Uncomfortable Comparisons: If Labour’s Harking Back To 2017, Then It’s Not Looking For A Win.


THERE IS LITTLE to be learned from most of the analyses of the Tauranga By-Election results. Those on the Right continue to present 2020’s general election as a normal contest. It wasn’t. The 2020 General Election was in fact an aberrant political event. Labour’s majority was the product of Jacinda Ardern’s world-beating response to the Covid-19 pandemic: a hearty “Thank you!” from at least half of her “Team of Five Million”. The Tauranga By-Election was always going to register the return of traditional National voters to the conservative fold. The result for Labour did not spell “catastrophe”. Nor did a represent a “failure” on Jacinda’s part. The percentages won by the two principal contenders closely matched the 2017 result – exactly as anticipated.

The return of those traditional National voters, while anticipated, nevertheless poses a series of very difficult questions for Labour’s strategists. While there is comfort to be drawn from the proximity of Saturday’s results to those of 2017, there is absolutely no comfort to be taken from Labour’s overall 2017 result.

Five years ago, Jacinda Ardern did extremely well to lift Labour’s Party Vote from 25 to 37 percent, but she still found herself 7 percentage points shy of National’s extraordinary (after three terms!) Party Vote of 44 percent. Jacinda’s rather flat speech on Election Night 2017 reflected her understanding that, by failing to win a plurality of the votes cast, she could not expect to become New Zealand’s next prime minister.

Winston Peters changed all that, but, as the photographs taken of Jacinda and Grant Robertson listening to Peters’ speech make clear, they really didn’t know if they had successfully persuaded him to put Labour into power – or not. Certainly, Peters’ choice ran counter to New Zealand’s informal, No. 8 wire, post-MMP constitution, which, up until 2017, had decreed that the party with the most votes got to supply the next prime minister.

Had National not been in power for the previous 9 years, it is very unlikely that Peters would have installed Labour in 2017. Certainly, a repeat performance (even assuming NZ First surges back into Parliament in 2023) is out of the question. Peters reprising his kingmaker role only makes sense in the political context of an electorate that has undergone a pronounced shift to the right. An important part of that shift has been the dramatic re-casting of the Prime Minister: from faerie queen and national saviour, to pantomime demon – and worse. A minor party opting to keep Jacinda Ardern on the Ninth Floor of the Beehive would provoke nationwide fury.

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Well aware of this possibility, it is also unlikely that the Māori Party would opt to keep Labour in power – even if it could. Between them Rawiri Waititi, Debbie Ngarewa-Packer and John Tamihere have more than enough nouse to discern what would happen if they backed a Labour Party beaten into second place by National. Yes, they might secure another three years in which to implement the He Puapua blueprint, but it would be against a backdrop of racist rage that would not be stilled until te Tiriti and all its works had been cast into the fire.

If the Māori Party’s votes could make it possible for National and Act to rule – moderately – then it would be well advised to let them. The ultimate threat: to pull the pin and bring them down with Labour and Green support; need never be spoken. Christopher Luxon would have the muzzle he needed for Act – without ever having to ask.

There are no friends in politics – only interests to be defended, and opportunities to be seized.

That said, the victory that now looms ahead for National and Act will not be founded upon an enthusiastic right-wing majority within the electorate, but upon the fatal absence of left-wing support. Christopher Luxon is set to become prime minister not on the strength of those who turned out to support him, but on the disillusionment of those who opted to stay at home.

The historical record tells this story in the most unequivocal terms. In 1972, when Norm Kirk romped home to victory, the turn-out was 89.1 percent. Three years later, when Rob Muldoon steamrollered Labour’s hopes for “A New Society” to dust, it was 82.5 percent. In 1984, when Labour again won the Treasury benches, the turnout was a record 93.7 percent. In 1990, when Jim Bolger defeated Mike Moore, it had fallen to 85.2 percent. National Party victories are almost always built on the defeat of Labour voters’ hopes.

Is there anything Jacinda and Labour can do to avert the National-Act triumph that looms ahead? Of course there is! In the simplest terms, they can give their supporters a compelling reason for turning up at the polling-booths. This time, however, it will take more than rhetorical gestures and snappy slogans. This time Labour’s programme will not only need to spell out a clear sequence of reforms, but also the mechanisms required to implement them. And it must be a compelling programme: one that makes losers out of those who have spent the last three decades winning all the prizes; and winners out of those who have spent the same 30 years chewing on their leftovers.

“Bottom rail on top!” That’s how freed African-American slaves described the transformation wrought by General Army Order No. 3, which on 19 June 1865 – “Juneteenth” – gave effect to Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.

