Thursday 27 February 2014

Now Is The Time ... For A Game-Changer

Who'd Have Thought? There's no disputing that David Cunliffe's decision to appoint Matt McCarten as his Chief-of-Staff caught nearly everybody in New Zealand politics by surprise. The question now is whether the Left is capable of seizing the extraordinary opportunity it has been given.

“MATT McCARTEN? CHIEF OF STAFF! SERIOUSLY?” How many times have those words been spoken in the past 48 hours? Sometimes with barely suppressed excitement; other times in barely suppressed fury; but most of the time in a tone of utter disbelief that the speaker made no attempt to suppress at all.
The New Zealand Left suddenly finds itself in the position of the dog who caught the car. For years, slagging off the Labour Party as a bunch of neoliberal sell-outs has been one of the Left’s favourite pub and parlour games. But now, with one of this country’s most effective left-wing campaigners just one door down from the Leader of the Labour Opposition, the Left, like the bewildered pooch for whom the fun was always in the chase, has finally got what it wanted and must decide what to do with it.
That bewilderment had better not last too long. Because unless David Cunliffe and Matt McCarten start talking with unprecedented clarity about what’s wrong with New Zealand, what changes need to be made, and how Labour proposes to make them, then the Right’s political narrative – that Labour under Cunliffe has executed a lunatic lurch to the extreme Left – will be the story that sticks.
I would estimate that Cunliffe has a week – possibly a fortnight – to draft and deliver a speech which explains to “Middle New Zealand” that Labour has absolutely no intention of nationalising everything and shooting the buggers who complain. That there are no plans to replace the Southern Cross with the hammer and sickle on the New Zealand flag. That Labour wants nothing like that at all.
He needs to tell middle-class voters that the one objective he is absolutely determined to achieve, with the support of his caucus, his party, his chief-of-staff and every other progressive New Zealander, is the long-delayed re-balancing of this country’s economic and social settings. Labour wants New Zealanders to once again look upon the State as their friend: a powerful and trusted ally against the depredations of unregulated, free-market capitalism.
That speech has to be the best he has ever given. It needs to be filled with real and telling examples of what is happening out there to the two-thirds of Kiwis who earn less than the average wage. It needs to be chock full of great lines like “The only thing we have to fear – is fear itself”, but it also needs to be leavened with wit and humour.
Cunliffe can’t write a speech like that by himself – which is why he needs all the ideas, evidence, insights and jokes that progressive New Zealanders can send him. They need to help him paint a picture of a country in which the overwhelming majority of New Zealanders would like to live, and then to supply him with a convincing description of the steps needed to take them there.
And while the Left is helping Cunliffe find the words to convince Middle New Zealand that he means them no harm, McCarten needs to get busy reconnecting all the wires to all the levers on Labour’s bridge. The wires that lead to Labour’s Caucus, to its NZ Councillors, LEC’s and branches. To the Council of Trade Unions Executive, the affiliated unions, the churches and the voluntary sector. For far too long far too many of these wires have floated free. When McCarten reaches for a lever; to make things happen; he needs to know that the wire of influence he’s pulling is attached to something real.
And, once again, that means that every progressive person within these organisations needs to place themselves at the new chief-of-staff’s disposal. McCarten has trodden on a lot of toes and burned a lot of bridges over the course of his career (most tragically with the Lear-like Jim Anderton) but all of those insults must now be forgiven and forgotten.
Why? Because the Left has been given an extraordinary opportunity to prove that it still has something to offer New Zealand, but a desperately short period of time in which to do it. If old wounds, old grudges, old defeats (are you listening Jim?) are allowed to get in the way of making this unprecedented situation work to the advantage of ordinary New Zealanders, then it will end in failure.
And that failure won’t just be Cunliffe’s and McCarten’s, it will be the failure of the entire progressive movement. And it won’t just be for a triennium (or three) it will be for an entire generation.
If Cunliffe and McCarten are allowed to fail, the Right of the Labour Party and their fellow travellers in the broader labour movement (all the people who worked so hard to prevent Cunliffe rising to the leadership) will say:
“Well, you got your wish. You elected a leader pledged to take Labour to the Left. And just look what happened. Middle New Zealand ran screaming into the arms of John Key and Labour ended up with a Party Vote even more pitiful than National’s in 2002! So don’t you dare try peddling that ‘If we build a left-wing Labour Party they will come’ line ever again! You did – and they didn’t.”
Be in no doubt that this will happen – just as it did in the years after the British Labour Party’s crushing defeat in the general election of 1983. The Labour Right called Labour’s socialist manifesto “the longest suicide note in history” and the long-march towards Blairism and the re-writing of Clause Four began. (Never mind the impact of Maggie Thatcher’s unlikely victory in the South Atlantic, it was Michael Foot’s socialism wot won it for the Tories!)
These are the stakes the Left is playing for – and they could not be higher. If progressive New Zealand rallies to Cunliffe’s and McCarten’s bright-red banner and helps them convince Middle New Zealand that Labourism, far from being an alien and dangerous creed, actually stands for all that is best in this nation, then it will have won an historic and lasting victory. But if it fails to seize the opportunity it has been given, then all that is worth fighting for on the Left will go down to defeat and New Zealand will be National’s for the foreseeable future.
Now IS the time for all good comrades to come to the aid of the party. Because, whichever way it turns out, the appointment of Matt McCarten is bound to be a game-changer.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


