“Not The Labour Party We Once Knew.”



THIRTY YEARS AFTER he quit the party in disgust, a man called Mark has re-joined Labour. That’s remarkable. It’s also a tribute to the power of Jacinda Ardern, and to the strength of the hopes she has kindled. People who once wanted nothing more to do with Labour are returning to the fold. The Coalition Government’s failure to deliver on child poverty, affordable housing and a more equitable tax system has not disillusioned them. They are standing firm: willing Jacinda to succeed. Willing to cut her enough slack to secure a second term.

What remains to be seen is whether the Labour Party – thirty years on from 1989 – can fulfil the expectations of Jacinda’s hopeful recruits. After reading “Politik” editor Richard Harman’s report of the party’s annual conference, I’m doubtful. This is how he began:

“For over 30 years the Labour Party could have only dreamed of the conference it has just held. Labour has finally found its happy space; devoid of factional rivalries; bitter personality feuds or fundamental challenges from the party activists to the Parliamentary wing. Delegates who were there for the fights of the 80s or even more recently the Cunliffe challenge in 2012, were left reminiscing about the bad old days. Otherwise, the 400 or so who attended spent the weekend basking in the Whanganui sun and cheering and applauding their leadership with considerable enthusiasm. This was not the Labour Party we once knew.”

Harman has a gift for understatement! The entity he describes isn’t merely a far cry from “the Labour Party we once knew”, it barely qualifies as a political party at all! It certainly has nothing at all in common with the inveterately quarrelsome and rambunctious political movement that, for more than a century, accommodated the overwhelming majority of the New Zealand Left. A progressive party without factional rivalries, personality feuds, or party activists hankering to challenge the Parliamentary wing has lost every defining characteristic of a living left-wing movement.

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Nowhere was this lack of living political sentiment more evident than in the election of Claire Szabo. The 300-400 delegates assembled at Whanganui (a number well down on previous conferences) opted to elect not a party president but a curriculum vitae. Indeed, it would be difficult to come up with a more perfect example of the modern political professional. Szabo’s first interview with the news media struck Radio New Zealand’s Kim Hill as “a string of platitudes”. She was being kind.

The presidential election result did, however, serve to clarify what the Labour Party no longer sees itself as representing. Szabo’s principal challenger for the party presidency was Tane Phillips, a working-class Maori battler and trade union leader from Kawerau. It was people like Phillips who reclaimed every last one of the Maori seats for Labour in 2017. Their highly effective campaign (which drove the Maori Party from Parliament) spoke not to the Maori middle-class, but to the strong working-class communities in which most urban Maori still live. That sort of success would have been enough to get the Secretary of the Pulp & Paper Workers Union elected president in the old Labour Party – but not Jacinda’s new one.

Jacinda’s Labour Party would have had a pink fit if a woman of Szabo’s outstanding professional credentials failed to head-off a burly trade unionist. Certainly, all the bright young things currently polishing their own CVs would struggle to understand what sort of outfit they’d signed up to if degrees from Trinity College, Dublin and Harvard Business School could be outclassed by qualifications from the School of Hard Knocks!

Not that such an upset was ever on the cards. Well, not on the 56 E-Tu Union card votes carried around by the Labour affiliates’ superannuated bag-man, Paul Tollich, anyway. For more than three decades the combined votes of the Affiliates and the Women’s Council has dictated the outcome of annual conference ballots. Maybe, if the blue-collar Pulp & Paper Workers had affiliated themselves to the party, then things could have turned out differently? But, probably not. Mark, returning to Labour after 30 years – and finding “Tolly” still “doing the numbers” – would have known in an instant which horse to put his money on.

