MUST READ: The Third Referendum


JACINDA ARDERN’S STRATEGY for this election is now clear. She will be inviting New Zealanders to vote in three referendums. The referendum on Cannabis. The referendum on Euthanasia. And the referendum on her government’s handling of the Covid-19 Pandemic. Otherwise known as the General Election, this third referendum will be presented as an opportunity to endorse the course Jacinda has set for the country. While a reasonable amount of doubt surrounds the outcome of the first and second referendums, the outcome of the third is regarded as a “dead cert” by most voters. “Captain Jacinda” and her Labour crew will be urged to “stay the course” and sail the good ship New Zealand safely home.

Many on the Left, caught up in the excitement of a prospective electoral victory so emphatic that Labour may be in a position to govern alone, are imploring the party to seize the time and enact the most comprehensive reform of New Zealand institutions since 1984. All the things the Left was hoping for: the “transformation” promised by Jacinda but countermanded by Winston Peters; will become possible in a House of Representatives dominated by Labour and the Greens.

Really? How much is the New Zealand Left (as it used to be understood) willing to bet? Which of those institutions that, historically, have been thought of as “progressive” (left-wing political parties, the trade unions, universities, the teaching profession, tertiary student bodies and the arts community) will step up to insist that Jacinda and her ministry enact a genuinely transformative programme? Let’s examine each of these collectivities in turn.

It is a sad – but entirely fair – question: Do any left-wing parties still exist in New Zealand? Over the course of the past thirty years, the number of political organisations dedicated to the full emancipation of working people and their families and committed to an unequivocally internationalist and anti-imperialist foreign policy, has shrunk uncomfortably close to zero.

In the 1990 general election, two such parties – the NewLabour Party and the Greens – between them accounted for a very respectable 12 percent of the popular vote (219,086 votes). Three years later, those same two parties, now united in the Alliance, won 18.21 percent support (350,063 votes) and two parliamentary seats. (A remarkable feat under the then prevailing First-Past-the-Post electoral system!)

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By 1990, Labour, which had once been included among the parties of the New Zealand Left, could no longer be accounted such. Following the policy “revolution” unleashed by David Lange and Roger Douglas, the party had shrunk very rapidly to the point where it could no longer be considered a mass party. The split which gave rise to NewLabour in 1989 left it smaller still.

Perhaps the best that can be said of Labour in the years following 1984 is that it remained relatively progressive on social issues. On the all-important issues of working-class emancipation, redistributive economic justice and anti-imperialism, however, it had shifted decisively to the right – and remains there.

The secret of Labour’s survival as a viable political party, and the reason why so many New Zealanders still think of it as “left-wing”, is due to it being the party people vote for to keep the much more recognisably right-wing National Party out of government. It is this core electoral function which gives it so much political gravity. Inevitably, all its smaller rivals become either orbiting moons (the Greens) or are spun off into the inter-stellar darkness (New Labour).

In other words, Labour, like National, is defined almost entirely by what it is not. The moment either party abandons this essentially negative function – as Labour did between 1972 and 1975, and National did between 1990 and 1993 – they are instantly perceived as threats. Those deemed responsible for turning their parties “rogue” are either removed or tamed. New Zealand democracy, in its essence, is about the voting public enforcing political restraint. Politics as a process of driving radical economic and social change is a once-in-a-lifetime experience.

All those other “progressive” institutions – unions, universities, students associations, the arts – drew their social and economic power from the radical changes ushered in by the first and second Labour governments. For fifty years these bastions of progressivism acted as the guarantors of the social-democratic reforms that gave rise to the Welfare State. It was precisely because they served as social-democracy’s bodyguards that the instigators of the neoliberal counter-revolution of the 1980s and 90s, like so many Mafia hit-men, made it their business to take them out of the picture.

What are the unions of today? Fighters for the rights and living-standards of their members? Hardly! Today’s union is a structure filled with well-remunerated officials holding convivial negotiations with the bosses whilst perched on the backs of workers who have never been so carelessly exploited – nor so indifferently defended.

