MUST READ: Wake Up Call


IT WAS SUCH a comforting dream. The idea that Jacinda Ardern had somehow inspired a new and vigorously hybrid political faith contained so much hope. That NZ First, a wholesome manifestation of New Zealand’s best conservative traditions, could reliably anchor a Labour-Green government determined to reanimate the reformist traditions of “King Dick” Seddon and Mickey Savage. As if, by some special historical dispensation, Jacinda and the rest of us – the “democratic public” of New Zealand – could enjoy the best of both worlds.

And then I woke up.

NZ First, as presented to the electorate by its redoubtable leader, Winston Peters, is, indeed, the embodiment of the best of this country’s conservative traditions. We are encouraged to believe that it will always be fiercely protective of New Zealand’s British inheritance: Representative Democracy and the Rule of Law. Equally, however, NZ First declares its unwavering allegiance to the achievements of New Zealanders themselves: the creation of a robust capitalist economy and, out of the wreckage of the Great Depression, a just and caring society.

If only.

Behind Peters’ masterfully patriotic sales-pitch, it would seem that there has always existed a hidden but unbreakable connection to a very different New Zealand. This New Zealand, the one in which NZ First conducts its practical political business, is the New Zealand of the quid pro quo. A nation of mutual back-scratchers. A country whose heraldic device depicts a golden coin encompassed by two open palms. A deeply corrupt New Zealand, which endures only because New Zealanders have trained themselves not to recognise corruption – even when it’s staring them in the face. (Which is, of course, why we’re known as the least corrupt nation on earth – because, so great is our discipline, that we report less corruption than any other nation on earth!)

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That he has been able to operate so successfully and for so long in this other New Zealand strongly suggests that Peters is a politician without illusions. Over a parliamentary career spanning more than 40 years, he has come to see more clearly than most of his colleagues how the country really works. He understands that New Zealand capitalism has never been strong enough to function effectively without massive state support. That this dependence inevitably gave rise to a political culture of unabashed favour-seeking, cronyism and special pleading. That rampant corruption flourished in New Zealand because the country’s trade unions were willing to look the other way in return for state protection, and because its news media understood, without having to be told, what could be reported, and what could not. (Peters’ furious outbursts against the news media have generally been triggered by the latter’s refusal to stick to the agreed script in relation to himself and his party.)

Peters’ defection from National and his subsequent creation of NZ First was prompted by the massive disruption of “old” New Zealand’s deeply ingrained (if unacknowledged) culture of corruption by the neoliberal economic and social reforms of the 1980s and 90s. Peters was enraged by what he correctly perceived to be the cynical denunciation and deliberate destruction of the protected national economy by the local shills for global, free-market capitalism. He hated the way these “Quislings” sold their country off to the highest foreign bidder. His exposure of Neoliberalism’s new rules of engagement via the “Winebox Scandal” was motivated primarily by his determination to demonstrate the deeply compromised character of the new regime and its defenders – and they have never forgiven him for it.

The fatal flaw in Peters’ thinking – and therefore in the political conduct of NZ First – is that he has always sought to rescue his country’s fortunes by restoring the status quo ante. This meant re-creating a state-supported economy made up of importunate capitalist clients ready to offer Cabinet Ministers (and/or their parties) whatever it took to secure – and keep – their indispensable political patronage.

Peters and his colleagues perfected the art of appearing to be the foes of neoliberal capitalism while keeping hidden from the electorate their determination to restore the crony capitalism of the pre-Rogernomics era. His intention was always to attract the support of sufficient National Party and Labour Party politicians to secure his own, and his party’s, re-entry to the places where the deals – and the prices of the deals – were struck. He was convinced that New Zealand’s neoliberal revolution, like all revolutions, would ultimately prove unable to resist the tendency of fundamental economic and political realities to reassert themselves.

The fundamental fact remains: New Zealand capitalism cannot prosper without the active support of New Zealand’s politicians. Peters and NZ First have always been determined to prosper from that fact.

