Conceding Nothing – To The Undemanding Non-Voter.

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TO SAY the Left’s reaction to Grant Robertson’s “Recovery Budget” has been mixed would be a considerable understatement. Everyone from Mike Treen and John Minto to Susan St John and Gordon Campbell have criticised the Coalition Government for failing to piggy-back a socialist programme on its economic response to the Covid-19 recession. To which I feel obliged to call: Bullshit!

Had Jacinda Ardern and Grant Robertson followed the advice of those who are now so loud in their condemnation of the Budget, their 26 percentage-point poll advantage would have evaporated practically overnight. Why? Because the additional 10-15 percent of popular support Labour appears to have attracted over the past two months can only have come from former National supporters. How long, I wonder, do Labour’s critics on the Left suppose these people would have stuck around had Jacinda decided to go all Jeremy Corbyn and Bernie Sanders on them? That is not a trick question. The answer is – not long at all.

The bad news wouldn’t have stopped there, however, it would just be getting started. Can Jacinda’s and Grant’s critics not imagine how right-wing commentators like Mike Hosking and Matthew Hooton would have seized upon the Government’s sudden lurch to the left as proof of its fundamental dishonesty. Oh yes, they may have pretended to be responsible managers of the New Zealand economy, but when the crisis/opportunity came – in the form of a critical public health emergency, for God’s sake! – they fell upon it cynically to implement a radical agenda – the full content of which they had concealed from the electorate.

And what about that NZ First, eh? What about Winston Peters! That sly old fox had been a radical socialist all along. Forget about the Manchurian Candidate – this guy was the original Moscow Sleeper! And the rest of his caucus – what consummate actors! Ron Mark a socialist – who knew? I mean, the Greens never made the slightest effort to hide their radical credentials – and didn’t NZ First give them stick for it. That decision, back in 2005, to keep the Greens out of government: what a masterstroke! Put everyone off their guard. Talk about your long-term, far-left agenda.

Yes, I’m being facetious, but only to remind this government’s left-wing critics that it is a coalition; and that one of the constituent parties of that coalition was formed by a former National Party cabinet minister. Which is just another way of saying that even if Jacinda and Grant had been foolish enough to try and drive through the measures demanded by the radical Left, Winston would have vetoed them. Would that have broken up the coalition? Yes. Would Winston and NZ first have suffered for pulling the emergency hand-brake? No. Would Labour and the Greens have been punished electorally? Yes. Would Simon Bridges have become New Zealand’s next prime minister? Of course.

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Now, I’ve been around long enough to know exactly how the radical and revolutionary Left would answer these arguments. They would say that driving all those cross-over Nats back into Simon’s waiting arms wouldn’t matter, because the political consequences of a radical left-wing response to the Covid-19 induced recession would, on balance, be favourable to the Government. All those beneficiaries whose lives would have been improved immeasurably by its decision to implement the Welfare Expert Advisory Group’s recommendations, for example, would have turned out in their droves to re-elect Jacinda and her colleagues.

This is yet another iteration of the “Missing Million” argument: a political proposition that the Left has been kicking around for at least the last three general elections. Give the poor and marginalised something to vote for and they will reward their political benefactors at the ballot-box.

Except they won’t.

Increasingly, electoral politics is an activity restricted to those whose lives are still buoyant enough to warrant engagement with “mainstream” New Zealand institutions. Unionised workers; church members in good standing; newly-minted professionals who have scraped and clawed their way out of the immigrant communities into which they were born. By-and-large, these are not people with a revolutionary mindset. On the contrary, many of them have little or no respect for those who, as they see it, have given up the struggle to make a better life for themselves and their children. That’s why the Missing Million: generally despised by mainstream New Zealand; mistrusted by the respectable members of their own communities; has moved well beyond the reach of conventional electoral politics.

