Thursday 20 July 2023

Standing Conventional Wisdom On Its Head.

Unconventional Antics: Political pundits are virtually unanimous in predicting that any small party which forced New Zealanders back to the polls, rather than surrender their core principles and policies, would be wiped out by a furious electorate. But, New Zealand may be heading into an election in which conventional wisdom gets stood on its head.

THE TWO MAJOR PARTIES, Labour and National, are already flexing their political muscles in response to the minor parties’ policies. Chris Hipkins has made his “Captain’s Call”, nixing any possibility of a Wealth Tax or a Capital Gains Tax while he holds the top job. Christopher Luxon, meanwhile, is indicating that Act can go whistle for its “Referendum on the Treaty” policy. Supposedly wise old heads are backing these unilateral rejections with dire warnings of what would happen to any party which, rather than surrender what they flagged to their voters were matters of principle, dared to send the country back to the polling-booths.

Well, New Zealand may be heading into an election in which conventional wisdom gets stood on its head. It happens every now and again, usually in response to sudden and disturbing shifts in the way the world is seen to work.

Take the two great election landslides of the early 1970s: Labour’s crushing win in 1972; and National’s exact reversal of Labour’s 23-seat majority just three years later in 1975.

In 1972, Norman Kirk had made himself the avatar of the popular conviction, growing in strength since 1969, that it was “time for a change”. Somehow, Kirk was able to represent both the young voters’ impatience with the stifling post-war consensus, and the broader electorate’s expectation that life for ordinary New Zealanders could be improved without upsetting the mixed-economy apple-cart.

Just two years later, in the wake of the Oil Shock of 1973, Muldoon convinced those same ordinary New Zealanders that only he knew how to right the overturned apple-cart, gather-up the scattered apples, and restore something approximating the broad political consensus of the 1960s.

By 1984 it was clear to all but the most steadfast Muldoon loyalists that the rest of the world was now working in a very different way, and that New Zealand could no longer afford to pretend that it wasn’t. This time it was Labour’s David Lange who was offering “consensus”.

It was a promise with as little substance as Muldoon’s 1975 pledge of “New Zealand the way YOU want it.” Lange’s promise was, however, much more cynical that Muldoon’s, who actually believed it was possible to restore the status-quo-ante. Lange always knew that when he and Roger Douglas were through with it, the mixed-economy apple-cart would be a smoking ruin – along with the post-war consensus.

The neoliberal consensus which emerged from the reforms of 1984-1993 proved to be as durable as the Keynesian social-democratic consensus it replaced. Next year, 2024, will mark the fortieth anniversary of “Rogernomics”, a status-quo spanning two generations.

During that time, neoliberalism has shaped a society containing far fewer “winners” than Keynesianism. Unlike the “losers” of earlier periods, however, neoliberalism’s victims have failed to mount a successful fightback. Challenges to the neoliberal order, mounted by populist political parties of both the Right (NZ First) and the Left (Alliance, Greens) attracted insufficient electoral support to halt the steady decay of the country’s social, economic and physical infrastructure. A process which National and Labour, alike, did shamefully little to arrest.

Herein lies the problem. If not enough is done to halt its progress, infrastructural decay leads inexorably to infrastructural collapse. New Zealand is perilously close to passing the point beyond which collapse becomes an inevitability. The only solutions are political, but, being complicit in both the introduction and preservation of neoliberalism, Labour and National no longer appear equal to the task of responding decisively to its failures. What’s more, their easy dominance of the MMP political environment gives the two major parties very little incentive to try. The voices to their right and left, urging them to either advance neoliberalism even further (Act), or roll it back aggressively (Greens, Te Pāti Māori) can safely be ignored.

At the heart of the problem lies the seemingly inexhaustible loyalty of the major parties’ core supporters. Their willingness to go on bearing the burdens loaded upon them by their respective party’s egregious policy failures, no matter what, is reflected in the fact that upwards of half the New Zealand electorate votes exactly the same way election after election after election.

It is the confidence of the major parties in the “rusted-on” character of their core support that causes them to treat their “natural” coalition partners with such disdain. The leaders of National and Labour simply do not believe in the existence of any combination of political circumstances capable of inducing a fatal collapse in their electoral support, and/or its decisive migration to one or the other of the ideological offsiders. It is this confidence that allows them to veto policies deemed too “extreme” well in advance of any votes being cast.

