Metiria Turei resignation: anti-working class scumbags score tawdry victory over beneficiaries

Cartoon: Tom Scott/DominionPost

by Phil Duncan

Late this afternoon Green MP and party co-leader Metiria Turei announced that she was stepping down from the co-leader post and would be resigning as an MP as of the end of the current parliamentary term in a few weeks.

She said that the media intrusion and, in effect, harassment of whanau members had become too much and, in order to protect them from further media harassment, she was resigning.  She also said that the Greens’ campaign against poverty was being undermined by the focus on her and so she was taking herself out of the equation.

Middle class loathing of the poor

Turei has been the victim of a sustained campaign of what is essentially class loathing on the part of chunks of the middle class towards the poorest sections of the working class, especially the brown working class poor.  There has been a sustained campaign in the media, engineered by middle class pundits and commentators, people who predominantly would see themselves as “liberals”.

And Turei’s great sin?  At the Green Party AGM a couple of weeks ago, while unveiling the party’s very modest proposals to reduce poverty, she announced that over 20 years ago, as a solo parent on a welfare benefit, she hadn’t declared the full details of her living situation to Work and Income New Zealand.  Namely, that she had lied to WINZ about the number of flatmates she had.  This had been done because her already woefully-inadequate benefit would have been cut and affected her ability to provide for the needs of her child.

Keep in mind that this period was in the immediate aftermath of the ‘Mother of All Budgets’, when the fourth National government slashed already poor benefit levels by 20-25%.

Double standard

The media-orchestrated campaign against Turei stands in stark contrast to the treatment of current National Party prime minister Bill English in 2009 over his defrauding parliamentary services of $32,000 which he claimed for the $1.2 million (in 2009 dollars) house that he and his well-heeled doctor wife, Mary English, lived in and which was owned by their family trust.  Unlike Metiria Turei, English didn’t declare his transgression; it was discovered by the DominionPost newspaper in July 2009.  English only owned up after he was ‘outed’ for getting tens of thousands of dollars he was not entitled to.  At the time, his deputy prime ministerial salary was a couple hundred thousand dollars a year and Mary English was also earning a salary.

English was not hounded into resigning from anything and is today the country’s prime minister.  His wife and other members of his extended family were not hounded either.  And the morally self-righteous elements of the right, who have been keen to join their liberal pals in sticking the knife into Metiria, failed to get on their high horses and demand English go.

Among those happily attempting to destroy Turei and drive her out of politics have been Labourites, with a few notable exceptions.  The little pakeha princess who now heads Labour, Jacinda Ardern, made it clear that what Turei had done to feed and cloth her child was morally unacceptable and she would not be fit for a position in cabinet in the event of a Labour-Greens government.  This gave the green light to the nasty underbelly of bottom-feeder bigots that hide beneath this country’s veneer of liberal broadmindedness and political correctness.

Among them are ‘journalists’ like Barry Soper, Patrick Gower, Audrey Young and ACT leader David Seymour.  The latter little prick is only an MP because of a typical bit of bourgeois parliamentary trickery perpetrated by him, his party and National.  He’s enjoyed hundreds of thousands of dollars of “taxpayer money” as a result.  But, you see, this sort of grubby activity, is legal because these are the kinds of people who set – and, when it suits them, bend – the rules

The ugly people have scored a tawdry victory not simply over Metiria Turei, but over beneficiaries struggling to survive on this country’s pathetic social welfare benefits.  The message to beneficiaries is that that rich people can cheat and lie and defraud without consequence, and they can become MPs if that is their particular vanity project, but the poor who are driven to transgress by desperate circumstances cannot aspire to such lofty heights as becoming members of parliament and government.  It’s a ruling class parliament and a ruling class government and any workers who are allowed in the doors, other than as cleaners and canteen staff, need to show their obsequiousness to the class that rules and that every day mangles the lives of the people whose labour actually makes the world go round.


If these fuckers are prepared to destroy a Metiria Turei, who represented an attempt to improve capitalism rather than get rid of it, imagine what they would be prepared to do to stop an anti-capitalist movement that managed to get through the hallowed doors.

At the same time, what are we to make of the role of the Greens themselves in all this?

I certainly have developed some respect for them for Metiria Turei speaking out in the first place and co-leader James Shaw for proving he has some spine and integrity in standing very much beside her, rather than throwing her under a bus like the odious Ardern who is motivated by her own career advancement at any cost.