Māori New Zealanders have never been so close to seeing te Tiriti o Waitangi honoured in practical and enduring ways than they are today. For this country’s bottom rail to make its way to the top, however, this government must frame the next election as a straightforward battle between the entrenched colonial legacy of “old” New Zealand, and the enlarged democracy of a new “Aotearoa”.

The mission of Labour’s Māori caucus is clear: to persuade their Pakeha colleagues that they must give rangatahi – young New Zealanders of all ethnicities – a reason to get out and vote. Not only is this the only way that Labour can win another term, but it is also the only guarantee that it will not fade into historical oblivion.

Jacinda and her caucus need to take a look around the world and note what is happening to those political parties who still cling to the idea that the centre-ground is the safest place to play. Look at what has just happened in the French legislative elections – where the Far-Right and the Far-Left have both made huge gains. Observe the fate of the business-as-usual candidates for the Columbian presidency, and the historic victory of the former revolutionary guerrilla, Gustavo Petro: Columbia’s first left-wing President.

In his victory speech, Petro thanked the party workers who had fanned out across the nation to “seduce” Columbia’s voters. An interesting choice of words, and an accurate one. Victory for the Left has always been a matter of seduction: of making the voters lust for what the Left is offering. And if that is not, as Petro told the thousands gathered before him in Bogota, a government of love and hope, then what good is the Left? What is it for?



  1. Labour could pass legislation to ensure that only citizens are able to vote. It would be a sane move, and give them the greatest chance of defeating National in 2023. Not to do so gives Labour a snowball’s chance in Hell.

    • Yep. Voting should only be NZ citizens and they should have to have lived in NZ for at least half the time of the previous election term, as it is too easy to skew results in a small country like NZ, that allows so many people who don’t seem to be contributing much and in many cases the opposite (Tarrant) to reside here with their own agenda and are not voting in the best interests of NZ.

      Labeen were more popular when the borders where shut and they were mostly only polling NZ citizens who actually lived here.

      • good point snz, I would add compulsory voting…spoil the ballot if that’s your choice..but make the bloody effort.

    • You assume that only citizens vote for L/G and the non citizens vote for N/A? really? Oh boy.

    • RB.
      I think I know what you’re implying but be careful what you ask for.
      I and many of my (European) friends continue to be PERMANENT Residents in NZ rather than Citizens as a result of the passport laws in their countries of origin.
      Many of us have lived, worked and paid tax for 30+ years and most of us are inclined to vote left.

      • And of course China.

        Too many people voting in NZ who do not live in NZ full time and are not citizens of NZ but can easily vote here.

        Pick a country to be a citizen of, and only vote in one country.

        We see from polls who is popular in NZ when the borders are closed and suddenly not, when borders are opened.

      • immigrant, if you’re not prepared to commit to your new country and want an open escape hatch..you don’t get a vote, simples

        • Gagarin,
          What about people with dual citizenship?

          You’re actually talking about two very different things when you’re conclusion is that PERMANENT residents are not committed to living in NZ.
          I reckon it’s a bit like saying that even though you’ve been with your spouse for 32 years but you’re not married, you’re not committed.
          I’m sure that I’m just as committed to community, society and all aspects of life in New Zealand as New Zealand citizens. Maybe even more in some cases because I have CHOSEN to live here.
          ‘Open escape hatch’ is very naive thinking sorry.
          There is no hatch and there is no way back. I’ve committed to life here and if you knew the size of my investment in contributing positively, partly out of gratitude that I’m allowed to live here,
          you would give me two votes at the elections.

            • Gagarin, mānawatia a Matariki!

              Good question; why not. We’re getting off topic though: you suggested Permanent Residents shouldn’t have a vote at the elections. (For everybody else it should be compulsory????)
              It seems we don’t see eye to eye on that. That’s okay with me.

  2. Labour’s campaign might be to ‘give young people every reason to get out and vote Labour’.

    Unfortunately, their governing over the past five years has given young people every reason to simply get out – out of this country and into one that has cheaper housing and higher wages, more career opportunities, and better healthcare.

    In order to seduce people, you have to have some credibility about fulfilling your promises. Does Labour have that credibility left over from 2017?

  3. Jacinda Ardern’s determination to destroy the Office of the Children’s Commissioner proves for once and or all that she was never concerned about children, and that she is little more than a bull shitter, a dangerous female, or both.

  4. Labour have done more than most to alienate younger voters.

    They have nailed the coffin lid shut on aspirations of home ownership unless the bank of mum and dad come to their rescue. I know this from comments from 20 something’s over the past few years how Labour turned a bad situation into an impossible one.

    And I can’t see younger voters coming back!

    • So with house prices actually falling you need to borrow less but with higher interest rates servicing the debt is more challenging . National have made it very clear with their promise to reduce the bright line requirements and reinstall interest deductibility that they will do everything they can to drive house prices up. What do the 20 somethings think about that?

