Drawing the poison

It’s – more or less – thirty years since Roger Douglas’ faction gained control of the Treasury benches. It’s even longer since it latched its fangs onto the Labour Party jugular.

The bloody leadership struggle within the Labour Party since the election is pretty much an anniversary reminder that Douglas’ legacy lives on.

That’s because the poison that the Douglas faction injected into the Labour Party has never fully worked its way out of the Party’s system – for a simple reason: It has festered in the huge, dry crack the Douglas faction opened between the Labour Party caucus and the Labour Party itself.

That’s still the fracture that won’t heal, the wound in Labour’s flesh in which the bitter poison pools.

What we’re seeing is proof that the infection that was held at bay for a few elections (in the 2000s) by heavy-duty medication and tight bandaging has relapsed, spread and now is working its dark effects to the point of fatally sickening the party’s internal organs and, at some point, no doubt draining its lifeblood (members).

Perhaps it’s finally time for the poison to be drawn and for full-spectrum antibiotics to be administered.

Who knows? The patient may not even die.

Of course, the Labour Party attempting, at least, to wretch and vomit its way free of that toxin will not be pretty and certainly isn’t so far. The convulsions that, ultimately, are part of an attempt to eradicate the radical right infection will, of necessity, be violent and messy – which doesn’t mean they will be successful.

A right-wing reinfection will perhaps look a little less messy in the short-term (at least from the outside and in the media – ‘keeping up appearances’, as it were). In the medium to long term, though, the convulsions are bound to begin again.

The reason for that is simple. The problem is a direct consequence of the structural damage Douglas and his backers inflicted on the Labour Party.

Most people find it next to impossible to think structurally about the human world. Ordinary New Zealanders are not alone in thinking, for example, that poverty can be solved by changes in individual behaviours or that Parliament would be a nicer place if nicer people ended up there.

But that’s not how it works. Human beings adapt their actions to the world – the ‘structures’ – they find themselves in. Change the structure, change the likely adaptive responses people will show.

If you want to change behaviour at the population level don’t waste your time changing each individual’s behaviour one at a time. Change the structures people live in.

That’s of course what Douglas did to the entire New Zealand population – he re-engineered (socially engineered) the structures within which they lived.

Lo and behold people, at the population level, then predictably adopted new behaviours. Those like Key who were young, appropriately educated and stirring with ambition exploited the new structures to make a mint.

Others, less fortunately placed when the structural changes began, headed, slightly bewildered, for the dole queue, for other towns in search of work, for the consolations of alcohol and drugs, for other relationships as theirs broke under the stress and strain.

At a much smaller scale – in the Labour Party – the Douglas faction’s capture of the caucus (without going the more honest but much harder route of winning over the broad party) created an internal structural change and, hence, a structural disconnect.

That structural change manifest in an alignment of much of the caucus with figures in Treasury and the business world, to whom they looked for support (readily given), funding and ‘guidance’. They, in effect, arranged new masters and alliances for themselves in order to outmanoeuvre their own party.

That was the structural change.

That is also why Wayne Hope was right in stating that:

In New Zealand politics National and Labour are not separated by a left right dividing line. Instead, this line runs down the middle of the Labour party.

It is that fundamental fissure which has left much of the Labour Party caucus on the actual right of New Zealand politics (despite not formally being members of National) that continues to cause havoc within the Labour Party.

Those who see the Labour Party – and saw it – purely as a career vehicle were conveniently personified, until recently, by Shane Jones. As I’ve written in a previous post, Jones appeared to think that the ‘real’ Labour Party was the one run by the Douglas faction in the 1980s:

“I’ve never said this on the record, but I was deeply influenced in a positive way by the figures of the Lange Government. I didn’t do my due diligence to discover how much the Labour Party had changed [i.e., from the days of Lange and Douglas!]. And Opposition is a waste of my talent and skill.”

If you want to understand the current problems in the Labour Party it seems to me that this confession from Jones pretty much nails it.

Jones was not attracted to the Labour Party itself – with its long history, clear left wing economic and industrial stance – but, instead, to a hijacked caucus in the 1980s. He conflated and confused the two – as so many people are doing today including, I’d hazard a guess, quite a number of MPs.

