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Chris Trotter argues that the National Party’s political survival in the twenty-first century may depend upon its willingness to not only adopt Labour’s policies – but anticipate them

Chris Trotter argues that the National Party’s political survival in the twenty-first century may depend upon its willingness to not only adopt Labour’s policies – but anticipate them
Preliminary architectural drawing, commissioned by Ministry of Works planners in 1946 for its proposed Tamaki Housing Area.

By Chris Trotter*

At some point, the National Party is going to realise that the rules of the game have changed. If the party’s history is any guide, such a realisation is likely to come later rather than sooner. That same history, however, suggests that National will get there in the end – and that, when it does, its lease on government is likely to be a long one.

 The global rule-change, economically and politically, was precipitated by the Global Financial Crisis (GFC) of 2008-2009. Prior to the near collapse of the world’s financial system, the accepted wisdom was unequivocal that “market forces” were the best regulators of globalised capitalism. Better, certainly, than politicians and bureaucrats. As the GFC unfolded, however, it soon became clear that if the resolution of the crisis was left to “market forces”, then the global economic system would grind to a catastrophic halt – setting-off a second Great Depression.

 Newsweek magazine celebrated the dramatic re-entry of the nation-state into the political-economic drama with a cover proclaiming: “We Are All Socialist Now”. This was very far from wry journalistic hyperbole. Not when the new US President, Barack Obama, had just nationalised General Motors. Banks, investment houses, insurance companies and automobile manufacturers, had all been designated (to employ the catch-phrase of the hour) “too big to fail”.

 The rule-book had been re-written.

 The problem was that acknowledging the eclipse of free-market capitalism was very difficult to do, without resurrecting all the social-democratic and socialist nostrums the free-market revolutionaries of the 1980s had worked so hard to extirpate. The upshot was that practically all of the economic dogmas discredited by the GFC continued to enjoy a kind of bizarre post-apocalyptic afterlife. Neoliberals had become the walking-dead; dull-eyed transmitters of “zombie economics”.

 And then the Covid-19 Pandemic struck.

 Now it was entire national economies that were being designated as too big to fail. If Keynesian’s first appearance in history had been in response to the multiple tragedies of the 1930s; it second appearance has taken on the qualities of farce.

 The US Congress has just passed a “rescue package” of $US1.9 trillion. Yes, that’s right “trillion” – twelve zeroes! And this latest money-gusher is only the latest in a succession of equally gigantic monetary geysers.

 Government spending hasn’t so much spun out-of-control as it has taken on the characteristic of an out-of-body experience. The United States, and the rest of the big capitalist players, hover above themselves in the economic operating theatre, looking down at the pale, prone, patient on the operating table and wondering, with curious detachment, if they’re going to make it.

 In this political-economic environment, allegiance to the old rulebook simply makes no sense. When the central banks of the major capitalist economies have more-or-less agreed to keep the global system functioning by taking in each other’s financial washing, a political party like National has absolutely nothing to gain by clinging-on for dear life to the moribund principles of fiscal rectitude.

 If money really is no object, then the only sensible political strategy to adopt is the one which best fulfils the electorate’s most urgent needs. Such a strategy makes even more sense in the face of a government seemingly enslaved to the “zombie economics” of its neoliberal advisers. Labour is currently relying on men and women who do not appear to have had an alive-and-kicking idea since July 1984. The only thing that makes the Government’s behaviour look even slightly rational, is that National is, itself, beholden to the same zombies.

 Why is there no one in the senior ranks of either of the two major parties with the cut-through intelligence of the young, conservative political commentator, Liam Hehir. He, at least, “gets” that the current housing crisis cannot be solved by tightening-up LVRs, further weaponising the “bright line test”, or, God save us, introducing a Capital Gains Tax. Such “marginal” measures are not for him. Responding to Jack Tame’s questions on TVNZ’s current affairs show, Q+A, Hehir ruthlessly dismissed the “Lost Generation” of aspiring home-owners as being beyond effective help. Better, he argued, to engage in a root-and-branch reform of New Zealand’s tenancy laws. What works so well in Western Europe and the Nordic countries, must be made to work here.

