GUEST BLOG: Rachel Jones – Me, Me, Me! Meh.



“What’s Labour going to do for me?” was the most frequent question I heard on the campaign trail.

It was a depressing indictment on the cultural shift that neoliberalism has wrought in New Zealand (and around the world as Paul Verhaeghe described last week).

Sadly, it didn’t come as a surprise. One of my first activities as a newly fledged party activist involved collecting signatures for the Paid Parental Leave petition at a women’s expo. About half the women I approached told me assertively that there had been no such luxury in their day. They had done it tough, and every mother coming after them could do it tough too, damn it. Paid parental leave was just another handout, and one they weren’t in line for, so therefore one not worth supporting.

When it’s hard to convince women to support working mothers being able to spend more time with their newborns you know we have some problems as a society.

Many New Zealanders no longer seem to care about how their neighbours are doing, the collective good or the type of country in which they live when it comes to policy. Instead, they want to know what’s in it for them.

And, if there’s nothing in it for them, then it’s an uphill battle winning their vote.

It was a theme that played out over and over again, in regional New Zealand at least.

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For some, it was about attitude. I lost count of the number of times I had people, particularly small business owners, tell me that they worked hard and deserved to do well. To hell with others. If those pesky beneficiaries really wanted to work, they would. If not, then they should be punished for their poor decision-making and laziness, not rewarded.

For others, it was about accumulation of wealth. My campaign manager copped an earful from a local union member about how he wouldn’t be voting Labour because of the introduction of capital gains tax. Never mind that this worker was one of the now working elite, protected by a union, paid well and in secure employment. No, now that he had got himself ahead by investing in property, he was going to yank that ladder right up behind him because he didn’t deserve to pay tax on his hard earned capital gains. A Labour government would penalize his hard work and steal his money.

And for yet another group, it was about relative status. Middle-aged women, doing very nicely thank you very much, were among the worst. Typically they had older kids or none at home, were working, and had a mortgage, but enough left over for a trip to Aussie and to have the hair and nails done. Labour’s got nothing for me, they’d claim. I won’t get free doctors visits, or cheap housing or a wage increase. Why would I vote Labour to give those things to someone else?

Why indeed. Without a tangible offer to improve such women’s daily lives there was no incentive to vote left. Mention their kids or grandkids and a brief flicker of life would flame in their eyes but quickly die again. You could see them calculating the possible benefits and then dismissing them as irrelevant. Labour was the party for bludgers, not their kids. Their kids and grandkids weren’t going to need handouts; they were middle class!

And what about workers earning slightly above minimum wage? They didn’t want to vote for the minimum wage to go up because that would make them feel closer to the bottom again. Having colleagues paid less than you when you are on $16 an hour gives you status, class. That gap is important to their self-identity.

Yes. Thirty years of neo liberalism has changed our mindset. Individualism, aspiration to wealth, and the perceived ability to self-define class status have eroded the once-shared values of fairness, egalitarianism, and solidarity.

But more than that, the right has so effectively claimed the narrative that workers no longer identify with the left. Somehow, the right has persuaded working women and men that they are on a journey towards wealth. All the good kiwi has to do is work hard while making sure those around them aren’t unfairly advantaged with handouts and benefits and extra help. Because, deep down, most kiwis still understand that not everyone ends up on the rich list. There will be losers. Just as long as it’s not them.

Should the parties on the left pander to this egocentric view of the world? Or should we hold firm to our values and wait for some calamity to drive people back to us? Or, better yet, can we somehow convince “middle New Zealand” that we all do better when we all do better?


  1. Thanks for that Rachel. It makes me really sad to see peoples attitudes towards fellow countrymen these days. It seems that some folk want to punish the people below instead of giving them a helping hand up. I want a New Zealand which is fairer for everyone so my children and grandchildren can enjoy something similar to my childhood.

  2. “Or, better yet, can we somehow convince “middle New Zealand” that we all do better when we all do better?”

    I saw Rachel Jones at the Labour Congress, most impressive of an impressive bunch of new candidates.

