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Chris Trotter assesses the problems and options the Labour Party and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have with the SFO probing the NZ First Foundation

Chris Trotter assesses the problems and options the Labour Party and Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern have with the SFO probing the NZ First Foundation

By Chris Trotter*

Poor Jacinda! With friends like Winston Peters, the all-too-real enemies she faces are increasingly difficult to distinguish from her troublesome coalition partner. But, what to do? If she intends to remain in her current job until 19 September, then the support of Winston Peters and NZ First is essential. On the other hand, if she intends to remain Prime Minister after 19 September, then Labour’s relationship with NZ First needs to change – and quickly.

The big problem with Labour changing its relationship with NZ First is time. Is there enough time between now and the election for Labour to effect a clean break with Peters? Especially when a dirty break would almost certainly precipitate an early election? Is Labour up to attracting sufficient support to govern with the Greens alone? Would 4 or 5 weeks – as opposed to 7 months – be enough? Maybe – maybe not.

Everything would be a lot easier if the Greens were in a stronger position than the latest round of polling suggests. Hovering just above the crucial 5% MMP threshold is most emphatically not where Labour’s crucial support party ought to be.

For one thing, the Greens have, historically, performed less well in actual general elections than they have in proximate opinion polls. So, sitting on 5% is a very precarious place for them to be. For another, the Greens have also been able to rely on (or is that saved by?) their “international” vote. All those young Kiwi graduates living the bohemian dream in Melbourne, London and New York have been amongst the most solid backers of the Greens since 1999.

But, will this tradition hold true in 2020? Or, will Jacinda’s extraordinary performances on the global stage, combined with her ongoing love affair with the world’s “woke” journalists, see the young ex-pat vote shift from the Greens to Labour? Would picking up an extra 1% of the Party Vote from young Kiwis on their Big OE be worth the consequent loss of a minimum of 7 Green Party seats? Probably not.

Which means, if Labour believes it has no choice but to “let Winston go”, then it will have to toss the Greens a bone – most likely the seat of Auckland Central where, if Labour’s vote swung in behind the Greens’ most popular MP, Chloe Swarbrick, not only would her party be assured of making it back into Parliament, but Labour would also benefit from the ousting (by approximately 1,200 votes) of National’s most liberal MP, Nikki Kaye. Which would definitely count as a pretty good “twofer” for the Left!

NZ First supporters would, no doubt, interject with considerable vehemence at this point. They’d say exactly the same argument can be applied to Northland, where, if Labour voters were tipped the wink by Jacinda, then NZ First’s Shane Jones could expect to be returned with a majority of close to 7,000 votes.

Well, yes, that was definitely an option, and one Labour may well have taken, if NZ First and its eponymous “Foundation” hadn’t ended up being found wanting by the Electoral Commission and then in the grim talons of the Serious Fraud Office. Seriously, Winston: to have lost one election by mishandling a donation might be forgiven as a political accident; but to now be at risk of losing a second, for the very same offence, goes way beyond carelessness!

Then there’s that photograph: the one showing the former NZ First president, Lester Gray, chatting away amiably with RNZ’s Guyon Espiner. If it was the intention of NZ First’s campaign team to go “full Trump” on the news media (and what else could they have had in mind when they sent the image, forwarded to them by a random party supporter seated in precisely the right Tauranga café, at precisely the right time, to the successor of the notorious Whaleoil blog?) then it might have been an idea for them to let their coalition partner in on the plan first!

Had Peters copied Jacinda into the plan for publishing NZ First’s very own “gotcha moment” involving the two journalists leading the NZ First Foundation story, then it’s an absolutely safe bet that she would have told him “Don’t you bloody dare!” No matter how much she, as a politician, might have enjoyed seeing one of the journalistic profession’s sharper-toothed biters getting bit, abandoning her promise to run a “relentlessly positive” election campaign in favour of one dedicated to branding the news media “enemies of the people” simply wasn’t an option. Not now. Not ever. Jacinda does “Jacinda” – she doesn’t do Donald Trump.