Anyway, it’s impossible to argue with the optics. Standing side-by-side, Szabo and Ardern speak eloquently of a party well-and-truly equipped for the third decade of the twenty-first century. The idea that politics might be a struggle between rulers and ruled; bosses and workers; rich and poor: well, that’s just so twentieth century! A modern – nay, a post-modern – political party is there to recruit and indoctrinate the personnel necessary to ensure an “orderly circulation of elites”. It’s slogans aren’t drawn off the placards of union picketers and Climate Strikers; they’re carefully crafted by copy-writers, and then focus-group tested by public relations professionals and advertising executives.

What’s more, Claire Szabo is taking up her presidential role after serving as the CEO of Habitat For Humanity. Which is absolutely perfect! After KiwiBuild was so comprehensively mismanaged by Phil Twyford, the party has not only elected a new president from a thoroughly respectable not-for-profit, but one who has also actually managed to get real “affordable houses” built!

When Mark walked out of the Labour Party in 1989 he was not alone. It was in May of that year that Jim Anderton led between a third and a half of the NZ Labour Party into “NewLabour” – soon to become the Alliance. Except, of course, Anderton’s NewLabour Party wasn’t really “new” at all. The imaginations of those who followed Anderton overflowed with visions of a rebirth of the sort of working-class power that enabled Michael Joseph Savage to transform a Depression-ravaged New Zealand into something the whole world could admire. But, it was not to be. No matter what Labour did to its working-class base, they never deserted the party. Like the loyal draught-horse, Boxer, in George Orwell’s Animal Farm, they soldiered-on. That’s why Anderton’s Alliance is long gone and Labour’s still here.

There’s a lot of dying in an old and trusted brand. While Labour’s leaders can still raise people’s hopes, they’ll always be in with a chance.



  1. Yes Chris; that statement below says there are a lot of ‘potential new blood to lead Labour forwards now’.

    While if you look at the lineup that the opposition, (National) – blood waiting to fill the departing PM’s in 2020 next election is shockingly abysmal by compassion to the labour new blood waiting to fill the retiring MP’s leaving labour in 2020.

    Labour are in a good space now to lead the next government.

    Now they need another two terms to ‘seed out the old guard of National party bureaucrats’ still inhabiting parliamentary offices’ as ‘labour support staff’.

    So once they remove these “disruptions” who inhibit the policies we need to move the country back into the warm light of being a better place to live, we need to support Jacinda and her team as there is no other choice out there now.

    Well said Chris;
    “When Mark walked out of the Labour Party in 1989 he was not alone. It was in May of that year that Jim Anderton led between a third and a half of the NZ Labour Party into “NewLabour” – soon to become the Alliance. Except, of course, Anderton’s NewLabour Party wasn’t really “new” at all.”

    • It is an act of fundamental intellectual dishonesty to truncate a quotation in the way you have done above, Cleangreen. Foolish, too, since everyone who has read the post will see clearly what you have done. If these are the ethics of Labour’s “New Guard”, then the chances of New Zealand being “a better place to live” under their control strike me as slim.

  2. Why is it? That every time I read a dissection of our ‘politics’ I feel as if I’m in prison pondering the merits, or not, of a fly clinging to one of the bars over the window?

    Our politics isn’t ‘politics’ any more, so what’s to discuss?
    Our politics now are more a psychiatry. We’re a pathology of how mentally incapacitated they’ve made us become.

    And while you lean over the working class like a pompous theologian with ‘special knowledge’, you never mention the farmer once.
    They are, after all, where the money comes from. (Much less the food.) Not pulp and paper so much as bread and butter. Can I ask? Which would you eat?
    Someone once said “ When the belly’s full everything else becomes art.”

    How many farmers were at Whanganui? Cheering on Labour? Not one that would admit to it, I’ll bet.
    ( There’s the answer. I’ve just given you The Answer.)

    Why would that be Mr Trotter? From your learned position on such matters? Please explain the almost certain absence of our primary industry people from a Labour Party meeting?The people the hallowed working classes most dearly rely upon. ( And vice versa, it should be written.) Please explain that to your readers and followers?

