CHRIS TROTTER:  Te Pāti Māori’s uncompromising threat to the status quo

  • Chris Trotter writes –

The Crown is a fickle friend. Any political movement deemed to be colourful but inconsequential is generally permitted to go about its business unmolested. The Crown’s media, RNZ and TVNZ, may even “celebrate” its existence (presumably as proof of Democracy’s broad-minded acceptance of diversity).

Should the movement’s leader(s) demonstrate a newsworthy eccentricity, then they may even find themselves transformed into political celebrities. The moment a political movement makes the transition from inconsequentiality to significance, however, then all bets are off – especially if that significance is born of a decisive rise in its parliamentary representation.

Te Pāti Māori (TPM) is currently on the cusp of making that crucial transition from political novelty to political threat. The decision of the former MP for Waiariki, Labour’s Tamati Coffey, to step away from his parliamentary career at the end of the current term will be welcome news to TPM’s male co-leader, Rawiri Waititi, who took the seat from Coffey in 2020. There is a good chance, now, for Waititi to turn the Māori seat of Waiariki into TPM’s anchor electorate.

Continue reading “CHRIS TROTTER:  Te Pāti Māori’s uncompromising threat to the status quo”

THOMAS CRANMER: Challenging progressivism in New Zealand’s culture wars

  • Thomas Cranmer writes

 Like it or not, the culture wars have entered New Zealand politics and look set to broaden and intensify.

The culture wars are often viewed as an exclusively American phenomenon, but the reality is that they are becoming increasingly prominent in countries around the world, including New Zealand.

Some may believe that they are immune to their influence, but the truth is that these battles have already entered New Zealand politics and are being enthusiastically fought by the Labour government and the political left. Instinctively, right-leaning parties in New Zealand have shied away from culture war issues, preferring instead to focus on their traditional core policies. But whether we like it or not, the game is afoot, and we are all players.

So, what exactly are the culture wars? In essence, they are political conflicts that revolve around social and cultural issues, such as gender, race, sexuality, religion, and identity. The term was coined in the United States during the 1990s to describe the heated debates that were taking place between conservatives and progressives over issues like abortion, affirmative action, and gay rights. However, the scope of culture wars has since expanded to encompass a wide range of issues, from free speech and cancel culture to critical race theory and the role of the media in shaping public opinion. Continue reading “THOMAS CRANMER: Challenging progressivism in New Zealand’s culture wars”

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Labour’s refocus is working

  • Dr Bryce Edwards writes –     

Labour’s shift in focus is working. Under Jacinda Ardern they were a party and government focused on the voters and ideologies of liberal Grey Lynn and Wellington Central. Now under Prime Minister Chris Hipkins Labour has a laser-like focus directed at the working class politics of places like West Auckland and the Hutt Valley. That’s the pragmatic thinking behind the bold redirection of their policy priorities towards the cost-of-living crisis.
It’s paying off in the polls. Last night’s 1News Kantar poll showed Labour in front of National again, and personal support for Hipkins escalating. His preferred prime minister ratings were up four points to 27 per cent, while rival Christopher Luxon’s were down five points to just 17 per cent.
The poll also asked the public what issue would most likely influence their vote, and 48 per cent chose “cost of living”, way ahead of climate change on only 12 per cent. This is in line with the recent Ipsos poll, which showed that a record 65 per cent believed that cost of living is the top issue for the country at the moment. Continue reading “Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup: Labour’s refocus is working”

Dr Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  National’s progressive childcare-consultocracy switch

* Dr Bryce Edwards writes –

National’s pitch to voters is both progressive and shrewd. Christopher Luxon declared a war on business consultants in his state of the nation speech yesterday, promising to crack down on the public service’s $1.7bn overuse of expensive business consultants and contractors, and use the savings to fund an expensive new $249m annual subsidy for childcare costs of those in work.

A Populist attack on business consultants in government

External contractors have become an increasingly large part of Labour’s public policy- making process – especially those from the “Big Four” business consultancies of Deloitte, KPMG, Ernst and Young (EY) and PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC). They charge government departments huge amounts – such as the $9000 per week, per consultant, for the failed RNZ-TVNZ merger.

