MUST READ: Labour’s Dunedin Conference: Returning To The Scene Of The Crime


Ruth Dyson moves towards the stage of the Dunedin Town Hall after defeating Jim Anderton for the Labour Party Presidency by 572 to 473 votes. Saturday, 3 September 1988.


THE LAST TIME the NZ Labour Party held its conference in Dunedin the stakes could not have been higher. Those for whom the Labour Party represented democratic-socialism were pitted against those for whom the Labour Party represented electoral pragmatism and the fulsome praise of New Zealand’s leading capitalists. In other words, it was a straight-out fight between the Left and the Right.

Tragically, the Right won.

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Had Jim Anderton been elected President of the party (as he would have been, had the Engineers’ Union boss, Rex Jones, cast his 55 votes with the other affiliated unions supporting him) there would have been no NewLabour Party, and New Zealand Labour would become a Corbyn-style left-wing party long before its British namesake.

Anderton’s plan was simple: to have his allies on the Executive and Council of the party oversee the de-selection of the leading exponents of “Rogernomics” (Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, Michael Bassett, Mike Moore) and ensure that their replacements were reliable opponents of the far-right policies these “Rogernomes” had introduced.

Anderton was well aware that de-selection would trigger a full-scale crisis within the party. Richard Prebble had already shown how far the right of the party was prepared to go by legally injuncting the entire NZ Council of the Party from installing a hostile (but duly elected) electorate committee in his Auckland Central seat. At that time (May 1988) it was made clear to the party organisation that Roger Douglas’s supporters in the Labour caucus were willing to split the party rather than see Labour return to its traditional left-wing beliefs.

Anderton’s strategy was to call their bluff – precipitating their defection from the Labour Party. They would, presumably, be followed by their supporters in the Labour Party electorate committees and branches. Such a course of action would, in all likelihood, have caused the government to fall, requiring an early general election. Labour, purged of its free-market cuckoos, would have been free to run as its old self. The Rogernomes’ new party, hamstrung by the First-Past-The-Post electoral system, would have been defeated, and the Labour Left would have come into its inheritance.

The Labour “centrists”, led by Helen Clark, were horrified by the prospect of Labour moving so decisively to the Left. They may have hated Roger Douglas and his allies, but they feared Jim Anderton and his comrades much more. Rather than see the party split to the right, they prevailed upon the Rogernomes and their hard-line supporters in the infamous “Backbone Club” to acquiesce in the election of Ruth Dyson. The centrists hoped that Dyson, a senior party office holder with an honourable left-wing past, would encourage just enough of the rank-and-file to remain loyal to David Lange and his government – thereby ruining Anderton’s plans. Which is exactly what happened.

Did Clark and her centrist allies understand that by ensuring Anderton’s defeat they would be making a split to the left well-nigh inevitable? Almost certainly. But why would that worry them? Their strategic position would be secured by Anderton’s and the Labour Left’s departure. Moreover, the party’s inevitable defeat in 1990 would make it possible for them to appropriate Anderton’s de-selection strategy and make it their own in the run-up to 1993. The hapless Mike Moore could be duped into carrying the can for Labour right up until the moment Clark had the numbers to depose him – which she duly did just weeks after the 1993 General Election.

The Labour Party that last weekend returned to Dunedin, thirty years after the dramatic events of September 1988, is the inheritor of all that ideological and personal treachery. What’s more, it is a party that has never confronted and acknowledged its own wretched complicity in the events that inflicted so much harm upon it back in the 1980s. It came very close in 2012 – at the Annual Conference held at Ellerslie – but, once again, a frightened leadership saw to it that the past remained unexamined. A pity, because as any theologian or psychotherapist will attest: sins unrepented have a nasty habit of repeating themselves.

In this regard, it was certainly fascinating to read Richard Harman’s account of the 2018 Annual Conference in Dunedin. The most notable feature of which he described as the “airbrushing” of Helen Clark out of Labour’s recent history:

“The weekend Labour conference saw the party rule a line under the last 30 or 40 years of its turbulent past and launch what in effect is a new Labour Party.”

Harman argues that “the new ‘progressive’ party is very much the product of the leader, Jacinda Ardern, with a new emphasis on pragmatism and the realities of MMP coalition government.”

The political legacies of Lange, Palmer, Moore and Clark went unacknowledged, says Harman: “[T]hat would have brought back too many horrific memories of the last time the party had a conference in Dunedin in 1988 and nearly ripped itself in two over Rogernomics.”

