You’re Wrong Keith: We Have To Do This NOW.

By   /   September 21, 2017  /   18 Comments

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KEITH RANKIN IS WRONG about Jacinda needing to lose this election. If that’s what happens on Saturday: if National somehow hauls itself back onto the Treasury Benches; then it is the purest folly to suppose that the election of 2020 will be a Labour walkover. If the Centre-Left cannot win in 2017, then the question that begs to be answered is: “Can it win at all?”

Photo by JOHN MILLER

KEITH RANKIN IS WRONG about Jacinda needing to lose this election. If that’s what happens on Saturday: if National somehow hauls itself back onto the Treasury Benches; then it is the purest folly to suppose that the election of 2020 will be a Labour walkover. If the Centre-Left cannot win in 2017, then the question that begs to be answered is: “Can it win at all?”

Presumably, Keith is being guided by the historical precedent of the 1969 “nearly-but-not-quite” election; That was the election which Labour lost by 14,000 votes, only to be swept into office three years later in the “It’s time!” election of 1972. Or, perhaps he’s thinking of the “Springbok Tour Election” of 1981, when National secured a two-seat majority in spite of receiving 4,122 fewer votes than the Labour Party nationwide. As happened in 1969, Labour’s narrow defeat was followed by a unambiguous victory three years later in the watershed snap-election of 1984.

If these are the precedents that Keith has in mind, then they deserve closer scrutiny. Especially since Keith’s reason for identifying the 2017 election as the one Jacinda needs to lose is that, in his opinion: “there will be a financial crisis next year … [which Labour] … is ill-equipped to handle … Further, it may take a major financial crisis (with Labour in Opposition) to drag Labour into the present century, just as the 1930s’ crisis belatedly dragged Labour into the twentieth century.”

Leaving aside the fact that Labour was very much a twentieth century political party (founded in 1916) and, therefore, in no need of being dragged anywhere; its failure to win the 1931 general election after close to three years of the most calamitous economic depression in modern history is highly instructive. Certainly, Labour expected to win and was deeply demoralised by the right-wing United-Reform Coalition’s electoral success.

Now, if we follow Keith’s thesis, Labour’s 1931 defeat merely presaged its inevitable victory of 1935. Except that Labour’s 1935 win was more a matter of good luck than good management. In fact, had the New Zealand Right not fallen into bitter factional strife over the best way to deal with the Great Depression, then there is absolutely no guarantee that Labour would have won. Certainly, if the country had had a proportional electoral system (as it does today) then the Centre-Left’s total of 46.5 percent may not have been enough.

Significant, also, in terms of Keith’s thesis, is the fact that, by 1935, the worst years of the Great Depression were over. The nadir had been reached in 1932, when widespread rioting had broken out in all of New Zealand’s major cities. Over the course of the next three years, however, the rapid spiral into misery and hopelessness had slowed. Although, it must be said, things were still very bad, and working-class hatred for the Coalition Government was palpable. Even so, the chance was there in 1935. Had the Right been united, and led by the moderate former prime-minister, Gordon Coates, Labour could have been run very close – and maybe even defeated.

Certainly, the sharp economic downturn of 1967-68 was insufficient to unseat the National Government of Keith Holyoake in 1969. What’s more, by late November 1972, the New Zealand economy was going gang-busters. There was over-full employment, wages were rising ahead of inflation, and the NZ Dollar was worth more than the US Dollar! And yet, in spite of all this good economic news, the electorate turfed-out Jack Marshall’s National Government with nary a backward glance.

Likewise, in 1984. The loud criticisms of his ideological foes in the finance sector and news media notwithstanding, Rob Muldoon’s two-year Wage & Price Freeze had brought inflation down to low single figures, and his Think Big projects in the regions had kept the unemployment rate well below 10 percent. Most impressive of all, however, was the stunning recovery in per capita GDP growth, which, at close to 6 percent, was an astonishing 8 percentage points higher than the recessionary -2 percent recorded the previous year. Not bad for a Polish shipyard!

