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Monday, 13 November 2017

Elections 2017: We are all socialists now, Comrade!

Welcome Comrade, to glorious October revolution of Democratic People’s Republic of New Zealand!

Here, we have smashed chains which shackle us to oppressive capitalist system and freed our brothers and sisters from servitude to decadent bankers and corrupt real-estate agents.

Now is time of glorious worker utopia where housing cheap and Kiwi can be free forever.

In Democratic People’s Republic of New Zealand running dog capitalists and their puppet forces have been driven into the sea by power of people, never to return*.

Of course the above four sentences are probably causing confusion among some at this time.

Firstly because I am off my meds (doctors’ orders) and as such I have lapsed back into my political junkie habits, like a National party member at a Chinese buffet stuffed with Renminbi, so what better way to sum up the recent election outcome than with some sort of over the top screed which is clearly not true but fun to write.

Secondly, because more astute readers will have noted that those first four sentences are complete gibberish as they have not happened, yet; and the third group will be confused why I am unable to recognise the danger such a revolution poses and have not joined them mounting a counter revolution.

And depending on which one of those confusions you have will be how you view the outcome of the 2017 election.

This is also the last post in the Elections 2017 series and as such it’s time to turn from the how and why of the election to considering the future of this government, and by proxy New Zealand.

What, you didn’t see this coming?

Last month in October Winston Peters finally got off the pot and decided that he was going to back Labour and announced this by saying that “capitalism needed to regain its human face”.

On the face of things it was an extraordinary statement to make in this day and age, let alone at a press conference announcing a new government, as many people only know capitalism in the same way that a fish knows water and by extension could not even conceive of or criticize the very element in which they swim or even more heretical consider that there might be some sort of alternative (which for a fish would be developing lungs and legs and walking on dry land while for capitalists it would be effective regulation and not prioritizing economics over people).

I was almost expecting him to rip open his trademark double-breasted suit to reveal a Che Guevara T-shirt underneath and then don a red beret, mirrored sunglasses and a bullet belt while strutting about the stage pointing out how the CIA sponsored Bay of Pigs** invasion force had been stopped at the beach head.

Of course he had signaled the same no less than a few months prior by shooting down the “irresponsible capitalism” of other political parties but no one was taking him seriously then, at least not in that context. 

No, the only thing which mattered then was which way would Winston jump come the election and nobody (myself included) was thinking that we were going to have to factor some ideological component into what has always been the highly capricious decision making of Winston Peters.

Yet there he was, making it clear that he had been a socialist all along and as such would be siding with his brothers and sisters in Labour (and the Greens) in forming the new government.

I suppose that after letting his populist mojo run itself out in the last 15 years, Winston has found it again, with a vengeance.

Ve came second!

It was of course at that moment that some reported the faint but audible sound of screaming coming from the offices of Bill English as the political rug was pulled out from under his feet and he fell (still screaming) into the political abyss, because up to that moment Peters had been playing his cards very very close to his chest, leaving both public and the media guessing, in all but the most obtuse and opaque ways.

So National was pipped at the post and for a few days there were some rather pissy comments from them; rumblings of a stolen election and how “they had won the most votes” along with some moaning from the public about MMP before the shock wore off and the next stage in the grieving process began.

And to be fair National had a point to complain…oh now wait a minute NO they didn’t!

National (or anyone else) moaning about the election outcome based on them getting the most single vote share would be perfectly acceptable in a FPP system. However we are not in a FPP system and have not been for 21 years so Bill and the B Team griping about their 44% not being enough sounds like Germany refusing to accept losing in WW2 by saying “Ve came second.”

But more seriously, what really killed Nationals chances were far more personal than Winston turning out to be a card carrying member of the Fourth International, as his recent serving of legal papers on the party and others shows.

Nationals following the advice of right wing political consultants Crosby Textor to hurl as many dead cats on the table as possible in the final weeks of the election turned out to be the kind of low rent brainless stunt that loses you the election because it did not thing but piss him off, get his blood up and drive him straight into the arms of Labour.

It might have worked in a highly partisan political climate and a FPP system but in NZ the targeting of Winston, via his superannuation underpayments (as well as idiotic moves like Steven Joyce claiming he had all the economic facts when every other economist in NZ was saying he did not know what orifice he was speaking out of) were clearly the kind of motivation Peters needed to make up his mind and showed that National had no idea of what the inevitable logic of targeting the king maker with muck was.

As Omar Little from The Wire says, “You come at the King, you best not miss”.

National and English have made a brave front of things by saying they will hold the new government to account and that English will lead the party into the 2020 election but not even the most hard core party member would be hard pressed to believe that English will be fronting the party in 2020***.