 He’s right, of course. To house, within a politically acceptable time-frame, the tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders in need of well-designed, well-constructed, affordable and securely held accommodation, the Government and the private sector have to build apartment blocks – lots of apartment blocks. Not the “vertical slums” of the 1960s and 70s, but the progressively conceived and architecturally impressive projects presented to the First Labour Government in the late-1940s.

 These plans, discovered over ten years ago by Dr Chris Harris (in the form of appendices to the 1946 Hansard) constituted the foundation of an Auckland that never was. As tragic as it is uncanny, this comprehensive effort by leading Ministry of Works planners, addressed nearly all of the problems which came to bedevil Auckland over succeeding decades. Everything from cycle-ways to light-rail; ring-roads to intensive public housing: all are there in those state-developed plans which National, beholden to property developers, roading contractors and the automobile lobby, could not abandon fast enough following its 1949 election victory.

 Therein lies the true tragedy. After 14 years in power (six of which were years of war) the Labour team of 1949 was old and tired. Their failure to grasp the possibilities of the plans placed before them is, if looked at in a generous spirit, forgivable. Much harder to forgive, however, is a government peopled with young, idealistic and well-educated politicians, well set up for their second term with a solid parliamentary majority.

 Suitably updated, those radically social-democratic plans from the late-1940s could, with just a little political imagination, form the basis of a comprehensive response to New Zealand’s steadily worsening housing crisis. Of course Jacinda Ardern’s and Grant Robertson’s bureaucratic advisers are going to tell them that nothing like the old MoW’s plan is any longer desirable or doable – before eating what’s left of their brains.

 It would be strangely fitting if National – albeit eight decades too late – embraced the MoW’s urban development blueprint. After all, it took them more than a decade to grasp the fact that the rules of the game – as understood in the 1920s – had changed. It was only when the party pledged to keep in place the core of Labour’s social reforms, that National became a viable electoral proposition. Its political survival in the twenty-first century could just as easily depend upon National not only adopting Labour’s policies – but anticipating them.

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

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'Chris Trotter argues that the National Party’s political survival in the twenty-first century may depend upon its willingness to not only adopt Labour’s policies – but anticipate them'

Labour party does not themselves know what their policy will be going future - should they support their loyal left base or go after national party base - result are losing their traditional base and will not get much of national - result will be for all to see.

Do they have any policy or are just reacting to media reports on a daily basis and planing accordingly OR best ignore issue or tpoic that does not suit them and duvert to all time favourute distraction - corona vurus.

So when labour does not know its future move, hard for national or even labour to....


Did you actually the article?
It's a fairly profound criticism of the utter lack of imagination both major parties display.

I actually just removed my comment. I wouldn't call Chris Trotter's criticism profound though. He's a decent writer, often offering insights gleaned from yesteryear. Unfortunately after reading a few of his articles.. his arguments start becoming cliché.

He is definitely better than Peter Dunne though, hence the delete.

Great article. Loved the out of body analogy.


Shouldn’t be difficult...”overpromise and underdeliver...let’s do this”

Their is only one rule and that rule is to play under the cover of cirona virus.

Jacinda Arden with her full majority has lost an opportunity to reset lot of things that labour always wanted to do for NZ.

Lack vision for future.

There's already a playbook here; a charming leader and a 'promise the world, delivery very little, rebuff scrutiny by iterating how disappointed you are'. They just need a charming, insta-friendly front person/fall guy to get up front and out hand-wring PM Ardern.

Then in 12 years, when nothing has changed other than ever-increasing house-prices, our main export earner can be "wow what went wrong here, can't possibly think of a reason our country is basically the same as it was in the 1990s" think-pieces.

You mean bring John Key back? He was the ultimate charming, insta-friendly front person. Mr smiley wavey. 'At the end of the day' guy.

