GUEST BLOG: Ian Powell – What do you know about politics if politics is all you know?


Last year I began publishing a new blog (in addition to Otaihanga Second Opinionon health systems and policies) called Political Bytes. The intention was to provide a left-wing comment on politics. To say the least publication was very, very, very, very, very, very infrequent. My objective in 2022 is to reduce the number of verys.

Bomber Bradbury (editor of The Daily Blog) has just published a short pertinent piece on whether National and ACT could form a government following the 2023 New Zealand general election. Despite some doubts, he anticipates a Labour-Green government being most likely; a view that successive polls reinforce. .

The wisdom of Cyril James

However, I have a different view which is assisted by the wisdom of CLR (Cyril) James (1901-89), a Trinidadian socialist intellectual and highly regarded international cricket commentator. James published much on politics and cricket with arguably his most famous book being the Black Jacobins (1938) on the Haitian revolution leading to the first abolition of slavery.

What do they know of cricket if cricket is all they know.

CLR James

The two intellectuals James most admired were Russian revolutionary Leon Trotsky and famous West Indies cricketer from Barbados Clyde Walcott. As an aside, Trotsky was sharply critical of cricket despite James’ advocacy; a judgement error by the former.

James was know for his skillful turn of phrase. One was what do you know of cricket if cricket is all you know. Few expressions have registered more in my consciousness than this. It also helps my insights into the likely outcome of the 2023 election. It could come down to what do you know of politics if politics is all you know.

Politics and a pandemic

Labour thrashed National in the 2020 election and for some time maintained that lead in the polls with the latter in a perpetual leadership crisis. But it needs to be remembered that from when Jacinda Ardern became prime minister of a Labour led government in October 2017 until the murderous attack on the Christchurch mosque in March 2019, National was leading in the polls.

TDB Recommends

This changed in response to Ardern’s impressive compassionate handling of the response to the attack. But, by the eve of the Covid-19 pandemic in early 2020, National led by Simon Bridges had regained the lead although only slightly.

But along came Covid-19. The Government was astute enough to follow the advice of experts, including those in epidemiology and infectious diseases, and its political leadership was top notch. Meanwhile, as the Prime Minister excelled, National’s leadership imploded.

Excelled in pandemic leadership.

Jacinda Ardern

Labour had stepped up. Ardern designated the October 2020 election as the ‘Covid election’ and was rewarded with the first majority government since proportional representation began in 1996.

Labour held its strong led in the polls for several months post-election while National’s position was disastrous. But, despite this, I felt that all it took was for a competent National leader to emerge to be a potential gamebreaker.

Competent enough to be a game-changer?

New National leader Christopher Luxon

Even prior to Christopher Luxon’s election as National leader the gap between Labour-Greens and National-ACT started to reduce slightly, even more so after 30 November when Luxon took over. But still, as noted by Bradbury, Labour and the Greens could still comfortably form a coalition government.

Not good at implementing

Unfortunately, either because things have been poorly thought-out in the first place or botched in the doing, Ardern’s government is not good at implementing things. Even though it has several competent ministers, it is starting to look incompetent only capable of doing well in a crisis.

It’s ‘Three Waters’ (drinking, storm and waste) public infrastructure programme to centralise water supply and sanitation was an excellent aspiration. I have much sympathy for it.

But implementation was botched because of the failure to effectively and genuinely engage with local government primarily over the fundamental issue of governance. Its approach was too dogmatic and rigid to begin with forcing local government to be mistrustful of its motives.

In opposition Labour had convinced many that New Zealand had a housing crisis. It was right to do so. But there was a failure to sufficiently advance the construction of social housing, the most effective way of getting out of the crisis. Certainly Labour in government is doing better than when National was. But it is well-short of what is needed and all people can see is a worsening crisis.

In July Labour is abolishing district health boards (DHBs) which it first created back in 2001 to be responsible for ensuring community and hospital care for geographically defined populations without any idea what will replace them. It is doing this without any electoral mandate.

Further, demonstrating the height of incompetence, it is doing this in the midst of a pandemic. By international standards New Zealand has had a successful Covid vaccine rollout. DHBs were critical to this success.


So where does this leave us? A government that has done well in crises but not so elsewhere. A government whose only knowledge of politics is politics to adapt James. There is competence and achievement within this government.

Ayesha Verrall as associate health minister has impressed as a quite achiever with significant decisions about smoking especially but also fluoridation and foliate levels in bread. But these take time to manifest to the extent that they become publicly noticeable.

