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.




The Hipkins bit of the conjecture about Labour’s leadership has been settled – now for the deputy’s job (and diversity)

Buzz from the Beehive

Because our hard-working Ministers of the Crown are engaged in Labour Party caucus stuff in Napier, no doubt jockeying to ensure they keep their jobs or get a better one, Point of Order was not surprised to find no fresh news on the Beehive website this morning.

Nothing has been posted since January 19, when we learned –

General Election to be held on 14 October 2023

The 2023 General Election will be held on Saturday 14 October 2023, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced today.


 Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announces resignation

Jacinda Ardern has announced she will step down as Prime Minister and Leader of the Labour Party. Her resignation will take effect on the appointment of a new Prime Minister.

This second post led to a flurry of media scribblings and babblings about why Ardern had quit and who would succeed her. Continue reading “The Hipkins bit of the conjecture about Labour’s leadership has been settled – now for the deputy’s job (and diversity)”

Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  Why Jacinda Ardern’s resignation changes everything

  • Dr Bryce Edwards writes:

Should New Zealand have a snap election? That’s one of the questions arising out of the chaos of Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s shock resignation.

There’s an increased realisation that everything has changed, and the old plans and assumptions for election year have suddenly evaporated. So, although Ardern has named an election date of 14 October there’s some good reason for the new prime minister to bring that forward to, say, March.

The big issue is one of electoral mandates. Will New Zealanders feel that Prime Minister Chris Hipkins – or whoever is chosen on Sunday – has a truly legitimate right to govern the country? Of course, constitutionally and legally the new PM will be able to govern – the role of PM is merely the choice of the ruling party. And, when Bill English took over from John Key a year out from the 2017 election, there was no expectation that an early election was necessary. Continue reading “Bryce Edwards’ Political Roundup:  Why Jacinda Ardern’s resignation changes everything”

CHRIS TROTTER: Much worse than it looks

Political  commentator CHRIS TROTTER writes –  

THE REID RESEARCH POLL is much worse than it looks. Twelve months from now, when the actual voting papers, as opposed to responses to pollsters’ questions, are counted, Labour’s tally is likely to be much lower than 32 percent. Why? Because the level of voter abstention will be higher than it has been for many elections. Higher than the pollsters at Reid Research and other agencies are willing to assume, which means that the pre-election polls will flatter the Left by a significant margin. When the true level of abstention is revealed on Election Night – especially in relation to Māori, Pasifika and Pakeha voters under 30 – the vicious destruction of the Labour Party by older, whiter and righter voters will be explained.

The flight to abstention in 2023 will reflect a turning away from politics that is likely to gather strength as Labour’s contentious legislation on Hate Speech, Three Waters and Co-Governance contributes to a political climate of unprecedented bitterness and strife. Continue reading “CHRIS TROTTER: Much worse than it looks”

Ardern receives rapturous reception – but was it real?

Political journalists, indulging in a bit of  hyperbole, reported Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern as  being treated to a “rapturous” reception at the Labour Party annual  conference.

It’s clear she does command the  adoration of not  just those delegates, but also of many other New Zealanders in a manner  few of her predecessors who led the Labour Party did.

But this may be blinding her to the stern  reality of the current political  mood,  as she  tells RadioNZ’s Morning Report the latest poll figures should be taken with a “grain of salt”.

The Newshub-Reid Research Poll, released  on Sunday night, showed Labour at 32.3%  support, far below  where it  stood  at the  last election.

How  could it be? Ardern might  have  wondered.

In any case, she insisted to interviewers, Labour’s own polling shows it is  neck-and-neck with National.

 All that is  needed  is a spend-up by Finance Minister Grant Robertson in  next year’s budget to  get  it  across the line.

What about  tax  cuts?


Robertson says tax cuts would be inflationary.

So, instead, expect a stream of announcements like those which Ardern made herself on Sunday of  increased childcare subsidies.

That  should do  the trick, party  strategists believe.

Yet  New Zealanders  are  realists and  they  understand  that  the inflation unleashed  in the wake  of Covid is  not  going  away  anytime  soon.

Almost  certainly that  is  why National  has  been inching  ahead  of  Labour in the  polls—even  though  Ardern reckons  they  are  “neck-and-neck”.

According to last night’s Newshub-Reid Research poll, National has nearly a third more support than Labour – 41% compared with 32%. As a result, Labour is currently projected to lose about 24 of its MPs at the next election, and be booted out of office just as the  Labour governments  in 1975  and 1990 were.

Ardern says  NZ is roughly 12 months away from the election and the government’s focus is “people, not polls”.

 The policy  she announced on Sunday  would see a change in the childcare subsidy payment from next year – something more than half of all Kiwi families might benefit from.

The change would mean a family with two parents both working 40 hours a week on $26/hour with two children under five who were currently not eligible for childcare assistance, be eligible for $252/week.

But exactly how much each family saves on childcare will depend on how many hours they work, their incomes, how long their children spend in care and the cost of it.

The government expects the changes will mean the parents of about 7400 additional children will receive the payment on average per month.

About $190 million over the next four years will be spent on the policy.

“I know it will make a difference”, and was in direct response to issues voters had been raising, Ardern told Morning Report.

Point of Order  doesn’t see this kind of  policy move shifting, or reversing, the direction   the polls  are moving. What  Labour  can do  now  may only staunch the  bleeding.

