In recent weeks, the demise of the last Labour government has been widely discussed. Most writers have focussed on a few central issues. However, when these issues are combined, it is a litany of failure.
Peter Dunne highlighted that Labour was already on the slide because of policy failures and because they achieved nothing before Covid-19 arrived to save them. This problem became evident during 2022. Labour’s policies were disliked by many. These included Three Waters, the new health authority, co-governance by stealth and the polytechnic failure.
It is interesting to discuss the mainstream media’s influence on Labour’s collapse. Chris Trotter has linked the curious demise of mainstream media to Labour’s demise. “The mainstream news media weren’t just complicit in Labour’s defeat: in many respects they were the cause of it.”*1 Trotter is correct when he asserts that “Following the formation of the Labour-NZ First coalition Government, and gathering momentum in the light of Labour’s extraordinary win in 2020, the MSM more and more came to resemble an adjunct to the ruling party. If Jacinda Ardern and her colleagues created the impression that their government was in the business of political transformation, then the MSM (with the obvious exception of NZME’s Mike Hosking) appeared to have adopted the role of transformer. On their pages and in their programming it was clear that the reasons for transforming New Zealand, and the means adopted for achieving that goal, would not be challenged in any meaningful way.”*2
MSM became complicit in the formation of the Journalism of Kindness and the attacks on anyone who might be seen as racists, sexists, homophobes, Islamophobes, or climate-change deniers. It was an attack on all of us, as espoused by the media in sync with a Labour government. They had become both woke and annoying.
Furthermore, there was the Public Interest Journalist Fund which to many people, came with strings attached. “Less generally known, but offering incontrovertible confirmation of just how supine the MSM had become, were the terms and conditions which the MSM had to accept before the money could flow. Proprietors and editors had to sign up to a frankly revolutionary definition of the Treaty of Waitangi’s meaning and acquiesce to its logical political implications. That all the major media enterprises ended up signing on the dotted line was astounding.”*3
Within the Labour caucus there was an equal fear to raise concerns about the government’s direction . As Philip Crump wrote, “Labour MPs recount in private that during the Ardern years, caucus was generally a time for genuflection and deference. Questions were routinely used by MPs and Ministers to praise and flatter the party leadership in a manner than one MP described as “North Korean.” On the rare occasion that MPs did try to raise concerns, they were brushed aside by Ardern amidst a chorus of “tsk tsk” and shaking heads.”*4
Chris Trotter adds a more nuanced reason as to how Labour got it so wrong. Something I have previously written about, but Trotter discusses this in more detail. As he has stated, Labour has managed to detach itself from its very base, the working class. “On paper, it should have been Rogernomics. After such a comprehensive betrayal of Labour’s working-class base it seemed impossible that all but the most mindless loyalists would continue to vote for the party. It was the conviction that underpinned Jim Anderton’s creation of the NewLabour Party – give the ordinary working-class voter an honest social-democratic party to vote for and Labour’s electoral base would shift en masse.”*5
Then “There had been other tests of working-class loyalty. The abortion issue had sorely tried the patience of Labour’s working-class Catholics of Irish descent in the 1970s. Homosexual law reform did the same, right across the Christian denominational spectrum, in the 1980s. Like the Springbok Tour of 1981, which had pitted young, mostly middle-class, university students and their liberal middle-aged mentors, against the rough-and-ready working-class lovers of Rugby, the struggle for gay rights was overlaid with an ill-disguised contempt for the morally deficient people its promoters were struggling against.”6
During the Springbok tour of 1981 as the white middle class revolted against the abhorrence of apartheid, Māori saw the contradiction in their own predicament and that Labour had in essence forgotten about them in this whole matter. It simply opened the door for “the radical quest for Māori sovereignty, and its central political demand – “Honour the Treaty”.”*7
It was at this point that Labour should have grasped what was happening. “…the moment at which Labour should have grappled with the political implications of Māori sovereignty and the Treaty, thrashing them out for good or ill, until its members, and (much more importantly) its voters grasped their meaning. But, that was not what Labour did. When confronted with policy remits requiring Labour to honour the Treaty of Waitangi, conference delegates and MPs nodded sagely and dutifully raised their hands in support. Very few understood that what they were receiving and passing-on was the political equivalent of a live hand-grenade, and that, one day, the pin of that hand grenade, either by accident or design, was going to be pulled out.”*8
One of the issues that arose from this was the foreshore and seabed matter. It was only Helen Clark’s hardnosed attitude to this contentious issue that stopped it spiralling out of control. “Clark’s effective nullification of the Court of Appeal’s decision, and her unequivocal assertion that the foreshore and seabed belonged to all New Zealanders, was sufficient to hold enough of Labour’s working-class vote to defeat Don Brash’s attempt to start what Act’s David Seymour is now promising to finish.”*9
The Ardern government had none of the hardnose approach of Helen Clark, or the wisdom to understand the implications of the He Puapua report on New Zealanders and the potential consequences co-governance on all people, let alone the working class. “Neither Ardern, nor her successor, Chris Hipkins, had the intellectual or ideological sophistication to argue either For or Against the revolutionary ideas contained in the He Puapua Report. Nor did they possess the courage to follow Helen Clark’s example of political intransigence.