For Jones, the party was the caucus. And, more specifically, it was the Douglas-Lange caucus.

The structural problem could not be expressed in a more sublimely simple way than it was, unwittingly, in Jones’ wistful reflections.

In many ways, Roger Douglas’ greatest triumph over the left of New Zealand politics was to leave the Labour Party with this massive fracture between, on the one hand, a coterie of right wing MPs in caucus who could maintain their local electorate power bases and, on the other, the broader party membership.

That initial ‘class of ’84’ MPs attracted – perhaps recruited – people just like Jones. Wittingly or not, this is how they replicated themselves through the decades and ensured that the split never healed. Holed up in safe seats, largely impervious to the membership and the party at large and ‘mentoring’ their ideological clones into similarly safe seats, they have ensured a seemingly irreversible rightward shift – away from their own party – within the Parliamentary caucus.

So this post is not about who would make the best leader, who has the most telegenic manner, who will ‘resonate with middle New Zealand’, who is causing all the trouble or anything else like that.

Instead, it’s about how the Labour Party might – or might not – alter its internal structure to overcome the structural damage inflicted by the Douglas faction all those years ago.

If such a structural realignment effort is made it will be incredibly damaging – but it is not at all clear that such an effort should therefore not be made.

Middle class, liberal supporters of Labour may find that prognosis discomforting. It is a much more amiable idea to believe that all will be well if only the right leadership choice is made and everyone then decides, individually, to ‘unify’ around that choice.

They therefore may baulk at the radical treatment option needed to address the source of the disease. They may just feel a deep urge to apply a tourniquet, administer some smelling salts and push the patient back out on the street.

After all, it’s not the kind of process you follow in polite society where putting on a face of normality even in the direst circumstances is a principle virtue and is seen as the prime modus operandum for social success. Where believing that if you keep opting for the short-term easy solution and the associated and inherently necessary ‘impression management’ of one’s surface appearances that goes along with it, then things will, fingers crossed, turn out for the best in the end.

If the more radical treatment option – structural change to reconnect the caucus to the party – is not followed now, at this opportune time, it will condemn the centre-left to life without any useful ‘body’ for the foreseeable future.

And this is the central point that makes such a messy process necessary: A Labour caucus that sets itself against its own party membership and affiliates – by gambling that it doesn’t really need their consent or that it can indefinitely defer that necessity until the glories of government arrive (when all will supposedly be forgiven) – is simply sucking the poison from Douglas’ bite right back into Labour’s veins.

Once sucked back in it will continue to eat away at the remaining vitality in the Labour Party.

In public it will produce the inevitable: Constant signs of partly submerged disunity and deep conflict and the continuing perception that, as a political entity, ‘it doesn’t really know what it stands for’.

The end-game, then, of this shoot-out at the Labour Party corral is simple – or should be.

It is to achieve unity.

But, not a ‘unity’ that revolves around the selection of a leader. Not a unity based on telling everyone to unify.

It is, instead, achieve structural unity. A unity that comes from a commonality of purpose to which all the internal structures of the party are aligned.

All the structures.

From the leadership to the caucus, to the party organisation, to the membership, to the affiliate relationships.

Of course, that complete and perfect alignment is just an ‘horizon concept’ – something to aim for. All political parties and organisations of any kind lack such complete alignment. But, in the Labour Party, this lack of alignment is massive.

It requires corrective surgery – like re-breaking a broken bone that has already set in a misaligned way.


This state that the Labour Party still finds itself in, that is, has absolutely nothing to do with particular personalities (Cunliffe, Shearer, Robertson, Nash, Parker, et al.) and how they do or don’t ‘get on’. And its real solution has nothing to do with who comes out on top in a leadership contest.

It is fundamentally a structural problem. One way or another that problem will exert itself irrespective of the particular characters involved.

Taking the ‘easy’ non-structural route would be a recipe for lingering conflict and debilitation. If that particular path is followed, New Zealand will be stuck with a Labour Party rolling along in the political equivalent of a wheelchair for another decade or more.

The media in their fascination with the quick and easy analysis, have been portraying the problem as one of the Leader (Cunliffe) not doing the honourable and ‘decent thing’ and allowing a quick transition to a new leader. But that’s not the problem.

