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Monday, 2 July 2018

The pissed away revolution: Labour's impotent rage in the winter of our discontent

Not quite a rant, not quite...

Something happened in NZ politics last week and no I don’t mean the birth of the PM’s baby.

Nor am I referring to the last minute averting of the nurses strike, the grumbling over the fuel tax, the removal of health targets or the creeping suspicions that Kiwibuild is a well-meaning but ultimately futile piece of feel good government propaganda that will do little to actually fix the housing hernia.

Neither was it the fact that Trevor Mallard seemed the only person in the party with the sanity (which many other in Labour seemed to lack in this regard) to pull the plug at the very last minute, on what would have been a bona fide scandal over the foreign buyers exemption (involvement of John Key or not) or the entirely correct point being made by welfare advocates that the families package is a good start but it can’t just be a one off.

It also was not the fact that acting PM, Winston Peters, is going against the advice of IRD in giving a $40,000,000 tax break (the only one) of this Budget year to his good friends in the racing industry or that the long expected counter-revolution by NZ business (moaning and whining because even a single step away from how good they had it under National is a step too far for those little snowflakes) seems to have caught Labour unprepared and unable to respond.*

No, the change in NZ politics this week was that the glorious summer that Labour (and to a lesser extent NZ First and possibly even the Greens) had been enjoying came to a sudden end with an icy tumult of discontent blasting out from NZs blogging and media communities.

I have said myself that the political honeymoon would always end sooner or later but after a delicious Indian summer of public polling, which the government had been basking in like a certain type of lazy grasshopper, the writing was finally on the wall as the post budget blues hit hard and the PM seemed to sense that the gig might be up when she mused on the life expectancy of her government being that of only one term.

And thus began their winter of our discontent.

If the defining motif for the nine years of John Key and the National government was one of hideous monsters sucking the vitality and life out of a hapless New Zealand for the benefit of a few wealthy fat cats then the Labour/NZ First Coalition government has been come to be seen as all talk and little action as the Champaign socialists of Labour yore and the vested interest pandering political gigolos of NZ First have yet to deliver on the promise of a better future of Kiwis or give capitalism that friendly face (or should that be farce?).

Of course what helped create such an extended period of smug was the seemingly water tight argument that fixing the mess of the last nine years would take more than a few months so all and any complaints were invalid.

However that logic only applied to Labour making attempts to clean up Nationals mess and not its own inability to deal with rising labour unrest due to clear public expectations, based on the new governments own comments from last year, about the market getting reigned in, its own MPs putting their foot in their mouths or the rising tide of “we know what’s best for you” smugness, that only a Labour government can deliver.

And that is the core of this sudden cold snap of political critique. The almost violent realisation, by bloggers and the media (as the public had already started to turn sour), that it’s not just enough to make a few minor changes to the crappy edifice that National bequeathed New Zealand, then start seeking kudos by saying “look what we have done” and expecting the public to sing hosannas to Labour all the live long day.

Some might see the shift as a once star struck media final coming to its senses and doing its job (some of which is true) but this is the same media which was busy pointing out the issues with John Key and National when they were in power and clearly understood the size and scope of things like the Housing Hernia, the Labour situation, immigration issues and all the rest of the little pustules that National had generated with its filthy activities and thus understood that any genuine response needed more than just some feel good spin to make work.

The reason the blogging/media response is finally getting so frosty is that they have seen that the same problems that persisted under National are still persisting under Labour with no real change in the circumstances except that its now a Labour government and the PM is a woman.

It’s true that National left NZ in a mess, no one is denying that, BUT the people that voted for Labour, NZ First and the Greens voted for radical change away from the free-market ethos of the last 30 years and anything less than clear and undisputed changes to the direction NZ is heading is not going to be enough because it’s is not enough.

Jacinda Ardern, in her musings about her political life expectancy, was smart enough to know that without public support almost any policy plank put forward will be rejected (as we have seen with the nurses, service workers and public servants strikes) but not smart enough to realize her comments in that article betray less of a concern for actually doing anything and more disappointment that she and Labour did not pump enough PR into the public sphere to convince people that the little Labour had done was not momentous or deserving of praise.

