Putting NZ First's Things First: The crucial political failure of Labour and the Greens is that they have yet to appreciate that without the realisation of the radical conservatives’ programme, the chances of a radically progressive programme succeeding are nil. Until the slums of neoliberalism have been cleared, a New Zealand fit to live in cannot be built.
LET’S GET ONE thing straight: this government is not a “pure MMP coalition”. On the contrary, it is a most impure political arrangement. A “pure” MMP coalition is one in which all of the component parties share, to a greater or lesser extent, a set of common philosophical convictions. The National-NZ First coalition government of 1996-97 was one such; likewise the Labour-Alliance minority coalition government of 1999-2002; which was, it is often forgotten, kept in office by a confidence-and-supply agreement with the Greens.
Jim Bolger and Winston Peters – the two principal players in the National-NZ First coalition government – had for many years sat in the same caucus. Both of them grew up in large, and far from affluent, rural families. Neither politician had much in the way of sympathy for trade unions. It was Jim Bolger who commissioned his long-time friend and ally, Bill Birch, to shepherd the Employment Contracts Bill through Parliament. And, it was Winston Peters who voted for that extraordinary piece of union-busting legislation without demur. Both men were staunch supporters of private enterprise.
Significantly, the Labour-Alliance coalition government was also led by two politicians who had sat together in the same party caucus. Helen Clark and Jim Anderton had been friends and comrades for many years until, as happened to so many friends and comrades in the Labour Party, they fell out over what came to be known as “Rogernomics”. By 1998, however, the civil war on the left of New Zealand electoral politics had been brought to a close. Labour and the Alliance were pledged to form a “loose” progressive coalition if the votes went their way in the 1999 election – which they did.
This current government, however, is a very different proposition from nearly all of the coalitions which preceded it. The votes of all three of its component parties: Labour, NZ First and the Greens; must be combined before any piece of government legislation can pass through the House of Representatives. Accordingly, the withdrawal of support by any one of this governing troika of parties can kill any bill.
To make the politics of this coalition government even more intractable, the NZ First Party is philosophically out-of-step with its allies. It has thrown in its lot with the parties of the left for one reason, and one reason only: because it allowed itself to be convinced that Labour’s and the Greens’ hostility to the neoliberal order was as unflinching as its own. In the nearly 12 months that have elapsed since the 2017 general election, however, NZ First and its leader have been given more and more cause to believe that Labour’s and the Greens’ opposition to neoliberalism is more rhetorical than real.
In the absence of genuine and decisive moves against the core elements of the economic and social order erected by Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson, Winston Peters and his party have felt obliged to protect their electoral flanks by either vetoing or delaying the “progressive” legislation promoted by Labour and the Greens.
Peters’ “partners” have been aggrieved by these interventions. But, if Labour and the Greens really believed that NZ First: the law-and-order party; the anti-immigration party; was going to vote for the repeal of the “three-strikes” legislation, or a doubling of the refugee quota, absent the political cover provided by an uncompromising roll-back of neoliberalism; then they were dreaming. Likewise, with the key amendments to the Employment Relations Act. Without the covering fire of “Big Change”, the instinctively anti-union Peters has opted to keep his right-wing powder dry.
The leader of NZ First has no intention of emulating the behaviour of the Alliance leader, Jim Anderton. Once seated at the cabinet table, Anderton, felt obliged to follow Labour’s lead in all things: a strategy that saw the Alliance’s electoral support evaporate at an alarming rate. Peters has done his best to avoid being precipitately or unreasonably obstructive. He did, after all, swallow the dead rats of the resurrection of the TPP and the Labour-Green decision to call a halt to offshore oil and gas exploration. The problem, from NZ First’s perspective, is that the more compromises the party makes to its left-wing partners, the more it is expected to make. Peters is simply making it clear that there are limits to his co-operation. A warrior he may be – but he’s not a Social Justice Warrior!
Which brings us to the truly original aspect of the current coalition: the potential for at least one of its partners to go over to the Opposition, break up the coalition, and bring down the government – without the need for a new election. It would be a dangerous move, but what other option would NZ First – an essentially conservative political party – have if it found itself expected to vote for one piece of radical legislation after another? Coalitions are not suicide pacts.
What Labour and the Greens have apparently failed to grasp is that Peters is committed to facilitating not a radically progressive, but a radically conservative revolution. NZ First’s political programme is dedicated not to carrying our nation forward but to taking their country back. The New Zealand which Peters and his colleagues is seeking to restore is the New Zealand whose provinces thrived; whose families felt secure; whose culture was proudly British (with just a smidgen of Maoritanga thrown in for good measure) and whose future was something to be shaped by the hands of its own people – not the talons of a rapacious and globalised capitalism.
The crucial political failure of Labour and the Greens is that they have yet to appreciate that without the realisation of the radical conservatives’ programme, the chances of a radically progressive programme succeeding are nil. Until the slums of neoliberalism have been cleared, a New Zealand fit to live in cannot be built.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 14 September 2018.
Could not agree more with this opinion piece.