However, and it is a big however, the Greens should have been prepared for the assault.  And they should have been prepared for the response of Labour, whose managers saw this as a chance to undermine the Greens and grab some of their votes.  Lord knows, the Greens have enough experience of being screwed over by Labour in the past.

And there’s the rub.  No matter how much Labour and other liberal snobs and reactionaries screw them over, the Greens are completely ill-equipped to fight back.  The reason is that they are in the game and this means they accept the rules of the game.  They genuinely want to reform the rules, and improve the lot of the poorest sections of the population, but they are thoroughly committed to the game and the game having rules.  And you simply can’t win in that game – the game itself is designed in such a way as to maintain the system and contain (and destroy) people who irritate those in charge.

While I happen to personally sympathise with her, the destruction of Metiria Turei is, at the end of the day, not so much about her.  It is a message to the masses to obey the rules decided on by those who oppress and exploit us.  It has been delivered by the messenger boys and girls, the grubby little cyphers, of the ruling class in the media and other institutions like the capitalist Labour Party.

What is to be done?

Well, the first thing is that this defeat needs to be learned from.  Not in the meaningless way the left usually ‘learns’ stuff – like the goldfish that thirty seconds later has forgotten what they ‘learned’.

Conclusion 1: Parliament is useless in terms of any fundamental economic change that moves things in the direction of the working class.

Conclusion 2: Labour is an institution of the ruling class and will try to destroy even a moderately left force.

Practical consequence: Don’t vote Labour and don’t vote on September 23.

Instead, let’s start a whole other discussion.  A discussion based on how we begin to cohere a current of people who are prepared, and others who can become prepared, to fight capitalism rather than humiliate themselves in front of it.  A discussion based on how we begin to develop a political movement by, of and for workers against our exploiters and the array of institutions they have forged as buffers to protect – and hide – their class interests.

Further reading: Labour and the politics of bourgeois respectability & low horizons


  1. While there were thousands of people who supported Metiria’s stand it didn’t manifest as a movement outside parliament. For instance, if there were big marches of the poor and progressives (as opposed to hyper activity on twitter and facebook) maybe Metiria could have hung in there.

  2. I’m a bit reluctant to criticise Metiria Turei over this because of what has been done to her. At the same time. . . if you take a stand for beneficiaries’ rights, I do think you owe it to them to see it through. Especially since she seemed to have the backing and confidence of most of the party, including James Shaw.

    The lesson the scumbags will draw is that they only need to whip up a fake ‘crisis’ and a load of abuse and harassment and the left will give in.
    It also seems very naive that the Greens vastly underestimated the political assault Metiria and the party in general would come under and that there would be deserters under fire like Clendon and Graham.

    I won’t be voting. This latest episode does confirm what a waste of time the parliamentary circus is.

  3. While parliament obviously isn’t a way to achieve working class power, neglecting it is often why the far left has turned into a little insular clique of activists talking shop with each other. For all the difficulties, and faults, and no doubt a few differences I do think that Workers Party approach at least tried to face outwards – talk to working class people – that happens when you have to go door to door to talk about this stuff. I think the left may see this as a reason to “see ya on the streets!” and not a reason to build serious working class organisations and institutions that can actually contest electoral seats – even just for propaganda purposes. There’s a trend towards a kind of bakuninism, or movementism where we just have enough protests every month and then suddenly a workers movement and party will reveal itself – ignoring that the people going to those protests are just a shrinking circle of people (plus a fair few idealistic undergrads being burnt as fuel for the egos that like to call protests).

    If there is to be socialist organising in NZ, it should name itself such. There are murmurs of a ‘new left party’, well – what the fuck is the point of that if its merely a left-of-the-greens left-of-labour party. At the absolute least we should be able to say what our “Maximum Programme” is, ie. socialism. More immediate concerns, strategy, these things can be debated. But if a new grouping doesn’t openly declare itself socialist – and say what that means – then it is just another broad-progressive platitude.

    • I doubt any of us disagree with this. But in NZ, the dominant trend on the far left has long been tail-ending Labour and thinking it is necessary to support someone in every election.

      Supporting Labour is wrong because it’s a capitalist party and the position of many leftists that we *have* to vote is doctrinaire foolishness: sometimes it makes sense to vote, sometimes it doesn’t. I’ve voted three times in the past 21 years. If I can make any kind of meanginful political statement by voting in a general election I do; if I can’t, then I don’t vote.

