An Open Letter to the NZ Labour Party

Reverend Francis RitchieMiscellany58 Comments

Image Credit: Electoral Commission

Disclaimer: This letter is not connected in any way to any of the organisations/entities I serve and am connected with. It is my own personal opinion and I am speaking as myself. It is also not an indication of any personal connection to any political party. I am not a member of any party and view my role as a Christian minister as one that compels me to be as non-partisan as possible even though I, like many, do have leanings towards particular views. To see what informs my political views, read this. This particular letter is written in the interest of strong democracy and with that in mind, the need for a strengthened opposition to keep the government accountable (that is the purpose of the opposition) and the fact that I see a gap for a certain sector of New Zealand voters that needs to be recognised.

Dear New Zealand Labour Party,

I’m not sure if this is the best time to be offering any thoughts to you as I’m sure it still hurts after Saturday night – especially since you have lost some good colleagues, but I wish to share some thoughts. I am not affiliated with any party so this is not coming from a winner who is gloating or a loser who wishes to play any sort of blame game. Please hear this with the generous heart it comes from and the desire to see the current opposition strengthened.

On Saturday New Zealand spoke. In so doing, our nation declared the National Party to be their preferred governing party by a clear margin while your party suffered one of the worst defeats ever. There will be much dissecting going on to work out what happened. The worst of it already involves some talking about vote rigging and vitriol about the nature of New Zealand voters such as not caring about the poor, being selfish and it goes on. There’s blame of the media happening and, inevitably, Kim Dotcom is being held up as the reason for the left’s poor showing. Some will dismiss the Labour defeat by pointing to the MMP system and the ‘left block’ but even that did not fare so well. Others will point to Labour’s recent revolving leadership and talk about factional fighting – political blood may well be spilled with this in mind. There will be those that point to a lack of working more closely with the Green Party and others will point to working too closely with them. In among it all I would like to offer my own humble thoughts – simply because I think that in the interest of our nation, it is important for you to be a strong party. New Zealand needs a functioning, cohesive opposition in order for our democracy to be healthy and to keep the government accountable to working in the interests of all New Zealanders, and the facts are that National won’t govern forever so you need to be a healthy party for that time when you are, again, the government.

I’m going to begin with a bold statement and then make my case from there. I believe New Zealand is more socially conservative than many in the political and media realm realise. I believe that was reflected in the vote. Putting aside economics, social conservatives could vote for National, New Zealand First, Conservatives, United Future and the Maori Party and not feel like they were acting contrary to their value system. Whether those places are truly socially conservative is a matter for discussion, but the perception is that if you are socially conservative, there is a place in those parties for you.

National has done a good job of creating a broad umbrella where social conservatives and social liberals can live side by side and both feel validated within the party. The same goes for their economic conservatives and liberals. Labour used to be able to do the same – that is no longer the case. Labour used to be a place where social conservatives and social liberals could co-exist around an agreed economic direction in terms of welfare and job creation. They also largely agreed on health and education direction. It was a party for the working class and the working class combines both social conservatives and liberals. But ask yourself, where does an economically center-left social conservative who agrees with things like free access to health and education now go to find a political home? The answer is that there is no such place.

Whether it is palatable or not to those within the party and whether it is accurate or not, Labour is seen to be the party who drove through prostitution law reform, civil unions, gay marriage, the so-called ‘anti smacking law’ and it is seen as the major party that has and would liberalise abortion policy. Accurate or not, it is also perceived as the party that would push other things such as euthenasia and gay adoption. Now, each of these represents contestable ideas and I’m not offering an opinion in any direction on any of them, but ask yourself, if you were a social conservative on any of those issues, how comfortable has it been to exist within Labour? None of those issues are the ‘core business’ of Labour but they are the very things that have driven away social conservatives. Labour MPs who have spoken out against those issues or expressed their unease over them have seemed to be the odd ones out and very often maligned even though those MPs completely align with Labour’s roots.

In short, Labour has ostracised socially conservative center-left voters because it has gone boots and all into issues that are not its core business. The question needs to be asked, what does Labour stand for? Labour then needs to truly stand for that without distraction on issues that are not its core business. Many center-left social conservatives yearn for a political home that allows their views to be heard without being maligned. Many of them are either not voting or they’re uncomfortably voting for parties they feel represent and value their social views even if they don’t completely line up economically or on health and education. It’s happening because they believe that those social values trump their other views.

Labour has an opportunity to get back to its working class roots – to represent the workers and their families (health and education are vital to their well-being) – both socially conservative and liberal. That focus still resonates with Kiwis. The question is, are you able to get there or is the party too bogged down in factional fighting between activists representing their own interest groups rather than truly hearing the voice of the wider New Zealand public?

I have a lot of respect for you and your hard working MPs, as I do for National and its MPs. You have an opportunity to gain the nation’s respect, and again build a movement around Labour’s core business that captures the imagination of New Zealanders (both socially conservative and liberal) rather than a cobbled together coalition of special interest groups that continually internally fight with each other. Please take the opportunity.

I offer no thought on leadership contests within the party as I think the issues go deeper than that.

I watch with interest to see what path Labour takes in the coming months and years. I pray for the good of our country, the good of our government and the good of the opposition that needs to keep it accountable. I pray that all of our elected representatives would lead with wisdom, honesty, and integrity. May you be fulfilled in what you do and may you represent our nation well.

