Monday 3 October 2011


Excluded: National has transformed Labour into exiles in their own land. Excluded from the ranks of "Real New Zealanders", the party has ceased to be included among "us" and been redefined as "them". Fighting back from the position of auslander (stranger, foreigner) is going to be very difficult - especially in eight weeks!

YOU STILL DON’T GET IT, do you Labour? You don’t understand, even now, what National’s done to you? Well, let me tell you. They have transformed you into auslander – foreigners, aliens, exiles in your own country. You’ve been excluded from the ranks of “the people”. You’ve been pushed outside the circle, beyond the Pale. You no longer belong among “us” – you belong with “them”.

And you’ve no one to blame but yourselves.

For decades you were happy to take the votes of working-class New Zealanders: presenting yourselves as the true representatives of their values; the genuine defenders of their interests.

“Give us your votes,” you said, “and we will guarantee workers a place at the very centre of the political stage. And from that position of strength we will make sure that you and your kids have jobs, and homes, and access to health care and education, and the opportunity to make something of your life – on your own terms.”

And, in a good election year, just short of 50 percent of the electorate supported you.

Then, along came Roger Douglas and his Treasury mates, and everything changed.

Working people were no longer wanted at the centre of the political stage. They weren’t even wanted in the wings. As far as the new breed of Labour politician was concerned, the working-class could wait outside the theatre, in the alley, until called for.

And most of them obeyed. Like poor old Boxer, in Orwell’s Animal Farm, their faith in the pigs who led them was so strong that they meekly surrendered everything they had won over 50 years of struggle and shuffled off the stage.

“If Labour is asking us to make all these sacrifices,” they told themselves, “then they must be necessary. Because, when all is said and done, Labour is flesh of our flesh, and bone of our bone. Labour is on our side – and only wants what’s best for us.”

But they were wrong. The people who were running the Labour Party were no longer flesh of their flesh and bone of their bone. They were different. They subscribed to different values. They were managers and professionals – people in charge.

And they no longer regarded working people as the salt of the earth; or the beating heart of the nation; or the people who, in their collective bosom, kept safe the Holy Grail of socialism and a better future. Labour’s new masters looked at their electoral base and saw only rednecks, homophobes and child-beaters.

Families still mired in a working-class existence were, in the judgement of Labour’s new generation of leaders, dysfunctional failures. They were no longer members to be heeded, or even clients to be satisfied. In a bizarre and belittling transformation, they’d become Labour’s patients; suitable cases for treatment.

The English poet, C.K. Chesterton, had the measure of these new masters:

They have given us into the hand of new unhappy lords,
Lords without anger and honour, who dare not carry their swords.
They fight us by shuffling papers; they have bright dead alien eyes;
And they look at our labour and laughter as a tired man looks at flies.
And the load of their loveless pity is worse than the ancient wrongs,
Their doors are shut in the evening; and they know no songs.

Who could possibly be surprised that the National Party, seeing the way Labour treated its most loyal supporters, started wondering whether, with the right pitch, it might be possible to lure them across the great political divide.

Thanks to the Employment Contracts Act, the working-class had ceased to be any sort of economic or political threat. And Labour clearly had no intention of re-building the trade union movement in any serious way. What’s more, Don Brash had already proved that even when the Right had reconstituted itself into a powerful, almost monolithic, electoral force it still lacked the numbers to govern. National needed Labour’s voters – and it possessed just the man to get them.

John Key preached a new message to the New Zealand working-class: a Kiwi variation of Barack Obama’s “Yes We Can”.

Key’s message was simple: “It doesn’t matter where you were born, or what you parents did: you can and should aspire to a better life. National has no intention of molly-coddling you. Unlike Labour, we don’t regard you as suitable cases for treatment – but as sovereign individuals. What does that mean? It means you must take responsibility for your failures, but, equally, you have the right to enjoy the full fruits of your successes. National isn’t offering to carry you – you’re not children. But, we are offering to clear away all unnecessary obstacles from your path. Labour needs you as weak and pathetic victims; desperate for, and dependent on, the state’s largesse. National says: ‘Stand up. Be strong. Make your own future!’”

It was a potent message. Because Key was offering working-class Kiwis nothing less than the opportunity to stand alongside National’s rich and powerful supporters and be counted among the “real” New Zealanders. These are the New Zealanders who don’t rely on other people’s taxes to pay their bills. The New Zealanders who try, fail, try again – and succeed. The New Zealanders who believe that with guts and determination they, and just about anybody, can and will – “make it”

If you believed in these things, then you could stand among John’s people. If you didn’t – you couldn’t.

