To Remain The Same, Everything Must Change.


CONSERVATIVE NEW ZEALANDERS are up for grabs. Not since the early-1990s, when Winston Peters and Jim Anderton harvested thousands of votes from deep inside National’s heartland, has there been a better time to engineer a profound realignment of this country’s politics. If Jacinda Ardern, Labour and the Greens play their cards right (or, more accurately, centre-left) New Zealand could become a social-democratic haven to rival Scandinavia.

Let’s begin by acknowledging the upwards of 250,000 former National Party voters that Labour already has in its column. The pollsters of both parties have confirmed that most of these switchers are women aged 45 years or older. Obviously, a large number will also be mothers with deep and abiding concerns about their children’s future. Already, by shifting their vote from National to Labour, they have signalled their openness to new economic, social and environmental priorities. Though very far from being radicals, they do recognise that if the conditions they value most are to remain the same, then everything will have to change.

This is the political mood that gives rise to the oxymoronic concept of “radical conservatism”: a state of mind distinguished by a willingness to embrace new strategies to achieve old goals. A middle-class concerned about preserving its own social status, and determined to prevent its children being forced to occupy a lower level of the socio-economic hierarchy than themselves, will do just about anything. Given sufficient incentives, it can be persuaded to vote for the Left. Given a big enough fright, the middle-class will flee in panic to the Right.

The left-wing Chilean academic, Ariel Dorfman, who worked closely with the 1970-1973 administration of Chile’s socialist President, Salvador Allende, makes some important observations about the middle-class and how it should be treated by left-wing activists. In his 1999 memoirHeading South, Looking North, he writes movingly about the way Allende’s young followers simply “evaporated” those who did not accept their vision of the future:

It was difficult, it would take years to understand that what was so exhilarating to us was menacing to those who felt excluded from our vision of paradise. We evaporated them from meaning, we imagined them away in the future, we offered them no alternative but to join us in our pilgrimage or disappear forever, and that vision fuelled, I believe, the primal fear of the men and women who opposed us … [T]he people we called momios, mummies, because they were so conservative, prehistoric, bygone, passé … [W]e ended up including in that definition millions of Chileans who … were on our side, who should have been with us on our journey to the new land and who, instead, came to fear for their safety and their future.

If Dorfman’s words strike a chord with observers of contemporary New Zealand politics, it is surely because so many of our own young leftists evince a similar degree of impatience with those who refuse to adopt immediately, and without reservation, their own “woke” vision of paradise. It is one of the biggest challenges that Labour and the Greens will face: learning how to communicate with conservative New Zealanders. How to reassure them that the Left’s goals and their own are congruent – not conflicting.

The most obvious issue around which a large measure of unity can be built is housing. For middle-class families, the inability of their offspring to enjoy the independence and security that flows from having a place to call one’s own is deeply disturbing. A state-funded and executed programme to construct not only state houses but also state apartment buildings would draw off a significant amount of pressure from the housing market, flattening prices and expanding the supply of affordable houses as rents fell and landlords offloaded their properties to first-home buyers.

Such a dramatic expansion in state-owned, rent-controlled properties (built by the state’s own construction corporation and workforce) would also have an immediate impact on the poverty and inequality afflicting working-class New Zealanders. The money freed up by significant reductions in rent; the educational and health benefits flowing to children from the provision of permanent, well-constructed and healthy places for their families to live in; as well as the employment opportunities provided by the state’s crash housing programme; all would go a long way towards rapidly improving the living standards of the poorest New Zealanders.

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Another means of cementing-in the support of professional middle-class New Zealanders, and small-business owners, would be to embark on a comprehensive expansion of tertiary and trade-training across New Zealand.

The Covid-19 pandemic has exposed the extent to which this country relies upon foreign (read cheap) labour to keep a multitude of its industries running smoothly. A strong commitment to “indigenise” the New Zealand workforce: firstly by training the necessary numbers of workers required; and, secondly, by requiring employers to pay all New Zealanders a living wage in working conditions conducive to lifting productivity across the board. A subsidy could be paid to small, under-capitalised employers, to ease their transition from the old system to the new.

The pandemic has similarly exposed the tertiary sector’s reliance on full-fee-paying foreign students. A reduction in the number of New Zealand universities, the abolition of student fees, and a strict limit on the number of foreign students would restore a measure of sanity to these necessarily elite institutions. They could once more become places of higher learning and public-good research, bringing to an end their tawdry existence as over-priced and commercially-driven degree factories.