Except that loyalty, like infrastructural decay, has its limits. There are elements in all the minor parties whose willingness to swallow the usual dead rats dumped upon their plates by National and Labour is at an end. These are the MPs and party activists who advocate moving to the cross benches if, as usual, the senior coalition partner insists upon their party abandoning both its policies and the principles informing them.

The rebels preferred strategy is as brutal as it is simple. If the senior coalition partner attempts to rule out a core policy objective – as Chris Hipkins is attempting to rule out the Greens’ Wealth Tax – then the junior coalition partner will publicly announce that, once again, policies desperately needed by the nation are being rejected. Rather than capitulate, however, the smaller party is willing to precipitate a new election. Let the people of New Zealand deliver their verdict on whether or not these policies should stand – by voting for the party promoting them.

The conventional wisdom holds that any minor party attempting such “blackmail” would be wiped-out by a furious electorate. In normal circumstances, the conventionally wise would likely be proved correct. The key question, therefore, is: “Are we living in normal circumstances?” Or, has a majority of the electorate tired of swapping executive power between Labour and National, only to see the resulting governments continue to talk big, and deliver sod all?

If one, or a combination, of the minor parties, puts it to the electorate: “If you want action on the cost-of-living, housing, health, education and climate-change; if you want to keep the hands of the neoliberal establishment off the handbrake; well then, give us the tools and we will finish the job.” How many voters would oblige?

Since 1996, New Zealanders have voted for change and received only more of the same. In 2020, and in spite of the conventionally wise declaring it impossible under MMP, New Zealanders gave Labour an absolute majority – to get the job done. Has any government ever promised so much and delivered so little?

More and more, conventional wisdom sounds like conventional folly. In the end, no political party is entitled to people’s votes. Loyalty should be earned and renewed, not given blindly and regardless of repeated failures and betrayals.

Labour was once a minor party, until it convinced the voters that it meant what it said and, by keeping its promises, proved itself worthy of their trust.

This essay was originally posted on the website on Monday, 17 July 2023.


Archduke Piccolo said...

I suspect that the 'abnormal' circumstances prevailing constitutes the new 'normal'. Neo-liberalism/ NeoClassical/ Milton Friedmanite/ 'let 'em eat shit''economics' was always a crock: the licence to loot the Commons handed to fat Fat Cattists by Fat Cattist governments. Labour has had twice the chance - Capital gains and Wealth taxation - to claw back for the Commons some of the profits the fat cat beneficiaries of fraudulent Rogernomical Ruthanasia, and so added to their ongoing 40-year betrayal of their constituency.

In my view, any vote for Labour or National is a wasted vote; a vote for Act, which party for some insane reason wants to double down upon economic 'natiocide' is plain sabotage. My 'loyalty' to Labour ceased after 1987, though I have occasionally tossed a vote their way since. The Greens are autocratically-minded flakes; New Zealand First too narrow. That rather shortens the list of options, but it does clarify the mind to this extent: you start looking to policy - or even just an outspoken voice of dissent from the status quo.

I strongly suspect that the 'loyalty' enjoyed by National and Labour' is the loyalty that attaches to 'the Devil You Know'. I seem to recall this sentiment being expressed during the US Trump/Clinton election a few years back. If identity politics is a luxury we can not longer afford, 'the Devil You Know' politics is nugatory - but pernicious in its hard to shift persistence. Maybe hard times will shift that obstruction.

Ion A. Dowman

larry said...

Chris ... you said ... relating to the decay/"collapse" of our infrastructure ...


"New Zealand is perilously close to passing the point beyond which collapse becomes an inevitability".

Errrr ... not suggesting you are wrong ... but.

Do you have the evidence supporting this statement? (facts/figures/metrics and hard engineering based research) that emphatically proves the "collapse"

Wot??? ... bridges falling down? unusable runways? or just stormwater inadequacies?
of our public infrastructure

Collapse" is a very strong word when backlog of scheduled asset maintenance programmes might be a better description Ehhh?

Weather-storm damage/decay/collapse is exempt (Acts of Your God) adds up to account for much of the current infrastructure hegemony ... and note includes the populist "pothole beat-up".

Seems to me we still travel our highways, we can still turn on the lights and can safely flush our loos.

Two pointers:

1. Our small country has a very difficult topography/weather patterns and a tiny population by world standards ... hence our often "marginal" roads/poor drainage and:

2. Collapse ... compared to what? Most Kiwis will have taken their families on holiday to Fiji, funded by working a second part time job, in our case strawberry picking! So we/they will know Nandi/Sigatoka/Suva well.