And the universities? Do they still act as havens for inquiring minds? Are they the fiercely independent guardians and disseminators of their civilisation’s canonical truths? Not really. Today’s university is a white-anted corporate ruin which is only prevented for collapsing into post-modern sawdust by all the neoliberal termites holding hands. Students are paying customers – nothing more.

And the Artists? What have they become? Idiots telling tales only the rich can afford to listen to, and from which the state’s cultural commissars have extracted every last drop of power and pity. In the immortal words of the Kiwi poet A. R. D. Fairburn: “The mushroom grows in the open ground; the toadstool under a tree.”

What else can Jacinda do in a political environment so bereft of imagination and courage but seek a continuance? If she trades upon the extraordinary personal qualities that she has, miraculously, carried with her into the office of Prime Minister, then I, for one, will offer no criticism. In the absence of the great collectivities upon which the historic Left relied to enrich the poor and make the weak strong, progressive New Zealanders are left with an intelligent, kind, brave, and very competent young woman.

To the question posed in the Third Referendum: Should Jacinda stay at the helm of our ship of state – yes or no? I’ll be standing on my desk and shouting: “Oh captain, my captain, yes, stay!”


    • Yup, well, this is worth fucken repeating:

      “Increasingly having independent opinion in a mainstream media environment which mostly echo one another has become more important than ever, so if you value having an independent voice going into this pandemic and 2020 election, ‘you know where the donate button is.’

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      I expect you know what to do in life.

    • It’s not defeatism, it’s an accurate picture that reminds us that politicians won’t do much without a political movement of ordinary people pushing them – and one is most definitely on the way, climate change will guarantee that it happens

  1. Hi Chris
    Coming up to this time before the last election you were pushing for Jacinda hard. It seemed to me that you were constantly ascribing anti-neoliberal beliefs and intentions on her that she had never given any reason to assume she held. And with her strong support of Grant Robertson as a disciple of Cullen and a committed neoliberal quite the reverse. And so from a purely fiscal management perspective have they proceeded.
    However we have seen something of what jacinda is made of. And the self confidence she must have gained from the internationally universal accolades she is constantly given will have made her a different creature from 2017 and “Let’s do this”.
    I think as I thought back then that she probably , like most people , had never considered any alternative to the way banking and money works and how it totally controls what a government under a neoliberal regime can do for it’s country and it’s people. It just is. But now that it is collapsing all around the world , and extraordinary measure are being taken everywhere to prop it up; here too now, it is focusing everyone’s attention just as it did in the 30’s the last time it all fell to pieces.
    Now I think that jacinda has demonstrated the intelligence , the courage, the confidence and the diligence to do whatever has to be done. I think there is more chance of her making the transformative moves to reverse the neoliberal settlement and rescue the economy than any leader we have had since Muldoon. I guess in a way Douglas showed that courage but it was driven by stupidity rather than intelligence.
    I have a problem though with the assertion that Winston has prevented this government from being the transformative government that it would otherwise have been. It has seemed to me that it has been Grant Robertson’s instinct for austerity that has applied the breaks. Could you pleas elaborate for me what transformative action Winston has prevented and how?
    cheers D J S

    • I strongly suggest, David, that you go back and read my postings from 2017-2018 before declaring me ignorant of the conservative instincts of Jacinda’s government.

      As for Winston, well, the man stands condemned out of his own mouth.

      I can add nothing to his self-characterisation as this government’s “handbrake”.

    • David you mention of the banking system is very relevant.
      douglarse just followed the edicts of the Mont Perelin Society of which the traitorous swine was a member. Richardson joined after him No courage just cheek and lucrative personal rewards

      But as in the 1930s the key to managing a slumping economy is to manage the banks by the state owning the right to print money straight into the government coffers for judicious programs building a state controlled network that over rides any speculator/ investor driven market.
      Piggy had some things right to do with self sufficiency but his implementation was wide of the mark.

      • ” the key to managing a slumping economy is to manage the banks by the state owning the right to print money straight into the government coffers for judicious programs building a state controlled network that over rides any speculator/ investor driven market.”
        Needs to be said again and again and again. Not just for a slumping economy either but every economy.