paul scott said...

yes we are nonplussed but absolutely delighted to see the Labour party commit suicide

Unknown said...

Like him or not,his appointment has got our leader crying farm fence woe,socialists and their unions are taking over.

Only would fear from a politician cry that,as our P.M.out of desperation would do.

What is there to fear about a Parties organiser who has no say about its control or direction.

Seems like our present government seems like its ok to ridicule that position and the person appointed.

Should we question their party appointed for their un questioned charge.

RedLogix said...

In the modern era there has been this essential pattern of teamwork necessary for sustained success. Bolger and Birch, Clark and Cullen, Key and English are the obvious ones that spring to mind.

A great leader cannot afford to be isolated in his caucus, and it's a comment on the current situation that Cunliffe seems to have had to seek outside of it to find the strong ally he needs.

Otherwise inspiring as you so often are Chris. I'm working in Australia at present and it's absolutely gutting to see Abbott repeat the same cycle of destruction on the Australian people as I have lived through all my adult life.

And it only came about because of egos and disunity in the ALP. Tragic. At least the polls here have turned strongly against Abbot.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Please explain how this is going to be a game changer. It's not a policy position it simply an administrative one.

The Flying Tortoise said...

Could it be!
Could it be that we might be about to live in exciting and changing times?
God I hope so!

Souvlaki said...

Good essay Chris, ....but I sit with Paul @ 19.08. So much historic ( & more importantly accurate) ammunition to aim at Cunliffe et al with this appointment, difficult to know where to start. I'm not a gambler, but on this, I'd bet heavily on a MASSIVE fail. Erudite rationalisation will not stem the slaughter ! :-))

Brendan McNeill said...

"Labour wants New Zealanders to once again look upon the State as their friend"

If anyone in New Zealand believes that big Government is their 'friend' they are in need of urgent professional care.

Anonymous said...

The philippics of Demosthenes and Cicero, why are these, failures, the most invigorating words, such that they won the war of sentiments, without effecting the facts? The powerful have it all their way but they just can't speak anything worth hearing. Hence 84's low count alongside 35 and 91.
These latter dates amounted to something, ideals can matter.

markus said...

"Never mind the impact of Maggie Thatcher's unlikely victory in the South Atlantic, it was Michael Foot's socialism wot won it for the Tories !"

Not sure if this is your view, Chris, or your nifty rendition of the UK Labour Right's post-83 rebuke ? (presumably the latter).