Compare their public asset "collapse" to ours ... there is NO comparison.

We share with Fiji a place in the world called "The Pacific" and it is for such local and acceptable standards that we look to ... local comparisons.

Not, I add, to compare us with long established (ironically, often with crumbling ruins and validated as "historical monuments") Europe & the US.

So let chill a bit... ehhh?

We can cut our own cloth according to local affordability ... and if it all gets too hard just pack up the tent hit the beach and go fishin ... or in winter hit the ski slopes.

It aint called Godzone ... for nuttin.

It'll do me.

Footnote. Memo I would still like to see your evide3nce of collapse/decay please Chris ... relative to our Soth Seas affordability/standards ... of course

new view said...

Thought provoking as usual Chris. If a minor party won't be blackmailed into having its policies watered down by the partner major party, they stay out of government and the opposition major party with its coalition partner gets a free ride, providing they don't have the same problem. It does however give the minor party kudos if it's policies are popular and sensible and in theory their numbers will grow. Maybe the future would see the partner major party, not take the minor party so lightly. We do seem to have a stalemate in that voting national/Act is only slightly more right than what we have. Some commentators say Act is extreme but to me they aren't big enough YET, to insist on National including big parts of their policy. If Seymour decided to stay out of a coalition with National,( in the event the combination had the vote numbers) we are back to square one anyway. What we have isn't working and that won't change. Hope what Iv'e written makes sense as is a bit clumsy.

David Stone said...

“If you want action on the cost-of-living, housing, health, education and climate-change; if you want to keep the hands of the neoliberal establishment off the handbrake; well then, give us the tools and we will finish the job."
I'm pretty sure that while you include the last item in this mix these aspirations are mutually exclusive. Climate change control is going to require costs an alterations to how we live that will massively increase the cost of living and correspondingly reduce the standard of living.
But the electorate is loosing any feeling of power to influence what governments do everywhere in the western world. This is why fewer people vote at all. The sense is that govt will do what it does whoever we vote for , because the elected politicians are no longer really in control of what happens. Democracy is an illusion . Mega corporations and bureaucrats make all the decisions that matter. The politicians are their spokespersons .
Sorry to be so depressing.

Brendan McNeill said...


It is true that we are at a tipping point on many social and economic indicators. Infrastructure, health, education, crime, substance abuse, homelessness, violence are all trending in the wrong direction. It is tempting to believe the causes are political, and so therefore are the solutions.

If only salvation was just a change of government away.

The problem we are facing is much deeper; almost intractable.

For two or three decades now, we have embraced moral relativism, and celebrated the opportunity for ‘you to be you’. All of this stands in stark contrast to our former cultural perspective that was largely informed by our historical Judaeo / Christian tradition that encouraged self control, deferred gratification, personal responsibility and reward for effort.

We thought we could abandon virtue without consequence, or perhaps more correctly we naively believed in the 'innate goodness' of human beings, and thought that by providing the correct political environment personal flourishing would result.

It’s akin to believing that renaming towns and cities and Government departments to something in Te Reo will improve school attendance along with educational outcomes for Maori and reduce the prison population.

We have pursued ideological dead ends simply because it was easy and made us feel virtuous. We are now experiencing the consequences of our foolishness with no obvious solutions in sight.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've often wondered why ordinary people will vote against their own interests. But I've just read an article that suggests that most people don't even consider policy when voting – just the leader. Now the article was about the US, but our politics have been getting more and more presidential the while.
And either the issues are less clear-cut or no one addresses them in a clear-cut way. And of course neoliberalism is now the excepted ideology for both major parties and some of the minor ones. So no matter who ordinary people vote for, they are likely to vote against their own interests, because no one is prepared to speak up against the neoliberal paradigm.
So Labour has started pandering to the knuckle draggers with Laura Norder, which strictly speaking is conservative territory – and have completely lost any sense of ideological vision.
You can say what you like about big Norm, and many do – but he had a vision for New Zealand society that would encompass everyone, not just the top 10%.
Only minor parties seem to have any sort of vision these days, maybe it's because they are the only ones who can afford to. The Maori party wants redress, the Greens – well difficult to say actually but I think they probably want a fairer society if nothing else – and ACT of course wants the sort of lunatic society that has pretty much failed everywhere it's been tried.
Be nice if MPs and their minions actually got out and went did a bit of doorknocking, they then might find out what people outside their bloody focus groups think of them.
We have become hostage to politicians who in the old phrase have "never had a proper job" or if they have only worked for a short while before they became a professional politician. I'm not against professional politicians to be honest, I think they do a better job than people like Trump, or for that matter Wayne Brown (who incidentally seemed just after today's shooting to be more worried about the effect on the revenue from the World Cup than the people who were killed – tone deaf that man). But it would be nice if before they went in for politics, they actually got out and worked outside their middle class bubble for a while. One good thing about the 1950s and 60s was that university students – except maybe medical and law students – gone off their arses and went to work in factories in their holidays. Laughable these days, because we're short on factory jobs, and the upper-class in particular pretty much know nothing about those beneath them.
Oh well, wondering who to vote for, thinking about not voting which I don't like doing and have never done before, but certainly not voting for anyone from Labour on rightwards.