Reverend Francis Ritchie

  • Macsbox

    A couple of Labour party bods came to the door a week before the last election (2017) and asked me if I had thought who I was going to vote for. I replied, “Definitely not Labour! I think Abortion, homosexuality, euthanasia, etc are abominations, and yet these are the very things you guys are all for.” One replied, “Well that’s an opinion.” I would never consider Labour as an option for this very reason… nor the Greens…

    • Macsbox, if those issues were out of the picture are Labour or the Greens parties that you would consider voting for?

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  • elcalebo

    Thinking about this still more, my views have somewhat crystallized and simplified:

    I think NZers want to be open and nice and tolerant, but they also don’t want to be one of the people on the edge pushing for social change – they consider those people PC tall poppies taking themselves too seriously etc.

    They’re proud we gave women the vote first, but they would have opposed the suffragettes at the time (not that they’d admit that, of course). They want to be able to oppose men’s violence against women while also extolling Kiwi rugby-beer-blokeyness – and they certainly don’t want anyone saying violence is so tied up with Kiwi masculinity that he’s “sorry for being a man right now.” They don’t like sexists or bigots, but they also don’t like feminists or queer activists. They want to be able to vote for gay marriage while also being able to make fun of someone for wearing a “gay red shirt.” Etc etc.

    And John Key represents precisely that cognitive dissonance. Labour don’t.

    What do you think, Frank?

  • elcalebo

    Thanks, Frank, for your general response, which addressed a lot of what i said. I guess something else I’m wondering is: what, in practice, would it look like for Labour to be more open to social conservatives (while not shutting out social liberals/radicals)?

    Most of the socially liberal stuff they do is private members’ bills with conscience votes; e.g. the removal of gender restrictions on marriage, which – if I’m remembering rightly – roughly 90% of Labour MPs voted for, 50% of National, 100% of Greens and 0% of NZ First. Putting the brakes on such private members’ bills for a while would seem to be shutting out the social liberals. But perhaps you’re suggesting Labour should work towards being a party that has roughly equal numbers voting for or against such bills, like National has become? Is there a place for Labour being more social liberal than National? So maybe 1/2 of National MPs vote for gay marriage now, and 2/3 of Labour – and Labour claim this while still showing that they’re open to the other 1/3? I think Labour would actually already be keen to be more open to such people, e.g. in the Pacific community… they could perhaps do more to promote this, like perhaps promoting Pacific MPs to high leadership positions (rather than just debating which white males – or perhaps white female Adern – will be their next leaders). Actually getting more social conservative people in their caucus relies on people actually signing up for the Labour list, and being qualified etc… and it seems the vast majority of people signing up for the Labour list are social liberals (and it depends on election results as well. They’re basically stuck with the current caucus for the next 3 years).

    It’s also complicated by the fact that Labour will realistically have to work with the Greens, and the Greens are (and probably always will be) more socially liberal than Labour and more scary to social conservatives (case in point: backlash against their abortion policy).

    So, even if we’re to concede your point, I think it will be difficult in practice for Labour to do anything about it.

    It’s also complicated by the fact that the NZ electorate on the whole is quite socially liberal and getting more so. National becoming more socially liberal (and Key, Maurice Williamson etc. voting for gay marriage) seems to have been met with more approval than disapproval among NZers. Though perhaps you wouldn’t agree with this last point.

    • It’s quite simple really – while all of the problematic bills for social conservatives were private member bills that came down to conscience votes, Labour did a poor job of demonstrating that. It needs to make it very clear that they are private member bills and that they are conscience votes. The party leader would do well to, when asked, not state which way they are going to vote on such things with the messaging that this is their position so as not to influence their MPs. It would also be worthwhile positioning a few social conservatives on the front bench (easier now than it was before) so that it can be seen that the party has room for both. This would not shut down the social liberals as their voice is just as valid, but would show that the party has room to disagree on some matters while coming together on other issues that are at the core of what the party is about – unless it decides that such issues are at its core. Their choice of party leader is going to be critical as they need someone can demonstrate a broad umbrella approach and who will be willing to promote some of the social conservatives even if they disagree with them. Such an approach doesn’t exclude working with the Greens.

    • elcalebo

      OK, fair enough and I agree… but I don’t know if the that rather subtle change will actually be picked up on by the general public – as you say, it’s about perception.

      You mention Labour’s choice of leader. Well, if we’re talking about how to implement your suggestions in practice, the other problem is who these socially conservative leadership candidates actually are in practice. Here’s a couple who’ve put their hands up (one more seriously than the other): http://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/10529753/Labours-Steve-Gibson-takes-swing-at-Cunliffe and http://thedailyblog.co.nz/2014/09/25/why-cunliffe-should-probably-just-let-nash-robertson-win/

      One is the new Aaron Gilmore, and the other is a guy suspected of being an “inside source” attacking Cunliffe for taking a three-day holiday, and is also suspected of hiring Lusk and Slater (they certainly speak highly of him) to help him win his electorate. Even putting those suspicions aside, he campaigned exclusively to win his own electorate, which is selfishness and/or a fundamental misunderstanding of good MMP strategy (this is good: http://thestandard.org.nz/labour-obviously-never-worked-out-mmp/ ). And he only won his seat because the incumbent retired and Garth McVicar (from the least-aptly-named think-tank in NZ) signed up and split the right vote.

