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CAFCA - Heeeere’s Johnnny!

Heeeere’s Johnnny!

- Murray Horton


The definitive scene in Stanley Kubrick’s classic supernatural horror film “The Shining” was when the character played by Jack Nicholson has gone mad and is hunting his terrified family with an axe. He uses it to smash his way through the bathroom door and then sticks his insanely grinning face in to announce “Here’s Johnny!” (an ironic send up of the famous intro used at the start of his TV shows by US entertainment icon, Johnny Carson). That vivid visual image best encapsulates my reaction to National’s 2008 electoral victory, the closest possible to a landslide under MMP.

Goodness, does that mean that I’m comparing nice smiley Johnny Key to a homicidal maniac? That remains to be seen but I have the uncomfortable feeling that we’re now sharing a small room with somebody who has an axe. To develop further the analogy with that wonderful movie – the axe murderer was driven mad by malevolent ghosts (and he ended up frozen to death in the snow). Well, there’s plenty of spooks and zombies in Key’s supporting cast of hacks, hasbeens and halfwits and I wouldn’t put it past them to shove our John out into the snow once he’s no further use to them.

For a leader who campaigned on the platform of “a fresh face” and “change” (which is definitely the only similarity he can claim to Barack Obama), there’s a deadening look of sameness about the “new” National/Act government, not to mention Peter Dunne (pronounced Dunny) that sinkingshipjumpingrat par excellence.

Are New Zealanders Stupid?

Inevitably, following National’s comprehensive and long predicted victory there was an outpouring of rage and despair from some people. Most futile was the reaction to blame it on “stupid” New Zealanders. This is understandable but quite wrong. So, New Zealanders must have been “stupid” every time they voted in a National government (Piggy Muldoon anyone? Or the Bolger/Birch/Richardson version?). Come to think of it, they certainly must have been terminally bloody stupid to re-elect the 1980s Roger Douglas Labour government, if you subscribe to the stupidity theory of politics. And I have no doubt that Tory voters must have had the same “stupid bastards” reaction when their fellow citizens voted in, although not so often, Labour governments, even a Labour-Alliance government for all of three years (my late father - who voted National nearly all of his life until his final decade – was a great believer in the inherent stupidity of Labour voters. I grew up hearing the expression that “if Labour ran a red arsed baboon in Sydenham it would be elected”. In the case of John Kirk, he was dead right). But, tempting as it is, “stupidity” is not the reason and nor is it even worth seriously examining.

People vote the way they do (and change their allegiance) for a wide variety of reasons. A very small number, presumably the much less than 5% who voted for Act, want a far Right government with a prominent role for their undead messiah, Sir Roger Douglas. Moral conservatives would have voted against Labour for laws such as the deliberately mislabelled “anti-smacking” act, legalisation of prostitution, civil unions, etc, plus the carefully fostered perception that the Government was running a “politically correct nanny State”. This was the local version of the “culture wars” that have split American politics asunder for years (and continue to do so, as evidenced by the simultaneous votes in California for Obama and against gay marriage). “What’s in it for me?” a la tax cuts was definitely a factor and Labour fell into the trap of a bidding war on which party would cut taxes the most. The obvious contradiction between cutting taxes and reducing public services (while also promising a spend up on infrastructure, etc) shouldn’t take too long to emerge. And then the swinging voters will direct their anger at the National government, with the media full of stories of people whose Dear Old Mums have died while on the hospital waiting list.

Some others use their two votes tactically. To cite my late father again – naturally, he voted against MMP in the referendum that led to its introduction, but he then took to it with gusto and in the first MMP election, in 1996, he used his two votes to support National and Jim Anderton. If you accepted his political logic (I didn’t), it all made perfect sense (in the final two elections of his life, 1999 & 02, he reverted to voting Labour and Anderton, because National had become too free market and far Right for an old Muldoonist. And he admired Helen Clark as “our strongest Prime Minister since Piggy”).

