The Discordant Chimes of Freedom: Why Labour has yet to be forgiven.



WHY DOES THE ELECTORATE routinely punish Labour and the Greens for their alleged “political correctness” but not National? It just doesn’t seem fair.

Consider, for example, the Crimes (Substituted Section 59) Amendment Act 2007 – the so-called “anti-smacking legislation” – which was passed by the House of Representatives with broad bi-partisan support (113 votes to 7) on 16 May 2007.

John Key had actually come to Helen Clark’s parliamentary rescue over this progressive (but highly controversial) measure by throwing most of National’s votes behind it. He’d even stood alongside the Prime Minister when the deal ensuring Sue Bradford’s private members bill would be passed by a substantial majority was announced.

And yet, in spite of his overt support for Bradford’s bill, neither Key nor his National Party suffered any significant electoral damage in the 2008 election.

The same could NOT be said of Clark and Labour. In fact, their support for the anti-smacking legislation is generally regarded as one of the more important factors contributing to the Labour-led Government’s loss.

Clearly Labour’s support for measures like the anti-smacking bill is viewed in a way that is very different from the way most voters view National’s politically correct gestures. In the end, I believe that it boils down to motive. It’s not so much what a political party supports as why.

When Labour was unambiguously the party of the working-class, the question of political motivation was reasonably clear. Labour backed the workers’ trade unions and was dutifully funded by them in return. Labour similarly strove, whenever it was given the chance, to improve the Welfare State it had created in the 1930s and 40s. It built state houses for working families and used the large state-owned enterprises – NZ Railways, the Post Office, and the Ministry of Works – to soak up unskilled labour which would otherwise be unemployed. Labour was also the party most closely associated with nation-building – not simply in the form of its massive public works projects, but also in the way of fostering and funding a distinct New Zealand identity and culture. The State Literary Fund and the NZ Symphony Orchestra were Labour Party creations.

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In the 1950s and 60s Labour’s ranks were swelled by young, idealistic men who had come back from the Second World War determined to make all the suffering and destruction mean something. Politicians like Martyn Finlay, Phil Amos and Bob Tizard wanted to soften a society that could still be very harsh and unforgiving. To the radical economic reforms of the pre-war period they sought to add a strong measure of liberal social reform.

This younger generations’ liberal ideas were not universally welcomed in Labour’s ranks, where the influence of the Roman Catholic and Methodist churches remained very strong. On matters pertaining to Christian forgiveness and the sanctity of human life, such as Capital Punishment, the liberals and the more traditional elements of the party marched together. On matters pertaining to human sexuality and the role of women in society, however, there was considerably less agreement.

In the 1970s and 80s Labour’s ranks were swelled by yet another cohort of young idealists. Their formative political memories were not of economic depression and world war but of uninterrupted prosperity, national liberation movements, Cold War paranoia, mutual and assured nuclear destruction and the obscenity that was Vietnam.

The economic equality Labour had fought so hard to secure was experienced by the numerically vast Baby Boom generation as their parents’ near-obsessional concern with economic security. In political terms this quest for security took on a decidedly authoritarian cast. The so-called “RSA Generation” expected and exacted strict conformity to their notion of the good society.

The Baby Boomers were having none of it. Many of them – especially the many thousands swelling the university rolls – emphatically rejected their parents’ social and political docility. What they wanted was freedom. Not the freedom their parents had sought: freedom from. The freedom they were seeking was much more radical. It was the kind of freedom which had, throughout the course of human history, been reserved almost exclusively for the rich and the powerful: freedom to.

But freedom from was Labour’s defining rallying cry. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from ignorance and disease: these were the freedoms Labour offered. Freedom to was National’s rallying cry.

No one understood this better than Norman Kirk. In his address to the 1974 annual conference of Labour Party, made just four months before his death, he spelt out the difference between the two types of freedom:

Margaret Hayward, Big Norm’s private secretary, summarised his remarks in her Diary of the Kirk Years:

“And the permissive society – it was just another way of saying ‘I can do what I like’. That would include not just the right to use marijuana but the right to exploit, to speculate, to put monetary gain above social duty.

“Some customs and laws might well become irrelevant through the passage of time, but the permissive society, carried to its logical end, meant that there was no law. ‘And if there is no law, the freedom of the permissive society is a trap and a prison for the weak in society.’”

