Monday 11 June 2012

Refugee Status: Or, Why The Polls Aren't Necessarily Good News For Labour.

Safe Haven: David Shearer has a great deal of experience working with refugees. He knows that the last thing people fleeing from war and oppression want to encounter is divisive political ideology. Voters migrating from National to Labour are much the same - and Mr Shearer seems only too happy to oblige them by transformimng Labour into a "politics-free zone".

NATIONAL DROPS four percentage points in the latest 3 News/Reid Research poll and Labour picks up almost exactly the same amount. What’s wrong with this picture?

Too small and too timid to go after the 800,000 New Zealanders who did not bother to vote in the 2011 General Election, Labour’s strategy for 2014 appears to involve transforming itself into a refugee camp for disillusioned, disaffected, or just plain disgusted National Party voters.

David Shearer knows a great deal about refugee camps, he did, after all, spend many years working for the United Nations. He knows, for example, that if they’re to function properly refugee camps must steer well clear of politics. All that people fleeing war zones and/or massive persecution are looking for is a place of safety: somewhere they can find food, shelter and, if they’re lucky, some semblance of human warmth and sympathy.

When former National Party voters abandon John Key’s government for Mr Shearer’s opposition, the last thing they want, upon arrival, is to be bombarded with radical left-wing propaganda. Ideologically-driven policy-making is what they are fleeing. If they discover they’ve only exchanged one bunch of gimlet-eyed apparatchiks for another, they’ll simply keep on moving. Some will push-on to the Greens, some to NZ First, while others may even travel as far as Colin Craig’s Conservative Party.

There is nothing homogeneous about this stream of refugees, it contains many political tribes. Former Labour supporters – the ones who abandoned the party in 2005 and 2008 – will be the easiest to assimilate. All Mr Shearer has to tell them is that the party has rediscovered its respect and admiration for their values - especially their commitment to hard work and personal betterment. It’s an assurance that will serve equally well for the dwindling tribe of National Party moderates. In Labour’s camp, Mr Shearer will tell them, they’re in capable and experienced hands. Here, they’ll encounter no promises to raise taxes or restore trade union rights. Here, their investments in the partially-privatised state assets will remain perfectly secure. Here, they will be safe.

And the Labour tribe itself – the people who stood loyal right through – how will they react to their leader offering such reassuring guarantees to turn-coats and Tories?

Some, as the 3 News/Reid Research poll indicates, will decamp to the Greens in disgust. Others – a smaller but much more dangerous number – will throw their support behind Mr Shearer’s rival, David Cunliffe (now registering for the first time in the preferred prime-minister stakes). But most, delighted by Labour’s steadily expanding claim upon the affections of the electorate, will think only of the prospect of defeating their traditional enemy, the National Party, and of laying low its infernally popular leader.

The option of going after National’s vote will also appeal to Labour’s mostly middle-class membership because it involves so little genuine political effort. No one will expect them to venture into the neighbourhoods of the poor, where vicious dogs wait to leap at their throats and hostile Maori and Pasifika voters ask embarrassing questions about jobs and housing and health care for their kids and how long Labour’s MPs would last on shit wages and inadequate welfare payments?

In their heart-of-hearts they know that to provide adequate answers to such questions Labour would have to develop policies that would instantly drive away all of those refugees from the Centre-Right. They know from bitter historical experience that putting people first and money second only earns Labour the unrelenting hostility of the mainstream media (not to mention putting-off potentially generous business donors). It’s just so much easier and less risky to rely on slick TV ads showing Mr Shearer playing his guitar to delighted classrooms of healthy Pakeha children. So much less hassle to distribute glossy, platitude-packed pamphlets in neighbourhoods where the residents don’t bite. And so much more satisfying erecting billboards featuring the rugged (but reliable) face of their “anti-political” leader, promising New Zealand “A Future That Works”.

Spare some sympathy, then, for the newly-elected Policy Council of the Labour Party: Jordan Carter, David Craig, Nigel Haworth, Leanne Dalziel and Michael Wood. Theirs is the unenviable task of pulling together an election platform that still has some kind of connection with the “democratic socialist” principles to which the Labour Party still officially subscribes, but to which the parliamentary caucus is still prepared to give its support. David Craig, for example, has fought for years to extend the same level of state support to mothers and children on the DPB as that extended to low-paid workers by Working For Families. The same policy that Josie Pagani decried as unhelpful to Labour’s candidates in 2011. Will that policy make it into Labour’s 2014 manifesto? Will any policies likely to upset the party’s new, conservative, supporters?

The radical Marxist scholar, Slavoj Zizek, writing in the London Review of Books about the imminent Greek elections, warns upholders of Europe’s political legacy that:

In his Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, T.S. Eliot remarked that there are moments when the only choice is between heresy and non-belief – i.e., when the only way to keep a religion alive is to perform a sectarian split. This is the position in Europe today. Only a new ‘heresy’ – represented at this moment by Syriza – can save what is worth saving of the European legacy: democracy, trust in people, egalitarian solidarity etc.