But the vast majority of those who voted Labour out (and it’s worth remembering that 2008 saw the second lowest turnout in decades) did so for nothing more articulate than “it’s time for a change”. There was no deep visceral loathing of Helen Clark as there had been for Muldoon in 1984, and despite the inevitable scandals that trip up any Government and the problems with coalition partners that are a hallmark of MMP, they were nothing compared to their equivalents which saw the 1996-99 National government implode, dumping their Prime Minister and coalition partner along the way to electoral defeat. Labour ran its own most disciplined government ever, with unswerving loyalty to Clark and minimal problems (until the final few months) with its New Zealand First coalition partner. Key ran a very narrowly focused campaign from the moment he was elected National’s Leader which stressed how little he would change things from Labour (or, rather, he said that he wouldn’t. We’ll now find out if what he said and what he does are two very different things. It was exactly that two faced lying under the last Labour and National governments before MMP that saw it voted in as a new electoral system to stop that misrepresentation and arrogance of power). Basically people have voted for a change of face and a minimal change of policies, having been promised that there won’t be much deviation from what was business as usual under Labour.

Labour Was On Borrowed Time From 05

It needs to be remembered that Labour came very, very close to losing the 2005 election, which means that a substantial chunk of the electorate was sick of it a full three years before it went out. And that was when National was headed by Labour’s greatest asset, the fumbling, bumbling Don Brash with his openly declared far Right agenda. Labour’s fate was sealed when Nicky Hager’s 2006 book “The Hollow Men” delivered the coup de grace to Brash – after that, he was, in his own immortal phrase, gone by lunchtime – and National made a special effort to pick a new Leader whose central quality had to be that he wasn’t Don Brash (so, Nicky, if you’re reading this, it was all your fault). Personally, I regret that National didn’t stick with its previous Brash/Key leadership team, as I had the perfect collective name for them – DonKey.

Election night 05 was a real nailbiter, with Labour eventually emerging with a majority of one over National and then followed the usual tedious weeks of negotiations before a deal was stitched up with Winston Peters (which is why National, Act and their media mates made damned sure that he and his party were neutralised before the 08 election). Labour was at its apex in the 2002 election when they were given a dream run by National under Bill English running possibly the most inept campaign in New Zealand’s history, which led to National’s worst ever result (the only thing that I can remember Bill saying from that campaign was the immortal line “Oi loike poies” when filmed eating one. Good on you mate, so do I).

Labour harboured the conceit that it would win enough votes to govern alone in 2002 (the desire to be shot of all this MMP nonsense is also shared by National, which came much closer to being able to realise it in the 08 election) until it came a gutser because of that bloody Nicky Hager again and his earlier book "Seeds Of Distrust", which meticulously documented (as Nicky always does) the importation of genetically engineered-contaminated corn seeds into New Zealand by transnational corporations, the Government’s changing of the rules to retrospectively legalise that importation, and then concealing the fact that this corn was planted and harvested in the normal commercial manner. The book threw Clark completely off balance and publicly revealed a very ugly side of her personality. The Labour/Alliance government (remember the Alliance?) was caught out having covered up a very serious breach of New Zealand’s supposed GE free status, and Clark opted for the standard Muldoonist response – abuse and attack. The Greens lost votes and traction by not strongly picking up the explosive revelations in the book, instead seeming to regard it as an annoying distraction on their inevitable progress to Cabinet posts. "We didn’t know about it either" was their heartfelt plaint. Clark’s attacks put them firmly on the back foot and both parties suffered at the polls, as voters went elsewhere. But Labour still won easily, and repaid the Greens’ support by keeping them out of the resulting coalition (as they did for the full nine years they were in office).

So, effectively Labour had been on notice since at least 2005, if not earlier, that it was a Government on borrowed time and that its fate was sealed unless it could pull something out of the hat. National had already produced a fluffy white rabbit of its own, called John; from the moment he became National’s Leader, the media lauded him as the Chosen One and the polls gave him and National a lead which they never lost. It soon became clear that all that Labour could offer was to attack Key, in an eerie echo of the negative attack campaign on Barack Obama run by the other John, McCain, on behalf of the other incumbent party in the other election of 2008. To use the rugby analogy, it was a classic case of playing the man and not the ball. Even more damningly, it didn’t work.

I knew that Labour was buggered when, a fortnight out from election day, they were caught desperately trying to dig up 20 year old dirt from Key’s highly profitable career as a money trader (they found nothing and the accusations rebounded on them. Both Labour and the media didn’t dare raise the larger question that the money trading business in which Key made his fortune is basically a crime per se and has got the global economy into the mess that it is currently in. A Labour Party which has never renounced Rogernomics, only that Rogernomics is electoral poison, would never raise that fundamental question). To add insult to injury, just days out from the election, Helen Clark offered a formal coalition and Cabinet posts to the Greens, after stabbing them in the back and taking them for granted for nine years. She knew then that she and her Government were finished – her election night resignation as Party leader was no spontaneous gesture – so it was a totally empty offer.