I know Victor is fairly scathing about the UK Labour Left in the early 80s and its effect on Labour's opinion poll ratings. But I think we need to be careful, here. Labour continued to hold a pretty solid lead in the polls (occassionally in double-digits) throughout the first 11 months of Foot's leadership (Nov 80 - Oct 81). Despite relentless attacks from the media as a party of the "Looney Left", Labour remained ahead of both the Tories and Lib-SDP for about 8 months following the Limehouse Declaration by the 'Gang of Four', 6 months after the official formation of the SDP and 4 months after the SDP launched the Alliance with the Liberals.

The Alliance then led the polls for much of the Oct 81 - April 82 period (albeit with both Labour and the Tories occassionally taking top spot) then, of course, the moment the Falklands War breaks out, the Tories surge in front and remain there until after the 1983 Election.

We need to remember, too, that the British media indulged in a relentleesly anti-Labour campaign throughout 1983. I had my first trip to the UK in 83 (in my late teens) and I did a bit of scrutineering for the Lincoln branch of the Labour Party on Election day (sat next to a morbidly obese Tory woman from the Shire). The media's attacks on Foot and Labour were something to behold. And not just from the usual (Tory Tabloid) suspects. The leading personalities associated with ITV for instance - David Frost, Michael Parkinson (and other members of the 'Famous Five' who launched ITV's TV-AM in early 83) - were openly supportive of the Lib-SDP Alliance. And, of course, certain Television journalists notoriously went out of their way to capture images of Foot looking old or confused.

As for McCarten - a stroke of brilliance !!! Always have been and always will be a fan.

Don Franks said...

Ah yes, the old tail wagging the dog trick. Tail, being nearest the arsehole, most likely to get shat on.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brendan, if the State wasn't our friend we would probably have a huge number of people not able to access medical care – as it is in the U.S. where the state is vilified by the extreme right. On the contrary, any person of modest means who doesn't believe the state is their friend needs psychiatric treatment – free or subsidised when the state is your friend – too expensive if it isn't.:-)

rouppe said...

I notice the word "progressive" is mentioned five times in this post.

I don't know if you are a Game Of Thrones fan, Chris but in S03E10 there is a line where Tywin says to Joffrey "Any man who must say, "I am the king" is no true king"

If you have to keep telling the people that Labour and the Left are "progressive", Chris, then you clearly are not.

Brendan McNeill said...

Dear Guerilla Surgeon

Free public health care is 'new speak' for rationing.

If you have a car accident or a life threatening heart attack, the system is there for you. Need a hip replacement or a quadtriple bypass?

Join the waiting list.

I'm sure we all know more than one person who has suffered for years on the waiting lists of the New Zealand free healthcare system - many have died waiting for heath care they were never going to receive.

That's why more than a million Kiwi's pay to have health insurance. They recognise a death list when they see one.

That my friend, is how much the State loves you. It will lie to you all the way to the grave and still expect your taxes along the way.

Jigsaw said...

I'm with Paul (19:08) on this! I see Matt McCarten as having lead some of the least successful electoral campaigns there have been. I wasn't sure that Labour would win the coming election, now I know that they won't. I am not even sure that it won't fall apart before the election. The State is your friend - yeh right!

RRM said...

Hi, I'm one of those "fellow travellers" you speak of.

I have been a Labour voter, but I am not a far left activist, and the question of where all the money will come from concerns me.

The Cunliffe lurch to the left will prevent me voting Labour this time. Sorry!

Attitudes like yours will mean it takes a lot longer for me to come back.

Pretend the centre doesn't matter if you like, but don't be surprised when that caricature you painted turns out to be entirely accurate.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Brendan, the American system basically consists of something called economic rationing. You should probably look it up, but it basically means if you don't have the money you don't get treatment. Personally, I prefer waiting lists. Anyway, there is absolutely nothing to stop you buying your own health insurance and /or financing your own medical treatment. Although at our age it may well be just a tad expensive :-).

Jigsaw said...

