“Goodfellas”: The Neoliberal National Party Shows Its Ugly Face

14
2015

ABOUT THE ONLY thing the National Party has got going for it at the moment is the Labour Party. National’s AGM, held in Wellington over the weekend, achieved worse than nothing. It proved conclusively that the political structures created by the post-2002 constitution are impervious to National Party membership pressure. It showed New Zealand how far the party’s talent pool has shrunk since John Key vacated the leadership in 2016. Worst of all, in the speech of National’s President, Peter Goodfellow, New Zealanders got to hear the vile neoliberal narrative in which the party has trapped itself. Were it not for the similarly delusional mindset evident in the leadership of the Labour Party, National could expect to remain out of power for at least the next 6-9 years.

When Judy Kirk and Steven Joyce set about re-writing the National Party constitution in the aftermath of the disastrous 2002 General Election – when National attracted just 20.9 percent of the Party Vote – the resulting document betrayed the extent to which the political imperatives of neoliberalism had superseded those which drove the party’s formation in 1936.

Back then, the urgent need was to create a mass political party to match the formidable strength of the Labour Party. The political historian, Barry Gustafson, quotes Tom Wilkes, one of the National Party’s most important ‘founding fathers’, describing Labour as “numerically and financially … the greatest  political organisation that has ever existed in the history of [New Zealand].” In Gustafson’s own words: “National needed to match it with an effective but more democratic mass-based party, whose members would control candidate selection and play a major role in shaping policy.”

Even the right-wing parliamentarians and former army officers driving the merger of the United and Reform parties – predecessors of the National Party – understood that a mass organisation could not be built on anything other than a constitution which guaranteed a large measure of democratic participation and control to the rank-and-file membership.

Eighty years on, however, the neoliberal concept of “governance” elevated the concepts of professionalism and organisational efficiency well above those of the often chaotic and unpredictable outcomes associated with democracy. Accordingly, Kirk and Joyce did their best to transform National from a political party into a political corporation – complete with a Board-of-Directors. At the time, even Blind Freddy could see than the latter was bound to become self-selecting and self-perpetuating oligarchy.

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It is interesting to speculate as to why the Electoral Commission approved the Kirk-Joyce constitution. The Electoral Act requires all registered political parties to have recognisably democratic rules. No genuine democrat could possibly mistake the National Party’s constitutional arrangements as the basis for anything other than oligarchy. Yes, there were provisions that permitted members to cast votes, but the core democratic principle: full accountability of those at the top to those at the bottom; was almost entirely absent. Clearly, the Commission is not prepared to call to account any political party that might one day be in a position to have it abolished! Alternatively, its members, like Kirk and Joyce, may also be of the view that “good governance” should always trump democratic accountability.

Certainly, there was no concession made to accountability by Peter Goodfellow. A reasonable National Party member might have anticipated that a president who led his party to the second-worst defeat in its history would feel obliged to fall upon his sword in recognition of the scale of his failure. Such a member would have been disappointed.

Under National’s old constitution, the membership might have responded to Goodfellow’s failure by voting him out of office. But, under the Kirk-Joyce constitution, that sort of root-and-branch change is no longer an option. Power flows down, not up, in the National Party of 2020. Presidential patronage takes precedence over presidential proficiency. No National Party members with parliamentary ambitions are going to put themselves off-side with the Board.

It is precisely this unwillingness to take risks – this  enforced sycophancy – that explains why it has become so hard to attract persons of principle and courage to National’s ranks. When the only behaviour that counts is the sort of behaviour that wins the Board of Directors backing at candidate selection meetings, then it should come as no surprise that politicians of John Key’s calibre no longer seem to make it in the National Party. That Key was selected under the rules of the old National Party constitution – as were Bill English, Don Brash and Judith Collins – is surely no accident. Likewise, that Simon Bridges and Todd Muller were selected under its neoliberal replacement!

At the heart of the neoliberal mindset, now seemingly unchallengeable in the National Party, is the belief that capitalism and democracy are essentially incompatible. Democracy begets more democracy. “Certain inalienable rights” if honoured, have a way of discerning additional inalienable rights. If allowed to develop unchecked, democratic institutions will, eventually, arrive at the gates of private property and private profit and demand admittance. Hence the neoliberal obsession with “governance”: which is more truthfully rendered as “democracy on a tight leash”, or, even more truthfully, “decision-making that – at all costs – protects capitalism”.

Goodfellow’s speech to the AGM fairly reeked with this antagonism towards any political leader and/or political institution failing to protect the interests of capitalism. In National’s world, the rights of private property and private profit must always take precedence over every other consideration: even the health of the population; even in the face of a deadly virus and a global pandemic.