Maori Party Are The New Cannon Fodder

So what can we expect from Key’s National government? He has gone to great efforts to stress that it will be Centre Right, with the emphasis on centrism. Getting the Maori Party into the coalition is a very clever tactic on his behalf and potentially marks a seismic shift in the NZ political landscape, with Maori maybe ending the alliance with Labour that had lasted since the 1930s. The Maori Party grew directly out of Maori in the Labour Party finally having had a gutsfull of decades of patronising neglect and being taken for granted, with the foreshore and seabed issue being the last straw. The dislike of Labour evidenced by Tariana Turia, Party Co-Leader and former Labour Cabinet Minister, is evident to all. But whether entering a coalition is as beneficial for the Maori Party as it is for National remains to be seen. In the seven Maori seats in the 2008 election, Labour easily won the party vote over both the Maori Party and National, so going into this coalition flies in the face of the great majority of Maori seat voters, who clearly backed Labour. And junior coalition partners are the ones who are used as cannon fodder by the Government. In 1996 New Zealand First swept all the Maori seats and entered into coalition with National, trumpeting itself as the replacement for Labour as the party for Maori, with Winston Peters as Treasurer. That lasted all of two years, before Peters was fired, the coalition ended, the party split and, in 1999, Labour won back all the Maori seats.

This National/Act/United Future/Maori coalition, with Ministerial posts outside Cabinet for the leaders of all three junior partners (but none for Sir Roger Douglas) is being touted as Key being able to use the Maori Party on the “Left” to neutralise Act on the Right. However it is a mistake to think of the Maori Party as being Left – it is very much a party based on race, not class (since the Alliance imploded and disappeared from Parliament at the 2002 election, there hasn’t been any truly class-based party in Parliament) and it has flirted with the Tories ever since it came into Parliament at the 05 election, including when National was under the far Right leadership of Don Brash. Key has promised to review the foreshore and seabed law (no big hassle, because National voted against it) and, in a major flipflop, has backed off his promise to abolish the Maori seats, which would destroy the Maori Party. This will lose Key support form the pakeha racists who flocked to National when Brash deliberately chose Maori bashing as a central policy, soaring in the polls as a result and forcing Labour to drop its policies which “discriminated in favour of Maori”. Whether this coalition lasts any longer than the fractious 1996-98 one which fatally wounded the last National government remains to be seen. And whether Maori seat voters punish the Maori Party for ignoring their 2008 overwhelming party vote for Labour will be a fascinating feature of the 2011 election. I have no doubt that National will happily use its new Maori Party Ministers to take the heat from its policies which will inevitably bash the poor (the “underclass” that Key highlighted when he first became National Leader; we haven’t heard so much about them from him since), of whom a disproportionate chunk are Maori.

How Many Ways Can You Spell Privatisation?

More specifically, what can CAFCA expect from National? Throughout 2007 and 08 Key was continually embarrassed by several of his senior colleagues, such as his Deputy, Bill English, and Maurice Williamson, blurting out a wish list – “sell Kiwibank, introduce toll roads”, etc, etc! Watchdog has regularly analysed this evidence of a hidden agenda of privatisation and user pays, those discredited relics of the 1980s and 90s (which is where National and Labour’s front benches cut their teeth). For example, see my article “Sharks In the Water. Privatisation Rears Its Ugly Head Again”, which was the cover story in Watchdog 118, August 2008, online at http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/18/01.htm. Key has pledged not to sell any public assets, such as Kiwibank or the newly renationalised KiwiRail in National’s first term – which, of course, leaves State assets wide open to be flogged off in any subsequent term (here’s hoping but there never has been a single term National government. For his compulsive desire to blurt out the truth, Maurice Williamson was punished by being left out of Key’s Cabinet).

In the first term, we can expect to see the wholesale introduction of public private partnerships (PPP) in infrastructure projects such as roading (Labour was enthusiastically going the same way); the partial opening up of ACC to competition by insurance transnational corporations (National says this isn’t privatisation), and much more private sector involvement right across the board but heavily in sectors such as health, education and welfare. The Resource Management Act will be diluted to make it more “business friendly” – it’s been a target of Big Business ever since its introduction. National is an even more rabid champion of the “open economy and globalisation”, meaning more unfettered foreign investment and free trade agreements, including the Holy Grail, one with the US (which Labour kicked off). The very first thing that Key did, as a sop to Act, was to delay (pending a review) the proposed carbon emissions trading scheme, although he was at pains to stress that NZ will not be backing away from our obligations under the Kyoto Treaty. Considering that Rodney Hide campaigned on the basis that global warming is a “hoax”, this is hardly surprising, but it makes NZ a flat Earth laughingstock to the rest of the world, to whom global warming is the biggest issue bar none.

