Rendering Unto Caesar: In Labour, L’état c’est Jacinda.


WELL, WELL, WELL, former Labour Party President Nigel Haworth no longer believes Labour’s leaders should be elected by the membership. Yesterday (19/10/21) on Facebook, Haworth called for “a return to the pre-2012 constitutional arrangement in relation to the Party leadership (that is, leave the parliamentary leadership to a caucus decision).” His (rather bizarre) argument was that having the Leader of the Party elected by the grass-roots membership and trade union affiliates – as well as, it should not be forgotten, Caucus members – “had the perverse effect of weakening the Party in relation to Caucus”. This was, he claimed, “a most unfortunate outcome”.

Leaving aside the historical fact that the weakening of the Party in relation to Caucus happened more than 90 years ago, and that the constitutional reforms of 2012 represented (and were understood by most Labour MPs as) a deliberate attempt to strengthen the Party in relation to Caucus, the question arises: Why now? Why has Haworth taken to Facebook with such a controversial suggestion at this moment. Is it merely the rumination of a retired professor? Or is there more to it? And if he is testing the waters, then on whose behalf?

To say that Haworth’s suggestion was greeted with alarm by many Labour members would be an understatement. Indeed, so voluble was the opposition that, barely 24 hours after his first post on the subject, Haworth felt obliged to “explain my thinking” in another.

It didn’t help.

In its essence, Haworth’s key argument is grounded in the most uncompromising realpolitik. While “well motivated”, he conceded, making the election of the Leader of the Labour Party a “broadly-based democratic arrangement” failed to take sufficient account of “the reality of power.” Curiously, he then chose to expand upon this steely observation with a biblical reference. Caucus’s selection of the Party Leader was, he said, “a version of ‘Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s’” Then, as if quoting Jesus wasn’t peculiar enough, he availed himself of what he claimed to be a Chinese saying: “Leaders come, leaders go, but the Party goes on forever.” Given that the “Party” in question could only be the Chinese Communist Party, Haworth’s thinking appeared to be transitioning rapidly from bad to just plain weird.

- Sponsor Promotion -

Was he presenting the Labour Party as a beatific collection of seekers after truth to whom the grubby realities of power could only offer the most dangerous distraction? Certainly, the biblical quotation he uses lends itself to that conclusion. Because, of course, Haworth only quotes half of Jesus’s famous response to the pharisees who were trying to trap him into saying something against his Roman overlords. The full quote from Matthew 22, reads: “Render therefore unto Caesar the things which are Caesar’s; and unto God the things that are God’s.”

What that means in the context of the New Zealand Labour Party is an intriguing question. Could the quotation be reformulated to read: “Render therefore unto Caucus the things which are Caucus’s; and unto Democracy, the things that are Democracy’s” Hardly, since the thrust of Haworth’s argument seems to be in the opposite direction. In the good professor’s mind the role of God seems to have been taken on by the Party itself. Certainly, Haworth, like the Chinese communists, seems to see the Party as eternal. A living thing that must, at all costs, be protected from the potentially fatal consequences of its political leaders’ actions.

But a living thing that has no other purpose but to go on living, would strike most people as a pretty poor model for an effective political party. It is certainly not how the Labour Party, in those moments when it was able to play a significant political role in the life of New Zealand, would have described itself. At the time of its formation, during the First World War, during the years of the Great Depression, and again in the late-1970s and early-1980s, the Party was a vibrant, self-aware political force, resolute in its determination to change New Zealand for the better.

This was the Labour Party that Margaret Wilson (President of the Party 1984-87) fought to save as the Labour Caucus rolled out Rogernomics. The Party which split. The Party, much weaker now, which guided by the calculating hand of Helen Clark, was able, with a final burst of strength, to strip the leadership from Mike Moore and his fellow Rogernomes. The Party which, having expended the last of its political resources, found itself “linked hip and knee” to a Labour Caucus presided over by Helen Clark and filled with her hand-picked allies. But this Labour Party was not the vitally independent entity of Haworth’s ahistorical imagination. It did not exercise “necessary oversight” over its parliamentary representatives. This Labour Party was the handmaiden of Helen Clark – nothing more, nothing less.

And when Helen Clark departed for New York, it was this Party which slowly and painfully began to re-gather the democratic threads of self-government into its members’ hands. First in the area of Party Policy and then – to the utter fury of many of the people who now occupy the most senior positions in Cabinet – by way of a constitutional struggle to give the people who make the Party: ordinary members and trade union affiliates; a decisive role in choosing the person who will lead them. Or, to put it another way: the Party which demanded the very thing that Nigel Haworth believes Labour’s organisational wing should prize the most: power.

