Avoiding another pledge-card government


Most of us will remember the Helen Clark Labour government elected in 1999.

Like the incoming Labour-led government of Jacinda Ardern the Clark-led government came after nine years of appalling attacks on workers and families on low incomes. Across the country its election was greeted with relief and high expectations for progressive change. People looked to Labour for significant gains for workers and families on low incomes. It failed to deliver.

Clark was elected with a “pledge card” of five promises – as a teacher the one I remember was the promise to end the bulk funding of teacher salaries.

Clark duly implemented the five pledge-card promises in the first six months or so but for the next eight and half years largely just managed the free market for the wealthy. Families on low incomes went backwards until Working for Families was finally introduced in 2004. But even this package left out the most vulnerable families and children – those on benefits – who were discriminated against through being denied the in-work tax credit.

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It’s important to realise also that this package was and is in effect a subsidy on low wages paid by employers. Labour uses the same approach when market rents skyrocketed out of families’ ability to pay. The accommodation supplement (a subsidy on high rents which goes straight into the back pocket of the country’s landlords) was Labour’s answer.

Despite eight years of strong economic growth and budget surpluses, by the time she left parliament Helen Clark had left 175,000 children living below the poverty line.

There are some encouraging signs this Labour-led government will not be a “pledge-card” government.

If it can develop and maintain programmes of change across housing, health, welfare, the environment, employment rights etc then while it will never be a revolutionary government, it could be a transformational government.

In the first instance progressive people must hold the new government to its word.


  1. Once again you are right on the button John. Hopefully NZF and the Greens can pull Labour into a better place than Helen did. I was yet another who was aghast at seeing Cullen and King “helping out”. Here’s hoping Jacinda is the next generation and not Helen mk2

  2. Well John, personally I’d like to give them a chance to work together with our support and encouragement.

    We have all had enough of confrontational negative vibes, and hope for empathy and kindness as promised.

    The repair restore replace or renew list is huge, but the team have begun well.

    How about you come here in the New Year and review progress, instead of acting like we will have to hold their feet to the fire to get anywhere.

    I see your job as talking truth to employers farmers and property owners who have had endless perks and subsidies and now need to pay a social dollar or two.

    • Patricia, Where is ‘come here’ we can all read up and know what is going on without travelling anywhere.

      Minto’s fulltime paid ‘job’ is as a teacher. He does social justice stuff and political commentary for free on the side. I have never thought his job was to talk truth to the lot you have listed. As someone who gave up on Labour in the eighties and who has always been strongly on the left of the divide, I want all of us to keep the buggars honest if that is possible, we can’t just sit there and let them do it, because as you can see letting them ‘do it’ will mean we will be in the TPPA – will that be ‘beginning well’, not in my book!

  3. A two-edged sword the pledge card.
    It was remarkable in that Labour had made its promises and then kept them – which earned them respect across the board (grudgingly by some) – and I think was enough to carry them through the next election but they had become very poll and focus group conscious.
    Paradoxically that caution did for them in the end because they stood for nothing – taking the risks of upsetting the right was a safer option.
    Hopefully, the lessons have been learned.

  4. Good points John but dont forget to include “Rail transport also on your list as I dont see it there in your statement.

    Napier is now “truck gridlocked” to the Port of Napier and on the HB Expressway with 2400 truck movements every 24hrs!!!!!!

    Now URGENTLY we NEED TO RESTORE RAIL AGAIN, as we are chocking to death with traffic air pollution and traffic noise now.

    So we need the rail restored again to lower the harm to us and the environment.

    QUOTE John;
    “If it can develop and maintain programmes of change across housing, health, welfare, the environment, employment rights etc then while it will never be a revolutionary government, it could be a transformational government.”

  5. Sage words , there , my old turnip !

    I was drawn to these words regarding Working for Family’s , – as I’ve always thought there was something seriously wrong with an economy and its labour laws if you have to bloody well subsidize workers wages – that says straight away that some bastard is on the make out of all of this , – and worse , – that the govt is pandering to a small group of unelected , unmandated pressure and lobby groups

    Here’s looking at you , New Zealand Initiative aka the fomer Business Roundtable .