  2. I agree with Chris on this. Celebrating a labour victory will be short lived by all from the left but even more so by the socialists who were promised and believe meaningful environmental and social change will come. If the economic upheaval that the virus has brought hadn’t happened I believe the Labour Coalition had a chance, but in my opinion the next Government no matter who it involves will be hamstrung by debt, incompetence ,and the same neoliberal tendencies that have prevailed for decades. The way the world is disintegrating socially and economically, means we will eventually follow and I see the possibility of Coalition of all the parties in a year or two. I think we will need all the brain power and imagination this country can muster and labour hasn’t got enough of that on it’s own. A bit depressing but that’s the way I see it.

    • I agree.
      I think that’s the most thoughtful comment here, but my prognosis is even worse.
      Governments all around the world are heading further right than we have ever seen.
      The last global depression was solved through a movement to the left and social democracy.
      The right now have no choice but to try and destroy the left forever to deal with the collapse of the financial systems.
      And they have put everything in place to do just that.
      The left are never going to win this battle by claiming an electoral victory.

  3. Bleak but true.
    Labour have become the American Democrat’s, not surprising with the money and people exchanged between.
    Even the unions now lobby for foreign workers over NZs own working poor.
    Kiwi workers have no champion here.

    • …in trickledown theory. The remaining billions of $$ however stay firmly in the hands of the parasites.

  4. Post modernist philosophy, and 36 years of neo liberal hegemony can take a toll on even the most resilient columnist it seems!

    Mass political party membership shrunk along with the drop in public participation in many other areas, following the wide penetration of neo liberal individualist pyschology. The small left parties of a marxist leaning, also no longer publish papers, or run their tiny demos–those that remain seem now to be Facebook groups!

    But there are pockets of activists all over Aotearoa/NZ nonetheless. Climate strikers, Iwi activists, Issue based ‘maddies’, riled up unionists, and any number of minor public intellectuals revelling in online self publishing, there are enough of us to still make an impact. The pressure to change how this country is operated under Covid will shake Jacinda and Grant from their complacency–“Covid Capitalism” is not going to work for the majority–can we build support for “Covid Socialism”?

    • Can we call it ‘Social Democracy’? It sounds vaguely acceptable and wouldn’t frighten the horses.

    • All those pockets of activists you talk about are highly fractured and more concerned with fighting amongst themselves for power rather than fighting the true cause of the issues we face.
      That is the real problem.
      But I agree entirely with your sentiment.

  5. “New Zealand democracy, in its essence, is about the voting public enforcing political restraint.” And isn’t this the real problem here? Every Govt. is too scared to upset the oldies, the boomers, the propertied class etc.etc.
    IMHO nothing will change until this lot is well and truly either gone or severely outnumbered on voting day.
    If Bomber is right, this may happen 2023, so I won’t be expecting change before then.

  6. Thanks @ CT. Beautifully written.
    To prove my personal hopes and suspicions of Adern’s Labour I’m compelled to vote for Labour just to see if nothing else.
    I’ve been a professional photographer for more than twenty years in the film business as a locations scout and I love to write a sentence or two and with those two skills at hand, I can spot things amiss and askew a mile away. It’s a bit like smelling something iffy in the house. Has the cat shit behind the sofa? Or am I imagining things? And I can’t rest until I heave the sofa out for a look.
    Here’ what I think and I’ll try to be mercifully brief.
    Whether Labour availed itself to be infested by neoliberals or whether they confederated themselves within Labour by stealth will only be known when the neoliberals themselves admit to what they did, or didn’t, do.
    Lets assume the cat shit stink of neoliberalism, or roger douglas’s own interpretation of neoliberalism at least, was supplanted within Labour by stealth.
    ( Remember? Lange quit as prime minister because of roger douglas. )
    So. roger’s in there rogering away at our assets, state owned systems and social welfare etc all under the camouflaging banner of Labour.
    And this is where it gets fruity.
    What now? What now for those who’ve most profited from such treachery against their own people, against their own country simply to create immense private wealth? ( graham heart for example. Bought OUR government printing office at below capital value and now worth $11 billion. And he’s just one of quite a few! )
    They’ve been sprung, there’s no doubt about that. Their nasty names and dirty deeds are all over the place.
    So how to escape with the loot?
    Easy. Reanimate old Labour and stand in the shadows as money, once again floods in from our primary industries to rebuild AO/NZ to a level it once was and while we flourish, renewed and invigorated, all is forgotten ( hopefully, aye boys? within time and space.
    It’s my opinion they’ll use Labour’s new popularity to effectively launder themselves into blissful obscurity. With our money.
    And after more than thirty six years of tyranny at their pink little sociopathic hands.
    They’re planning an escape.
    That’s why [they] tanked national and are re inflating Labour.
    I smell cat shit behind the sofa, I read bullshit in our msm and I see a visible askew politic which was the people’s Left… and yet Right? And yet kind, and yet cruel and yet transparent and yet opaque.
    The M-admen agencies who invented the “Lets do this” mantra must barely be able to believe their good luck to have a mass murder and a pandemic disease to help the woman with the hair and the gleaming smile start up the get away car for the neoliberal scum who’ve fucked us over.
    Or? I could be completely wrong. And this wouldn’t be the first time I’d to hope to God I am.
    Here’s what will prove to me that Labour is genuine.
    When Labour becomes our government free of hangers on then opens up public inquiries in to whether private interests put pressure on our politics spanning the years between 1920 and 2020. Or not.

