New Zealand: An analysis of Labour's general election disaster

For the Labour Party the 2011 general election defeat was the worst since 1928. The main factor for this was the historic low turnout as many workers stayed at home and were not enthused enough by the right-wing leadership of the Labour Party to go out and vote. The turn out was down from (what was considered then a low turnout) 79.46% at the 2008 general election to 73.83%. This was the lowest turnout since 1878!

General Election Results 2011 (bracketed result s for 2008)

Party

Party Vote

% of vote

Electorate Seats

List Seats

Total Seats

National

957,769

(1,053,398)

47.99

(44.93)

41

(41)

19

(17)

60

(58)

Labour

541,449

(796,880)

27.13

(33.99)

22

(21)

12

(22)

34

(43)

Green

211,931

(157,613)

10.62

(6.72)

0

(0)

13

(9)

13

(9)

New Zealand First

135,865

(95,356)

6.81

(4.07)

0

(0)

8

(0)

8

(0)

Conservative

55,070

(-)

2.76

(-)

0

(-)

0

(-)

0

(-)

Maori

26,887

(55,980)

1.35

(2.39)

3

(5)

0

(0)

3

(5)

ACT New Zealand

21,446

(85,496)

1.07

(3.65)

1

(1)

0

(4)

1

(5)

Mana

19,898

(-)

1

(-)

1

(-)

0

(-)

1

(-)

United Future

12,159

(20,497)

0.61

(0.87)

1

(1)

0

(0)

1

(1)

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis

9,516

(9,515)

0.48

(0.41)

0

(0)

0

(0)

0

(0)

Democrats for Social Credit

1,432

(1,208)

0.07

(0.05)

0

(0)

0

(0)

0

(0)

Libertarianz

1,405

(932)

0.07

(0.05)

0

(0)

0

(0)

0

(0)

Alliance

1069

(1,909)

0.05

(0.08)

0

(0)

0

(0)

0

(0)

Total

2,014,334

(2,356,536)

 

69*

52

121

*Christchurch central electorate is tied and result dependant on special votes

Phil Goff - Agência BrasilThe Labour Party's first major political broadcast of the general election campaign was an attempt at a class appeal. It showed the history of the Labour Party from its birth in 1916 to the present day explaining what Labour had achieved to date. It made some good agitational points. A lot of emphasis was placed on the class struggle in the Great Depression of the 1930s with the election of the first Labour government in 1935.

The broadcast explained that Labour had introduced free healthcare, built state houses, created the welfare state, etc. It even had Damien O'Connor, the newly elected MP for West Coast Tasman, explaining in simple terms what the trickledown theory of the right is about – the rich pissing on the poor! The problem with the broadcast was that the Labour Party manifesto offered at best minor reforms and indeed not bold sweeping reforms like the 1935 Labour government carried out. Therefore it was highly unlikely that portraits of Phil Goff would be going up in workers' houses like what happened to Micky Savage, the first Labour prime minister, who on coming to power gave the unemployed an extra week’s dole so that they could have a good Christmas!

The meagre reforms on offer were the removal of GST [Goods and services tax] on fruit and vegetables, the first $5,000 earned tax free, more apprenticeships based on the fact that youth would in effect be working for the dole, compulsory kiwisaver [social security contributions], introducing a capital gains tax for the rich and opposition to the partial sale of state assets. If workers were lukewarm to these reforms they were certainly turned off by the announcement that Labour would raise the age of superannuation [age of retirement] from 65 to 67. Generally workers saw it like this: if you want these minor reforms then to pay for it you will have to work two years longer! Raising the age of superannuation is contrary to Labour Party policy. It was decided by the party bureaucracy at the last minute to announce this to show that the right-wing Labour leaders have the gall to make tough decisions in tough times and out do the Nats [conservative National Party]! The truth of the matter was the right-wing of the Labour Party were trying to work within the confines of capitalism and therefore these reforms were mere window dressing for what would turn into a major austerity programme. The manifesto was weak and full of contradictions and it was aimed at appeasing international capital by adopting their solutions, i.e. the iron fist of austerity in the velvet glove.

Phil Goff was also a major liability to the campaign. Most workers do not trust him. The simple fact is that Phil Goff was in favour of Rogernomics in the 1980s and he is well tarred with that brush. Therefore when he repeatedly said that Labour had learnt the lesson from the mistakes of Rogernomics of the 1980s it just didn't ring true in many workers minds. [Note: “Rogernomics” refers to the economic policies of Roger Douglas when he was Minister of Finance in the then Labour Government, the New Zealand version of Reaganomics and Thatcherism].