Labour’s baby-boomers didn’t listen. Hadn’t the party already solved all the problems associated with freedom from? Wasn’t the country fully-employed, comfortably housed, kept healthy, and offered educational opportunities all the way to varsity at the State’s expense? Yes (in 1974) it was. So, Labour needed to shift its gaze from yesterday’s problems – the problems of scarcity – and focus, instead, on the problems of today and tomorrow – the problems of abundance. What the rising generation of voters wanted was the freedom to become something altogether different; something new; something better!

Except that material deprivation wasn’t the only problem that needed the Left’s attention. For female, Maori and homosexual New Zealanders the problem was how to win their freedom from a daunting nexus of legal and social discrimination. Or, to turn the problem around: how to win the freedom to be themselves. The debate had been growing in both volume and intensity since the late-1960s. By the early 1980s, freedom from and freedom to had begun to merge.

And then, in 1981, all this progressive philosophical wrangling was suddenly confronted by an altogether unexpected New Zealand – one with very different ideas on the meaning of freedom. Presented with the Left’s demand that New Zealand do everything it could to secure Black South Africa’s freedom from racial oppression, this other New Zealand claimed the freedom to go about its lawful business without let or hindrance. Against the Left’s freedom to protest against injustice, the Right asserted the Rugby fans’ freedom to watch a sporting fixture in peace – free from moral and physical intimidation.

Faced with the inconvenient truth that freedom meant different things to different people, the Left predictably (and as events in South Africa, at least, would later prove, justifiably) determined that their definitions were superior.

That a huge number of working-class people had rejected the Left’s account of freedom did not give the latter pause. In spite of everything Labour had done for them, these workers had failed dismally the ethical test History had set for them. It was a judgement which, as the global rejection of freedom from in favour of freedom to gathered pace, was about to cost working people dearly.

In the Fourth Labour Government the Baby Boomer Left’s sense of moral superiority and its conviction that the time was ripe to escape the constricting hug of freedom from and embrace the exhilarating possibilities of freedom to came together in Roger Douglas’s fatal cocktail of ruthless and largely unmandated economic and social “reform”. Kirk’s prophecy of ten years earlier, that “the permissive society” – freedom to – “would include not just the right to use marijuana but the right to exploit, to speculate, to put monetary gain above social duty” was borne out – with a vengeance!

It was something that just about everybody actively engaged in the 1981 Springbok Tour protests remembers: the way pro- and anti-tour people could identify one another, often at considerable distances, with almost 100 percent accuracy. There was something about the way they dressed, the cut of their hair, their gait, the way they took in (or ignored) the world around them, that positively screamed-out their position on the Tour. It was a very useful survival skill for the outnumbered anti-tour protesters, but it no doubt proved useful to the pro-tour people as well.

I wonder, now, 33 years later, whether something similar still lingers in the New Zealand community. Whether the same subtle signals are still being broadcast and received by my fellow citizens. Whether people look at Labour’s and National’s representatives and make exactly the same sort of instant judgements about the people before them. Deciding in a split second whether he or she is one of us – or them.

I wonder, too, 30 years after the election of the Fourth Labour Government, how many Labour MPs realise how many New Zealanders are, once again, in the political marketplace for freedom from?

National will always get a pass from working people for promoting freedom to – it’s what they do and, frankly, it’s a freedom that a great many working people themselves hunger for. Labour, however, will always be judged more rigorously. It cannot get away with saying “I can do what I like.” To be Labour is to be forever associated with what Norman Kirk called our “social duty”.

In the bitter words that some unknown but desperate person spray-painted on the wall of the Christchurch Trades Hall in the late-1980s for the unions, the Labour Party and the Left in general to read:

“You were supposed to help.”


  1. National quietly and confidently select a new leader. Labour turn the process into a month long bitch fight. Politically correct maybe, but a cluster to the now bored public (And living in the past is simply not relevant Chris – Waffling on about the welfare state, state houses, Sprinbok tour and so on – for goodness sake move on) This stuff is simply not relevant(other than to those who study political science) to the young and intelligent people entering, or in the beginnings of their respective careers.

    • We are, all of us, the sum total of that and those who have gone before us.

      History is important. Without understanding how we came to be, we cannot understand what we are.

      This is very recent history, and it makes the Labour party what it is today. If we don’t understand this history of Labour we cannot understand what Labour is.

      If we do not examine how things went wrong, how can we learn from our mistakes?

      To dismiss history as irrelevant waffle is a particularly stupid thing to do.

    • @ Dean .