Jacinda Ardern’s clear and uncompromising decision to put the interests of her fellow citizens ahead of the interests of the individuals and corporations Goodfellow is so good at extracting donations from, earned her his own, and to a degree little short of repellent, his party’s, sneering contempt. Oh yes, he dressed it up in euphemistic language like “celebrity politics” and “temporary tyranny”, but what he meant was: “You broke the rules. You put people ahead of profits. You have identified both yourself and your party as unfit to manage a modern capitalist economy.”

The tragedy, of course, is that Ardern half-pie agrees with him. With Covid-19 stamped-out (for the meantime) and the need to act instinctively no longer in evidence, the Prime Minister has reverted to the political and moral default position of her generation: neoliberalism. Led by her head, Ardern’s path forward is practically indistinguishable from that which National would have followed had it, by some miracle, ended up commanding a majority of the seats in Parliament.

Led by her head, the Prime Minister, like her party, subscribes to the notion of “good governance”. Why else is she refusing to take the steps necessary to address New Zealand’s rapidly worsening housing crisis?

Presumably, because that would involve requiring monetary policy to serve the interests of the homeless – not property investors. Presumably, because that would require those at the top of our society being accountable to those at the bottom.

But, most of all, because it would require Jacinda to do what “Jacinda” does best: respond to a crisis by following the urgings of her heart.

 

14 COMMENTS

  1. A very balanced and considered critique of the problems that the centre right face. You are correct that the structure of the National Party resembles a corporation and arguably is most closely aligned to that of a bank.

    The identified issue of ‘groupthink’ is clearly afflicting National at the moment. Rather than being brave (ironically the right time to be brave) the current response is a meek Walter Mitty type denial wedded in the belief that sometime soon the middle will wander back like some long lost tribe wandering the wastes of Egypt. They won’t – you have to win them back with good, clear, articulated policy with a coherent Government-in-waiting parliamentary wing.

    Goodfellow is a symptom and not a cause however a symbolic cause that needs to go. I suspect nobody had the numbers with the ‘fundraising’ excuse a red herring. Clearly there is still no ascendant faction between National right and National left at the moment, Goodfellow being the consensus candidate till that is determined.

    Until National can successfully wed their party principals such as personal responsibility, rewards for achievement and individual freedom/choice into a coherent 2020-onwards philosophy and policy framework then electoral success comes down to a popularity contest. As much as I like Judith there is no way she wins a popularity contest against an attractive, younger PM that arguably adopts a National-lite policy framework.

    The only chance National has in 2023 is due to government incompetence. Arguably even in this space the current Government is getting better at this.

  2. You’re a funny guy Chris…ok, lets not milk the “Goodfellas” references…this piece however is sobering reading, and prompts any number of “ahas” and “Of courses!” re the Election Campaign. From “Merv”, to sexts, and disappearing MPs and leaders, the Nat operation stands freshly revealed.

    Patronage, cash handovers, secret dinner meetings, calling in substantial favours, all part of the glorious NZ National Party in recent years. Looking at the Nats structure is naturally left for post election consideration, as the dust settles. “Born to rule”, “don’t you know who I am!…, “she’s F*****g useless” come into focus when you consider the Governance/Board model. It is the unquestioning, hierarchical mode of the business world.

    Labour has management structures too, and ignores rank and file members as much as it can get away. But not to this extent. The Greens are actually the only main Parliamentary Party that has a high degree of membership consultation and involvement.

  3. Maybe Goodfellow offers the Labour caucus hope they can be government for 6-9 more years by occupying the centre. Which might realise what the centre that once ran National pre 1990 (when Rogernomics opened the door to ambition amongst the oligarch class) would have wanted.

    As to housing Labour has to wriggle out of its tax straight jacket and argue for measures selectively applied on investors buying up existing residential property – such as stamp duty and mortgage surcharge. saying as the goal is not to raise revenue but to direct investors to financing or buying new builds, it is not really a tax move. A stamp duty on the investor when they bought an existing home would help the owner occupier buyer win the auction. And a mortgage surcharge on any loan the investor got from the bank to buy an existing property would reduce their leveraging of CG on other property to bid up the value of housing.

    If the government limited this to those who already owned two homes (or at a pinch two homes plus a bach), it would not impact on those who only owned a home and bach looking at making a first rental property investment.

    It would be nice if the LTV applied by the RBG were 10% for a home owner, 50% for an investor in existing property and 25% for an investor in a new build.

    Otherwise, the governments options include claiming a share of “new money” – its certainly one way to afford as many state houses that can be built to meet demand.