The result is that politically NZ is on a knife edge and there is a distinct possibility that Labour and NZ First will piss away what little political capital they have left in more of the same desperate bamboozling they have been pushing lately instead of just rolling up their sleeves and doing something concrete.

And if such a thing happens then two things will follow.

The first is that those who feel disenfranchised in this country will start to swell as the clear perception that neither side of the political divide is able to fix the mess Aotearoa is in and the second is that the door will open to a range of alternates behaviours and perceptions (such as political parties, forms of action and even government) which will challenge the current status quo in every way shape and form.

Labour is barely holding on to its popular mandate now (as the unwavering level of support for National shows) and if it can’t make the changes needed it’s going to find itself facing a resurgent FukYoo Politix (as it did in the last nine years when ticked off Labour voters flocked to The Greens) as politics in Godzone becomes open to anyone (and anything) who can promise solutions to the problems we face, no matter how insane or impracticable.

So the next two years of the first real MMP government NZ has ever had could very likely be its last as Jacinda & Co slowly sink into the mire of impotent liberal rage** as people genuinely start to question if Labour was worth voting for if all they get is National-lite politics.

I have said it before and I am going to say it again here; one of the base truisms of politics is that’s its reform from above or revolt from below and the reform has to be genuine as the public is no longer in the mood for the political management practices of Third Way politics, which Labour seem intent on delivering, when inequality, housing, health and basic living standards are continuing to slip.

Henry Cooke in his article about Kiwibuild is right is noting there is “power in a brand” and Labours brand is losing its potency at an alarming rate as the gaffs pile up and ministers, who sounded so confident when in opposition, start sounding as clueless as those they were criticizing (see Kelvin Davis’s latest foot in mouth incident) when in government.

And I end this post by only half-jokingly saying that this is all Helen Clark’s fault.

If “Auntie” Helen had not been so effective in politically neutering Labour to ensure her own continued role as leader (because Clark was as good, if not better, than John Key at playing her minions off against each other as a means of retaining power) then Labour may not have been so wickedly impotent in its nine years of opposition or should have regrown the stones it needed to act, as it did in 1984 when it damned the torpedoes and gave birth to the free-market bordello that Jacinda’s baby has been born into, to do what must be done.

Instead Labour is spending more and more of its time backpedaling or having to water down its proposals and plans or worse just not doing enough with its actions. 

Anything less than a truly revolutionary approach by this government will leave a legacy that is not kind to Jacinda and Labour (or NZ for that matter) and will place her and the party in exactly the same position National is in today (ie politically bankrupt and bought out by vested interests) and if both of the big two in NZ politics fall into disrepute then we have the perfect scenario for populism in its worst form (think Shane Jones polling at 15 - 20%, determining the next government and being PM - Eeeek!!!!!).

Its been less than a year but I suspect this revolution is already over and Smiths Dream will morph into Winston Smith's reality and our new dawn will fade as the public realizes that we were fooled again.

*-I suspect the timing of this campaign with the birth of the PMs baby was deliberate so that the Jacindamania effect was reduced in any government response.
**-And if readers want an image of what a raging, impotent Labour looks like I highly suggest watching the link above


  1. I spend most Mondays walking and talking with a group of mature men (and a few women) from the local district who come from a broad range of social backgrounds, but have in common a vast experience of our rohe and a good deal of practical common sense. Last Monday I fell into conversation with one who divulged that between the 1983 and 2017 parliamentary elections he had not voted or taken any part in politics. His reason? The legacy of Rogernomics, and what those "reforms" has cost him and his family. His distrust of politics and all politicians had endured three decades. Then he decided to give the system one last chance by voting. Now he is thinking that he might just as well have stayed away from the polling booth. I don't think Labour can really do what is necessary to change itself or the country. The nation will have to fend for itself without any help from politicians or the colonial political system. This is our people's destiny.

  2. Geoff: and apart form the not voting bit I would echo the exact same sentiments as that gentleman.

    Lets see how far that sentiment peculates upwards over the next two or so years.