      You are not a rare breed . You are common . You have a common mind cursed for forever searching for an imagination . And without that imagination you will be forever missing the point . That’s why you and others like you will be wading knee deep through the human misery you and your kind create while in search of what used to be called a soul .
      jonky was quickly selected because he’s surrounded by like minded minions such as yourself . Quick to agree . Snivelling sycophants sniffing at his wallet . Labour , by contrast is still brawling with your kind hidden within its ranks .

      How you can write what you have written with the blood of lost Kiwi souls dripping off your fingers is indicative of your kind . And that’s why we need quaint old Labour more than ever and people like Chris Trotter writing out the truth .

      Move on indeed . Over dead bodies , broken homes , swelling prisons , hunger , privatised National assets , Bank Dominated societies and by the looks of the quietly and confidently elected new leader ; war .

    • It is certainly relevant if those same young people do not wish to live in a violent and poverty stricken nation. You would do WELL to learn the lessons of history….

      Those ‘freedom froms’….were put in place by the very people who witnessed first hand extreme poverty , wholesale slaughter , murder and national destruction on a grand scale.

      It is ignorant’s like you who fail to heed the voices from the past.

    • Labour is a democracy, National is an oligarchy or a privately owned company or something like that. Labour elect a new leader through a sometimes messy democratic process, with National it’s a knife in the back for the incumbent, as a voter I know which I prefer. Key has been fuhrer for so long that people forget about the sticky ends of Bolger, Shipley, English, Brash etc

  2. It built state houses for working families and used the large state-owned enterprises – NZ Railways, the Post Office, and the Ministry of Works – to soak up unskilled labour which would otherwise be unemployed.

    And up-skilled them.

    But freedom from was Labour’s defining rallying cry. Freedom from want, freedom from fear, freedom from ignorance and disease: these were the freedoms Labour offered. Freedom to was National’s rallying cry.

    But what many don’t seem to understand is that the freedom from is what allows the freedom to. You simply cannot have the latter without the former or, to put it another way, you have to lift everyone and not just the few. When you lift just the few into freedom to you strand everyone else in purgatory. They don’t have freedom from and have no hope of ever getting it as more and more costs are lumbered onto the poor (GST, higher uni and school fees, higher doctors fees, etc).

    This, inevitably, leaves the poor in a position to be exploited by the rich and they will be – ruthlessly. The poor will know that they’re being taken for a ride and will put up with it for a bit to see of the trickle-down that was promised comes and then they will put up with it no more.

    • But what many don’t seem to understand is that the freedom from is what allows the freedom to.


      When you lift just the few into freedom to you strand everyone else in purgatory etc …

      aka creating an aristocracy

    • “…what many don’t seem to understand is that the freedom from is what allows the freedom to…”

      Those who seek to dominate others understand this very well, instinctively, even if they don’t articulate it. That is why they keep their foot on the backs of the necks of those they are currently able to dominate. Once ‘freedom from’ looks like transforming into ‘freedom to’ they have a competitor for dominance – a competitor who, after such oppression, owes them no favours. That is why the protection of the powerless from the powerful is so important to a happy functioning society, even though the powerful will always resist such measures.

      And to Chris, a very good, insightful article. The problem is, how do you press Labour to take on the ‘freedom from..’ challenge when those who most need it are least equipped to put pressure on a political party?

  3. There were hundreds of thousands of us who were thrown on the scrapheap by Douglas and his cronies. Most still had a job but you earnt less, worked harder and had no job security. The boss had you by the short and curlies and you accepted it or moved on. Didn’t matter if you were qualified or skilled, you were expendable. One of the great joys of the last six years for a lot of us from that time is to see the shambles Labour has become. It has put a smile on so many people’s faces. To see a lot of those pricks from the 80s kept from the only thing they value- Power- is such a delightful thing to witness. I await the first poll shortly and can only hope for more pain for the neo liberal Labour Party.

    • I understand your point Mark, and I have no time for a certain faction within Labour, but what National has got in store for you will make Labours lunatic lurch to the right pale to insignificance….Be careful what you wish for….

      • You are joking. The Nats are only beginners and too poll driven to ever do anything approaching what Labour did in the 80s. Labour betrayed the working man in the 80s and we have suffered ever since. Nothing the Nats could do will worsen the situation. Fuck Labour now and forever.