Whenever the Missing Million argument is used by left-wingers seeking to reconcile electoral politics with revolutionary aspirations, I think of Len Richards in Mangere. Len, a staunch and thoroughly engaging socialist, stood for the NewLabour Party against David Lange in 1990. He ran a very good campaign, winning 11.79 percent of the votes cast – more than twice the NLP’s 5.16 percent of the popular vote nationally. And yet, even after everything the Labour Party had done to the working people of the Mangere electorate; even after six years of Rogernomics; even with unemployment skyrocketing; David Lange romped home with 51.1 percent of the votes cast.

The most fundamental problem confronting the radical Left has never really been about the people who don’t vote. It’s always been about the political parties supported by the people who do. New Zealanders will vote for parties positioned to Labour’s left – sometimes in impressive numbers – but only when those parties are offering policies demanded by a significant percentage of the electorate, and which Labour, for reasons best known to itself, refuses to endorse.

Clearly, this is not the situation in 2020. In this year’s election there will be only one viable party to Labour’s left, the Greens, and the policy differences between the two are now marginal – at best. On its current standing in the Newshub-Reid Research poll (56 percent) Labour will be looking to retain office with the support of former right-wing voters – not radical leftists. It’s not a situation which any democratic-socialist activist enjoys, but one that cannot be avoided without giving up the game of electoral politics altogether.

Grant Robertson’s Budget is offering what most New Zealanders are hoping for – economic recovery. More importantly, it’s offering what the New Zealanders who actually vote are demanding. Is that the same as offering what so many poor and marginalised New Zealanders desperately need? No, it’s not. But if people’s economic and social needs are not translated into serious political demands, then they are unlikely to be fulfilled in any serious way. In the immortal words of the Black abolitionist and former slave, Frederick Douglass: “Power concedes nothing without a demand – it never has and it never will.”

When the wretched of the earth – and that includes the people of Mangere and Porirua – organise themselves to the point of convincing mainstream politicians that there is more to be gained by acceding to their demands than ignoring them, then their lives will improve immeasurably. Put enough community organisers in New Zealand’s most deprived suburbs and all the exclusions of the 2020 Budget, which have so upset the radical Left, will very rapidly become inclusions.

Until then, Labour – riding so very high in the polls – will go on listening to and meeting the demands of those who know how to make themselves heard where it counts – in the ballot-box.

26 COMMENTS

  1. Good article Chris, you are of course talking about the wealthy boomers. They always vote, mainly National and the wretched poor people don’t, because they don’t know whats good for them, or how the system works, and they really don’t care because all politicians are the same. Except there not. How long will the boomers have this advantage? This is the last time according to all the experts. The next election after this, they won’t have the power to get there conservative ways. What will happen then?

  2. That is the realpolitik per this last poll and yours is a fair analysis IMO.
    Where that leaves the promises of nuclear free moments transformation and ends of capitalism is pretty plain to see.
    Interesting to ponder if/how the numbers change as the toll becomes evident and how long that takes.
    Greens are in danger in this poll.

  3. Amusing and mostly accurate, Chris.

    However, ‘Grant Robertson’s Budget is offering what most New Zealanders are hoping for – economic recovery’.

    I put it to you that what Grant Robertson is offering is not economic recovery but the false hope of an economic recovery, based on fraudulent creation of ‘funny money’ which will require debt servicing, and the pouring of a large portion of that central-bank-created money into infrastructure that will have no utility in the very near future.

    What Grant Robertson is offering is more of a dysfunctional system that assigns positive values to negative outcomes (Gross Domestic Product), plus further dependence on fossil fuels that are undergoing an extraction crisis never previously encountered in human history.

    What Grant Robertson is offering is the false hope of the global economic system remaining intact in the face of unstoppable forces that are in the process of demolishing it, in particular the self-reinforcing [negative] feedbacks that are occurring throughout most of the world.

    Whilst historically low interest rates and propping up equity markets via ‘money-printing’ provide the façade of success, all the underlying factors that keep the global Ponzi system staggering on are deteriorating at an ever-faster rate.

    The economic model that Grant Robertson stubbornly adheres to -of infinite growth on a finite planet- has been storing up all the ‘gunpowder’ necessary to demolish the system, and western industrial societies have finally hit the wall, much as expected and publicly predicted.

