Staying Inside The Lines.


DOES THIS GOVERNMENT have the gumption to go on the offensive against its National and Act opponents? The evidence, to date, suggests not. All we have seen from Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues since National eclipsed Labour in the polls is the risible politics of “anything you can do I can do better”. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but, in electoral politics, flattering your enemies is not a winning formula.

At the core of the Government’s supine response to National’s reflexive policy kicks: tax-cuts, reduced spending, fuelling moral panics on education and youth offending, getting tough on gangs, racist dog-whistling on He Puapua and co-governance; is the Centre-Left’s besetting fear that fighting-back against the Right will cost it votes.

Teasing out this core anxiety, it soon becomes clear that the Centre-Left’s fear arises from its conviction that the overwhelming majority of the electorate is susceptible to the ideological arguments of the Right. That being the case, it only makes sense for them to inoculate themselves against the Right’s attacks by saying “Me, too!”

But, if the electorate is susceptible to the Right’s policy pitches, then it is only because it has been years since they heard the Left come to them with anything remotely resembling a passionately argued case for radical change. One would have to go all the way back to the general election of 1993: to the Alliance’s left-wing manifesto (which attracted 18.3 percent of the popular vote) to hear a political party ask for the electorate’s help in upending the status-quo.

It is difficult to understand the Left’s reticence on matters of policy. Certainly the Labour Party’s history argues strongly in favour of implementing radical change without apology and defending the gains made against all comers. After governing for 14 years, Labour had the satisfaction of losing power to a National Party which had only become electorally competitive by pledging to keep the core economic and social reforms of the First Labour Government in place.

It is possible to argue that Labour repeated that feat with Rogernomics, which, following a half-hearted attempt to rally its supporters against the Lange Government’s “more market” reforms in 1987, the National Party embraced with frightening enthusiasm in the days and weeks immediately following the 1990 general election.

To make this case, however, it is necessary to argue that Labour found it impossible to grasp the ideological and electoral implications of National’s wholesale conversion to Neoliberalism. Following the Mother of All Budgets and the Employment Contracts Act, Labour’s continued adherence to the core elements of the neoliberal economic order left it stranded in exactly the same position as National between 1950 and 1984. By refusing to abandon Rogernomics, Labour began its long, slow decline into an attenuated version of its principal electoral rival. A party equally committed to maintaining the neoliberal status quo. National Lite.

All attempts by Labour’s rank-and-file membership – especially following the Alliance’s demise in 2002 – to put an end the Parliamentary Labour Party’s love affair with neoliberalism ended in failure. The enthusiastic Rogernome, Phil Goff, was not a remotely credible salesman for the refreshingly social-democratic programme forced upon him by the likes of Helen Kelly, Marion Hobbs and Michael Wood. Labour’s dismal Party Vote of 2011 – just 28 percent – was taken by the Labour Right as proof that stepping away from the status-quo could only end in disaster.

TDB Recommends

Undaunted, the Labour Left continued to agitate for a final repudiation of neoliberalism, even managing to elect the only mildly apostatic David Cunliffe as the Party’s leader. Outraged at this rank insubordination, a majority of the Parliamentary Labour Party – spearheaded by MPs who are now senior Cabinet Ministers – made it clear that Cunliffe’s support within the Caucus was weak, vulnerable and unequal –  intellectually, emotionally and politically – to the task it had set itself. Perhaps unsurprisingly, in the 2014 general election Labour crashed to an even worse defeat – just 25 percent of the Party Vote.

The Party was now in the unenviable position of being unable to go either forward or back. With a clear majority of Labour MPs vehemently opposed to abandoning neoliberalism, and their minions in the party organisation conducting a ruthless purge of all those who had promoted and supported Cunliffe, the leadership of Andrew Little was characterised by a steady retreat from the progressive economic policy positions won between 2008 and 2011. Unsurprisingly, that retreat was matched by a relentless decline in the voting public’s enthusiasm. Had Jacinda Ardern not stepped into the breach, it is likely that Labour’s Party Vote would have continued to decline – quite possibly into the teens.

Ardern’s great achievement in the 2017 general election was to allow her own natural ebullience and rhetorical energy to generate an impression of political rejuvenation. Though she never actually said as much, “Jacinda” did not go out of her way to correct the widespread misconception that Labour had, finally, freed itself from ideological captivity. When she said “Let’s do this!”, a great many people construed her words to mean: “Let’s move beyond Rogernomics!”