    Can you explain why it is that Labour and it’s sundry hangers on would have problems pointing to the countryside but could zero in on some flouncy Ponsonby cafe with laser-like precision?

    When the supermarkets are emptying as climate change ravages our food supplies, who, I wonder, dear little fly, will be the first labour politician who will shout “ Fuck! We need one of them farmer-people to make us some food quick!? “
    A reply will be “ There’re none Son. National fucked us all over then sold our spent carcasses to the banksters.”

    Now, isn’t that more interesting reading than a waffle about the intricate meanderings of the little flies that settled briefly upon beautiful Whanganui trying to out pout each other while warbling with their fancy papers and what-not? While OUR homeless people in cars peer through the steamed up windscreen? As OUR wretched shuffle through the streets looking for fag ends in the gutters?
    When I write ‘OUR’ people? I mean they are OUR people. They are US. We are THEM. THEY belong to us and WE belong to them. How can we, then, in all conscience, watch on at the shambles our politics has become. A shambles that can swoop and flounce around Whanganui at a most mind bogglingly, mass psychosis level of denial and perhaps most chillingly, they know that we will stand idly by while they do so AND WE PAY THEM TO DO SO! ? Our politics is now just a pretty shit kind of pop up stage fiasco while the deep-state Big Money Makers make ever more money, and money, in and of itself is no better a sign post to a very, very special kind of mental illness and They have us completely tangled up in their madness.
    They have us believing there’s some kind of magical, perhaps even divine hope that exists within our politic and all we need is faith… when in reality, we turn our eyes away from those of us living in wretched hopelessness. How can we do that to those most wretched? What have we become? What have they done to us?
    And a word on Habitat for Humanity.
    ANY and ALL charities are a deviant blight on democracies in my opinion.
    Our democracies can be defined as being a living organism comprised of ‘US’. All of ‘US’. Us lot.
    No matter what religion, what colour, what pretty, what ugly, what you drive, where you live, what you think…
    We are us and us are we. That is that.
    Not a fucking charity. Certainly NOT a fucking christian charity.
    Claire Szabo is a business person. For a christian charity.
    Do you think she’s going to be encouraging of our Government, which is US by any other name, to immediately build the homeless their homes? Or is she going to be encouraging of her charity to build homes for The Children of her God?
    One might ask; Who then donates ? God him/herself? But He/She God has already donated. Poverty, homelessness and misery. Or the very rich? Does the very rich donate to Habitat for Humanity? Then? What do the very rich get out of that? What quid pro quo?
    Ya don’t get rich by not quid pro quo-ing Son.
    More than thirty years ago, we got convinced to jump out of the humanity aeroplane without political parachutes and we’re getting closer to the hard, hard ground at a terrifying speed as They sit back in their Bentley’s ( Leased. Never bought. For tax reasons, old boy. ) watching us fall.

  3. Well behind the curve of history Chris.

    “Labour has come full circle. It has finally renounced the existence of class politics in Aotearoa and transformed itself into the ‘classless’ populist Liberal Party that is preparing to fuse its program with the Greens and NZFirst who both represent the petty bourgeoisie in NZ. It this government eventuates, it will limit its program to that acceptable to a NZ ruling class facing a global slump in profits and climate crash dooming its future. This can only mean that the working class will again be sacrificed to the holy grail of a property owning democracy about to succumb to imperialist war and near extinction.

    Workers have no alternative but to struggle to take control of their own lives by breaking with the parliamentary farce and the bourgeois nation state, to organise their own independent mass Labour party and a new Red Fed, able to fight the class struggle in the workplace and the streets as part of a global mobilisation of workers, unemployed, poor farmers and oppressed peoples for survival socialism against a dying capitalism and rush to human extinction.”


  4. As a member of the Alliance, labour has been a far second best for me for quite some time. After betraying myself and many others on the TPPA, plus the unaltered continuation of state sanctioned abuse, (winge stand over tactics etc.) your blog describes accurately my opinion of the current party using the Labour name. As i will never be able to hold my nose long enough to vote for the likes of pull up the ladder after me paula and her cronies, i think i will be abstaining from the next vote.