It’s done now, however, and Labour is left with the unenviable task of coming up with a way of dealing with Winston’s mess that doesn’t make the whole debacle worse. The temptation will be to simply ride out the storm – hoping that the Government’s good news machine “Tax relief for low paid workers, anyone?”, induces the requisite voter amnesia. Unfortunately, this time-honoured political response to “events, dear boy, events” may not be enough. Neither NZ First, nor Labour, can be sure exactly how much more embarrassing financial information Espiner and Stuff’s Matt Shand still have to release. Relying on voter amnesia won’t work if further details of NZ First’s alleged financial mismanagement continue to be drip-fed all the way to Election Day.

The least bloody alternative (at least for NZ First) would be for the party to exit the Coalition and move to the cross-benches – with Confidence and Supply being guaranteed until the election – but not beyond. This solution would certainly take the heat off Jacinda and the Labour Party – a good turn which just might, providing NZ First is officially cleared of serious wrongdoing, elicit another, nearer to Election day, in Northland. Naturally, it would necessitate Peters, Jones, et al, relinquishing the considerable advantages of Cabinet rank, but that’s the price they must expect to pay for stuffing things up so comprehensively.

Or, Jacinda could opt for a full-scale Jenny Shipley break-up. Pick an issue which NZ First cannot possibly afford to be seen supporting (Ihumatao?) and interpret its inevitable refusal to go along as a tacit admission that NZ First’s relationship with Labour-Greens is no long politically tenable.

To the shock of the inevitable snap election, Jacinda and the Greens could announce the sort of “progressive” agenda they had always wanted to implement, but couldn’t, because of their “handbrake” – NZ First. Part of that agenda could be a promise to lift benefits in line with the recommendations of the Welfare Expert Advisory Group. The prospect of a 30% pay-rise would definitely help to mobilise the beneficiary vote. And, who knows, coupled with the prospect of tax breaks for all wage and salary earners, that might just be enough.

*Chris Trotter has been writing and commenting professionally about New Zealand politics for more than 30 years. His work may be found at He writes a fortnightly column for

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The other option is to get rid of public teat sucking career list MPs. The people that know them best don't vote for them so why should Jo Taxpayer support their lifestyle choice?


Amen. Would remove the list based hangers on/financial contributors who would never get in. Might flush out those with strong political ties to CCP as well.


Will never happen due to the systematic corruption in NZ Politics.

How hard is it really?

Only citizens can register to vote.
Only registered voters can donate.
All donations are public.

Get rid of list MPs, oh, and Include this from the Aussies to eliminate all the Foreign interference.

Yes except for list MPs - without them we would have FPP as per the UK where my vote never counted for anything. However you have a reasonable point that a list MP doesn't have the same authority as an elected MP. So allow voters to write in names or choose by name on their political party vote preference. Also permit no list MP for more than two consecutive elections.

Very reluctantly I've come to the conclusion that financing our political parties should be via a financial voucher for every voter - if set at $10 per voter it would provide about $20m to finance our political parties and would be cheaper than selecting a new flag or maybe 0.1% of the cost of a replacement harbour bridge.

My thoughts exactly.

~$10 each electoral cycle is a pittance to ensure lobbying money is out of the electoral process, particularly if like voting, the cash can be split as the voter sees fit.

The only barrier then becomes for new parties being formed - this could be accounted for with a one-off fun raising jubilee up to maximum amount, or a one-off cash entitlement if they gain more than 1000 members.

Yes, the answer to parties who can't seem to figure out donation returns despite decades in politics is to reward them with even more taxpayer cash. That'll really learn them.

Well, the alternative is the pervasive and barely concealed corruption of the status quo (falsified records, omissions, risible claims of legal ignorance, seats for $ etc.) making a mockery of Transparency International's rating.

Obviously far better to give them taxpayer cash and just pretend that won't still be happening, just with no mechanisms to pick up on it, right? These are the same people, they're not going to suddenly become as pure as the driven snow. People who rort the current electoral system are still going to find a way to rort it. At least under the current method John Q Voter doesn't have to underwrite someone/anyone's bullshit unless they personally agree with said bullshit.

So as above, we can bleat about a broken system or attempt to change it.

Some players will always try to game the system (it doesn't matter what system that is btw, it's a universal problem) but to throw our collective hands up is not a solution. Expecting perfection isn't a good starting point.