These are but two proposals that could be described as middle-class and conservative friendly. A government prepared to listen to its people would be certain to hear many more.

The restoration of New Zealand to its former status as a “property-owning democracy” – a goal as enticing to its working-class as it is fondly remembered by its middle-class – holds out the promise of a political journey upon which the overwhelming majority of voters can embark together. Making home ownership something to which all New Zealanders could aspire, transformed National into the “natural party of government” for nearly four decades. By making it available again, Labour can acquire the time it needs to transform New Zealand into the Sweden of the South Seas.


  1. An interesting column, with just three policy prescriptions on housing, vocational training and wages. Minimum wage of $25?
    Is this column much different to that of Matthew Hooton in today’s Herald? I would say, not that much.
    Will this level of “conservatism” satisfy those on the Left who want to substantially shift the overton window? The likes of Bradbury will want a much more left wing government and will be seriously and stridently advocating for that. However, that is not how Ardern campaigned. As both Trotter and Hooton identify, the 2020 campaign was much more minimalist, intended to reassure centre right voters that Labour could be trusted. At least in my view, campaign commitments are a fundamental covenant with voters.
    I know from experience how wearing it can be constantly fending off those who want more radical prescriptions. However, longevity in government requires it. Electoral success is the means to stave off agitators.

    • “the 2020 campaign was much more minimalist, intended to reassure centre right voters that Labour could be trusted.” Its all very nice to promise “minimalist” policies but what use is that when global warming is happening right now? Its too late to be cautious!

  2. “Already, by shifting their vote from National to Labour, they have signalled their openness to new economic, social and environmental priorities.”

    Wishful thinking Mr. Trotter. They shifted their vote because National has lost its way, because Ardern is more charming than any of her competitors on the centre-right, and and because she promised that her government wouldn’t act like a Labour government – at least not on the economic front. Matariki will be made a public holiday, Ihumatao will be settled in the protesters’ favour, Andrew Little’s hate speech legislation will pass into law, and we might also see some pointless legislation about the so-called “gender pay gap”. But we won’t see this government overturning the neoliberal revolution. Which means corporate hacks will continue to run out government departments and our universities like corporations (with lots of PC window-dressing), and the user-pays model will remain in place.

  3. The deplorable state of NZ hosing and Jacinda’s failure to act have hit the international headlines:

    ‘New Zealand house prices soar despite Covid recession, worsening affordability crisis
    Property market posted an 11% rise in median values, masking rising homelessness and a widening social divide, critics say

    The United Nations has described the housing shortage as “a human rights crisis”. “They allowed the perfect storm, and that’s successive governments, UN special rapporteur on the right to adequate housing, Leilani Farha told the Guardian during a visit to New Zealand this year.

    She was surprised that New Zealand had such entrenched issues with homelessness, housing affordability and poor-quality homes despite its progressive left-leaning government led by Jacinda Ardern.’

    The money-printing that is currently holding up the system can never be the answer because money-printing is at the heart of so many aspects of our collective predicament.

    And the stampede of people rushing to get here to escape the ever-worsening conditions overseas adds to the pressure on the almost-completely-broken system.

    With deposit interest rates at close to zero and the share markets at the bursting-of-the-bubble stage, where does money go? Into the housing market, inflating that bubble even more!

    ‘New Zealand, which already had some of the most unaffordable housing in the world, saw median prices rise 11.1 % in the year to September, while the median price in Auckland reached nearly $1m (US$660,000). Prices rose 2.5% across the country in September compared with August.’

    We may dream of past times that were better but there is no way NZ can re-establish those ‘halcyon’ days. Far too much damage has been done over the decades since Muldoon’s idiotic ‘Think Big’ mania was rammed down the nation’s throat.

    In the real world, everything is collapsing: the stable climate of the Halocene; the biodiversity that kept the web of life intact; the capacity of organisms to endure the pollution we constantly pour i to the atmosphere and oceans; even the capacity to extract fossil fuels and refine them.

    So. as the infrastructure of civilisation gradually breaks down -led by the US, of course- and as the capacity to produce and distribute food declines and the economy collapses, the ‘middle-class concerned about preserving its own social status, and determined to prevent its children being forced to occupy a lower level of the socio-economic hierarchy than themselves’ are in for a rude awakening. Quite soon, in fact.

    They cannot say they weren’t warned. But they probably will.