Chris - perhaps we could get to be as 'progressive' as Venezuela!

Jan said...

Heavens, Chris, I can't work out what you said to attract so many Martians - did anybody from Planet Earth read this article (which I thought was very perspicacious by the way)?

Brendon Harre said...

I suggest Labour investigates these possibilities to add to its housing proposal.


If it wants people to see the State as its friend.

Nic the NZer said...

@RRM, "I have been a Labour voter, but I am not a far left activist, and the question of where all the money will come from concerns me."

Whether or not this changes your mind in any way, I just want you to be better informed.

The NZ govt doesn't have a credit card limit. It can spend as much as it wants to and doesn't have to collect it in tax either before or after spending. As long as the govt has a democratic mandate for the policy it wants to spend on (because there are real economic consequences to govt spending, taxing, or lack of spending) then where the money comes from is largely irrelevant.

Further reading here,

Nic the NZer said...

@Guerilla Surgeon, I was thinking of making the same point to Brendan. I think however he is somewhat more concerned not that there is rationing (in both cases), but that there is seen to be rationing, and that if its private you might not have to call it rationing (you could call it taking personal responsibility, for example). Its one of those strange cases where appearances are more important than material facts.

OneTrack said...

How many "game changers" does Labour need?

Re progressive - Is it really "progressive" to want to progress back to the 70s?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Well one track, since we managed to go from the 1970s to the 19th century, a trip back to the 70s would be a step forward :-).

Brendan McNeill said...

@Guerilla Surgeon and @Nic the NZer

It's the inherent dishonesty of the 'free public health care' promise that I dislike.

We don't lie to our friends if we want to keep them, and so the State cannot claim to be our 'friend' on that basis alone.

I can accept user pays for health. It's honest, and it means I have to take responsibility for myself and my family. I purchase what I can afford in terms of insurance cover.

We insure our houses don't we, why wouldn't we insure our health?

Or are we too juvenile to be trusted to make that decission for ourselves, requiring a paternalistic but dishonest State to do that for us? ;-)

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There IS no inherent dishonesty in free or subsidised healthcare for those that cannot afford it. There IS inherent dishonesty in making people responsible for their own health care, and yet not paying them enough to be able to do so. As is the case in the United States. Years ago they developed their weird system where companies that employed people were responsible for providing them with health insurance. As I understand it this was a wartime expedient to avoid having to pay higher wages when labour was in short supply. Now of course this implicit agreement is consistently violated, as businesses try to cut costs.
Not to mention that there were millions who couldn't get health insurance for various reasons. These people then didn't receive healthcare.

It's all very well saying that people should be responsible but assuming that people who can't afford health care ARE irresponsible, what do you do? Let them die? That's been said.

It just shows the implicit lack of humanity in the extreme right wing position that you adhere to Brendan. As it is, the very idea that people who can't afford to pay for treatment are all irresponsible is utterly ridiculous. Even people who have been 'responsible' in the U.S. have had to bankrupt themselves to pay for unexpected health problems. Jesus, Brendan – even Ayn Rand received subsidised healthcare in her old age, and she didn't refuse it on principle – which just goes to show that the extreme Right doesn't have any? :-).

Anonymous said...

Public health systems are cheaper - take pharmac for an example. And they provide for everybody. Not everyone is fortunate enough to have your ability to 'take responsibility and buy appropriate insurance'. The alternative is the American way with tens of millions of people unable to pay for health care. People who can't pay for it cannot then take their full place in employment etc. You then decry them as bludgers.
Just remember mate that public health systems took care of your birth and every immunisation you had too.
Drop the "I'm alright" attitude, open your eyes and take a look around. You, are a very fortunate individual if you are in the position you espouse. That everyone could be so lucky.

Anonymous said...

You, Brendan, want to neuter the state and bring us back to some form of tribalism where powerful businessmen have power and influence far beyond their democratic weight.