    Gail Tverberg does not focus on the Planetary Overheating that is increasingly pummeling the globalised economic system but she does a good job of highlighting the increasing failure of the resources and energy sectors to provide the necessary ‘ingredients’ to allow BAU to continue. Indeed, in her latest article she highlights what people were saying when I was studying the nature of matter, spectroscopy, industrial technology and economics etc. at university in the early 1970s that there ARE limits to growth and the system will implode as a consequence of overconsumption of resources.

    In particular, Gail Tverberg highlights what any mathematician, physical scientist, biologist, ecologist, oceanographer etc. will tell you: that there are too many people using too much stuff and generating too much pollution. And that the dire consequences of the overconsumption of resources, the overuse of fossil fuels and the overproduction of goods and pollutants have already reached crisis point. And further attempts to maintain BAU are not just counter-productive but will triggered faster collapse.

    Whilst no one in the 1970s foresaw the vast population explosion and the widespread destruction and degradation of nature (they believed a change in culture was underway, only to have the limits to growth agenda sabotaged by the ‘there are no limits brigade’ of bankers, industrialists and economists) many of the projections of Donella Meadows et al have proven uncannily correct

    ‘The world’s number one problem today is that the world’s population is too large for its resource base. Some people have called this situation overshoot. The world economy is ripe for a major change, such as the current pandemic, to bring the situation into balance. The change doesn’t necessarily come from the coronavirus itself. Instead, it is likely to come from a whole chain reaction that has been started by the coronavirus and the response of governments around the world to the coronavirus.

    Let me explain more about what is happening.

    [1] The world economy is reaching Limits to Growth, as described in the book with a similar title…..’

    https://ourfiniteworld.com/2020/05/13/understanding-our-pandemic-economy-predicament/

    Se you all at the bottom of the cliff.

  4. I’ve thought about this a lot and concluded that people like Helen Clark were pretty much right. New Zealanders by their nature are largely politically apathetic and don’t take much interest in what happens in parliament, they like stability and don’t want radical policy shifts.

    I think if Labour romps home with even 50% of votes cast and gets their coalition with the Greens, we will start seeing this transformational government we’ve been asking for. That way, there will actually be a mandate for change without Winston holding their feet to the fire. Grant Robertson showed one political side we hadn’t seen before when delivering the budget, one where Labour closely associated itself with the tradition of Savage and Fraser. Chris had it right, Labour did come home.

    When Savage came to power it took three years for the Social Security Act to be implemented and the same number for our public health system. They constantly reformed and altered over the course of fourteen years. Rome wasn’t built in a day.

  5. Kia ora Chris
    You are right. John Minto, Susan St John and Mike Treen are dreaming if they think that a Labour government will save the poor from the plight to which previous Labour and National governments have condemned them.
    But I am left puzzling over why you and Martyn would want to join the throngs of former National Party voters who have now thrown their support behind Labour.
    Why not leave them to it?
    Looking at the bigger picture, do you really believe that your system of government can survive when more than twenty per cent of the population are non-participating non-demanding non-voters?
    You suggest this is a problem for John, Susan and Mike to address. Well, it is a problem for the system as a whole, which includes people such as yourself, Jacinda and Grant as well as John, Susan and Mike.
    It is not actually a problem for “undemanding non-voters” such as myself. We are managing well. At the same time we are aware that the system which you support, far from being a potential source of salvation, is a constantly lurking threat to our freedom and well-being.
    You understand better than John, Susan and Mike how the system works, while they better understand what it needs to do to ensure its survival over the longer term. So the left as a whole comprises on the one hand those who have a good grasp of the means, and no proper sense of the ends, and on the other those who know where the state should be heading but have no earthly idea of how to get there.

  6. “Because the additional 10-15 percent of popular support Labour appears to have attracted over the past two months can only have come from former National supporters ”

    Not True, Labours rise in the polls has come from

    non voters voting for them,

    Chinese residents in NZ who vote National but are unable to get into the country now due to the borders being closed (polls showed Chinese 74% support National https://yournz.org/2017/09/11/chinese-voter-poll-shows-similar-trends/, remember in our fucked up country you don’t need to be a citizen and only ‘reside’ here for 1 year to vote and influence NZ elections in your favour).