Clearly not 'the ultimate' as that bar has been raised significantly in the last few years.

John Key's only accomplishments of note were tax cuts for the rich, selling off SoEs to the rich and pulling ponytails.

At least Ardern can say she successfully navigated us through the worst pandemic in 100 years.

How is this in any way the worst Pandemic in 100 years?
Sweden didn't lockdown, or mask, or close borders. The poster child of a wild experiment in human health.
Swedish per capita mortality for 2020, the year when this "1 in a 100 year pandemic" was raging, was only the fourth or fifth worst in the last 10 years (depending what population data you use). .
Either way that is more common an occurrence than a rugby world cup.
Yet if we wanted to compare covid mortality to the Spanish Influenza pandemic, we would need 216 million dead covid 19 deaths to match the mid range estimate of Spanish Influenza. Thats about 1 in 36 people on the planet. All ages as well, not just mostly old and already sick people. 83 times more dead than the current covid total.
Its amusing how people say "you can't compare covid to the flu" and then compare to flu, even when the comparison is clearly ridiculous.

Thanks for the insight Clarke.

All Key’s accomplishments? Oh there were others. The Treasury enforcer job on EQC created unparalleled havoc and hardship on Canterbury EQ claimants, who discovered the act could be subverted to punish rather than protect. That too with the extraordinary own goal of EQC shortchanging and botched repairs relieved the insurers of liability that belonged to them and landed the whole damn inexcusable heap of malfeasance and misdeeds into the lap of the next government. What was thought to be saved ended up costing over twice as much, wrecked homes, families and livelihoods. In terms of shameful episodes of government, that one is right up there indeed.

...and yet Key managed to do more to address housing than Ardern has mustered to date. Do-nothing John Key still more effective than Ardern, who requires NZ to be a permanent state of calamity to keep her head above water. Isn't that something.

What did Key do, exactly? They reduced the stock of state housing while in government. They made special housing areas where the houses ended up being 5% more expensive than houses not built in those areas, because the land value went up as a direct result of the special zoning designation. They talked about canning the RMA but never did it. After saying there was a housing crisis in 2006 and attacking Helen Clark over it, once elected he steadfastly refused to admit there was one.

Anything else?

Also note National were in power for 9 years, Labour has been in power for just over 3 at this point, and that was with NZFirst acting as a square wheel for their first term as well.

I dunno - I remember John getting lines of people wanting selfies and he was happy to oblige. BBQs with royals, trips to castles...

Not an Adern fan but just saying JK just as bad in many respects.

True, Key responded to public feeling, but he did stuff. That is the difference between Key and this lot.
The hard stuff Labour doesn't do. like housing, vaccination plans, actioning their climate emergency statements, border worker testing etc.

When you say ‘did stuff’ what do you mean? Like a flag referendum or something?

Apparently Key 'did stuff' when it came to housing. I guess he means "denied there was a housing crisis after being elected".

I thought Bill English was the main flag waver for denying there was a housing crisis. Maybe Key thought it was only serious and so his henchman BE said there was no crisis.

Your memory is faulty. Upon becoming the accidental PM in 2016, Bill English acknowledged there was a housing crisis.

Stuff like mass low-value tourism; high population growth from mass low-skill immigration; encouraging industry to depend on hundreds of thousands of low-paid temporary workers; degrading our education system with mass "export" education (tied into mass immigration); and carpeting the Canterbury plains with irrigators. Hmm.

Agree but followed hard on Keys heels was Labour

A broken "democratic" political system is the root cause of critical issues NOT being solved.

lol you're not fooling anyone here


And how would you solve our broken democratic system? Presumably through a One Party state. Who would choose it? Would 're-education camps' be required to 'encourage' conformity? What about our armed forces? Presumably they, along with the police would need to be vastly expanded.
Why do you contine to live here in our broken system, when nirvana awaits in the Middle Kingdom?