In foreign policy, the close ties with the US that Labour worked so assiduously to repair will be strengthened. Barack Obama has pledged to get US troops out of Iraq (a war that Labour kept NZ out of; National would have gone in shoulder to shoulder with Bush) but only to redeploy them into Afghanistan, which he has proclaimed to be the American Empire’s “real war”. NZ already has troops in Afghanistan, primarily engaged in reconstruction in one comparatively peaceful province. Expect the US to “request” that its allies, such as NZ, commit front line troops to the intensified Afghan war and to support Obama’s reckless new emphasis on attacking into Pakistan (shades of the Vietnam War, where the US spread it across the border into both Cambodia and Laos – and lost in all three countries).

One consolation for Labour is that if you it had to lose an election, this was definitely the best one to lose. The global and domestic economy are in freefall, it’s the biggest crisis in capitalism since the 1930s Great Depression and it’s all entirely manmade, created by the truly gargantuan greed and stupidity of the finance capitalists who captured the system and milked it dry for their own immense profit. I’m touched by the naïve faith that some people have expressed in John Key, who became a multi-millionaire as a wheeler dealer in that very same financial market, as the best leader during a time of unprecedented crisis in that market. Yes, he made a fortune but only by using money to make money; he’s never made anything or run anything whatsoever in the real economy (defined as things that you can drop on your foot). It is the money men who have got global capitalism into the current mess, why would anyone think that a money man will know how to get little old New Zealand out of it? We’re a long way from the rest of the world and the tsunami which is drowning it has not yet reached us – but rest assured that it’s on the way. A Prime Minister presiding over an economy in recession, maybe even depression, with rapidly growing unemployment and every other negative symptom that will accompany capitalism’s biggest bust in nearly a century, is going to have a very rough time of it as the people take it out on the Government.

Let’s See If Key Lasts The Distance As Prime Minister

He is National’s main asset, because of his inoffensive personality and his (public) willingness in the election buildup to say or do anything that would ensure that National got into power. But plenty in his own party, let alone his Rightwing coalition partner and Big Business and the transnational corporate media, are angered by his whole series of flipflops, his selling of National as “Labour lite”. There are plenty of unreconstructed Rogernauts (including dear old Sir Roger himself, of course) in National and Act, who entertain fantasies about “finishing the business”, whose standard denial of reality for the past two decades has been that if only they’d been able to inflict more pain there would have been some gain. They belong to “the operation was a great success, the patient died” school of politics and economics. At the same time as the rest of the world is suddenly rediscovering the essential role of the State - and taxpayers’ money - in saving capitalism from itself, and even the US has taken a step to the Left (but only in US terms), New Zealand now has a Government committed to the market forces bullshit that got us (and the world) into this mess. What exquisite timing! To refresh your memories about who these people are that are operating in National’s shadows, read Jeremy Agar’s review of the 2008 documentary “The Hollow Men” in Watchdog 1118, August 2008, online at http://www.converge.org.nz/watchdog/18/08.htm.

If the far Right gets sufficiently sick of Key for being insufficiently politically correct, they will simply dump him. It’s what the Jenny Shipley faction did to Jim Bolger in the late 90s, when National was last in power; it’s what the Rogernauts did to David Lange when his Labour government was tearing itself apart in the late 80s. Rogernomics was rushed through, in direct contradiction to Labour’s 1984 election manifesto, in response to a “financial crisis”; Richardson’s Ruthanasia, likewise, was rushed through in direct contradiction to National’s 1990 election promises, and in response to another “financial crisis’. There really is a financial crisis this time, a global one, and the old Rogernauts must be twitching to slash and burn, which is all they know how to do, in order “to save us”.