None of these figures did Muldoon much good at the ballot-box in 1984, however. Attacked from the right by Bob Jones’s New Zealand Party, and from the left (or so we thought!) by David Lange’s Labour Party, National’s vote fell from 38.8 to 35.8 percent. (A surprisingly modest drop – all things considered!) Labour itself, lifted its vote from 39.0 to 42.9 percent. Another modest result – and well below the 48.4 percent share of the popular vote Labour had attracted in 1972 – the last time it won a general election.

The lesson to be drawn from these historical examples is that misery, alone, is insufficient to propel a left-wing party into power. If it was, then Labour would most certainly have been elected in 1931. Nor is economic success the key determinant of electoral outcomes. If it were, then Muldoon, like Holyoake in 1969, should have been able to fend off Lange’s challenge in 1984. [And, before anybody objects that New Zealand faced an economic crisis in 1984, I would remind them that the run on the $NZ was deliberately engineered by Roger Douglas, who “accidentally” left a position paper indicating Labour’s intention to order a devaluation of 20 percent if it won the election, lying on his chair for journalists to find at an election meeting in Auckland. – C.T.] Clearly, Bill Clinton’s 1992 Presidential Campaign Team’s oft-quoted quip: “It’s the economy, stupid!”, isn’t always true.

What is true, I think, is that elections are won when the electorate’s general preference for prosperity and stability is overwhelmed by its desire to turn the page and begin something new. When simply restoring the same old faces to the same old places no longer seems enough. When obtaining justice for past wrongs; and securing for themselves, and for their children, a different and better future; calls forth from the nation’s voters an unaccustomed measure of courage and daring.

The trick, of course, is to prevent that courage and daring from fading away. In this respect, it is not the general election of 1935 that changed New Zealand history, but the 1938 election which followed it. In the three years that separated that first Labour victory from the second, the government of Michael Joseph Savage had laid the groundwork for a genuine transformation of New Zealand society. Effectively, he was saying to the New Zealand people: “Three years is not enough to complete the task we have begun on your behalf. Give us your votes so we can finish the job.”

And that’s exactly what the people of New Zealand did. At an astonishing 55.8 percent, Labour’s share of the popular vote was the highest ever recorded at a New Zealand general election.

What I would say to Keith, therefore, is that Jacinda cannot afford to lose in 2017 – any more than Mickey Savage could afford to lose in 1935. The groundwork, for a fairer, smarter and environmentally sustainable New Zealand in the twenty-first century, needs to be laid over the course of the next three years, so that the true, the irreversible, transformation can take place in the years following the 2020 election. Just as there could have been no 1938 without 1935, there will be no 2020 without 2017.

We have to do this NOW.

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18 Comments

  1. WILD KATIPO says:

    … ” What I would say to Keith, therefore, is that Jacinda cannot afford to lose in 2017 – any more than Mickey Savage could afford to lose in 1935. The groundwork, for a fairer, smarter and environmentally sustainable New Zealand in the twenty-first century, needs to be laid over the course of the next three years, so that the true, the irreversible, transformation can take place in the years following the 2020 election. Just as there could have been no 1938 without 1935, there will be no 2020 without 2017.

    We have to do this NOW ” …

    I’m standing with Trotter on this !

    100% !!!

  2. Marc says:

    In my view there are always many aspects of a situation to consider, when making any prediction about an election outcome. The above interpretation of historic elections may have some merit, but cannot in my view be taken as a golden rule.

    First and foremost to most voters is usually a sense for stability and convincing enough performance offered by any government, in New Zealand also offering a sense of justice. Much depends on the economy, especially within a population so shaped in its thinking and predictable behaviour through neoliberalism, the doctrine imposed on it over the last three decades or so.

    What is important though is that after three terms governments tend to get arrogant and also complacent, and that is what we have with the National led government at present. The so called economic ‘success’ is one created by mere growth of the population and more output of the same products and services, in settings that are not sustainable, neither economically (capacity constraints), nor environmentally (environmental degradation, finite resources being used to mass produce at the expense of soil, water and air quality). Growing the population puts additional demands and stresses on the whole existing infrastructure and the environment.