    Here’s food for thought:

    ‘The dominance of Big Tech monopoly platforms has created new fields for the exploitation of ordinary labor in the low-paid gig economy and fulfillment centers. The traditional neofeudal fiefdoms (retail outlets, hospitality and restaurants) have been hit by the pandemic pullback in consumer spending, and the other low-wage fiefdoms (fast food and domestic service) have been in structural decline for years.

    Meanwhile, the owners of the Financial Nobility’s fiefdoms and Big Tech monopolies have enjoyed unprecedented gains in income and wealth (see charts below) as wages’ share of the economy has declined for decades, in effect transferring trillions from labor to the Financial Nobility.

    This neofeudal arrangement is about to change as Universal Basic Income (UBI) or its equivalent becomes the accepted status quo solution to neofeudalism’s soaring inequality. Since there’s no limit to how much currency can be created by the Federal Reserve, then why not distribute enough “free money” to the serfs to tamp down the brewing revolt?

    What the political class and the Financial Nobility don’t yet grasp (due to their complete disconnect from neofeudal daily life) is that ALICE will never go back to her insecure, low-wage job, ever. No matter how meager the UBI, permanent unemployment, stimulus or whatever the political class calls the distribution of “Fed free money,” ALICE will find a way to escape the bonds of neofeudal serfdom.

    As I’ve noted here many times, the cash / informal economy beckons. All sorts of labor arrangements can be made on ALICE’s terms, not the Big Tech monopolies’ terms. No wonder the Financial Nobility is so desperate to eliminate cash. But other currencies may fill the need if the Neofeudal Overlords try to eliminate cash dollars.

    Liberty and freedom are not just lofty academic abstractions; what matters is being freed of the neofeudal chains of Big Tech monopoly platforms and the Financial Nobility’s other fiefdoms.’

    • Housing is controlled by an open market and supply is unlikely to flatten or reduce prices alone.
      We have a massive backlog of immigrants, overseas workers, off shore speculators and a legacy left by the jonkey hidden policy of increasing consumer numbers for investor profit at the behest of Business NZ, off shore investors and banks.
      Regulation is needed around housing not a bigger unfettered open market.

  4. It’s my opinion that 99.9% of right wingers were hoodwinked by having their innate greed exploited and .01% are the hoodwinkers.
    And who are they? who is the .01%? We need names don’t you think? Show me the hoodwinkers?
    If you stack up rats in a heap, sooner or later one of the rats will be at the very top.
    Who’s our top rat? There are only 5 million of us on a large and rich country which produces foods as its primary industry and I found myself standing beside a young fellow in Pak N Starve as we both gazed at broccoli at $2.50-ish. I mumbled to him ” Yeah…nah. Fuck that.” He said “Yep. Fuck that. ” and we both walked away.
    Why IS food so expensive? Why is electricity so expensive? Why is LPG so expensive? Why does it cost billions to build a three bedroom hut? Why does the cheapest rough sawn H3 treated 4×2 cost upwards of $3.00 a meter? That’s about $9.00 per joist at .600 centres times walls, floors roofs etc.
    All that nice stuff I’ve just mentioned is OUR stuff. It’s not imported, it’s ours. Why is there GST on food? Why is that? What’s that about?
    Who’s the rat at the top who sits on us? His or her big fat greasy arsehole pushing us down to exploit us? Who is that one rat?
    It’s not one of our elected politicians because if it were , the above wouldn’t be able to be debated because those situations wouldn’t exist because I think we’d have something to say about it.
    So who is it? Who exists OUTSIDE our politic yet runs the Kiwi rat heap?
    I think we should find out who it is with no small amount of urgency then go and knock on their door for a nice cup of tea and a wee sit down for a chat and a ginger nut. What do you reckon?
    I’ve just discovered George Carlin.
    To quote the now dead guy.
    “Think of how stupid the average person is, and realise half of them are stupider than that.”
    “By and large, language is a tool for concealing the truth.”
    And chillingly The Top rat will know this about us.
    “Not only do I not know what’s going on, I wouldn’t know what to do about it if I did.”

    • I used to grow Broccoli once. In a season where it was plentiful I took a few crates across to the local vege shop. They had yellow broccoli for sale at $1 per head (it was a long time ago) . The guy said no thanks to my perfect 1 hour picked crates. Said they were 50c a crate at the market. Yet here he was offering only stuff over a week old that he paid 50c per crate for but would not put fresh stuff out till he had sold all the stale stuff at $1 a head. That’s why it costs so much. The retailer sells it for what the buyer will pay , it has nothing to do with the cost to the retailer.
      But Lumbercorp is paying me $1.975 for top grade 4×2 framing greensawn. 2/3s of that for no2. They have to dry that, gauge, machine grade, and H3 treat, And then distribute, and the retailer has to get something.
      That $3 isn’t that bad. It’s set by what the log is worth at the Mount.
      D J S

  5. ‘I’ve just discovered George Carlin.’