      Apparently Shearer is also thinking of having another go, but the man simply does not have the basic skills to articulate a political vision or even make a speech or answer a question without breaking off mid-sentence… let alone debate the extremely talented Key. Cunliffe did very well in the debates against Key – perhaps Robertson could do just as well but I don’t know if anyone else in the current caucus could.

      The other main candidate is Grant Robertson who’s gay so would presumably be bad news for your suggestions, no matter how open and gracious he is to colleagues and voters who think his marriage should be invalid. Then there’s the other outside possibilities – Andrew Little, who – in stark contrast to Nash – has ruled himself out because he doesn’t have a mandate, Jacinda Adern, an urban liberal young woman, and the bookish academic David Parker who apparently pulled out of the leadership contest in 2011 because he didn’t want the media focusing on how he started going out with Chris Knox’s ex in the wake of Knox’s stroke. I guess Nash is the best option according to your theory, but he’s untested, worryingly concerned for his own career, and also (apparently) to the right of Labour on the economic spectrum, which you don’t seem to support.

      On another note… in my previous comment I too-simply equated social conservatives with Pacific Island members. Actually it looks like the social conservatives making rumblings in caucus are more likely to be blokey “un-PC” white guys. Interestingly, it seems Pacific Islanders and Maori are disproportionately numbered among Cunliffe’s supporters in caucus, while blokey white guys (plus Kelvin Davis) good at winning their local seats rather than the party vote are disproportionately among his opposition ( http://jononatusch.wordpress.com/2014/09/24/the-labour-numbers-game/ ). And there are liberals and conservatives on both sides (e.g. Louisa Wall and Su’a William Sio on one side, Grant Robertson and Damien O’Connor on the other). I guess Labour internal politics is even more complicated than social and economic political spectra…

    • elcalebo

      Basically a summary of all my rants here is to say that “social conservative” is a complicated category. Do you mean:
      a) Personally ethical – long-term partner, high integrity etc;
      b) Christian and opposed to some of what Family First is opposed to; or
      c) “Blokeish” and able to appeal to the mythical un-PC “working man” who used to vote Labour until neo-liberalism?

      I guess you’re talking about (b) and perhaps (a) while other pundits are talking about (c). And I guess I shouldn’t have confused those matters.

      But this brings us full circle to my first comment. I still think there are hardly any people who genuinely support left-wing economics, but vote right (or don’t vote) because they prioritize social conservativism over left-wing (more accurately: not-as-far-right-as-National) economics. Most social conservatives seem to be right-leaning on economics. I do know socially conservative, economically left-leaning Christians, but most of the ones I know still vote Green, and it seems most of the ones in South Auckland still vote Labour, because they (quite rightly) prioritise economic justice and the environment over imposing conservative “Christian” personal ethics on everyone else.

    • ” I still think there are hardly any people who genuinely support left-wing economics, but vote right (or don’t vote) because they prioritize social conservativism over left-wing (more accurately: not-as-far-right-as-National) economics.”

      At the end of this, that’s the bit that matters. If you fundamentally disagree with that central premise of what I have written then this will go back and forth for a very long time 🙂

      In terms of who I’m talking about – it would be a mix of a, b, and c. These things are never clear cut. I’m contending that whether they’re well thought through or not, there is a bigger socially conservative vein running through our country than many realise.

      I don’t think there is a mass of such voters, but I think there are enough to make a difference. And then there is a mass who I suspect couldn’t care less either way but they want a party focused on issues that they think matter and would see much of the stuff that has gone on for a while now within the Labour party as a pointless distraction, so they’ll vote for whoever they think is concentrating on what they believe to be important.

      I agree that the leadership options right now are not strong.

      At the end of the day (to coin the PM’s popular phrase 😉 ) people can disagree as much as they like, but even at the end of such disagreements Labour still came out with only 24% of the vote. That’s where another wonderful phrase comes into play – if you always do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. A defense of the status-quo will keep the party exactly where it is. People may want to blame and lament the context – dirty politics, bias media etc – but the context is not going to change and every other party exists in the same context, all appealing to the public to vote for them. I also suspect, judging by the wider response I’ve got to this, that I’m more right than even I thought I was when I wrote the post 😉

    • That’s why any such subtle change should not be communicated with subtlety. It should be communicated loud and clear as a very intentional message.

    • elcalebo

      I definitely don’t want to support Labour’s status quo, but there are multiple options for how to diagnose what’s wrong with the status quo, and yours is just one of them – another is to blame the ABCs who either actively wanted to sabotage Labour under Cunliffe or were incompetent enough to have that effect with their actions.

      And there are multiple options for how to change the status quo – one of which is to give power to these very ABCs that caused the problem in the first place. I’m becoming increasingly worried that all this talk about social conservatism could become a smokescreen for the ECONOMIC right of the party to take over.

