Good News For The Left!



EVER SINCE the debacle of 20 September 2014, the New Zealand left has been hanging out for some good news. Today, thanks to Stephen Mills, the Executive Director of UMR Research, it has finally got some.

UMR Research has for many years been the Labour Party’s principal polling agency, so Mills’ article, The Future For Labour, based on the findings of the agency’s latest “Omnibus Survey” (posted this morning on the Stuff website) may well have been commissioned by its principal client.

No matter. Good news is good news whoever pays for it – and the results of UMR’s telephone “Omnibus Survey” are very good news indeed.

According to Mills: “Asked to define themselves on a 1-10 left to right scale based on degree of support or opposition for Government provision of services, the need for Government to intervene in the economy and a progressive tax system, 30 percent of New Zealanders were clearly left (0-3) on the scale; 42 percent in the centre (4-6) and 25 percent clearly right (7-10). As is often observed the centre is the battleground in New Zealand politics.”

Thirty percent, Comrades! Thirty percent! Nearly a third of the electorate self-identifies with the precepts of New Zealand-style social-democracy. (Those seeking the “socialisation of the means of production, distribution and exchange” obviously constitute a much smaller subset of this larger group, although, if “socialisation” was ever properly explained to the voting public, who knows?)

But wait (as they say on the steak-knife commercials) there’s more! Mills and his fellow pollsters were not willing to stop at this broad-brush depiction of the electorate. They wanted to know a little more about these “Centre” voters. Suspecting that their respondents might be using the centrist designation as a safely neutral ideological haven, the pollsters pushed them just a little bit harder.

“If the 42 percent in the centre bloc are split up further”, notes Mills, “12 percent go left; 10 percent go right and 20 percent remain smack in the middle of the scale.”

That’s forty-two percent, Comrades! No wonder John Key, an inveterate poll-watcher, once conceded that most New Zealanders are socialists at heart. No wonder, too, that the National Party’s strategists are at such pains to abjure the notion that their policies cleave consistently to the Right. Without the support of that 20 percent in the middle of the scale, the National Party’s electoral prospects would be decidedly grim.

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But, as Mills is quick to point out, there is currently no reason for National to be worried.

“The problem for Labour is that National is now both totally dominating the centre and winning more left votes than Labour and the Greens are winning right votes.”

John Key’s huge achievement as a conservative political leader has been to build out from the Right’s electorally weak position to encompass enough of what are, potentially, his political opponents to win three general elections on the trot. In the process he has driven the Left’s vote back towards its UMR-identified core of 30 percent.

Strategically-speaking, this tactical triumph is not without risk. As Mills notes: “Looked at another way National has moved further from its base than Labour.”

When Labour did this, back in the 1980s, the results were tactically spectacular but strategically disastrous. From a dizzying 47.96 percent of the popular vote in 1987 (the election in which Judith Tizard came within 407 votes of winning Remuera!) Labour would plummet, only three years later, to just 35.1 percent of the votes cast.

Looking back, the tactical successes racked-up by both parties over the past 30 years have depended hugely on two vital factors: a demonstrably superior party leader (Lange, Key) and the bold appropriation of some of their ideological opponent’s economic and social policies (Monetarism, Labour-Lite) which, for a short time at least, their governments gave every sign of understanding more thoroughly and implementing more effectively than their traditional sponsors. What is equally clear, however, is that such historically audacious forays into enemy territory cannot survive the loss of either the leader, or the economic and social conditions, which made such tactical audacity possible.

In other words, if something were to happen to Key, and/or the economic and social condition of the country was to suddenly deteriorate, National would find it very difficult to retain the support of the substantial plurality of centrist voters it currently enjoys, and would very soon be facing electoral defeat.

The precariousness of National’s electoral position is not the only good news contained in Mills’ article.

Both Labour and the Greens can also draw enormous reassurance from the clear evidence that New Zealanders ideological default position is still very solidly on the Left. Starting from a putative Centre-Left support-base of 42 percent, the two principal parties of the Left need only wrest back an additional 10 percentage points from National for electoral victory to be assured.