    No , you are right ,… its time this , … or any other govt grew a pair and stood up to these subversive buggers and told them ” WE are the govt , – not YOU!!!” ” YOU do what WE say , – not the other way round ! , – and whats more , – we have the peoples mandate to do so !!!” .


    … ” There are some encouraging signs this Labour-led government will not be a “pledge-card” government ” …

    … ” If it can develop and maintain programmes of change across housing, health, welfare, the environment, employment rights etc then while it will never be a revolutionary government, it could be a transformational government ” …


    This is correct , – we do not necessarily need a ‘ revolution ‘ , – but a ‘transformation’ . We do not expect miracles overnight , – but we DO expect there to be significant changes . And that takes guts, Private Joker.

    This is what we want , – a govt with balls. And honesty. One that calls a spade a spade. No bullshit. Just the blunt truth.

    A govt that stops dealing in euphemisms and cowering to big business. Fuck em. Who the hell do these corporate’s they think they are?


    On the one hand they say ‘if a business cannot compete then it fails and makes way for another business to take its place ‘, – all the while holding out their hands for corporate welfare and ingratiatingly agreeing with being ‘ to big to fail’.

    ‘Too big to fail my bloody merry arse! ‘.

    What a con job that is.

    And guess who pays for it , – that’s right , – you and me!

    I have a hot boiling cauldron of tar on the boil at present , – can any of you furnish the feathers?

    So now , lets see,… no more corporate subsidy’s, no more pandering to big business lies ‘ about higher wages causing job losses’, – lets call these little goblins bluff and raise the wages on them anyways , – lets hear em squawk loudly . And lest lock those wage hikes in with legislation.

    If they want to do business in this country lets let them know loud and clear that this is not the land of the free lunch , and they’ve had their 33 years of living in the sun. They should be so lucky we do not demand 33 years of compensation for the legalized theft they got away with when the 1991 Employment Contracts Act was passed. And prison terms for the way in which the heads of that movement brought it in by deceiving the populace.

    Fuck em.

    Lets demand we have a fair and decent wage. Lets demand that it is written in legislation. Lets demand that things like the scandalous deadly circus such as Pike River never happens again.

    Fuck the bastards!

    New Right Fight – Who are the New Right?

    New Zealand – Somebody Elses Country Full Doco – YouTube
    Video for New Zealand – Somebody Elses Country Full Doco▶ 1:47:20

    New Zealand – In a Land of Plenty Full Doco – YouTube
    Video for New Zealand – In a Land of Plenty Full Doco▶ 1:44:13

    Remember this from the Business Roundtable ? – Take that ya bastards.

    There’s many of us who know who you are.

    And you only still exist because WE are a decent people.

    Unlike YOU.

  6. Agreed, John.

    But all I can do is sit and watch which direction this lot go.

    They’ll either be brilliant or shit (as in Helen’s time).

  7. With professional lobby groups and vested interest holding business groups piling on the pressure now, I can see this government cave in on multiple fronts.

    Just a brief snap shot of ‘news’ on RNZ today and yesterday, more will follow, about the huge challenges the government faces, to deliver:






    Property Institute, landlords, real estate agents, private training institutes, building companies, farmers, developers and so forth, they all have their vested interests, and want the government to cater for them, rather than the interests of the country as a whole for medium to longer term.

    Already now is the Labour led government talking of signing the TPPA, despite of ISD issues remaining uresolved. They are now only talking about stopping foreign home buyers and speculators, and that having to be provided for.

    As of today, it is also a bit unclear, what exactly will be done re the Pike River Mine entry, Andrew Little wants to achieve. Necessary law changes are being talked about, due to health and safety rules stopping a manned entry at this stage.

    There may be fewer foreign students stopped from coming, there will be more concessions towards farmers, builders, and so, who scream out for ‘skilled’ foreign labour, there will be much watering down, I expect.

    In the end we will have something very similar to Helen’s Regime from 1999 to 2008, but it may last only for three years, perhaps six, if the going is good, but I would not put a bet on this.

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