Haworth does not mention Jacinda Ardern, but it is her political star that lights the path of his argument. The present Labour Leader was not elected by the Party rank-and-file, she stepped into the job in extraordinary circumstances. But, it was not those circumstances which made her extraordinary. Ardern represents the forces within the Labour Caucus that (with a huge amount of help from the man himself) destroyed the leadership of David Cunliffe. Her closest allies led the fight against constitutional reform on the floor of the 2012 Annual Conference. And although no one would dispute that the members of the Labour Party love Jacinda – and would elect her in a heartbeat if asked – she is also the one who has, oh-so kindly, and oh-so gently, ushered them out of the spaces where important decisions are made.

Labour has already rendered everything unto Caesar – and Nigel Haworth does not appear to have noticed that, in the process, the Party has rendered itself powerless.



  1. Yes Chris, the totalitarian instincts are strong within the labour caucus. Democracy, the voice and will of the people an inconvenience, to be tolerated when it suits, dispensed with when it doesn’t. Leave Decisions on Local body democracy, He Puapua, Three Waters, gender self identification and anti speech laws up to the people, the plebs, the deplorables? Oh no can’t have that, what do they know?

  2. Except the worst thing about the party rank and file electing a leader is they appointed unlikeable duds, who’s appeal to voters was nil. And by doing so compounded their problems. They were Nationals best allies.

    If you recall, Andrew Little was the party’s best pick. I went to a speech he did, the man was uninspiring to say the least and quite forgettable. Had he remained Labour would have lost the 2017 election and even more MP’s and I would argue, it’s very existence.

    Labour’s caucus is quite talentless nowadays owing to its shrinking vote in those 9 years in opposition. And thanks in no small part to its leaders. That process also saw capable talent leave parliament. It badly needed to attract capable people who saw a positive future in a government but meanwhile the party lost appeal left right and centre with idiotic gender neutral policies, and every other neutral policy, whilst at the same time being led by characterless drones. And with it, it’s talent pool dried up.

    Forget the party electing a leader. It was a flawed process of colliding vested interests but what they had in common was that none of the election board realised a leader must be an X factor personality to reach voters.

    • “Labour’s caucus is quite talentless nowadays.” Ditto for National Xray. Our Political landscape is a desert.

      • And that’s a big part of the issue in the neo liberal west, when there is no ideology politics becomes a corporation, where individuals only aim becomes ‘getting a corner office’ so politics attracts similar vicious vacuous blank mediocre yes persons corporations do.

  3. To a professional political manager, party members are somewhere between an occasionally useful anchor and a ever-present source of embarrassment and going ‘off-message’.

    Party members are useful at election times as a crowd of people wearing the same tee-shirt standing around at announcements for the cameras. They also contribute some money through donations, and live bodies for election days.

    But they are also an anchor because they believe wholeheartedly in things like policy goals, and a purpose for being in government. These beliefs tie the hands of the Leader’s marketing managers and hence the party’s success the only time it counts – Election Day.

    And there is the always-present opportunity for embarrassment that someone in an official party role is arrested for embezzlement, drugs or sex crimes. Or even worse saying something contrary to the Leader’s stated beliefs and policy.

    It’s all about controlling the marketing and image of the Leader.

  4. Well having failed on all counts of ‘rendering’ many many of the Crises from 2017.

    You know, Homelessness, Poverty of the widdle babies and Housing, a crashing Health system and education system. Terrorism. And Covid and its long tail.

    How do you say this in french, its time to “fall on your sword!”

  5. Wouldn’t vote for Ardern’s and Robertson’s Labour even if I was paid to do so. To be honest their sheer incompetence coupled with their breathtaking brute ignorance (especially of geo politics) scares the shit out of me!

    • Shona: “….their sheer incompetence coupled with their breathtaking brute ignorance….”

      Agreed. Sad that it’s come to this with Labour, but there you have it. They’ve lost my vote. There’d need to be a seismic shift in the party for me to consider returning.

        • “You can just vote act. No one needs you.”

          Poor Sam: you can’t help yourself, can you! No amount of invective on your part will turn the sow’s ear of Labour into the silk purse you fondly imagine it to be.

          Btw: what you’re looking for there is ACT: that’s the political party in question. The word “act” is an intransitive verb. You know: that thing of which Labour has shown itself incapable? And why some of us won’t vote for it again?

  6. Honestly, what has Labour got left once dear Jacinda leaves our lovely shores to nicer green acres elsewhere?
    Not one who is even remotely engaging, and electable? Hipkins?, Woods? Tamati Coffey? I am serious about that. Labour was dead in the water until they pushed dear Jacinda out to cover up the lack of talent in that pool – Andrew Little being the standard bearer for that lack of talent in that pool – and Labour will be dead in the water until they find another quota women to push to the forefront when times are needy. Mind, women are so passee right now, they might not even bother pretending to care about equality, and just any bloke will do. But nevermind the lack of talent, of charisma, of likability and electability.