        • Like I say , the Rogernomes were cuckoos in the nest and a complete betrayal of what Labour stood for, although even farmers will tell you that weaning them off subsidies was, in the long run, the best thing that could of happened to them.
          But if you want to talk about stress and harm done to people, consider this. As a self employed Builder I watched National deregulate the building industry , dismantling the apprenticeship system, thus allowing any monkey to have a go. Not only that , just to show us how really utterly stupid they are, at the same time they deregulated the material supply market as well.
          So then we had monkeys, installing faulty products like Harditex Cladding(untested for N.Z conditions) with improper Architectural details.
          End result . ‘The Leaky Homes’ fiasco . 400,000 houses , schools , resthomes affected . Cost to sort out .Approx $40billion dollars. Stress levels for people involved: Through the roof !!
          Or how about National deregulating the Mining Industry.
          “Oh no”, they said ,”we don’t need inspectors”, they said .”they cost money” they said. ” ‘The Market’ will sort it out “, they said.
          End result, catastrophic failure!!
          Stress levels for the families of the dead miners from Pike River …..Unimaginable!!
          Or you might like to think about Jenny Shipleys legacy of dropping the drinking age from 20 to 18, thus opening the door also for 14 ,15, 16 and 17 year olds.
          Result: One of the biggest social and mental wellness catastrophys of our time .
          Stress levels for people affected :Through the roof!!
          Cost: On going and indeterminate.
          Then there’s Novapay. National,’ front footing things’ by pushing the ‘go’ button on a nation wide roll out of a complex computer system completely untested.
          Cost: who knows, still unresolved.
          Stress levels for people in the education sector: Extremely high !!
          I could go on all night , but as I said before , be careful what you wish for …….. Oh , did I mention , against all advice , they are going to start Deep Sea Oil drilling soon just off the coast……….

          • Novopay was not untested at all. In fact testing identified many of the issues that occurred when it went live. The real problem there was a decision to implement by a time deadline as opposed to a quality one.

            • And that time deadline was a result of the previous supplier of payroll systems to the MinofEd told them to fuck off. Not that I’m complaining about that as I feel that they were entitled to do so. National should have negotiated a stay until Novopay was working or just told Novapay to fuck off and renegotiate with…whoever it was.

              No, what I’m really pissed off about is that this is a result of outsourcing government work to the private sector. In other words, the ideology of the free-market strikes again.

          • Agree. There’s nothing you say that isn’t an indisputable fact, although the partisans will still argue against you.
            The most destructive legacy of the Douglas era isn’t the laws they passed though it’s the entrenching of the neoliberal ideology to the extent that people accept it as the prevailing orthodoxy and indeed many have known nothing else.
            Those of us who do remember the days before Rogernomics would probably be prepared to accept a progressive and repentant Labour party if they showed any sign of being on “our side” in wanting to roll back the mistakes of the past and rebuild the so called social contract.

            • Yes Doug, that I believe is true.
              David Cunliffe wanted to head in that direction, but got run out of town for his trouble.
              The reason it is still the prevailing orthodoxy is because we have a corporate media who make a lot of money out of the status quo . They are are relentless spin doctor for the neo liberal model. Therefore generations post Rogernomics and Ruthanasia know no difference and are continually being brainwashed into thinking the current situation is the only way.
              Unfortunately the current youth generation are going to have a hard road to hoe and will look back on us and rightfully ask why we didn’t do anything about it.
              What will our answer be?

          • Sorry, you are still in beginners school for pain and misery. Try Prebble for his save rail campaign quickly followed by 20,000 people losing their jobs. Or of the massive deskilling of the workforce where trained professionals were replaced by unskilled or untrained people to do the same job.I could go on for days about what those pricks did but why bother. Just deny those pricks in the Labour Party the one thing they want more than anything–POWER. This by a party that was supposed to have our back. Most of us managed to get through it. I buried two who didn’t. I am a caring person at heart but I hate the Labour Party. They slaughtered their own people. That is what is so unforgivable

            • And that’s why I wait in anticipation for them to have our backs again. But sadly I think I will be waiting forever. The Labour Party I loved has long since gone. And some of them have the nerve to demonise Internet Mana instead of finding a way to work with them. Oh dear, never, never again.

    • Yes. They didn’t want Cuniliffe and his return to core Labour values, freedoms from. After his rousing speeches and a resultant surge in popularity for Labour they pushed him out.

      Now the Rogernmomes are back in control.

      Labour is dead.

