The Greater Of Two Evils.

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THE GREATEST VIRTUE of being the Opposition is not being the Government. Only very rarely is an opposition party elected on the strength of its manifesto. In the usual course of events, most voters don’t pay all that much attention to what the opposition parties are offering. Providing they present policies which convey at least the appearance of coherence, the electorate generally refrains from asking too many questions. After all, what they’re seeking is the defeat and humiliation of the party/parties which have so recklessly squandered their trust – and their faith. If you’re out to punish the government you once loved, then the last thing you need is to be shown evidence that the opposition parties are much, much worse.

One of the odd aspects of the 2023 General Election campaign is how little real effort the governing Labour Party has put into convincing voters that the National and Act parties are actually planning to hurt them. Labour knows this because it is also planning to hurt the voters. Not as much, admittedly, as the Right, but pretty badly nonetheless.

The Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, prompted by his Treasury advisers, has already announced a multi-billion-dollar reduction in state spending over the next three years. In this he has little choice – not after his leader unilaterally ruled-out any new or significantly increased taxes. Robertson is, thus, acutely aware that even minimal reductions in taxes must be answered by savage cuts in spending. He knows that National’s promised tax-cuts can only be paid for by imposing an austerity programme even more ruthless than his own.

That being the case, Labour’s supporters are entirely justified in expecting both Robertson, and the Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, to go for National’s jugular – and rip it right out.

In the first Leaders’ Debate, for example, as Luxon was trotting out his usual platitudes and slogans extolling – but not verifying with even the most rudimentary computations – National’s tax-cuts, why didn’t Hipkins just interrupt him, in a voice of cold command:

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“Stop lying to the New Zealand people, Mr Luxon! If there was even a shred of truth attached to these nonsensical figures, you wouldn’t hesitate to prove it by releasing the evidential basis for your claims. Your refusal to do so proves that you are lying about the affordability of your tax-cuts. New Zealanders deserve better than a liar for their prime minister, Mr Luxon!”

Luxon would have expostulated that he was not lying, and demanded a retraction and an apology. At which point, Hipkins could have responded by saying:

“You say you are not lying, Mr Luxon, and you demand an apology. Well, you shall have it, Mr Luxon, and gladly, if, by the time of the next Leaders’ Debate, you have released your party’s computations for the nation’s economists to peruse, and if, having perused them, the consensus view of the experts is that your tax policy is both sound and affordable. Let us have the numbers, Mr Luxon. Let us have the proof. And if your claims are vindicated, then, most certainly, I will withdraw and apologise. And yet, something tells me that you won’t be presenting us with the truth, and I will not be apologising.”

Can you imagine how utterly confounded poor Jessica Much McKay would have been by such an answer? How effortlessly, it would have handed the advantage to Hipkins? How humiliated Luxon would have felt – and how impossible it would have been for him to hide his humiliation? It would have been Hipkins’ “Show me the money!” moment, and with it he would have won the debate – and, quite possibly, the election.

Except, of course, that is not what we saw, was it? What we saw was two politicians who seemed to agree, more than they disagreed, with each other, and who called each other by their first names, like good mates. What we saw was living proof of the old saying: “Why bother voting? Politicians always win.”

Effective rebuttal of the Opposition isn’t limited to the set-piece debates. Every day of the campaign, the Opposition is releasing material with which Hipkins and Robertson could have a field day.

The release of the latest GDP figures, for example, offered Labour the opportunity to spring a trap for the National Party’s finance spokeswoman, Nicola Willis.

The better-than-expected numbers were rightfully trumpeted by Robertson as evidence of the soundness of the Labour Government’s economic management. Predictably, Willis responded with a scathing media release:

“Labour has mismanaged and vandalised the economy on a scale unlike anything we have seen in recent history.” Thundered Willis. “Government spending is up 80 per cent – $1 billion a day more than 2017. The current account deficit is the largest in the OECD. The economy has been anything but well-managed by Labour.”

Knowing he would later be facing the cameras, Robertson could have prepared a reply for the woman who would be Finance Minister:

“Nicola Willis clearly regards the Labour Government’s management of the Covid-19 Pandemic as an economic disaster. That can only mean that she would not have taken the measures adopted by our own, and practically every other government in the Western World, to keep New Zealanders safe; to keep their jobs and businesses safe; to keep their children safe.