Why, after all, was Cunliffe elected leader? It wasn’t because of his personality, his ‘winning smile’ or even his rhetoric. Ultimately – at the bedrock level of motivation – it was because the membership and affiliates saw him as a crowbar to leverage power back off the caucus; to re-break the bone.

That is, they saw Cunliffe as a means to a very particular end – producing the structural change that would align the caucus back with the rest of the party.

This, presumably, is what many in the caucus feared that Cunliffe would do.

But, he didn’t.

So, now, it has to be done by the party itself.

The alternative – favoured by media pundits – is to request thousands of members to align with a right wing dominated caucus and, presumably, leader who will supposedly appeal to the famed “middle New Zealand”.

That alternative is actually just as messy an option but, crucially, it is containable out of sight of the public’s gaze.

Largely for this ‘visibility’ reason, the soft option is apparently to be by far preferred to demanding that, at most, 20 Labour Party MPs commit themselves to the party’s values and membership that has, after all, provided the political vehicle, historical ‘brand’, funding and reach to assist their political careers.

The only flaw in the soft option strategy is that it just won’t solve – cannot solve – the structural problem.

It can only kick the can down the road.

Structurally, it makes far more sense for the caucus to be aligned with the party rather than the other way around.

No – it’s long past time that the poison is drawn.

If Cunliffe’s obstinacy – irrespective of his own leadership fortunes – ends up being the means to that end, then so be it.

If it doesn’t, then what was all that about?

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39 Responses to Drawing the poison

  1. bruce says:

    or would Labour serve the needs of a nation better if it just crawled away and died?

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi bruce,

      That’s the other option I guess but my sense is that there are sufficient numbers of people keen to use it as a vehicle that – try as it might – it won’t be allowed to die.

      Thanks again for commenting – always good to hear from you.


      • bruce says:

        If it was a bar, I would close it and come back with a new set of clothes. Is there still life in the brand?

        • Puddleglum says:

          Is there still life in the brand?

          More than enough for a few careers I would have thought.

          And if we’re thinking of it by analogy with a product, I guess it’s at that point in the ‘product life cycle’ where the ‘brand’ is in decline but there’s still a sizeable – but reducing – market for it.

          But I don’t think in terms of marketing terms when it comes to political movements. That’s because the important question is ‘what are the human needs and values that the movement serves?’ rather than ‘What are the human needs and values that the brand exploits?’

          For me, a political party is – or should be – more of a public service rather than a ‘for private profit’ entity.

          Call me old school 🙂


          • bruce says:

            unfortunately though, isn’t marketing exactly what Key-Corp has excelled at?

          • Puddleglum says:

            Very possibly, but seeing how Key/National gained and maintained power does not actually answer the question of how to respond to it.

            ‘Marketing’ of the alternative (i.e., opposition) is one way, of course, and is no doubt part of the ‘solution’, given the age we live in. But it’s not the whole solution if only for the reason that parties of the right will always have more resources to throw at marketing.

            You always use the resources you actually have an advantage in. For parties of the left that can only ever be people. What happened in the 1980s for Labour was that it lost its resource – party activists but also the goodwill of so many people. That ‘resource’ has to be rebuilt. And it’s not obvious how that can be done – probably slowly, as it was originally.


          • bruce says:

            I may be no student of politics, but seems I’m not the only one thinking this way:


          • Puddleglum says:

            Hi bruce,

            That’s an interesting link – thanks for that.

            Bob Harvey, who has made a living out of marketing, is just looking at the ‘brand’ – fine, but that’s not what matters. Even if it was, it would be foolish to toss aside the colour red. As plenty of research shows, it’s a very powerful primary colour that appeals widely – for psychological reasons (that’s one reason that the Republicans co-opted it a while ago – prior to that point, the Democrats were red).

            I think Harvey is also wrong about getting rid of the label ‘left’ – particularly the idea that politics have moved to the centre. If that’s the case then why does National still refer to itself as ‘centre right? It would be odd indeed if there were a ‘centre right’ party but a large gap where – common sense would suggest – there should be a centre left party.

