TVNZ/Colmar Brunton poll, Sept 3-7

by Phil Duncan

The latest Colmar Brunton poll, taken in the first week of this month and issued earlier this week, shows yet another fall in support for Labour, now down to just 26%, with National steady on 48% and the Greens and NZ First rising to 13% and 11% respectively.  Given that National is now almost two-thirds of the way through its third term, one might expect the shine to have gone off the Key-led government and Labour to be ahead in the polls instead of so far behind.  Moreover, Andrew Little is the fourth Labour leader since the party, then led by Helen Clark, lost the 2008 election.  Plus, it’s not as if there aren’t some serious issues which National has been very clearly unable to get sorted – in particular rising house prices, especially in Auckland.

So why can’t Labour get traction?  Is the Labour Party in terminal decline? Should serious leftists be at all concerned?

At the heart of Labour’s electoral woes is the fact that the NZ ruling class likes to have two large parties to do its bidding.  Around them are clustered lesser parties that will enable moderate multi-party governments to be formed, thus guaranteeing political stability.  These are the best political conditions for the capitalist class – they can go about the business of exploiting the working class without having to worry about social, economic and political conflict disturbing the peace.

The two main parties of the capitalist class are, of course, Labour and National.

Capital’s two main horses

When National is exhausted, the ruling class as a whole – a bigger group than simply the capitalists – swing behind Labour and when Labour is exhausted the ruling class swing behind National.  Labour’s most immediate problem is that National is far from exhausted.  The size of their recent election victories has meant they have been continually reinvigorated with new MPs.  Their alliance with the Maori Party has extended their reach into Maoridom.  On top of this, the National Party embraced ‘diversity’ some years ago.  They began to understand that to be the ‘natural party of government’ in 21st century Aotearoa they needed to move well beyond their old support base.  Thus National now has more Maori MPs than Labour, a situation almost unimaginable a few decades ago; they have Asian MPs; they have assiduously promoted women MPs; and they even have out gay MPs.

In the last election, they also garnered more blue-collar working class votes than Labour.

The simple fact is that, over the past decade, National has become more representative of the wider New Zealand population, most particularly in its support base, than Labour.  This is nowhere clearer than if you look at the number of classically Labour seats in which National now holds the party vote – and that’s on top of the several traditionally working class Labour seats that National has captured, such as Christchurch Central.

Social composition

In terms of its social composition, Labour is now the party of the liberal professional middle class and a section of Pacific Island working class voters in a few places such as South Auckland.  Look at the Labour Party list and you’ll see professional middle class person after professional middle class person – academics, lawyers, managers – where once there was trade union official after trade union official.  And, if anything, these people are bigger snobs than many of the business people in the National Party.

Moreover, on a string of issues Labour is clearly to the right of National.  Labour is more racist than National, especially when it comes to Asians and Asian immigration, they are to the right of National on social welfare and they are to the right of National on the retirement age.  Because their links to elements in the trade union movement are one of the few remaining connections to anything even vaguely working class, Labour tends to be very marginally to the left of National on issues to do with limited union power – so they favour right-of-entry legislation for union organisers.

However, even in terms of “union issues” they are barely to the left of National.  After all, National MPs voted for the legislation to “end” zero-hours contracts – I say “end” because, typically of bills introduced by Labour, it didn’t really do what it purported to do.  (Unfortunately, some people on the left who really should know better talked up the reform of zero-hours contracts as a big win, when these contracts have not actually been abolished.)  Moreover, Labour is opposed to workers’ right to withdraw our labour, whether over immediate economic issues or wider political concerns, and have indicated they are unlikely to repeal National’s 30-day legislation.

Labour’s years of attacks on the working class and their years of activity trying to smother any sign of self-activity on the part of the class – not to mention their general strategy of lowering the horizons of workers to get us to accept the very limited goods on offer these days by clapped-out capitalism – have come back to bite their arse.

For a new workers’ movement

Today, much of the working class rightly sense that parliamentary politics does not represent their interests.  They simply don’t waste their time voting.  This is especially true of Maori workers and even more so of Maori youth – a big majority, maybe 4 in 5, of young Maori (overwhelmingly working class) decided not to vote in 2014.

While these workers haven’t advanced beyond abstaining from the circus to realising that they need to build their own movement rather than leave it up to some bunch of middle class chancers to (mis)represent them, not being part of the circus is a small step forward.

Other workers vote NZ First, which is a kind of Old Labour (even Winston’s anti-Asian politics are very much traditional Labour) and National.  A section of young workers probably vote Green.