The overuse of “consultocrats” is now costing the taxpayer $1.7bn a year. Luxon announced that National was going to focus on reducing that figure by at least 25 per cent, or $400m, and repurpose the savings to low- and middle-income families. Continue reading “Dr Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  National’s progressive childcare-consultocracy switch”

Chris Trotter: The road to October

Road Closed: For Chris Hipkins and Labour, the state highway to October has been rendered impassable by inaction and political slash. Christopher Luxon and National, meanwhile, have discovered an unsealed road without slips and fallen trees. It’s not their usual way of reaching the Treasury Benches, but, with a bit of luck, it just might get them where they want to go.  CHRIS TROTTER writes – 

THE NATIONAL PARTY stands at the beginning of an unsealed road which, if followed, might just carry it to victory. The question, now, is whether the party possesses the guts to set off down it. Sometimes politicians hit upon a winning strategy by accident, unaware that they have done so. National’s answer to the Government’s controversial Three Waters project may be a case in point.

Wittingly, or unwittingly, National’s policy reflects the principle of subsidiarity – i.e. the idea that the best decisions are those made by the communities required to live most closely with their consequences. Set against Labour’s preference for large, centralised (and almost always unresponsive) bureaucracies, National’s preference for the local and the accountable has much to recommend it.  

Labour, meanwhile, may find that its road to October has been closed. Rather than proceed with all speed down the path of repudiation and reprioritisation promised by Chris Hipkins when he became Prime Minister, the exigencies of dealing with the Auckland Anniversary Weekend Floods and Cyclone Gabrielle appear to have provided Hipkins’ caucus opponents with a chance to regroup and push back. Continue reading “Chris Trotter: The road to October”

Not as simple as it looks

The international commentariat may be forgiven for believing new PM Chris Hipkins has relaunched the government rather well. 

First a clever pivot to the centre and now a compassionate and inclusive focus on disaster recovery.

Giving credence to rumours that the key strategic brains agreed and executed a skilful change of direction rather well.

Continue reading “Not as simple as it looks”

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  Luxon’s leadership under threat

  • Dr Bryce Edwards writes:

The National Party will be desperate to avoid a repeat of the leadership musical chairs of 2020 when they rolled Simon Bridges as leader, replaced him with Todd Muller, only for Muller to step down after 53 days, leading to Judith Collins taking the party into the election.

But National will currently be considering whether a move needs to be made against leader Christopher Luxon, who continues to struggle and stumble. The party must be tempted to replace him with his high-performing deputy, Nicola Willis, who might be better able to take on Prime Minister Chris Hipkins.

Panicked changes of leadership don’t generally project stability and unity to the public. However, proponents of a leadership change in National might well point to Labour changing from Andrew Little to Jacinda Ardern just seven weeks before the 2017 election, which turned out rather well.

Poor polls for National and Luxon

Luxon’s leadership simply isn’t working. He had a good year in 2022. He managed to unify the party, and provided a fresh contrast to Ardern. But that novelty appears to have faded fast, especially now that Ardern has left. Continue reading “Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  Luxon’s leadership under threat”

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  Labour’s reorientation to working class Māori