But, if NZ First sought to prosper from the re-establishment of crony capitalism, Labour and the Greens could hardly do so – not without fatally compromising their “transformative” ambitions. No matter how imminent a three-part rendition of the Hallelujah Song might appear, Jacinda’s broad new political faith has always been more apparent than real. The longer the present coalition government endures, the more opportunities for clientelism to become entrenched will present themselves. NZ First has never made a conspicuous display of resisting the temptation to exact a price for making things happen, or not happen. And with every stalled initiative and thwarted policy commitment, the Labour leader’s broad political faith takes on more and more of the appearance of a tawdry religious huckster’s travelling road-show.

Jacinda’s white vestments may look impressive on the cover of the international edition of Time magazine, but every day Labour’s relationship with Winston Peters and NZ First continues, her ability to go on wearing them back home in New Zealand – without exciting derision – diminishes.

It is time for the Prime Minister to wake up.



  1. Chris Trotter,

    Yet another piece from you about Peters and Ardern.

    You do realize there is another Party in desperately need of attention instead of the usual free pass?

      • The Gweens will be on Wharepaku duty post 2020’s general election. They’ll be taking over from the Maori Party.

      • Brilliant dissertation @ Chris Trotter.
        Almost dead on the money.
        Except that bit where peters seemingly boldly ventured into the flailing maelstrom of panicking crooks that was the wine box inquiry to fight it out for us.
        When really? Did he simply pull a Prof Stanley Milgram on that one.
        ( Look up Prof Stanley Milgram.)
        You write; [peters]…
        “…was motivated primarily by his determination to demonstrate the deeply compromised character of the new regime and its defenders – and they have never forgiven him for it….”
        They’ve never forgiven him for it publicly because the wine box inquiry was a scam and so would have been any lack of forgiveness.
        We clearly still live with the fiction that winnie bravely went in [there] barking like a chicken but up an entirely different forest on another land, on a different planet in a solar system in a parallel universe to give the impression that shit was going down when it wasn’t and the riche remain so while we have absurd poverty in a rich country and the irony that just keeps giving is that those most at risk from such hideous swindlings are the colonised Maori who were fucking here first. Boys ? Tut tut! No respect!
        People thought they were seeing more, when, in reality, they were shown less and less until? Nothing to see here. Move along.
        It’s my opinion that winston peters is the axel on the dung cart that is our camouflaged economy.
        Without him, the wheels on the swindles might have fallen off long ago.
        But!? Lets remember? No one could have seen the extraordinary rise of The Internet ! Now? The rats are finding less and less woodpiles to hid within.
        The internet, like the Spanish Inquisition, no one saw it coming.
        The equally extraordinary Monty Python’s Flying Circus.
        Trouble down’t mine.
        The other subject you touched upon was that of the need for ‘government spending’.
        What? You mean like revenue earned from primary exports? Like funds from agrarian product once exported? Like the money from such historic ventures which built our cities and the infrastructure that connects them like roads, bridging and rail?
        Then, hospitals, universities and schools?
        I see.
        Nothing to see there either aye boys?
        Just what was little muldoon doing in Switzerland? How is it that we countenance kiwi -as billionaires as easily as we walk past the homeless and unloved?
        Adern is either shitting bricks right now and wonder just what the fuck to do with the growing evidence that suggests our wondrous country is merely a dirty little swamp full of crocodiles in suits OR? She’s just another pretty criminal politician enjoying the luxury of self-legitimised immunity ?

    • Well I’m a Jacindafan too @Jacindafan. It doesn’t mean I’m going to agree with her on every step she takes and worship the ground she walks on.
      I also fully appreciate she’s got a hell of a lot of unpicking to to, and Rome wasn’t built in a day. It’s also possible she’s had a lot of dead wood to drag along with her, as well as a few living in their comfy little bubbles that don’t fully appreciate how bad things are for a lot of people.
      As I posted earlier this morning elsewhere on this site:
      “It’s seriously becoming harder to know who to vote for!
      – Breadcrumbs for beneficiaries
      – No real commitment to fixing Public Service broadcasting (we apparently need a bloody PWC report ffs!)
      – Tinkering over immigration and worker exploitation – even to the extent that the simplest things aren’t being done in the interim
      – No commitment to fixing our public service which has gone seriously astray
      – corporate welfare over public welfare
      After a lifetime, as things stand I just can’t do Labour anymore until I see some signs of real transformation BEFORE the next election. But … what’s the alternative?”
      There is another alternative I ‘spose. Get a script for a medicinal cure-all – a generic even and put on loop.
      And if I did that, I won’t be wondering by year’s end how it came to pass that Labour lost the election.