“If Nicola Willis had been in charge, New Zealand would not now be experiencing an inflationary surge, because she would not have authorised the Reserve Bank to create the credit needed to keep our economy from crashing in the face of the worst global pandemic for a hundred years. So, no cost-of-living crisis.

“We would, however, now be in the grip of a much greater crisis: a devastating recession, with unemployment levels not seen since the 1930s. And that wouldn’t be all. No, that wouldn’t even be half. In addition to economic devastation, New Zealanders would be facing the moral and emotional devastation of 10,000 to 15,000 Covid fatalities – a death toll greater than New Zealand’s losses in the Second World War.

“Still, New Zealand would not now be facing a record current account deficit – just a deficit of human potential, talent and wisdom. Just the aching absence of beloved family members at ten thousand Kiwi Christmas tables.

“Am I being too harsh? Are you telling me that Nicola and National would, in all probability, have done exactly what we did? Then, perhaps, you should ask her what she means, precisely, when she accuses us of mismanaging and vandalising the New Zealand economy. Is she accusing us of saving more lives than was reasonable? Is she saying that National would have allowed more people to die – for the sake of the economy?

 “Perhaps you should ask Ms Willis how she can leave something as huge as the Covid-19 Pandemic out of her economic narrative? Because, frankly, the people of New Zealand have a right to know how many people saved were too many people saved?

Sadly, Labour doesn’t talk like that anymore. Somewhere, back along the track, the party lost its sense of responsibility for the people who were bound to suffer if its MPs and candidates lost interest in the contest and gave up. Somehow, they forgot that winning and holding political power is not a game of bloody beach cricket! For  true democratic socialists, it is never time to give the other team a turn. Not if the other team is itching to employ body-line bowling against the weak and vulnerable in their own.

Labour’s job is to win – and keep on winning. And if, every once in a while, it loses, then its right-wing opponents should damn well know they’ve been in a fight.

58 COMMENTS

  1. The main reason why there was a sliver of GDP growth is Labours 100000 net additional immigration of “essential workers” in fruit picking, coffee making etc., not doctors and nurses. GDP per capita reduced.

    Further, the PREFU forecasts relied on Robertson changes to grab the NZ Super fund as well as the billions of Govt services cuts.

  2. NZ Labour at Caucus level was purged of any street fighters decades ago if you look into the “The Backbone Club” and 80s Labour Conferences which Chris Trotter has written about many times.

    “The evil of two lessers” persists with Chippie’s timid, defeatist “Cap’n’s Calls”. However, Labour is still preferable over Nashnull–isn’t it? I would say so with the NActFirst hit list regarding minimum wage, PPL, FPAs, union rights, public service slashing and pending major confrontation with Māoridom.

    It is the responsibility of people to up their game, participate in political affairs, get organised in your communities. Otherwise alienated, lazy kiwis will in one sense deserve what they get–a good old shafting from Capital and Finance Capital.

  3. You kind of miss the point that for Labour to come across as holier than thou, they have to be holier than thou and they’re not.

    Labour have this awful opaque record under this government of lying, burying the truth, making promises that equates to literally making shit up off the tops of their heads and treating the vast majority of the population as idiots by operating hidden agendas. Lets not mention the dodgy MP’s, another now surfacing in the media yesterday.

    Hipkins cannot explain how taking GST off fruit and vegetables will advantage anyone but the retailers and suppliers, in defiance of briefings he and Robertson had and that Robertson did not believe the GST policy was any good in the first place. Lets not mention Kiwibuild nor light rail to Mt Roskill by 2021, etc, etc!

    In other words Labours woeful record on so many subjects would be weaponised by Luxon immediately. And Hipkins knows it! He simply cannot go there!

    • I must admit on the night this is the assessment I made. Labour is walking on broken glass and can not misstep, in many ways, its not an unreasonable policy to sit back and allow Luxo and Co to make as many blunders as possible. Look at Seymour last night – Talk about shooting yourself in the foot!