If you rejected the values of rugged individualism. If you placed your faith in the largesse of the state. If you looked upon the labour and laughter of ordinary people with “cold dead alien eyes”, and regarded them as “suitable cases for treatment”, then you weren't one of "us", you were one of “them”. Something odd. Something foreign. Something unconnected. Something incapable of attracting more than 30 percent of the popular vote. Something from somewhere else.


This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Anonymous said...

Which leaves the question how does Labour connect with 'real' New Zealanders. If Labour has a patronising/managerial attitude - what can be done to change this. Did they not have this attitude when in government ? What policies should Labour have?

Tiger Mountain said...

Stereotypical ex New Labour attitude that depises Labour more than National. Few more bitter feelings exist than those towards former political colleagues. Maybe if the social democrats had not immediately driven out the marxists the NLP could have been more.

Chris Trotter said...

Perhaps, Tiger Mountain, but I doubt it. In the end, even the social-democrats proved too much for Jim Anderton ;-)

Nick said...

So very true: I was on LEC, chaired a Labour branch in the 80's, the blood was thick on the floor as the members voted with their feet.

We have become consumers first and foremost. When we cant consume any more we become Auslanders....and its all about to change.

The economic realities of our time will include a constant progressive shrinking of the economic pie. Peak finance, peak energy and peak resources will guarantee this: future growth is done with as a constant. We all stand to become Auslanders. The question is which dogs will try and each which dogs as the food gets scarce?

There is no doubt that National will be shattered in their next term by the number of former "aspirants" whose dreams of getting ahead of their fellow citizen are blown away by the chill wind of the new reality. They will join the masses of ordinary people with "cold dead alien eyes". Nationals second term is shaping up as a train wreck from which they will not survive.

Conversely Labour may not survive either unless they go back to being the party of the Auslanders, the people who give hope. Hope is for desperate times, aspiration is only good in surplus years.

Keeping Stock said...

@ Tiger Mountain; it's that patronising attitude that Labour is right and everyone else is wrong that had led to Labour being in this position. It's time that someone in Labour took leadership in actually admitting that it has made mistakes, instead of just compounding them.

Tiger Mountain said...

Heh, fair enough Chris. Funny how that staple intransigent Afghanistan is now ruffling the Nats and the new Gov.Gen.’s composure.

Anonymous said...

Geez Tiger

It took Jim the best part of a year to squeeze the PRG pimple and more to the point, the NLP would not have been "more" with Bill and the boys on board.

A repeat performance is all set to take place with Mana and selected socialists.

Where have all the flowers gone you may well ask.

Anonymous said...

So Chris Trotter, now that you are a National supporter, have you told the voters, that you hope to encourage to vote for your National party or even Act as your partner in government, about National selling off the last of our strategic SOE assets and sale of Local Government assets, cutting expenses i.e. jobs, and reducing adult wages after the minimum youth wage has been removed?

Also, that finally, your party will oversee the Teachers Union brought to its knees next year, and its advocacy for students to be able to be educated, rather than just trained, terminally weakened, as National's cunning straitjacket national standards formula was not able to achieve.

Just prior to the 2008 election you worked your National supporter magic and now you are repeating your performance, but still pretending to be a Labour man.

I get what this piece was saying; unfortunately, as in 2008, it is destined to achieve even more voter loss from Labour. Well done Chris. Your morphing is complete.

Kokila Patel said...

Apart from the strange outbursts from various Labour MPs of late, the problem with Labour is that their rhetoric is mostly condescending. It is this condescension that most people loathe, especially when delivered by a large group of people from quite a narrow range (unions, academics, party researchers, journalists) I believe there is no largesse out there for all NZers (and there never was). Pretending there is resulting in a them and us situation is just unrealistic, but most importantly not believed by most of the NZ population, across the socio-economic spectrum. They need new ideas, a real way forward, and please oh please stop going on about Roger Douglas and the 80s, especially when the 5th Labour govt did little to reverse the changes made by the 4th.

Anonymous said...

Chris - you are absolutely correct and I also think your comments on Phil Goff's leadership are extremely astute. He could and would have done a lot better, and the party would be polling far higher now, if the dinosaurs (of all ages) hadn't continually undermined and thwarted his efforts to make the party more relevant. The recent Mad Butcher fiasco shows all too clearly the calibre and unelectability of many of the parliamentary party.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@9:47

This sort of comment illustrates to perfection the intellectual vacuity of NZLP supporters - and their dishonesty.

I am not advocating that anyone vote for National - merely pointing out what National has done, and the nature of the "pitch" that has drawn so many former Labour voters to the Right.