Rise of the Minor parties

The minor parties gained on the one hand at the expense of the Labour Party due to the general mistrust of the right-wing Labour leadership and on the other hand because the opinion polls were pointing to an outright win for the National Party. This scenario is most usual under MMP [Mixed Member Proportional electoral system] as voters have an electorate vote and a party vote to cast. The Greens picked up many of the party votes from disillusioned Labour voters who were hedging their bets hoping for the possibility of a Labour/Green coalition government if the numbers eventually stacked up. In essence it was both a protest vote and an attempt at stopping a national government coming to power. The interesting point here about the Greens is that they are moving to the right. Already in the last parliament the Greens had a memorandum of understanding with the National Party in government. The Greens co-leadership has been manoeuvring the party into a position where it may eventually do a deal with National. At the moment there is growing discontent amongst Green activists and this is being expressed in blogs.

The other minor party to benefit from such a sentiment was New Zealand First that failed to win an electoral seat or get past the 5% threshold to win a list seat in 2008. New Zealand First was polling at about 3.2% until the “cuppagate scandal” boiled over [a scandal involving leaked recordings of private conversations between the prime minister and John Banks]. Winston Peters, leader of NZ First, used the alleged contents of the taped conversation between John Banks (ACT candidate in Epsom) and John Key PM, from an election stunt to inform National voters in Epsom to vote ACT, to his full advantage. Winston Peters exposed the attitude of the National Party toward elderly voters, the core voters to his party. This lifted NZ First to close to the 5% threshold for list seats. On seeing this some workers gave their party vote to NZ First as a protest vote and as a way of attempting to stop a National government. Certainly the petty nationalism against foreign ownership of New Zealand and the populist opposition to partially selling off state assets ensured the return to parliament of New Zealand First.

Both United Future and ACT had gentlemen’s' agreements with the National Party not to stand serious candidates against them and for the National Party to campaign for the party vote only. This was a tactical consideration on behalf of the National Party to ensure that there were parties elected that they could form a coalition with on the basis of supply and confidence if they didn't secure an outright majority (highly probable under MMP). Bomber Bradbury's (political satirist and commentator) television programme summed up the vagaries of MMP when it was commented on the Epsom situation and said that the National candidate in the safe National electorate of Epsom was the ACT candidate and the Labour and Greens candidate was the National Party candidate (the reason being a National win in Epsom electorate may likely stop a National government coming to power as National was most likely to need Act to form a government coalition with)!

Maori electorates

Electorate

Winning Party 2008

Winning Party 2011

Hauraki -Waikato

Labour

Labour

Ikaroa - Rawhiti

Labour

Labour

Tamaki Makaurau

Maori Party

Maori Party

Te Tai Hauauru

Maori Party

Maori Party

Te Tai Tokerau

Maori Party

Mana Party

Te Tai Tonga

Maori Party

Labour

Waiariki

Maori Party

Maori Party

Early indications suggest that the voter turnout in the Maori electorates went below 50%. On the positive side Labour did win back the largest Maori electorate, Te Tai Tonga off the Maori Party and also reduced the majority of Pita Sharples, co-leader of the Maori Party in Tamaki Makaurau from over a 7000 majority to just over a 700 majority. The Maori Party lost half of its votes from the 2008 election. This is due to the fact that the Maori Party have been part of the National led government and Maori workers have either become disillusioned with the Maori Party and not voted or voted Labour or Mana generally. Already the Maori Party are in coalition talks with National. It is extremely likely that they will go into coalition with National. If this is the case then the Maori Party's fate will be sealed at the next election. Pita Sharples is on record as saying he supports state assets sales as long as Maori big business can buy them.

Although Hone Harawira won the Te Tai Tokerau electorate for the Mana Party with a much reduced majority – with Labour a close second - it was not the spectacular night that they thought it was going to be for the so called left split-off from the Maori Party, which gained only 1% of the party vote. The Mana Party does not have much of an appeal to workers with its sectarian and Maori separatism approach. Even former Green MP, Sue Bradford and activist John Minto had derisory votes in the general seats for Mana. This is a far cry from what Mana told its activists. Mana thought that they could secure 7 or 8 MPs and win significant party votes in the general electorates. The likely perspective for Mana is that it will split and fracture into its disparate groupings that formed it or perhaps a few more!