    This last sentence is for me the crux of the matter – do we stick to the fundamental difference between left and right, altruism or selfishness. I just don’t see the point of moving back in with the Right – if it gets us into government we either do what we promise, i.e. no change, or we implement a left agenda and get thrown out for breaking promises.

    • I disagree that the fundamental difference between the left and right is altruism/selfishness. The right is the bastion of tradition, and the left is home to people who reject that tradition. Traditional values are not uniform, sometimes they are honourable and sometimes they are not.

      A big problem with altruism is that is can be subverted by socialism, redirecting the good intentions of the naive down the road to hell.

      • @ ugly truth . You’re practising the Dark Art of the Logical Fallacy are you not ?

        For those of you alreaady on high alert for the above gibberish go here ;

        A useful tool for helping to decipher , decode and translate neo liberal gibberish that’s so popular with the Kiwi Budgerigar mentality.

        Pretty little things that we are , squawking at ourselves in a mirror while banging our heads on a bell inside a small cage as we shit where we eat .

        An interesting thing about Left versus Right wing politics is that the Left are inherently committed to evolving as a philosophy . Sure , they fuck things up and indeed can, as in the case of roger douglas , get fucked up by confederates with hidden agendas such as his .

        The Right however only have one agenda . To get your money ( = power ) for themselves . And even money itself is an abstract wee beastie . How does one obtain money ? Working for it ? Ok . You work for some one else so as they pay you for your efforts and the skills you possess in order to do your job for those whom pay you . What they also get is your ‘ time . ‘ Procrastination isn’t the only thief of time . The Right Wingers are pretty good at that also . The sad thing for us humans is that the more ‘ time’ we lose , the more we devolve into subservient minions to the neo liberal money machine with its consequential social chaos .

        How else does one obtain ‘ money ‘ . Well , jonky-stien learned how to get your money ( = time ) at Universities where other Right Wingers taught those relatively simple little tricks of subterfuge . While the Budgie in us bangs our little heads on the shiny bell , he has his hand in our bird seed . It’s not rocket surgery Budgies .

        In order to get the Budgie seed , one must first create Budgies of us all and the MSM is the greatest Budgie breeder I’ve ever seen . It can take an intellectual curiosity and turn it into a gape mouthed drooler hell bent on being its own worst nightmare in just a scant few episodes of ‘ Neighbours ‘ interspersed with Harvey Norman adds . A few scenes containing the children of the Stepford Wives then having some screaming skull bellow about how a sale must end Monday is as good as any lobotomy .

        Behold ! Budgerigar ! It’s Aliiiiiive !

        This is also a useful tool for the wary .
        Idiocracy . The Movie .

  3. Excellent article, exactly how I view the state of NZ’ers, on fairness, shame people can’t see that now days both parents have to work to survive, when I was growing up in the 1950/60s it was still the land of milk & honey, when I got married in the eighties I still earned enough to support my wife an four (under five) children on my wage, your dollar value was worth four times what it is today, people have been quick to loose the social justice, values etc.

  4. A related observation, last night I caught an awful TV reality show on welfare beneficiaries in the UK. The show appeared to have no purpose or message other than to stir resentment and to divide.

    I expect we’ll see a NZ-shot production in due course.

  5. You hit the nail on the head, Rachel. I have had these very same thoughts myself and wonder where we, as a country, are heading. Everyone seems to be just out for number one and bugger the less fortunate. The concern will grow as the greedies get greedier – will they push the country into further debt that will have to be funded by our grand children and great grandchildren; decimate our pristine natural resources in the search for wealth; gobble up productive land for huge housing developments that only the rich will be able to afford.

    I am sickened by the government’s call that things aren’t that bad in New Zealand and the solution to the small amount of poverty that they perceive there is, is to get as many beneficiaries “in work” as possible. The trouble is that with poor wages, many of these people, if they are lucky to find a job, will be worse off or not much better off. We only have to watch the many excellent documentaries on this subject to see that (don’t our politicians watch these – I guess they are out socialising in the evenings when these are shown).

    I only hope that New Zealander’s will wake up and start making the right calls, though I am not holding my breath. The damage has been done and could well be irreversible. The rich will get richer, the poor, poorer and those in the middle continue worshipping at the House of Key.