The decline of the Labour Party, an institution of the ruling class for the suffocation of working class self-activity and the house-training of all movements for progressive social change, is to be welcomed by everyone who wants to see the working class advance its own interests.  The decline may well be terminal.  But that does not, unfortunately, mean a quick death.  Labour plays such a valuable role for the ruling class, it is unlikely that the ruling class will simply let Labour die.  They will get some kind of lifeline.

So, while we can celebrate the ongoing decline of this wretched party of pro-capitalist hacks, the thing that will finally kill it off will be the advance of the working class on the economic, social and political fronts.  As we have said again and again on this blog, what we really need is a new movement – a movement of workers, by workers, for workers.

A movement that is equally opposed to all the political parties and institutions of the ruling class.

A movement that aims to put capitalism out of its misery, along with the whole set of alien institutions it imposes on our class.

A movement that aims for nothing less than the liberation of humanity.

Further reading: Redline on the Labour Party





  1. Phil F says:

    And the next time one of these disgusting Labour MPs comes out with racist anti-Chinese poison, Labour Party offices should get picketed. It is a disgrace how so much of the left condones Labour Party racism.

  2. gsays says:

    plenty of food for thought there.
    i work in a small crew doing playscapes for early childhood centres, landscaping if you will.
    my 3 co-workers are some of the most socially conservative folk i have met.
    the idea of working class doesn’t arise for them let alone a feeling of unity with other citizens.

    perhaps the working class label, like the labour party, has reached it’s best before date.

    i think people describe themselves with other labels as opposed to identifying with their occupation.

    i agree a totally different political force is needed, good luck with trying to bring the sharper end of the left together. my small experience in and around left blog sites leads me to believe members of the left will pull down fellow lefties rather than sic a tory.;;

  3. Daphna says:

    John Key’s whole hearted endorsement of Helen Clark for the top UN post is further evidence of the mutuality of National and Labour. It’s strange that lefties ignore that reality and opt for a fantasy that Labour will some day become a progressive force.

    Even solidly left activist Roger Fowler, while campaigning for a left candidate in the local body elections (Brendon Corbett), is also campaigning for a Labour candidate (Efiso Collins)!

    Sadly the left has a real thing for capitalism’s B team.

  4. Phil F says:

    What’s also sad in the Roger Fowler case is that Roger was in the CPNZ for many years and the CPNZ in the later 60s and through the 1970s had the best position of any of the far-left groups on the Labour Party – it was a ratbag capitalist party. It’s a sad sight to see former CPNZers, who were staunch on the LP question, go soft in their old age – moreover at a time when Labour is more clearly than ever a capitalist party and the grounds for naivete are long gone.

  5. Malcolm says:

    A quick note on the zero hours question.

    The bill was introduced by National, not Labour. Labour did some dealing to get it to contain some stronger language that does, in fact, stop the use of zero hours provisions. Maybe you don’t understand properly what it meant by ‘zero hours’. It isn’t the same as a casual employment agreement. A ‘zero hour’s’ contract meant that the worker was expected to be available to take work at any time, not allowed to take up other employment, and had no guaranteed hours. What the legislation did was to say that if an employer expects an employee to be available for work they have to offer ‘adequate compensation’ AND they have to offer a guaranteed minimum number of hours they were regularly scheduled. They also have to pay compensation for shifts being cancelled at short notice. So, the legislation has eliminated the most pernicious aspects of ‘zero hours’ contracts.

    I agree that it is far from perfect but it was definitely a partial victory. It has been overplayed but I don’t think you are correct in what you say above.

    Also, I think Labour does support a much larger role for collective bargaining than National does. It is more than just whether it supports access for union officials. It now favours the reintroduction of an award-type system where the results of collective bargaining in the bigger firms are extended to an industry or industry subgroup. What it certainly does not support is any kind of autonomous expression of working class power and as far as I can see it has no intention to get rid of the restrictions on strike action, etc.

  6. Kay Opunui says:

    Did anyone really believe that the party that gave us Roger Douglas, and I say that again *Roger Douglas*, could ever again be anything more than a zombie – the rotting corpse of a party, brought back to a shambolic, blundering, stinking un-dead state, the decayed, worm eaten remains of it’s mind filled with the aggressive zeal of neo-liberalism, racism combined with fear, loathing and hatred of the poor?

    • Phil F says:

      Sadly Kay, some do harbour exactly those illusions about Labour. We at Redline – along with the comrades of the Aotearoa Workers Solidarity Movement and a few non-aligned revolutionaries – are very much a minority on the left in understanding the core nature of the Labour Party. Strange, isn’t it?

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