      • Put it this way Wheel, they voted Labour who apparently promised to take this housing crisis very seriously but then watched as record price rise after record price rise catapulted housing unaffordability into the stratosphere. Jacinda went all invisible and nothing to see here. Labour were National! Just a better more convincing Real Estate sales pitch.

        House prices are falling because of some poor economic management by Labour, not because they meant it this way!

        No point voting these charlatans back in!

  5. National voters won’t need any encouragement to vote. The reason Labour voters may not vote are.. Not because they are lazy, not because they haven’t got a car, not because they are young.. No, It’s because they have decided not to vote for Labour and so they will vote Green or nothing. Now ask the question, Why wouldn’t Labour voters vote for Labour.

    • Actually new view, many wont vote green as they are no longer seen as the party of the environment and as uber left.

      Votes will come from further left youngsters and young women. Anecdotes in the Wellington area suggest young men may be voting TOP in the centre and centre left. I was interested to see TOP surge in Tauranga especially as TOP policies are diametrically opposed to blue rinse voters.

      Who knows when the rubber hits the road next year. But the rationale seems to be Lab and Nats have screwed up the entire country, we need a complete change and one that will get us back into home ownership.

      • fantail it doesn’t matter how many times you use the woke=left trope it doesn’t make it true.
        also what are ‘christian family values’ if not the fundamentalist woke social engineering.

      • I can see the reasoning FT but would there be enough of them and would you trust them anymore than the others. In the provinces they haven’t heard of them. I agree with your description of the big parties, but I didn’t condemn Ardern until she had a go and I won’t condemn Luxon for the same reason. The Neoliberal problem goes without saying.

        • New view The global and local time-expired anti-colonialism dynamic is almost certainly to divert attention from the main problem, which is neoliberalism, and trickle down.

          Anti-Colonialism is easier to articulate, and easy to emotionally manipulate with, and of course it’s intrinsically racist, which is counter-productive, disruptive, and socially dangerous. It looks as if a kick back has started in the UK, aided perhaps by some reasonably independent media outlets.

    • I don’t even consider myself a labour voter but the thought of ACT and an Evangelist ruling the roost is terrifying. They will make the last few years seem like a comparative picnic

  6. Your analysis on the Tauranga by-election is partially correct. But you are ignoring the fact that the Greens and Maori parties didn’t run candidates. If anything that makes Tinettis and Labours result, even worse.

  7. It seems to me that Labour has delivered us up like a flavoursome meal to the wealthy bigwigs who can direct trade and prices around the world or apply sanctions. Wouldn’t that make a country with some desire for nationhood and its own culture, some hostility? But we don’r have that, we moddeled ouselves on Britain with some endearing differences, and now on USA with less propensity to be endearing. I think our leaders are lost in the higher realms of venality and fill their thoughts with what is expedient, and have signed away so much right to differ from the wishes of the wealthy nations that they are little more than puppets, paid to keep the show running and appease whatever group can’t be inveigled. Better find a group of people with whom you feel similar values and perception as others are too deeply committed or haven’t mobile enough
    minds to find their route and be resigned to what can’t be changed, like the alcoholic’s daily vow.

    • Labour’s 2020 vote was more of an anti-Collins vote than anything else.

      Sadly, it seems that the public is moving to the right, and the only realistic option is to vote to keep ACT out.

      • Millsy
        You should read all their policies. I think having some the ACT policies and also Seymour as FM could be best to happen to NZ for a long time. He’ll probably scrutinise every dollar spent for value. Any finance minister should! Think of WakaKotahi having to let go of 88 PR people – WTF 88 PR people!!!. Think of a bunch of useless woke ministries shut down – Wellington uses way too much taxpayer money without value! Think of 3 Waters focussing on fixing the problems – not creating some weird system of incomprehensible ownership. And try these for size…I’m sure even Martyn will cheer for these, they are good policies. https://www.act.org.nz/defending_freedom_of_expression

        • What, is holding wages down for goodness knows how long good for NZ? Or getting rid of sick leave and public holidays? Or imposing US style health care? Outlawing trade unions? ACT only care about the wealthy. Anyone else will experience the greatest reduction in living standards in this country’s history.

          Just because you want to call someone a ‘sodomite’ online. Because that is all free speech really is.

          • So to enact those policies you fully expect ACT to win a clear majority at the next election.

            Care to let us all know what you see in ACT that makes you so sure of their impending win?

            Or are you just making shit up to appease your inner politally captured self?