* Dr Bryce Edwards writes-

In recent decades the Labour Party has lost its traditional connection with working-class voters, becoming more of a middle-class party of liberalism.
This is especially true of Labour’s historic connection with working-class Māori. This is a constituency that the party used to monopolise. But ever since the days of Rogernomics, the Māori working-class base of the party started to lose faith in Labour.
Politicians like Matiu Rata and Sandra Lee split and shifted to alternative political vehicles like Mana Motuhake and the Alliance. Then New Zealand First won all the Māori electorate seats in 1996. And, after Labour regained these seats, the newly formed Māori Party won most of them off Labour in 2008.
This means that for the last few decades Labour hasn’t been able to count on the Māori vote, and it has also had to come to grips with a Māori electorate that is far from a monolith, with the same political preferences. A growing Māori middle class and iwi elite have very different aspirations and policy preferences to working-class Māori.
The “bread-and-butter” concerns of working-class Māori
Within Māoridom there is a tension between the desire to focus on working-class “bread-and-butter” issues like inequality, poverty, education, healthcare and housing, and a more culturalist approach focused on the Treaty of Waitangi and bicultural constitutional arrangements.
The Labour Party is most successful with the Māori electorate when it orientates towards the working-class concerns of Māori voters. The party’s historic belief in universalism and left-wing policies to lift up those at the bottom of the pile regardless of race resonates with their traditional working-class Māori base.
For example, the last public polling of Māori, undertaken by Horizon Research for The Hui early last year, showed most Māori voters have very similar views to non-Māori voters in wanting the government to deliver the basics – especially an improved standard of living.
When asked which issues will most influence their voting choice at the 2023 election, 72 per cent of Māori respondents chose “Cost of living”, followed by housing, health, Covid, poverty, economy, employment, education, and environment. Only 32 per cent chose “Tiriti o Waitangi Settlements” as influencing their vote.
Notably, the same poll showed that support for Labour had plummeted amongst Māori. 54 per cent said that they had voted Labour in 2020, but only 37 per cent said they intended to choose Labour in 2023.
What changed for Māori voters since the Labour Government was elected in 2017 and then re-elected for a second term in 2020?
The most obvious shift has been a change of orientation away from working-class Māori concerns towards more middle-class or elite Māori policies after 2020.
Labour does best when it orientates to working-class Māori and universalism
Willie Jackson ran Labour’s 2017 campaign and he was determined that Labour’s messaging to Māori voters was not going to be about culture and symbolism and the Treaty, but “bread-and-butter” issues like improving health, education, employment and poverty. Labour swept to victory in all seven Māori seats, which helped them win the Beehive.
Projecting a traditional left-wing orientation to Māori voters worked. At the first Waitangi Day after forming the new Government, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern made a speech in which she signalled that her Government was departing from the traditional culturalist and race-based approach to dealing with Māori deprivation and economic inequality.
Ardern stated that the new Government would take a universalistic approach to inequality – targeting everyone at the bottom, rather than specifically targeting Māori. She strongly emphasised the need to deal with the long list of social ills that have a disproportionate impact on Māori, but signalled that race-based methods were not the best way forward.
The prime minister explained that –

“We are specifically targeting things like poverty. An actual by-product of that is it will positively impact Māori.”

Similarly, Finance Minister Grant Robertson refuted that Labour would take an approach of “targeting Māori” and instead said that “Our focus is on reducing inequality overall”, and stressed that the focus would be on programmes that were universal rather than race-based.
Essentially, this new approach under Labour meant directing resources and solutions to poor Māori “because they are poor” rather than “because they are Māori”.
Labour’s deviation from delivering universalism
In the second term of the Ardern-Robertson government, Labour moved away from this approach and towards one that has been characterised as being about “co-governance” and fulfilling the needs of the United Nations Declaration on Indigenous Rights, which also led to the He Puapua report developed for Labour on constitutional reform. Other reforms had a radical bicultural element to them, such as the new Māori Health Authority.
The key part of this co-governance approach has been the Three Waters reforms, designed by former Local Government minister Nanaia Mahuta. In this, the newly amalgamated water corporates would be 50 per cent controlled by iwi.
Arguably, this shift towards co-governance and culturalist politics is one that is geared more towards Māori elites than working class Māori. Mahuta has been a key figure in shifting Labour back towards iwi politics, and with it the more elite concerns of sovereignty and culture.
A return to Māori working-class politics?
With the changing of the guard from Ardern to new leader Chris Hipkins, Labour and the Government are trying to reset its policy programme and orientation away from unpopular reforms such as water co-governance. Hipkins himself has signalled that he wants his administration to be less woke and more working class.
This means ditching some of the more middle-class liberal reforms such as co-governance. And Mahuta’s demotion has been part of this. She was stripped of her Local Government portfolio last week and pushed down the Cabinet rankings, from her front-bench #8 slot to only #16, essentially giving her the message that her time is over. The public has hardly heard from her since – interestingly, Mahuta was meant to give a speech to foreign diplomats at Waitangi, but cancelled at the last moment without explanation.
This shift also means jettisoning Labour’s recent strong alliance with tribal leaders. This was evident over the weekend at Waitangi, when the PM and ministers met with the elite Iwi Chairs Forum.
According to reporting yesterday from Richard Harman,

“… it is clear that the Hipkins Government will bring the Three Waters legislation back to the debating Chamber to remove the co-governance proposal”.  

The new role of Willie Jackson in re-orientating Labour towards working class Māori
It appears that Hipkins stood up to iwi leaders over the jettisoning of Three Waters co-governance, refusing to countenance their objections. Harman reports:

 “The Government responded with the usually blunt Willie Jackson, now elevated above Mahuta in the Cabinet, who told the chairs they would have to understand they either supported the government as it moved to water down co-governance or, if they didn’t, they would end up enabling National-ACT government.”    