            And, to be honest, being bullied away from your own name is one giant flashing ‘red’ light to everyone that you have given up and don’t really know what you are or why you are (as someone else mentioned in the link). Nobody likes weakness.

            Bill English did worse than Labour did in this election yet I don’t recall National moving to the centre in response – they went for Brash and, more importantly, a very assertive version of the ‘right’ ideology. They showed that they weren’t scared to be who they were. They then got very close to government.

            It’s confidence in what you value and what you are that counts – always.

            And, frankly, life is hardly worth the living if it’s only about winning. But that’s just my opinion, of course.


  2. Clemgeopin says:

    Cunliffe had the majority mandate to be the leader. In spite of the evil and unfair attacks from the media and uncontrollable distractions from elsewhere, Cunliffe did a pretty good job during election campaign. The labour defeat was not caused by him but by many factors outside his control. In my opinion, the some of the caucus members have been pretty unwise in stupidly airing their divisive views and leadership change issues in public to the media. All of them, except for a couple of the spokespersons, should have shown better sense and aired their views in private at their caucus meetings so that they could collectively decide there what the best strategy for the party was. They have done great harm to the party by their unthinking selfish ways.

    In my opinion, there is no reason for Cunliffe to be rolled at all. He should stick to his grounds.

    May be the leadership rules should be changed. The caucus should not have a say in the leadership vote at all, except individually as a party member, but if the present rules continue, then after the election, only the votes of the members and the unions should be published and the caucus votes should be kept private for ten years at least.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Clemgeopin,

      I agree that Cunliffe seemed to perform capably in the campaign.

      A lot of people seemed to find his manner awkward and ‘inauthentic’ because he didn’t present like one of them, like an ‘ordinary kiwi’ – whatever that is. That didn’t bother me particularly since I’m not looking to identify with a Prime Minister (or any other politician) or gain some kind of validation of mythic ‘kiwiness’ from them (e.g., the supposed straight up and down, ‘what you see is what you get’ self-serving and pretty inaccurate stereotype of what New Zealanders are like – we’re no more or less ‘authentic’ than any other people of course) – but that identification with and affirmation of a supposed ‘national character’ does matter to a lot of people.

      As for caucus members being ‘unwise’ I don’t think wisdom comes into it. Leaking, by definition, is a deceptive and covert practice and I can only see it being justified when what is being leaked is of significant public interest and in the public good. That doesn’t seem to apply here.

      All very adolescent and petty – but sadly effective – stuff.

      Thanks for taking the time to comment Clemgeopin.


      • weka says:

        Very good Puddleglum, good to see this laid out and named as structural. The question then becomes, how can those structural problems be changed? I think looking at the constitution and what powers the membership currently have in relation to caucus is important (as well as the power strucutures, formal and informal, of the various office holders, the unions etc). The looking at how the membership can work with the existing power it has to make the changes. And looking at exactly what those changes are (bringing in new candidates, making changes to the constitution etc).

        • Puddleglum says:

          Hi weka,

          Thanks so much for dropping by and commenting – I really appreciate it.

          There will always be ‘slippage’ between different parts of an organisation (and there will always be people who try to take advantage of such slippages). But the structural relationships between the different parts needs to be thought through carefully. While there will probably never be complete synchrony and agreement at the very least the structure should ensure that legitimacy of office holders, MPs, etc. emerges from the bottom up. (And legitimacy doesn’t mean complete conformity.)

          The answer is clear in respect of list MPs – it is less obvious with electorate MPs.

          There’s a conflict between the old (FPP) system with all its ‘rotten borough’ possibilities (which arose out of private fiefdoms, in effect, and before the emergence of strong, explicit parties) and membership of parties. In one sense it was probably inevitable that someone tumbled to the possibility of ‘convincing’ candidates for a party to toe a line completely at odds with the party itself (i.e., the 1980s for Labour which, in some cases, echoes down to today).

          I see no particular reason why a collective organisation such as a party should continue to support individuals who work against the priorities, policies, leaders, etc. agreed by the party as a whole. Individuals are, of course, free to go their own way but I can see no argument in favour of compelling a collective to support them in such circumstances just because, nominally, the individuals are meant to be part of the party.


      • nzlpd says:

        Thank you. Spot on.