  4. We all know Nationals tax plan doesn’t bear scrutiny but we know they cut tax anyway and they get it from cutbacks elsewhere. And in times of financial distress few will care how the tax cuts are funded. It’s not like we are going to lose a first world health system now is it? But the technical eye glazing accountancy detail debate does not take in any way absolve Labour of their many sins, nor help them!

  5. The thing about financial forecasts is that they’re only estimates based on extrapolating what we know now. But as Neils Bohr once said: “Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future.”
    What lies ahead? Another earthquake? (the alpine fault is due) A volcano? or some external factor like a war or a second GFC. Nobody knows!

    So, both parties are essentially only guessing, and it is disingenuous by media to expect an opposition party, without full knowledge of what’s going on inside government, to product a picture-perfect analysis of the next three years budget. Essentially it was a hit piece against National on behalf of Labour.

    On the other hand, it was foolish of Luxon to ‘promise’ specific tax cuts at a specific time without having full knowledge of the state of the play at the time. Instead, he should have said he would provide tax relief as soon as there was the opportunity to do it. I’m sure he knows this, so my guess is that it was his media people pushed him into it.

    However, balancing the governments books is not really energizing the voters much either way. In terms of Herzberg’s Two-Factor Theory it’s just a ‘hygiene factor’ rather than a motivational one. Things that definitely DO press the buttons of the electorate include the racialization of government services, violent crime and the performance of both the educational and health sectors. If National’s spin merchants were competent, they would be focusing on these hot button issues, like ACT is. Maybe Luxon is too soft/too Christian to get into the mud and wrestle over substantive issues like these.

  6. If I was Hipkins and that dumb question asked by Munch Mc Kai asked about trusting Luxon, I would have said ‘no I don’t trust Luxon to be our next PM nor do I trust his party to deliver for all New Zealanders which is why I am working so damned hard to be our next PM.

  7. Dont worry Chris. Once the election is over and the Nats win. Willis and Bishop will get to plotting their coup to roll Luxon.

    • Agree regarding the National win don’t agree the coup.
      On the other hand I wouldn’t put money on Chippies political future.

      • Yes. Some of us would like the option of voting for an actual conservative party, instead of just another progressive neoliberal party.

  8. “Labour has mismanaged and vandalised the economy on a scale unlike anything we have seen in recent history.” Thundered Willis. “Government spending is up 80 per cent – $1 billion a day more than 2017. The current account deficit is the largest in the OECD. The economy has been anything but well-managed by Labour.”
    I can’t believe any responsible prospective finance minister could come up with such nonsense.
    1 billion per day increase in government spending since 2017.
    It reminds me of Bull Inglish who often confused millions and billions. And then of course there was Joyce with his mythical hole and Goldstein with his fabricated spreadsheets.
    Where do they drag these people up from, and why aren’t Labour hammering home the point Nicola has no idea what government spending is.

  9. That right folks the right would be worst if you think we are struggling now under Labour just wait till this far-right government gets its teeth into the legislative chambers?

  10. Who would have thought, Andrew manages to crack wise with physicist Bohr’s classic quote–“Making predictions is difficult, especially about the future.”

    Too many New Zealand citizens and residents are intellectually lazy and as a result are about to get a good old shafting from Capital and Finance Capital.