      But any political statement that can be made by voting is pretty small. And, in the coming election, it isn’t possible to indicate anything by voting other than an endorsement of something pretty awful.

      Labour is an anti-immigrant, anti-working class party yet people like ISO favour voting for them. Their motto is “Defend immigrants – but, um, it’s cool for you to vote for the most anti-immigrant of the two main parties”.

      The Greens stood up to be counted for all of two weeks and then threw in the towel, with James Shaw now saying he is leaving the door open to Kennedy Graham! So a vote for the Greens is not a vote for anything principled.

      The best candidates for forming the new movement we need are NOT people wedded to voting Labour and Greens, but people who are alienated from the circus the bourgeoisie puts before us.

    • Like most of us involved in Redline, I have in the past taken part in the local body and general elections (as a candidate, or campaigning for anti-capitalists) hoping to make something of the increased political interest that elections can generate. We concluded that it didn’t really pay off when we weighed up the time and money that went in to the effort. Just complying with all the requirements for getting on the Party List take hours of work which never felt very fruitful. We got a message out but it didn’t achieve anything very tangible and we decided it was better to focus on activities outside parliament.

      Other left groups, Marxists, communist groups etc also tried participating in elections with little impact.

      I would have voted Green in solidarity with Metiria if she had been able to hang in there until election day. I would possibly vote for the Migrant group standing in Wellington if I was there. But as I’m in Auckland and Metiria is gone I’m back to the Not Voting option.

      There are lots of things that clearly don’t work, or are of minimal effect. What is much harder to figure out is how to move things forward. That is not just a challenge in NZ it is one facing the class everywhere.

  4. It makes no sense to think that an openly capitalist party is somehow a suitable vehicle for any meaningful change to that same economic system or that the political process established under it can be used as a tool to convert it into something else. People seem to spend years butting their collective heads against the wall expecting different results from the same futile act of voting. I make too many damn compromises as it is in my daily life just to pay my bills and get by in this messed up system, that I just can’t stomach the thought of doing it again at the polling booth. Id rather put my energy elsewhere. If there is to be any progress at all it has to come from embarking on the difficult and lonely journey of agitating and organising for a completely new way of running society. Doing the right thing and doing the easy thing aren’t the same thing, eh.

    • I largely agree with you Barrie. Even people like Mike Treen who should understand the limitations of parliamentary politics gets caught up in the cretinism. He has become so wedded to the idea of backing parliamentary parties as a worthwhile tactic that he starts critiquing (on Dailyblog) the Green Party tactics and issuing advice. It is much the same advice as bourgeois commentators – that Metiria should have paid back WINZ before talking about benefit ‘fraud’.

      Mike sees it in the context of backing a Labour-Green government. Or as he claims “now the opportunity to shift the debate to how badly WINZ claimants have been treated is being lost.”

      Metiria took the argument outside of the play-by-the-rule brigade and got punished for that, but a class line was taken and people took sides. While the sanctimonious outrage was very loud, there was a significant surge of support that rallied for Metiria’s stand. That to me will have a more lasting effect than a tidier election campaign that panders to prejudices.

      Metiria really highlighted that the struggle is outside parliament.

      • Where the Greens obviously failed, not that I seek to offer advice, but they were limited by the moralism-in-the-last-instance of those kinds of politics. On some level what needs to be understood by workers is not that they should feel bad or pity for beneficiaries – though if they do, so be it. What we can understand is the class perspective, that the position of beneficiaries improving actually improves the whole class – it reduces competition within the working class and as such will allow for an easier basis on which to get higher wages. Obviously this is only a ‘partial struggle’, but it seems reasonable for Marxists in NZ to support the living wage position – not as a ‘fair days pay’, but as a rough calculation of labour power trading at its (exchange) value. Winning that means dealing with some of the over-supply of labour that increases competition in the class and keeps wages down.

        So what I’m saying is, regardless of how the Greens framed it – socialists may not have used the discussions as pointedly as we could have in order to foster this sense of solidarity. The notion of a class-interest, rather than a ‘what beneficiaries need’ thing that sort of divides us into employed and unemployed workers. Not that there are no differences, or no specific concerns, but forging unity hammering out something resembling a class perspective that can actually be wielded against the ruling class means we need a much better case than what some in the left were doing – which was a simple “I Stand With Metiria!” position. Of course we stand against attacks on beneficiaries, including former beneficiaries with Metiria. I just did not see much discussion above-and-beyond this basic slogan in internet discussions too much.