‘’Labour made no case for co-governance because it couldn’t. For the previous 40 years it had put “all that Treaty stuff” into the too-hard, or the too-scary, basket. When the sovereignty hand grenade finally exploded, in the second term of the Sixth Labour Government, the best Labour could manage was to blame the resulting injury to the New Zealand body politic on the “racism” of the people whose votes it would need to go on governing.”*10
Thus, Labour was losing its voter base and much of New Zealand because of this. This was seen in how the Three Waters legislation became so hated. There was the failure of our education system, the draconian lockdown of Auckland and vaccine mandates that were applied long after they were needed. Even more problematic, was the locking out of New Zealand citizens from their own country. Layered on top of this was the suspect economic handling of Covid-19 and post Covid-19 that has helped create a financial and cost of living crisis that all New Zealanders are feeling. A matter Labour failed to call and recognise as a crisis, partly of their own making.
The issue of crime is another matter failed to be labelled a crisis by Labour, even when ramraids, robberies and attacks on shop owners were also spiralling uncontrolled. This was embedded in how the Asian community saw both a failure to protect them and deal with the issues before the country. “The clincher for many Indian immigrants in particular has been the ramraids, knife attacks and several murders of dairy proprietors around Auckland. Most immigrants everywhere have always possessed intelligence as well as a willingness to work. They could see that Labour’s educational policies were failing their children. Chris Hipkins told us all that his cabinet had no intention of holding parents to account for their failure to ensure children went to school, enabling more than 50% of Māori children, many as young as 12, to skip classes, join gangs, shop lift, and engage in outrageous ram raiding of immigrant-owned businesses. Immigrants could see, too, that our court system had degenerated to the point where there was little or no accountability for youth crime. Labour deserved its defeat…”*11
This long list of failures is both breathtaking and overwhelming in its enormity. It is equally staggering that Labour’s defeat at the election was not greater. It is now for a National led coalition to repair the country, but simple sound bites and slogans will not be enough. The next government must be visionary, prepared to make some hard decisions and bring the country together again. To ensure it is not seen as a thinly veiled version of Labour, as many commentators wish to believe, the new coalition must build the economy as it has stated it will, repair the fabric of our country, culturally, socially and above all, repair our failing education system. If they do not, then sending Labour to the wilderness will be a failure of us all.
*1 Chris Trotter (BFD): The Curious Demise of NZ’s MSM
*2 Chris Trotter (BFD): The Curious Demise of NZ’s MSM
*3 Chris Trotter (BFD): The Curious Demise of NZ’s MSM
*4 Philip Crump
*5 Chris Trotter (BFD): Losing the Working Class
*6 Chris Trotter (BFD): Losing the Working Class
*7 Chris Trotter (BFD): Losing the Working Class
*8 Chris Trotter (BFD): Losing the Working Class
*9 Chris Trotter (BFD): Losing the Working Class
*10 Chris Trotter (BFD): Losing the Working Class
*11 Michael Bassett – Hallelujah: First steps of Progress at Last