    • countryboy
      You are fresh air dispelling the doggiedo smell! Keep it up. Lively reading and ideas that bubble up like Roturua’s Geysers. We definitely have to think about what’s going on behind the eyes or sunglasses of the busy hornets – which are nasty pests and death-dealing to the unfortunate stirrers of their nests. We won’t help ourselves by inducing a collapse of capitalism as in the Great Depression.

      But how to get our hold on the reins, and guide the direction in the best way and to the best end possible ? If left to the ‘masses’ we will get in a pickle because they haven’t even looked at maps yet, don’t understand to not frighten the horses, and have no practical idea of where to go, and what to do when we get there. They would leave that for some loudmouth to shout to the people what the quiet minority in the background are brewing up to suit themselves and present as a fait accompli. And many would welcome that, they wouldn’t like to have to stir their minds, spend their time to think up practical ideas, and then amend them as faults are noticed; too much trouble and hard brain work. And it does take time and requires examining long-held certainties for truth and value, and looking to the heart of the matter of needs, allowing for wants, and a template of a good life to guide thinking and actions.

      • We now have to ook back to our past generations and how they survived the horror of two world wars and the great depression to see where we need to prepare our future and I grew up ‘under the blanket of the second world war’ as I was born during that war, and vividly remember how my elders all kept everything so they could use them when needed, and they became “self sufficient, growing their crops in urban back yards and bartering for meat and offering their skills for things others could offer as payment.

        At 76 I am prepared for this already.

        “Be self sufficient”.

        • On that note CG my girlfriend and I lived in a 12ft x 12ft batch for the first 3 years of our relationship with sometimes 1 child, sometimes two sometimes 3 sometimes 4 and sometimes 5, 4 contributed by her previous experience and one by mine. There was an attic and a “dungeon ” below 6ft x 12 ft . (It was on a steep slope). We had a bath in a concrete washtub, a shower stapled to a kanuka. an orien wood stove with a wetback and a HW cylinder retrieved from an old cow shed. We grew our veges and I had a net out in the bay and we lived on very little. No one of the 7 of us has ever been happier. ( not to say that any of us is now unhappy).
          We certainly don’t need what we all have come to accept as normal to be healthy and happy.
          D J S

          • David you all have indeed been fortunate to have a cohesive social group that pulled together to make your “family” work. A lot of love and leadership as well as being fortunate enough to have the physical resources to build upon with hard work applied by the “family”.
            Kia Kaha.

    • yes. enjoyed reading Chris and yourself.

      but dont miss the public service sector. you might enjoy this read:
      “Bureaucracy isn’t an effective tool for solving social problems—but it’s a very effective tool for maximizing the job prospects of university graduates and diverting most of society’s wealth into the hands of an administrative class. I suggest that this was the real point of the whole operation.”

      and dont forget the significant concentration of ex publicly owned assets and infrastructure now either owned or managed by Morrison & Co. the company was set up by a friend of John Key.
      Morrison’s son is now chair. he was also chair of Kiwibank when kiwibank was sold to the NZ superfund which is managed by guess who? sold it to himself he did.