      • Well I would prefer lefties be brutally honest and savage of there criticisms and assessments of the left rather than rat behaviour by swing voting National or ACT.

        • I’ll abstain before I ever vote gNat or ACT – which right about now is a probability – along with a ticket to somewhere at the base of the Himalayas.
          (Just so long as I can watch from afar – which I have done in the recent past)
          Funny as fuck that I hear Winnie and Parker are now off on a grovelling jaunt, whilst all the while not doing anything substantive about the very people they’ve been ripping off – well apparently not until December 2020 – Like cheese – good things take time apparently)

  2. Winston Peters has only survived this long in politics because of New Zealand’s very strict and expensive to defend defamation laws.

    I have heard some very ugly rumours coming out of the Beehive about the NZF Foundation. Only rumours, so far. White collar crime usually needs a whistle-blower.

  3. Chris – I’m interested in your views on *why* Ardern found herself in this position. Did she let it happen, or was she powerless to stop it?

    She is clearly one of those rare political beings like Key and Clark who can inspire a lot of faith from New Zealanders. She has a lot of talent in some areas, but seems to be at a loss here with Winston/NZF. Was she simply out-foxed, or is she acting in a mistaken sense of ‘good faith’?

    • She’s in this position because she was prepared to pay a higher price than National was for Winston’s support in Parliament.

      • Was there ever actually any market competition though? Winston was never going with the Nats. I’m more surprised that since then she hasnt been able to better bend NZF to her will

        • “Bever going with National ”

          Would someone go with someone who has a knife thrust into their back?
          Or as English kept saying “we need to cut out the middleman ”
          You see this is the problem, most, particularly the right won’t take personal responsibility for both Key and now Bridges, leaving Peter’s with no other option. But then narcissists behave like that.

          • “Would someone go with someone who has a knife thrust into their back?”

            Well, thats the point (I cant quite grasp your latter part) – it was always going to be Labour. We know that with hindsight sure, but so does Ardern. Why is she still not putting him in his place? I dont get it. She really seemed like a political talent with few peers. Clark and Key would have taken control. Not Bridges, he’s not of their ilk

            • Sorry AJ I wasn’t clear was I . National can only blame themselves, they tried to rid themselves of Winston, Key saying he would never form a government with him, then English tried to get rid of the middleman (Peters). The audacity of National and then National supporters to say Peter’s shafted/betrayed National was incredulous. At no stage did National take blame, it was the fault of Peter’s.Bullshit of the highest order.

              • Fair enough but thats not really addressing the question. Sure, National were to blame, sure, Winston was never going with them. We know that in hindsight, Ardern will too, so why isnt she using that to be more assertive with NZF?

                Is it perhaps because Labour think they need NZF back in parliament, and while that is at risk now, her standing Winston down temporarily, for example, would make it worse?

                She’s an impressive politician, I’m just trying to understand the reasons for what looks like really bad political management at the moment.

        • In my opinion Winston shafted National in the negotiations and has shafted labour after the election.MMP as was voted for. Let’s everyone take part but nothing gets done because small doesn’t moderate but nobbles large. Pathetic. Could work without a cunning fuck like Winston but so far this country hasn’t had a chance. The Nats have worked out that the same would happen to them if Winston flipped and went with them. He has to go. Has labour got the guts.

          • National shafted Peter’s well before the election. If Peter’s had gone with National they wouldn’t have lasted a year.

  4. Sadly I think it is too late now. Nine months to the election and the die is cast. Labour have neither delivered or transformed. NZ First have delivered for their voters and blocked Labour from delivering. The Left are a shambles and the Right are without scruples or moral compass are learning from the despicable but successful tactics used overseas and are going to offer their voters a real ‘choice’. God I hope I’m wrong.