    For years, the warning calls of scientists and experts are getting louder – but the world community reacts lazily. Only recently has this been clarified by the “Emissions Gap Report” of the UN’s environmental program.

    If we therefore rely on the national climate protection plans submitted so far under the Paris Agreement, a temperature increase of 3.2 degrees Celsius is to be expected in this century. This would more than double the 1.5-degree target of the Paris Agreement. The three special reports of the IPCC, which have appeared in the past twelve months, also convey that a change of course is absolutely necessary.

    That means in plain language: We are still on disaster course and quick corrections are needed. Because with further warming it could come through positive feedback to a fatal momentum of the climate development and its consequences, as scientists have warned again in the journal “Nature” last week.

    international climate protection efforts
    Against this background, this year’s UN Climate Change Conference (COP 25) will clarify how international climate protection efforts can be increased as quickly as possible. Since the politicians participating in the conference are the people’s representatives of their countries, the question of the extent to which the people stand behind the efforts to protect the climate is important.

    PM Ardern must attend COPS 25 Climate Change Conference beginning today in Madrid with 125 other countries.
    CEAC is encouraged to see our Government who is caring about climate change and
    are, actively being considerate, inclusive and responsive to citizens’ concerns about our future with the potential effects of Climate change now impacting to our citizens.

    The silence from our NZ media today about the COPS 25 Climate change conference beginning today shocked our organisation with no coverage for this important event at all from breakfast time today.

    As the latest CB political poll yesterday has promoted more reactions from negative comments of government, while others call for climate change CO2 emissions to be lowered even more.

    All this; – while we saw a weird reaction from the National opposition party and others claiming that we need to build more roads.

    Why more roads?

    Our response to the call for more roads; – is this;
    We need instead;

    • To use less road transport, – and less air transport.
    • We now need to switch to using shipping and rail to move us and our freight around our country.

    This must be stated over and over again to change the mindset of the oil companies and their pundits, who only promote use of more road transport and air passenger service only for increasing profits for oil companies from increased oil use, which will make our future weather worse.

    We will benefit from increased collusion with the 125 countries who are attending the COPS 125 Conference now beginning today in Madrid Spain.


  6. “While Labour’s leaders can still raise people’s hopes, they’ll always be in with a chance.”

    Not in this neck of the woods. After long years as a Labour voter, and as a result of this current term, I’m finally done with them. I won’t be voting for them at the next election. Possibly never again.

  7. I’m prepared to give Szabo a bit of latitude Chris, given the “old school ” Labour Male ex president ‘s demise.

  8. I’ve been writing the Labour Party off for a while now but at some point turning their nose up at working class people is surely going to be their undoing. I can’t imagine the kids in the school strikes following a party that so steadfastly fails to do what they know is required and I don’t know any working class people who would be comfortable with them either. In fact the ones I know are very much against them. Surely it’s just a matter of time before the political order is turned over in this country.

  9. With Labour in the midst of reconfiguring the Party. I guess they had better get down to Levenes and get them to knock up pot of paint called, Woke White” and drop the Red!

  10. In some ways, National better represent the lower income workers than Labour.
    Labour are still (slightly) better than National in terms of inequality but are an anathema to the working class with their psychotic woke identity politics which sees feminists banned from Universities for failing to recognize men with mental disorders as women.

  11. “The presidential election result did, however, serve to clarify what the Labour Party no longer sees itself as representing. Szabo’s principal challenger for the party presidency was Tane Phillips, a working-class Maori battler and trade union leader from Kawerau. ”

    With a situation where much production is now done offshore, and with a situation where more and more of the ‘workers’ in various service industries, in manufacturing, in technical and also farm and horticulture industries are simply relatively low paid immigrants, who are only learning to ‘identify’ with living in NZ Aotearoa, it is not surprising that we no longer have a true workers’ party.