    • I remember when living in Australia that about the mid 1980’s, when the economy appeared to be booming and unemployment was low, there was a chain store called ‘I am me’ (of mostly women’s fashions, if I recall properly). I found that really disturbing.
      Soon after that the 1987 Savings and Loans debacle in the USA flattened the banks in Australia, interest reached 14% and unemployment rose. This was the immediate outcome of deregulating the banking system, as neo-liberalism advocated. Several crashes later and the western economies seem to be sliding down hill. We are probably close to another crash.
      What has this to do with the topic? Firstly that the selfishness of people seems to have stemmed from then. Secondly that people on benefits aren’t bludgers. Why is it then that when there is money in the economy, the ‘bludgers’ disappear, and when the economy tanks, they suddenly appear again.
      It is self evident that increasing the money in circulation increases employment, and financial crashes produce unemployment. So there are two conclusions here; 1) neo-liberalism is really bad news 2) there is a need for a complete overhaul of monetary policy. Sadly, Rachel , your Labour Party supports 1) and opposes 2).
      If you want better monetary policies check out websites for PositiveMoney NZ or the similar policies of Democrats for Social Credit.

  6. Tell it like it is, Rachel – a great post.
    When did NZ descend into this petty, vindictive, uncaring, third world shithole that it now seems to have become – or is well on the way to becoming. Petty tyrants in power, large groups of the population screaming “what’s in it for me, me, me!” with all the social concern and empathy of a sea slug, phsycopaths rampant!
    Like the Scots “No” vote, where all those “promises” by tearful politicos, Labour and Tory united, suddenly vanished when they convinced the terminally stupid to vote their way, what will it take to wake up the terminally stupid and venal among us, that handing over your life to these creatures won’t get you a step up the ladder to some kind of wealth creation scheme so you can lord it over others.
    It seems that 30 + years of self indulgent venality has finally produced the desired result……..

  7. The new Auckland housing development I saw on 3 news last night left me slack-jawed, mouth hanging open in shock and horror. It was an endless sprawl of grey cardboard cut-out houses. Not a single tree, not a single splash of colour in this modern built ghetto. It was even more soulless and depressing than the uniform urban utopia depicted with toungue-in-cheek in the Edward Scissorhands movie. If we are bringing new migrants in to dump them into such a cheerless urban wasteland as what I saw last night then that borders on human cruelty. If this is the National party’s vision for New Zealand then it truly is a depressing black and white view of the world with as much life in it as Colin Craig’s election billboards and related advertising. What a sad place New Zealand is becoming. Kids naturally love bright colours. What happens to adults to cause their souls to be sucked out and to create such colourless paper-thin hovels, which if you are lucky will last ten years. The future under National is bleak.

  8. This article provides more insight into the election outcome than all the other ones wrapped up together.

    Thank you Rachel Jones, excellent.

  9. “Because, deep down, most kiwis still understand that not everyone ends up on the rich list. There will be losers. Just as long as it’s not them.”

    I suspect that there are sections of people in NZ who don’t realise there are ‘losers’ being created, they don’t have direct experience of the loss of social mobility in this country and haven’t really drawn the connections between what policies they vote in and how these are making things increasingly difficult for more and more people. This section of NZ had a lot better conditions and are completely out of touch as to how things have degenerated.

    If I am correct about this, the causes for this lack of connection to what is going on has the same neoliberal cause – the cultivation of bad attitudes in order to retain support for failed political approaches that merely advantage the already advantaged.

    When I get into conversations with a person who displays this lack of connection, I plan to make every effort to calmly and politely disentangle any memes they express that carries on the lie that NZ is a great place full of opportunity for all.

    I ask that others make a conscious effort to do the same. One doesn’t have to convince a person in one conversation, simply gently challenge their unquestioned assumptions and hope that others do the same until eventually this circle of people have their awareness raised and start connecting with the poor conditions that are increasing in New Zealand.