What Harman doesn’t say is that the only reason such political legerdemain is even possible is because Jacinda Ardern is such an extraordinary electoral asset. Single-handed, she has resurrected Labour’s morale; refilled her coffers, boosted her membership, and filled her activist base with confidence and delight. Her “relentlessly positive” personality is like a powerful spotlight, illuminating brilliantly that little part of Labour’s stage upon which she sits and smiles. Meanwhile, in the darkness her brilliance does so much to render impenetrable, the party leadership does all within its power to render a genuine shift to the left impossible.

It is fitting, in a way, that the decision to free the caucus from its crucial constitutional obligation to uphold the party’s manifesto – its policy platform – was taken in Dunedin. Justified as a practical and necessary concession to the exigencies of MMP, it nevertheless severs the last of the ties that bind the parliamentary wing to the party organisation. The caucus is now officially “Corbyn proof”. Thirty years after stabbing her in the back, the centrists have finally summoned-up the courage to drive the dagger of pragmatism deep into Labour’s democratic-socialist heart.



  1. Trotter’s saying that unfortunately that’s going to be continuing for a while yet. And I think he’s right. It’s not pragmatic to look after the poor. Our culture has become one in which compassion and caring for those less fortunate is punished. This needs to change so that looking after ther poor is regarded as pragmatic.

    • Or you’re into politics at which point your one job and function is to embarrass as many enemies as possible. In this case making it impossible to take money and shelter away from poor people because the economies doing so well no one would have a right to complain.

  2. That was a very interesting Post. Thanks @ CT.
    I think Labours most recent and dubious ‘success’ stems simply from the dull fart of a fact that the criminals who fucked us without the kissing are done. They’ve taken all they can take, they’ve made their billions, they’ve got their little knighthoods, they’ve supplanted traitors and fascists deep into our PSA, they’ve got four foreign owned banks ready and willing to cause terrible financial pain if, and when, they see fit which shuts up the intellectuals who would normally be the ones to start revolutions. So, instead, they cower in their multi million dollar Grey Lynn shanties writing love sonnets to their Big Black Shiny German cars. The real reason Adern is seemingly so comfortably immune to the spite, scheming, and back stabbing ferocity of the neo con, right wing fascists is because they’ve done what they set out to do so there’s certainly no point in drawing attention to themselves by making a fuss about Adern. In fact, I’d go so far as to suggest that all Adern has to do is turn up, smile, go home. She’s safe as houses. All the neo liberals ( criminals ) have to do is shut up and spend our money while they live out their lives in the excessive excesses of comfort enabled them by the sell off of our assets. Seriously? I think it’s that simple.
    Crooks ripped us off and now they’re keeping quiet while hoping they die of old age before any real inquiry.
    Jim Anderton was a good person who wore his heart and mind on his sleeve. The other thing Jim Anderton was, was a sitting duck as a consequence.
    ruth dyson sucks. Bah ahahahah a a! She’s also a plant in my view. And otherwise fucking useless. Is she shacked up with our Governor General? Both invisible parasites sucking on our financial tits. Quietly oiling the waters, is about all they do. Not an unreasonable suspicion when one ponders the cosy little snugglers that helen clarke and fuck face jenny shipley are. Women’s Weakly of 20 August ’18.

    • *****

      Five star award for both one of my favorite bloggers and one of my favorite posters.


      To Chris Trotter, –

      The facilitation of illuminating the historical facts in an easily readable manner of the why’s and how’s , – esp for those who have perhaps a murky memory as to our recent political history,- as to just how we find ourselves in the position we are today.

      This is one of your most brilliant articles Chris,… it stands out to me along with your other articles on Trade Union history, and the article about ‘Those who control the center control the world’. All incredibly articulate , analytical , and all of them enlightening.

      To COUNTRYBOY, –

      Where do I start , mate ?

      So often you have provided a satirical yet poignantly witty voice for all those who have felt robbed , cheated , oppressed and abused by these treacherous and treasonous criminals ( and yes they are criminals ) of the neo liberal cabal over the last thirty five years (and still counting ) .

      I still think you should compile and author a book. It would be a best seller. It would appeal to political students and lay persons alike. If a far right winger like Bob Jones can do it and get away with it , – why not someone who speaks for the other side. Filled with many small chapters, – all with the same outrageously witty and ironic humor, the same calling out of those who did this to us , and the same references to hypocrisy, theft and rort. The material for it would be never ending and much of it it could be sourced right here on TDB.