    The urban middle class that still manages or does well, with its leading professionals in whatever area, still mostly being white ‘New Zealanders’, they now identify in parties such as National or National Light (aka ‘Lifestyle Labour’, with mostly tertiary educated liberal political careerists).

    The rest vote for parties that are an array of mere ‘fringe parties’, some with environmental concerns, some with a love for woke-ness, some with libertarian, radical liberal or conservative views, and a few aged ones cling to a fake and opportunistic sell out NZ First party.

  12. “A modern – nay, a post-modern – political party is there to recruit and indoctrinate the personnel necessary to ensure an “orderly circulation of elites”. It’s slogans aren’t drawn off the placards of union picketers and Climate Strikers; they’re carefully crafted by copy-writers, and then focus-group tested by public relations professionals and advertising executives.”

    In short, a party now that does not know where its roots were!

    Modern day urban liberal members of a party who do not know where the food they eat and the clothes they wear, and where the cars, trains or ferries they drive or ride, come from, and who made them.

    That is a party digging its own grave, as in future the ones that make and do things that we all need, they will grow tired of the elites that use and exploit them, and that constantly lie to them, talking about change, but bringing NO real change.

    But then again, by the time they may wake up and want to rise, they are caught up in an IT and big brother style controlled societal system, that watches and controls them 24/7. Any ‘dissent’ will be categorised as being ‘discriminatory’, ‘sexist’, ‘violent’, ‘terrorist’, ‘subversive’, criminal and so forth, needing them to be put into an indoctrination camp to ‘reform’ and become ‘good citizens’, just as the new Chinese overlords in Beijing do already in their immediate realm of power.

  13. Time to face facts Chris – there is no left in NZ. I know the liberals decry any time some says this, but like all liberals (in the classical economic sense) they just blowing smoke up their own asses.

    The fact is, a left who understand, and have political economy at the fore – are not anywhere near power in the west. Not to say people are not trying, but the reality is to anyone who understands political economy, the right have their claws in so deep controlling society, a left can not ever organise.

    It is in my opinion it’s just silly to say left and right to cover political parties in the west – all political parties in the west are economically far right wing. Nothing, not a damn thing is going to stop this – western people are at this point are to cowardly, scared, and/or enthralled with technology. The trend is only to push society economically further to the right. And the labour party conference this last weekend, did nothing but confirm that for me.

  14. 2020 is truly Labour’s year of delivery or they will die in the whole of failure just like alliance/social credit/TOP/United future/ACT and all the others before them.

    2020 is Labour’s year to win or loose. – time will tell.

  15. So proud to have never voted for ‘Labour’ , which I would have if Muldoon hadn’t called an early election. The party my great grandfather fought for all his life, only seeing them in govt when he was 70, when they refused to put him in the upper house because he was too rude in speech — a sign of where we would end up: the rich deciding things again.

    Knowing this from my own family, fierceness and furiosity is vital to the people’s cause. Grant and Jessica?

  16. Re: Berts old school labour male demise what we are talking about is a professor of economics if you have any
    understanding of left wing politics where left wing parties becomes woefully unstuck is usually there inability to understand the intricacies of the economic system there are few left wing economists.The removal of Nigel Howarth will leave Labour economically rudderless and will lead to there rapid demise the ease at which this was achieved must be frightening to those who believe in any form of democracy.

  17. The old school white male was a professor of economics the reason most left wing parties fail is there inability to understand the intricacies of economics the removal of Nigel Howarth as president has just dealt Labour and consequently the country a massive blow.

    • Just because some are economically illiterate does not mean that they give up. There’s still trade, David Parker is the best at that. Wilkie Jackson is the best at Employment. If you want to get good at Trade and Employment then the logic goes well suck at economics.