  3. Jenny Kirk says:

    ” In many ways, Roger Douglas’ greatest triumph over the left of New Zealand politics was to leave the Labour Party with this massive fracture between, on the one hand, a coterie of right wing MPs in caucus who could maintain their local electorate power bases and, on the other, the broader party membership.

    ” That initial ‘class of ’84’ MPs attracted – perhaps recruited – people just like Jones. Wittingly or not, this is how they replicated themselves through the decades and ensured that the split never healed. Holed up in safe seats, largely impervious to the membership and the party at large and ‘mentoring’ their ideological clones into similarly safe seats, they have ensured a seemingly irreversible rightward shift – away from their own party – within the Parliamentary caucus.”

    Yes – Political Scientist – this is EXACTLY how Rogernomics has continued to be perpetrated in Labour for all these years after than initial onslaught in 1984. They have conned the Labour Party members for three decades, and they continue to do so. But what they haven’t done is “con” the general public who have seen thru them and kept them out in the cold for most of that time (notwithstanding the herculean effort of Helen Clark to keep them acquiescent during her time of government).

    David Cunliffe put up a great fight during this election campaign – publicly hindered for the most part by those rightwing neolibs who call themselves Labour MPs. DC’s supporters recognise that, but it is not enough. Those rightwing neolibs need to be kicked out of Labour but already they have inculcated their own likely successors and unless there is a major purge of current and would-be rightwingers from the Labour caucus, this poison will continue to fester within Labour.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Jenny,

      Thank you so much for taking the time to provide a comment and your insights.

      I’ve been keenly observing politics since well before 1984 and I have to say it was very obvious how the right wing MPs in the Labour Party have been operating. It was also obvious that they often seemed to spend more time cultivating relationships with big business people and those on the explicit political right – and looking far more comfortable with such people than they did with members of their ‘own’ party.

      What I find deeply irritating about it is the two-faced nature of that behaviour. I clearly remember Roger Douglas claiming that he shared the same historical goals of the Labour Party but that he was just trying a different approach to achieving them. The complete insincerity of that rhetoric was plain to see. He would have known as well as anyone that the means are the ends.

      As for purges, the question is the mechanism. Perhaps Labour could use the same methods National used in its ‘renewal’ – civilised persuasion and harmonious agreement 🙂


      • jenny kirk says:

        Speculation has it, Puddleglum, that the Nats paid the former MPs to retire. Whether that is true or not I don’t know. And one or two Labour MPs did retire – presumably after some persuasion – But the ABCs in Labour are not going to – they have too much “power” – even if it is just within their own deluded minds and in the minds of their hangers-on.

        • bryan says:

          It’s lazy, disingenuous and, more importantly, inaccurate to lump anyone who criticises Cunliffe into membership of this ‘ABC’ group and thence into an amorphous right wing bloc. Cunliffe should not not immune from criticism and some of those who criticise him have left-wing credentials a least as good as his.

          Clearly the core right wing finds common cause with others in the Caucus when it comes to criticising Cunliffe. Similarly, Cunliffe & allies occasionally find common cause with the same group when criticising the right (eg. on the TPPA, which seems to the be best left/right litmus test in Caucus).

          Criticism or even dislike of Cunliffe should not be treated as ‘rightism’. It’s about ideas.

          • Puddleglum says:

            Hi bryan,

            Thanks for the useful comment.

            As I tried to argue in the post, it seems to me that the real issue has nothing to do with personalities. Instead it is a structural problem in that the caucus is misaligned with the broader party.

            I think that misalignment can be traced back to the Douglas faction’s takeover of the caucus in the 1980s. That seems quite uncontroversial.

            I personally think it’s naive to characterise the conflict as being over ‘ideas’. It looks to me that it is about control – of the caucus and of the party overall. That is, it’s a structural conflict.

            I’ll be specific: it isn’t even about whether or not the party needs to position itself further to the right ( or centre, if you prefer). Again, it’s about who calls the tune whatever that tune might be.

            Thanks again for the thoughtful comment.


          • Jenny Kirk says:

            “Criticism … of Cunliffe should not be treated as rightism. Its about ideas”

            Great thought, bryan – but not realistic.