Certainly, Winston Peters and NZ First understood the public’s eagerness for a break with the old order. Indeed, so caught up was he in the currents of history that the old campaigner felt moved to have a crack at capitalism itself – a rhetorical blast half-heartedly echoed by Ardern.

But “kindness” and social-democracy, although closely related, are not identical twins. Had Covid-19 not intervened, the growing gap between the Ardern government’s rhetoric and its performance would almost certainly have seen it thrown out in 2020. As it was, the country enthusiastically rewarded “Jacinda” for six astonishing months of political heroism. She had faced down the let-it-rippers of the corporate Right and welded the “Team of Five Million” into a remarkable political community. Only someone very special can deliver Ilam and Rangitata to the Labour Party!

But, even with an absolute parliamentary majority, a move away from neoliberalism has proved to be beyond the Parliamentary Labour Party’s imagination. The sixth Labour government’s radicalism on matters relating to ethnicity and gender has not been echoed on those relating to taxation, government regulation, poverty and housing. Even on Labour no-brainers like health and education, the government cannot seem to get it right.

Always, gnawing away at its confidence and empathy, is the dictum that seriously challenging the economic and social status-quo is the surest route to electoral death. Labour’s colouring-in book, and National’s, have to look the same. All that matters is which party is better at staying inside the lines.

And so, we can only imagine a Labour Government willing and able to take the fight to Christopher Luxon and his largely talentless caucus. We can only dream of a Prime Minister with the steel to call out Luxon for inviting George Osborne to address his caucus. Saying something like this:

“After all, what is Osborne famous for? (Apart from tipping the Brexit vote in favour of ‘Leave’ by threatening the electorate with economic torture if it voted the wrong way.) That’s right, he’s the Chancellor of the Exchequer who bailed-out Britain’s biggest banks and corporations and then paid for it by imposing years of bitter austerity on its working-class. Yep, he’s the one who ran down the NHS to a point where Covid-19 was able to kill hundreds-of-thousands of his fellow citizens. This is the politician Luxon would like the National caucus to learn from. What does that tell us about the sort of government he intends to run?”

Multiply attacks like this a thousand times between now and election day 2023, and how much that was electorally useful would remain of the National Party and its leader? Reinforced by Labour’s unequivocal and irrevocable repudiation of its neoliberal past, and a policy platform dedicated to repairing the damage of the last 35 years, the Prime Minister and her Cabinet might be pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically a majority of ordinary Kiwis availed themselves of the ballot box.



  1. But Chris,
    Labour are already on the offensive! There have been multiple headlines in the papers of Jacinda having her social media sessions interrupted by adorable daughter. And now she’s also been chased with a banana. The PR offensive is in full swing. Stop worrying!

  2. Maybe the Left’s arguments for its policies are merely stating nice emotions and being hopeful?
    Arguments that easily get shredded by facts and logic from well-informed journalism.

    Maybe the Labour Party knows through its focus groups and other market research just what the majority of voters want or will put up with.

  3. Then again, given that for decades now nations across the world have stuck with so called neoliberalism rather than socialism suggests that the Prime Minister and her Cabinet might not be pleasantly surprised at how enthusiastically a majority of ordinary Kiwis availed themselves of the ballot box if they were to shift to the left even further.

  4. Accurately described Chris. The question as always is “what is to be done”–the natzos want nothing to be done of course, regarding the Parliamentary neo liberal consensus coming up for its 40th year soon enough.

    The Labour Caucus is neo Blairist–despite good progress on minimum wage and other reforms–and will not change; surely anyone with even half a brain can appreciate that after observing the first MMP majority Govt.’s inaction.

    The task for new gen voters is to get politically active and organise to retire Roger’n’Ruth’s toxic legacy for good in 2026 if not before.

  5. The “racist dog whistling of He Puapua” comes entirely from Labour, Maori & Green parties.

    The response is democracy.

    • To which “race” do you refer? A democracy that allows non-citizens to vote in one’s elections? Yeah, right.