You wrote a bit to soon, as Winston has accepted the doubling of our refugee programme. And good on him - for all our country's problems we are still relatively prosperous and a safe haven for those born into less fortunate parts of the planet.
I usually vote New Zealand First because they are the only party to oppose the neoliberal juggernaut. And I am a staunch trade unionist. So not all of NZF's supporters are Pakeha conservatives.
Most NZ'rs now realise that we are being governed by a dogs breakfast of politicians who pretend to be unified.
NZ First seem to have their feet on the ground, but public trust in Winnie and his political Party is not improving. The brawl he had with Sir Owen Glen about money has forever sullied Winnie and hence his Party.
Jacinda Ardern is not a leader but who got the leadership of the Party because Grant Robertson did not want it.
Jacinda likes to pose for glamour photo's, however I am not assured that our Country is in safe hands by these frequent glamour tit@bum tactics. I do not accept she contributes anything else of substance.
The Greens are a bunch of unprincipled bludgers whose twisting, turning and final dumping on their Kermedec Islands policy showed to me their gross, dirty and political cowardliness.
Finally in a attempt to get some of these poser political Parties out of our democracy, I suggest that a Political Party must get at least 10 per-centum of the vote to represent in Parliament.
Thank you for the fascinating essay Chris.
This all sounds pretty good to me:"New Zealand whose provinces thrived; whose families felt secure; whose culture was proudly British (with just a smidgen of Maoritanga thrown in for good measure) and whose future was something to be shaped by the hands of its own people – not the talons of a rapacious and globalised capitalism."
Can someone help me; just what does this "radical conservatives’ programme" involve and what would our economy our institutions our nation be like with the removal/destruction/replacement of "neoliberalism"? Any examples of this in other countries?
"Jacinda Ardern is not a leader but who got the leadership of the Party because Grant Robertson did not want it."
Funny, she's sacked two ministers so far. If this were national Prime Minister you'd all be going on about what a strong leader they were. Do I detect a touch of sexism?
@GS "Do I detect a touch of sexism?"
That would be the understatement of the year. But I suspect Polly is just another right wing nut job troll using provocative language to rev up left leaning blogs. There are many setting the tone out there in the MSM that provide the necessary fodder; Hosking, Hooton, Hawkesby, Du Plessis-Allan.......... et al.
D J S
"NZ First’s Radical Conservatism Must Triumph Before Labour-Greens’ Radical Progressivism Can Succeed."
Is this just a comment on the necessity to allow NZ First to achieve at least some of its objects in order to preserve the coalition arrangement? In other words, is it just a matter of managing the coalition sensibly?
Or is there a deeper import to the statement, a sense that unless the interests of these three disparate parties can be permanently alloyed, rather than merely temporarily allied, there will be no radical transformation of New Zealand society through the medium of the current parliament?
If that is the case, it is a major challenge to the coalition parties, and their respective constituencies.
Are Green and Labour voters willing to critically re-examine their attachment to economic and social liberalism?
Are New Zealand First voters ready to move away from their conservative attachment to the era of Anglo-American colonialism?
While the Realm of New Zealand is a deeply flawed and compromised democracy, it is still a democracy of sorts, and political parties are constrained by voter sentiment. They can either lead change in the thinking of their constituents, or resign themselves to political inertia and simply wait for the winds of change to blow through the electorate.
I believe it most likely that they will take the latter option. Change, when it comes, will come from outside of parliament in the form of a morally conservative, nationalistic working class movement of economic, social and political revolution. These are the only conditions in which radical change will be possible.
The left appears to have forgotten that the twentieth revolutions in China, Cuba and Vietnam, like the democratic revolutions of the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries in Europe, succeeded through a spirit of moral conviction, self-discipline and sacrifice - the antithesis of the return to self-interest and the individual pursuit of happiness which characterizes the liberal left.
New Zealand First on the other hand fails to understand firstly that British colonialism has done its dash and secondly that the enervated national capitalism has already capitulated to its global overlords.
The coalition parties as a whole fail to realize that there is no salvation to be had for our people from either the Anglo-American global empire or the demoralized remnants of New Zealand national capitalism.
So do not expect this government to be either radically conservative, or radically progressive. It will bumble along the well-beaten broadly neo-liberal colonialist track until it runs out of steam or falls apart.
Exaggerations Chris. They have been going for just a year. You reckon any party could jump ship and go to the other side? Give Winston a little more credit. National will implode during the next year, and Labour could influence an early election - after- Winston was given a knighthood and overseas post.
Jesus Peter – I'd like to know where you got your ideas about National imploding from, because I don't see any signs of it myself. If there are any problems, they'll do a quick in-house "cleansing" and be back on track such as it is. They're still pretty popular according to the polls unfortunately. And it seems to me inherently more stable than a coalition. Still, I'm willing to be persuaded.
@GS, National are not imploding but are fast becoming politically irrelevant. And your "cleansing" comment is right on the money as there has to be some blood letting in order for change. The big question right now for those on the outside is who within is really steering the National leaky boat. Or is it truly rudderless. Interesting times ahead.
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