  5. Put your justification in any language/terms you like. Simple fact remains, she is a liar and a thief! No-body believes she wasn’t co-habiting with her child’s father either.

    • Hi Markus, thanks for kinda proving my point about the ugly underbelly of meanness in this country.

      No evidence has been put forward that she was co-habiting with the child’s father but, frankly, I couldn’t care less if she was. Rich people don’t get punished for co-habiting, so I don’t see why poor people should.

      Regardless of whether she is a solo mother and living alone or co-habiting she is still entitled to be viewed as an autonomous adult individual and treated as such. Once upon a time married women didn’t used to be able to get unemployment benefit. Perhaps you’d like to go back to those days?

      Metiria Turei has actually done you a favour, Markus. By being able to carry on her law studies and do well in life, and through her children getting a good start in life, their taxes will help keep you in your old age. You might show a little gratitude. . .

  6. Down with pretty much everything here, except the admonition to not vote.
    It’s the only tool the system lets you have.
    You can be assured that class enemies of the working poor of this country will vote to keep their slice of the pie.

  7. The point Delta, as I tried to make in the article (and various other articles), and that Barrie makes very eloquently above, is that voting in this election will change nothing. A National-led government and a Labour-led government will both ensure that the exploiting class get to keep their ill-gotten gains. In fact, the rate at which those on the Rich List were getting richer went up under the last Labour-led government as compared to the previous National-led government!

    We should stop playing their game and invent a new one based on our rules.

    • Well, Phil, if you really want to ‘stop playing their game’, then use their game against them.

      Vote, but do this one thing.

      Spoil your ballot.

      Draw a great big picture of Mickey Mouse taking a dump on Bill English if you’re artistically inclined, or just scribble across the entire paper, or even write ‘No confidence’ in giant letters over it.

      By law, every spoiled ballot must be counted.

  8. I’m not opposed to people spoiling their ballots although, in my experience, sometimes people go into the polling booth to do this and end up voting for some “lesser-evil”. I usually have better things to do with my saturdays than eat shit sandwiches, so I won’t be bothering to go near a polling booth. In the current conditions, it is best to stay out of the game altogether frankly. Ballot-spoling is, in today’s circumstances, pretty tokenistic too – only a very small percentage of people do this (and mainly accidentally). But a lot of people don’t vote. I’d rather add a little bit to the big body of non-voters than add a little bit to the tiny number of ballot-spoilers.

    The issue, in any case, is to think outside the game. Start a new game.

    • If only it were that simple. Non voting actually helps the establishment. Everyone not happy with National or Labour deciding not to vote essentialy helps keep the status quo. What folks need to do is get their heads together and say everyone not happy with it all vote for NZ first, or vote greens, or some other currently minority party that doesn’t currently share the views of nat/lab. Even if they do, voting them in and then telling them why they suddenly got such an upsurge of votes could pave the way for a much needed change/swing to the left. I actually don’t know who to vote for, but if I don’t vote that’s a +1 for the current government (its one less vote against them)

      • The problem is that NZFirst and even the Greens are also the status quo. None of the parliamentary parties would break with the establishment, let alone break with capitalism, which is what I’m interested in.

        Right now it doesn’t make much difference materially whether NZ has a National-led or Labour-led government. They are all hovering around a middle-of-the-road capitalist programme. Each party has some policy that is to the left of the others and vice versa. Even Act is more progressive than most of the parties on the question of abortion.

        One other aspect worth factoring in is that when Labour is in government trade union leaders are reluctant to criticise, so often it is the case that Labour gets away with more anti-worker policies than National.

  9. it makes sense that people value the right to vote, because its a right that has been won, over time, through struggle. Only a generation or so back, women were denied the right to vote. Change has taken place with voting but not with the essentials of the capitalist system. Voting is now universally allowed – and universally controlled. Anybody getting voted into parliament must take an oath of allegiance to the capitalist state. Thats the condition on which you walk in the door.If you realise that capitalism is the source of our main problems then it makes sense to seek effective ways to get rid of it. In the 21st century, voting for parliament has become a method of political control for the rich.

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