  7. Ever wonder why the level of poverty has steadily risen since the mid-1970?

    Written for the American scene but largely applying here:

    ‘…I talk about establishment narrative control a lot here, and it’s important to remember that poverty in and of itself can also be a form of narrative control. If you keep a populace impoverished, toiling and constantly terrified of the possibility of losing everything due to a single turn of bad luck or ill health, you ensure that they won’t have the time and psychological spaciousness needed to sit down and examine, for example, why their elections never change anything, or what their nation is doing to other nations.

    You also ensure that a critical mass of them will never be able to afford political influence. In a nation where you’re literally incapable of influencing government policy and behavior unless you have a certain amount of wealth at your disposal, depriving the populace of their ability to pool their money toward electing a government which combats income and wealth inequality. The donor class are the only ones who get a say.

    In a nation where money equals power and power is relative, you necessarily get a ruling plutocratic class which needs to keep everyone else poor in order to maintain their rule. If everyone is king then nobody is king, so if money makes you king in your society then you necessarily have to actively deprive the majority of money.

    This is why I’m always dismissive of theories which insist that you can let the wealthy keep all their wealth and also provide enough for everybody. No you can’t, because the wealthy have a vested interest in keeping everyone from having enough, and they use their wealth as a weapon to enact that agenda in the form of political influence, monopolistic tyranny, and mass media narrative control.

    They use their wealth as a weapon. They use poverty as a weapon.’

  8. You have stirred and shaken me Chris. The James Bond of the political commentators you are! You have thrown words and ideas around that have deep truths hidden amongst them. It’s a bit like Where’s Wally puzzles, so much to look at and where is the germ of truth and where will it be found next. Or perhaps it’s like one of those Magic Eye pictures that you have to hold at the right angle and distance and let your focus shift, and the shape that was hidden emerges and you wonder how you didn’t see it before.

    You draw on poetry from Fairburn. I echo the ‘beat’ poetry of Trotter; Should Jacinda stay at the helm of our ship of state – yes or no? I’ll be standing on my desk and shouting: “Oh captain, my captain, yes, stay!” Yes stay…yes say…yes….Jacinda and Clarke (remembering there is usually a strong support backing a good woman) – what a team!

  9. Just a little side path to the discourse; I think this memoir of PD James about her first love at school at the age of 10 resonates with how things are today in NZ, and where PM Jacinda finds herself standing. Is the NZ public the equivalent of young Robert? Will we be separated by irreconcilable difficulties?

    Further on in The Telegraph page is a piece on PD James and how she realised where evil lay in life and brought it into her stories. It’s worth taking a sub to The Telegraph to read about the books and authors and creative minds there. (Though in many of their political prognoes I notice the right-wing trend that others have referred to darkly.) Perhaps with the restoration of The Listener we will get as good in NZ, but still there would be wider in UK publications.

  10. Artists are “Idiots telling tales only the rich can afford to listen to”? Woah steady on there. Maybe come out and get amongst what artists are doing in and for this country before you shoot your mouth off like that.

  11. Watch those index fingers JA! Easy to be misconstrued as a Modi style lecture – and as you know, it’s all in the message and the way it’s delivered.
    As spectacular as you are (alongside the inner circle), things could change and be “mis-sold, mis-interpreted, mis- pAken, and mis-understood”.
    Right now, that stubborn streak can be passed off as ‘determination for an immediate cause’. Just so long as you realise the knives are nearby, and the detractors will pick up on anything they think they can run with (and as you know, there’s plenty)

  12. This was well-put by roblogic over on The Standard:
    See it.
    If the Greens don’t take a healthy bite out of Labour’s support this election — e.g. Chlöe for Auckland Central, then Labour will be content to sit on their laurels and grow fat on a safe centrist managerial do-nothing cruise control.
    I suppose it’s better than a destructive bunch of morons from National taking over, but it’s also a huge wasted opportunity for significant and lasting change to improve the lives of millions of Kiwis who missed out on the John Key lolly scrambles property bonanza of the past two decades.