            Cunliffe has presented ideas to both caucus and the wider Labour membership which are different from the neo-liberal ideas of Roger Douglas – but unfortunately too many of the Labour MPs still hanging onto the remnants of neo-liberalism start attacking the messenger (ie Cunliffe) personally rather than the message.
            And their underhand attacks on Cunliffe via leaks to the media did not allow those ideas to get out to the wider public.

          • bryan says:

            Hi Puddleglum

            Agree. Personality & ideas must interact, but portrayal as Messiah vs villains is singularly unhelpful when the contest is essentially three cornered. This is playing into the hands of the core right as the last thing they want to do is discuss ideas.
            Jenny, some of these personality conflicts date from before Cunliffe’s move to the left. I remember seeing some of his colleagues gobsmacked by DC’s advocacy of PPP’s during Goff’s leadership. On balance though, some of it is clearly just personal antipathy.
            I say again, implied criticism of ALL Cunliffe’s detractors as neo-liberals is not reasonable or helpful – they are diverse. It’s also worth noting that none of these groups, including Cunliffe’s, have a mortgage on vitriol and underhand tactics.
            I would love to see a systematic treatment of the ideas you say Cunliffe has had rebuffed by the rest of Caucus and what there responses were. That would be constructive!
            I have serious doubts as to whether any of the various contenders is worth the effort, but I suppose that’s really a triumph of personalities over ideas 😉

  4. Mark says:

    That is such an accurate summation of where we are and why. I am a non voter or the odd time Nat voter these days because I hate the Labour party so much for what they did to New Zealand in the 80s . I was a foot soldier for the left for a big part of my adult life and will never forgive the zealots that destroyed the social fabric of New Zealand. A lot of those people are still around so I can only hope the Labour party implodes. Thats one thing I’m so looking forward to in my retirement..

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Mark,

      Fully understand your sentiments. My Dad despised the Labour Party for what it did after 1984. But he never despised the values that made him support that party prior to that. They were very much a part of him.

      I don’t think he would have ever voted National but I can understand why someone might. Betrayal is a very hard thing to forgive.

      Thanks for coming over and commenting. Very much appreciated.


  5. bruce says:

    I just came across an interesting post on a “Press” forum thread:

    “cluffy2 days ago
    I sat back and wondered after the election, what happened to labour, and I came to the conclusion that they are not the average working person anymore. They are National in red. Then I thought the labour party the party of the working people wanted to put up the age of retirement to 67 then 70 and I thought, what. Most labour, working people are manual workers. How would the labour party parliamentarians like to be a bricklayer at 69, a concrete, panel beater, hairdresser on their feet all day working to 70. No, I think they have lost reality and they lost the vote the worst in 92 years. I retired two years ago, and I had a plasterer around fixing my water tank, about to retire, He said, he was finding it really hard now lifting his arms above his head, yet this is what the labour party wants to keep this sort of person working.”

    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi bruce,

      I think that’s a reasonably typical comment of one lot of New Zealanders who have been lost by Labour as it strives for ‘fiscal prudence’.

      My Dad worked most of his life as an unskilled labourer. He only just made it to retirement having had a heart operation a few months before he turned 60 (which was the retirement age in 1986). I still wear a pair of his blue overalls and his steel capped factory issue shoes when I do the garden.


  6. Jenny Kirk says:

    To Bruce – I tried. I went to several Labour conferences where this item (raising the age of super) was discussed, and was shouted down. I wrote several times to Parker and other MPs pointing out that there were other ways to overcome that so-called “super bulge”. None of it worked. And I don’t think it is just the manual worker this will concern – its those who fall ill, have a debilitating disease like chronic arthritis, and so on who will also find it difficult to work beyond the current age of 65. Some of them find it difficult to get as far as 60 in the workforce, and what about all those whoa re made redundant in their older age and find it dificult to get another job. Yes – I think that policy of raising the age of super was one of the “killers” – but it was not the only thing. The ABCs have a lot to answer for.