  4. I am reliably informed:
    Of the candidates for board selection, David Carter had the highest number of votes
    When Carter spoke to the 500 or so gathered to witness a change; he received by far the biggest applause.

    Very clear messages to the board which elects it’s own chair aka President.

    Vicissitudes of managed democracy?

  5. No wonder Labour don’t want to do anything transformative when they know ze gnats are this disfunctional.

    Pity because surely now is the time to do that, even if it didn’t go down well the opposition are so entrenched in their dellusional world they won’t get back in next election.

    Opportunity wasted

  6. How our Covid Wardens (Labour MPs), and Wrong Turn Ardern got into Government in 2020 was due to two things:

    1. The National Party fell apart, and elected a leader that scares people away from voting National
    2. Using Covid as an election strategy.

    Please remember that in February/March 2020…the National Party was ahead in opinion polls.

    Next opinion poll will (I am guessing) record a big drop in support for Labour because of their decisions not to support Cannabis Law Reform — therefore directly opposing 1.4 million Kiwis (mostly Labour/Green voters), ruling out Christmas Benefit Bonus Payments….opposing another 45,000 Kiwis on those benefits…and watching House Prices skyrocket — without bringing in CGT/Land Tax — anything remotely useful for first home buyers (make those first home buyers except from the CGT/Land Tax)…upsetting more people.

    • Has Jacinda appeared at one of the 1pm Covid briefings since the election? I didn’t think so. Sums her up really.

      She terrified the nation and then milked Covid for all its worth. TBH great play to her. For all those accuse anyone else of doing anything to cling on to power, just remember Jacinda is a politician, no different to all the others.

      • So what do you actually think about the subject at hand, as in…
        “Goodfellas”: The Neoliberal National Party Shows Its Ugly Face?

        We know your disdain for Ardern but years of Key’s mug shot at every passing glance and still wheeled out at every opportunity is enough to make Ardern’s appearances look like Haley’s Comet.

        Change your record bro.

  7. As I’ve always believed, it was a national party tactic to infect labour with neoliberal values, if that’s what they could be called, those 30 odd years ago.
    It’s been National all the way. National have unleashed the hypno toad of brainwashery on our primary industry farmers who now believe that more abuse in the guise of the myth of National Party support is the thing to perk them up when the reality is our farmers know no better. And our farmers are not alone. We, all of us, are well down the Professor Stanley Milgram drain plug of National Party abuse and neglect. One could, in fact, argue that we’re the victims of abuse and like many in abusive relationships, we have no idea that while we hope things will get better we think we’ll deserve it if things get worse. National and their quasi-political hangers on are abusing us and the proof you need to believe that? Homelessness? Child poverty and poor health? Maori incarceration stats? The predatory nature of the four foreign owned banks busily tangling people into unpayable mortgage debt which will become an entrapment device to sequester our urban property and enslave us to do their bidding? I could go on, could I not?
    @ Lainz asked above asked “But going forward what is the answer?”
    Well, certainly not by doing the same things over and over again while earnestly expecting a different result.
    Tomorrow’s changes happen now. Today.
    Here’s what a malcontent farmer without a farm with more chips on his shoulders than a Bluff woodchip worker has would do.
    Tax the foreign owned banks into receivership.
    Write off all mortgage debt to them and our own lot too. All of it.
    Then, in about two weeks when all that sinks in and suddenly your house is now a home, not an investment, look around and see what the world looks like without debt ?
    Radicle ? Nuts? So what? As I’ve written above. Change must happen now because ‘now’ is tomorrow and now? Under this current lunatic asylum politic and economic? Tomorrow’s looking very fucking scary. We’re entirely without defence and we’re trying to pay mortgages on houses that some dodgy foreign investor reckons is worth millions.
    Oh? I forgot to add a royal commission of inquiry into the likes of jonky, fay, richwhite, hart, chandler, gibb etc. Lets see what they’ve got on their laptops ? We know what was on ron brierly’s if the arresting Australian police are to be believed.

    • I was going to write in response to CT, but certain of your posts always compel me to write…

      …’ The predatory nature of the four foreign owned banks busily tangling people into unpayable mortgage debt which will become an entrapment device to sequester our urban property and enslave us to do their bidding, -Here’s what a malcontent farmer without a farm with more chips on his shoulders than a Bluff woodchip worker has would do.
      Tax the foreign owned banks into receivership.
      Write off all mortgage debt to them and our own lot too. All of it.
      Then, in about two weeks when all that sinks in and suddenly your house is now a home, not an investment, look around and see what the world looks like without debt ‘…

      —————————-

      And Chris’s final parting shots:
      —————————-

      …’ The tragedy, of course, is that Ardern half-pie agrees with him. With Covid-19 stamped-out (for the meantime) and the need to act instinctively no longer in evidence, the Prime Minister has reverted to the political and moral default position of her generation: neoliberalism’…

      —————————-

      Really sums it all up. She is a third way Blairite. As is her Minister of Finance. Its all they’ve ever known or passionately believed in. Thatcher was a complete and utter bitch. The Queen loathed her. And rightly so.