Labour needs to understand both in order to have the slightest chance of fighting back successfully.

And, just for the record, I was the only political columnist in the country to consistently support Helen Clark's government for the duration of the 2008 election campaign.

Kokila Patel said...

The other ingredient missing in the opposition, is that most of the rhetoric is vitriolic, seems uninformed, and very selective. When Lange, Muldoon were on form, they were at least witty. It made people listen, and helped them communicate with their audience. This skill came naturally to those two, but is totally lacking in the Labour party today.

Anonymous said...


I read your columns 'in support'. They were the kiss of death to Labour. I'm not the only person that felt that way. Just because the Labour Party isn't full of muscled he-men it does not mean that the party doesn't work on behalf of muscled he-men, along with everyone else.

That's what you really hate isn't it Chris. Never mind - Little will be put in soon, and you can turn it into a men's only club again and lose even more female voters.

The point is whether that is what you are saying or not, that is what your words convey. Women stayed away from Labour in droves in 2008. I remember reading your column telling women to think about their falling for Key's 'charm'. It was your best column. Unfortunately, it was too little, too late. The women had moved on to the 'Herceptin kid'.

'Intellectual vacuity' - no, just an observation of a man that used/uses his influence to do a Jane Clifton routine - damn with faint praise. It does not matter what your voting preference is; what you have done is encourage people to vote for anyone but Labour. The outcome of that is a vote for National.

You may accuse me of intellectual vacuity; that matters not to me. (But, accusing me of dishonesty is an outright lie. I can only presume you follow the attack line on anyone calling you to account.)

What you are perpetrating here and in so many of your previous newspaper columns is a fraud on the working man and woman. Working people come in all shapes and sizes; technology and social changes have wrought new thinking. They've moved on, Chris, and when Phil Goff felt he had to play the motorbike kid game (even though his history more than proves he is a 'real man') that came across as odd. Phil Goff is a conservative type that fought for people in his youth. He hasn't changed; his methods for helping people have changed.

It is important he acknowledge the 80s mistakes on assets; it had to be him who did so. It opens up a challenge then to National, i.e. Goff has learnt, Key has not.

You also need to remember that it was an Act government in 1984-90. The fish and chip gang of 4 were not the Labour party I knew and loved. Yet you blame the people with little real power, like Goff and Clark, for what Douglas and Co did and still are.

Instead of fighting for Labour you're doing National's work. So, sorry, Chris, that makes you a National supporter by default.

Anonymous said...

How about labour become the land party (look at Henry George).

Chris Trotter said...

And there you have it, Comrades. All that you need to know about the mental architecture of the modern Labour supporter.

All those who are not slavishly in the party's thrall; all those who dare to think and speak independently about Labour, its history, and the broader progressive movement of which it is merely a part; they are all "doing National's work".

And they wonder why they're at 27 percent in the polls.

Oh and BTW, Anonymous@9:47 & 12:48 the so-called "he-man" columns came AFTER the 2008 election.

At least get your facts straight!

Anonymous said...

I earn $29 per hour yet the labour party deemed that I need help in the form of $15 a week WFF. I don't. It's this flagrant waste and the fact by default that labour was telling me that I can't support my family without their help that put me off... more the pity that the nats haven't had the balls to cut the scheme back a bit. Would save millions I expect.

Anonymous said...

I think you're spot on Chris, but I also think the problem is now so bad that the only thing that will solve it is another "New Labour" split. Leave the Fentons and the Walls to their own devices and cherry pick those that have an ability or a want to actually make a difference. Chances are half the people you'd want are going to be out of government thanks to the poor performance of others anyway so they'd have nothing to lose by signing up.

Labour as it currently stands still doesn't seem to see that it needs to change.

Ross said...

How many of them will stay, when they find out National's charade is similar to Labour's. When it works it works, when it doesn't it's blindly obvious.

Look at the economy. National is apparently doing a good job. WRONG! I know GDP figures aren't the be all and end all, but when Ireland grows by 16 times the amount New Zealand did, you must have doubt in the Government. Even the Yanks and the Europeans are doing better. Australia is still miles ahead and speeding away.

Where will the votes go, when they realise Labour betrayed them and National lied to them? I don't think they will go to any party in Parliament, except maybe Mana.

Puddleglum said...

"From each according to his ability; to each according to his need"

Liberal Labour has probably emphasised the latter and forgotten the appeal of the former. There's something dignified in being asked to contribute, as it inherently shows a valuing of that contribution.

Also, it's never wise to claim that someone 'needs' too much (or more than their dignity would wish them to need).

Is that what you think Key has managed to tap?

Anonymous said...