Labour, in particular, should be comforted by the fact that the UMR survey shows that a solid majority of Green Party supporters acknowledge Labour’s position as the dominant party on the left of New Zealand politics – at least for the foreseeable future.

Which leaves New Zealand’s oldest political party with just two vital tasks to accomplish.

The first is to find themselves a leader of the calibre, and who possesses the enormous cross-over appeal, of David Lange and John Key.

Is that person among the four candidates currently competing for the Labour Leadership? Personally, I’m doubtful. But, if Labour members were content to be guided by the logic of the UMR survey, then the choice would appear to lie between Grant Robertson and David Parker. Not because they best embody Labour’s core ideological values – they don’t – but because they undoubtedly represent Labour’s best shot at wooing and winning at least half of those crucial centrist votes.

As John key and Steven Joyce worked out long, long ago, this crucial fifth of the electorate contains neither the best nor the brightest of the New Zealand population. They are, for the most part, extremely lazy thinkers who draw practically all of their notions about domestic politics from the general tone of the news media’s coverage.

If the major media outlets’ (especially the television networks’) collective verdict vis-à-vis the Leader of the Opposition is consistently negative, then the chances of the Centre Vote going in that direction are slim.

It simply does not pay, therefore, to choose a leader whom the media finds it difficult, or, as happened with David Cunliffe, impossible, to accept.

The other crucial task is to make sure that Labour’s policy platform easily and obviously conforms with UMR’s brilliantly succinct description of what constitutes a Centre-Left, social-democratic, programme in New Zealand.


  • Support for Government provision of services.
  • The need for Government to intervene in the economy.
  • A progressive tax system.


If Labour, fed up with being scratched, opts to stroke the electoral feline from its head to its tail, nothing more is needed. Apart from a leader who’s not going to scare the bejeezus out of the cat!



  1. This is true. This is what I have been thinking about recently. We have a lot to be grateful for in NZ (cue Fred Dagg). The fact that 73% of eligible voters voted on September 20 and less that half of eligible voters make it to the polls in the US is one comforting statistic.

    From my conversations with NZers from different walks of life, I have found most NZers are reasonable, if ‘boringly’ pragmatic.

    Although I’m solidly on the Left myself, I am uncomfortable with upsetters of political stability on both the extreme left and right.

    There are exciting possible changes of a leftwing nature that are well and truly on the cards in this country. Modern leftwing thinking in this country is reasonably sophisticated and there are some intelligent and positive people who could possibly direct that change.

    Chris, you are right – there is much to be hopeful about!

  2. One thing which your still sharp political instincts have caught onto is the positioning to the centre.

    It’s the POSITIONING or the ORIENTATING to the centre which counts.

    Labour doesn’t have to turn into Peter Dunne but the flavour and the character must be seen to be ‘non-ideological’ and ‘just good sense’.

    Their leader must be seen to be an ordinary Kiwi who is not cliquey or ‘wierd’.

    • What bollocks @ ‘ Andrew ‘ .

      You say

      ” Although I’m solidly on the Left myself, I am uncomfortable with upsetters of political stability on both the extreme left and right. ”
      Those are the noises of a Machiavellian Confederate from my experience . Who gives a fuck how upset you are diddums ? We should be very ‘upset ‘ . We should be extremely ‘ upset ‘ . We should be incandescent with upsettedness ! We’ve fucking lost 30 years to the kind of middle-of-the-road , wimpy , double crossing bullshittery you would prefer .

      That weak kneed approach got us a Corporate Jonky-Bot . And until Labour ( Or I’m thinking some other , yet to be formed political groupset that can engage the hearts , minds , souls and spirits of the few humans left in your wondrous , hopeful and glossy brochure myth that is Nu Ziland . Particularly if that new and improved Labour hatchling hasn’t been stained by the remnants of the 1984 neo liberal take-over crew that fucked it up for the few well intended Labourites last election . Read farce )

      I’m fucking telling you . If Labour , or it’s cloned self , TBA , doesn’t actively draw the farmer ( And most importantly their money ) over to a rebuilt NZ Trade Union movement , of which those Unions and Farmers are interdependent and welded together , like it or not you guys , then we will continue to be as fucked as we are . More so in fact . Because once the Corporates get their fangs into us via the TPPA …. use your imagination .