          • Well that’s questionable. They probably want them, they’re just too complacent, or medicated (legal or otherwise), or apathetic (pick your excuse) to demand them.
            I’m picking things are going to have to get worse before they get better, and my fear is that the longer transformational reform doesn’t happen, the more likely it’ll come violently – if and when it does come.

        • Exactly. They know that their voters don’t want reforms and are promising to undo the few reforms Labour and the Greens have managed to achieve.

  5. Show me a party that’s Socialist, genuinely on the left (not neo liberal) and I’ll happily vote for them. That said in my eyes as an old school lefty and many others I might add, that particular breed of creature is extinct in NZ. There are still Socialist nations out there but we sold out back in the 80’s and since then things have gone from bad to worse. Doesn’t matter who is in aligned with who, its all the same.

  6. Chris,

    I commend your – perspicacity.

    I concur with your comment:
    “A deeply corrupt New Zealand, which endures only because New Zealanders have trained themselves not to recognise corruption – even when it’s staring them in the face.”

    As Plato said: We can easily forgive a child who is afraid of the dark; the real tragedy of life is when men are afraid of the light.

    Addendum: Pardon my partial plagiary of Roger Miller:
    “Politics swings like a pendulum do.”

    • Then you’d probably concur with the idea that the only difference between corruption in the “3rd World” (pardon me, but how else to define it), is that corruption in the ‘lil ‘ole colony of NuZull that punches above its weight is covert rather than overt.
      I reckon overt corruption is slightly more honest.
      I’d even go as far as to say I wouldn’t mind flicking a lowly NZTA ‘official’ a tenner or a half doz beersies to process my application for resuming a passenger endorsement on a driver’s licence (in this space, going forward). Cheap at the price eh?
      I’d even pay more if I could find a way of stopping the pretense over it all. It’s becoming a bit tedious

      • Depends what effective governance is. The US federal government does very questionable things in the name of the people of The United States with very little direct accountability, but if New Zealand wasn’t comically corrupt it would not have been able to become a Fveyes Nation.

        People in unions still tend to give an amazing amount of fucks over corruption so they tend to try and make the problem appear much, much worst than it actually is. Union founders created a system of greasing the palms that honestly works to some extent, the minority are capable of preventing the majority from acting too rashly instead of being steamrolled by simply lacking the 50%+1, there are regular debates on if buying another person dinner can count as corruption, etc.

        Off the top of my head New Zealand is much more corrupt than the United States are because states that are openly corrupt like the Philippines (sorry), Brazil, China, Russian! India, Italy… the list of states where corruption exists openly and it can be demonstrated that the corruption actually impedes the well-being of the people in whose name they act on a massive scale and yet remains able to act at about the same level or greater than the nation-state equivalent of a functional alcoholic goes on and on and on…

        And the scary thing is that in the world of governance, there are more functional alcoholics than there are sober people, and then there are plenty of governments that are not even functional.

        • 🙂
          “And the scary thing is that in the world of governance, there are more functional alcoholics than there are sober people, and then there are plenty of governments that are not even functional.”

          Moons ago, I lost count of the number of times I was asked (invited with various temptations) to meet offsite in order for suppliers to gain ‘preferred supplier’ status.
          Then there was always the old ‘air points’ scam where one could always put air travel on a personal credit card and then claim it back as an expense, enabling accrued points for personal use. (Usually reserved for the elite of course, rather than the worker-bees).

          All a question of degree I guess, but what amuses me is seeing the elite (usually the generic managers et al) try and adopt the moral high ground as they feed at the trough whilst closely monitoring the supplies in the stationary cupboard.

  7. More info on what was declared, per year, being party donations.

    Let us reflect, have Labour always been that ‘independent’ from donors and their expectations? I think not.

  8. So what do you want her to do Chris? Call a snap election? Come out onto the steps of Parliament wailing and on her knees, crying out that she’s made a dreadful mistake and can she have a do-over??

    @Ada “She’s in this position because she was prepared to pay a higher price than National was for Winston’s support in Parliament.” I call BS on that. The Natz were bending over backwards to regain power. Winston merely led them on a merry little dance, before telling the very politicians who had been smearing him in the election campaign to go to hell.