The sort of social system brought into existence by Christian lions such as Clement Atlee and Michael Joseph Savage has brought more prosperity, freedom from hunger and shared education than any other system in history.

It is a system which realises compassion is most effective where it is practiced at the level of state policy. I defy you to show me any other system that has eliminated poverty so efficiently as those years of the Atlees government.

You have one of the most narrow and calcified world views of any sane person I have come across on the internet or elsewhere.

I implore you to watch Ken Loach's recent movie on the construction of the British Welfare State called 'The Spirit of 45'. If anything can be called 'applied Christianity', that can.

Jan said...

Brendan, do you need to be reminded that we live in a low wage economy and that a huge percentage of the population can't even dream of owning a house, let alone insuring anything.
What do you think we should do for them - perhaps they could die in the street with the dignity of knowing they haven't cost their fellow countrymen a cent? Or better yet, quietly at home so 'proper' people don't have to look or clean up the mess? Grrrrr!

Anonymous said...

So I take then Brendon you would be happy with a pre-Obamacare health system in NZ?
Case closed.

Anonymous said...

WOW, Chris, you are passionate. I agree, that this is the last chance for Cunliffe and Labour to make it work, and the involvement of Matt McCarten is now only putting the pressure on them even more.

Indeed it is NOW or NEVER for Labour, and the wider progressive forces, to get their damned act together, and to present a truly positive future for NZ, that is for all living here.

My extreme worry is the media, the MSM or mainstream media, who may not play along with this, and will do all to sabotage it. Most working in the MSM are career minded, selfish persons, who know nothing but corporate or private employment, and who are also wanting to ensure their high salaries, and they have a strong personal interest in keeping the status quo.

Yes, most MSM is BIASED, and so far I hear and see mostly anti Labour and anti "left" reports and comments. Public broadcasting is also now too scared to say anything positive about Labour, after the Shame Taurima scandal. So it is totally tilted against Cunliffe, Labour and certainly against McCarten (remember Paul Henry and his comments, for instance).

Social media, public meetings and events, that is where they must go now, as the MSM will not support them.

Best wishes to all, to fight this rotten government, catering only for the selected few!

Nic the NZer said...

There is no significant difference in funding between a public health care system and insurance in a large risk pool (except that the state doesn't actually face a financial budget constraint). In both cases some people subsidise others. If Brendan was making a principled argument then he would be against insurance as much as state funded health care, but as usual he is making a rhetorical political argument which even he doesn't believe in.

Brendan your concern for the states immortal soul is deeply touching.

Victor said...


I plead guilty to using this website to occasionally disparage the UK's "Loony Left" of the Thatcher/Foot epoch.

Yes, I agree that there were times when Labour was leading in the polls and could even have secured a simple majority of the popular vote.

But its strength was over-concentrated in the industrial belts of northern England, South Wales and the south-west of Scotland. Under FPP, the erosion of its support elsewhere was making it rapidly unelectable.

A further comment I would make is that the majority of Labour voters were "tribal" loyalists and not always over-fond of the extreme, rhetorical leftism that was seeking to take over the party and which sought to portray even people of obvious left-wing credentials as insipid moderates and/or covert enemies of the working class.

Had Labour continued on its ever-further-leftwards path,it would have found that tribal support, when unaccompanied by real conviction, was not a long-term recipe for electoral success.

Another factor is the reliability of polling. Something strange was happening in the minds of UK voters in those years. Vast numbers claimed to be opposed to Thatcherism but it somehow or other failed to register at the ballot box.

Anecdotely, I should add that, although I lived in a leafy middle-class suburb and had the kind of job in which you don't get your hands dirty, I didn't know a single person who openly intended to vote Tory in the 1983 election. So where did Maggie's landslide come from?

I doubt though that any of this is of much relevance to New Zealand in 2014. Apart from anything else, we have MMP. And, even without it, we'd still find that our population wasn't anywhere near as as geographically segmented as that of the UK in the 1980s.

