by Don Franks

In his September 24th post, “The election that left one third of us behind”, Bryan Gould put some basic questions:

“We have a pretty good idea of who the non-voters were. They were poor, often unemployed, poorly educated, with worse health than the rest of us, often brown-skinned, living in sub-standard housing and bringing up their children in poverty.

“Why did they not do at least something to ward off the changes promised by a re-elected National government? Are they really content with the prospect of a next three years that will see their rights at work severely curtailed, that will mean their being ‘moved off benefits’, that will produce further cuts in the public services on which they especially depend?

“How is it that the Labour Party has failed to engage with what many would see as their natural constituency?” Here’s how. As members of a liberal capitalist party, Labour candidates were concerned to get elected and govern in the interests of people like themselves, those with a stake in the system. Labour policies reflected this kaupapa.

Labour’s core election finance policy was to return greater budget surpluses than National, requiring further cuts to social spending. Labour ruled out removing GST – an anti-working class tax which Labour imposed in the first place.

Labour promised a beggarly $2 per hour increase in the minimum wage. Not enough to dent poverty – just a big enough crumb to keep faith with the union bureaucracy. This while increasing the pension age from 65 to 67 and forcing workers to pay more for their own retirement through a compulsory savings scheme.

Labour cut hundreds of millions of dollars from its alternative budget in response to the Treasury downgrading the country’s growth forecast.

Speaking recently to the Australian Financial Review, Cunliffe promised “An economic upgrade, based on investment, innovation and industry development”. He emphasised that Labour  would focus on paying off National’s debt and returning budget surpluses, which will inevitably mean further cuts to spending on social programmes.

So the best that could be said about Labour’s intended governing policy is that it might improve the economy, after which some benefits might possibly trickle down to the poor. Where have we heard that before?

In the middle of his post, Bryan Gould answered his own question. Low paid workers:

 “had no confidence that the political process took any account of their interests. They had ceased to believe anything that politicians said. They felt disengaged and confused, and convinced that there was nothing they could do to improve matters.”

When National and Labour talk seriously about voting demographics, all their talk is of how to win “the centre”. National and Labour have no interest in the marginalised poor, they don’t need their votes, so they don’t seek them.

No party standing in the election seriously sought votes from the very poor – except Mana. But, despite constant complaint about inequality, Mana had no radical internationalist programme for social change.

Creating such a programme and winning active workers’ support for it is the task crying out to be done.

Further reading:
The truth about Labour: a bosses’ party
Anti-working class to its core: the third Labour government, 1972-75


  1. Barrie says:

    I spent about 6-7 mind numbing hours watching the election day coverage on the major TV channels and their post-election coverage the next day (yes, I need a decent hobby). If there was any common theme that emerged in terms of the future of the Labour Party, it was the advice that they “seek the middle ground” and “avoid dealing with special interest factions”. During the election Cunliffe and his team went out of their way to differentiate themselves from National to the smallest degree they could manage and it did them no good. A ‘shift to the centre’ (not that there was evidence of any lefty policies anyway) is going to narrow that difference even more. Labour is definitely not a workers party and clearly all the talk out there is advising them to pay even less lip service to being one. Why would anyone in the future who is on minimum wage or unemployed buy into a bunch of career politicians who are explicitly admitting that they don’t want to serve their interests? To me the challenge is how to get those who didn’t vote out of apathy, to not vote out of a conviction that this system needs to be changed.

  2. PhilF says:

    I was very pleased that in the house I live in not one of the five adults voted. For the other four it was a question of just not believing that voting makes any difference – ie same as my view, although none of them are poltically active at all – so that was an interesting little sample.

    Today I was visiting a friend who’s in the Green Party. I found out that her son didn’t vote, although he kinda spoiled it a bit by saying that it was pure laziness on his part. However, his mum told me that he is interested in ideas, so I think his ‘laziness’ might have been a reflection of the lack of inspiring choices and/or lack of faith in parliament. My friend wasn’t at all bothered when I told her I hadn’t voted; she said she’d never not vote, but it was a legitimate choice given my views of the different parties. I put her onto the Otago University debate, in which I think Richard jackson and Bryce Edwards presented some good arguments for not voting.

    God, yes, the TV coverage was abysmal. No depth at all, and then a gushy John Campbell interview with John Key a night or two later.

    In relation to Labour, all the media are interested in are personalities, who are the challengers, how long can Cunliffe hang on. No interest at all in discussing actual politics. None of them seem at all interested in exploring in any depth the degree to which large chunks of the working class have moved away from Labour.


  3. Gordon says:

    This election, and the previous one, was not about parties, policies, and promises: it was about personalities. This is the age of celebrity politics; the reality show where you vote for your favourite leader. It was no accident that John Key’s face was on almost every National billboard, alongside the local candidate, or alone seeking the party vote. His Team Key strategy, although not subtle, was effective.