    • Democracy is racist, a manifestation of caucasity, according to Waititi, Willie Jackson seems to agree but smart enough to not use such incendiary rhetoric.
      Seriously Chris, if you think committing to racial separatism and greater state ownership and control of the economy is the way to electoral victory you need to get out more. On the other hand, Labour on sub 20% of the vote and in the political wilderness for a few decades would be fine by me after what they are doing to this country. So maybe yes, bring it on Jacinda.

      • ” On the other hand, Labour on sub 20% of the vote and in the political wilderness for a few decades would be fine by me after what they are doing to this country ”

        Its not Labour George its NEO LIBERAL polices that the National party practices with a slightly harder agenda than Labour.

        Wilderness for Labour hmm while National and ACT’s austerity program is imposed for another decade a great many kiwis will be asking what are they doing to this country.

        • they know that mosa but the very word labour gives them that dopamine hit of outrage, don’t mention socialism or they’ll pass out spluttering talking points.

  6. I can’t seem to see any printed stories but I was glad to hear last night the government are going after entities that ripped off the wage subsidy scheme. This is a little less ‘kind’ and I hope they go hard.

    These worthless pieces of shit that go on about red tape and regulations but make all of that guff necessary because they rip off the tax payer, then boast about it being the “stupid governments” fault. They never reflect on the fact that they themselves are a bunch c words and probably just as criminal as some ram raid, but with more money involved.

    • Great analogy and those same businesses ripping off the tax payer are supported by Nact. Nact bleating on about being pro business and all. Yet the silence on these business criminals is deafening.

      • No they only pick on beneficiaries Bert there an easy target and it gets them more deluded voters who forget who the biggest crooks are in our country and the biggest group of beneficiaries in our country is the elderly. Those businesses who abused the assistance need to pay that fucken money back now rip of pricks.

    • I won’t believe it til CEOs, SFOs, board members and that nice lady who does wonderful brioche at the local cafe are doing time sharing a cell with big ron…not a country club but a proper nick.

      anddddd then the opium wore offff….

    • Capital Gains Tax dodges have been getting away with it for years but the government promoted this corruption by not introducing the required tax. Jacinda is a fraud.

  7. I voted Labour because I had a guts full of the increasing problems in society generated by neo liberal policy. Founding an economy on housing speculation is not a lasting way to manage one’s affairs.

    But all we’ve got is the same old same old, the single exception is Labour have invested their total energies into hiding the symptoms of successive Labour/National governments faith in neo liberalism, through “kindness”. They have practically run out of motels to hide the damage away from the middle classes. And now, deservedly, they are sinking in the polls.

    Personally I think Labour as a brand is now stuffed. Long term damage has been done by this iteration of Labour to what I thought were core Labour values. Labour and National are the same, one is the BA4 variant, the other BA5 of the same virus, almost indistinguishable, afflicting this country from their dedication to this warped method of running it.

    So we may as well expunge at least one version of the same disease permanently come election time. May as well be Labour! Then work on ridding ourselves of National.

    Viruses are bastards to get rid of. So are failed political ideologies.

  8. Well, I guess Chris we will just have to wait for a party with left-leaning values and principles shows up at an election?!

    It hasn’t happened in the last 30 years or more. The Alliance with the old greens were about as close as we got.

    The Labour party bludgeoned them to death and what we have now is a Frankenstein Neoliberal Authoritarian distracted mongrel of a political party that has become a centrist/centre-right pig.

    Roll on a series of hung parliament elections! A cleanout is needed.

    Or Labour and the Nats jump into bed together just to keep Winston out in the cold. Because that’s the kind of thing that these two lame neoliberals would do.

    • Couldn’t agree more. As a second tier economy dependent on Agriculture and Tourism we have always been subject on the vagaries of global market forces. That was a situation we could once tolerate when the state could use its ownership of our vital infrastructure as a medium for exercising checks and balances. But since Labour initiated the sell off of all the silver, leaving them with only the workers to strip as a means of balancing the books, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and the Labour party is a dead man walking .

  9. If you want radical left wing economic policy look at TOP. If you want a leader who expresses genuine empathy for beneficiaries listen to Raf talk about UBI. The Labour Party is not the answer anymore.

    • Can’t disagree there Peter. To directly quote Raf Manji:
      “And what of the people? What is their part in all this? One only has to look overseas to see levels of anger and frustration rising, as people sense something is broken, the feeling that the implied social contract is no longer working. Get a job, work hard, live a good life, participate in your community…how can you do that when you can barely afford to live, or when you feel the system is completely out of whack?”