Moreover, NZ Labour doesn't have any leaders as left -wing as Denis Healey, let alone Michael Foot, let alone Tony Benn. So we're talking apples and oranges.

Victor said...

Further to my previous post, it seems to me that NZ Labour needs to come up with clearly Social Democratic, Keynesian policies that it can sell in a commonsensical, broadly conservative manner.

At the moment, it's got more or less the opposite of this, viz; policies that are essentially neoliberalism lite, but sold with a disingenuous whiff of wacko Socialism that will scare off centrist and aspirational voters without generating the desired surge of loyalty from the marginalised and deprived.

Clearly Cunliffe and his colleagues still have a lot of work to do on the policy front. But there's also an urgent need for them to recast the economic narrative and our conversation as a nation away from the arid wastes of neo-liberalism.

I find McCarten's appointment interesting because I recall how the Alliance, in its early years, managed to appeal to voters who wouldn't have dreamed of voting for a left-wing party, including many a Tamaki matron with a blue rinse.

Perhaps, just perhaps, this is the start of a game change. But I'm not yet ready to bet on it.

Jan said...

Victor, I sense that a lot of her support came, like John Key's from what we call 'the anxious classes' - those who have recently become wealthy and admire the 'self-made man/woman' image. There is a perception, largely mistaken, of course, that having as the head of state a person who did well for themselves, they know how to do the same for a country. Often very untrue as in commerce it is seen as valid to stomp over others on the route to success, breeding an attitude which, I would have said, is the opposite if what is needed in a leader except, perhaps, heaven help us, in times of war!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I would have thought Thatcher's victory was a combination of the Falklands War, and the huge swath of heavily subsidised defence industries it runs across the south of England. Just a thought.

Victor said...


Yes, of course, the Falklands Factor was an essential part of Thatcher's 1983 victory, although I don't know that the proliferation of defence industries had much impact on voting.

But ask yourself how she managed to turn what should have been a resignation matter (viz. bungling the diplomacy and inadvertently encouraging a Fascistic military regime to grab sovereign British territory replete with Freeborn Britons) into the crucible of her triumph.

Why was Labour (apart, from memory, for Peter Shore) unable to press the attack home in the Commons? I would argue, it was because it had already lost credibility.

Anonymous said...

Cunliffe has gone outside the caucus for his comrade, and this says it all.

Middle NZ don't want a leftist government. A strange move by Cunliffe, but it won't get rid of John Key as PM.

Key has just been handed the win.

markus said...

Part One

Cheers, Victor. You probably know that I do like to debate Chris's historical analogies at least as much as the substantive arguments they illustrate.

(1) "......the extreme, rhetorical leftism that was seeking to take over the party and which sought to portray even people of obvious left-wing credentials as insipid moderates and/or covert enemies of the working class."

Sounds more like the marginal Militant Tendency fringe (with their entryist tactics) than the mainstream Bennite Left, Victor. There were serious moves against the MT within the party in 82 and early 83.

(2) "Another factor is the reliability of polling......Vast numbers claimed to be opposed to Thatcherism but it somehow or other failed to register at the ballot box......So where did Maggie's landslide come from ?"

Not sure I agree with your line of argument here, Victor. The opinion polls were actually pretty reliable. And where they weren't, the bias was in fact in the opposite direction to the one you imply. The polls of the last 2 weeks of the 83 campaign (and there were a lot of them - about 25), slightly over-estimated the Tory vote, slightly under-estimated Labour support and were pretty much bang-on with regard to the Liberal-SDP Alliance.

Not sure of your basis for suggesting that "vast numbers claimed to be opposed to Thatcherism." ? Polls are surely the only evidence for this ? (otherwise it's just anecdotal evidence about the views of a few friends, family, neighbours, work colleagues or celebs/demonstrators/spokespeople seen on television). And the polls of early-mid 83 suggested almost half of Britons supported the Tories, slightly more than half opposing.