  7. At least the caucus seemed to have achieved their objective without the “dirty tricks” which led to the dropping of Jeremy Corbyn as leader, even if it meant losing a couple of elections in the process.

    • Hmmm not sure about that. Seems giving $110,000,000 to the media means they get at least get away with dirty tricks or, even better get the media to do it for them so their hands are clean.

      • The sooner money is not given to the media the sooner whatever that money is used for disappears.

        How does it work out in reality? Is the money used directly to get favours?
        Or to get favourable attention because whatever it’s used for wouldn’t be possible without it?

        For example they get government money, they use it for film and book critics or courtroom reporters. If they didn’t have the money they wouldn’t have those reporters. For the favour the editors and political journalists don’t scrutinise them or only carry favourable stories? Is that how it works?

  8. How Nigel Haworth has fallen-he presented as a leftish UK Labour member, supported Miners Strike etc. when he turned up towards the end of the 80s at Auckland University then Labour Studies Dept. He even voiced support for a lengthy car industry strike over the “Nissan Way” and invited some of the workers to visit him and attended some of their final mediation sessions chaired by Prof. Bill Hodge.

    But it seems in retrospect he was soon enough won to “Rogernomics” and later went on to help form the class collaborationist “High Performance Work” Institute with EPMU’s Rex Jones and other employer friendly union officials and academics.

    The Parliamentary wing of NZ Labour has long lorded it over the ordinary party members notwithstanding game efforts to tweak the rules during the brief Cunliffe period. Little’s handing the mantle to Jacinda Ardern was not by chance or altruism, it was perfectly timed according to the rules-which provide for appointment of a new leader, rather than by election, when a General Election is imminent.

    Flogging a dead proverbial comes to mind in respect of ever getting NZ Labour to retire neo liberalism, let alone apologise for the wrecking ball they swung through this country.

    A political realignment is needed in Aotearoa NZ and it’s name is eco socialism.

  9. Can’t see much praise here for that approach. They are just paving the way for more Jacinda types in the future…popular…enthusiastic…fucking useless at serius management or getting important shit done. I feel sorry for all you ‘real Labour’ supporters.

  10. Ha ! Is funny… All this fuss and drama over who’s got their flat feet furthest into the trough of our agrarian economy on a country larger than the UK but with a scant few 5 million people. Makes me think that perhaps deep, dark income streams are at risk of bubbling to the surface?
    You mark my words? As crooked currents are forced to run ever closer to truth’s surface, all the little bantam roosters will start cackling as though they’ve just spotted a ferret in the hen house.
    I lived, for a drunken, drugged, debauched youthful spell in PM Joseph Ward’s house in Merivale in Ch Ch.
    If one leaned in close enough, one could hear the waffle coming out of the wall paper.
    So nothing new then, coming out of former Labour Party President Nigel Haworth confederate.
    Sir Joseph Ward.
    ” Ward began to work as a freelance trader, selling supplies to the newly established Southland farming community.[1]”

    • Again; Ha !
      OMG! You’ve got to check this out?
      The Guardian.
      “UK strikes trade deal with New Zealand – but it may add nothing to GDP”
      ‘Groundbreaking’ agreement criticised by UK farmers is part of 10-year plan to pivot to Indo-Pacific
      Let this sink in…
      “It is a deal whose only major winners are the mega-corporations who run New Zealand’s meat and dairy farms, ”
      What have I been writing about all these years here? That once farmer goods are beyond the farm gate, that produce that hey produce becomes someone else’s and those someone else’s never need to lift a finger.
      AO/NZ farmers are merely an exploited workforce beholding to foreign banksters.
      And now boris The Blond’s sold out his own farmers in a similar fashion for no doubt the same reasons.
      For more than a hundred years OUR farmers have been filling up the most ornate, diamond encrusted, gold plated gravy train for the lazy, useless mostly Auckland riche imaginable.
      Our farmers must wake the fuck up! Wake up ! You’re all being royally rogered.
      AO/NZ farmers absolutely create a compulsory union.
      Then, and this’ll make you cocky’s laugh, encourage and support Chloe Swarbrick into becoming the sole leader of The Green Party then strike until there’s a very public royal commission of inquiry into past and present relationships between Big Business and our politicians. Make sure you put on your gummies before you go there because there’ll be a lot of shit flying around.