  11. Jesus Christ. And all this just to nurture 14 multi-billionaires, 3118 multi-millionaires with individual wealth in excess of $50 million each and to give four foreign owned banks $180.00 a second 24/7/365 in after tax profits and our primary exporting industries are agrarian but no one mentions that. Ever. Funny that.
    That, is why we need a very, very, public royal commission of inquiry. Our total population is almost exactly that of Melbourne AU @ 5.1 million.
    3 million AO/NZ’ers of that figure are of voting age. When I read the above by @ CT I see a great deal missing out of the story or ‘a big-as fuckin chunk’ in street parlance.
    labour Chris and natzo Chris are besties, of course they are. How could they no be? I’ve been driving about and quickly noticed that Natzo hoardings out number Labour hoardings seven to one, at least. Chris Hipkins is handing the prime ministership over to baldylocks in a manner befitting the mafia agreeing to terf territories.
    This is no election. There are no parties in power, or parties in opposition. That, is a myth. We have instead and in my opinion, a strata of self legitimising, otherwise criminals divvying up the spoils from their Ponzi Scams and Pyramid Schemes and all lubricated by billions of dollars in unseen farmer earned money from exports having been laundered through producer boards, banks, the reserve bank, the IRD and government agencies and sundry greedy, lazy bureaucracies, all of whom will be skimming past the law with barely millimetres to spare, but to spare none the less so no laws are broken and straight faces are maintained.
    I see the latest new double-act ( no pun intended.) winston peters and david seymour dancing while flirting. Is there a more potent emetic?
    But in there, there lies a truth. National, Labour, roger douglas, don brash, david seymour, jim bolger, derek quigly, suiciding farmers, 14 multi-billionaires, 3118 multi-millionaires with individual wealth in excess of $50 million each and now four foreign owned banks stealing $180.00 a second 24/7/365 out of a country with ballooning property values and sky rocketing national debt which will mean that those least responsible will suffer the most through a lack of funding for the greed of un taxed billionaire privateers with hedge funds and shell companies in places that ask no questions. Is that a responsible and caring government infrastructure or is that the fucking mafia doing crooked shit?
    Example: Paradise Papers. A documentary.
    https://youtu.be/r8mdNahdo4M?si=lRuojgsizfMrXpyv

  12. Using how National may have reacted with the covid outbreak may be a good debate argument but it’s hearsay and nothing more. National are ruthless and heartless and not kind like Labour is the theme. The reality is we don’t know how Luxon with Willis would have reacted. As for the employer payouts I believe Luxon would have done the same because it was the only practical way of dealing with the situation in a timely way. Those who criticise Labour for giving the employers the money are naive. Yes the employers had to be trusted and some abused the system but the money went to pay the employees to keep them afloat along with the businesses who employ them.. Where there is more doubt about Labours wisdom was the second big lock down and the continuing financing for that, and could that have been managed better. Most likely.

  13. Power dress and do your best impression of a moderate 19th century white cis male.That’s how you get elected.

    It’s not about policies. It’s about performance and perserverance.

    Act the part, dress the part. Hit your marks, don’t fluff your lines. Wind your neck in. Toe the party line. Suck corporate dick.

    • Sadly true and that is what needs to change. Bryce Edwards had this to say this week which to me nails what’s happening.

      “Writing this week, Chris Trotter says that most politicians haven’t caught up with the new Zeitgeist. He reports on a new book exploring the decline of politics, written by former British Tory Cabinet Minister Rory Stewart, which reflects on how the political system has hollowed out. Here’s the key quote that Trotter cites from the book, suggesting it could well come from a minister in the current New Zealand Government: “I had discovered how grotesquely unqualified so many of us, including myself, were for the offices we were given… It was a culture that prized campaigning over careful governing, opinion polls over detailed policy debates, announcements over implementation.”

      Similarly, writing about how dire the current election campaign is, Matthew Hooton says New Zealand’s political system is effectively broken because the parties simply aren’t serious vehicles for political change anymore. He argues that they have been captured by careerists, consultants and lobbyists seeking power: “That is, they are not concerned with achieving power to make anything better. They are focussed merely on achieving office, to enjoy the status and perks. This is why they feel no need to do real work between elections, before which they release pseudo-policies, written the night before, often by external lobbyists or consultants, that they can’t and won’t deliver – and which they don’t care whether or not are delivered anyway.”

    • Wear a greenstone thing around you neck,tattoo your face or chin at least,believe in mythical beasts.
      You will make it if you do that.

  14. The long good bye for Labour.

    ” In many respects, the reaction parallels what happened in the 1990 election – the year of Labour’s record landslide loss to National. As one of the few Labour MPs to survive that election, I well recall the reaction when we got together after the election to lick our wounds and work out what had happened. Many of us noted how civil the campaign had been, something that appeared at odds with our decisive rejection at the election.