    Where have you been, countryboy? I’ve been posting George Carlin on TDB for years, having been introduced to him more than a decade ago.

    This one from the early 2000s pretty much sums it all up in the US. And NZ is little different.

    I presented it, word for word, to NPDC about 8 years ago. Not what they wanted to hear, NPDC being a corrupt organisation, hellbent on extracting money from ratepayers and spending it on tourism promotion -now well and truly down the drain, of course.

    And now that ‘the planet is burning’, this has a kind of black humour appeal:

  6. The “socialism just like Scandinavia” meme is quite common among the left in NZ, mostly because they’ve never been there.

    What they fail to see is that each of the Scandinavian nations are unique and in some ways are definitely NOT socialist. eg Norway which is Christian/Conservative and Nationalist.

    If you want to be like, say, Sweden then you’d have to allow a school voucher system to be introduced which has improved their standard of education enormously. The teacher unions would die in a ditch to prevent that here (It’s ACT policy).

    Then again, you might fancy Sweden’s open immigration policy that has allowed the entry of thousands of Muslim men from the middle east and resulted in a massive rise in violent crime. Sweden is now referred to as the ‘Rape capital of Europe’ and I strongly advise you don’t spend any time in downtown Malmo.

    Careful what you wish for!

    • if No Zealand had been a bit more nationalist, particularly economically, over the last three and a half decades, it wouldn’t be in such a sorry race-to-the-bottom state now…

      Economic nationalism is left-wing.

    • Well, well, well, Andrew! So Sweden is a terrible place that we should all steer clear of, and, under no circumstances believe any of the silly stories people tell about Scandinavian socialism!

      You know, when I read your comment I was reminded of Laura Ingraham’s claims, made on Fox News, that NZ was rounding-up Covid-19 infected people and sending them, against their will, to internment camps. She’s amped-up her lies over the past few hours, painting a picture of this country that no one actually living here could possibly recognise. Why? Because of the danger posed to Trump’s re-election chances by an example of how things in the USA could have been done so much better and without the loss of 230,000 American lives.

      I suspect the Swedes would have equal difficulty in recognising their country from the description you have given. But they would certainly know why you were misrepresenting them so outrageously.

      Sweden has been a shining example of what a caring community can achieve for the best part of 80 years. Its citizens are quite used to being defamed by people who don’t want the rest of the world to learn from – let alone follow – Sweden’s example.

      • Not knocking what your suggesting Chris but NZ is very different to Sweden in many ways and some we would not want.
        Covid19 deaths:
        in NZ – 5.12 per million
        in Sweden 580 per million.

        We think differently.

    • Denmark yes, Sweden NO THANKS. Danes laugh at the excesses of “progressive” PC culture in Sweden.

  7. No we don’t want to be like Sweden Andrew. And it ain’t only the Muslim men that commit rape. And Acts leader kept saying ‘poor little brown kids’ re- charter schools, yet he wants to get rid of all the other state assistance that is helping them and their parents to survive. Its no good having a good school to go to when you have no home or decent income to live of, or food to eat. But you can have a big gun to shoot rabbits can you see the irony.

  8. Chris you are dreaming!!!!
    This country is so NIMBY now that we could never be progressive like Sweden or even Norway. A quick scan of their main income sources will flag resources like iron ore, steel and OMG…OIL in Norway!!!!!! And Sweden even has 3 nuclear powerplants, yes I said the N word!
    Can you see the problem with your dream ???? We are so stupid as a nation when we could be so rich, we could could rid of the benefit with all the money this could earn as a country.

    NOT IN MY BACKYARD is the current main economic strategy holding back New Zealand. Justread some of the blogs here. What are your grand plans to get rid of NIMBY, so we can indeed be like Sweden or Norway???