Maggie's landslide, in the end, came courtesy of FPP. The Tories took 42% of the vote, but more than 60% of the seats. With opposition to Thatcherism fairly evenly split between Labour and the Alliance - the Tories won a whole plethora of seats on a (relatively small) minority-vote.

13 million voted Tory in 83, well over 16 million didn't (the latter could quite easily be described as "vast numbers", Victor).

markus said...

Part Two

I have to say Labour's 83 campaign (run by Kinnock , if memory serves me right) was absolutely woeful, particularly in terms of the overall imagery.

Take, for example, the all-important Party morning press-conferences. The Tories looked ultra-professional in an up-market TV studio - all corporate chrome and gleaming surfaces and careful lighting with sky-blue background and dark blue and red Con Party torch symbolism. Labour's, by contrast, looked like it was taking place in the garden / allotment shed of a minor union official somewhere on the outskirts of Halifax.

I still have a vivid memory of watching this press conference unfold and shaking my head in wonder at the sheer ineptitude. You had most of Labour's front-bench and key officials in ill-fitting suits with arms folded (just like a union branch meeting in the North), sitting at what seemed to be an old tressel table that had gone past its prime (I swear it had one leg shorter than the others). And draped over the top was a shockingly loud Canary-Yellow table-cloth with the word "Labour" stiched in red. (Still remember it as clear as day, more than 30 years later). The juxtaposition with the Tory imagery was beyond shocking. Bunch of amateurs.

Victor / Guerilla Surgeon: Falklands War as factor in Thatcher's 83 victory ?

Going by polling alone, I'd say the Falklands factor was EVERYTHING. The Thatcher government was extremely unpopular until that swift, decisive, jingoistic victory (complete with crowing tabloid cheerleaders).

In the weeks immediately before the outbreak of war, the Tories average poll rating was in the early 30s (as it had been for the previous 12 months). 2 weeks into Falklands they were averaging early 40s, by war's end (only, of course, a few weeks later) they were averaging mid-late 40s. Over the following 12 months (up to the 83 election) the Tories only fell below 40% twice (out of more than 80 polls) and even then only just (39% and 39.5%). They maintained an average lead over those 12 months of about 15 points (which was pretty much their lead over Labour on Election day).

There is some suggestion (by various analysts) that by early 82 the UK was beginning to experience signs of economic recovery and that this contributed to the Tories 83 victory. Possibly, it's hard to entirely untangle, but there were really no signs from polling that the Tories were on the way up - until those taken during the first couple of weeks of the Falklands War.

markus said...

Part Three

Victor: "I find McCarten's appointment interesting because I recall how the Alliance, in its early years, managed to appeal to voters who wouldn't have dreamed of voting for a left-wing party, including many a Tamaki matron with a blue rinse."

This seemed a little unlikely to me, Victor, so I had a quick look at the 1996 booth results in Tamaki, focussing on the blue-rinse areas. Kohimarama: Total vote 4500, Alliance 132; Mission Bay: Total vote 983, Alliance 34; St Heliers: Total vote 5300, Alliance 163. So, looks like the Alliance took just 3 or so % in these unusually leafy suburbs. Which leads me to venture that the number of Blue-Rinse Dowager Housewives in Tamaki (with or without new $300,000 Italian kitchens) voting Alliance in the 90s were pretty few and far between.(Then again, by "its early years", you may have meant 93 - the stats for which I don't have).

"......we'd still find that our population wasn't anywhere near as geographically segmented as that of the UK in the 1980s."

Possibly, mind you I'd suggest Auckland is pretty segmented. East Auckland and the North Shore = as Blue as a new tatoo, South Auckland = as Red as a railway shed.

Incidently, the most segmented prov city in NZ (in terms of party support) is......wait for it......Invercargill. Every suburb in the northern half of Southland's Capital is deep blue, almost every suburb in the southern half is red.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Victor – once the shit hits the fan, all the pontificating in the House of Commons isn't going to do much. Particularly with the attitude of the press, and the general jingoism of the lower middle class and up. Lots of waving flags – peace didn't stand a chance.