    I’ve put in bold what I’m afraid of.

    • Exactly what I am afraid of happening.
      Labour becoming the party of do nothing for fear of frightening the horses.

      Why ?

      How many of you are aware that every single health / welfare benefit has the relationship rule applied to it on top of the length health impairment time you have to meet.

      Supported living 2 years
      Disability Benefit 6 months

      On top of this you have ACC tossing people off acc using their 2nd opinion Doctors.
      Which Winz uses to do the same thing to make damn sure you do not get either of the above if it is humanly possible to do so.

      Then you have them apply the same limitations for the jobseekers benefit so getting a benefit is no longer Guaranteed.

      Do you have medicines funding worries if not you better start worrying as the PHARMAC WAITING LIST is DOUBLING every 5 years.

      The waiting list figures from memory.
      2015/16 64
      2016/17 84
      2017/18 96
      2018/19 105
      2019/20 110

      Meanwhile the politicians think the sun shines out of the medicines budget.

      In 2015/16 Medicines nz offered to fund the 64 then medicines on the list for a total price of $694 at $40 per head of population at the time the nats refused the offer.
      Pharmac got $8 million that year increase.
      The Miniscule budget increases to pharmac get by the current Govt are never going to be enough while they are spread over multiple budgets ( By the time Pharmac gets the money the budgeted amount is only worth 2/3rds of its value due to population growth and inflation). These are the direct cause of Dhb’s deficits as the lack of funding the health system at the bottom of the cliff, leads to it eventually reaching the top of the cliff leading to the current excessive waiting lists.

      Dr Clark and every other health Minister who can’t see this and keeps their firmly embedded in the sand is not going to cure our health systems problems .

      When Ministers just won’t listen we have a major problem in our health system and the review they did did not include our medicines funding system.


  13. “…the problem with critical theory today is that it is not critical.”

    The Left is Dead! Long Live the Left!

    … hope that you can make it down from the desk without breaking a leg; best wishes for continued health …

  14. Observations indicate that Jacinda Ardern has a public consensus building mindset

    Accordlingly, should Labour gain an outright majority of seats and either/both NZ First or Greens be in parliament then expected the Coalition to continue in some form or another

  15. “I’ll be standing on my desk and shouting: “Oh captain, my captain, yes, stay!””

    I surely won’t be.

    • Love it! No, she’s done jackshit for the advancement of this country. Also, she is disingenuous as hell. Once it all gets too much, Jacinda will be off to the UN. Where else?!!!!

  16. The free market conversion from 1984 until 1993 eliminated any hope of a revival of the Kirk vision of a more independent socialist alternative where people before profit was the guiding principle in how our economy was to deliver for everyday kiwis and what we could expect from our government services like health , education , housing , social welfare support and a share in a stronger fairer independent nation.
    Knowing all to well the ravages of unfettered capitalism on the vulnerable and society in general Kirk and his government were a protective wall against the wolves outside the door.
    Despite the Alliances short reign and miraculous survival of five parties working together for a common vision until the Greens broke away was the end of any meaningful hope on the real left.
    With MMP and the slow death of neoliberalisim that has left so many disenfranchised and maligned a well funded party on the left with a charismatic leader that is well organised and has sound policies for action there is room for such a movement.

  17. I’d prefer the Alliance.

    Kind, my arse. Cynical. She’s thick or as cynical as the usual Left politicians in the last 40 years. Can’t have both.

    I’ll vote as Left as I can.

    • That comment was about poverty being their no 1 issue and doing very little on the Poverty Group’s recommendations. Turned my stomach, Ardern’s bullshitting. We all know this was the most golden time of the last 36 years to address it, their focus groups aside.

      • Reading Brit reporter Jeremy Paxman’s bio on holiday yesterday he said politicians had both the cynical and idealism in one box. But hard for someone who is interested not to be disgusted by Labour and Jacinda’s shit about poverty. But I understand she might mean something. The main point is ’84 Labour bows its head to the strong above all. And they are wrong.

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