Actually there is one wild card factor that could consign National to being a one term government. In 1999, Jenny Shipley, in all seriousness, reckoned that the All Blacks crashing out of the Rugby World Cup impacted badly on her Government in that year’s election (if they’d won, she said that National would have benefitted from the feel good factor). The 2011 election coincides with NZ hosting the World Cup. If the All Blacks crash out yet again, and at home, the national mood will be ugly (New Zealanders get much more passionate about rugby than politics). The public, who will be looking for someone to blame, don’t get a vote for the Rugby Union bosses or the All Blacks’ coach, so they’ll stick it up the Government which, doubtless, will have taken every opportunity to bask in the reflected glory of NZ being the host nation. If I was National’s strategist, I would call an early election and get it out of the way before the World Cup, which has the potential for a major emotional backlash showing up at the polls if the All Blacks crap out again (I hasten to add though that I, as a lifelong rugby fan who has been known to react badly to the All Blacks abysmal history at the World Cup, will not be voting National under any circumstances and certainly not because I might be “feeling good” if they actually win the bloody thing at long last).

Labour’s Ad Hoc Legacy

What is Labour’s legacy after nine years in power, their longest time in office since the 1940s? Indisputably it did many good things. To take my own personal situation, as one example. Very recently I had to re-read and edit an oral history interview that I did way back in March 2004. In it I mentioned that my pay was about to be increased to $9 per hour, as that was to be the new minimum wage. I am now paid $14 per hour and the minimum wage is now $12 an hour. It’s not that many years ago that I was on $7 an hour. The minimum wage, which was never once increased during National’s nine years in power in the 90s, has been steadily increased under Labour, which also did many other things to improve workers’ conditions (ranging from introducing four weeks annual leave to abolishing the nightmarish Employment Contracts Act). Innovations such as Working For Families and Kiwisaver are positive moves and so popular that National has had to commit to keeping them. The controversial “social engineering” laws, such as those legalising prostitution and civil unions, and banning the use of “unreasonable” force on kids are all landmarks in NZ becoming a more civilised society (I am fully aware that there will be CAFCA members who disagree with me about this, so I stress that it is my personal opinion. CAFCA does not have a policy on such matters, they are not our issue, and the committee has never discussed them).

CAFCA, of course, does have opinions and policies on our issue and we were only too happy to publicly congratulate the Government for decisions such as staying out of the American-led criminal invasion and occupation of Iraq to stopping the sale of Auckland Airport; renationalising ACC, Air New Zealand and the railways; and creating Kiwibank – to name a few. All of these have been analysed in Watchdog over the past nine years, so I won’t go over them again, check them out at the Watchdog Website www.converge.org.nz/watchdog.

But too many of those moves were one offs, reluctant, populist kneejerk reactions to a crisis (such as the spectacular collapse of Air NZ) and/or the need to appear progressive in election year – both of which were factors in the decision to renationalise the railways. To give the most recent example – the last time CAFCA congratulated the Labour government was for its October 2008 decision to spend $40 million to buy the St James Station in the South Island high country for the explicit reason of stopping it falling into foreign ownership. I put out a press release (which the media picked up) saying: “This proves that its 2005 Overseas Investment Act is not working. At the time that was touted as affording protection to ‘iconic’ land. The Government obviously doesn’t trust its own law to do that when it opted to spend $40 million to buy St James. In fact, all that Act does is put up a few more hoops for foreign buyers to jump through but it doesn’t actually stop them buying land, iconic or otherwise. There is a simpler, and much cheaper, solution than ad hoc multi-million dollar purchases to prevent NZ land being sold overseas – institute a legal regime that much more severely restricts foreign ownership of land, or ban it outright. That is the logical conclusion of what the Government has done in the case of St James Station and we call upon it to admit that and put such a regime in place as soon as possible” (9/10/08, “Helen. Don’t Just Stop At Saving St James Station From Foreign Ownership”).