  4. Great analysis Chris, around the freedoms all humans want. And yes achieving the “freedom froms” allows the “freedom to-s” . As in hungry children aren’t in a good frame of mind and body to learn at school.
    This song ( go to : ) was inspired by Dame Anne Salmond’s talk at a public meeting about the GSCB bill last year – the freedoms our forbears fought for are being taken away from us. Freedom of expression and thought is one of the more precious freedoms and the recent police raid on Nicky Hager’s home is another disturbing display of the state attacking its critics. Both Labour and National have signed away our sovereignty via allowing the Waihopai bases their freedom from scrutiny.

  5. “I wonder, now, 33 years later, whether something similar still lingers in the New Zealand community.”

    Of course there is, but you take too distant a view of it. The interaction between those who hate each other now is much like the tentative relations NZders developed to immigrants once they became an established feature of our nieghbourhoods. Only a little more constructive, because we know each other’s recent history. Funny how politically we deny what makes us, what divides us, exercising some political amnesia, but when we meet, personally, we know immediately and exactly the whys and hows. The lines are drawn, but there is less interest in reaching straight for the knives – on a non-political level. On neutral ground, people are more curious now about “what might have been”. Maybe it’s an effect of reality TV, or yet another element of our lust for voyeuristic entertainment, or maybe… maybe “freedom to” isn’t as satisfying as everyone imagined?

    Anyway, Labour Labour boo hoo Labour. Shut up and die Labour. I just chalk it up to the greed that came with being able to buy cheap(ish) consumer/electronic goods after the demise of Muldoon. It all gives the impression of “freedom and mobility”, but little has changed socially. It sounds like you’re tryin to blame overwhelming external forces for making NZders become what they are. There’s a large gap of reasoning where you list a restrictive “self controlled” collective outlook in our people’s past (and by ours I mean pakeha), but don’t mention how large groups of people just happened to give up on self control entirely and turned instead to control of other people.

  6. Labour have only ever paid lip service to freedom. They had innumerable opportunities to legalise cannabis, for example, and somehow never got around to it – it will ultimately be National who does this, just like they legislated for gay marriage.

    Labour are not the party of ideals, they’re the party that lies the most blatantly about having ideals.

    • Not too sure about National and cannabis, the gay marriage legeslation was a Labour private member bill (Louisa Wall).

      • National will follow the money. If the corporate Big Weed (a partially-owned subsidiary of Big Tobacco, with much bigger resources than the freakshow STAR Trust) gets the necessary traction in NZ it will soon have the politicians’ ears, as it now does in the US.

        (Indeed, I actually favour cannabis legalisation, but the Big Weed angle will be focused on regulating cannabis in such a way that they profit large.)

  7. Brilliant piece of work Trotter. As a close friend recently pointed out, those working class – and I can call them that – who vote for that swine and the national guard, “aspire” to. I think this piece ought to be used by the Labour Party to analyse where they are going wrong. Bring on Nanaia I say.

    • I too have been banging on about the politics of aspiration for many years now. It seemed to me that access to cheap consumer goods and the short burst of economic activity that followed the Douglas atrocity instilled, in the minds of younger voters, the idea that more “freedom to” (as Chris puts it) will create opportunities and open doors for them (think Yosser from “Boys from the Blackstuff”). Thus a generation has been lost to Labour.
      Meanwhile the wealth gap widens yet no-one within Labour (so far as I can see) will risk returning to the core philosophy – to do so would require re-educating the public – a bridge too far, too many aspirants.
      Labour’s immigration policies have also produced unforseen consequences. At one time the immigrant was a leftist. Today, with (monetary) wealth as criteria, the opposite is true.
      I have been overseas for two years. The other day I flew from Wellington to Auckland, stayed a night in an Auckland hotel then went to visit an old friend the following day. From the moment I left the office in Wellington until I entered my old friend’s home, I did not encounter a “Kiwi”. All airport personnel, shop assistants, hotel clerks, even the people on Auckland streets after dark were recent immigrants. At each encounter, with the election weighing heavily on my mind, I asked myself would this person vote Labour. Not a show. The overwhelming impression was that not only is Labour in extremis, the Kiwi character is no longer found in the cities.
      Short of major catastrophe, I do not see things improving for the left but then, with Tories at the helm, catastrophe is always impending.

      Incidentally, can anyone tell me exactly how many bad guys those violatory x-rays and searches of domestic travellers have yielded? Would it be possible to discover exactly how much Key and cronies have invested in Security companies?