    With a dearth of quality journalism, the media resorted to slavish reporting of the party leaders’ press briefings and spoon-fed ‘scandals’ such as ‘dirty politics’ and ‘moments of truth’. I wonder how long it will be before Simon Cowell runs our general election on TV as ‘New Zealand’s Got Leaders’, and our next government is chosen by viewers text messaging their Leader choices over six weekly episodes.

    I believe this may well be the last time I vote.

    • Daphna says:

      You could be right about the Simon Cowell phenomenon! The Internet Party went down that path with their selection process. I thought it was a gimmick dressed up as innovation.
      There is a widely recognised trend in the West of political parties shrinking and people engaging less with them. It’s hard to see what way capitalism is likely to be shaken let alone transformed.
      Most social gains do come through movements on the streets or through the unions but these all leave the system in place, albeit modernised.

  4. Don Franks says:

    I think we need to think beyond not voting as soon as possible. Whatever the thought behind it, by itself, not voting has no more progressive effect than walking down to the booth and making a mark.

    To advance workers interests we need mass action, defiant of the law. That’s plainly what’s been needed and lacking down at Pike River.

    We’re in a generation of workers unused to winning, striking, solidarity, internationalism and revolutionary vision.

    Our class is scattered, uninspired, bullshitted, easily disposed of by Keys and Cunliffes.

    We need to work out some real actions that low paid overworked people will be inspired to join.

    It’s been done before, here and overseas.

    Helping try and help find and realise these sort of concrete actions is my immediate political goal.

  5. Peter says:

    Desperate optimist that I am, I did cast a vote – a tentative one for Internet Mana. It was tentative because I had severe reservations about the Internet Party, a bizarre conglomeration of anti-authoritarianism, digital capitalism, and old-school ineffectual social democracy (bit of a mouthful). Mana, of which I am a member, was and is an imperfect vehicle for radical social change, but I never doubted its sincere support for the working class and marginalised in New Zealand. Those of us who regard ourselves as socialists should at least concede this point.

    The problem for Mana – one that I have raised many times – is that it did not have an understanding of the capitalist beast, nor a guiding philosophy to defeat it. It instead pursued a policy of leftist reformism, which amounted at best to a sort of ‘pub socialism’ (Orwell, The Road to Wigan Pier), a genuine social democracy (as opposed to the liberal Labour) melded with Maori rights activism. Social democracy is a capitalist political philosophy, not a socialist one. This fact did not seem to have been acknowledged by Mana, except perhaps by the socialist wing (ISO, Fightback, etc), who seemed to be holding out hope that the party would morph into something more ideologically pure.

    While this may reek of intellectual arrogance, but theory and philosophy must precede action. Know your enemy, and how to fight him, before you thrash about wildly in the streets. I do not belittle the amazing activism of so many progressive movements, but with a theory for change, there can be no real change at all.

    My political consultancy Socialist Martyr Inc. can be found on all good blogs, and many of the terrible ones.

    • daphna says:

      In 2011 I voted Mana party vote and very happily voted for John Minto in my electorate. This year I had decided not to vote. Then on election day I almost cast a tentative vote for Internet Mana. When it became clear that Hone may lose the seat I toyed with the idea of voting IMP because I thought it was better to have some form of radicalism rather than none in the Beehive. I got to the polling booth and was really torn. In the end I spoiled my ballot. There were too many things I didn’t feel ok about with the IMP.

  6. PhilF says:

    I felt totally relaxed about not voting. I went to the local Farmers Market in the morning and spent a pleasant day in the sun, reading and listening to music. I watched the election results, switching between TV1 and TV3, but with a complete sense of detachment. It was like it was about another world, a strange parallel universe in which people are doped up and beaten about the head and told to vote for tweedle-dum or tweedle-dummer, as if there is some kind of qualitative difference between them and as if real power in society is decided by vote-casting.

    It felt good to be entirely separated from the circus.

    I’ve non-voted a number of times in my life – I was overseas during the 81, 84, 87, 90 and 93 elections but never tried to cast a special vote in any of those – I voted Alliance in 1996, didn’t vote in 1999 or 2002, in 2005 I either didn’t vote or I was in a seat where we (Anti-Capitalist Alliance) had a candidate, and in 2008 I was able to vote for ACA (by that time it had changed its name to WP) because we were on the national ballot, never voted in 2011, but this was the first time where I can say it was a very considered political choice, one I actually felt really good about.

    I agree that we need to think beyond non-voting but, without motion in the class, campaigning for people not to vote is at least a tiny contribution to building awareness of the importance of non-parliamentary politics, not just extra-parliamentary politics. It’s just a pity we didn’t reach the non-voting position sooner, soon enough to have promoted it more than just on the blog.