal cannon fodder to a bunch of neoliberal turncoats. I already had that happen to me in the 1980s, (They played us like a violin, back then), but this time around I am much older and wiser,a nd, this time, the “Worm WILL turn”.

  14. Too damn true!

    But, this is one Labour activist who is NOT driven by “a mixture of sentiment and loyalty”. THIS Labour Party member is ready to FIGHT for OUR party!

    And, I would rather see the END of the party than leave it in the hands of the neoliberal right wing faction in caucus, who seem to think they OWN the party. They do NOT. Our party does NOT belong to them!

  15. Chris Recommending Labour move right is all very fine.
    in 1979 I voted for Robert Muldoon when he was a true National politician, that did care about the “ordinary working bloke” he would call us. He was a mix of left and right and to me starting out a small electrical business he encouraged tradesmen like me to go back to College and up skill which I did.

    But my standards are way beyond choosing this John Key character who seems like a simple yes-man Currency trader.- cum gambler, borrowing $300million a week – our borrowed foreign debt stands now at 88 Billion.

    Now my projection is that soon enough we will see a slide again in the Global economy as we see banks and commodity traders once again inflating the value of all commodities and property to high values to borrow more money against those commodities.

    Then a big Boom as soon goes the final blowout of global economies, and it is being predicted in several market analysts so far as the warning signs of a major correction is less than a year away.

    Never mind the drop in milk solids announced today that will cut 5 billion from our economy over the next twelve months.

    What they are predicting is a serious final phase of the 2007 slide now sliding down the well of misfortune entirely.

    Now in tough economic times we always do better under Labour Governments than neoliberal ones.

    This is evidenced by the present global rush to neoliberal politics globally since 2007.

    Since then they just kept the speculation bubble going to get us over the 2007 recession and it hasn’t worked.

    So I cant see how we can assume what lies ahead with this speculative neoliberal Key gamble will last for very long before perception will begin to sink in that perhaps we made the wrong choice in national after all.

    Just my thoughts Chris.

    Good thoughts of yours but as they say never say never. Put your money into gold before the big crash.

  16. Is there no way back for Cunliffe and the Left? No way at all?

    No, there is not.

    This implies a double negative.

    Is there a way back for Cunliffe and the Left? Any way at all?

    No, there is not.

    Is better.

  17. Wonder what role Matt McCarten played? I’m really puzzled because he was MANA’s strategist for a while and most of the things Labour got so wrong by ignoring were tactics he recommended for us.

    Either that means nobody listened to him or ?

  18. Sigh. The national drum beater never fails to miss an opportunity to put the boot in. Who knows, this pot stirring may be proved wrong.

  19. Seems the same disease that affects the party affiliates and activists affects the voting populace as well…being more inclined towards sentimental loyalty…..rather than ideology.

    All powerful political movements throughout history have had at its core an ideology….otherwise it is more the case of an emotive reaction to negative stimulus that initially guide a movement. But sooner or later it always needs to be consolidated by some form of ideology…when that is established , cohesion can be developed….when that falters…a movement atrophies, becomes cumbersome , and the advent of an ‘old conservative guard’ develops.

    In some ways, with a 30 year duration of neo liberalism….this has occurred with the neo liberals themselves..at least they have remained identifiable as ‘neo liberals’ however…who at least attain to a central ideology…

    And therein lies their position of strength. However….there are the weaknesses I mentioned above. They can be toppled.

    When a dominant ideology comes under threat…resources are called on…be that in the form of people networks, finance, or positions of seniority…

    All strong ideology’s seem ‘strong’ until challenged by an equally as strong ideology…one that is relentless , no matter what opposite hierarchy is entrenched.

    To achieve this…it needs a persona of particular charisma….to be the embodiment and figurehead , behind that…a loyal team , we saw this with Clark , we see it now with Key.

    This leader would need certain attributes … an aggressive almost autocratic manner…with loud voice , demonstrative , thoroughly versed in their particular ideology and able to quickly refute any counters ,being based in those ideologies to take the rough edges off any personal negatives in order to empathize with humanity , a keen perceptive wit to discern those who passively oppose and resist them ,an innate sense of personal confidence with the ability to bring people on board ,a visionary…

    And in the Kiwi and Aussie vernacular…someone with a bit of mongrel.

    Staid , dull neo liberal career politicians who are so accustomed to their sedentary guaranteed positions and working in the background without being seriously challenged year after year would suddenly find themselves exposed…by the very same techniques used against social democracy during the neo liberal reforms.

    Being vigorously challenged and isolated relentlessly…one by one…the attraction of being a fifth columnist for the National party would start to appear not quite so tenable.

    You are talking a power struggle here. And no war was ever won by the squeamish. And that’s a fact. And unless something along these lines is relentlessly carried out, there will be no change.

    David Cunliffe would need to develop many of these mercenary characteristics , I believe he can. But he would have to put aside any notions of chivalrous behavior because war just doesn’t allow it.

    You DO NOT put a Theater planner like General Eisenhower in as a field General …..

    You put an uncompromising Field General like Blood and Guts Patton on the front lines to actually carry the deed out.