      I do think that one of the central messages of this election is that perception is what wins or loses elections… National one because of PERCEPTION that they’re good with money and have things under control while Labour and their allies would waste all our money and skyrocket debt and unemployment, Key is a strong leader who’s down-to-earth and a good bloke while Cunliffe is tricky and smug, National represent a sensible centre-right option for all NZers while the left is a bunch of far-left crazies who can’t work together, Labour are divided and don’t represent the regular people, National were the victims of smear campaigns rather than the purveyors of them, etc. Some of these perceptions have a basis in truth but many do not, but it’s not truth or falsehood that matters for votes; just that that perception exists. This makes me feel pretty cynical about politics, but I probably should have already known that.

      So Labour certainly do need to think about how to improve their perceptions. They definitely need to become genuinely united somehow. And they need to stop making moral stands that despite being right (e.g. the gender quota, connection of domestic violence with gender socialisation), will not be perceived well by the public via our frankly terrible mainstream media. If they want to make unpopular moral stands they should be in a minor party rather than trying to continue being one of the two biggest parties (incidentally this is why I’ll always support minor parties). Or, if So anyway, there should probably be consensus on that stuff. But as for the other questions about whether they should tack left or right on social & economic issues, I honestly don’t know.

      By the way, Morgan Godfrey has been tweeting some very interesting stuff on the assumption that Maori and Pacific people are social conservatives: https://twitter.com/MorganGodfery . See particularly this: http://www.researchnz.com/pdf/Media%20Releases/RNZ%20Media%20Release%20-%202011-07-12%20Same%20sex%20marriages.pdf which shows that Maori/Pacific people supported same-sex marriage more strongly than Pakeha people in 2011 (admittedly they’ve lumped these two groups into the same category and there may be differences between them). He’s also pointed out that Louisa Wall – lesbian and Maori – safely won her seat along with the Labour party vote in her South Auckland electorate.

  • Alan withy

    You are on the button regarding socially conservative voters to which description I plead guilty. I am no single issue voter, but I am interested in the values the parties generally promote and Labour has sure ostracised those who look for moral conservatism over recent years.

  • Steve Stirrat

    Kia ora Francis. I have read your suggestions but I have one question for you. Can you give a logical answer to why you dont believe you can belong to a political party?

    • Thanks for asking, Steve. It’s a personal decision rather than something official and it may change sometime. Right now I feel a need to be non-partisan so that, as a minister, I can rightly speak to all sides of the political spectrum without it being assumed that what I’m saying is simply being said because of a particular party affiliation. I want to be able to speak with integrity and not be sidelined with an accusation of bias because of party membership. I’d be interested in your perspective on it.

    • Steve Stirrat

      Kia ora Francis,
      Your non partisan position seems to me like a cop-out. I cant imagine Christ ever taking such an approach – the money lenders would never have thrown out of the temple!

    • I see what you’re saying, Steve, but one can still be ‘prophetic’ without being a member of a political party – in fact, not being a member of a particular party allows you to openly and publicly challenge any political leaders for their actions and to do so from a place of integrity that isn’t aligned with any specific interests. Does that position make sense to you? It’s not about being non-political (I’m definitely political), it’s about not being officially aligned to one particular party.

    • Steve Stirrat

      Time for full disclosure. I am an atheist. I am also an active member of the Labour Party. Neither of these positions deny me the right or opportunity to speak across the political spectrum. You seem to suggest that once you join a political party your thinking must align exclusively with that party. But perhaps this is at the root of your original treatise? Perhaps this suits social conservatism – blind adherence to dogma.

    • Are you suggesting I am crippled by blind adherence to dogma? If so, I was tracking with you until that point. 🙂

    • And I should point out that you being an atheist doesn’t change the conversation for me at all.

  • Chris Blackington

    I agree broadly with what you have said. Personally I find the liberalism (nihilism) of all the parties disturbing and distasteful, but Labour and their detestable friends in the Gween party frankly make me sick.

  • Romans 1:16

    Thanks for your letter Francis. It was an interesting & sobering read. Your letter, coupled with Josh Moore’s release today I think captures what a lot of people are thinking right now re: Labour but re: politics in general. I am a Pacific Islander, live in South Auckland, solicitor by trade, work for a very left leaning liberal NGO, own small businesses, work in a political environment but have no political affiliations, and a Bible-believing believer! The contest of ideologies & world views I am faced with in daily life is sometimes chaotic. But there is definitely a shift, at least amongst some Pacific people, away from Labour because of their liberal social agenda in recent times. Over 200,000 of the 300,000 Pacific people in NZ are now born in NZ. The support Labour once had from the Pacific communities still exists to some degree…but it is constantly being eroded. I truly believe socially conservative voters are looking for political options, both within the Pacific community and others. Thanks again. Manuia lava!

    • Fa’afetai tele lava! I’m really grateful for you taking the time to comment. I have no doubt you’re not alone and it may very well be the Pacific community that causes a big rethink around what I’ve pointed to.

  • Ian Mc Innes

    With about 2,350,000 kiwis turning out to vote & some 700,000 having not, nearly 25% choosing not to, until that 25% looks more like 10% i’m not sure if anyone can really say we have a result. Why? If the political system & its policies in NZ has disenfranchised 1/4 of its clientele then re-claiming their hearts & minds, that has to be any democracies top priority because its never the rich/affluent that become disenchanted but those that feel so trampled under foot by successive governments that such people feel powerless in so many ways (culminating in ‘giving up’ & not voting) when the success of a democracy hinges on its inclusiveness, not its capacity to alienate which really is just another way of stating the obvious cliche “divide & conquer’ which is the antithesis of democracy & the adage used by too many dictatorial types to, or having, crushed their opponents spirits and broken them! The question has to be asked “WHAT IF” another 500,000 votes had been garnered? I, like most, am a centrist of some form so I push no agenda but that’s where the present Opposition parties need to think & re-think (not whose the leader issues) as we are well aware that the ‘right’ were motivated to vote to their full extent.