  10. Exactly, “the whole is greater than the sum of the parts” seems to have been forgotten, when I heard someone say, if anyone wants my vote they will have to earn it…….what? Tell that to people in China, Syria, Ukraine etc.
    If you want democracy, you had better wake up, fast

  11. It is saddening that so many can’t seem to see that “There but for the grace of God go I”. Nor – irony – that many of them were there but a meer few years ago and that -with the way our economy is going – they will be the ‘bludger’ soon enough.

    I have only seen beggars on our streets under two governments: Jim Bolger’s and John Key’s National.

  12. Once the New Hope of The Labour Party have finished with the above question, I have some more for them:

    “The poor, do they really exist and what can be done about them?”

    “Poverty, is it really than bad or it is just relative?”

    “Other people, are they really like us, and if they aren’t what then?”

    “Is there a way to see the world around us accurately without giving up any of our middle-class delusions?”

    “Why isn’t anyone doing anything about anything?”

    “Who looks after the everybody while we are defending poor people?”

    “Maori, have they died off yet and what the hell did we ever do to them anyway?”

    “What questions should we ask and when can we make time to ask them?”

    “When is the next election and who is to blame?”

  13. “The further a society drifts from Truth, the more they will hate those that speak it.” George Orwell.

    I think the above quote reflects your well-expressed, sad but true assessment, Rachael. Like you said: “Thirty years of neo liberalism has changed our mindset. Individualism, aspiration to wealth, and the perceived ability to self-define class status have eroded the once-shared values of fairness, egalitarianism, and solidarity. – See more at:

  14. No, Rachel, we can’t wait for some calamity to drive people back to Labour. The casualties on the way will be more than we should have. What should be done is be bold and brave and find a way to engulf the “me” culture into Labour’s values. Why not, for example, instead of offering an increase in minimum wage, offer the first say $10,000 tax free and offsetting the shortfall with an increase in tax for the top earners? This will give that middle age working woman tax cut, thus feeding the “what’s in it for me”, will put more money in the pocket of the minimum wage earners and will cost small businesses, who are struggling with overhead costs, nothing.

  15. Thank you Rachel for your clear exposition . Labour has to move to the left because the Nats – whoever they are – will NEVER vote Labour. I see in a post above from Martyn Bradbury that he’s suggesting Stuart Nash will be able to “pull in” National voters if he encourages Labour to go right. NOPE – that will never work. You have to know quite a few National voters to realise they cannot ever bring themselves to vote Labour. So Labour still has to go after the left vote – the less advantaged, workers on low wages, the younger people, those impoverished, those on benefits, and those who are environmentalists – among others. And what is more, Labour has to do MORE to “get the vote out”. We started this election, but heaps more needs to be done – physically, on the ground, talking to people in small groups or one-on-one. Oh, and of course, Labour needs to show a united front – no matter who is the Leader. No more leaking to the media – the caucus has to be disciplined, and some of those who cannot be disciplined may have to be asked whether they should be staying in the Party, and if necessary – be booted out.

  16. As much as you want to blame right, or some non-specific entity like “neo-liberalism” for this change in society, the behavior of successive Labour governments, are as much, if not more to blame.

    The left have been engaged in ‘identity politics’ for well over three decades. When governments and government funded institutions start handing out various privileges, benefits or just wads of cash based on arbitrary characteristics such as ethnic group, gender or social group, people will start to see themselves as part of the smaller group, and stop seeing themselves as part of the whole.

    Many of the central policies of the left are inherently divisive. They’ve convinced New Zealanders that we’re not one nation, instead that we’re hundreds of special interest groups, all competing for the government’s largesse.

    • Please, tell us all which ethnic groups, genders and social groups are super privileged in New Zealand and get lots of cash and benefits?
      I’m dying to know just who is rolling in piles of money as a result of all this Labour government spending…

  17. Thanks Rachel. Such a clear description of what many of us experienced in this campaign, and it actually took its toll towards the end. Tauranga is a tough place to be a Labourite as was our region on the other side of the North Island, where Paula Bennett charged $50 a head to speak to 280 farmers about how well she is doing reducing the welfare bill, apparently to huge applause…ugly stuff.

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