Even a broken democratic system is a gazillion times preferable to an authoritarian one party state, tow the line or thanks for your kidney.
It is extremely concerning to see the Chinese and Russian govts endorsing the murder of citizens by the military in Myanmar.

Zhang is just a CCP troll. Ironic you use democratic in quotations.

What I can't understand is when simply caring about your fellow human being became an offence, and insulting? Instead these days we cow tow to a monied elite, and capitalists all of whom exhibit various degrees of psychopathy. We live in a christian based culture where charity is supposedly one of the pillars, but I observe wealthy throwing money around as charity because it makes them feel better (less guilty?), but they sure as hell don't have a charitable spirit or attitude to others. And god help the politician in our DEMOCRACY (!) that dares to suggest that all, not just the monied elite, should benefit the rewards of our wealth. NZ is riddled with all these. Currently, to me at least, the most visible are a bunch of capitalist psychopaths who want to own every house in the country so they can fleece (it's the market don't you know?) their tenants, and our politicians are culpable in this as well. And woe betide the person who suggests that landlords should be socially responsible by asking their tenants to pay an affordable rent, because they are already being socially responsible by providing social housing!

Jesus, hate the landlords again. Christ, how many do you know to have such hatred deep within? 80% of rentals are owned by landlords who own "1" rental. Its folk like my parents who purchased 25+ yrs ago to have some additional spend to prop up their superannuation. Get over yourself.

Got my name right then. And seriously, do your parents charge an affordable rent, or are they parasites like the rest of them? If they did buy 25+ years ago, they could affordably be charging only $100 - $150 per week and it would be all gravy, but I bet they don't (it's the market don't you know!) Predating on the vulnerable is never justifiable no matter the pretty words you dress it up as. Go look in a mirror and decide what kind of human being you are.

Just so you know where I am coming from, 18 - 20 years ago, I owned 7 - 9 rentals. Yes it was highly profitable when i only worked on the rent as the only income, and I never got greedy with the rent. In one instance I actually demonstrated to one of my tenants, a solo father beneficiary, how he could afford to buy the house he was living in when I put it on the market. He chose not to, but had he wanted to, he could have. I got out of them when the market went stupid.

When there's a shortage of housing, every landlord that buys deprives a renter of the chance to be a first home buyer.

Love the neighbour is now turn they neighbour into your debt slave.

Capitalism is turning people into self interested psychos (and I’m not being sarcastic at all)

As an establishment (land owners) centre right party I don't see where National can go. They are boxed in by ACT on the right and are competing with an almost ideologically identical party in Labour. There is no way they can harm the chosen investment class of their voters for the welfare of voters from the other party. And if they go further right they will be up against Seymour who is far more ideologically capable than any of Nationals current leadership, splitting that vote and bleeding votes to Labour on the left. (The only play I can think of is make a play for the retired term deposit holders but that's not a big enough demographic.)

National will be back but they will have to wait for the entire Key era and cabinet to be eliminated from the party. Signs of progress would be Judith being replaced with someone who was not there during the Key government or in the very least Simon being demoted to the point he's not allowed to open his mouth to make low level petty attacks (Seymour is so much better at going after PC progressivism). With more competent leaders in the party, they will be able to out muscle Labour on the centre right.

Edit: some of the worst spelling and grammar

in the very least Simon being demoted to the point he's not allowed to open his mouth to make low level petty attacks

National can't really do that though, because he won his electorate - one of few MPs who actually did. So he'll get back in 2023. That means they can't insult / demote him in that way because he'll just cause trouble for them.

That National can embark on a revitalised or innovative policy platform, is highly questionable. That is because just about all of them in parliament are imbued, as a first priority, with self interest and personal ambition. That was well illustrated by the wretched personal downfalls prior to the last election. Ironically though I would suggest Todd Muller was not of that ilk. Unsuited and unprepared he may have been, but he was also candid and good hearted, but he was prodded forward by those that were typical intriguers. In this vein, you can go way back to Ruth Richardson, who when demoted abandoned her electorate, threw her toys out the window and dived after them. Guess that was sufficient precedent for the two identities championing Mr Muller? Said all that to say National ain’t going anywhere with or without policy until they can persuade the electorate that they are cohesive rather than corrosive and performing as an orchestra rather than a bunch of soloists.