    • Brown

      In respect of non voters I suspect there are really only two sorts. The first will be a large number who can’t be bothered – the left seem to think these are their voters and they would romp home if they could motivate the lazy. This group should be ignored.

      The second will be a smaller group who care but feel there is no-one representing them or that the political system is so fatally corrupted it should not be supported. I fit into this second group. I could argue I’m in the world but not of it. I’m happy to be ignored by politicians but that doesn’t mean I don’t care about the direction of the country.

  • Debbra Dixon

    Some very interesting conversation here, I think the result on Saturday showed that most NZer’s are uncomfortable with the social decline happening here, hence the move toward NZF and the conservatives as an alternative to a National vote. It had nothing at all to do with labour or the greens at all , or how there campaigns went or who there leaders were. I believe NZer’s were angry with all the dirty politics , and yes dot com did more harm than good, why would any hard working NZer listen to a spoilt rich man who’s idea of fun is to rip up a golf green ???. We want a stable and socially moral govt, with sound policy. WE have a great people and a great country, and most NZer’s are hard working and a compassionate , we head the world in the amount of giving we do and helping others, because we care, and yes we want to see our own people better off. Helping others is not always about handouts, the popular saying goes ” give a man a fish, feed him for a day, but show him how to fish and feed him for a life time “. I think this is how we have voted this time

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  • In response to some of the valid critique to what I have said:

    1) I have not stated that Labour was at the forefront of some of the social issues I have mentioned, what I have talked of is perception and in this day and age perception is everything. Whether those things actually came from Labour or were party policy as opposed to coming from individual members is not a distinction many people make – perception is king. Also, this perception has existed since Helen Clark, but nothing has been done to address it – it started to shift with David Shearer to something more inclusive of social conservatives – not because of any radical change, but simply because of personality perception. I have not made this case sooner because I do not believe it would have been heard.

    2) I am not asking for a major party shift to social conservatives in a way that shuts out social liberals, nor that social conservatives will flock to Labour if it embraced a broader umbrella where they felt validated, but there is enough of a center-left, socially conservative constituency for it to make a difference.

    3) Please be clear, I am not making a case for or against any of the specific social shifts I mentioned. I would be socially conservative on some of them and not others. I am representing a wider voice that I believe exists and that wants to vote for Labour but doesn’t feel welcomed.

    4) New Zealand First has been offered as the option for center-left social conservatives by some in response to what I have stated. My first question would be, does Labour really want to only represent social liberals and does it truly consider itself to be such a party? If so, more power to them. If the answer is no, and it wants to have broad appeal with both social liberals and social conservatives then my argument stands and something needs to be done to shift perception. On New Zealand First, it may be true, but again, perception is everything and Winston sells his party as a political entity that could go either way and hitches that perception to whatever is advantageous to the political realities of whatever is happening at election time. NZ First is not solidly perceived as center-left by the general public though it’s policies plant it in that area. That may shift in time once Winston moves on.

    • sifter

      I guess that in suggesting that that a social liberal agenda may not be Labour’s core business, you have to ask yourself how far Labour will get without social liberals, who now have other pretty solid voting options on the left. Does Labour need gays, lesbians, feminists and other liberal women, anti-violence & children’s rights advocates and so on? How far would Labour have come without them? Do you know what they have contributed to Labour’s history? These people are reliably very firm in their support for labour rights, though those who advocate for labour rights are by no means as reliable in reciprocating that support. Whether you’re talking about distancing from these people in policy or in ‘perception’ only, you’re making a big call by suggesting they are expendable. In fact I’d say that the working class as a whole no longer advocates as reliably for labour rights and welfare issues as these people do. So – you can try suggest decoupling economic and social justice issues if you want – I can only say good luck to Labour if they agree with you.

      (As for you not necessarily having a particular stance on these issues, it really doesn’t matter, and in fact seems a bit of a red herring. I respect your civility, but you have written an open letter, as a minister of a church, to a major party suggesting that they strategically pick up votes from your approximate constituency, by abandoning action, or the appearance of action, which suggests social liberalism. That is an agenda in action. Please know that the issues you are writing about – “prostitution law reform, civil unions, gay marriage, the so-called ‘anti smacking law’… abortion policy” are not abstract gestures of ideology for those the affect. They are tangible quality of life issues which very often have economic impacts as well as impacts on safety and justice.)

  • Reallycoolalias

    Mate, you just nailed it! Thanks for the article.

  • If there is nothing broken, there is nothing to fix. Simple as that. I have become so sick of the word poverty. It was just used to grab votes, but look at The Greens and Labour. It didn’t work. Poverty is about life choices. Pick what you spend money on wiser and think about where you live. The Governments role isn’t to feed the whole population. People on 6 figure salaries aren’t bad people. Who else is sick of talking about Auckland ?