Jackson is now the senior Māori Labour MP – although Kelvin Davis is still deputy leader, this is more as a figurehead position – and will be calling the shots on Labour’s class orientation. He’s made it clear he thinks Labour needs to go back towards working class politics, and away from tribal politics.
Jackson told Newsroom’s Jo Moir that co-governance has “become so tainted”, and he explained that he’s asked iwi leaders “to have a pragmatic look at things”. Moir reports that his message to iwi leaders was to “work with us or you work against us”.
Moir explains that

“Jackson has a long-established track record of calling out iwi leaders for not being representative of all Māori”.

And she reports that he is once again stating that tribal leaders are not so important for Labour’s decision-making. Jackson told her:

“The iwi perspective is one perspective and it’s important, but it’s not the be-all and end-all.”

Furthermore, Jackson says:

“I don’t live my life around whether iwi leaders say yes or no – they don’t represent me in Auckland… We’re represented by urban authorities and people at the coal face, and we don’t live or die on what the iwi leaders say.”   

This is quite a shift in orientation for Labour. Moir explains that Jackson is on board with Hipkins’ shift back towards more working class concerns, including for Māori:

“While Three Waters and co-governance is important, he says it isn’t the driving issue for most Māori. That continues to be ‘bread and butter issues’ like housing, education, health, and the economy.”

As to what will happen with co-governance, Jackson is now emphasising that it doesn’t have to be as radical and significant as it’s become – for example, he says:

“It’s where a Māori voice is required, and it doesn’t have to be a 50/50 representation”.    

A working class focus means less co-governance for Labour
Hipkins himself talked about co-governance over the weekend, but has also started to position it much like the National Party does – as something that is appropriate in certain instances, but not necessary for everything that a government does. Hipkins’ favourite explanation of the merits of co-governance is in line with National leader Christopher Luxon – that it is appropriate for co-management of natural resources.
The tide appears to be turning against the use of parallel bi-cultural institutions and co-governance in the delivery of public services. Another Labour politician leading this charge is David Parker, who pushed back strongly late last year, saying that he had resisted the pressure to include co-governance elements in the new resource management reforms.
The Government’s apparent shift away from co-governance and the concerns of iwi elites is unlikely to cause much strife for Labour. Working class voters – regardless of whether they are Māori or pakeha – are more interested in whether Labour is successfully combating the cost-of-living crisis and delivering decent housing, education and healthcare.
It was interesting that during the Waitangi weekend there were no apparent protests against Labour’s looming cancellation or watering down of Three Waters co-governance.
Notably, however, there was one major Māori protest at Waitangi. It wasn’t about sovereignty, te Tiriti, or constitutional reform, but instead about the cost-of-living crisis. This is clearly where Labour will need to focus if it wants to win back working-class Māori support.


Dr Bryce Edwards is a politics lecturer at Victoria University and director of Critical Politics, a project focused on researching New Zealand politics and society. This article was first published HERE.




Chris Trotter: Blowing off the froth – why Chris Hipkins must ditch Three Waters

Time To Call A Halt: Chris Hipkins knows that iwi leaders possess the means to make life very difficult for his government. Notwithstanding their objections, however, the Prime Minister’s direction of travel – already clearly signalled by his very public demotion of Nanaia Mahuta – must be confirmed by an emphatic and unequivocal pledge to repeal the Three Waters legislation and start again.  CHRIS TROTTER writes…

THERE’S FROTH, AND THERE’S BEER. What we see happening on the Waitangi Treaty Grounds every 6 February, not to mention the political performance-art on the lower marae, is froth.

The beer of Māori-Pakeha relations is to be found in the private meeting rooms of Waitangi’s Copthorne Hotel & Resort, where the National Iwi Chairs Forum (NICF) deliberates in secret upon Maoridom’s next moves. It is there, in the days leading up to Waitangi Day, that New Zealand’s new Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, will either face down the men and women driving the stake of co-governance into the heart of the Settler State – or see Labour spiral slowly to defeat.

The designation “Iwi Chairs” seems so innocuous. It conjures up the image of a roomful of corporate bureaucrats working their way through a very boring agenda, and breaking-off every now and then to listen to equally boring presentations from bankers, accountants and the occasional politician. Continue reading “Chris Trotter: Blowing off the froth – why Chris Hipkins must ditch Three Waters”