Party Of Globalisation, Foreign Investment And Free Trade

And there’s the nub of the problem – Labour’s heart was never in being a genuinely progressive, Left government. It called itself Centre-Left but it was much more Centre than Left and plenty of its ideology and policies tilted to the Right. It never veered from the politically correct championing of “the open economy, market forces, foreign investment, globalisation and free trade”. Just days before the 1999 election the doomed National government increased the threshold required for Overseas Investment Commission (now the Overseas Investment Office) consent from $10 million to $50 million. As soon as Labour won that election, we lobbied all Labour, Alliance and Green MPs urging them to roll that back. We got nowhere with Labour and that threshold has never been rolled back (it now stands at $100 million and the original draft of Michael Cullen’s 2005 Overseas Investment Act aimed to increase it to $250 million; Treasury wanted no threshold at all). By contrast, the Alliance and Greens were much more sympathetic and also happy to take up CAFCA’s offer of a briefing on the wider issue of foreign control (I went to Wellington to brief the Green caucus; Bill Rosenberg did likewise with the Alliance). In its nine years in power there was only one Labour MP prepared to be briefed by CAFCA – namely Tim Barnett, the former MP for Christchurch Central. Tim was also happy to meet with the Anti-Bases Campaign on several occasions re the Waihopai spybase (once taking part in an ABC overnight national strategy meeting in Marlborough on the subject) and his office played an invaluable role in getting a visa for Cora Fabros from the Philippines, whom ABC toured through NZ in July 08. It is an indictment of Helen Clark that she never made Tim a Minister. He was also our very good local MP for the whole time Labour was in power (boundary changes mean that we are now in another electorate, my third in the 26 years I’ve lived in the same house). He retired at the 08 election and although Labour Party social gatherings are not my natural habitat I made a point of going to his farewell party a couple of days after it, representing CAFCA and ABC, to thank him on behalf of both groups (and on behalf of my own family for things that he’d done for us).

Labour’s “legacy” on the issue of foreign control is that 2005 Overseas Investment Act. Every issue of Watchdog from 2003-05 inclusive carried a cover story about it, so I won’t go over it again, refresh your memory at the Watchdog Website. Labour was equally wedded to the “free trade” religion and, in September 2008, after negotiating a series of bilateral and multilateral agreements (to circumvent the abject failure of the World Trade Organisation to agree on the Doha Round) it excitedly announced the Holy Grail was in sight – namely the prospect of a Free Trade Agreement with the US via an extension of the existing P4 Agreement (full title: Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership). Check out www.nznotforsale.org for details. At Tim Barnett’s farewell party an outgoing Minister sought me out and told me what we need now is a Multilateral Agreement on Investment (do you remember the monumental and successful late 90s’ global campaign against the MAI?) but this time for the benefit of nation states against the transnational corporations. Interesting idea - but we didn’t hear a peep about it when the Minister was in power for nine years and it’s too late now. Perhaps CAFCA could ask National if we could brief their MPs about it.

As for foreign policy: Labour prided itself in “rebuilding“ the alliance with the US, sucking up to the war criminal Bush and his cronies. Yes, NZ stayed out of Iraq but it enthusiastically plunged into the Afghanistan War and the “War On Terror” – Ahmed Zaoui was NZ’s unique contribution to that chamber of horrors. The covert State of spies and spybases, such as Waihopai, had no more passionate champion than Helen Clark. And now that’s she’s abruptly gone Labour is headed by Phil Goff who, as Minister of Trade Negotiations, trumpeted that one of the greatest benefits of a US Free Trade Agreement would be that NZ businesses could get their snouts into the trough of US military contracts (he specifically singled out the big money to be made in the US Pacific territory of Guam, preparing infrastructure for the relocation of US Marines from Okinawa in Japan, where massive anti-bases protests over many years have forced the US and Japanese governments to make some concessions to overwhelming public opinion). Goff has been personally affected by the “War on Terror” – his nephew, serving in the US military, is the only New Zealander to have been killed in Afghanistan. Yes, it was a terrible tragedy for the family but the Rightwing media sickeningly milked this for all it was worth, for the propaganda value of New Zealand “doing its bit”.

It Has Never Renounced The Ideology Of Rogernomics

Labour’s shortcomings in the area of foreign control need to be seen in the context of Labour’s overall ideology, one which hasn’t changed very much since the 1980s. Its 1999-08 front bench was full of veterans of the Rogernomics years and the new leadership team of Phil Goff and Annette King doesn’t signal any change from that. Labour was decimated in the 1990s as voters punished it for that madness, so it recognises Rogernomics as electoral poison but it has never actually renounced the ideology. Sir Roger Douglas has always taunted his old party that it has never repealed any of the laws that form the central tenets of Rogernomics and he is correct – they never have. As soon as Labour ran into the “business backlash” in its first year in office it backed off any suggestion of such change (workers are severely constrained in their legal ability to strike, but the mere threat of a capital strike by Big Business was enough to pull the Government into line). At best, they put a kinder face on the more brutal features of Rogernomics.