      Here’s a possible conversation going on in Beverly Hills . Or Texas . Or Boston .

      ” Oh honey … I borrowed your credit card today . Hope you don’t mind . I bought this cute little country way down in the South Pacific . Yeeeeah ! Sooo cute , you’re gonna love it . Has mountains and streams and cows and natives and everything ! And there’s only four million of em so we don’t have to worry at all . I’ll get Rory to warm up the Gulf Stream , we can pop down there while on our way to Monaco . ”

      A Labour Party without Farmer money is as useful to the hungry kids , homeless people and a riot of dysfunction traumatised women as jonky’s penis would be on porno movie casting day . Vulgar yet funny right ?

      I’m sorry Chris Trotter but on this one I must disagree . Labour’s a dead duck in desperate need of a jump start . A cliquey or ‘weird’ leader is precisely what it needs . Anything would be better than the escapee cadavers , limp biscuits and whiny apologists it’s had since it shat out roger douglas , richard prebble etc ( Richard William Prebble, CBE, was for many years a member of the New Zealand Parliament. Initially a member of the Labour Party, he joined the newly formed ACT New Zealand party under Roger Douglas in 1996, becoming its leader from 1996–2004. ) .

      See , this is what I mean actually . Some people forget all of the time , all people forget some of the time but not all people forget all of the time .

      richard prebble . Mr ” I’ve been thinking ” .

      His stink is still hanging over the Labour Party . He was there when many farmers were forced off their properties during the late 1980’s when interest rates were callously cranked up to as high as 22 % . So why farmers ( And their money ) are still clinging onto his ilk’s ( Corporate Right ) apron strings is where close scrutiny should be focused and the results openly discussed , instead of being buried , to- this- day from all of us . Farmers earn our fucking money , yet we know unbeliveably little about their true political leanings .

      Get Farmers over to the rank and file and you’d have a mighty force to be reckoned with I promise you . ( Hey ! ? What’s that red dot ??? )

      • That button is the nuclear option. It’s the one you have just outlined.
        You don’t seem to get just how far the party is out of step with the electorate. it would be quite easy to put together a questionnaire that would indicate that a majority of New Zealanders have a level of socialism baked in the bread: public schooling, hospitals, retirement security, a UN view of international politics, a love of an essential fairness as well as accepting the necessity for some version of safety net to protect those made vulnerable by bad luck or bad management. We also generally agree that those with the most means should make the greater contribution to social costs, that workers are not the plaything of employers, that we would prefer an integrated society to a stratified one, however much our actions belie our convictions.

        The trouble is that most New Zealanders don’t realise that these shared views put them firmly on the Left. They are perhaps too willing to accept serial blandishments from the Right, designed to calm the horses.

        This is why this central truth must be endlessly restated. If you believe that society has the ability and the means and the responsibility to try to make the country better, not just better for you, then your place is on the Left. The Right will only offer you excuses for failure. If you don’t believe these things, then your place is way out on the fringes. The country needs the Left as conscience and pilot and to protect the gains we have made over decades.

        They are easily lost.

    • Couldn’t agree more. As is quite rightly stated about the crucial fifth of the electorate “They are, for the most part, extremely lazy thinkers who draw practically all of their notions about domestic politics from the general tone of the news media’s coverage”. Thais the God given truth if I ever heard.

      I’ve met quite a few and they seem almost passionless about anything until whatever is happening in their world affects them personally for the worse and only then something changes.

      So at this time whoever the Labour leader is has to come across common sense, not stereotypical politician and be able to take the piss occasionally at the banal. And I also agree that I can’t see them here with these candidates worryingly.

      However National have set the benchmark here and they knew that picking a puritanical right wing exponent as a leader would never work, although the party is dominated by them. Far easier to fool the masses by opting for the wolf in sheep’s clothing and be as puritanical as they want by another means. Worked so far!