But being a poor implementer is a hard label to get rid of once you have it. If Labour lets Omicron run away before most 5-11 year olds are vaccinated and many more adults have their boosters, because it fails to extend the closed border and severely reduce the number of people seeking to enter the country it will be in real trouble (as will New Zealanders).

There is no reason to believe that Luxon, even if politically inexperienced, won’t be a competent leader of National. He also doesn’t appear to have baggage (although his treatment of provincial New Zealand when heading Air New Zealand might come back to haunt him a little; I say this as a Kapiti Coast resident).

My take is ‘even-Stevens’. This expression doesn’t seem to be used as much as it used to be. It may originate from Jonathan Swift at least in part. Swift was an Anglo-Irish satirist, essayist, political pamphleteer, poet and Anglican cleric in the late 17th and 18th centuries, but best known for his novel best known for Gulliver’s Travels.

Essentially it means going one way or the other; or fifty-fifty. Given that proportional representation usually leads to coalitions and produces election outcomes closer than people often think, even-Stevens is my pick for 2023


  1. What we need is a sieve like you have in the garden where you need several grades of mesh to extricate the varying sizes of oxalis bulbs and convolvulus and ivy roots. Think due diligence. Who is what they purport to be? (ie honest) Those liars, hoarders and cheaters may have great smiles and fat wallets but really they are extraneous to the political situation, nothing personal but practicality here. Personally my own sieve would be designed to seperate out any actors, entertainers, police, ex-police, millionaires, billionaires, trillionaires or their spouses.
    How to build this fabled sieve? Well for a start, don’t throw any more tech at it expecting miracles because tech does not (sorry Jacinda) create miracles and in the wrong hands or with insufficient oversight can cause disasters. Don’t throw money at it either (that’s sharkbait) Maybe a great deal of commonsense, intuition (if you are human) and on the ground research as to how your proposed MP/political party although the word party is becoming grossly abused these days, actually lives and functions as a human being.
    Great article btw thanks

  2. To distill the point–“what do they know of politics if all they know is politics”–Almost 40 years now a neo liberal state has prevailed in culture, legislation and even individual psychology (hegemony). After NZ Labours left was excised by the Backbone Club in the mid 80s, it became even more merely a Parliamentary electoral machine.

    Roger’n’Ruth’s toxic legacy haunts this country large. There should not be one homeless, hungry or distressed person in this land of plenty, with barely 5 million inhabitants.

    The key political question in this country in and outside of Parliamentary politics is how to roll back and retire the neo liberal dog eat dog state. I say the new gen voters (generation rent & student loan) need to step up and organise for direct action.

    • it is fairly miraculous how they make NZ as bad as other neo-lib shitholes….with our advantages it’s quite an achivement.

      • It is indeed gagarin.

        Managerialism, fifth columnists in the public sector, low union membership density, the subsidence of collectivism, commodity fetishism, precarious work, have all contributed I guess.

  3. Perhaps the biggest divide between Labour/Greens and National/Act will be the question of Ethno-Nationalism or Democratic-Nationalism.

    Labour/Greens are on the Etno-Nationalism band wagon. National is humming and hawing and Act is on the Democratic-Nationalism train.

    How well Labour/Greens sell the He Puapau concept so that it benefits ALL New Zealanders is their election breaker.

    For sure National will test the wind and come down on the Democratic-Nationalism side.

    Worth a read

    “The fourth belief is a blood and soil ideology. It is the idea that an ethnic group indigenous to an area is autochthonous. The group is ‘of the land’ in a way that is qualitatively different from those who arrive later. As a consequence of this fact the first group claims a particular political status with entitlements not available to others. The ideology is located in mythological origins and seductive in its mystical appeal. By separating those who are ‘indigenous’ from those who are not, a fundamental categorisation occurs which then becomes built into political institutions. Such a categorisation principle can be extended – why not have a number of ‘classes’ with political status based on time of arrival – those who arrived first, those who came a little later, to those who have only just arrived. In an ethno-nation it is quite possible that these ‘classes’ could become caste divisions.”

    • Well put Gerrit. That article makes it clear I can’t vote for LINO or the so-called Greens in 2023.

      NZ 2023 is looking a bit like USA 2016. One commentator talked about the “walk of shame” home from the 2016 polls, punters hoping nobody would ask them whom they voted for.

    • Thanks Gerrit that is an excellent article well thought out and explained. Dr Elizabeth Rata has done us all a great service by setting matters out so plainly and effectively. Now I have to read it again thoroughly to get the points firmly in my head.