    In the end we are all not really better off individually, certainly not most, on a per capita basis, those that think so seem to be blinded by temporary lure of ‘value gains’ in property or in quantity of some stuff, that cannot and will not last.

    More people seem to realise the latter, and see a need for change. Yet many cling to perceived security, and fear losing the little they may have, e.g. investment in savings, in income, in job security, as every change brings feelings of insecurity and also some risks.

    But we cannot continue with the madness we have, we are missing the bus, so to say, when it comes to addressing climate change and the other pressing environmental challenges.

    Problem is most cannot see beyond the tips of their noses, so keep clinging to what bit they have. And the rich and privileged will of course want to cling to what they have, and grow even better off, at the expense of the rest, who are mere servants and slaves to build their increased wealth.

    Question is, whether enough realise the urgent need for change, and whether they have the guts to vote for it, even the motivation to do so. Both sides to the political spectrum are fighting harder than they did for many years, and it seems to be a neck on neck race.

    Whether a financial crisis will hit us next year or so remains to be seen, globally we will see serious crisis come anyway, and perhaps we may be better off with a more social democractic kind of government, perhaps more courageous to use the powers and the means of the state to deal with crisis and major challenges. The Nats would in a crisis do all to protect the interest of their lobbyists, and interest holding voters, the elite anyway. They may want to ensure the basic infrastructure gets maintained. But for the rest they are likely to impose austerity for the rest, meaning no happy or reasonable enough times for those less well off.

    In view of that, the decision is clear enough, rather have Labour in charge, despite of its flaws, than more muddling through and stuffing up the future under Bill and his lot.

    • Historian Pete says:

      A clear and intelligent analysis of where we are at Marc.For me,constituency and party vote Labour, and to hell with the arrogant smarmy lying greedy National Party and their sycophantic hangers on !!

  3. HC says:

    This should assist those still needing some help to decide, the links to the audio and video streams, on the RNZ website, with the interviews Kathryn Ryan had with Bill English and with Jacinda Ardern on Nine to Noon yesterday and today:

    Interview with Bill English, National Party Leader, links:

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201859175/national-party-leader-bill-english-on-nine-to-noon

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201859175

    Interview with Jacinda Ardern, Labour Party Leader, links:

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/national/programmes/ninetonoon/audio/201859324/labour-party-leader-jacinda-ardern-on-nine-to-noon

    http://www.radionz.co.nz/audio/player?audio_id=201859324

    Kathryn Ryan was harsher on Jacinda than on Bill, but the interviews cover many important policy matters and issues, and the different positions that Labour and the Nats have.

    Neither party’s set of policies will be 100 percent workable, and neither will be the final and perfect solution to our future, definitely those of the Nats and Bill, but the direction that must be set for a sustainable future is what matters, so New Zealand is more on track for the future. Finetunings will happen, and negotiations will result in some changes, that is, because smaller support parties will want their input.

    So have a listen or a watch, and go and vote, tomorrow if you still need to enroll, on tomorrow or Saturday, if you already are enrolled.

  4. Marc says:

    Lest we forget this story, and this guy, who has kept a very low head the last few days:

    https://thedailyblog.co.nz/2017/09/16/when-will-newshub-radio-nz-investigate-jian-yang-with-the-same-focus-they-investigated-metiria-with/

    It is just another reason to vote for change right NOW.

  5. Sam Sam says:

    Losing to Bill English at this point would be an embarrassment at this point. After John Key handed Bill English the poison chalice of lies losing to National is just unthinkable. Sure Labour could remain competitive here and there but with out Jacinda leading Labour to election20 I just don’t see much consistency. And the deficits are ar only going to get worse, imo.

  6. Mike the Lefty says:

    Keith would be right except for one sad thing.
    New Zealand is not now a normal decent society and it is doesn’t matter how incompetent and corrupt National are: society is too blinkered to notice and respond.
    If we don’t take the chance tomorrow, we might well have a National government forever because the sleepy hobbit indifference will be so great that people will become fearful of any change.
    Like the medieval thing where is something went on long enough unchallenged it became a custom and we all know how hard it is to change a custom once it is installed.