Ross said;

"when Ireland grows by 16 times the amount New Zealand did,"

I have some shares in a Irish Bank you might like to buy.

Ross Calverley said...

Anonymous; no thanks. I did say GDP was not everything, Ireland has grown 1.6%, whereas we have grown 0.1%

Anonymous said...

Now is not the time to attack the Labour Party, there will probably be time enough after November 26th unfortunately. Using your energy to attack the Nats should surely be your priority as we will all suffer if they get back into power.

Frank said...

One of the most oft-heard refrains thrown at Labour by National supporters is;

"Why didn't you do that when you were in government? You had nine years!"

I think that sums up why the electorate seems to have turned their back on the Party.

I remember one specific incident, when Labour was in power, when I watched something that I simply could not believe. Lianne Dalziel was minister of immigration at the time. The person involved was a young woman, who was being forcibly removed from NZ.

At that point, I wondered what had happened to the NZ Labour Party.

Labour needs to understand that with MMP it is no longer a two-party system. We now have a plethora of choices, and generally voting for a smaller Party is no longer a "wasted vote".

I hope Labour does well at the election. Not because they deserve to - but because the alternative is not very pleasant to contemplate.

And yes, Chris Trotter has nailed it (again).

Ann said...

Get up off your chair Chris.
Exercise is good for the brain so I have an idea -
volunteer to put up some hoardings, black ones that say

When things look black,
we're at our best
Go the Boys.

Anonymous said...

Perceptive and honest assessment as usual Chris.

The saddest thing is that the arrogance and dogmatism which characterises modern Labour will ensure that the very notion of addressing these issues openly and honestly won’t even be considered. Labour is now essentially the party of the mired-in-ideology urban liberal elites and the underclass and grievance-mode minorities whom they presume to patronise - an exclusive closed shop of belligerently illiberal kommissars sporting hefty pounamu pendants, a trendy fleck of purple on the cropped, once flowing locks of Woodstock, muttering “inappropriate” “offended” and “privileged”, pursing thin academic lips and raising sternly reproving eyebrows at the culturally conservative working man who was once their life blood.

Labour seem content to await the inevitable “collateral damage” that will afflict the working class during National’s second term, as the prodigal sons return, cloth cap in hand, crumpled photo of Scargill tucked inside musty tweed jacket, begging the forgiveness of their liberal elite betters, so history can repeat itself once again.

It is only with the utmost embarrassment, lethargy and reluctance that I may give my “sympathy vote” to Goff.

Anonymous said...

Getting back to the column, tend to agree about the Labour Party in regard to working class, but not the analysis of John Key. He seems to really just be saying, 'look at me I'm really successful, be on my team'. This is greatly helped by the media coverage he gets, but is not a political discourse as such. He avoids political debate, other than to blame all economic problems on the previous government, which is a short-term strategy. A genuine leader would actually address informed critics, rather than dismiss anyone who doesn't appear to agree with him. In a one on one debate with Phil Goff, on substantive issues, the preception gap may be closed. Then again, New Zealand seems to be the only western country where the big cat financiers are still revered, rather than reviled.

Anonymous said...

With the sort of help John Key gets from the media it is no wonder that he is popular in the polls. This is different from having a compelling political vision, or genuine appeal to the working class, with or without Peter Leitch's endorsement. Since Key had really avoided direct political debate up to now, and dismisses any informed criticism, the election campaign will still be interesting.

Anonymous said...

The 'sovereign individual' seems to come out of an economic theory, rather than a political one. The same individual recipient of the state's largesse could also be seen as a citizen. Traditionally, National has only seen property owners as citizens, working class or otherwise. How many working class people reaaly don't see through Key's ego.

Anonymous said...

I think Chris’s post confuses the slow drift of the aspiring working classes towards conservatism with Labour’s current problems. Yes, in the long term the Labour Party has been losing working and middle class voters. Some of this is due to being insufficiently left wing; some of it due to to being too left wing and too socially liberal. None of this is news, and none of it has been particularly sudden.

Labour lost the 2008 election for a variety of reasons – the primary reason being that they had governed the country for the past three terms, and that the opposition had finally sorted out its internal problems sufficiently to make it electable. People get sick of governments, even good ones, and they get the boot. That’s just how democracy tends to work. The disenchantment of the aspirational working and middle classes made 2008 more difficult for Labour, but they were never really going to win anyway, so it didn’t matter.