    • Exactly Jase, entirely the blame is at Key,English and now Bridges feet. If you continue to do the same thing all of the time well, that’s just arrogance . So rather than take responsibility for that it is much easier to attack your opponent.

    • Jase,

      Agree. We’ve been hearing from the Nats for well over 2 years now how they weren’t prepared to bend over to accommodate NZF as much as Labour. Absolute bullshit. Most of those Nats would have sold their children to regain power. Anyone remember Steven Joyce come out of the last meeting with NZF giving the big double thumbs up to the camera exactly as if NZF had given them the nod.

      Fact is, Jase is exactly right. Anyone who had been shat on by the Nats as much as Winston Peters was never going to team up with the “enemy” and have to work with very people he was later taking to court. If Peters had come out on day 1 and told everyone he was going to side with Labour, he would have lost 95% of his bargaining power with Labour. As always, WP played his hand very well. This is one of the reasons I also call BS when I hear anonymous people state they voted NZF at the last election but won’t for them in 2020. that will be just more angry Nats attempting to add some weight to their bleating.

      Ardern does have a lot of power with NZF. She used that to chop Shane Jones off at the knees when he had the audacity to tell Indians that arranged marriages don’t have the same value as traditional western marriages in NZ and are routinely used to commit immigration fraud. If the Indians don’t like that the airport is that way ——> Jones received widespread support for his stance but Ardern went right over the top of him and caved in to the Indian threats.

    • Labour was prepared to agree to the $3 billion PGF. National wasn’t.

      Who knows what else is in the secret Coalition Agreement?

          • The Provincial Growth Fund. Investing in our country, to help restore long neglected infrastructure & try to stimulate employment in the regions where neoliberal capitalism has utterly destroyed small town New Zealand and failed the people.
            Yeah, I can see where a Nat would have a problem with that.

            And Slimin’ has already acknowledged there’s a surplus, so it’s not like there’s an imaginary $11billion hole being dug to fund it either.

      • Ada you are correct National weren’t prepared to, because when you govern as a dictatorship you only worry about yourself. That is Nationals problem they have yet to grasp MMP .

  9. So do the ‘numbers’ matter? Because if they did, Labour are in the poo. Without NZF and/or the Gweens. Its haere ra!
    The Gweens arent doing what they normally do before an election, that is overpoll by 5%+. Their performance over the past (nearly) 3 years is shite. They aint coming back after the 19 September.

    Labour cant afford to giveaway any seats to either of them or can afford to step aside to allow either party to try to win an electorate seat.

    Oh what a conundrum?

  10. Don’t say you weren’t warned at the time this coalition was formed. Ardern was ill advised to get involved with the guy – his reputation for divisiveness preceded him.

    But it was more than just NZF.

    At the time Ardern was simply too young and too inexperienced for the job. Not only had she never held a ministerial warrant, she had zero real work experience! To be propelled from the opposition back bench to the PMs role within a few weeks was an unreasonably tall order. On top of that she didn’t have many safe pairs of hands in her cabinet back her up. The policies that got her elected where little more than naive little fantasies – as shown by her government’s inability to implement any of them.

    • Someone should have warned the Maori party and United Future about Key as he was the death knell of those parties.

    • Just think, that if she had said no to Winston and he went with National, then come September she would probably be assured for the next 9 years. Now she’s scratching to make 3

      She got played big time, and still is

      • BG
        You’re right. I think her doing this coalition deal was not in her, or her party’s long term interests. Two basic issues:

        Signing a contract with an untrustworthy person will never end well, no matter how hard you try. The treacherous little shit would always game the system somehow.

        I don’t think Arden has much capacity for introspection. Had she taken a hard look at her own lack of experience, the general competency of her team and the level of development of their policies she would have bowed out and given English the ‘hospital pass’ of having to deal with Peters. Then spent three years reviewing and detailing to their policies, so they would be ready for government this year.

        But I suppose becoming PM was a big carrot to refuse.

        • English was a dinosaur and the Maori party died for trusting Key. Arderns experience on the international stage dismisses your perception of her.

        • “But I suppose becoming PM was a big carrot to refuse.”-

          If you’re not fighting to become Prime Minister then you’re gutless.