If appropriate measures were put in place however to close loopholes and punish non compliance (let's say, a sliding scale from barring public employment or democratic offices for 5 years for a single infringement - and associated censure for the lawyers, accountants, nominated trustees and banks who facilitate - up to jail time for serious offences), accepting that today's censures are clearly not effective / have been designed to be not effective doesn't mean tomorrow's won't be.

There's also no compulsion to a funded system. Just like voting, no-one would be compelled to assign funds. A protest vote could well be refusing to assign those funds.

We have 'appropriate measures' with the current system. How's that working out for us? A PM who won't hold a Deputy PM to account because he could collapse the government. Tell me a similar political reality wouldn't play out under whatever system you can name. Donors who can channel funds to parties or possibly even MPs to pay expenses. Any system can be bypassed if someone just decides they aren't going to play by the rules.

Mr C T is being both mischievous and amateurishly machiavellian in this column. Judge, jury and executioner. WP & NZF have not yet been found guilty of anything at all. And let us not forget that National too have a similar enquiry on their hearth. But nevertheless MR C T ventures forth with scheming and hankering that is impulsive and habitual, and that is how could a socialist state in NZ rise like Aphrodite from the sea. Mr C T that that drum was beaten to death a long long time ago. Enjoy your dreams though, double up on the Ovaltine perhaps.

Does anybody believe that a Government solely Labour & Greens will work. I would wager within 6 months the country will be in an uproar. And it is hard to imagine that Labour themselves are not painfully aware of that prospect too. If it is thought that they cannot control NZF then what is to be expected if the Greens really get the bit between their teeth. NZ does not seem to understand that MMP will result in coalition governments in some shape. What happens is that the minority party(s) are then said to be useless because they don’t do anything or alternatively when they do, they are accused of being the tail wagging the dog. A lose lose situation if ther ever was one.

I have trouble understanding this "cannot control NZF" - next election Labour and Greeens will return to parliament - love them or hate them but NZF is borderline so Jacinda has a strong upper hand.
My suspicion is Labour is spreading this rumour because it excuses their failures (housing and homelessness, immigration and climate change, plastic and other pollution, number of prisoners, mental health, etc, etc) most of which are failings of decisiveness, bureaucracy and failure to concentrate hard enough on what matters [for example I love NZ Concert but I want a govt that makes more efforts about homelessness or pollution than talking about the radio].


When the only other option is this:

Bridges also said he would repeal Labour's ban on non-resident foreigners buying homes in New Zealand.


What real hope do we have?




Yes - this sort of statement leads to only two conclusions.

1. Stupidity at a level never seen before in NZ politics.
2. Open corruption by foreign powers at a level never seen before in NZ politics.


It looks like National has absolutely nothing to offer New Zealand's younger generations.

As opposed to NZ First, who swing between being a lobbying front for large industrial donors, throwing cash at baby boomers and whatever provincial electorates will guarantee them another three years on the gravy train?

When you put it like that NZF and National would seem natural partners.

There's a script in that comment for a Specsavers ad.

Yes it sounds terrible, however the higher order aim of 3% growth increasing per capita GDP and retaining bright and capable kiwis sounds much better.
Read the article, looks like about 6 good ideas, and one that sounds terrible.

I have been speaking with West Coast Americans who would love to buy a bolt hole in the South. Let's them get away from the crazed USA media.

Foreign property buyers disrupting the market has never been proven , and in fact if they were to buy new builds with fresh capital introduced here , then they are doing us a favour.

And in any event , its impossible to to stop locals fronting for foreigners using trusts , Companies and syndicates

Boaty, interesting you should say trusts.

The Brits stitching up the off shore business, using trusts, rather than Swiss style bank secrecy.


"Foreign property buyers disrupting the market has never been proven"

That's like saying "The sky being blue has never been proven".

If you want to ignore all the evidence, then so be it I guess.

or elder generation - don't forget an old timer like myself may have four educated adult children and three grandchildren all with little chance of ever owning a home if National become the govt.

Look at the charts on this site. They have the same chance no matter which side is in power.

Why are they called National? Shouldn't they be called the Globalisation Party instead if international interests have priority over the future of actual citizens?

Pure insanity.


Is he deliberately pitching a dystopian NZ suited to his CCP masters?

Kate yes. And all the politicians.
Take a read of this, how does it leave you feeling?

im sure plenty in christchurch would like her to personally hand over the letter to the people in wuhan

While I think a Lab/Greens government would be a one-term disaster, if transparently elected, at least it would be the undisputed choice of the majority.


