Election aftermath: an ideological analysis


The dust has cleared. New Zealand’s electoral map and parliamentary chamber have changed decisively. Labour Red prevails and is able to legislate without impediment. Is this a victory for the Left? Is a transformative policy programme likely? Is the Right in disarray? My answers here will be “sort of”, “not really” and “partly”, respectively. These judgments arise from the following argument.

There are two ideological axes running at right angles to each other. The economic axis runs from Marxism, socialism and social democracy to neoliberalism and market libertarianism. These ideological positions stretch from Left to Right, the various standpoints in between span across the centre (as in centre-Left, centrist, centre-Right). The other axis incorporates moral issues and social rights in relation to race, culture, gender, sexual orientation, alcohol/drug use and religious belief. Here, the continuum stretches from radical social liberalism to extreme moral conservatism. Some journalists, commentators and naïve activists define Left and Right according to the second axis rather than the first. For reasons of clarity, I will not do so here.

The two axes form a quadrant which allows us to ideologically position political parties and politicians. Evaluation of their performance can proceed on this basis. On the second axis, election results are crystal clear. Most politicians and voters are committed social liberals on homosexual rights, same sex marriage, civil unions, abortion, women’s rights, church and state, secularism and so on. True, transgender autonomy and cannabis law reform remain contentious issues, but moral fundamentalism has been electorally defeated. NZ First has gone, the New Conservatives received only 1.5% of the popular vote. By contrast, Labour and the Greens, whose MPs are mostly social liberal, received a combined 56.6% of the popular vote, before specials. 

Clearly, this is positive news for social liberal progressives, but it does not constitute a Left victory. Well-off, National-lite voters who went over to Jacinda in droves are not on the Left end of our economic axis. Their voting decisions arose from the well-founded belief that Labour’s COVID management strategy had kept New Zealand safe and relatively secure. Now, this sense of security also reflects economic self-interest. The National-lite switchers knew that an effective public health response, notwithstanding the lockdowns, would keep their investments safe too. Our Prime Minister is acutely aware of this. Anything more than a minimal rise in the top income tax rate, any suggestion of a wealth tax then those new Labour supporters will be gone. Remember that critical moment in the election campaign when Jacinda drew away from wanting a fall in house prices? Many of the National-lites own more than one property and happily manipulate the tax deductibility associated with property investment. For Labour, governing on the basis of national unity means keeping these people in the tent. 

Meanwhile, out on the economic right, the ACT party channels the ghost of Ayn Rand—income tax cuts, corporate tax cuts, austerity programmes and a moratorium on the minimum wage is selfish and heartless. It is also more extreme on the economic Right than, say, the Green’s wealth tax and the guaranteed minimum income policies on the economic Left. Along the economic axis, the right-wing vote is fragmented, but this could change once the National Party reorganises itself.

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The Green’s economic policies are furthest to the Left and reflect the worldwide eco-socialist commitment to low-carbon, New Deal policies. This is where a Left transformation programme should start. It won’t come from the government or the Labour caucus. Rather, Chloe Swarbrick’s extraordinary campaign in Auckland Central is the template. Build an activist milieu around voter enrolment and electorate issues and harness a sense of injustice against the political status quo. I am reminded here of the Alliance’s Auckland regional-local body victory in 1991 and Sandra Lee’s successful Auckland Central campaign in the 1993 general election. With 10 MPs and ready media access, the Green’s should build their activist base across the country for 2023. Labour will need the Greens if the National-lites prove to be fair weather friends. 

The key priority for Màori politics is to combine axes one and two i.e., economic rights and cultural rights. From 1984, the historic injustices of colonialism converged with the neoliberal decimation of the Maori working class. These two factors together are why Màori statistics in health, employment, housing and prisons are so horrific. A centrist Labour government does not have the capacity to deliver solutions without alienating the National-lites. I was thus heartened by the Màori Party’s challenge to Labour’s Màori seat hegemony. 

In sum, the ideological pattern of the 2020 election result looks like this. Secular social liberalism prevails. The so-called centre on our economic axis is quite bourgeois and a long way from Green, New Deal transformation. However, the parliamentary numbers and Swarbrick’s Auckland Central campaign provides opportunities for progressive activists. Mobilise new supporters around an eco-Left programme and pull the centre to the Left. National and Act can twist in the wind.



  1. I like quadrants. Complexity deserves this kind of analysis. It offers a very clear way of understanding the issues and allows people to see where they stand on those issues. Well done. A+

    • But no mention of ACT re the moral social issues column, which party not in power gave us the euthanasia referendum?
      Which party in power is set to limit our freedom of speech? And signed off facial recognition used on its citizens?
      A true analysis would look at “good” and “bad” of all parties, not cherry pick.
      Good descriptor of the chosen axes at the start though, and sensible to be thinking outside pure economics in term of left and right.