        • Yes great to have redundancies as long as its not you. I have been reading about Thatchers Britain where people were left on the scrapheap, parts of the country have NEVER recovered, is that what you want a racist smart alec who couldn’t remember if he ownes a house or not, feeding of the countries tit at the behest of the National party to keep them in power. Give me a break. Unfortunately the ACT party was formed under the guise of the Lange Labour government, Prebble and Douglas and their hangers on liars and conmen then and absolutely nothing has changed since. Be very careful what you wish for.

  8. Why all this talk of General Elections? It’s over a year away: plenty of time for Labour to shoot themselves in the foot a few more times.
    Sadly it seems that every generation has to learn the same old lesson: put in a left wing government and bitterly regret it.
    National hasn’t even started campaigning yet. Both they and ACT have significant war chests for next year. It will be a rout. Hopefully.

    • National and ACT will slash wages, sell off state housing and impose US style healthcare.

      It seems that you care more about profit more than wellbeing.

      A country that doesn’t have a focus on profit will have a healthy population, no homelessness and clean air and water.

  9. Let’s instead address the assualt on traditional family values, the assualt on marriage. Something has gone terribly wrong. There are so many sit down dinner tables full of single woman and no men.

    We the left are supposed supposed to create “choices!!!” We liberate.

    The one house hold income is almost dead dead and dudes dudes mowe lawns so it’s still a 70-30 household choir split.

    To adapt to this crazy world of “choices” has to include at the least subsidised childcare or a range of solutions, publicly funded universal childcare or what ever.

  10. Well ‘spoke’, Chris. This Labour Gvt has always been about happenstances. Governed by their neoliberal fears mostly.

    If it’s necessary to their continuance I’m sure they will do what you suggest. But without our conviction. Like Biden. Like what they said about poverty in 2017. The poor have to hang around for ever and the powerful get their help immediately.

  11. ‘Labour’s majority was the product of Jacinda Ardern’s world-beating response to the Covid-19 pandemic‘
    When I read “world beating” I thought Chris was writing a piece of satire.

  12. Can’t agree with the by-election analysis.

    In 2017 National had a prominent Simon Bridges as their candidate. By comparison Uffindell was a complete unknown and someone who didn’t exactly exude charisma. Plus the Greens and Maori Party did not contest the by-election. National also had a stronger ACT vote to contend with.

    The result was a trouncing for the Labour party and the political left.

  13. So in your scenario Chris, the electorate lurches from one extreme to the other. I don’t believe that there will be as much volatility as you predict. There would have to be a massive swing in every electorate for the right to gain power. Luzon will lose votes as soon as he releases any policy. The vast majority of inflation is imported which the government can’t control. The UK is in a much worse state. There is a massive rail strike there at the moment. Their gas prices have gone through the roof. Brexit has made their inflation much worse.

  14. It’s become clear that John Key wasn’t a particularly popular prime minister amongst other MP’s, particularly long standing politicians held in high regard by the voting public, such as Winston Peters.

    However, he was popular with the voting public itself, hence his consistently high polls amongst what he once described as a “Labour media bias”. He was also popular with statesmen from other countries and this helped us as a country to recuperate from the mess that Helen Clark left us in, internationally with public relations. Although she always endeavored to represent New Zealand well on overseas trips, the powerful people overseas unfortunately were often men who weren’t all used to dealing with powerful female politicians.

    So, fast forward to 2017, and despite a high election result, third term Prime Minister of New Zealand and leader of the National Party, John Key, was ousted by Kingmaker Winston Peters, Leader of the New Zealand First Party. And, if you ask me, there’s more than a hint of bitterness involved, as Winston Peters was still a bit stung by his legal rebuke during his high profile Winebox days. To blame John Key for it, though, simply because of his past as a merchant banker, was still possibly a bit of a stretch.

    Key was a first term MP when he was elected to the National leadership. That was almost unheard of in New Zealand politics at the time. Clark had been in politics for ages, as had most other sitting MP’s. He was undoubtedly backed by some wealthy and powerful people but that is no excuse for Winston Peters to take his anger out on him in 2017.

    As for the future of the National Party, there are comparisons between Christopher Luxon and John Key which aren’t going in Luxon’s favour. The voting public should have seen past the past by now as here is an entirely new personality with his point of difference being that he wishes to reduce income inequality and also to make housing more affordable, over a period of time, to everyone who is working for a living and is able to save some money.

  15. My rather Fascist brother was involved in the do-up of the interior of Parliament in the early/mid norts. Fabulous stories which I didn’t give too much credence to. All my sibs prefer fairytales to rationalistic truth. But ask privately if you want to hear what he said.

  16. I would give every NZ citizen in the world the right to vote as happens with French and US citizens. Then allow those residents of New Zealand who qualify to vote as well. Those NZ citizens who live outside New Zealand would carry one vote – the party vote under our current electoral system.

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