    • Smooth and clever, that`s what Labour needs. It`s a shame that JK used his childhood background and subsequent success story to get votes but has taken away all the scaffolding that made it possible for others in the same position to get ahead in life.

    • Kind of agree but isn’t that what they were trying last time and they ended up standing for nothing much? The important thing is to have a vision and sell it to the voters, get them excited about it. What’s the difference between a vision and an ideology? That’s what Labour need to get across and they must not allow the debate to be controlled by National’s spin doctors.

    • and thats why we got John Key, because he is reasonable, and likable, and ordinary.
      Yeah, right TUI.

      the democrats in the US lost because they ran from Obama instead of embracing him and his successes. While there is much to be said about Obama and his failures he has done some good. The stock market is up, unemployment is down, he introduced the affordable care act (i.e. cheap health insurance for all – but the states that opted out) etc. Instead the Convervdems or blue dogs are trying to out-republican the republicans – most of whom are actually Tea Baggers. Go figure why the Dems did not win.

      The left – or maybe we should say the progressive spectrum of politcs can not out do National by going National Light. Why bother?

  3. While we’re on the topic of “good” news for The Left…

    As the nutritional value of bread falls and the price of bread becomes prohibitive, today I have a piece of banana cake to eat. Now that’s a S.M.A.R.T. success for the Left. One commie feeds his hunger. Raise your cake in solidarity! Hurrah!

  4. How do you get these comments into enough voters minds to force a change in 2017? Obvious from comments on social media eg Facebook that there are many unhappy disillusioned people out there.

  5. Interesting analysis, but you do not address how the centre was taken in each case, and the conditions that allowed it to happen. With Lange, taking the centre involved the abandonment of Labour’s core constituents, which was made possible by the large numbers of young urban liberals who had hitched their wagon to Labour. They got a second term through persuading their core constituents that the disruption was temporary, that they just needed time to finish the job. Well thirty years on, “the job” has turned out to be ongoing, and the question of trust has continued to hang over Labour to varying degrees.

    Key’s success in gaining the centre was partly due to Don Brash’s having reinvigorated a humiliated National party and turned it into a serious contender. You could say that Brash restored the base’s self confidence, and Key added the more cautious centrists to their number. However, if Key, under his current persona, had emerged immediately after English’s defeat, he would have very likely seemed indeterminate rather than moderate, and would not have retained the trust of National’s core voters.

    In short, it seems to me that a successful appeal to the centre that does not rely on betrayal is contingent on having already shored up a confident, enthusiastic base. Hence I would prioritise the strengthening of the Labour movement over the appeal to the centre, though it would be nice to have both. However, Labour’s legacy of mistrust means that attempting to appeal to the centre at the expense of it base will just shift its percentage around the spectrum without increasing it.

  6. I am glad you are reassured, but fear it is misplaced.

    Your comment “It simply does not pay, therefore, to choose a leader whom the media finds it difficult,… or impossible, to accept.”

    The media is a propaganda organ for the elites. A leader of the Labour party who might effectively bring about the progressive elements of Labour policy will not be tolerated. So long as enough voters remain beguiled by the media real change will not occur.

    Labour’s traditional allies in the union, progressive, activist communities must deliver job security, make the case for progressive policy and get those policies adopted at the local level if they are to attract and waken voters from their stupor. Only then can a Labour leader worthy of the office hope to overcome the media assassination which will surely take place.

  7. I liked David Cunliffe as leader, as for ‘not scaring the electoral feline,’ it has gone way past that. I wanted a dog to rip the throat out of the swanking cat Key, and show people the truth.

    How do you get through your bullet points above especially the ‘progressive tax system’, aka you mean capital gains tax which is fair. This won’t happen, unless Labour/Greens chase John Key (and all his fawning paper rich property owners in Auckland) up a tree. Only a dog will do that.