  7. elucidatenz says:

    I wonder if this will work:

    @michaelwoodnz <a

    • Jenny Kirk says:

      Sorry elucidatenz – I don’t think the person Michael Wood is quoting has got to the guts of Labour’s problem – the hangover of Rogernomics right through the last three decades, and the potential for it to continue with new blood coming into the Party.
      Nor was I impressed with Michael Wood’s reaction to my attempts to put forward the arguments against raising the super age at the workshop he chaired at the Christchurch conference – he tried to cut me short, limit my speaking time, and then dropped the entire discussion into a void.
      What needs to be done is to have a tighter “council” admin (that’s the ruling body – its very large, very unwieldy), a president who can knock heads together when the ABCs get ansty, a renewal of a leftwing policy which is spelt out in basic detail to Labour constituents over the next three years, a caucus which is wholely behind the Leader, and a campaign which is truly aimed at the ordinary NZer, the worker, the beneficiary, and to those who care about the future of our environment. Plus, of course, an emphasis on the Party vote – and any candidates who deviate from that and campaign solely for themselves as some MPs did (eg Clayton Cosgrove) be disowned by the Party.

  8. elucidatenz says:

    4 days ago on Twitter I said this: “@michaelwoodnz @ThisCJ for a start the fundamental rightwards shift in 1984 & its effects needs to b acknowledged”

  9. nanotchka says:

    Puddlegum: If there is a poisonous wound it must be lanced before the body can recover. These particular wounds are Trevor Mallard, Phill Goff, and Annette King. Right thinkers and tail-coaters all. They’re not in it for the good of the party, they’re there for their own vendettas and power.
    The Labour party can never go back to its roots whilst those remainders of Rogernomics remain.

    Thank you for your insight, best article I’ve seen on the whole schemozzle.

  10. Thanks for this analysis. I completely agree, however I believe that the problem is more widespread than the Labour party.

    I’ve come to believe that because the neoliberal model has been the basis of most political thought/communication for the last 30 years, the public has come to perceive ideas that are framed in accordance with neoliberalism as “common sense”.

    Looking at the 3 years ahead, I believe that progressive politics needs to get smarter & more coordinated in their messaging if those on the left are to educate the public. The vast bulk of empirical evidence clearly shows that neoliberal policies benefit almost nobody apart from capital holders, but the masses have yet to grasp this. It’s far to easy for a conservative to shoot down a policy such as raising taxes by saying that that will tank the economy even though this is absolute nonsense. A strong, coordinated set of progressive narratives is needed to turn this around.

    I’ve started a networking project which aims to get progressive voices talking together about strategy. It’d be good to have you involved, if you’re willing.


    • Puddleglum says:

      Hi Dave,

      Thanks very much for the comment.

      I agree that this goes beyond the Labour Party. I even think there’s some research (must locate it) that plots the shift in social attitudes since the 1980s in New Zealand. Basically, at the population level people are expressing attitudes that are more and more aligned with neoliberal economic structures – they are more friendly to big business, less positive about government involvement in the economy, more likely to believe that someone doesn’t have a job because of a bad attitude to work, etc..

      That’s perfectly understandable because it is well known that people’s attitudes tend to conform to what they need to believe (I posted on this phenomenon in a much earlier post). In today’s world I’d argue that, to get by with some semblance of self-respect, people ‘need’ to believe that the basic cultural settings of neoliberalism are ok – that’s because they have to live their lives under those settings.

      Human conformity in individualistic societies is wildly under-estimated; perhaps counterintuitively, it’s actually quite marked just because an individualistic society is a highly risky one for individuals. The safest route through life in such societies is to conform to what appears to be the dominant norm. Of course, theres a strong disposition to conformity (for quite good evolutionary reasons) more generally but that tendency is accentuated in individualistic societies where more and more of life’s risks devolve to the individual. It increases the incentives for ‘safe bets’ which, in social terms, means showing that you agree with what appears to be the consensus.

      But back to your point. I agree fully that ‘progressive politics’ definitely needs a narrative (or system of interlocking and mutually supportive narratives) that allows people to support it (i.e., without themselves getting shot down in flames as their peers employ narratives that dominate the media).

      One effective way to build such narratives is to leverage off the current narratives – do a judo throw on them, so to speak.

      For example, if ‘choice’ is so good then how about providing support for cooperative enterprises (e.g., preferential tax treatment, a network of advice centres/online resources and support)? No coercion, just more choice :-).