Labour’s current problem is that it is a left wing, redistributive party trying to get elected during the worst and most sustained recession the world has experienced in over 70 years. No such party has a show of being elected in a country like New Zealand at a time like this. We face a time of great economic uncertainty, where many people do not know whether they will be likely to sustain their present level of income over the next half a decade. The prospect of a general malaise leading to redundancy or business failure is very real for many New Zealanders, especially those with significant debt. These are among the reasons for the general belt tightening (which of course is collectively self defeating, but individually rational).

In such a situation, the mental calculation of the average voter is pretty obvious. After all, if you lose your job, you may not be able to pay your mortgage and you will lose your house, which you alone are on the hook for. On the other hand, if the tax take goes down, that is a collectively shared burden, which others will help you bear. So do you vote for the party that has the tendency to lower taxes and to increase the amount of your income that you get to decide what to do with, or do you vote for the party that is more likely to keep or raise taxes? Simple self interest would indicate that you should choose the former – after all, the welfare system can be refunded after the recession, whereas if you lose your house you lose your major asset.

All that is to say that it is rational from the point of view of individual self interest to vote more conservatively in times of economic uncertainty. The fact that such a vote is collectively self defeating is obvious when you think about it, but fear of destitution tends to kill thought.

So don’t blame the Labour party. Even if they were honestly offering every voters sexual intercourse with either Angelina Jolie or Brad Pitt (or both if that’s your thing) and free chocolate for life, they could not win this election.

Anonymous said...

MMmmmmmm, I dunno.

Milk or dark?

Anonymous said...

Anon 10.12. Maybe it would be a good strategy in any other country than provincial dominated NZ. I can't believe Key or the All Blacks are really that popular. I doub't if the urban middle class or students find much joy in either.
The Nats seem to find their deepest support in the central south and among the former voters of the Labour heartland. Urban NZ seems unrepresented by any party. The political consensus that is supported by all the parliamentary parties is probably only really supported by 10%-its pure mush really like English and Key.
I never met Jenny Shipley and Clark was better looking and that is much of the reason she won. But in the late 1990s NZ was starting to move cafes and hard rock bars were opening all over NZ. Justice had briefly arrived for the mentally ill and generous benefits were paid. clark and Bradford destroyed that open society.

Loz said...

I just can’t agree with the comments of anon@10:12

I don’t believe Labour is seen as a party dedicated to the redistribution of wealth. I'm not sure that a focus group could identify what Labour is specifically dedicated to anymore.

Over the past century times of economic uncertainty have normally increased support for Labour, be it the Depression, War years, late 70's and steadily through the 1980's. Inversely, the period of the 1960's when New Zealand was experiencing its greatest economic security saw the repeated election of Kiwi Keith's National Party. Labour has never had reduced appeal in times of economic uncertainty before now.

Granted, electors do tend do get tired of governments but that can't explain the current lack of support for Labour after a term in opposition. In fact, the typical swing against a government highlights why John Key's performance is remarkable. The predicted swing toward the sitting government is so large and that no election since (or before) 1938 really has this characteristic. Only twice in the past century has any government increased its share of the vote and managed to gain an absolute majority (Savage in 1938 and Holland in 1951).

At no stage since the 1920's has support for Labour been so low or so far behind that of National. That level of dissatisfaction cannot be attributed to the international economy, the media, the Mad Butcher, political commentators or "DJ" John Key yet everything is being blamed apart from the Labour Party itself.

Olwyn said...

The big question is, where does any sort of left wing position get real leverage in the present state of affairs? Many of those who would normally work for industry now either work in Australia or have been relegated to the underclass, while the industries we still have left are permanently under threat. The present government is committed to reducing the public service and forcing teachers, etc. to either toe the line or suffer the consequences. Where to go from there? Either overseas or into the arms of a corporation, whom you will rely on for wages to pay your mortgage if you are fortunate enough to have one.

While the right has in the past considered itself the party of industry, I do not think they want industry in this country, beyond farming, since industry requires workers, who might start getting ideas if they find themselves needed. Notably, when they were considering further mining, they did not think it would generate jobs for New Zealanders, since "overseas experts" would be required. Far better to be the party of ownership, and drive a wedge between property owners and non-owners. In fact the wealth gap is probably of greater significance than the wage gap in NZ.

I recently heard Duncan Garner say (so it may not be true) that 60% of Green voters would like to see the Greens go into coalition with National, which suggested to me a mentality that wants to vote to keep the riff-raff at bay, while at the same time showing how much they love kittens and how they "care."

With the right having so far successfully engineered things in this way, it is possible to say that Labour represents benficiaries and special interest groups because almost everyone else whom they may have represented has been purged.

Jordan Carter said...

A few thoughts of my own, over at my blog Chris:

I don't quite agree with your pitch. I'm sure you'll be surprised to hear it!