      • Thanks CB for the info. I’m probably a tad younger and don’t know some history etc, especially re farming. Also, you’re posts are savouring to read. Info with a story, if you like. Perhaps you could have also been a “writer”, me thinks 🙂

  11. The fact that both sides of this argument about how Labour leaders are selected are reduced the need for a ‘great leader’ says a lot about the role of parliamentary ‘democracy’.
    Labour’s role since 1916 as been to trap workers in that powerless ‘democracy’.
    A party, Labour in name only, because it always erased ‘labour’ as the creator of labour-value, the source of wealth in the capitalist economy, and reinforced ‘labour’ as merely one of three ‘factors’ of production (land, capital and labour) that competes for a share of that wealth.
    In so doing it masks the reality of the production of value for profit, and limits the distribution of that value to a declining share relative to profit, as the rate of exploitation of labour rises.
    Now that capitalism is dying on its feet, the disruption of the production of value exposes the failure to exploit workers enough to guarantee profits
    Labour’s historic mission to trap workers in parliamentary democracy will come to an end when their lives become threatened by the labour ‘great leader’, however selected, putting profits before people.
    Expect then the breakup of what is now the liberal Labour party, surviving on the vote of the reactionary petty bourgeoisie, and a radical polarisation between a new workers party controlled by the working base, and a fascist party pulling out every stop to destroy the threat of socialist revolution.

  12. The neolibs didn’t have the decency, ethics or intestinal fortitude to set up their own party. Instead they found it easier to hijack one with the promise of various treats and trinkets, and lies and spin that’s now proven to be a failed ideology – somewhat akin to a cult. They’re still hard at it because their lives depend on trying to preserve it all. The mathematics of it all have never really been viable. The natives will eventually get restless and revolt even as the blessed and gorgeous regard them as revolting.
    So……ultimately…..the day they wake up, rather than woke up, and return to policies rather than personalities is the day we’ll all be better off in this space going forward. Meantime we’d be better off tending to our rhubarb crops than indulging them in their antics, even if it’s often quite amusing to watch.

    • Tend to agree Tim.

      Time for a whole new political paradigm where democracy does work (Elected Managers rather than power aligned parties perhaps?). But you are right, we will have to reach a bona fide revolution to achieve that. Crises only seem to give governments more power so ultimately it has to be People Power that makes the difference and in today’s reality, its going to take a lot of heartache and futility before people will ever stand up collectively again.

  13. ” A political realignment is needed in Aotearoa NZ and it’s name is eco socialism”
    As it stands at the moment i will never vote for any of the current parties in parliament including Peters Jones First.
    I will vote for a real left alternative and at the moment only Social Credit seems to be making any sense.

    I have voted Green since 2014 and supported their policies but they don’t have the fire power to push them and currently as we are in a FPP environment with a majority government there is no chance of any alternative having any real bargaining power.

    The NZLP died many years ago and with it any real prospect of a united force against laissez faire economics and a protector for the many not the few.

    The Alliance is an example of what can be achieved but lessons learnt from its mistakes. Are there people out there that are motivated and could fund an alternative ? is there the drive and solidarity to provide a new movement ? wiser people than me will know the answer like Mr Trotter perhaps.

    As for the Social Democrats it makes no difference to me what or how they elect their leaders and being in government because they actually stand for nothing at all except the status quo and that is the elephant in the room.

    I am grateful for their approach in trying to deal with the pandemic and that will be Arden’s nuclear free moment and her lasting legacy.

    There could have been so much more.

  14. It appears that the demographics that Chris and all (us) bloggers represents are the old school who were brought up with and protected by the unions or operated above their station. Aotearoans were in awe of the tories looking for the old soldiers to lead and save us. The common denominator – grumpy, angry old men and ladies who hate Jacinda and ring up talkback, read the Herald and comment in newspapers and blogs. As a consequence Unions/socialism and Tory Conservatism are irrelevant and dying out, The younger people are more interested in gaining employment and/or making money.
    With regards to politicians performing, the Natz have a dithering lot of members who appeal to the old brigade – just watch Parliament. Jacinda and her team and up and comers run rings around the tories.

  15. If it is democracy for a self-selected party of ten thousand to effectively choose the head of government for a nation of five million, then why would it not also be democracy for an elected caucus of 65 to do the same?
    This is a trivial issue which obscures the deep crisis of western “democracies” in which, despite the propaganda, ordinary people do not “have a voice” and do not have the “right to choose their own leaders” and governments are in no meaningful way “accountable to the people”.
    That can and will change through fundamental reform of the political system that will make government “by the people and for the people” a reality, and hence will have revolutionary implications.
    Having said that, Nigel Haworth’s proposal is entirely rational. By this time next year Ardern may be electoral poison, yet the party faithful might still be loyal to her. When personal ambitions coincide with electoral pragmatism, the inner circle of caucus will want to see her gone. That is about as democratic as the colonial regime will ever get.

Comments are closed.