    Key is the naked cat and Doctor Evil is corporate USA/TPPA, they are patting their cat Key, and shafting us. Key in turn pats the self centred rich cats. We need to wise up and get a seriously switched on dog in the house to be loyal to us fair nzers and get the true respect of the people. Media are Key Cat Lovers, and totally bias, it is a mass brain wash. They beat up Cunliffe and left Key alone even in the face of Dirty Politics how could WE have let that happen! I still feel sick thinking about it. Sneaky cats, that’s what they are, manipulating creeps.

    Bring Back The Highlander! ( I heard this is the new name for Cunliffe).

    I can’t even be bothered with this labour leader bullshit. I heard a saying ‘watch out for the crabs in the barrel’, what a shame.
    *(No disrespect to real cats)

    • Well said Kate,
      The media didn’t like Cunliffe because they couldn’t get on top of him.
      I watched Rachel Smalley interviewing him when he first became leader. She came on all fire and brimstone and was clearly used to having her way with the hapless Shearer.
      David Cunliffe however was a completely different proposition and he ended up effortlessly tying her in knots.
      After that the media had to resort to smears and sneaky set ups to destabilize him.
      He was just way too intelligent for their liking and unlikely to be manipulated.
      Certain people in the media are what needed to go . Not David Cunliffe!

  8. Well sussed Chris. If past election voting patterns are any indication, National’s core support is even lower than 30%.

    Once the public tire of Key’s constant grin and bloodiness, it’s Game Over for them. (Unless Labour changes it’s leadership again next year and the year after and 2017 and……………….

  9. I just about spat out my cornflakes all over the cat, when I saw the leader of #teamkey wearing a KIWI Rugby League jersey…. FFS

    What next? An extra in the next Warner brothers movie in NZ? Caddie for Lydia Ko? First PM into space on Branson’s Virgin Galactic?

    $5,000 a head fund-raisers buys a lot of photo-ops….

    • Yeah. Bloody lefties like Mike Hosking. Paul Henry. Maggie Barry. Karl Du Fresne. John Armstrong. Duncan Garner. Fran O’Sullivan. All the journos over at the NBR.

      Have I left out any of the “dreaded lefties”, Mike?

      • Maggie Barry? She’s been a National MP for 4 years. And while you’re naming journalists with an obvious bias, how about Shane Taurimu, David Fisher, John Campbell, Willie Jackson, Ali Mau, Marcus Lush, Bryce Edwards…this cuts both ways Frank.

    • This jornalist bias was based on where they placed themselves politically, this does not mean they are particularly left wing in reality.

  10. So for Labour to regain government they have to appeal to the lazy(stupid) voters in the centre who are too disinterested in their lives to think for ( i.e.inform) themselves.
    To achieve this you suggest they choose either a career politician who stabbed Cunliffe repeatedly in the back or a competent personality bereft scrooge who is determined to deny the baby boomers a hard earned inadequate pension at 65 years of age.
    You have lost it .
    Little is a National Party stooge in drag, ( don’t be frightened I am not a ‘real’ Union leader just a pretend one who will make Ken Douglas look like a rabid socialist) Robertson … if only his talent and ability matched his ambition, Parker as interesting and commanding as a stale biscuit crumb. Labour deserves to die, and these 3 epitomize the problem with Labour .
    The expression dogs cojones springs to mind . Neo -liberal douche
    bags each and every effing one.

  11. In other words, if something were to happen to Key

    Say hi to the SIS from us when they call at your house, Chris… 😉

  12. Well, I would not be overly optimistic when looking at this survey. What people do nowadays consider to be “centre” used to be more to the “right” a couple or so decades ago. What is now considered “right” in economic and social terms, used to be “extreme right” even under former National PM Muldoon.

    What is nowadays considered “left” used to be “centre” kind of policies. We have had a shift to the right over the last three decades, gradually but most definitely, and the only thing that has changed within the right is, that they have adopted some “libertarian” ideas, to replace the more traditional conservatism there used to be. We are firmly in neoliberal territory here, in New Zealand, under John Key, and even Helen Clark only slowed the shift for a few years.

    So sorry, dear Chris, it seems that after some more enlightening posts not long ago, this one is again there to appease many, and to be palatable writing to fit the present MSM expectations and standards.