      Such choice could be promoted by a government based on the justification that not only is it providing more ‘choices’ for people to select from in terms of how they want to make a living (surely a ‘good thing’) but it also has well-established side-benefits in terms of generating social capital (i.e., social arrangements/networks that can be employed – like any capital – to facilitate productive processes of both economic and social kinds). Further, there’s a clear argument that cooperative endeavours should be centrally supported just as private businesses are in many, many ways.

      And, if some support for cooperative endeavours already exists then, all the better justification for boosting the support for them.

      Similarly, I see no reason why ‘progressive politics’ (I’m old enough to actually prefer the term ‘the left’ :-)) can’t adopt the notion of ‘aspiration’ quite explicitly but note that the best form of such aspiration is the collective form – that form is what has always brought out the best in individuals because it provides a secure social environment (i.e., less risky) for people to operate in and so they will be much more likely to be innovative, experimental and creative (as all the research shows) and all ultimately for the common good as well.

      [If the ‘No’ campaign in the Scottish referendum hadn’t sullied the ‘Better Together’ slogan that wouldn’t have been a bad one for a ‘progressive politics’ :-). It’s a good antidote to thrusting individualism and could be made to resonate with New Zealanders, I think.]

      In answer to your question, I’m more than happy to be involved – although I’m not on Facebook. This may make me join though.

      Thanks again for your comment and invitation.


      • That FB page is intended to be a hub, but we’ll also have meetings outside of FB. If you email me your contact details I’ll make sure you’re aware of webconferencing dates/times.

  11. Olwyn says:

    That is one brilliant analysis, Puddlegum! You have nailed it.

    • Puddleglum says:

      Thanks for the compliment Olwyn. Much appreciated.

      It helps to think that others get something from what I do.

      All the best,

  12. Jenny Kirk says:

    Human conformity in individualistic societies is wildly under-estimated; perhaps counterintuitively, it’s actually quite marked just because an individualistic society is a highly risky one for individuals. The safest route through life in such societies is to conform to what appears to be the dominant norm. and ‘progressive politics’ definitely needs a narrative (or system of interlocking and mutually supportive narratives) that allows people to support it ….

    I agree – Puddleglum but as you have so eloquently pointed out Labour’s “progressive politics” has been hi-jacked and until its members not only realise that, but act collectively together to remove the hi-jackers – will it ever get better ?

  13. Alex Stone says:

    Thank you for your fine analysis Puddleglum.

    It may be too complicated, though, for a majority of voters to absorb properly.

    Let’s keep things simple, for that’s how effective widespread messaging works (and that is what wins elections).

    All this talk of ‘structural problems’, and ‘divides within the party’ etc, overlooks the the obvious impression that Labour appears to lack self-confidence.

    The continual changing/dropping of policy (and leaders) by Labour, to somehow find a magic formula for widespread acceptance is seen as not trusting your own judgement.

    The ‘No GST of fresh produce’ policy is an example. It’s a fine, workable policy (used in the UK and Australia), that helps ordinary people buy healthy food. It was good enough to stick with. As is the capital gains tax.

    All I ask of Labour is: be consistently self-confident in promoting progressive social policy. That’s all you need to do.

    (The irony in this, is that the current ‘crucify David Cunliffe’ campaign, conveniently overlooks the man’s positivism and self-confidence.)

    Alex Stone

    • Jenny Kirk says:

      I, too, Alex Stone have wondered why Labour has to change its policies every three years !
      A huge amount of effort/energy and time goes into doing this – and it is basically unnecessary.
      It also means that Labour MPs – and their supporters – don’t have a “handle” on what is actually Labour policy during the ensuing three years after an election and so cannot go around making positive comments about Labour policy.
      Hadn’t thought of it as a lack of confidence previously, but that’s a good point you make.

  14. The Treasury “serpents” waiting for whoever won the 1984 general election with their neo-lib poison have still not been called to account. Their offspring have taken over ensuring anything approaching Keynesianism, Social Credit or MMT (Modern Monetary Theory) is shunned. Thank goodness ideas being shared on the internet are rapidly undermining economic orthodoxy.-HMS

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