 As  Dr Bryce  Edwards puts it: “New Zealand now essentially has two conservative major parties for the public to choose from. Unfortunately for one of them – the Labour Party – the public increasingly prefers the more authentic conservative option, National”.

On his analysis,  the  rapture  at the  Labour Party conference may have been  more  synthetic  than  originally reported.

Bryce Edwards: Labour’s version of conservatism is no longer popular

Dr Bryce Edwards writes:

New Zealand now essentially has two conservative major parties for the public to choose from. Unfortunately for one of them – the Labour Party – the public increasingly prefers the more authentic conservative option, National. This can be seen in the latest opinion poll showing National continuing to storm ahead of Labour.

According to last night’s Newshub-Reid Research poll, National has nearly a third more support than Labour – 41 per cent compared to just 32 per cent. As a result, Labour is currently projected to lose something like 24 of its MPs at the next election, and be turfed out of power in what could be a landslide reversal of the 2020 victory.

Five years of cautious managerialism

Labour’s five years in power have been incredibly conservative, despite the radical times. Very little in the way of far-reaching reform has been pushed by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, and few radical policies have actually been delivered. Continue reading “Bryce Edwards: Labour’s version of conservatism is no longer popular”

The polls look promising for the Nats and ACT – but it’s too soon for them to be counting on an election victory

The latest political  polling   shows  the  centre-right parties  pulling  ahead of  the centre-left—but  it  may  be  too soon  for  the  leaders  of  the National and ACT parties to  be thinking they  will  be  forming  the next  government.  The mood  of  the  country has  seldom been  as  dark, chastened  as  it has been  by Covid, the cost-of-living crisis, and  a string of  Rugby test disasters, which  not  even  the golden  glow  from the Commonwealth Games  could  erase.

Some  commentators  have  seized  on  the  One  News  Kantar poll to suggest that the  parties of the  right would be  able  to  form  a  government for  the  first  time without  the Maori  Party,

The poll results nevertheless  contained  a  warning  signal for  both  National  and  ACT — the  former  because   it  was  down  two points  from the  previous poll, and ACT  because it  may  have  experienced a  one-off bounce in its  four-point  rise.

National   currently has  its  own  troubles, notably  with its  new  Tauranga  MP Sam Uffindell becoming the centre of a controversy about how much his electorate should have been apprised of something he did as a 16-year-old schoolboy.  Besides,  the Nats have yet  to  find  the  threads  which  they could  stitch into  a  coherent policy with  broad  appeal. Continue reading “The polls look promising for the Nats and ACT – but it’s too soon for them to be counting on an election victory”

Why is Lower Hutt’s Mayor over-riding local sentiment on Three Waters? Check out his party ticket and the pledge that went with it

Signatories to a recently launched petition are urging the Government to introduce civics education into schools nationwide.

Joni Tomsett, described by RNZ as a 28-year-old student from the Tasman region, launched the petition on the community campaign platform OurActionStation to make civics education a core subject in all secondary schools by 2026.

Tomsett also happens to be a member of the Motueka Community Board of Tasman District Council,

During civics lessons, students would be taught the basics of government, voting, and how the democratic process worked.

The idea is commendable.

Should it be adopted, Point of Order suggests Hutt City councillor Chris Milne contribute to the  preparation of content for the local government component.  He is especially enlightening on the numbing influence of the Labour Party on decision-making by councillors who have campaigned and been elected on the Labour ticket.

This article by Cr Milne was reproduced on Kiwiblog –  Continue reading “Why is Lower Hutt’s Mayor over-riding local sentiment on Three Waters? Check out his party ticket and the pledge that went with it”

It might be a rogue poll but the Nats must offer alluring policies – and get back to championing our rural regions

Latest  political    polling    puts   Labour   at  60.9%,   which – if  carried  through  to  the election – would   give  it  77  seats  in the  next  Parliament.    Is  anyone  (apart  from the  most fervent  National supporter)   surprised?

National’s  campaign  manager,  Gerry Brownlee,  dismisses   the   Newshub  Reid Research sampling  as  a   “rogue”  poll.    This begs   the   question  whether  he  would  have done  so,  if  it had   shown his own  party  a  bit  higher than   25.1%.

Other   polls   (even  one suspects  National’s  own  private polling)    have  had  Labour     above  the  50%  mark.

With  the  Covid-19   pandemic  raging  around the   world,  New  Zealanders  are  comforted their  government  has  got it   right:   they  only  have to  look  as  far as  Victoria  to see  what happens    when   the  governing  authorities   make a  mess  of it. Continue reading “It might be a rogue poll but the Nats must offer alluring policies – and get back to championing our rural regions”

Pundits peddle opposing views on how PM should deal with Peters – but voters perhaps have other concerns

How voters react to the headlines generated by NZ First’s  latest financial  shenanigans may  (or  may not) determine  the outcome  on  September  19.

The most recent Colmar Brunton poll had NZ First down at  3%, so  some  commentators   are  already  writing  off   the party’s chances of  survival.

But the real question, as some authorities see it, is whether  Labour  will  suffer   collateral  damage  from  the fallout,  if the Serious Fraud Office probe into  the  operations of the  NZ  First  Foundation  ends  up  in court  action.  It could be  uncomfortable  all round for the coalition if  the  SFO’s  investigation  leads to charges which a court  ultimately  finds proven. Continue reading “Pundits peddle opposing views on how PM should deal with Peters – but voters perhaps have other concerns”