Trev1 said...

A minor party can decline to enter a formal coalition but agree to guarantee supply, while sitting on the cross-benches and forcing the major, governing party to negotiate every detail of its legislative programme. Perhaps this is what Act has in mind.

Polls suggest nearly two-thirds of the electorate now believe the country is heading in the wrong direction. When the margin is so large, that becomes the key dynamic, rather than the fine detail of fluctuating levels of support expressed for any particular party or policy.

Gary Peters said...

"give us the tools and we will finish the job"

What, pray tell are these "tools".

Why is it that the left immediately see "more tax" as the solution.

We crrently have an incarcerated criminal being forced to pay back "covid monies" gifted to him by an incompetent spendthrift government. A cursory peek at the "books" show massive wastage that has seen our debt as a nation surge by 100 billion dollars in a few short years.

Why is that "more tax" is the cry of the lefty rather than "spend less"?

As for the treaty referendum, yes it is time it was consigned to the history books as a driving force in our nation. A driving force that is ripping us apart but that call will have to come from maori themselves when they finally realise that the path a few greedy elites are taking us all on ends in ruin, not unification.

In my opinion.

sumsuch said...

Good picture of a circumstance.

Pretty vile our gummints don't address reality for short-term reasons.

Hope you're well in humid Akld. Drove me crazy waiting on line for Vodaphone for 3 hours to help Mum. 2 Degrees is the new 'orrible phone bank. They warn you not to abuse the staff prior.

David George said...

The big problem for the minor parties is one of credibility.

Thankfully most of us are still sane enough to recognise the ravings of, for example, Marama and Rawiri as dangerous and deluded. When a political party makes claims of racial superiority (such as this beauty from the Maori party: "It is a known fact that Māori genetic makeup is stronger than others") most people would regard them as too far gone to be taken seriously. Labour, if they have any sense, should come out now and say they refuse to have anything to do with them.
The association is poisoning them.

David George said...

The National/ACT alliance looks reasonably solid, I can't see ACT on the cross benches. The Left seems a lot more volatile, there are good reasons for that as Mary Harrington points out:

"Rufo denounces the resulting university-driven “revolution from above” as one of “relentless negation” that has “gnawed, chewed, smashed, and disintegrated the entire system of values that came before it”. And all for nothing, as Rufo sees it: the utopians have “failed to deliver the world beyond”. Nor have they even succeeded in abolishing class rule, but “simply replaced the management” even as they extended “state-social bureaucracy”.

Worse still, a political programme based on “negation” can offer no positive programme that won’t swiftly fall victim to its own politics of critique. The result, Rufo argues, has not been utopia but a harvest of “failure, exhaustion, resentment, and despair”: a proliferating class of peevish bureaucrats bickering about symbols and ephemera, whose relationship to the institutions they have captured is “purely parasitical”. For such ideologues, even temporarily effective alliances regularly dissolve into “internal purges, leadership struggles, and conflict with ostensible allies”.

BTW two of the brightest stars in the "Far Right" firmament sat down for a chat a few hours ago. Douglas Murray and Jordan Peterson: Truth and Adventure as an Antidote to Suffering, how a misguided purpose leads to abject misery, the cowardice of experts who choose silence in the face of malevolence, the psychology of fear, and the necessity of willful exposure to combat it.

adam said...

Here me thinking we could just smash the corporations instead. And cut up all the beef to feed the poor.