Anonymous said...

Matt's appointment is Labour's Gallipoli - brilliant in conception - a disaster in reality. It will take some months of self denial to realise what a monumental cock-up this was and for the witch hunt to begin.

Labours attempt to rekindle socialism in middle class NZ are quixotically delusional,and parallel's Hitler shifting his ghost battalions around Berlin in the final days.

Victor said...


I think we're in substantial agreement that Thatcher's victory was in great measure owed to FPP.

To the best of my recollection, most publicised polling concentrated on the popular vote. But Labour entered every election with the disadvantage of having an over-concentrated support base. This problem was sharpened by the rise of the Alliance, which reduced the chances of Labour picking up the occasional middle class marginal.

To what extent was this Labour's fault? The answer might depend on your political preferences. But I would certainly regard the rise of the Alliance as a symptom of dissatisfaction with Labour's progress leftwards.

In any event, let me rescind my questioning of the accuracy of polling and merely say that the polls gave an inevitably misleading impression of Labour's prospects.

I also freely admit the anecdotal nature of my comments. However, I did spend the early 1980s employed in a role that involved constant travel around England and Wales (though not Scotland)talking in depth with large numbers of people from a very wide range of socio-economic backgrounds (sorry no stats available)about the issues that mattered to them.

Two things kept hitting me. The first was the general lack of support for Thatcherite austerity. And the second was that Labour was now a bit of a joke, albeit, for some, still the only worthwhile joke in town.

By the way, the only group of Thatcherites I met during this period were Cambridge undergrads, in love with the pristine ideological purity of neo-liberal doctrines. The guy in charge of Act reminds me of them.

As to the Militant Tendency, I certainly wouldn't accuse them of mere "rhetorical leftism". They were real extremists. But recurrent Bennite silliness and Media bias confounded the distinction between the two phenomena. It was another of Labour's home goals.

However, I confess that I've only entered the fray on these long buried issues because you referenced my name with respect to them and I felt I should respond to the compliment of notoriety.


Of course peace didn't have a chance. A Labour government under former CPO Callaghan or Major Healey would also have gone to war over the Falklands. So would any cabinet of which Peter Shore was a member.

The question, to my mind is how comes that a government that, through weakness and confusion in negotiations, had brought about the subjection of British citizens by a foreign dictatorship, ultimately emerged smelling of roses and able to claim the kudos of victory.

Lesser acts of weakness and incompetence have claimed many another political scalp.

Victor said...


I've just seen your comment about my point concerning Tamaki. I was talking about 1993. And, again, the basis of my comments is anecdotal. But the experience of talking to my blue-rinsed acquaintances about their political preferences quite blew my mind.

Similarly anecdotal is my comment about much greater concentrations of support for specific parties in UK constituencies,as compared with New Zealand electorates.

The narrowness of majorities as a proportion of the vote was one of the things that most struck me when I first watched a New Zealand election night's coverage (in 1987). And, actually, Tamaki stood out in my mind as the exception to the rule.

So I apologise for what may be an excess of anecdote. But that last point is one that you could get weaving on proving or disproving.

After all, you can't have refutation without conjecture.

Good luck!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

There is a certain euphoria that comes from victory in a war Victor. Particularly one which had few casualties, didn't affect the civilian population a great deal, and didn't last very long. I think that would tend to make the rest of it go away :-).

Victor said...


I agree that, once Thatcher had survived the shock of the news of invasion, she had a good chance of emerging wreathed in the laurels of victory.

But, to survive that initial shock, she needed all her not inconsiderable skills of rhetoric and manipulation.

In any event, the 1983 election took place about as year after the Falklands campaign. Time enough for other factors to start playing a role, in, as markus points out, an election ultimately determined by the voting system.

pat said...

Im sorry but the left of labour can hand over the keys to right week in and no such speech and 2 major cock ups...Cunnliffe is not the man for the hour.

Anonymous said...