Radical or Sensible Left?
The late Rodney Bickerstaffe was once asked what kind of Leftist he was (with the assumption being that he was a radical leftist because he was a Prominent Union Leader who had fought for fairer wages and denounced inequality). His reply was that he was “Sensible Left” which summed up his (and his unions) position perfectly.

Sensible Left could also be used to apply to apply to the current Labour/Greens/NZ First government as its clear that despite the potential for personality clashes there has been a rather pragmatic understanding all round of the reality facing them, not just politically but socially and economically.

And the core of this understanding is that it’s not just enough to form a government and rest on ones laurels but rather there was more ideological common ground than there was not and that if egos could be put aside (or at least toned down) then this troika of political parties not only had more in common than not but that they were all closer to each other than to National.

But in an election process where the loyalty and scruples of James Shaw and the Greens to the leftist cause was brought into question while Winston and NZ First has walked out of the teargas like a Greek riot-dog nothing could be taken for granted so it was an unexpected surprise that not only did Winston go with Jacinda but that the Greens were not cut out of government (like had been feared); proof if ever there can be that miracles can occur.

However it’s the next three years that will reveal the real flavor of this rather unusual political Ice-Kachang and I don’t expect that time to pass without incident or issue but as long as the core ideals behind the union of those three parties remains then this government can work.

Thus despite reported strains of freak-out, both before and after the election, that Jacinda was a “communist” or that “a Labour/NZ First government will be bad for business” because of their “smash the market” ideals the reality is that there is a strong narrative behind what they are doing as Winstons re-introduction of “capitalism” back into the NZ political lexicon shows.

So for the immediate future The Road to Serfdom is off the political book shelf and replaced with a new copy of The Great Transformation which for those who are CBB:DNR means that the narrative of an unfettered market and deregulated government is over while market regulation and interventionist government are back on the agenda.

And as V from Vendetta so eloquently explains there is more beneath the mask than just flesh, there is an idea and “ideas are bulletproof”; so for members of the John Key fan club (previously known as the ANZ Board) the biggest threat to them is not an angry mob breaking into the winter palace and dragging them out to the street (although it would be nice to see for once) but the ideas that provide the words which are the fire of revolution and resistance and with Winston declaring that capitalism needs a face-lift the revolution in little old NZ has begun.

The Empire strikes back!

Yet for every successful revolution there is always a potential counter-revolution in the works. We have not woken up from Smiths Dream just yet and I expect both National and members of the business community to keep on hurling deceased felines onto the table in an effort to shock the public into a backlash that can be milked for a political comeback in 2020.

But for that game to work the current government arrangement has to not only fail but also not be seen to try and deliver on its promises and so far (granted it is early days) Jacinda, Winston and James seem to want to continue as they have started with a raft of new policy ideas which are all clearly aimed at rectifying the previous imbalances in NZ society brought about by National and Neo-Liberalism, at as soon as possible and not by 2040.

If there was some sort of ideological schism that National could exploit then it would be even odds of National in 2020**** but so far there is no schism and the language and syntax of the three parties are mostly in alignment (if having their own distinct core issues and overlapping side interests) due to their harmonious articulation of Nationalist vs Internationalist sentiments.

I am sure that Bill English, when not prying the made in China knives out of his back, will be doing his best to attack this new government but all this beautiful three headed creature has to do (and as Jacinda has already done) is point out that the problems that they are solving were created by National and their nine years of mismanagement and Bills words will turn to ashes in his mouth.

So Sensible Left it is and the only radicals in sight are National and ACT still trying to pretend like its 1993.

Back to life, back to reality, back to the future!

However you want it or need it the mood of the nation is not one of Trump like dissent or Brexit discord in the wake of the 2017 election, nor is it like the Arab Spring with the heady rush of democratic blood to a post authoritarian head followed by reactionary spasms of the body politic (such as in Egypt or Syria).

Instead what has happened is the pendulum has finally swung back from its rather violent shift in 1984. NZ is not going to return to the past of being a highly socialist democracy but rather steer into the future of a democratic sovereign state which is willing to address its own issues and illness by reducing inequality and market dominance and ironically protecting the very people and things (the market and New Zealand’s elites) that would be most affected should revolution actually occur.

Populism did rear its head in NZ but as we have sufficient democratic buffering (via MMP) to prevent the results triggering partisan feuding or violence in the streets we got political pragmatism and the courage to do what is needed instead.

So the revolution did occur and it was televised and Elections 2017 has been a long strange trip to write with all the drama one could ask for (not that I did). I had my ups and downs and very nearly lost my marbles as I delved as deep into politics as I did with the US election in 2000 and the coronation of King George Bush the Younger but I made it through and am genuinely happy with the outcome despite still not trusting politicians or noting that incoming PM Jacinda Ardern gets paid more than any other leader in the free world (at $500,000 plus a year).

NZ politics gets a break for the next few posts while I honour my promises to write what I was requested to write and get back to some of my other ideas for things to blog about.