What we do know is no politician can be trusted, and populism rules.

Gareth Morgan had the best intentions of creating a fairer system with less bureaucracy, however it was above the level of intelligence for those that would have benefited the most.

Like the free market, democracy is broken. Necessary redistribution of wealth will only be incremental, until enough of the those that have very little vote for change.

Never say democracy is broken! There is at least one commentator on this blogsite who has an alternative. Democracy is crippled and corrupted and needs repair but not broken - when something is broken it is replaced!

Democracy isn't broken. It is just that the process has been corrupted.

Voters have lost power as they have no monetary value (unlike lobbyists, corporates, and richlisters).

We also only get to vote "in". We should be able to vote "out" as well, particularly looking at some of the current mob.

Didn’t Winston Churchill say something along the lines of the problem with democracy can be found after a 5min conversation with the average voter?

Totally agree with you Lapun. People who live in democratic countries, who have never lived as citizens of dictatorships (particularly ideological ones) never understand how worse they are in comparison. They are just terrible, terrible forms of government.


the current form of 'democracy' has been the result of I, II and III industrial revolution, the technology advancement and the western historical path.

Like any living things, it will evolve when the circumstances around change.

The current form of 'democracy' is hindering any meaningful reform, development and advancement.

It simply needs to evolve.

I hope you mean evolution towards personal democracy and not selecting 'experts' to make the decisions on our behalf. Many more decisions could be made by online voting (assuming a great tightening up of voter identification). Should we be spending more on schools or hospitals? - let us voters decide; should we be closing our airports because of CoronaVirus? - allow the govt to present the data but let us decide. Treat the voter as a grown up and they will behave like adults. The nearest the world has to democracy devolved to the individual is Switzerland and you may have noticed their average wage is double ours. In general the more voices that are heard the better the decision making.

Ardern missed a golden opportunity while her stock was high post Chch attack to call a snap election and ditch Peters and flunkies over their hedging on CGT.

She would have hosed in and NZF would have been - rightly - consigned to the dustbin of history.

Instead, she caved, showing extraordinary political weakness and setting the stage for the tail firmly wagging the dog.

Some postulate that Peters gave Cindy an easy out of chomping on an electoral dead rat

Potentially - but Cullen's proposal was so ludicrous it was designed to be walked back so the Govt. could seem moderate.

The CGT back-down has all the hallmarks of a full-noise Winston tanty and, IMHO, Ardern fell for it when she could have brazened it out and hoisted Peters on his own petard.

Finally someone says openly what we all know to be true: Kiwis who do not contribute to New Zealand overwhelmingly vote for the party that will foist higher living costs on the people who are maintaining the state in their absence, safe in the knowledge they can swan back at any time and put pressure upon our already stressed housing stocks and infrastructure.

Pensioners voting for National, you say?

I read that critique as well.

Pensioners at least pay PAYE.

Even friends are starting to chatt.
From stout heartland to woke.

Anu Kaloti, 51, of Auckland, campaigns on behalf of migrant workers and says the government needs to be given some leeway after “the mess” of nine years of National party rule. However, she is disappointed by its performance and says Ardern’s status as an international humanitarian is not translating into better lives for Kiwis at home.

“After 15 March she has become an icon internationally, and that’s all very well, we feel proud of that, but what kind of delivery are we getting domestically?” Kaloti says. “I feel disillusioned. While it looks really good internationally, I’m seeing that as good marketing. We need more at home. There’s responsibilities here.”

Should be an interesting election. Will it be a heated and emotional one too? We have National with some daft policies, a weak figurehead and a fairly spotty bunch of MPs against Labour with a good front, many daft policies and a rabble of complete incompetents. Will the nicest sounding and most incompetent win? It seems to be what people want. Stagnation and decline are in fashion, it seems.

So according to Jacinda, the conduct of Winston as a minister in his specific portfolios is her only concern. Bearing in mind we have 'fit and proper person' rules for almost everything under the sun, but apparently that is not a standard she is going to hold the Deputy Prime Minister to. It does beg the question: what does Winston have to do to get fired?

"what does Winston have to do to get fired?" - Easy, not be the deciding vote on who is PM.

Photo finish.