      On the economy and I know you didn’t mention the Christchurch Attack and Earthquakes but when society is threatened with guns anxieties become intense and the fear that things are spinning out of control becomes intense, and one refuge people can find and there are several. Some people run away to rural areas, some people use drugs, some people blame the Labour Party, it’s the medias job to make The Labour Party look as bad as possible and National the best to the public and all that. But there is another kind of escape which is to rediscover some group and to claim that you are apart of a group and the group is apart of you. And by solidarity with one group coupled with hostility towards another group…, people will feel safer and protected.

      In New Zealand rising house prices is crushing the kiwi dream. Home ownership is at its lowest and the last taste of the middle class is being taken away and people are correctly frightened. This is the opportunity right wingers are looking for. That’s the leaver they are clutching at. So people are suffering not because capitalism is declining (which is the truth) no that argument will not do. So this group over here is being hurt for the benefit of this community over there and if you get together as a group you kind of find a saviour and a hero and that is Trumpism.

      Somebody has to be sacrificed, you just don’t want that person to be you. But the Symbolism of a woman galvanised the left and I’ll get to economics because the left was told hey look over there, they are going to give it to those other people at your expense and I, will protect you, and sock it to them (National) and that is our choice.

      In New Zealand we never had an empire so our decline isn’t as obvious as America’s or even the Decline of The Great British Empire. The English have been struggling for along time to coup with their decline. The British Empire had wonderful songs like Britannia Rules the waves and so proud and victory! and now England is hurtling back to what they once were: cold, damp, offshore island of Europe. That’s what they are and that’s where New Zealand is headed towards: cold, damp off shore island of Australia.

      The marijuana referendum is a way of saying that National are sticking it to you. So now we have to have New Zealand for kiwis and we have to stick all those other people on UN waiting lists and there’s welfaring and its all very old. It’s not just the other, all the old dangers can be revived, dark skinned peoples, white peoples, rich peoples, poor peoples, foreign peoples, Australians and off course fascism. It’s just a convenient handbag for economic illiteracy because these are symptoms of a sick system. And also saying economic illiteracy is also a symptom not a solution.

      The solution of course can not be what we are getting now which is appeals to declearstions. Appeal and declare if you want but you’re not dealing with the system. The system does what it is organised to do. Capitalism has abandoned New Zealand and it took of to China and India where there is way more profit. Capitalism kiwi style is done. It’s over. Dead. Chinese workers are much cheaper to hire and it’s the fastest growing market for output in the world. For a capitalist to no longer take advantage of cheap Chinese labour or the fastest growing economy in the world is a capitalism that hasn’t read the ABC’s of capitalism.

      So capitalism is gone. Capitalism is leaving New Zealand, European Union and leaving the United States of America. So I’m saying capitalism is rising over there and here, it’s in decline. There are two things happening 1) denial and kiwis are fantastic at denial, we’ve been doing it to Māori for hundreds of years. And I get it given the ideas non-Maoris are given about European superiority over such along, long time that this becomes very, very difficult.

      And the second thing is people start looking for scapegoats and things and people to blame and look. The National Party of Aotearoa New Zealand are bloody hopeless. There is nothing there. What National is doing and this is important because as the system goes down they will cry Everyman for himself, everything is falling apart and the people in the best position to hold on to what they’ve got are the people at the top and the difficulties of decline are pushed down the social ladder onto you. That’s the way the cockies crumble.

  18. Grand man. You enthuse me, but then I’m a 53 year old, don’t matter.

    What is it, to hold 2 opposing ideas in your head — Jacinda Ardern. Talking for the neediest but not doing for them. Talking about Murupara but not going there. But without that … well, shit, she wouldn’t have been elected. Massive sigh.

    I’ve been wondering why you haven’t been backing up Hickey’s call for spending for the people? I feel this is the last push of old New Zealanders, despite 1980s ‘trust the rich’ now being proved entirely bankrupt. Views and reality make the future. These dusty old impostures who rule us despite their bankruptcy ( includes Labour in my view) need pushing off, just as they did in the 30s.

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