  20. Have to admit I too despair of ever seeing a new, true Labour party rising from the ashes. The current centrists are indistinguishable from National and can see only their own ambitions.
    Cunliffe in the debates was an eye-opener for me, he kept his cool and his smile and was disarmingly courteous to Key. In fact his civility often caught Key on the back foot. At the same time he was firm.
    The fire has gone out of the belly of Labour, the vast majority of it’s representatives are just polished professionals, as alike as peas in a pod. Just ambitious yesmen who have no idea of the original ethos of the Labour movement.
    At the ripe old age of 75 I see myself more in sympathy with the Hone’s and Minto’s of this world.

    • 1000%++++++

      Well put Colette.

      We need a Savage,Nash Clark type to emerge again.
      Key did it for NatZ.

      We need same charisma for Labour, and tough times ahead may well produce one.

    • I disagree about the ‘polished professionals’ bit.

      They are nothing more than conservative , uncreative self serving troughers that welch on Labours past glories acting as fifth columnists for the neo liberals.

      They have no more initiative than a piece of driftwood and more than a passing resemblance to the word if one put the adjective ‘dead’ before wood.

      They more than any other group have been responsible for the fast decline into atrophied mediocrity that is the current Labour party.

      That, ….can hardly be used as a realistic description of ‘professional ‘ behavior.

  21. A charitable view of David Cunliffe (one from way outside, so take with plenty of grains of salt) is that he was blinkered and hobbled from the very getgo. My first view of his message was a speech he had given before becoming the leader of the Labour Party, and I was mightily impressed by that speech. If, as I hoped at the time, this was Mr. Cunliffe speaking on his own terms (and he was even present at an early meeting concerning the surveillance bills, though circumspect at the time as I remember) – if all that, then I would think it would be of no use for him to remain where he is, unless his opposition within the party has the chance of all dying off from old age in the next few years. And Chris seems to think he will be ‘outed’ in any case.

    I can understand why folk would be wedded to the party of Mr. Savage – we kids rode ponies around that memorial and when I left New Zealand my whole family was gathered up there shining headlights to say goodbye. Couldn’t the split just call itself ‘New Labour’ ? Or, even better, ‘Old Labour’? (Why go ‘neo’ – it has proven itself to be a corruption after all.) I think in his own milieu, if I can use such a term, Cunliffe’s personality might really shine. Not where he is, though.

    Thank you, Mr. Trotter. These thoughtful essays are extremely educational.

  22. Here we go again…Trotter has spent half his life kicking Labour and it appears we’re going to get a continuation of his jaundiced views.

  23. No vision Chris
    The way back from the White Racist Settler society is not caving into the WRS ABC and abandoning South Auckland to the fate of the ‘underclass’ while latteing with the middle class.
    South Auckland, and its twin sisters in the other urban areas, is the way back to a society imagined and fought for loyally by the stalwarts of the Red Fed before they got conscripted to die in the bosses wars and hogtied to Labour’s pie in the sky.
    It was the loyalty of the workers who stood up to the British shipping monopolists in 1891 and 1951.
    The Labour Party has no reason to exist today in the globalised world unless it is loyal to the masses left behind by the rush to destruction and fights to overthrow the defunct capitalism that is dragging humanity to extinction.
    South Auckland is a good place for those who remain loyal to dig in for the final battle.

  24. If Labour abandon their socialist roots then they have no right to call themselves Labour. They should rename themselves the Social Democrats or something similar to avoid confusion and allow another party to take up the cause of the working poor and the unemployed.

  25. Can someone please explain to me how Cunliffe has ever had any credibility as a left-winger?

    I remember when he was appointed to cabinet under Clark as a ‘sensible centrist’, business-friendly technocrat, comfortable in boardrooms. His mantra the whole time was PPPs!

    Then Clark lost and left, he laid low for a while, grew a beard, then stood on top of a bus in South Auckland, affecting a patronising polynesian accent, pretending to be some sort of working-class warrior. He doesn’t have a union background, he joined the public service as comfy bureaucrat before going of to Harvard to study business! What sort of a left-wing pedigree is that? Not to mention he sabotaged and knifed two leaders, throwing his toys out of the cot until he got his turn.

    I’d love a real left-wing Labour leader. I don’t see how a New Left, identity politics liberal embodied the revolutionary hopes of the working class.

    • “then stood on top of a bus in South Auckland, affecting a patronising polynesian accent”

      just on that one point

      It was actually in te-atatu (west AK) and his only crime was correct maori pronunciation and maybe the odd “fulla” – and if weve reached the point where bothering to pronounce a language properly is seen as being fake and insincere then were all screwed

      This whole fake bro accent thing is a lie – so please, please stop doing the work of hooten, farrar, WO for them

      not disagreeing with the rest of your post though

      • Sorry, didn’t realise it was Te Atatu, not South Auckland. But I stand by the really cringe-worthy, patronising speech. Speaking slow and simple for the poor, brown people. I’m functional in the reo myself, so I don’t take exception to his trying to pronounce our language properly.