  2. Lets simply admit the so called Socialist emperor Labour is wearing neo liberal clothes. All they have done is mitigate the worst effects of market capitalism whilst letting the underlying machinery keep on running.

    Oh but this is a triumph of democracy! Yeah right. Its a triumph of FEAR. Just look at Australia’s Liberal governments high public approval rating thanks to COVID19. This virus has been a boon for Western governments of all flavours (mostly neo liberal) who were till that point becoming increasingly unpopular with their constituents.

    So the contagion which they have been hyping to the roof tops (can’t imagine why) may have delayed the chickens coming home to roost but come home they surely will.

  3. Nice analysis Wayne. The quadrant “info graphic” style is an effective way to communicate a class left world view without excessive verbiage.

    The AOC, Rashida Tlaib and other US Representative candidate Campaigns, and even historically NZ’s Sandra Lee, led the way for the likes of Ms Swarbrick’s successful campaign.

    While the Tory switcher voters may well be “anyones” I think our esteemed TDB Editor is right when he says the 2020 Election signals a significant weakening of born to rule Tory boomer and Provincial farming political influence.

  4. Could be the Nat voters seeing their bread dry and falling off the kitchen table and landing on the both dry side, chose to elect a non dry, but a semi soft butter version for their kitchen tables.

  5. Thank you, Wayne Hope, for making clear that being liberal does not mean you are left. This is what some observers and commentators do not seem to get these days. Indeed, Jacinda and Labour got a great bonus from former National voters, who voted Labour on the Covid response and in hope of making Labour so strong, that would keep the Greens out of government.

    First and final signals from Jacinda and Labour will mean, the Greens can at best hope to be lap dogs that are perhaps listened to on the odd issue, but they will have NO power and influence of significance, they would be stupid to sign up to such a support arrangement, that would be nothing but suicidal.

    The Greens are best advised to consult within, listen to former members like Sue Bradford and others, and to decide to stay well clear off government. They must prepare the fight for the future in 2023, as any deals with Labour will most likely mean, they will discredit themselves so much, hardly anybody who is truly ‘green’ will bother voting for them again.

    My view is they better get rid of James Shaw also, the sooner the later, as he is exactly part of the problem, being an endless consensus talker and maker, he will agree to any shoddy and half witted deal, simply to stay within government or near it, for whatever purpose.

    There is no transformational change happening, there is very little chance of truly transformational change to happen under Labour and Jacinda under Term 2, and so the so called left or whosoever really cares about the environment and social improvement must support a more principled and radical Greens movement.

    Forget not, the talk about benefit increases by Jacinda and Labour were BS, as close to 80 thousand on benefits needing Temporary Additional Support or Special Benefit to survive, the most needy, they did NOT get the 25 dollars extra promised. That was taken out of their TAS and SB in return, they were NO better off at all after the so called increases taking effect from 1 April this year.

    Being shafted like that, how can any affected beneficiary trust Labour and Jacinda and voter for them, and hope for them to make their lives any better.

    Wake up, people, you have been shafted, are being shafted, and will continue to be shafted, if you believe a Labour alone government or one supported by a sell out Greens Party will bring the change that is really needed.

  6. Only the left would see swing voters voting for a center left govt as a victory for the right because the left I now see only likes being in opposition.

    The idea that people voted Labour because they wanted a National govt is truly bizzare. If they wanted centerism and hands break they would have voted NZF if they wanted a national government they’d vote for National.

    We’re writing off this government before the votes even been counted. Jesus wept.

    The prime minister spoke of accelerating transformational change and has a mandate to rebuild the country post covid which we’re still in the middle of and which has shown us that this govt even with nzf onboard could ditch neoliberalism on a dime if the public puts on pressure

    But no instead of celebrating a win for the left and center left a huge mandate and a govt that can be pushed for change we’re crowing that people actually swung from national to Labour.

    I genuinely think the left prefers nights like 2014 because then it doesn’t have to do anything but oppose rather than work constructively with a progressive govt , we’re already seeing so called left wing voices demand the greens rule out working with labour and spend three years virtually at war so in three years time the public will look at the left block and go “these jokers can’t work together”

    The idea that national owns voters is bizzare. The way the left is going labour labour will look at the left and go shit we have no allies there.

    This is what seems to always happen.

    Would you prefer task force raptor, benefit cuts , asset sales , health cuts , education cuts , kiwisaver cuts , open borders , tough on crime legislation and whatever ruthanasia on steroids we could have gotten under Nat/ACT I think so… Because then the left can rally the troops and whinge and moan.

    The left and the center left never win and we’re starting to see why, because it only has one mode opposition.

    The right would celebrate swing voters given them a mandate the left cries about it and wonders why.

    Jesus wept.

    • Before the election Grant appealed directly to former voters for Key and English. The comments following their victory from both of them about ruling for all of NZers can only be interpreted as reaching out toward those same people.

      Happy to oppose that, given especially that particularly involves continuing not to govern for the poorest 20 % of NZers.

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