We are two or three major storms from falling apart. One bad Firestorms would do it, what ever we are going to get, is going to hurt way more than most think. Regional NZ can't afford to fix itself, it can't even fix the cities let alone, the roads, the coast and flood plains. Rail is dead, we have so little coastal/river transport it's a joke.

We need to stop lying to ourselves about how much neo-liberalism and it's slavish devotion to efficiency has stripped us of redundancy. We need to stop lying to ourselves that globalism is still working. We desperately need to think about stealing all we can from Australia. As we going to get thousands and thousands Australian's within the next few years.

Here it comes, no more free passes.

sumsuch said...

As I gather it you just said the opposite at TDB?

Cicero kept his loquacity for his felt cause.

Reich and Sanders are our leaders despite nil money.

Are they wrong?

oneblokesview said...

Rather than sit on the cross benches ACT would do a deal based on
Confidence and supply.
Then vote down any National legislation they didn't like.

Then guess what.
Then an ACT Bill would be pulled out of the biscuit tin providing for a TOW Referendum.
It would pass.

Remember folks. Politics is a blood sport based on 5 g Chess.

Patricia said...

I agree David Stone. Democracy is just a charade. Even though we think we are a democracy in the old days before MMP we had an elected three year dictatorship. Now post MMP we have a democracy!! that promises but doesn’t deliver. Yes they will say we have done this and that but there is nothing of any substance. The corporations have access to Parliament for gods sake and yes they use the politicians to promote what they want. Eg the current Fonterra hand out. And that is while we have people not having enough to eat and are living in cars or motels
I was an all time Labour supporter but not now. I will try and vote tactically. I live in Ilam and I will vote TOP for the electorate vote and the Greens for the party vote. Both National and Labour are has beens and must go.

Anonymous said...

So, am I correct in concluding then, that according to Chris Trotter, a man of similar age to myself, that - love him or hate him - Sir Robert Muldoon was the last political leader with real integrity that New Zealand ever had?

I've always thought so and after 4 decades of spineless and short sited US Neoliberal style govt from both National and Labour, I'd say it's irrefutable.

Just look at the social mess NZ is today.

sumsuch said...

It's very funny now to see the Right still carrying on. Now it's all over. A crisis govt means socialism and a crisis govt is the only thing. Thankful, our Right can still do the right thing.

larry said...

My comment/ prediction ref 16 July refers.

Hipkins / Labour post Kiri is toast.

Make no mistake ... its gunna be a train wreck landslide demolition.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"For two or three decades now, we have embraced moral relativism, and celebrated the opportunity for ‘you to be you’. All of this stands in stark contrast to our former cultural perspective that was largely informed by our historical Judaeo / Christian tradition that encouraged self control, deferred gratification, personal responsibility and reward for effort."

Moral relativism? Thank goodness for that. The chance for "you to be you"? As opposed to the chance to be what people like Brendan say you HAVE to be? Thank God for that as well. I often wonder about Christians when they say the "Judaeo-Christian" traditions. I wonder if they really, really care about the Judeo part. Particularly as apparently the old Testament/Torah is just there for decoration.

And I do actually believe in the innate goodness of people – 90% of them anyway. I found that in my interactions with people over my relatively long life most of them have been decent and honest, even if they vote National (although fewer I might say). And I think it's probably better to believe in the innate goodness of people than their innate sinfulness, which leads to all sorts of problems. It wouldn't be quite so bad if you people live by your own precept of "love the sinner, hate the sin". But as they say at least in the circles I move in – "there ain't no hate quite like Christian love."

sumsuch said...

GS, there are dogmatists/rationalizers and rationalists. From 4 decades of experience don't bother with the former. You might as well paint your truth on the sand. Brendan.

Just rebuked my 'special' brother about climate change, after 2 years of not talking, and he came back seething with his 'special' information. Up is down, black is white -- how it is to be loose from evidence. And devoted to feeling warm about yourself no matter reality

Mark Simpson said...

Thanks again Chris for another well written piece. I have to say that I often derive as much thought provoking stimulation from your responders. There is much value to be derived from the many eclectic responses whether one agrees or not. (As long as comments/arguments are cogent and respectful.)
In this case, I'd like to give a big "shout out" to Brendan's contribution above which I fully endorse. Despite his wise words, GS has poured cold water on them but, regardless, I (nearly always) enjoy and respect his many, well articulated responses as well.
Thanks guys.