        It’s this snippet especially that I think is so objectionable (I’m not sure if I’m allowed to post links, but the video is “Labour’s David Cunliffe makes Anti-John Key Speech”, 1:25-1:50):


        “Da rich fullas, da millionaires…they will hurt our people.” He slips in and out of it throughout the speech. That absolutely makes me bristle. I find it incredibly patronising, and I take huge umbrage to it. Demonstrates a complete lack of self-awareness.

        Also, note how he’s happy to feed off Mana and Hone, advocate people vote for them, and use their bus and megaphone, when it suits him, and then dump ’em when it doesn’t. What a smarmy chameleon. Would’ve been fine if he made it clear that he was ruling out Mana because of the Internet hook-up, that precluded me from voting for my party too (for Sue Bradford reasons, not Hooton ones), but he never said that did he.

        • Yep that’s terrible. I think Matt Mccarten was spot on with his initial conclusions about Cunliffe;

          ” There’s no doubt Cunliffe is a gifted performer. What is discomforting is his every nuance and action seems calculated.

          With Shearer you can sense his real character. With Cunliffe, I can’t escape the feeling that he has the same phoniness as the Republican US presidential nominee Mitt Romney.”


          • Given that McCarten got an absolute bullseye on Cunliffe there, it’s a wonder he went to work for him. Just having a squiz through some of the comments on the article too. Some very prescient ones.

          • @Sansa. But Matt McCarten changed his mind about David Cunliffe, (whom he had never met previously), after working with him over a period of weeks, and after 25 years joined the Labour party to be his chief of staff. Would have thought thats an impressive testimony to David Cunliffe’s character as a person and a leader.
            So you must see David Shearer as a clown then, the guy cant even utter a sentence without tripping over his own words. He would have been a laughing stock in the debates against John key, and currently Shearer is like a defiant brat, and he should be punished by the party for his undermining behaviour.

        • well – thats a slightly more nuanced take on things – so thats cool with me

          im just instantly weary when i see people repeating lines that the dirty squad have put out. So thanks for clarifying.

          Ive got no problem with people thinking pretty much anything as long as they arent mindlessly repeating mis-information. God knows it would be a boring grey world if everyone thought the same thing all the time. 🙂

          – note: its was only about that, i to have my doubts re: cunliffe, maybe not to the same level as some – but then i a suspicious old curmudgeon at the best of times

      • Phil Goff is, yes. His time in Ministry in the ’80s, and the fact that he was offered leadership of ACT, and United when they started is testament to that. However, it’s undeniable that Labour took a good shunt to the Left under his leadership, and especially the 2011 campaign.

        As for Shearer, he’s been around for such a short period of time, he’s barely had opportunity to speak for himself on Labour’s economic direction, except for under his leadership when he, and the party vociferously opposed asset sales, proposed a power policy to create a single buyer, advocated for a CGT, Reserve Bank reform, and announced KiwiBuild – what would be the largest Government-funded housing build since the First Labour Government. Compare that to Cunliffe who’s contributions seemed to be ending a commitment to take GST off food, ending a commitment to a tax-free income band, proposing to hike the top income tax by only 3%, and matching National’s policy for free GPs for under-13s (plus some pensioners).

        Now we certainly know what Goff’s personal ideology is and has been, but seems clear that neither Goff (anymore), nor Shearer is committed to massive de-regulation, privatisation, monetarism, and extending the market ideology into all facets of our lives. Goff even publicly apologised – full mea culpa, for the 1980s privatisations.

        Cunliffe is a political chameleon who has undergone so many transformations, and seems committed to saying whatever is politically expedient for his own advancement, that, while he might not be a Rogernome today, he might be one tomorrow.

        And one last word. Speaking out against identity-politics, and pandering to special interests is not right-wing. Advocating that labour returns to speaking for, and helping out the broad base of people it always has is not right-wing. The left wing is the side of mass-politics, mass-organisation, mass-movement. This requires us to see ourselves as a broad, united community. Realise that humans are fundamentally a collective. We’re communitarians. Narrow, and divisive identity politics is not left-wing, but it is liberalism. That means it’s the same ideology as the divisive, atomised, individualistic, property-fetishism, that the neo-libs love, just applied in a different area. And as they accept the same ideological basis, they’re both going to end up drawing the same conclusions. If we really want to move to the left, then we can’t do it while maintaining a schizoid commitment to New Left identity politics.

  26. If Labour go and change their leader again with the associated media attention that will invite because of the changed Constitution they will definitely lose again. The caucus needs to appear to support Cunliffe to build a strong Party again. Helen Clark lost two elections – Cunliffe needs to stay.

  27. Don’t let the Media decide our future direction. NZ power companies share prices soared after election result. Federated farmers declare that New Zealand can now be a primary super power. Wealthy sports stars breach electoral rules to influence election result. Even Tony Abbott’s party tried to influence expat New Zealanders to vote against progressive change. David Cunliffe is the right leader for New Zealand. I want my country back. The New Zealand that had an international reputation for being a fair socially progressive country that prided itself on its people and its environment.

    Keep Cunliffe as Labour Leader Facebook page.


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