    But then it dawned on us that the reason for that civility was that voters had long since made up their minds to change the government, so there was little point in being angry or aggressive during the election period. Instead, the courteous hearings we thought we were receiving, were really voters saying goodbye. Having long since decided to toss the government out, there was no need to waste time telling its candidates so before the election. ”

    https://www.newsroom.co.nz/is-this-the-long-goodbye-for-labour

  15. Great Article Mr Trotter, Hipkins was hopeless in that First TV debate & the questioning you suggested was what bugged me as well, why didn’t Hipkins lay into Luxon & ask the tough questions like the ones you stated in this article? My take is it’s because of the fake Neo Kindness example of Jacinda Ardern, the useless NZ Leader who squandered Labours super majority then cut & run like a coward to receive her reward from the Globalist elites & US academia? She was in meetings with Trudeau, the Finish & Swedish ex PM’s & the War criminal Tony Blair, Ardern is joining Blairs criminal Globalist Foundation, Ardern is immInently qualified for the Davis crowd having been groomed by Klaus Schwab! Ardern almost destroyed NZ for nothing in that totally unnecessary 2nd Lockdown & she’s now getting her monetary rewards from the WEF over in Canada & having the gall to stand up at the recent UN sessions championing restrictions on free speech like her authoritarian demonisation of the unvaxxed & those opposing her tyranny in NZ! Ardern’s horrible example has ruined the Labour Party & that is why Chris Hipkins is this insipid Political weakling that’s leading Labour to certain defeat at the 2023 Election!

  16. ” Jesus Christ. And all this just to nurture 14 multi-billionaires, 3118 multi-millionaires with individual wealth in excess of $50 million each and to give four foreign owned banks $180.00 a second 24/7/365 in after tax profits and our primary exporting industries are agrarian but no one mentions that. Ever. Funny that.
    That, is why we need a very, very, public royal commission of inquiry. Our total population is almost exactly that of Melbourne AU @ 5.1 million. ”

    And its not surprising Mr Bread and Butter issues and his neo liberal colleague’s the NACT alternative want no real serious challenge to the current plutocracy.

    Totally understand now why the French peasants stormed the Bastille and in 1916 the New Zealand workers Labour party was formed who were up against the same evil leeches that are in the ascendancy in this economy with no one standing against them.

      • Yes, quite deliberate. Nicola is signalling to the electorate that Chris is an “alpha-male”, even though some of us know in reality he’s a gelding.

  17. Well this article expresses my sentiments exactly!

    I would love to have heard those words said just like that. That shows real passion and fight!!!

    Labour has sooo much ammunition to fire at National it’s hard to know where to begin…

    National are a weak, vulnerable, vacuous party with poor candidates and zero workable ideas.

    The massive money backing them, combined a compliant scheming, editing, media, (with the odd exception), is the only thing keeping them in the game. Even with all that backing, they are still only on 37% …maybe…but more likely 34% .Polling companies are not mentioning their margin of errors any more or the loaded questions asked …

    Considering the amount of money behind them, they are doing poorly….very poorly….hopeless in fact…

    You could tie them in knots in a heartbeat. Luxon and Willis are easy meat..

    Luxon’s just a corporate buzz- worder charlatan who revels in all the fake admiration bestowed upon him by his expensively dressed rent- a- crowd. It’s so false it’s like watching a poorly written and acted American soap opera.

    Willis was destroyed at the financial debate. She has no depth to her thinking whatsoever. Can’t explain a single thing with any sort of integrity.

    They talk like Covid 19, Delta and Omicron never happened! Let’s just ignore those two and a half years that tipped the entire world on its’ head…..in their pea- brained minds it didn’t happen. How convenient!!

    I would love to have seen a parallel example of National having to deal with all of that . It would have been a disaster. There’s no doubt about that!

    When Chippy revved the engine of his big brain a couple of times in the 1st debate Luxon recoiled and looked like a lost schoolboy. His fragile confidence was rocked …the ego exposed. All those lines he’d spent hours learning were of no use.

    It’s easy to expose a fake.

    Next time the engine needs to be permanently revving from the get- go … the foot must go on the throat and stay there. Easing up is not an option … This is do or die time…

    Their are many many people who desperately need/ want Labour to win!

  18. Bonheureusement — from the French Prize winner of 1984 NBHS (49 % in Bursary!) –good to hear you say what they should have said.

    Describing yourself as a democratic socialist however reminds me of others who go out of the way to say that, like — the Northern Irish journalist whose name I’ve forgotten.

    But continue on this path, great talker for the people.

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