    • elcalebo

      Evidence and research contradict your comment at many points.

  • elcalebo

    Oh and also (much shorter response) a party does exist that more or less fits your criteria: NZ First.

  • elcalebo

    I don’t think your distinction between your explanation and others’ “vitriol” or “blame games” really holds water; in fact I think it’s an unfair rhetorical ploy on your part. These and your blog are all in the same category: explanations for Saturday’s election results. Well, two categories to be precise: implausible explanations (e.g. vote rigging) and plausible explanations.

    And I’d definitely put your explanation in the latter category, but I don’t know if it’d make the top 10.

    I don’t think there are as many American-style social conservatives (ie: social conservatism is the most important consideration in voting) in NZ as it can seem like there are from hanging around evangelical Christians a lot.

    There’s definitely a bloc of about 3-4% who float around looking for someone to vote for and show their face most clearly when they all vote together; e.g. Christian Coalition in 1996, United Future in 2002, Conservative Party in 2014. But I think most of them are economically right-wing or don’t care about economics and are happy to accept the post-neo-liberalism “common sense” represented by National.

    I don’t know if there are that many people in NZ who fit these particular criteria:

    – Economically left-leaning (or more accurately in 2014: Has at least some reservations from a leftward direction about the neo-liberalism-with-a-slowly-withering-away-welfare state represented by National);
    – “Socially conservative;”*
    – Would love to vote for a party that reflects both of the above;
    – But would, if push came to shove, choose social conservatism over economic left-leaning.

    Personally (not that my personal experience is scientific) I know of far more people who are in the first three of the above categories but – when push comes to shove – prefer to vote for economic justice than social conservatism. For an example from the public record, see John Watson’s article “Which party would God vote for?” in the Herald recently.

    There are no doubt some in all four of the above categories, such as people who were scared away from the Greens by their abortion policy. Though my impression was that most of the people who opposed that policy or wrote it off too quickly without giving it proper consideration were already extremely far from voting Green (cf. Andy Moore the “libertarian” ultra-capitalist). I’m not sure what the numbers would be for people who are in the above four categories and have abandoned Labour because of it.

    In any case, you would think that the bulk of people in this category would have left Labour (and the Greens) in the Clark years when conservatives called her a “mannish lesbian” and most of the liberal identity politics you mention took place. Not a lot has changed since then apart from gay marriage (which John Key and half of National supported), and a few things that admittedly played pretty badly in the mainstream media and may have done some further damage (the so-called “man ban,” “I’m sorry for being a man” etc) but also likely gained some support (everyone I know who’s aware of basic gender dynamics gained a lot of respect for Cunliffe’s connection between domestic violence and the way we construct masculinity, and likewise for the gender quota which is vastly superior to National’s 70-80% male statistics). In fact Cunliffe’s tried (though not succeeded very well) to put economic justice back in central place in Labour’s platform, and also tried to appeal to populist nationalism to some extent by opposing foreign farm sales.

    Anyway, the Clark government had three election victories and three terms in office during which United Future and NZ First temporarily gained in support (when National declined) and then dropped, and only National (who were admittedly more socially conservative then than they are now) came back.

    I suppose the stats could partly reflect a social conservative turn from Labour in their 2008 drop from 41.1 to 34%. But this was at the end of a three-term government, when most parties lose. It is true that one of the biggest talking points against them in that election was “nanny state.” But that talking point took aim at a mix of economically left and socially liberal policies, and is not itself a straightforwardly socially conservative criticism, because of course social conservatives want to have an even stronger hand in people’s private lives. It’s more of a libertarian/liberal-individualist criticism and I think that’s why it was successful; because liberal/neo-liberal individualism is the socio-economic philosophy on the ascendency in NZ. Anyway, Labour also dropped to 27.5% in 2011 and 24.7% (before special votes) in 2014, and see above about them not becoming significantly more socially liberal in those years.

    I think we can see from 2002, 2011 and 2014 that when a popular government is re-elected and the opposition is unpopular and not likely to win, more economically centrist (or at least alternative) third parties like NZ First, United Future and the Conservatives rise. These parties are more socially conservative than Labour and – these days – even more so than National. But I don’t know if that can be considered the whole or chief reason these third parties increase in the polls in these years.

    I do think that Labour lost the mythical “working man” over the neo-liberal betrayal in the 80s and then, perhaps, focusing on social liberalism rather than significantly supporting the working class during the Clark government. But winning this “working man” back isn’t so easy as simply tacking to the right on social issues. I think neo-liberalism also destroyed the left-wing consciousness of the “working man” and of NZers in general. That’s the bigger problem. Labour have to choose between supporting their traditional philosophy, which has been largely destroyed in the mainstream voter by neo-liberalism, or being not that different from National on economics. The Clark government largely chose the latter, along with a focus on social liberalism. And it actually played pretty well in NZers because they were perceived as more politically and economically competent than National. That’s changed now.

