27 October 2023
As a consequence of a general election on October 14, 2023, the New Zealand Labour Party suffered a resounding defeat and New Zealand voters indicated a clear preference for changes in numerous aspects of the political landscape.
Chris Trotter is a prominent New Zealand blogger https://bowalleyroad.blogspot.com/ and political commentator. He has published an excellent thesis describing his thoughts in the immediate aftermath of the election. The article was initially published by https://www.interest.co.nz/ on Monday, 16th October 2023 and is reproduced by Rejigit with the generous consent of the author.
Labour In 2023: No Place Left To Grow.
Missing The Point: It’s the element of punishment – the mood of ‘anyone but Labour’ – that Labour stubbornly refuses to accept. It certainly wasn’t evident in Chris Hipkins concession speech on the night his government was so resoundingly voted out of office.
“I HAD BEEN HOPING that this election would resemble 2005 more than 2014. Clearly this was not the case.” So said the pseudonymous “Mickey Savage” on the Labour-leaning website, The Standard, the morning after. A spectacular understatement, obviously, but the observation also confirmed just how out of touch Labour’s membership has become.
The election-night which Saturday evening (14/10/23) most resembled wasn’t the election night of 2014, with its calamitous Party Vote of 25.13 percent, but the election night of 1990 when, after six tumultuous years in office, Labour was punished with exemplary viciousness by an electorate which had, very clearly, had enough. 1990 was also the other occasion when the voters of the “safe” Labour seat of Mt Roskill ejected their local MP (one Phil Goff) in favour the National candidate.
It’s that element of punishment – that mood of ‘anyone but Labour’ – that Labour stubbornly refuses to accept. Certainly, it wasn’t evident in Chris Hipkins concession speech. Although politicians invariably reach for tidal metaphors when confronted with significant defeats, the identification is far from apt. Politics is not a matter of gravitational attraction, it is constructed out of the hopes and fears – and rage – of human-beings. When parties lose, it’s not on account of the position of the moon, it’s because they have done things that cause even their supporters to vote for someone else – or stay at home.
The things that Labour did between 1984 and 1990 – “Rogernomics” and all that – turned New Zealand upside-down. Concepts and theories which had guided the politicians of both parties for decades were jettisoned with a speed and a ruthlessness that made effective opposition extremely difficult. Difficult, but not impossible. The New Zealand in the 1980s was still the sort of society in which dissent and debate, even in regard to what was fast becoming the state’s official ideology, was still permitted. The mainstream news media still saw the virtue of offering citizens both sides of the story.
Herein lies the difference between that earlier wholesale clean-out of Labour, and the 2023 General Election. Between 2017 and 2023, the Sixth Labour Government also turned New Zealand upside-down – but not in the same way as Roger Douglas and Richard Prebble.
When the Fourth Labour Government closed down freezing-works and sold state-owned enterprises, it was front page news. Protests were staged and documentaries were made. The responsible Cabinet Ministers were forced to explain and justify their actions publicly which, to a creditable degree, they did. The introduction of neoliberalism in New Zealand did not end up requiring (as one trade union leader had predicted) tanks in the streets.
That’s not how its been for the past six years. Massive changes in education and health policy were introduced without adequate explanation or justification. Jarring changes in the linguistic structure of official communications were implemented without consultation, leaving many New Zealanders feeling culturally disoriented and politically ignored. Distracted by the Christchurch terrorist attack and the sudden onrush of the Covid-19 Pandemic most of these developments went unnoticed until Labour, freed from NZ First’s moderating influence by the “Thankyou Jacinda!” election of 2020, began stepping up the pace of change.
Missing from this “revolution” (as Dame Claudia Orange described it) was anything approaching the coherent explanatory framework provided by Roger Douglas and his colleagues courtesy of the neoliberal intellectuals in Treasury, the Reserve Bank and the Business Roundtable.
The highly controversial report, He Puapua, for example, proposed wholesale constitutional reform – to a degree which would have left New Zealand politically unrecognisable. Far from being conceived as the starting point for a wide-ranging public debate, the report was prepared in secret and only released by the Sixth Labour Government after it was leaked to the Act Party.
Although disavowed by Jacinda Ardern, sharp-eyed members of the public recognised a remarkable degree of congruence between He Puapua’s recommendations and government policy. They were told, none too politely, that they were seeing things.
Undeterred, those taking a close interest in public policy noticed something else: the deep reluctance of Labour ministers to engage in the sort of head-to-head ideological confrontations that were common during the unrolling of Rogernomics. After 2020, all attempts to debate the future of Te Tiriti o Waitangi and Māori-Pakeha relations tended to be framed as manifestations of racist, white supremacist, prejudice. Tellingly, a long-delayed discussion document on Treaty-based constitutional reform was deemed too inflammatory for public release by Māori Development Minister Willie Jackson. It still hasn’t seen the light of day.
Even more concerning was the mainstream news media’s extreme reluctance to entertain any debate over the many contentious issues – “co-governance” in particular – that were growing out of the Crown’s newfound commitment to “indigenisation” and “decolonisation”. Increasingly, voters came to understand that there were topics which could not be questioned or debated without “consequences”. Around this new ideology they further observed the erection of a complex array of protective barriers. Those who attempted to breach these barriers were accused of spreading “misinformation, disinformation and malinformation” or, even worse, of deploying “hate speech”.
Inflation, the cost-of-living, rising mortgage interests rates: if the pollsters’ efforts were to be believed, then these were the issues driving the voters towards National, Act, and a change of government. Concerns about co-governance did not feature in these lists of voter concerns. Nonetheless, they persisted. In places where no one was likely to cluck their tongues in disapproval, or send an anonymous complaint to the HR department, the state of ethnic relations in New Zealand was the subject of intense unease. It kept Act’s numbers at record levels and fuelled the re-emergence of NZ First. It was the political dissidence that dared not speak its name, but it existed – and it would prove extraordinarily motivational.
When the defectors from Labour punished their old party in 1990, it was an act of bitter revenge. David Lange and Roger Douglas had promised “transformation” and they had delivered it. New Zealand the way Muldoon’s followers had wanted it, no longer existed. The votes of those who lamented its passing were cast against Labour in anger and despair. A final “Take that!” gesture of defiance before the new order became irretrievably bedded-in.
Thirty-three years later, voters threw their support behind National, Act and NZ First with much higher hopes of achieving something positive. While freezing works could not be re-opened or privatised state enterprises repurchased, the indigenisation and de-colonisation of New Zealand society can still be halted at the stroke of a ministerial pen.
It is to be hoped that New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Christopher Luxon, understands this. That among all the other things he has to do, he must not fail to honour the expectation of his conservative voters to defend democratic “New Zealand” from Te Tiriti-Centric “Aotearoa”.
The 2023 election result signals a decisive shift of the non-Māori, non-Pasefika, and non-Woke elements of the electorate to the right. Labour’s massive losses in Auckland put it at serious risk of being reduced to a South Auckland-based Pasefika party. In forthcoming elections, what National, Act and NZ First haven’t already taken is in grave danger of being stripped off Labour’s electoral carcass by the Greens and Te Pāti Māori.
For as long as its manifesto fails to overtly distance itself from the authoritarian radicalism of today’s “progressives”, the party of Mickey Savage, and “Mickey Savage”, seems destined to fade into historical irrelevance.
From where it stands now, Labour has run out of places to grow.