  7. Jerko says:

    Thank you Chris Trotter. What concerns me is the silent voters. What happened here in America there were millions of silent voters. Those who would not admit they were voting for Trump! These people have only concern for themselves. I am noticing the same with FB friends. Anyone who has not liked my shared Support Labour in this election are being deleted. I know who they are. Having said that the FB pages of Jacinda, And Labour have shown thousands of views. This has been a remarkable turnaround. Andrew Little still only gets a couple of Hundred likes. Kelvin and Willow Jean and Nanaia also only get a few likes. But Jacinda gets several thousand and has over 100,000 likes on her page. Her live from Greymouth had 22.3k views. This is huge for Labour and has not happened in Decades. I am still hopeful that the swing to the left will change the Government. You guys need to get to the local Labour outfit and help with getting voters to the polls tomorrow. Go you good things.

  8. PB says:

    And yet Trotter pulls himself out of bed on to the AM show the morning before the final day of polls and says
    “Labour had a brilliant saleswoman and a lousy product.”

    FFS! Stop letting every thought that passes through your head dribble out of your mouth to slavering right wing commentators! Use your fucking brain! THe polls not even closed and you do this, Trotter? You lunatic. Stay in bloody bed next time. you make Josie Pagani look useful.

    I am so sick of “left wing commmentators” that get confessional and starry eyed when they’re given some time on television. Giving an obituary in an MMP election before polls have even closed when National has NO natural MMP partner of any size!

  9. Steve King says:

    What about this possible scenario:
    National wins enough of the vote to cobble together a barely-workable government completely reliant upon the cooperation of NZ First.
    An economic shock, or scandal, or operational crisis occurs mid-term which causes the government to implode.
    Early election.
    Ta daaa!

    • Brokenback says:

      Steve King , have you read Willie Jackson today?

      He will be sitting at whatever table Coalition talks are held around.

      The numbers don’t lie.
      Labour/Green/NZF

      FFS stop re-gurgitating the Gnat dog whistle about Winston.

      • Steve King says:

        Not regurgitating anything, sorry if its confusing. You can’t trust NZF unfortunately. If Labour/Green get to form a govt, NZF in the mix is a real fly in the ointment. I get Rankin’s point though, and Chris’s rebuttal is also valid. The only thing we can be sure about is the unpredictability of the election.

  10. e-clectic says:

    Financial crisis in the offing? Don’t know, that’s been predicted for a while.

    Environment crisis, climate crisis? Just look around, it’s here and only going to get severe to unmanageable without strong, clear action NOW. That’s not going to come from transNational, it may not come from Labour but there is a better chance of it especially if the Greens muscle up on the defining issue.

  11. countryboy says:

    @ Chris Trotter. You write:

    “What’s more, by late November 1972, the New Zealand economy was going gang-busters. There was over-full employment, wages were rising ahead of inflation, and the NZ Dollar was worth more than the US Dollar! And yet, in spite of all this good economic news, the electorate turfed-out Jack Marshall’s National Government with nary a backward glance.”

    Ahh? Just hang on a minute?
    Let me glance backward for just a moment.
    Before we go further into the mire that is the contemporary Kiwi politics-lite bullshit we know far too well …

    Why? Why was NZ ‘ [doing] so well?
    And what happened?
    How did that all go so horribly wrong.
    We are a food exporting economy, did our trading partners suddenly decide to go anorexic? Became breatharians?
    Why am I coming here, to this Blog Site, and seeing a photograph of a member of our vital agricultural infrastructure looking like an Eastern European beggar displaying the brain power of the thinking persons foot stool brandishing a placard calling Jacinda a ‘ Pretty Communist’ ?
    What. Went. Wrong?
    I know that some of you have opinions on that, and frankly most of them are as dumb as Mr Clump, the Placard Man. So please, don’t bother OK?