    * By “socially conservative” I’m basically meaning fitting at least one of these descriptions: (a) opposes abortion to the extent of supporting prohibition or at least worrying about a legalisation policy that sounds like it’s implying abortion is something that doesn’t matter, (b) typically thinks sex is best kept in marriage; (c) gender essentialist to the extent of favouring some kinds of gender restrictions – which may express itself in opposition to feminism and support for gender stereotypes, opposition to gay marriage, and/or a general sentiment that people are less moral for the fact of being gay or transgender; (d) reasonably comfortable with the Pakeha-dominated ethnic status quo in NZ – which may express itself in resistance to too much Maori language/culture/social customs being “forced on the rest of us” or too many “special rights” for Maori; and/or opposition to too much immigration, especially from places culturally different from British/Pakeha culture.

  • sifter

    I’d say just as many, if not more, are alienated by Labour’s history of major breaches of trust on matters of economic fairness and social justice – the betrayals of Rogernomics, the Foreshore and Seabed legislation, etc. The NZ you see, as a minister, may be consistently socially conservative, but that’s not all of us. Many feel the tensions in the party’s varied constituencies as a lack of cohesion and vision. The conclusion that the majority of missing voters therefore want the same from the party as you seems somewhat one-eyed. NZ First tends economically left and socially right – why not direct your interests there?

    • Thanks for your input, Sifter. I’m always grateful for people taking their time to engage in these sort of conversations. Please note, I’m not talking about the majority of voters even though I think there is an underestimation of social conservatism in New Zealand right now. I’m also not expressing my own views on the social issues I’ve mentioned. As stated in my latest comment I hold varying views on those where I would be socially conservative on some and not others. For a bit more, if you like, you can read my latest comment which I have featured at the top of this thread.

  • jake

    Hey Francis, I don’t agree that people aren’t voting for Labour because of moral issues. I think it is largely based on two factors: 1. General impression. Public have the impression of a weak messy party that doesn’t know what it is doing and has problems within. John key on the other hand has very successfully sold the impression of a strong, stable party that know what they are doing. 2. Foundation and target market. Labour doesn’t have the support it had because the country has changed a lot, Labour needs to identify it’s new target market and win their support over the next three years. Labour needs to start again and rebuild . David Cunliffe is a great leader and I hope he can lead this massive transition.

    • Thanks for your contribution , Jake. Thanks for taking the time to comment. I appreciate it.

    • Brown

      I think Jake misses a key point in Labour’s demise. National has replaced it in the centre left (which annoys many on what would be called the right). Finding and winning a target market in a mature market is difficult – Its possible Labour are dead in the water because the very reason for their existence no longer exists in a fashion that allows them to feed off it. We have learned to be self indulged without politicians telling us we need to indulge them as well.

      An opposition will arise when we need it but its clear the left are not what we need at present as National already sit there. Opposition may well arise on the right of where we are. My left friends remain of a view its the voter’s fault because voters just don’t understand. It made Sunday morning tea quite interesting with my smirk not helping.

    • sifter

      Sorry, but promises to slash welfare, cut health and education budgets, shift school funding to unregulated schools, introduce prison labour, keep selling assets, endow multinational corporations with local legislative power – whether you are thinking socially or fiscally, none of these things are ‘centre left’. Keep smirking if you like, but your bubble is smaller than you think.

    • lily

      honestly I don’t see much difference between National and Labour. I don’t think anything would’ve changed if labour became the government, people would still find something to complain about and that’s why I didn’t vote labour or national and went with the greens. Labour would find themselves facing the same debt and probably end up doing the same as national. John Key is the best we’ve got and I’m not even a huge fan of him, but labour was at it’s best with Helen Clark, she was smart and well organised.

  • Alex

    You have absolutely hit the nail on the head. One of the main reasons for me leaving the Labour Party a few years ago was because they had alienated the working class (a class which I consider myself a part of) by adopting quite radical social liberal policies. As a moderate conservative on social issues, I no longer felt that Labour represented me. (Admittedly since then I’ve also moved economically to the right, but that’s another story.)

  • Yvonne Elliott

    Very well said. Yes we do need a healthy, balanced opposition for good government in our little nation. Please
    get your act together Labour.

  • Jason75

    My observation also. Labour used to be the party of the working man, with a few fringe groups. Now they’re the party of the fringe groups, which they split with the Greens. The working man has moved on.

    • sifter

      Who is actually articulating a vision for the ‘working man’ these days? Who has a plan for the ‘working man’ as more and more manual and low-skill labour gets automated and the job pool shrinks? No, it’s not Labour, but it’s not the parties on the economic right, either. Their primary concern is shovelling money into the pockets of the companies who are racing to that point of automation as fast as possible. And technology is moving fast – the days of many factory & supermarket jobs are numbered, and that’s just the beginning. Meanwhile, the economic right will keep minimum wages low and unions weak as possible while washing their hands of the jobless. The ‘working man’ might be more of a fringe group than you think.

    • Jason75

      Well if you limit the working man only to those in the low-skilled labour group we’re going to disagree.

      We are indeed a low wage economy, and we become moreso every time someone raises the minimum wage and puts more people onto it (for example, if the minimum wage was raised from $14.25 to $17, everyone now earning between $14.25 and $17 would now be on the minimum wage). The cost of living rises to match the new minimum wage, and we end up with more people struggling. Raising the minimum wage is not a solution. It’s part of the problem.

      We need high wage manufacturing jobs, yet nobody seems to have that as a goal. Part of the problem is China of course, they do have the logistics and the manpower to dominate every sector of production and, what’s worse, they’re content to import raw materials from countries like ours, and do the value adding there. They are, therefore, a bad market for us to be focused on selling to. We should be seeking free trade with countries who’ll want our manufactured products, not just our raw materials.