Well said.

That's true he can always make comments as an electorate representative.
Maybe the leadership could make him resign. Find him a well paying job and make it clear he has no future in cabinet. Every time he speaks he reinforces the idea that the National party is a bunch of immature idiots who have no plan or ideology of substance (it's a low bar that Labour easily beats).

The danger for Labour approaching ideological parity with National is that Labour are completely useless. Fairly easy for National to promise the same but attack Labour's credibility at actually achieving their promises.

As poor as Labour are, National appear to be considered even less capable by the electorate. There are very few of them who can get any attention in the press without looking a privileged idiot. Their only benefit they have is they can outsource their policy to Business NZ so at least the policy ends up working for some.

Shorething, what do you think National have going for them? The only thing I can think of is even stronger commitment to support asset prices at the expense of everything else.

I agree with you Tim, Labour have National completely snookered. I am a little surprised by just how incompetent the Nat's strategy is. Game theory 101 is to claim the middle ground and Nat's have ceded this to Labour.

Chris! Your talking rubbish! The youthful neoliberal government of the day will never give up their 'right' to the privileged middle-upper class lifestyle! Just look at the house in "Grey Lynn" that was sold recently for earning the investor more than $100k per month for the 7 months of ownership! J. Albert Lee will be spinning in his grave.

The Nats are dinosaurs and are struggling to realise, understand why people are turned off from their boring old messaging of Crime, Punishment and lazy brown folks etc .... its boring Judith! The yoof doesn't wanna know! They just want the superficial things in life that are important to them. The future debt is theirs too! They signed up and voted for it!

In this era of bailouts disguised as subsidies, loans, grants etc ... from the government, the right struggle to accept that this is Socialism at work! Without it, they're dead in the water. And that is the conundrum that the Nat's and the right have. The election result numbers kinda tells it all.

They do, they love their superficial things and lap up the virtue signals, most of all they love their Dear Leader

Your post is spot on!

"Westpac's economists predict higher mortgage rates will eventually start pushing down house prices"

All this prediction, media coverage just an attempt to create an environment to influence Mr Grant Robertson to dilute the measures that he is planing to control speculative demand, this week unless he delays further as he did last time in February as may be still waiting for the advise which is coming from Planet Jupiter and is getting delayed by virus.

What options does he have as cannot introduce CGT ( Missed perfect opportunity - all because of Jacinda Arden's ego) so :

1 : Introduce DTI just like LVR ( possible and is not complicated as mentioned Moby Mr Orr) - may be 5 times or if want to be harder than 4 times for second or more home buyers be it investors or speculators and 6 to 7 time for FHB depending upon the deposit.

2 : Remove interest only Loan ( As this point is being taking lightly but most speculators are on interest only and this measure itself will be a game changer provided framed and done with right earnest and not only for affect).

Seems government is planing to take measures on interest only loan but should do it in earnest with no loopholes and is evident from the panic that came from Judith Collins a week before, when she must have got inside information, assume

3 : Not to ban auction as cannot ban BUT Reserve price to be declared before hand as will help lot of FHB to save money in due deligence as everyone knows how manipulated and liars RE agents are and all in the name of marketing at the expense of FHB).

4 : Important any policy declared should be implimented asap without giving any window of opportunity to ramp up before just like speculators were given opportunity to buy as much before introduction of LVR on 1st March - result is for everyone to see, rise of house price by $100000 in a month ( not year)

Supply though important but more important for now is to tame the speculative demand as will take ages for supply to meet demand, if it ever does. So not to hide behind the excuse of supply as all do to avoid taking any action on the housing ponzi.

Most important government has to be sincere, which have doubts and will know soon.

