Image result for andrew little cartoon

Labour leader Andrew Little (above) schmoozes big business, while party general-secretary Tim Barnett proposes economically punishing the low-paid for not registering for the three-yearly election circus

by Don Franks

The New Zealand Labour Party strike a soft cuddly note at the top of their web page: “New Zealand should be the fairest, most decent society in the world. And we can get there together by focussing on the positive things that really matter to Kiwi families.”

Great, let’s go. What are some of those positive things we can focus on together?

Well, Labour’s latest idea is starving low-paid workers into compliance with the electoral system.

Labour has proposed withholding state support such as tax credits and Working For Families from people who are not enrolled to vote. Working For Families pays extra money to low-paid families with children.

A submission to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee, written by Labour’s general-secretary Tim Barnett, argues for the idea to be considered: “The possibility of making enrolment to vote a pre-condition to receipt of various forms of state support (eg Working For Families, tax credits) should be examined,” Labour’s submission states.

Despite being legally obliged to enrol, only 91.7 per cent of people did so at the last election, down from 93.4 per cent in 2011. An estimated 77.04 per cent of enrolled voters took part in the election, slightly higher than the 74.2 per cent turnout in 2011. Low voter turnout tends to hurt Labour more. For instance, in 2011, about 39,000 people were on the electoral roll in Mangere, whose voters favour Labour, compared to 48,000 in National stronghold Epsom.

Mr Barnett said Labour’s forcible enrolment plan was not self-serving. “High turnout benefits the nation. . . it means more people are engaged in our democracy and you have to accept that’s a good thing.”

Writing this morning on the Daily Blog, John Minto tore Barnett’s claims to shreds.

“There are many valid reasons why people on low incomes don’t enrol – escaping thuggish and vicious loan sharks being one. (It’s worth noting that for nine years in power the Labour government refused to regulate loan sharks in any way and left low-income families victims to modern day slavery).

“If Labour wants low-income families to enrol and vote then it needs to give them a reason to do so – no sign of that.

“While Barnett was looking for a parliamentary stick to corral and beat those he believes should vote Labour his party leader Andrew Little was ‘schmoozing with some of the cream of New Zealand capitalism’.

“When was the last time Little ‘schmoozed’ with the unemployed? State house tenants? Families living in cars and caravans?

“Like Labour parties around the world, here in New Zealand the party is neo-liberal to its core. It’s a party with policies for the 1%.”

John Minto concluded: “If ( Labour)wants the respect of low-income families then it needs to earn that respect rather than use parliament to demand it.”

I’m right with John Minto up till his last sentence. There, he seems to suggest that the Labour Party have some concern for their standing among the low-paid, and might possibly be turned to serving their interests.

Several commentators on John Minto’s post made similar points.

It is time to desist from these illusions.

Labour is a capitalist party who see low-paid workers not as people, but as value creators, votes and cannon fodder.

Together with National, Labour provide a parliamentary shop window facade behind which capitalism can quietly get on with its operations. The ‘enrol or starve’ policy is just the latest in a long line of Labour’s attacks on the poor. It recalls Steve Maharey’s “Job jolt”, where the unemployed were told where they might or might not reside.

The capitalist nature of Labour is clearly apparent for all to see, yet time and again the party is still treated as a bumbling, erring friend, who might be persuaded or shamed into better behaviour.

Next year it will be a hundred years since the Labour party’s founding.  Let’s not keep on kidding ourselves for another century.

  1. Phil F says:

    Barnett is the archetype of the middle class snob that Labour has a penchant for attracting. Discipline and punish is the name of the game in relation to their attitude to the working class.

    Barnett’s comments reduce ‘democracy’ to voting in bourgeois elections once every three years. But what about the right to have real say over the economy and over the workplace daily?

    And what about the democratic right of people to *not* register?

    Phil F

  2. Thomas R says:

    Yes it seems so many leftists who would say National and Labour are two heads of the same horrific beast will talk about “what labour needs to do” to return to regain the faith of the working class…

    I’m sorry, do we offer up advice for National Party policy makers about how to best appeal to the working class? That would be pointed out for the pointless and utterly absurd activity it is by any communist, but somehow Labour are still treated differently.

    • Thomas R says:

      about time to say ‘we want nothing from Labour but their swift sweep off the face of the planet into the dustbin of history’

  3. Phil F says:


    This is one of the frustrating things about chunks of the existing left. Where they have a correct *theoretical* analysis, they simply leave it at the door when it comes to *practice*. Suddenly, they’re giving advice to Labour on how best to tighten its grip over workers.

    This was one of the satisfying things about the ACA/WP – we never did that. We did the opposite – we continuously argued that practice has to be based on theory – which is then enriched by practice. We didn’t give an inch to Labour.

    I remember one clubs day, we had set up the ACA stall – it was quite an impressive stall with Rage Against the Machine music, lots of leaflets and flyers and a whole bunch of people. Labour set up their club stall next to us. Sam Kingi put up a poster with two arrows, one pointing to us saying something like “Anti-Capitalists” and the other pointing to the Labour table saying “Yuppie Party”.

    At one of the anti-war rallies in Victoria Square we put up posters all around us, in fact around as much of the ground as we could, declaring “Labour-free zone”.

    Of course, the main thing was our political arguments, but we had some fun too, trying to be imaginative in relation to Labour and what interests it represents and provoking discussion.