  13. I think you’re wrong about the middle 20% being lazy thinkers. I’m more inclined to agree with Danyl Mclauchlan, that they’re just not interested in policy or ideology so much as competence. That still ties in with the media’s verdict of the leader, of course, but the solution is simpler: just elect a competent leader who can pull the party together and get it organised! A modicum of charisma would help sway the media, obviously, but it’s not really crucial – very few would have described Helen Clark as charismatic in the 90s.

  14. Hi,

    It’s good that we are a more leftist than neoliberal people – but the reality is that only one vote every three years counts and the simple fact is that it went right. This survey just reaffirms my basic opinion that the election was deeply flawed. People didn’t vote for the right at all. They voted for John Key the instant that KDC basically conceeded that he had nothing.

    And the truly horrible thing is that they will keep doing it as long as Key doesn’t blot his copy book. As long as he smiles and sounds honest and reasonable, and nothing dreadful happens to the country.

    Andrew – you just described John Key perfectly. The everyman as the say in the movie world. The good bloke who everyone can relate to.

    Against him I can see only one candidate who can compete – but Jacinda isn’t on the platform and I’d be concerned that she isn’t yet blooded enough to take on the role of leader.

    Cheers, Greg.

  15. Now, if only we could do something about the parliamentary wing of the Labour Party…

    More representative, perhaps? Fewer tired sharks circling the little mob of 20% perched on the top rail of the fence?

    It’s easier to sell to an existing customer than spend time, effort and money chasing a new and unproven niche – but that niche-chasing seems to be a fascination for Labour, instead of using the proven supporters as ‘sneezers’ (Gladwell’s term – ‘The Tipping Point’) for the proven benefits of being ‘socialist’.

    Do they think we self-identifying lefties will stay loyal to Labour forever? Recent history says not. Same message for those centrist Greens, too.

  16. Chris, you seem to be saying that any vacuous, folksy, Snapper-chasing nincompoop with a cheesy grin could be PM. I do not disagree, given all the evidence, but you should know that those who emphatically do think through their politics consider winning an election on that basis to be a nightmare scenario.

    Any electoral system that basically hands election after election to the bubblehead centre is fundamentally flawed. The PM is effectively free to do whatever he likes, so long as he panders to the lowest common denominator.

    Failing a change to the electoral system, I believe the only real hope for the Left would be to somehow out-compete the Muppet press, and change the influences that hold sway over that shallow centre. That’s what the Right did; it took 30 years, but now they have a near monopoly over the MSM.

  17. The M P ‘s in the labour party are the problem! They are so infested with neo liberal dogma no amount of polling will change that.Once the T T P is signed elections will be of little significance.Good riddance to a bunch of self serving arseholes.

  18. “It doesn’t pay to choose a leader whom ‘The Media’ find difficult or impossible to accept. ” eh?
    That is just a ridiculously, scary statement!
    ‘The Media’ like ‘The Market’ are just a bunch of people who hide behind a pseudonym to give themselves clout and therefore power.
    If you take that statement to it’s practical, logical conclusion, the reality is you would have the likes of Hosking, Henry, Armstrong, Smith, Smalley ,Plunket, Hyde, Trevett, Young, Garner ,Gower, Obrien, Manhire, Roughan, O’Sullivan, Laws, Jackson, Mau, Espiner, Soper, Clifton , to name but a few, dictating the selection of the leader of the Labour Party. A Party that is an anathema to all these peoples’ ideology, (despite sometimes feigning impartiality).
    Going back to 3rd form maths , do you not see a ‘common denominator’ here?
    Their opinions would be the last that I would be seeking. None of them are there because of their outstanding talent or vast knowledge.
    Everyone knows they are especially selected and well incentivised for possessing a certain ideological bent.
    Following this through ,once they have selected ‘The Leader’, the next step on from that is……..yes, you guessed it .Dictating policy.
    Great, so now we have Hosking, Henry, Gower et el running the country.
    Give me a break !!!!!

  19. I am a centrist and it is nice to find out I am a media-wallowing, thicko who is easily persuaded just by a mere tone of voice.

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