The sprawling political refugee camp that Labour is busily turning itself into will find it increasingly difficult to distinguish between the “No Discussion of Beliefs Permitted” rule it is currently enforcing in order not to upset its National refugees, and a position which denies the importance of espousing coherent political beliefs altogether. Such a Labour Party, by extirpating the “heresy” of genuine social-democratic thought and allowing itself to become a safe haven for an ideologically inert and politically demobilised population could, paradoxically, win election after election.

But what would be the point? And who would notice the difference?

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


Jordan Carter said...

What, indeed, would be the point?

Chris, your post paints a picture the opposite of where the Labour people I know want to go, from David Shearer to David Cunliffe.

Taken with your last column, it's a bit like some of Nicky Hagar's work: joining some dots into an unrecognisable and incorrect picture.

Anyhow, the evidence will be in the outcomes, not what I say to you here.

Chris Trotter said...

Well, Jordan, it's like this. Nicky Hager is an investigative journalist with a global reputation for accuracy and speaking truth to power. Being compared to such a person is a huge compliment.

The Labour Party, on the other hand, is a political organisation which, in the relatively recent past, enjoyed an entirely deserved reputation for lies and betrayal. When last in government it did very little to mend - let alone reverse - the damage done by its predecessors. Ruth Richardson's benefit cuts, for example, we never restored, keeping 200,000 children in poverty.

The proof of the pudding will, as you suggest, be in the eating. But, you'll have to forgive me for putting my money on a pretty stingy and rather sour dessert.

PhilToms said...

I preferred Goff. At least he campaigned on not selling assets, and capital gains tax. All Shearer goes on about is making granny go and work at McDonalds, as if that will make any difference. I left Labour after the asset sales in '87, or as Anderton put it "Labour left me". The Greens are talking economic sense as is Winston. Hopefully the next govt will include both, and restore some sovereignty. Perhaps if govts worried more about balancing the nation's books (i.e. current account) and less about the govt's books we might not keep sliding further into debt. This might involve restrictions on imports and foreign companies expatriating profits.

pyGrant said...

typo: transformimng should be transforming

Graeme Edgeler said...

How can you tell Labour hasn't picked up support from non-voters?

Maybe National's support has stayed the same in numbers terms, but Labour's overall share is up because they've hoovered up non-voters?

Anonymous said...

Yeah Jordan Carter, why on earth would you slag off Nicky Hager? You made some good points until then. The Hollow Men was a carefully compiled accurae reflection of a corrupt National Party. Hager is a legend.

Your comment was a totally unprovoked attack on of NZs best left Wong journalists.

Your judgement is suspect.

Surely the point of a comment on this blog is to try and show those on the left that Chris is wrong and that the policy council has an open minded approach to engaging with the left?

This looks like the Clare Curran school of left wing solidarity. Im glad to see your policy council colleague is more measured in his comments an Chris's Facebook page.

Kat said...

Chris, why not put your money where your mouth is and help support someone who is genuine to say the least and is the best bet since HC to deliver a Labour led govt?

Brendan McNeill said...


If I may quote Peter Hitchens, the (Christian) brother of the renowned and now late atheist Christopher Hitchens. He has a blog at

"The truth is that all the parties are now really one anti-British politically correct monster, and the only thing that voters can influence (if that) is the arrangement of their faces in the group photographs."

If you substitute 'anti-British' with 'Anti-New Zealand' then you summarize our situation equally well.

We get to change the faces (if that) but the politics and policies remain the same. This is a direct result of the 'rush to the centre' that is a feature of the 'de-ideologicalized' citizenry who really only care about bread and circuses. (Reality TV and personal comfort).

I note that Victor feels himself stranded in political no mans land because he holds what were (once) reasonably common political beliefs.

The reality is that we live in a society where all belief is viewed with suspicion, be it political or religious.

If you are halfway ideological, you are perceived to be 'potentially dangerous'. This is an inevitable outcome of 'non judgmental secularism' which is the default religion now being taught in our schools, and institutions of higher learning.

As a result, political parties have discovered that 'bland is beautiful' as far as middle New Zealand is concerned.

We can anguish over this, but it's present day reality.

Labour is doing its best to be inoffensive, bland, and electable, just as National did at the previous two elections.

Have you noticed how the Greens are striving to drop their crazy extreme image to be the voice of sensibility, even respectability and reason? Hey, even some mining is now acceptable.

Sorry Chris, those of us who actually believe there is such a thing as Truth with a capital T are in the minority, and we will be ruthlessly sidelined by the main stream political parties as they seek electability.

My only question is 'to what end?'

peterpeasant said...