      The musings of a COUNTRYBOY.


      This was an illuminating article , Chris ,… I never did like Clarke and her incrementalism. I always smelled a rat. To me , – when I was looking at a return to sanity in this country all I saw was a continuance of the same. Platitudes and identity politics were the order of the day in general. Nothing changed. Now we see EXACTLY WHY.


      It was as if these treacherous scum had so penetrated NZ politics and both major party’s and gained a foothold in all major key positions of power there was no hope of turning back. David Cunliffe, – despite his detractors , – was about the ONLY ONE in 34 years who even came close.

      To listen to his opening speech was to listen to an electrifying promise of return to how NZ used to be. Yet it was too much to bear for the neo liberal right in both National and Labour and he was targeted ruthlessly. From Keys side, abuse and belittlement. From the ABC’s in Labours neo liberal caucus, he was undermined and mocked constantly.

      And why?

      Because he was speaking of returning this country to our former social democracy and the wealthy elite couldn’t have had that. Oh no,… Cunliffe was to be smeared , belittled , his policy’s mocked , – and finally, – driven out of parliament as the pressure on him grew too great.

      Many of you have pined and searched frantically around for a NZ ‘Corbyn’. Especially to oppose John Key. Well , – you HAD him ( or one closest to him ) AND YOU BLEW IT.


      Sounds harsh , but the fact is he was the nearest we EVER came in 34 years. Cunliffe was speaking all the key notes on rebuilding social democracy and he was let down despicably. Primarily by the right wing media in fabricating false story’s on Cunliffe, – culminating in John Armstrong’s odious fabrications and political smearing using false claims about a donation that never existed and his calls for Cunliffe’s resignation. But equally as much by Labour’s own ABC’s ( Anyone But Cunliffe’s ) .

      How treacherously odious.

      ALL OF THEM.

      And frankly ?- I am of the opinion now that most people don’t give a damn about politics or other people so long as their nest is feathered cozily. They give lip service to family’s sleeping rough in cars with a ” Oh , how appalling ,- must be something wrong with those types if that’s all they can manage ” ,… and then go on to the next inane news article while eating a nice warm meal in a heated house free from mold while discussing tomorrows board meeting and little Johnny’s junior soccer game on Saturday.

      You know who you are.

      But its not just the complacent, self centered , self absorbed populace at fault , – at least they have an excuse , – they have been so beaten down by neo liberalism , … while others are too young to understand why things are as they are now. All they know is that NZ is a miserable low waged place where goods and even the most basic necessities are exorbitant and they cannot get ahead. Many pine for an out. And many still go to Australia -while others , – just want to go,… anywhere than stay here and languish and rot. As for the former , – they have resigned themselves to joining in the ripping off and standing on others shoulders to get themselves ahead. A far cry from what this country once stood for.

      REAL NZ values of TRUE egalitarianism.


      That was what we once were,… and the Telethons after 1984 and Rogernomic’s were a poor shadow of their former selves. It was like trying to put a plaster on an amputation. In fact , it became a form of self mockery.

      I find it interesting why Jim Anderton was so mocked and attacked. It was good to see PRECISELY WHY. And more importantly , – by whom. By the same despicable neo liberal element still in operation today. And after 35 years they are still there thriving.

      And yet there are organizations and individuals beyond our politicians responsible for the poverty we see today in NZ. Groups like the NZ Initiative ( formerly the Business Round Table ) who infiltrated NZ politics and looted our economy. And yet even they are but a local sub branch of a centralized organization based in ‘London’s square mile’.

      And that organization is called the ‘ Mont Pelerin Society’.

      Of which BOTH Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson were board members of at the time. And who are the Mont Pelerin Society ? They are a far right wing group based in London who have branches in virtually all western nations. They abhor social democracy and egalitarianism and rabidly promote ruthless free market policy’s with ABSOLUTELY NO CONSCIENCE about social consequences. As far as they are concerned, – the peasants can eat grass and sleep in ditches so long as they can squeeze every last bit of wealth from the same. And that also includes selling off of state owned assets. Ever wondered who was behind it all?

      There’s your answer.