"He has said a supporter took a photo, beyond that I am not familiar with the details."

"But nor do I see it as my role, there is a distinction here I run the government, individual party leaders need to be responsible for their own management of their own political parties"

Its reported she does not know who took the photos or how they ended up on a political blog.

Note to self.
Not sure the postpositive adjective will be enough.

Ex Kiwiblog

2.55A Minister of the Crown, while holding a ministerial warrant, acts in a number of different capacities:

in a ministerial capacity, making decisions and determining and promoting policy within particular portfolios;

in a political capacity as a member of Parliament, representing a constituency or particular community of interest; and

in a personal capacity.

2.56 In all these roles and at all times, Ministers are expected to act lawfully and to behave in a way that upholds, and is seen to uphold, the highest ethical standards. This includes exercising a professional approach and good judgement in their interactions with the public and officials, and in all their communications, personal and professional. Ultimately, Ministers are accountable to the Prime Minister for their behaviour

The Cabinet Manual is explicit (ie no wriggle room) that the requirement to behave to the highest ethical standards does not just apply to Ministers in their ministerial capacity but also in their wider political capacity.

So Ardern is either lying about the Cabinet Manual only being about “the conduct of how we run the Government” or she doesn’t know what it says. You can decide which one is more likely.


People we never voted for should not be allowed anywhere near the levers of power

that would have meant getting rid of bill English, steven Joyce, david carter, chris Finlayson , michael woodhouse and nicky wagner from the national party before the last election.
and all these guys had there hands on the levers

Perhaps you should consider casting your party vote, it is there for a reason.

The problem for all their houses, is that the current narrative no longer makes sense. It was always based on untruths, and the tide has gone out too far to maintain the charade. Twyford and Collins and Jones and Davidson are all part of the increasingly-irrelevant narrative.

But it has also gone out enough that Trotter and Dunne are equally 'of the past'.

I look forward to a commentator who is looking forward.

I guess if you have a look at here, you will find a lot of commentary that aligns very well with your core argument:

Quite often, intelligent authors use their skills to further the debate.

Huxley, Wells, Orwell, Klein, Atwood, locally Lazenby (the Travellers series).

I presume you are attempting to shoot the message by shooting the messenger(s)? Not an uncommon approach. Usually fear-based, when you pare it back. One finds it at all levels - even high ones.

No shooting mate. Just a little fun with your commenting persona. No harm intended.

A good pitch Chris. JA's people will be in touch shortly. You can't be the campaign manager but a role behind the scenes mentoring is assured. The package also includes a Nissan Leaf (for the campaign duration), 100 Bellamy's lunch vouchers & an invite to the wedding, whenever that happens. You will also have to give up your gig with as they (Labour) have so few new ideas left, that yours are now at the front of the queue.

Would it not be better, if we had intelligent and NZ focused leaders who had the whole Countries interests at Heart.

We are a small Country with a fantastic future, but we have more Drugs, Drongoes and Housing & Social problems than we can cope with.

We should be the envy of the World, its leading edge....(but not a hope, with Current Lot)......and I include all Parties...unfortunately.

Nuff said....we need a Common Sense Party...not a mish mash of this lot.

Toss the lot. Start over. Most are their for their Benefit....not ours.

Labour's strategy in justifying their failures will be to cite the unwieldiness of the coalition - justifying an FPP campaign. They'll still need the Greens at 5% though, so will have to take a leap of faith.

I'd definitely go with Swarbrick in Auckland and I'd probably test the waters with Nelson as well, and I would poach Tracey Martin from NZF, she is seriously wasted there.

Not at all fond of Ximon but how do we send WP to a late retirement? He's well passed his used by date.

I have no sympathy for Jacinda and her ragtag, hopeless bunch of losers , leeches and lefty-hangers-on ............. the sooner we rid ourselves of this incompetent circus masquerading as a Government , the better .

We need a strong, small, Government , that is business and farmer -friendly , that ensures and expedites the orderly development of the country , encourages people to do what they should be doing for themselves , (instead of a Nanny-state) and takes as little away from workers in tax as they possible to achieve these outcomes .

They dont need a surplus , which is in reality , your and my money they have taken from us and not used .

And they dont need to use a budget surplus for infrastructure, that can be funded through long-term borrowing