Until then I leave you with little song to remind you it’s good morning for Aotearoa and springtime for Democracy.


*-For full effect watch this video, keep the accent in mind and then reread those four sentences again.
**-Or should that be the Bay of Plenty
***-As the NZ Herald notes (see ****)
****-If it can sort out its leadership issue/crisis

NOTE: title for this post stolen/plagiarized/copyright infringed from a 2008 article in the Telegraph


  1. Who's that guy in the picture of this post, is it Nietzsche

  2. Surely you jest? Also please post under another name.

    1. He looks like Nietzsche, should I know who he is? I never got into politics much soz lol

    2. The gentleman in Question is Karl Marx, so you got the nationality right and even the time period, as they were alive round the same time.

      As for who he is his ghost still haunts Europe and if you believe some people is now also taken up residence in the Beehive.

    3. By his stand for "capitalism with a human face" Winston Peters has taken up a position well to the left of his current allies, the NZLP and Green Party. Even so, whatever "capitalism with a human face" may be, it is not socialism. Peters supports the concept of "national capitalism" and is a critic of "global capitalism", particularly with regard to the free movement of labour (immigration) and capital (investment) globally. At the same time he wants to preserve New Zealand's traditional and relatively exclusive economic, political, military and intelligence alliances with the United Kingdom in particular and, secondarily, with the United States, Australia and Canada. The National Party and the regime (that is, the mass media, the commentariat, and the NZLP among others) as a whole regards Winston's policy of national capitalism as reactionary and anachronistic. Therefore Labour and National will act in concert to thwart the implementation of the "national capitalist" policies proposed by Peters, and, for example, will ratify the CPTPP agreement in order to keep New Zealand on the global capitalist track which it started down in 1984.

      So why does national capitalism need a "human face", and what might that face look like? The New Zealand working class need to have a reason to prefer national capitalists over the competing global capitalists who produce goods more efficiently (a given by virtue of the fact that if they were not more efficient they would not be able to compete and would not be a worry for the national capitalists or Winston Peters). The greater efficiencies of global capital enable it to produce cheaper goods of higher quality overseas for import into New Zealand, to pay more for capital assets and raw materials within New Zealand, and to pay higher wages for New Zealand labour. National capitalism can respond by appeals to national sentiment (urging consumers to "buy New Zealand made" or support "New Zealand owned" enterprises, which only works up to a point), by redistributing income to win the gratitude and cooperation of that portion of the working class which has been suffering most under the economic regime of global capital, or by distributing wealth plundered from other nations (which provides the economic rationale for Peters' support for the traditional imperial relationship with the United Kingdom). However the present reality is that none of what Britain can plunder from the rest of the world through the city of London will be available for the purposes of the New Zealand state. At the same time New Zealand has no capacity on its own account to plunder wealth from outside its own jurisdiction (say from Polynesia), and under the present circumstances the regime is unwilling to either selectively or indiscriminately plunder the assets of foreign capitalists within New Zealand.

    4. Was Karl Marx the one who Ian McKellen was in that movie

  3. So redistribution of internally generated income is the only way in which New Zealand national capitalism can present a "human face" to its populace. The question then is whether Labour, having joined with National to implement the CPTPP, will embark upon a massive redistribution of national income in the name of national capitalism "with a human face"? Labour has already said that it will not, and even Peters himself has intimated that he will not. The high-flying managerial classes (just one example you have noted in passing is Ms Ardern herself on her $500,000 p.a), speculators, property investors, and "Kiwi" business owners will not be deprived of their "just" rewards for the sake of hapless manual labourers such as ourselves, and arguably not even for the sake of national peace and social stability. Despite your enthusiasm for the new government, and my own sympathy for many of the expressed aspirations of its Labour, Green and New Zealand First members, I believe that "capitalism with a human face" can not greatly differ from our experience of the past thirty three years.

  4. Hi Geoff:

    Good points.

    If asked directly I don't think capitalism can ever have a human face, its not designed to do any such thing.

    However I do think that the beast can be reigned in, as such things have happened in the past.

    The key thing for me with this new govt is if they fail to deal with the multi-national do as you please "sue who you want" clause of the TPPA (or whatever its new name is), if that cant be dealt with then Labour may just piss away the golden opportunity they have been given because if NZ First and the Green wont play and Labour goes with National to get things through then all bets are off and it could be close to open war in our brand new coalition government.

    Almost all other issues within NZ can be papered over, this one can probably not be and if Jacinda was to try and force Winston or Shaw to play ball she would be more than likely committing political suicide.

    In short this is the perfect opportunity to test if Labour really want this coalition government to work or if its the same old Labour of previous years with them expecting the Greens to toe the line (and probably Winston as well).

    I will be watching this one closely.