Chris , you are so correct. (I nearly wrote right)

The big concern for what remains (I almost said left) of the LP is all those people who did not turn out to vote.

It is very worrying that so many people did not turn out to vote.

I hope the LP figurists get it.

Pete Sime said...

I'm with Michael Joseph Savage:

“Now then, ladies and gentlemen, we have no desire to raise ourselves at your expense. Our object in life is to cooperate with you. To find out what you think, and to go on to do the work of building a prosperous nation. A free nation, or a nation of free peoples in these southern seas.”

Olwyn said...

In a recent post of Chris's, on the banking system, Nick said, "we are currently serfs and vassals to a huge financial imperial system: we must play by the rules or risk total ruin."

This is a polemical statement, but even if it is somewhat true, political representatives can commit themselves to their people, bargain on their behalf, and reverse the downward pressure to the extent that is possible. While Clark's government did not reverse the changes made by the earlier Labour government, they did the above to at least some degree; whether or not they could have done more I am not in a position to know.

Even the shadow of such an intention however, seems too controversial for the present parliamentary party. The reported panic over a genuinely centrist speech by David Cunliffe, which could in fact have been given by Michael Cullen at a different stage of the game, has left me feeling very angry, and lacking the faintest impulse to raise my glass to a rise of 1% or so in the polls. So Jordan Carter, if you are still reading, I do not share the view of the Labour people you know, and do not have confidence in a party that refuses to reveal where it stands.

I will now quote from a letter that was in Sunday's SST, expressing agreement with Michael Laws on the forced sterilisation of so-called ferals:"It is time these scum were exterminated," said the writer. When statements like that have names to them, as this one did, and are published in respectable newspapers, you need to start challenging the status quo rather than sucking up to it.

Anonymous said...


I look at the Labour Party and I do not see a single person who I think is capable of solving our current problems. Then I look at every single other party in New Zealand and I see the same thing. Then I look overseas and see it everywhere. I'm sure I'm not the only one.

For some reason, I know not what, the entire western political class seems no longer fit for purpose. All it took was one economic crisis to expose the empty suits.

Why bother voting when there is nobody to vote for?

Alan Ivory said...


I'm very glad to see a clear statement of position from someone well up in the Labour Party hierarchy, especially as my fears have been those well expressed for some time By Chris Trotter. Indeed, I along with many will be looking for the evidence shown by the outcomes.

Kind regards,

Alan Ivory

Robert Winter said...

Chris: the LP of the 1980s is now a distant target. You have to be of a certain age and disposition to remember it. If you are, then it remains a blot, yet, for the younger generation, it is about as comprehensible as "Dallas" or big hair asnd shoulder pads.

I have to remind myself that I am no longer that young, and that 1984was nearly 30 years ago. At some stage you might let the LP rejoin civilised society (after all, Germany was well on the way to reinstatement into civilisation within a decade of 1945).

And I think that you portray Labour 1999-2008 a little unfairly, A fairer view is, I suggest, that it arrested the rot, but didn't excise it.

As I have posted today, there was a time when a radical, Keynesian-based approach won long-term political power. The principles that underpinned that approach are as valid today as then. I sincerely hope that the LP is able to package a modern version of those principles as a genuine alternative to National-lite (to steal the Right's insult dirceted at Mr Key).

jh said...

Would any Labour politician be brave enough to admit that the high migration we have had over the last twenty years might not have done us much good?

Chris Trotter said...

Robert, me old China! If you take a look around you in NZ today, you will notice a very large number of people with greying (or just plain grey) hair. These are the Baby-Boomers, born between 1946 and 1965, and easily the largest single portion of our population.

The youngest of these Boomers would have been 20 as Rogernomics was rolled out.

In other words, there are hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who still remember what Labour did, and, given their likely life-span, they're not going anywhere anytime soon.

Youngsters may not know much about Rogernomics, but you should bear in mind that youngsters are among the least likely NZers to cast a vote.

Believe me, Robert, "Rogernomics" mattered, matters, and will continue to matter for many years to come.

Robert Winter said...

No question about the mattered and matters issue. We are as one.

But, just as the German state now is not the Nazi one, the current LP is not that of Douglas,Prebble, de Cleene and the rest. It has other challenges - the successor to the Third Way must be fought - but there is, in my mind, a will in the LP to renew itself on a firmer SD basis. We'll see.

Victor said...


"The reported panic over a genuinely centrist speech by David Cunliffe, which could in fact have been given by Michael Cullen at a different stage of the game, has left me feeling very angry, and lacking the faintest impulse to raise my glass to a rise of 1% or so in the polls."

Me too!

And remember the quote from Churchill (hardly an icon of the ultra-left) that Cunliffe used on that occasion:

"The truth is incontrovertible, malice may attack it, ignorance may deride it, but in the end; there it is."