  8. post war leaders (freedom from ) -> activist /social issues leaders (interim) -> free market leaders/ rise of the yuppies (freedom to ).

    Seems,…that social evolution is doomed always to have to travel a broadly circular pattern of construction /deconstruction…..having established itself, at least in the West ,after the fact of automation /production…

    But the introduction of neo liberalism was the vehicle used to enable the ‘freedom to’ stance…it could not have been possible otherwise.

    So therefore it has indeed become an open cast prison for large numbers…hence also the lack of concern by an even larger number, who endorse totally -and silently – the ‘freedom to’ philosophy …

    One can speculate that broadly also…Western society is due for more upheavals in the near future as poverty and inequality reach a critical mass point – as it has in the past.

    This could explain many of the losses of freedoms aka surveillance of the populations , legislation embedded to curtail collectivism (eg: unions ) state owned enterprises etc…this is the very machinery used to reinforce this ‘freedom to’….

    Ultimately …under the guise of lawfulness….paradoxically , …it is a system designed to enable a state of legalized lawlessness.

    And no society can long endure such lawlessness without implosion at some point in its history…history itself teaches us that.

  9. Still not a peep out of you @ Chris , about where all that money came from that created a pre – 1980’s utopia of plunderable public riches for douglas and his cronies to sell for their personal wealth creation by using the ‘ Freedom to… ‘ card ?
    Can’t quite cough that particular hair ball up yet huh ?
    My earnest suggestion might be to find out exactly what it was that sparked the movement ‘ freedom to ‘ away from the ‘ freedom from ‘ .
    I’ll help by giving you a clue . It was money baby .
    Who had it ? Who made it ? What was exported ? To whom ? Who had their nicely polished shoes in the trough ? Who built Auckland and who’s money did they use to do so ?
    And now . Today . In this fancy new hi tech tomorrow-land of bullshittery and double-double , brain bending , mind warpery of MSM generated psychobabblery ?
    What’s changed ? Do we still need to eat , process that which we eat then shit it out the back ? Yes . Yes , I think we do , to answer my own question because as sure as hell I can’t rely on other learned , post grad University Poo Baahs to do that for me .
    The reason Labour is in tatters is because it’s as duplicit as the National party dark -siders in plundering Kiwi farmer wealth . The terrible thing about a lie that’s shared is that it’ll sink everybody eventually .
    The real and true problem with the likes of @ Dean is that those followers of the Lie do so unknowingly because they have neither the intellectual curiosity nor the imagination to ponder otherwise . That’s why 48 % of the intellectually crippled , voted for those who will cause them the most pain and discomfort .

    Labours woes can’t be fixed until The Great New Zealand Institutionalised Lie is addressed first .

  10. Our Global economy is crashing today as NZ hollow heads who voted for Key’s loose bruce economic gambling has now come home to roost.

    Today the Global stock markets had their worst downturn for three years and all analysts are predicting another slide in our global economy.

    We are approaching the economic cliff as central banks are now grossly overloaded with debt burden they borrowed to prop the sick global economy up with.

    Key lied when he said “rockstar economy” and everyone believed him as fools go tragedy follows.

    Labour now must return to the saving foundation they used in 1937 to escape from the depression then again after the 1951 wharf strike and later the crippling rogernomics slash & and now the Key selloff saga.

    We must re instate Labour as the saviour as you pointed out so eloquently said Chris;

    . “Labour backed the workers’ trade unions and was dutifully funded by them in return.

    Labour similarly strove, whenever it was given the chance, to improve the Welfare State it had created in the 1930s and 40s.

    It built state houses for working families and used the large state-owned enterprises – NZ Railways, the Post Office, and the Ministry of Works – to soak up unskilled labour which would otherwise be unemployed. Labour was also the party most closely associated with nation-building”

  11. Hi,

    Why is National perceived differently over the anti-smacking bill? Because it’s perceived as a Labour bill. National gets a pass on it because they only supported it, whereas the left proposed it. If it had been a bill that was universally loved, the left would have soared. If it had been universally hated, the left would have plummeted. The effects on National either way would have been much more minor.

    But your post also contains the seeds to Labours return to power in these few words: “When Labour was unambiguously the party of the working – class”. And that’s what’s sorely missed in my view. If Labour is to make a come back it must unambiguously become the party of the ordinary working people. It must hammer home again and again and again that its every policy is aimed at helping the ordinary kiwi.