    Green supporters turned Labour because without any Green policy in Greens you might as well vote Labour as their policy is pretty much the same now.

    NZ First supporters who lost support for the same reasons as the Greens, aka their policy for NZ First which for years was anti immigration, was revealed to be taking donations by industry lobby groups. AKA organisations close to NZ First was taking money from developers for more foreigners to buy up NZ property and seemingly supporting more low paid migrant labour for NZ fishing interests, farmers and construction industry ….

    Since all might change closer to Election Day, not sure that Labour should be celebrating quite yet… and lots of work for Greens and NZ First to try to win back their former voters….

      • No it’s that people like Chris Trotter and when I say people like Chris Trotter I really mean me, I don’t want to argue about the different meanings of words.

        In the last 12 months the NZX fell by about 30% and some of us was waiting for that reality to finally dawn on everyone and it did thanks to the Wuhan virus only the recovery has become more of a public health issue when the underlying pressures that we don’t really talk about are still baked into the recovery.

        So The Reserve Bank has been quietly shifting all those risky assets onto their books and until we get the big structural changes to wages done correctly, employment, job satisfaction, trade, infrastructure and so on and so on unless we deal to these underlying structural issues every time we go and do social policy it will blow up in our faces because we haven’t had the intellectual capacity or mathematical honesty to confront the underlying issues.

  7. Kia ora Chris Trotter. Nice reading, as often…

    Could it be that your analysis accommodates a similar pattern of disorientation over an actual revolutionary situation as done through your January 2020 theme “Revolution in New Zealand. Not Even Close”?

    Chances are very high that you are badly misreading the irregular dynamics of climate change and the irreversible destruction of existing ecological balances… you may also see Covid19 as a small part of these.

    The upcoming socioeconomic consequences of terrestrial re-configuration will be most fatal for many, many among the urbanized middle classes, naturally even more for those countrymen and women simply fighting and working for daily survival, already now.

    There is nothing to ‘concede’ on such a facts-based forecast.

    It is simply a matter of rational analysis. This is the genuine strength of the Left, not the sort of ‘faith healing’ offered through Labour party apologetics.

    The 2020 budget does by no means indicate that the magnitude of unfolding events is really understood by the governing administration, with all due respect for the works of the Prime Minister and the Minister of Finance.

    End of the anthropocene. As we know it.

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=3WpaLt_Blr4
    … time to move the chariot out of Bowalley Road, probably…
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=y4woWT3CkO4
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MXpJTFX8gTg

  8. If one pays attention to some overseas news outlets as most of us here do , one can’t avoid noticing however one might be irritated by the fact, that Jacinda Ardern is the most popular politician on earth.
    It does seem strange because she just comes over as a very pleasant intelligent caring young woman just like hundreds of other such creatures that we all know personally. Maybe that’s a part of the appeal . I bet she herself is pretty astonished at what has happened to her; but whatever it is, the likelihood of anyone else winning an election in New Zealand in the foreseeable future seems vanishingly small.
    D J S

  9. The semi-mad Right govt in Oz doubled the benefits. Labour has grown used to being craven. In it’s spine now. How do you not help the neediest in a crisis? Even in a crisis?! When, when, when?

      • No we can not help beneficiaries and so on if this government does not make New Zealand credible all around the world.

        Armchair economists want to charge The Labour Party’s ossuary rates because they don’t understand Labours policies and it is the people who will suffer from this misunderstanding.

        I think there’s a lot of rewriting history going on about this budget Jacinda won it for us because the adage that governments lose elections has always been true and this government will win because it’s got NZD20 billion to rewrite the agenda quickly.

        And Jacinda has taken her Party to new all time highs because of there wage subsidies, Labour is at all time highs because of its recovery package. In short Jacinda is in the position she is in because of decisive policy action to stabilize the economy and bring down the exchange rate, bring down inflation and bring down interest rates.