Christchurch

The National Party is jubilant that it did so well in earthquake ravaged Christchurch. The National Party and the right-wing media are putting this down to how they are handling the earthquake recovery. The truth of the matter is that the National Party polled well for two reasons. The first being a low poll which always favours the right, i.e. the National Party. The second is (and more importantly) that the working class areas of Christchurch were hardest hit by the earthquakes and the Labour voters have to some extent dispersed as their houses have been red stickered and are not liveable, or their jobs have gone, or that after more than 6,000 aftershocks they have had enough and left the area. The National led government's response to the recovery is to offer a market solution. Home owners in red zone areas are being compensated by the government at 2007 prices, and homeowners are left in a situation that it is difficult to buy a new section to build on or a good home because of the carpet bagging antics of property speculators putting housing out of reach of ordinary workers. For those trying to rent, they have found that private rents have rocketed. Just to give an indication of the population movements in Christchurch it has been reported that 25% of school teachers in Christchurch are expected to made redundant due to falling school rolls.

The Labour Party had an attempt at a land nationalisation policy and indicated the need for state backed insurance for Christchurch residents as the private sector insurance companies are reluctant to re-insure as it isn't terribly profitable to do so now!. The issue here is that Labour was mealy mouthed about it and should have spelt it out clearly in straight forward terms that they were going to nationalise the land to stop the speculators.

Because of these reasons we have a dead heat in Christchurch Central: an electorate that has been solidly Labour since 1948, and National leads Labour by 400 or so votes in Waimakariri (due to “working class” Kaiapoi being devastated in the earthquake). The results here will be determined by special votes and it is difficult to call because of the above reason.

A Brighter Future?

The National Party hoardings with a picture of John Key smiling like a Cheshire Cat with a slogan of a brighter future were seen up and down the country. What type of bright future are they talking about? The evidence of the last three years is that living standards have fallen for the vast majority with annual wage rises to date being at 2% whilst inflation is at 5.1%. Additionally the unemployment rate is about 6.5% of that 44% of the unemployed are under 25. That's 65,700 young people officially out of work! It's no wonder that workers have voted with their feet with record number emigrating to Australia and other countries.

The only people who to date have had a bright future under National are the wealthy who have had significant income tax cuts which the government borrowed to pay for them. It is worth mentioning the very people who have had the very brightest future so far under National last year. They are the wealthiest 150 families and individuals who increased their wealth by $7 billion.

The National Party has let slip that the next three years will be tougher than the previous three. Therefore planned to give us all a “brighter future” is major legislation to attack workers rights and unions. This is already being expressed in the union struggles in Ports of Auckland over the collective agreement and the meat worker in Marton who are locked out as they refuse to sign individual agreements, to accept longer hours and a massive pay cuts.

Already planned is further decimation of the public sector despite the fact that the public debt is one of the lowest in the OECD. Added to this is the plan to part-privatise state assets. Naturally the 5 state-owned enterprises (SOE) that are proposed for partial sell downs is just the beginning we can expect more being put on the block. The government isn't even clear how much it will make from the sales! One thing is clear that the profits from these SOE will be lost and the public services will suffer.

Finally there will be a “brighter future” for beneficiaries has the National led government will attempt to get rid of the last vestiges of the welfare state and go back to “charity.

Labour

Already the Labour Party is being urged to abandon the non-voters and move to the right by the media. The media indicate that the Labour Party is too close to the unions and some media commentators advocate getting rid of Labour's unionist MPs! If the right wing leadership of the Labour Party, which ever David (David Cunliffe ot David Shearer in the leadership contest since Goff's resignation) wins the leadership race, takes this advice then the party will remove itself even further away from the workers they are supposed to represent.

The question for the right-wing leadership is how do we secure a brighter future when we are faced with the biggest ever “economic tsunami” since the Great Depression? This “economic tsunami” is heading our way from Europe and America. Certainly there will be no “economic tsunami” protection coming from Asia as they will be consumed by the tsunami too. The first realisation is for the leadership to understand that capitalism is crisis and no amount of tinkering will solve the problems faced by workers.

This leads us to the logical conclusion that the only way to guarantee a brighter future is for Labour to break with capitalism, rediscover its socialist roots and fight for a socialist society here in New Zealand and internationally. This means nationalisation of the big corporates, the banks and insurance companies that dominate the economy and for democratic worker control and management. This is how to make New Zealand an actual paradise for the 99% not just for the 1%.