That the reserve price should disclosed well in advance of the auction is a very good suggestion.

One other option which could level the playing field (I haven't seen the suggestion anywhere but I could be wrong):

For home investors - remove the tax advantages versus home-owners. i.e. interest on mortgages is no longer deductible, repairs & maintenance are no longer deductible etc. Put the investors on the same tax footing as owner-occupiers...

I know it'll never happen - but it might put a proverbial cat amongst the pigeons.

Agree to all those points. Was hoping Labour had the balls to do even a few of these but so far they are more in the doldrums than the Italians were yesterday.

What a TERRIBLE article this international article published in the Herald is. Misinformed international adoration of Ardern continues! My brother who lives in Sweden finds it hard to reconcile my criticism of her with the adoration he reads of:

Yes, astonishing.

It's disgusting. She's absolutely USELESS.

Back to Chris Trotter, Liam Hehir, and Chris Harris:

Q+A housing discussion from 4min50
The preceding Adrian Orr interview:

And here is Chris Harris's essay:

My impression of National that at the end of the day everything is controlled by "the Board" It seems to be some sort of shadowy body representing the interests of the uber wealthy. Mention of it comes up occasionally when National MPs say this or that major direction has been approved by the 'Board"
The impression that I am getting is that the elected members are simply there to give effect to the wishes of the board, manage the politics and relationship with the public and act as attractive players in the democratic pantomime at election time. Accordingly what national politicians may say before an election means nothing. and of course the serial lying of JK demonstrate this. This time will be no different. All that is going on here is National trying to develop a script and company of actors that that will suck in enough voters so that the objectives (unstated) of the Board and the super wealthy interests they represent, can be put into effect.
Trouble is however that Labour are totally useless and further right wing than National.
The old saying that governments loose elections should be sufficient to yield the next election to National provided they say enough soothing stuff and keep their noses clean.
The big problem is that NZ needs a new political party that will cut through the bullshit and actually represent the interests of mainstream Kiwis. One of the first things that needs to be done is to exercise very firm control over the government departments that seem to be able to do as they please, lack discipline and a work ethic.

Surely it can't be too much to ask, a party that addresses the overall interests of the nation rather than a minority (ie. Property investors).

Well said Chris. I am going to bang my drum again in that the problem is all parties are beholden to their major donors. Until we fund political parties from the public purse we will never have democracy. The cost is a drop in the bucket compared to the benefits.
Of course the major donors don't want public funding or they would lose control, so don't wait for the major parties to seriously pursue it.

100% agree.

Just one example we are being screwed over by the current "major donor system"...mass immigration. It's a safe bet the vast majority of kiwis don't want the high levels being foisted on us with all the problems it brings, but the donors sure do profit from it. And so it carries on.
Another...why did John Key sell off the assets?...was it good for the country...or could it have been because the sales commission received by National party donors was in the hundreds of millions of dollars?

If there's anything at all to admire and respect about the National Party it's that it never pretends to exist for anyone other than the wealthy. It's not the party of workers and ordinary people, never has been, and probably never will be. Nats don't care about anyone who isn't rich, and they aren't afraid to say so.

Yeah exactly!
Unlike Labour, who pretend to care.
I don't think I will be able to bring mysrlf to vote for them again (note I didn't vote for them in the most recent election, but did in the one before that).
Lying phoneys. And incompetent to boot.

Labour has been diluted by fringe loonie rabble such as what passes for Greens in NZ; where protecting the environment and encouraging renewable energy is ignored in favor of far more pressing issues, such as legalizing marijuana, and arguing endlessly about toilet signage. It exasperates the bulk of ordinary Labour supporters while achieving nothing that matters.

Just say something similar: be kind, let's do this, let's get moving... Here's a thing.. Both Nat & Lab are all bound by binge drunk teenager voters if you liked to say for example. So, any govt. will have to support those voters, more alcohol please.. to the point no more cash left, then ask RBNZ to print some more.. then watch the result.