      We don’t need unions like Britain had in the 70s, who basically destroyed British industry (in combination with the greedy business owners). A better model comes from places like Germany, where unions and employers work together to ensure both good conditions for workers, and profitable enterprise for the companies.

  • Garth Spooner

    FRANKLY ITHINK THIS IS JUST ANOTHER CONSERVATIVE MINDED BLOG HERALDING THE INEVITABLE LIKEWHALEOIL.IFU DON’T HAVE A CONCISE PROPER SET OF POLICIES STAY OUT AND BUTT OUT.OH YES ALL GOVERNMENTS ALL HAVE SHADES OF THE HUMAN GENRE NOW SO GET USED TO IT THEY ARE HERE AND THEY WILL STAY ARE THEY ANY DIFFERENT HELL FLAMBOYANT BETTER THAN THOSE LAMBRAIN RIGHT WING ZEALOTS WHO WILL TAKE UR TAX AND USED 4 NOTHING ANOTHER YEAR OF HARDSHIP,STRIFE,MAYHEM,POVERTY,DEPRESSION STARTS NOW.BRINGONTHE TWO HEADED RED GREEN MONSTER AND TO HELL WITH THESE FASCISTS BXSTARDS.

    • Hi Garth, thanks for sharing your views. FYI, as has been noted elsewhere on this blog (it’s no secret), I was formerly (for a very short period) a Green Party member (I gave this up as I do not believe it is appropriate for me, as a Christian minister, to be a member of any political party). I am not, in any way, ‘like Whale Oil’ though those associated with Whale Oil are entitled to their views and approach. I am genuinely approaching this from a non-partisan position. I am not asking for social liberalism to be done away with in favour of social conservatism – I am venturing that Labour, as a party that positions itself as center-left, may wish to consider how it can be a broad umbrella for both social conservatives and liberals alike.

      Also, please watch how you talk about others here. I wish for the tone of this blog to be respectful.

  • SavetheBees

    Join the party then, the parties core business is what members want it to be. You raise some good points, if you want the party to improve join the party and work with it.

    • Thanks, SavetheBees. I completely understand your sentiment. I am a Christian minister so I do not see it as appropriate for me to join a political party (it’s a personal choice), but I am more than happy to be in conversation with those who may choose to listen to my thoughts no matter where they sit politically – not that I have an expectation that people should. Sharing my thoughts is doing something about it.

    • SavetheBees

      Yes sharing your thoughts is doing something, but to say a party is not focusing on core business when you dont belong to the party is abit on the nose.

    • Maybe – but the vote indicates that something has changed. There are plenty of people who have voted for Labour in the past who are not voting for them now. Something has changed and it’s likely that it’s not the views of all of those voters.

    • SavetheBees

      Voting for a party and belonging to a party are two different things. And you raised issues that members need to work on so others vote for them

    • Agreed. I’m merely an outsider offering an observation. Those in the party can choose to hear it and use it or disregard it. It’s entirely up to them 🙂

  • Mark Hangartner

    It comes down to how you define a progressive party. Your examples involve personal (conscience) votes although all were proposed by Labour or Green MPs: prostitution law reform, civil unions, gay marriage, the so-called ‘anti smacking law’ (removing the legal defence of “reasonable force” for parents prosecuted for assault on their children). This last bill was passed by 113 votes to 7. Not long ago (speech at Orewa 2004) … the dividing line in politics was racial, sometimes it was gender … (see John Tamihere). As far as I know for a policy to be adopted by the Labour party it has to pass through quite a number of hoops (each involving a democratic vote) – I guess you could join the party and propose a constitutional amendment to forbid private members bills which are socially liberal …

    • Thanks for your thoughts, Mark. I appreciate it. I’m not equipped to offer any solid way to address the problem I’ve noted and I don’t think it would be helpful to stifle democracy by shutting out socially liberal private members bills. To do so would be to also inhibit the democratic voice of social conservatives. Though that could be a way to hold the two together. Mostly I just wanted to highlight the problem so those charged with thinking about how to move forward have it in their frame of reference.

  • Andrew Harland-Smith

    I entirely agree with you Francis! This isn’t meant to contradict what you have said, but merely to offer that this is a problem that exists as much on the right as it does on the left. Many National Party supporters (such as myself) feel a slight sense of discomfort in voting for the Nats because their quietly growing social liberalism (i’m thinking for instance, of the way that John Key has voted on a number of moral issues)

  • A well-written article Frank …I absolutely agree with your assessment of Labour (and Green’s) woes … they have been governed by various agenda-driven groups (`tail wagging the dog’) over the last 15 years (yes, it started with Helen) and they are now paying the price big time … it will be hard for them to recover from this I fear … the Nats have the high ground and will remain in power as long as they listen to the voice of social conservatives (it should be noted that NZF and the Conservatives gained 14 % of the party vote), and they don’t give in to the push for more social engineering from the éft-leaning liberals

    • There is and should be a place for left-leaning liberals as well, even specific parties in the MMP system, but, in my view, Labour should be a able to hold together a broad coalition of social conservatives and liberals because its core business is something else.