      Of course one way we could devise a plan is to decide how the end would look, what we want the outcome to be, and then work out practical ways to achieve that. At present a lot of the time we are following theories of what we should do, with the outcomes that arise assumed to be positive. I am sick of theories, rising out of people’s brains which can be disappointing. A lot of ‘shoulds’ crop up, both in advancing methods and systems and practices which should be followed, and then in the outcomes, the results should lead to a high outcome of what is desired. It isn’t even a rosy hypothesis, it is a given, a certainty, and as dodgy a plan as tossing NZ into the global neoliberal alphabet soup, where words can confuse and obscure meaning or add lustre to a guileful report. This has been exercising minds for a while and Orwell comes to mind.

      Newspeak is the fictional language of Oceania, a totalitarian superstate that is the setting of the 1949 dystopian novel Nineteen Eighty-Four, by George Orwell. … The word “Newspeak” is sometimes used in contemporary political debate as an allegation that one tries to introduce new meanings of words to suit one’s agenda. Newspeak – Wikipedia
      Doublespeak is language that deliberately obscures, disguises, distorts, or reverses the meaning of words. Doublespeak may take the form of euphemisms (e.g., “downsizing” for layoffs and “servicing the target” for bombing),[1] in which case it is primarily meant to make the truth sound more palatable. It may also refer to intentional ambiguity in language or to actual inversions of meaning. In such cases, doublespeak disguises the nature of the truth.

  4. Forget about our politics. Please. It’s a fucking mess. Our politics are barely worth a mention.
    Go out and woo the money. And that’s to say go out and woo the farmer.
    Get to know that hand that feeds you. Invite them over for a cup of tea, a joint and an E and pay for a set from an international DJ like Be Svendsen on a warm summers evening. Integrate our farmers with the cities. Integrate our cities with our farmers and in so doing you’ll squeeze the parasites out of the yawning chasm that’s currently between to deliberately polarised societies. Those who live rural and those who don’t.

    • okay countryboy let’s do that. Start a movement Town and Country and organise things and have social groups, and make friends and families get to know each other and set up suitable time share arrangements where farmers and their children can come and stay occasionally and see a show, and townies can go out and feed the animals and ride the horses, run around the land, slide down the hills, dangle feet in the creek, feed the eels whatever. A reciprocal arrangement between two families or through the time swap arrangement, checked out of course to see it is suitable. That would be a good move and enrich everybody’s lives I think, done effectively.

  5. Politics is a charade. Money controls it, money controls the media, most people do not know either dynamic, henceforth….the world is stuffed. We are stuffed,

  6. Three waters is an absolute scam, Government asset grab, a “partnership” with tribal elites. It is so bizarre to see the left promote a racist agenda, but here we are.

  7. Let me summarise this.
    Last poll. Labour dropped to 39% from 56% 2020.

    Which means 61% doesn’t want her and Labour anymore. Its always up to the incumbent to lose.

    It’s the trend. From 56% to now just recently 39%.
    Covid kills! Governments.

  8. Nah. Labour + Greens squeeze in and then that will be it. The Greens will pull Jacinda further left which will turn enough of the 40 yr old women away and National/ACT get in 2026.

    I suspect the world will have well and truly gone to shit by 2026 so there’s a chance that they might eek out a fourth term but fair unlikely. Black swans being trump gets back in, China invades Taiwan, very large recession.

  9. Oh stick your face into your pudding of bad happenings, roll it around, suck the stuff in with your mouth, and up your nostrils. You can’t get enough of prophesying bad things and the last thing you want is for things to improve because you are obsessed with failure and doom. You have no suggestions to follow that cleverly evade all the road-blocks that have been in place for so long preventing reasoned, practical remediation of our problems. You don’t just feast on the negative as a delicious dish at Christmas/New Year, you continue all year you useless grumpy. grizzlers who care little for other people. Or you think that magically good ideas and community will arise to make all come right with hardly any effort. Does that constitute hate speech?- send in the clowns;.

  10. tell you what chaps(and chapettes) winning another term is jacindas worst nightmare continued ‘do nothing’ will not wash…NZ is a poisoned chalice for the next govt whoever they are.

  11. Jacinda does or doesn’t do what she is allowed to. The only difference between Labour and National is that the latter does their masters’ bidding with glee.

    When the majority realises that the government’s (nee ruling classes’) economic policy has just been about diluting the majority’s existing wealth and transferring to the rich through asset inflation they will vote for someone else that releases the pressure of that economic theft – i.e. ACT who will slash income tax on the middle classes. This will bring some temporary relief at the cost of totally destroying the social and infrastructural fabric of the country.

    If you really want to know whether Labour will win the next election see if Jacinda does a John Key and resigns before the election. That will be your answer.

Comments are closed.