Brendan and Anonymous @ 12.14

Part of me shares your overwhelming sense of civilizational decay.

But the introduction of a slightly larger grain of truth into our spin-dominated political discourse might nevertheless have a salutory effect.


Immigration might not have proved a one way street to Utopia. However, the same would have been true of the only conceivable alternative, viz: population depletion.

The English language as a mother tongue is both a blessing and a curse for New Zealand. So is the propinquity of Australia and the fact that so many Kiwis can claim British, Irish or Dutch patriality, with a consequent right to work anywhere they like in the EU.

Chris Trotter said...

Yes, Robert, we will.

I can't help noting, however, that the post-war German establishment was riddled with former Nazis; or that it took the massive upheavals of the late 1960s and 70s to finally shake the Germans free of their past.

I'm not sure that shaking has even been attempted in the NZLP. What shaking did occur was initiated by the people who departed with the NLP and later for Act. Following their departure, HC made damn sure that shaking was verboten.

Just look at the way power was transferred after 2008 - not a whole lot of shaking going on there!

jh said...

The immigration argument (as presented in that link) is an economic one. It isn't crazy and it is echoed (or echoes) what the Savings Working Group says.
We are in uncertain times and all National and Labour can do is waffle. The Greens think they can do the loaves and fishes. Until someone gets it right we will vacillate between "a brighter future" and "polipads". Progress and leadership is seeing the human condition as it is at its most fundamental level and that must be to see humans as a clever species yet to come to terms with their environmental partner, its limits and conditions.

Jordan Carter said...

Hi Chris,

As I think you know, my sympathies and instincts sit with the majority of the commenters here.

The big challenge the NZLP faces is turning itself from a liberal party mostly made up of social democrats, back into a social democratic party mostly made up of the same.

I wasn't trying to be insulting about Nicky Hagar or about you at all. I have enjoyed reading a lot of his material over the years. His work is, as far as I have seen, very factual, but sometimes it draws the wrong conclusions. Seeds of Distrust is an example that springs to mind, though I have not read it for some time.

Your column doesn't describe the political project the NZLP is now embarked on, but it does reference facts that can't be denied.

So we come again to the proof being in the results to come. For the record, my view is that if Labour behaves as you write in this piece, the result in 2014 will be akin to National's result in 2002. It will be far worse than the "worst in 80 years" result we got in 2011 -- a result that largely, to my mind, arose from the lack of clarity in most voters minds as to what we stood for and whose side we were on.

Standing for nothing and being afraid to say anything different about the world is a recipe for political failure, not for success.


Victor said...


I'm not saying the argument you've cited is crazy.

But, without immigration, New Zealand's population would not revert to a stable state.

Our economy has been going nowhere for decades, we have no inbuilt economic advantages, our standard of living is below that in most OECD nations, we are next door to the "Lucky Country", we speak English, we are reasonably well educated, we are early adopters of new technologies, many have EU patriality, we're given to travelling.

Join the dots.

James said...

Robert, I'm not sure that there's a simple Keynesian-ism that we can revert to. I have a nasty suspicion that it depended on abundant oil.

jh said...

I think countries are like families,we can't all keep up with the Jones and sometimes we have to learn to lessen our material needs and make the most of what we have got. That is why I'm opposed to population shocks lead by business people with second houses at Hawaii and their encumbent real estate riches mentality.

I am greatly influenced by lifestyle of my ancestors. When my great grandmother was dying she related her life story and finished by saying:

By then you were all grown up and able to take over the land and let your father and myself take a few years rest. I am as happy now, lying down blind in my own home, where I started twice with only four pence, as I was the first night I came here fifty three years ago, as I know my children and kind friends are round me and that my work is completed. I have no illness but must bow down to sheer old age."

Robert Winter said...

@ James: my Keynesianism is never simple (I promise) and must be of the times (which is why, in my own posts, I include sustainmability as a key dimension of any alternative, which also brings me to the LP-Greens link)

Victor said...


Your great grandmother was a wise woman.

Monetary enrichment is certainly not on its own a key to either happiness or a sense of fulfillment.

But the impoverishment of an entire society can certainly cause unhappiness and brings many evils in its wake.

My argument was simply that, without a relatively high rate of immigration, New Zealand would probably now be suffering a huge net loss of population and this would lead over time to impoverishment.

That doesn't mean that I would necessarily endorse current or recent immigration levels. But it does make me wary of arguments that posit immigration as a key cause of our problems.

And, yes, I agree with you that real estate fetishism is a deep rooted New Zealand cultural meme that does us little good.

Not only does it distort our economy, widen wealth gaps, channel investment into non-productive areas and create artificial accommodation shortages.

It also means that a house becomes first and foremost an investment and only secondly a home.

Undoubtedly, this has exacerbated the rootlessness that we share with most modern societies and particularly with those of relatively recent colonial settler origins.