    And that is one of the things it has failed to do ever since 1984, which lets face it, felt like a massive betrayal. Under Helen it regained some of that more leftist trending, but if we’re honest it was helped into power largely by the anger people felt towards the right. They’d had enough of neo-liberal politics and voted for the closest thing they had to an alternative.

    Now nine years of Helen and six of Key have eased the pain of the neo-liberal agenda, and Key has also cleverly steered a course away from the extremes. (That’s why ACT is such a blessing to him. It proclaims the lunacy of the neo liberal and he can then separate himself and National from it.)

    Both parties are now seen as more centrist than left or right. And perception is everything in politics. Why would I vote Labour if its largely the same as National and things seem to be going smoothly?

    Labour needs to reconnect with its roots, even if only symbolically. It needs to reframe its every policy within the question of “what will this do for the working stiff?” It’s about identity of a party. And its about not just having policies that will help the common man, but being seen to have those policies.

    Cheers, Greg.

    • You of course note the irony Greg that it wasn’t in fact part of the Labour Party legislative agenda? It was a private members bill by Sue Bradford of the greens

      • Hi,

        And I’m a green supporter! That’s why I said the left proposed it. But Sue Bradford will forever be considered a unionist, and Labour is the party of the unions. Perception is everything in politics.

        Cheers, Greg.

  12. I wonder, now, 33 years later, whether something similar still lingers in the New Zealand community. Whether the same subtle signals are still being broadcast and received by my fellow citizens.

    Why not just come out and say it? The median NZer is a vaguely racist boor. After all, it’s the truth. Alas democracy in the end means mob rule where the mob are a pack of knuckle draggers.

    • Vaguely racist boor so what?
      Many of us are bigoted to some degree even those who can’t or won’t admit it but that doesn’t mean we aren’t decent people. I am much more concerned about heartless greedies and fanatics than I am about “vaguely racist boors”.

  13. Great debate, but personally I just want National gone. They are ripping the country to shreds. I am not to bothered who replaces them at this point. Just want them gone.

  14. Thanks very much Chris for exploring the strands and subtleties leading to the present situation. Absolutely vital.

    I’m not agreeing with those BTL who are asking for a ‘return’ to past values.

    Chris pointed out that ‘the Boomers’ had arrived at the point where they wanted ‘freedom to’ as well as ‘freedom from’. It was taken as a given that there would be full employment, and social housing and free training either in tertiary employment or on the job.

    ‘We’ve got all that, now how about freedom to travel without financial curbs, or to bail out from disastrous marriages, or try some of the new toys we see on tv or movies, and a zillion and one things besides.

    Not chuck out all the good things. Why would we? But be free of the dead hand of the state and its often petty restrictions that let only a few have travel and new cars and niceties.’

    And the Fourth Labour Government couldn’t manage that fundamental ‘and-and’. Simply couldn’t. Out went the baby with the bath water and the poor kid hasn’t been seen since.

    We can’t go back. We’ve grown since those times.

    We still hunger for what was good. We still reject the curbs and restraints that were indeed petty. National exploits that aversion very well.

    If the lure is large enough (not money, little neo-cons) then we can make the change. Not for a ‘bikini body for summer’ – a major change because otherwise we the people are soul and spirit dead.

    War and conflict are not the answer, though they create the necessity for getting to basics.

    Can we do it differently this time: freedom from AND freedom to?

  15. One of those overnight thoughts:

    From the early seventies on there were the twin threats of the oil prices and the European Common Market.

    Somehow, somehow, little NZ had to wean itself away from Britain and imported oil. Stand free as a nation.

    Out in the public service the dead hand of the ‘sinking lid’ policies began to take root.

    Out in the ‘private sector’ the villains and cheats began to rise again – culminating in the rorts and excesses of the eighties.

    Meantime, Small Biz NZ trundled sleepily along. Then, as now, the backbone of NZ didn’t need any more vertebrae today, thank you. Nor did the farmers.

    Which is where National is in la-la land. Spivs and ratbags don’t hire hugely. Nor do staunchly independent small biz. The only sponge big enough to slop up the surpluses encouraged by ‘baby bribes’ is -(ta-DAH!) government agencies, which is counter-productive to the end they hoped for: free, self-sustaining, genius-driven enterprising NZ.

    Neither of the old parties has an answer. Nor do the Greens, for that matter. They’re not even sure they want the dream any more.

    Meantime – bumble along as usual, and play more sports on the international circuit.

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