    • Well the PM of Fiji has said the world needs more leaders like Ardern. He is of course correct. Your labels of Ardern are uneducated and have no evidence, only what you think Andrew and how it fits your narrative. The policies in general are working and NZ globally is doing well. NZ has not crashed and burned like many doomsday merchants predicted. Ardern was always our future, people like English,Smith,Joyce,Brownlee etc are dinosaurs and Peter’s

  11. “Peters and his colleagues perfected the art of appearing to be the foes of neoliberal capitalism while keeping hidden from the electorate their determination to restore the crony capitalism of the pre-Rogernomics era.”
    Absolutely spot on Chris.
    That is why so many people believed that Winston Peters and NZ First were genuine progressives, even though they did not look nor act like progressives. Their drop in the polls may reflect the disappointment of their supporters who hoped they were voting for someone outside the square, but who proved he wasn’t.
    Winston is a Muldoonist. Muldoon was a traditionalist, not a progressive and Winston is the same.
    NZ First is not a progressive party, they are conservative and they represent the muddled values of old-fashioned capitalism. I think it is because their key supporters are elderly, white, middle-class capitalists who distrust the international corporate neo-liberalistic capitalism of today, but have no room for any progressive policies that threaten to undermine their wealth and status – the classic centre party.

  12. Ah, the good old New Zealand way of the quid pro quo. Yes Mr Convention Centre, would you like a cob of corn with that or “15,000 more slot machines?”

  13. From September i will not have the right too complain.

    I am not voting for any of the parties in parliament.

    None of them act in my interests or for those who are poverty stricken and trying too survive.

    Their main purpose despite all the grand slogans and photo opportunities is too uphold the neoliberal vice that hold so many people back and concentrate all the wealth in the hands of a few from what are their human rights to a decent life even after retirement.

    This country is not mine despite being be born here, living and working here all my life.

    It belongs too the rich and New Zealand companies who donate money to influence the law too their advantage and the politicians who solicit favours and influence.

    The last two years have made me even more cynical of any hope that it will ever be any different.

    It will make no difference if it is National , Labour and their hang ons they all serve one master.

    The status quo.

  14. This is supposedly a left wing blog site. The options on September 19th are to vote National or labour/greens. There has been progress in under the latter and we have on that side a leader who has shown outstanding leadership when the country needed it. Wages under this govt have grown, teachers and nurses have been given wage in creases they were happy to accept. More social housing has been built, their has been a cancer agency established with funding for some new cancer drugs approved (btw NZ from 2011 – 2017 had the lowest number of new drugs approved out of 20 Oecd countries). Schools and hospitals are being fixed and a new hospital in Dunedin finally underway, plus at least two new hospital units. Billons given to mental health a pilot set up for free lunch in schools. It seems the rates of children in poverty has been reduced, with more to come when the working for families kicks in. National sold off state houses, told us there wasn’t a housing crisis, kept wages low and were involved in many dirty political tricks such as documented in dirty politics, they lied about things like the dong Liu bottle of wine and donations and then there was the 11billon dollar fiscal hole.

    So the choice is very clear. Wake up people on the left. There is a narrative starting that National will win the election. Fight back. Because some change is far better than what National will do and there isn’t a genuine socialist party who can win.

  15. I sent off a good comment earlier in the day, but the censor dumped it, as it questioned the enthusiasm by TDB authors for Winston after election 2017.

    • No censorship required in my case, Marc!

      I was one of those at TDB who bought the whole NZ First bill-of-goods.

      I really did think that Winston had heard the Hallelujah Song (i.e. the call for transformative, anti-capitalist change) and was willing to help Jacinda sing it.

      Silly me.

      • We do all err at some stage in our lives. Just move ahead with your new insight and watch out for new traps along the way.

  16. I do think you’re right, Mr Trotter, about NZ being far, far, far more corrupt than it gives itself press for. Local councils, hospital boards, fake iwi, government departments, the list is endless really, and the few that challenge the status quo are publicly lynched, defamed, ridiculed and persecuted into oblivion. Only by standing together and demanding transparency and the end of child poverty will we survive.

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