      Long Live the Queen !!!

      Despite all the accusations and charges of being a family of bludgers sucking on the English taxpayers tit, the Queen saw right through Thatcher and her crass American counterpart Ronnie ‘baby boy’ Reagan for exactly what they were: a couple of social climbing sell outs to the nouveau riche’s wealth and riches on the backs of, – and sweat, – of her subjects.

      And in NZ, – there was Douglas. The odious Roger Douglas. Playboy and stool pigeon of the Mont Pelerin society of London. Along with his mate in the opposite political party, Ruthy ‘the champ’ Richardson. Both in key positions as ‘ Finance Ministers’. Perhaps Ministers of national sovereign destruction , grand theft and treason would have been more appropriate titles for them. Along with their ‘outposts’ of the Mont Pelerins in the colonial regions: the Business Roundtable aka the NZ Initiative as they like to call themselves these days.

      And in a message to the fake woke and their smug self serving and condescending bullshit.

      I’mmmmmm really not interested in your’ OK boomers’ meme’s or your token number of women or people of colour in parliament: what I’m interested in is social need, not your inverse discriminations. I’m old school. I believe that no matter who you are, a firm foundation for social equity ,social participation, and the opportunity of our bright young people to succeed is a realistic wage and or salary tied in with inflation and the true costs of living, of an award rate guaranteed, – that shall not be surreptitiously undermined by the unscrupulous and the lawless by penalty of hefty fines and imprisonment,- in short, – a guarded and regulated economy that is at once unapologetic in its nationalism coupled with its regard for the sanctity of ALL members of that society no matter what social rung they currently occupy.

      The trick is to stop for a minute and observe those people doing the jobs you dont want to do. The rubbish collector, the road worker, the cleaners and the factory workers. See past that to the CEO behind them that pays such low wages to them,… so they can profiteer off of them. And take a holiday in Fiji when it gets cold or too boring. Then think of the family’s of those workers wives and children. And an exhausted husband or wife who arrives home ( often doing well over the normal hours ) and is expected to nurture that family, cloth and feed them and continue to put food on the table despite food banks running overtime with Bill English’s WANKY neo liberal ‘minimum wage economy that encourages foreign investment’. In a so called ‘first world economy’. Which is actually more like a ‘second world economy’. Like Albania. Or Mexico. An exploited economy. Because that’s what it is. A true blue Bill WANK English legacy.

      With whole family’s STILL sleeping and living in cars and vans.

      WANK, WANK.

      And yet you bleat on about freedom campers.

      WANK, WANK.

      Hypocrites.

      WANK, WANK.

      NIMBY’S.

      WANK, WANK.

      For some, perhaps that blunt reality is too much to countenance. I don’t care. In fact I hope something happens in your personal life that challenges your worldview and your smug self satisfaction. Your ‘Damascus’ experience,… your ‘watershed’ moment,… your epiphany,…

      So lets start with dismantling the Reserve Bank Act to enable a govt to command them to print money to finance large infrastructure rebuilds like Savage did, the reintroduction of tariffs to protect our small business and their employees,…the beefing up of trade unions and award rates,- and while we’re at it , – apprenticeships and free education for ALL NZ citizens… how about we nationalize water and power and rail and airports?…

      I’m sure you get my Keynesian drift.

      In short , – how about we look after our own FUCKING people for a change?

      Instead of some bludging , sponge arsed overseas foreign fat bloated bloody scrub shitter who can never spend his / her cash in a lifetime while our people struggle to make ends meet from week to bloody week?!!?

  8. ” It showed New Zealand how far the party’s talent pool has shrunk since John Key vacated the leadership in 2016 ”
    Yeah that kind of ” talent ” we can do without and shows how hollow our country has become when 45% of us supported someone who was a pathological liar and got away with some of the worst , blatant illegal underhand behaviour not seen in this country since Muldoon. He ran this country for a select few while pretending to govern for all.
    The fact that David Carter gets rapturous applause just shows how far the party has fallen considering Carter was an utterly appalling speaker who ran allowed Key’s government to get away with some very serious misdemeanors.

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