Labour never restored welfare benefits to the levels they were at before Ruth Richardson’s 1991 slashing cuts. Hundreds of thousands of kids remain in poverty and State “housing” for those at the bottom of the heap in Auckland was exposed as an outrage in many cases. Even some of the achievements that Labour boasted about, such as Kiwibank and four weeks leave were actually the work of minor parties (Jim Anderton fought hard to get Kiwibank established; initially, Clark and Cullen sneered at the idea and damned it with faint praise when it began). It went to great lengths to keep the Greens out of any coalition for the full nine years, opting instead for Winston Peters and Peter Dunne.

To conclude, Labour had a great chance to be a genuine progressive Left government, to substantially right the wrongs of the 1980s and 90s, but it let that slide, because its heart was not in it, fundamentally it has long been a party whose sole motivation is getting into, and holding onto, power. The rest of it is just means to that end. Labour has never had any doubt as to whom it is beholden, and it isn’t ordinary working New Zealanders. The party will spend at least the next three years working out how to more attractively package itself as the best party to administer capitalism, so that it’s ready when the public next decides to vote for “change”.

Winston Peters Out: Greens More Necessary Than Ever

New Zealand First can justifiably feel hard done by that it secured more party votes than Act but is out of Parliament, whereas Act, by virtue of Rodney Hide holding one electorate seat, gets five MPs, Ministers and a coalition with National. Hide and the media ran a very successful smear campaign against Peters, targeting him as a key prospective coalition partner of Labour and hence to be eliminated at all costs. It worked. None of the various serious allegations were proven but the mud stuck. Did Peters deserve it? Absolutely, because there was definitely fire with this smoke, and his arrogance and contempt in refusing to respond to the charges were what sank him. Despite his superficial nationalism and populism (which he rolled out whenever convenient, and always in election years, and which tapped into an ugly undercurrent of racism) CAFCA didn’t trust him or his party as far as we could throw them (which has proven to be right out of Parliament). We made our position clear on Winston Peters way back in the 1990s when he got into bed as National’s coalition partner and promptly turned his back on all the “nationalist” issues that he’d campaigned about. There have been suggestions that billionaire Owen Glenn was the modern day equivalent of the shonky “financiers” used to get rid of the Whitlam Labor government in Australia in the 1970s and to very nearly get rid of the Lange Labour government here in the 80s (remember the Maori Loans scandal, which was traced back to the US Central Intelligence Agency?). But I reject that comparison. Why would the CIA want to get rid of a Minister of Foreign Affairs who made it his central policy to suck up to the Bush regime? And why would the US want to destabilise a Government which proved itself a valuable ally in so many ways? Nope, Winston was finally undone by his own glaring contradictions, both personal and political.

The Greens confounded those who thought that Rod Donald’s tragic death just after the 2005 election would prove them to be a one man band. They actually increased their share of the party vote and got more MPs as a result. They now have nine MPs, which equals their best result (1999, when they first came into Parliament in their own right, having previously been part of the former Alliance). They can truly claim to be the only real MMP party in that their Parliamentary existence is entirely dependent on getting above the 5% party vote barrier, with no electorate seat safety net to fall back on (Act used to claim that it was the only real MMP party but its negligible share of the party vote means that it is now entirely dependent on Hide retaining his electorate seat). The Greens have carved out a niche in the NZ political spectrum (albeit one that has never managed to attract 10% of the vote in any election, sometimes hovering perilously close to 5%) and in the absence of any real Leftwing party in Parliament, their continued presence is vital. I admire their forbearance as they continue to go it alone after being rejected and used as a doormat by Labour for nine years. And Green MPs, particularly the likes of Keith Locke, are prepared to play a full role in the parliament of the streets, in the campaigns of all manner of activist groups (for many years now Keith has played an active role at the Waihopai spybase protests organised by the Anti-Bases Campaign). In that aspect alone, they provide a conspicuous contrast to MPs of the other parties.

From my perspective as a political activist, having a National government in power makes my job easier, as they are the traditional enemy. All the people who hibernate during Labour governments because “we musn’t do anything to help National get into power” suddenly rediscover their activist zeal when it does. This Tory government is headed by a smiley faced, seemingly inoffensive sort of fellow (he’s obviously studied how Tony Blair projected himself), who has started off with some tactically clever “inclusive” moves. But it won’t take long for National, let alone Act, to revert to type. Then watch the old proverbial hit the fan (and for the Maori Party to cop the most splatter). We are in for interesting times and CAFCA will be in the thick of it.

ENDS

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