        Having educated the public to the changes I believe with enough explaining we can bring beneficiaries along with the public and force The National Party to try and cost a package so that The National Party are meeting the same standards as you lot are setting for The Labour Party to do and you force have to these mistakes on National and that is why beneficiaries will get all that you are promising here and now and not before.

        • The people and ‘persuading’ go together. I hope she and Grant will learn the latter. But I will not vote for any of the coalition parties without their commitment to the weakest. Or our heart. For NZers who think above their mortgages.

  10. Reiterating what you wrote, Chris.

    ‘Grant Robertson’s Budget is offering what most New Zealanders are hoping for – economic recovery. More importantly, it’s offering what the New Zealanders who actually vote are demanding.’

    In addition to the point I made previously about the declining resource base brining us very close to, or actually at the point of Limits to Growth (as detailed in the ‘ourfiniteworld’ link) I would like to highlight the Planetary Overheating aspect I alluded to.

    Anyone who has examined the evidence knows the Earth is being rapidly overheated via the trapping of incoming solar radiation through the action of greenhouse gases -particularly CO2, CH4 and N2O- and that there is a positive feedback loop between the action of those primary agents of overheating and water vapour -a secondary agent of overheating- whereby the hotter the oceans and atmosphere become, the more water vapour the atmosphere can carry. Whilst water vapour can never be a primary agent of overheating (since it condenses at the dew point) it can add to the overall temperature in a carbon-dioxide-overheated world.

    Why the long preamble? Because the science is irrefutable but there is a significant cohort in society that refused to accept the irrefutable science.

    Now to the main point:

    ‘Lockdowns trigger dramatic fall in global carbon emissions’

    ‘Carbon dioxide emissions have fallen dramatically since lockdowns were imposed around the world due to the coronavirus crisis, research has shown.
    Daily emissions of the greenhouse gas plunged 17% by early April compared with 2019 levels, according to the first definitive study of global carbon output this year.’

    “This is a really big fall, but at the same time, 83% of global emissions are left, which shows how difficult it is to reduce emissions with changes in behaviour,” said Corinne Le Quéré, a professor of climate change at the University of East Anglia, and lead author of the study published in the journal Nature Climate Change.’

    https://www.theguardian.com/environment/2020/may/19/lockdowns-trigger-dramatic-fall-global-carbon-emissions

    Sadly, ‘it’s offering what the New Zealanders who actually vote are demanding’ applies because what New Zealanders who actually vote are demanding is as much of a return to pre-lockdown conditions as possible, thereby returning the rate of rendering the Earth uninhabitable for humans back towards what it was pre-pandemic.

    Yesterday John Campbell was almost leaping out of his chair with enthusiasm when the Chief Economist at the Reserve Bank of NZ (Yuong Ha) explained how the bank could create money out of thin air at the stroke of a key to stimulate economic activity. “And could destroy money ‘at the stoke of a key”

    https://www.rbnz.govt.nz/about-us/senior-management/yuong-ha

    Oh dear, the level of ignorance and stupidity of industrial humans in consumer societies is depressing.

    Of course Einstein said it first: “Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I’m not sure about the universe.”

  11. Meh. Democracy is a waste of time. It’s well established that turkeys love voting for Christmas and politics is just sport for middle class people who don’t like sport.

  12. Good article again , Chris,… it seems the word we need is ‘expediency’. Political expediency , balanced with a majority need. Which seems rather cold to those many needy who are left out. I for one who ‘lives on the bones of my arse’. But I recognize the importance of supporting this COL because…

    One only has to remember the long nine years of the National party’s odious John Key led govt.

    Are our memories that short?

    This Labour led COL is far from perfect, they have backtracked and failed in so many critical areas. But they have only been in power a mere three years instead of the almost decade long destructiveness of the former National party. And unless people want a bloody, senseless revolution, is why I kept saying ‘patience required’ in some of your former articles.

    And again I say ‘patience required’.

    ‘Chin up’ , ‘dont let the bastards grind you down’, – all the cliches.