  5. It may be too early to predict the complexion of the coalition government, and it does surprise me that the "communist" label has been attached to Jacinda Ardern given that she is a politician by profession and has worked under the tutelage of Helen Clark and Tony Blair. I don't expect her to be radical in any shape or form, and she will keep Peters (who represents the most radical force on social and economic policy within the coalition) in check. Because Peters is conservative on constitutional issues and foreign policy, we can expect no radical changes there either. Both Labour and the Greens, who might have pursued more progressive constitutional and foreign policies will use New Zealand First's reluctance to contemplate change as the pretext for doing nothing. For example Ardern's pre-election call for a debate on the monarchy will be quietly buried. (It is after all standard practice for New Zealand politicians from both the right and the left to make the call for a "constitutional debate" on the monarchy while they are on the road to power, or after having lost power, but they do anything to upset the status quo while actually holding power.) So I expect that the CPTPP will get through the new government, there will be no accountability for Pike River (Andrew Little has already intimated that will be the case) or the Tirgiran massacre (Ardern had said that she would talk to the Defence Force about the atrocity, which means the truth will continue to be suppressed) and on social and economic policy Peters will be stymied by Labour, even if not by the Greens. Labour and the Greens combined will win out on social policies (euthanasia, abortion, marijuana, and anything left to resolve in the area of gay rights) so there is no reason to expect any change from the liberal social and economic policies, and conservative constitutional and foreign policies of the previous National-led government.
    Left-wing/Labour commentator Chris Trotter has been quick off the mark to make a pre-emptive strike against the Greens for being "long on principle and short on common sense". He should not be alarmed. This is a government which on present indications will be short on principle and long on, if not common sense, at least political expediency. Socially "progressive", economically liberal, and constitutionally conservative pretty well sums it up, because those are the policies for which a consensus can be found within the coalition and the wider body politic. Whether it will be enough to secure the future of the coalition, or the regime as a whole, is another matter.

  6. Having now made the effort to investigate Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern's political history (such as it is) I find myself in agreement with those critics who say that there is no substance or depth to her.

    The call for "a debate" on the monarchy seems to be typical of Jacinda Ardern. It meant nothing except to indicate that she had no principled position on the fundamental issue of whether New Zealand should remain a British colony or become an independent democratic state, but at that particular point in her political progress she preferred not to offend either monarchist or nationalist voters. Once in power, however, she shows herself as a monarchist, pure and simple.

    She has said that she will "talk" to the Chief of Defence forces about the Tirgiran massacre. That means she has no principled position to take on the subject of war crimes. In reality she will talk to the perpetrators of the crime, accept their advice on how to discourage or suppress any further inquiry into the atrocity and assist the perpetrators to evade justice.

    The read what Ardern herself says about her decision to work for the architect of the Iraq war, Tony Blair "It was totally pragmatic. I wanted to live overseas. I wanted to have that time and experience abroad... I needed to live so I took the job."
    She could have had an honest job in New Zealand. She could have had an honest job anywhere in the world. She didn't need to work for a war criminal in London. She chose to do so.

    Then, some years later, when Blair turned up in New Zealand, she was among those welcoming him. She says "I remember thinking, if I ask a question will I embarrass anyone?" She confesses she was afraid of embarrassing "anyone". Well, not exactly "anyone", but more specifically anyone in that room full of corrupt power brokers). "But I really wanted to ask about Iraq. So I did. I said, 'Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?' "
    That question could not embarrass Tony Blair. It was a patsy question to her old boss. It shows, as her whole career shows, that Ardern is a pragmatist, that she wants to be close to power and, so far as possible, to hold power herself, and that she has no political principles and no moral scruples of her own to constrain her in her quest for power.

    So Jacinda Ardern will be the Prime Minister of New Zealand for the next while, possibly the next three years. I can at least concede that she is a fitting person to head the government of a state which is intrinsically pragmatic, unprincipled and corrupt.

  7. Hi Geoff:

    In short Ardern turns out to be a pure politician, thats no surprise.

    My feeling is that Ardern is a) young enough to have some convictions left; and b) inexpereinced enough to possibly mature into the role.

    A kind of Helen Clark Lite if you will.

    I agree that there has been some back peddling but that was expected as no party can live up to all its still early days and its not going to be until there is some real issue/scandal that we will see her mettle.

    For her the post election slump may not hit yet, but we will know in the next 11 months for sure.

    I do agree that the behavior of the Defense Forces these days bears a lot more investigation, perhaps even a debate along the lines of what exactly we should be doing with them or if we even really need them.

    One of Helen Clark's best decisions ever was to scrap the combat wing of the air force, its was a pragmatic decision in the face of having incredibly expensive planes and gear for no real purpose except to say we had them, even more so when you consider that there had been pressure around that time to buy some old B or C block F16s that the US wanted to sell us.