    Who tanked our future and for why? Who snipped the buds off a flourishing economy?
    Before NZ goes any further into any political debate, we need to know what happened back then. When NZ was, as you write, ‘going gang-busters’.
    It’s back in that history that we will find the disease that’s caused the rot that’s set in.
    Jacinda will learn from her indelicate attempt to placate those she hopes will be her voting demographic, the Hipster generation, by threatening the hands that feed us by losing the election to our farmer’s masters, and our enslavers, by alienating the rural,and by association, rural town vote. And since our economy is almost entirely agrarian, isn’t that, by association, most of us?
    Is Jacinda then, any smarter than the poor bugger holding up his placard decrying her?
    Writing more broadly than paula bennetts arse…
    Pig muldoon killed off Gentleman Jack Marshal because Marshal spent time reconnecting our farmers with our traditional trading partners in the UK, EU and the U$A.
    And certainly NOT in Australia, our main competitors for those same markets, you know the ones right? The ones muldoon sold our farmers out to for CER?
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Closer_Economic_Relations#/media/File:Malcolm_Fraser_%26_Robert_Muldoon_(17473395099).jpg
    That freaked out the old crooks like watties, fletcher, BNZ and it’s intestinal parasites like fay, richwhite, brierly and no doubt latterly hart, chandler and gibb et al etc. The reason they couldn’t allow the Kiwi farmer to show how $-mighty our little country could become was because those parasites had their own, personal wealth creation agendas in place and couldn’t allow Marshal to jeopardise those same plans by drawing attention to how unimaginably wealthy we Kiwis could be on a per head of pop’ basis. Is that why Pig was photographed coming back from Switzerland? Were his little trotters well greased?

    A woman was quoted as saying, as she was helped over the railings of the sinking Titanic. “ I rang for ice but this is ridiculous! “
    Your paragraph above is the very tip of that iceberg. The iceberg that sunk NZ’s economy.
    But just who’s still holding us underwater?

    • Danyl Strype says:

      “We are a food exporting economy, did our trading partners suddenly decide to go anorexic? Became breatharians?”

      Nope, the country importing most of our farming exports was the UK, and they just decided to start buying food from their neighbours in Europe instead. Good thing too. Shipping food half away across the planet instead of from nearby countries is insane.

      “And since our economy is almost entirely agrarian, isn’t that, by association, most of us?”

      Dead wrong. Products from farming make up about 5% of our exports these days:
      http://www.stats.govt.nz/browse_for_stats/environment/environmental-reporting-series/environmental-indicators/Home/Land/economic-performance-agriculture.aspx

      It’s only that high because of the massive tax breaks and environmental subsidies they get from the common wealth (eg water for intensive irrigation). Most countries can see the Peak Oil writing on the wall and are transitioning to producing more of their own food internally, or exporting from nearby countries. The days of a country making a living in the global economy from being a bulk food exporter are over. Farmers need to accept that and move on.

  12. john stone says:

    I agree with Keith. They just don’t have the the talent yet to deal with a crisis. This year will give a big new intake and 3 years to prepare.

  13. Nick J says:

    Get out there and vote Labour. If Keiths right I would rather they were at the helm than the self interested Nats.

  14. Danyl Strype says:

    I find both Keith’s and Chris’ arguments thought-provoking. The key question they are both asking is; would Aotearoa be better of with a Nat-NZ First or Labour-Green(-NZ First) government if a global recession hits? The underlying question is this; is austerity or social support a better policy response to economic recession?

    Assuming Labour don’t go all Blairite and get suckered into preaching the austerity gospel if a recession hits, I think the person on the street will be better off with Labour and their social spending programs. Small business will be better off, because it will be easier for more people to keep spending if they aren’t putting aside every cent to pay for healthcare and the kids tertiary education. Larger businesses do better when small businesses can keep buying their goods and services. So actually everyone will be better off. The recent Auckland Chamber of Commerce comments about the need for government oversight of key infrastructure suggests that the business community know it too.