    • I like TOP too but they will so dramatically bankrupt the Boomer generation in retirement (Maybe that is what’s needed who knows) that they will never get the vote numbers they need for another 20 years. They need to rethink or limit their policy on taxing the elderly. And what of those looking forward to an inheritance (about 50% of people stand to inherit something from their Boomer parents) – will they vote for someone who will see it taken before they can get their hands on it?

      • the coming generations will increasingly need a state pension/social provisions as they spend a lifetime of hand to mouth.

      • typical rightard lie from fantail there….their inheritance will not be taken away a portion of the accrued profits will…ie unearned income
        and … through their lives they will benefit from the tax gathered from previous generations themselves.

  10. Labours problem is they are nom different to their Tory rivals – or as George Galloway puts it “two cheeks of the same arse”.

  11. Dead right Chris, to quote Paul Keating, “ They’re a shiver looking for spine to run up”
    Unfortunately, unless they develop a set they will get hammered in 2023!

  12. Chris- the issue is this Labour govt are largely incompetents’. They cannot even deliver things they want to.

  13. But since Labour initiated the sell off of all the silver, leaving them with only the workers to strip as a means of balancing the books, the baby has been thrown out with the bathwater, and the Labour party is a dead man walking .
    Malcolm Evans ideas leave me cold. The baby is naked in the diminishing bathwater and I’m shivering as I view the ethereal Labour Party walking like a dead man. Man are we in a pickle.
    This is how I feel:–atshVqs

    I’m thinking of good peaceful but useful things we could do rather than wait for nemesis. Anyone else who wants to think, and discuss and go forward in a good way? Anyone else there (moves forward cautiously stretching arms forward to feel any substance).

  14. @ CT. You write;
    “DOES THIS GOVERNMENT have the gumption to go on the offensive against its National and Act opponents? The evidence, to date, suggests not. ”
    It’s not a question of ‘gumption’ since national, act, labour and the greens are the same thing. Which they undeniably are if the facts are worth more than a tag team of liars on $ix figures plus generous allowances. If they were NOT the same thing we’d have rioting in the streets, running strikes and the big four banks going up in flames. You’d have farmers on side with the Green Party and ACT and National, all most to a person would be heading to prison. I take that back. National and ACT would ALL be going to prison. No ‘all most all ‘ about it.
    Unfortunately, our politics and politicians in their current form are just about bullet proof. No matter where those who can be arsed to vote will cast their vote, they’re only keeping a quaint formality alive. The reality is that nothing’s changed in nearly forty years and nothing’s about to change now.
    Wouldn’t it be great if we could buy, or hire perhaps, a pair of Alternative Reality goggles? We could see an alternative AO/NZ to the one we’ve had foisted upon us by greedy, narcissist liars. Wouldn’t that be awesome? What would you see?
    I already see a paradise of real and priceless resources that’s the same land area as the UK ( Bit bigger actually.) but with only five million people. Can you only imagine how wondrous and wealthy we’d be if it were to show its true potential? We’d be happy, content, debt free and without a care in the world.
    Why is it then, that the opposite is our reality? Why is that? It’s not because we have aggressively opposing politicians battling it out because we elected them and we pay them more money than most of us can only dream of. Why is that?
    Could it be that our politicians are all the fucking same thing. And that ‘same thing’ is that they’re liars, traitors, cheats, thieves, swindlers, crooks, narcissists, psychopaths and sociopaths and they’d sell their mothers to be boiled down for soap if they knew there was ‘good coin’ in it. They sit in our parliament with their fat arses down and their flat feet up on massive salaries while our kids, many in poverty, go to shit schooling which sets them up be enslaved by foreign owned banksters for the entirety of their beautiful lives.
    Our democracy is nothing more than a word. Our politics isn’t worth the breath it’d take to debate it and it’s all our fault. We looked to where they pointed without questioning their intentions then they stabbed us in the back when we weren’t looking. While we watch sports or banal gibberish on the brain rotting commercial television to see The News to learn who’s hacked who to a gruesome death. While compelling intellectuals have news and information worth thinking about, the masses watch the Kardashians get pregnant. I know that the strongest thing’s only as strong as its weakest thing but this is fucking ridiculous.


Please enter your comment!
Please enter your name here

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.