    And that’s me from the social justice warrior stance. Truth is, I want old time pre 1984 economics and values too. I want old time NZ before the rapaciousness of neo liberalism. But its been here and been reinforced and entrenched now for 35 years , – going on 36 years now.

    That is not something that will be torn down overnight – or even after 6 years ( second term )of the Labour led COL no matter how much we want to see it. And the truth is , – that the only thing that will relinquish that setting is a worldwide , global economic meltdown. Similar to the Great Depression of 1939.

    How many of us truly want to see and undergo that?

    I am a hippy, a gypsy, a Westy heavy mettaler ,a complete nobody – and an economic refugee from the global credit crunch of 2008 myself… but even I can see the wisdom of persevering with this COL. Because at the moment, this political setting is the best we can ever hope to work with.

    The alternative of a National / ACT led govt would be unthinkable.

    Woody Guthrie – Gypsy Davy
    https://youtu.be/usMlxcJSWRY?t=7

    Bob Dylan – Ballad of Hollis Brown
    https://youtu.be/_8xkxy3tXTA?t=91

    Both these artists sang of the Great Depression, the Dust Bowl era and the plight of the poor, the working class, the unemployed. It was not until the economic theory’s of John Maynard Keynes was converted into the policy’s of FDR’s ( Franklin Delano Roosevelt’s ) New Deal that any relief was in sight.

    But things had to get desperately bad before that happened.

    Stop grumbling, because the political alternative would be a disaster, and if things get exceedingly bad, only then will we see a govt prepared to go to extreme measures.

    How many of you are prepared to undergo what previous generations endured to see change?

    I wonder.

    I’ll leave you with this other awesome rendition of The Ballad Of Hollis Brown.

    Just as a reminder.

    Nina Simone – The Ballad Of Hollis Brown
    https://youtu.be/tkqffRA4cZg?t=154

    • Indeed, those who vote are yet again confronted with having to choose the of the lesser of two evils -for it is clear that the Adern government will not do what is required to ‘save society’ but a National government would ensure society collapses ultra-fast, with the looters-and-polluters club laughing all the way to the bank

  13. There is no difference between the National party and the Labour party. They had might as well form a coalition government and save the taxpayers time and money been wasted by the arguing over the same issues over the same policies to get to the same conclusions. Its boring.

    Then there will be room for a genuine left party on the political spectrum. Because there isnt one and hasnt been one since the 1970s.

    • What a major effect a Left party, talking above all, would have. The three coalition parties can’t talk. So give away and give away ground to the bullshitting Right.

      • The Labour party is a (centre) right party. Since 1987/89. Nothing has changed other than the rhetoric.

        The radicals on the other side are just that, not the left, just radicals of the middle classes rejects who’re mainly their offspring who’ve a uni degree and have become internationalista revolutionaries! Like Rick from the ‘Young Ones!’. fuck’n lite weights!

        2017’s 20.99% of non voters with a 79% turnout is the only unadulterated ‘Poll’ I consider worthy as, if you read the the fineprint with the latest released ‘polls’. Theyre surveys! Masquerading as a poll, and do not take into account the no vote/undecided into the final analysis.

        With $20 billion still in his pocket, Robo has definitely given himself some wriggle room to buy off the National party cohort middle class swingers who have defected to Labour lite.

        As Nouriel Roubini has been saying for a while which has been parrotted over the past few months; “Its going to be a recession, followed by a depression and then maybe another collapse, then possibly a ‘U’ or ‘L’ type of recovery? With a big but! The Sovereign Debt Mountain(s) held by all nations will have to be reconciled first”.

        You can kiss goodbye to this new decade.

  14. What are all these compliments for temporary realpolitik? Ignoring the million who don’t vote leads to… Amerika. Sure it’s sweet immediately but it destroys everything.

    The Left is built on reality. You’ve seen how it loses strength every second it ignores that. Fight, my fellow plumpies, like the devil! 10 years to do anything, Chris?! It’s 1939 after your breakdown over many 3 year periods. Reality comes before electoral reality.

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