      Today , we are concerned about creeping Chinese soft power in NZ, and rightly so. Yet 35 years ago we had the same befuddled confused response ( aided by the news-media , might I add ) to what was going on and just who was behind it all. So now we know. Yet it was far more aggressive , ruthless and overt in its approach than the Chinese, – yet equally as subversive.

      Rather than nation and geopolitics at play , it was a corporate / banking hijacking of our system.

      THESE, … are the true offshore criminals responsible for the decline of NZ’s wealth and civil society as we witness today. Those and their political lackeys in NZ.

      As Winston Peters has said :


      … ” We don’t like extremists, – we believe in laws and policy’s that support the mass majority of New Zealanders , and not just a small elite ,… who may have gotten control of the political system and the financial funding of political party’s , … shows that in this campaign ” …

      – Winston Peters.


      Peters said the sell off of New Zealand interests to overseas buyers was the “continuing story of this country’s decline since the 14th of July, 1984”.


      How prophetic and insightful of Peters that long before we knew… he had an inkling and was giving a hint as to those foreigners who would attempt to buy their way into NZ politics ( as we have seen lately in the National party JLR tapes ) and those shadow groups who donate to keep the system geared towards their interests and their interests alone.

      I find it helpful for others to understand what I am on about by providing this link written by a New Zealander who was a contemporary during those years of subversion. He is none other than Hugh Price ( of Hugh Price Publishers ). I have found no other site that is more to the point, succinct and well documented ( yet quite short ) in exposing this neo liberal cabal for what it was and is.

      In fact at one point , – it demonstrates so clearly that these odious individuals are so far right wing , – that they even sponsored Germany’s Nazi party in the early 20th century. The same party that responsible for the deaths of million s, – many for just being of a different race, mentally ill , or disagreeing with that party.s policy’s. Here is a shocking excerpt from the article…


      Mont Pelerin shared the same “conservative revolution” philosophy as the Nazis. It also shared some of the same personnel. For instance, Max von Thurn und Taxis was a sponsor of von Hayek and his new society.

      Thurn und Taxis’ family had founded another society in southern Germany before World War 1, which was composed entirely of aristocrats, known as the Thule Society. Thule in turn formed a special “workers division” known as the “National Socialist German Workers Party” (NSDAP). The NSDAP, into which an Austrian corporal named Adolf Hitler was recruited, later became better known by the abbreviated version of its name, the “Nazis.”

      In 1989, Max von Thurn und Taxis attended a meeting of his Mont Pelerin Society in Christchurch, New Zealand, to judge, first hand, the results of the “worlds most radical free market revolution.”


      And so ,… in finishing here it is, and I hope that this too, … will shed some enlightenment as to who REALLY pulls the strings in NZ politics and our daily lives.

      New Right Fight – Who are the New Right?

  3. Have they signed their win death warrant?

    There seem to me to be two long term possiblities – A new party rises to the left and Labour ends up in coalition with National or normal people mount a take over of the Labour Party itself – because it can never be truly Corbyn proof if the members don’t want it to be.

    It will happen, it’s just a question of when

    • Nope, Chris Trotter has presented us another gem of his contributions, and it is rather the neoliberals and capitalist elite having been able to dodge the bullets for far too long.

      Sadly Jacinda has become part of the system, that is unless she has not been such one for the whole years of her political career.

      Hence she has joined the ones that have managed to dodge the bullets of the revolutionaries and the suppressed as they have had their bullets (any ammunition of any types and arguments) taken off them as early as 1984/1985.

      The people that work, especially the working poor, and the beneficiaries with empty pockets, they stand there starkers, and all Labour and its allies offer, is a few more cents in the donation box for the poor.

  4. Making the party Corbyn proof does not at the same time make it proof against challenges from the populist right. In fact it makes it more vulnerable to such challenges. Once good will starts wearing thin, all the populist right has to do is refrain from looking snobbishness or condescending and shout variations on “These people don’t give a stuff about you,” a claim to which the suppression of the left lends substance. Moreover, should push come to shove, we do not know whether Jacinda would choose her brand or the NZ Labour Party as the thing to be saved.

  5. Hi Chris, as I’ve commented on your Facebook page, this is incorrect. The Constitution still requires any departure from the Party’s Policy Platform to be put to the Policy Council for approval (and requiring a 2/3 majority of Policy Council). The piece of the constitution that you refer to specifically relates to the coalition and confidence and supply agreements. Under MMP, parties need to be able to negotiate with other parties.

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