    “I want it all, I want it all, I want it all…but I don’t want to get my hands dirty to get it all” (apologies to Queen)

  9. Some years ago we hosted a Romanian refugee. He had been a bad boy in Romania by with his brother ,several times swimming across the Danube at night into Bulgaria and thence through Europe to Belgium where he could work. At modest wages in Belgium he earned enough in 2, 6 month stints to buy his sister an apartment in Bucharest i think was the city. The exchange rate between the euro and whatever the Romanian currency was made wages earned in Europe a fortune in Romania.
    Though the exchange rates operating between the NZ$ and the countries the Russian sailors and other temporary immigrant workers are probably not as dramatic as this example it will undoubtably explain why these workers are willing to work consciously for wages that do not attract local workers. Those wages will represent a much better income for someone domiciled in their country of origin than here. That’s why Kiwis don’t want those jobs. They are poorer wages in NZ than at home. It is just the reciprocal of manufacturing jobs being exported to China or Bangladesh because the wages there are so much less. They aren’t less really when converted to living costs, The exchanged NZ dollar equivalent would not support life here . It does support life there.
    The relevant point is that our so called floating currency exchange rates do not remotely equate the true relative values of currencies. They are determined entirely by speculators.
    When will some common sense return to the world?
    D J S

    • I just did a bit of homework… So the average wage in Russia 2019 was just under 50 000 rubles a month. a Ruble NZ$ exchange rate is just under .02 rubles to the NZ$, so 2%. So average wage in Russia is $1000 per month or $250 per week. $20/hr would be $800 per week.
      Go figure why Russian sailors get employed instead of NZ. They can live on an income an New Zealander can’t live on.
      D J S

  10. Ah yes labour. They finally increased income tax for the rich (well promised). What are they going to spend that new money on?
    Paying teachers, doctors, nurses and civil servants a half decent wage?
    Ending homelessness.
    Opening education to everyone?
    Quality of life?

    Nope! It’s going to spent on encouraging parents to spend lest time with their kids and go back to work in order to earn more money, buy more crap and pay more tax. We’ll then pay other people to look after their kids. Earn more money, buy more crap and pay more tax.

    Wealth redistribution, but to whom?

  11. Don’t get too excited Chris, most of those those newly minted Labour voters (women over 45 as you say) are as shallow as a car park puddle and will vote for the another pretty face offering soothing words next time.

    But let’s assume your plan was invoke to try and retain them, what would it take?

    NZ is 98% unoccupied so there is no shortage of space. Even around Auckland there is ample land with low agricultural value that could be built on. Building houses is trivially simple and at the extreme end of the options, we can even import them from Vietnam prefabricated. Given there is a supply of both land and houses what’s stopping it happening? In short; Auckland Council, its rules and its bureaucrats. Central government must put a legislative pistol to the head of this (Labour controlled) council to remove the rural/urban boundary and allow development to happen. It must remove the burden of massive upfront fees for it imposes on development. It doesn’t need a state housing program, it just needs local government to be forced to get out of the way.

    You have a point here. Redirect our tertiary education budget toward vocational education that would benefit both the state and the individual. Offer tax relief to companies offering approved apprentice training schemes, like the one I benefitted from when I was a student in the UK. We need more ag, horticulture and viniculture degrees. We need more vets and vets assistants. We need engineers, xRay technicians and GPs. This might imply reducing the funding of the long list of useless qualifications currently offered by the ‘humanities’. We definitely don’t need any more woke, angry, green haired, facially pierced women with degrees in ‘gender studies’. Or journalists for that matter.

    • Andrew
      “NZ is 98% unoccupied so there is no shortage of space.”
      Simplistic analysis.
      We have widespread environmental degradation with polluted groundwater, rivers dying, wildlife disappearing with many larger species endangered or becoming extinct, important wilderness progressively wiped out, herbicides and ecocides poisoning our insects and pollinators, fertile land close to cities that we depend on for food being swallowed up by developers, all in a world that has an overshoot of humans.
      Over 98% of our wetlands have been drained for industrial grazing and urban expansion.
      Housing is the most common environmentally displacing activity found in NZ.
      Expansion of land used for housing and population numbers are both problematic with no real answers of solutions.

      After denuding much of NZ’s bush, the soil which takes thousands of years to form gets depleted with commercial industrial cropping.
      Permaculture relies of more intense but educated labour and skill usually successful in smaller holdings or cooperative growing communities.

      NZ has more than enough people except if you are an investor in consumerism helping to stuff the planet and fill landfills with waste.

  12. Always appreciate your intelligence. I expect my rabidness is as much personal as objective. Like all the old socialists.

    The clear-cut is the way for the people though. Where the Right’s simplicities not bothered by facts get ahead of us.

    Aren’t the Scandi countries great? A poke in the eye to this bullsh we’ve been dealing with for many years.

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