Political left/right identification and liberal versus conservative

People with strong political alignment to either the left or the right seem perplexed that some people don’t have fixed political views, but open minded ‘floating’ voters are a big chunk of the voting numbers that generally decide elections.

And there could be many voters with a similar lack of attachment to a party or to the left or the right.

On Twitter @rustie5555 posted some interesting analysis of 2017 election data that shows that in self identification 20-30% of don’t self identify strongly left or right.

More say they lean right than left, but on policies they tend more liberal than conservative.

Interesting data tidbit I found rooting around in the NZ Electoral Survey data: on the whole New Zealanders identify as pretty conservative, and moreso during the Key/English administration.

Breaking it down on the 11-point (0-10) scale NZES uses, it’s a pretty stable pattern, with a lot more people on the centre and even extreme right than on the left

So those leaning hard left  are really quite a small minority, and those leaning hard right are less than a quarter of voters.

Meddling with some of the summary data, once you start looking issue by issue, we’re less conservative than we think we are. Except for on welfare and law and order.

So people tend conservative unless they want things from the Government, although there’s a large soft centre.

Also true across a range of other issues, not just expenditure questions…

Voters lean liberal on most issues.

This doesn’t examine preferences on competence and leadership.

The big swing towards Labour when Jacinda Ardern took over leadership less than two months before the 2017 election suggests that leadership is seen as very important in deciding who to vote for.

The slump in support for National under Simon Bridges’ leadership and surge towards Jacinda Ardern was largely due her leadership over Covid plus people were possibly giving up on Bridges looking like a viable leader.

It’s too soon to tell but there also seems to be a swing back to National since Judith Collins took over just a few days ago.

There’s a perception that Collins is a no-nonsense right wing politician but she is actually quite liberal on a number of social issues.

The above charts are based on 2017 data. Things are quite different this year with concerns over Covid a big issue to the extent that Ardern seems to be basing her election campaign almost solely on her management of the pandemic. Concerns about the economy and jobs may figure more than usual, especially if National efforts to argue on those issues get some traction.

It’s still two months until the election so there could be a lot of movement in support before the undecided and swinging voters make up their minds.

I have always been am undecided or floating voter. I wait until I vote before deciding which party to vote for, and I have voted for parties across the political spectrum. I decide on competence and on policy packages rather than on political alignment. I could vote for any of four parties this election and at this stage have no idea who will get my vote.

I don’t see myself as a ‘centrist’. My views on issues and policies are based on the merits as I see them. I’m happy with probably the majority of policies presented by both National and Labour (in reality there’s a lot more common ground with them than differences), I support quite a bit of what the Greens advocate for  but have more moderate views than them, especially on their social policies. And I support some of what ACT push as well.


Response to the hammering of UK Labour

Provisional results from the UK election:

  • Conservatives 365
  • Labour 203
  • Scottish National Party 48
  • Liberal Democrats 11
  • Democratic Unionist Party 8
  • Sinn Fein 7
  • Plaid Cymru 4
  • Green Party 1
  • Other parties 3
  • Brexit Party 0

Share of the vote (which under First Past the Post for electorates doesn’t determine the outcome):

  • Conservatives 43.6%
  • Labour 32.2%
  • Scottish National Party 3.9%
  • Liberal Democrats 11.6%
  • Democratic Unionist Party 0.8%
  • Sinn Fein 0.6%
  • Plaid Cymru 0.5%
  • Green Party 2.7%
  • Other parties 2%
  • Brexit Party 2%

The Conservatives and Boris Johnson are obviously celebrating, and so are those who want to see an resolution to the Brexit debacle.

Johnson is promising to take the UK out of the EU next month “no ifs, no buts”

A lot of response from Labour supporters has been to blame Brexit, the media and voters for being stupid and other things, but Jeremy Corbyn has copped a lot of criticism. He has said he will stay on as leader through a transition but won’t be leader at the next election.

Guardian: Jeremy Corbyn ‘very sad’ at election defeat but feels proud of manifesto

“I have pride in our manifesto that we put forward and all our policies we put forward that actually had huge public support on issues of universal credit, the green industrial revolution and investment for the future,” he said.

“But this election was taken over ultimately by Brexit and we as a party represent people who vote remain and leave, my whole strategy was to reach out beyond the Brexit divide to try to bring people together.”

Proud of a losing policy platform? Brexit was obviously a significant factor but Corbyn was seen to have handled it poorly, so it wasn’t so much that Brexit was the problem, it was that Corbyn wasn’t considered capable of sorting it out.

Some Labour MPs and officials were scathing.

Others not:

Here in Aotearoa there was dismay as the results came in at this ‘you must be deemed a lefty by weka to comment here’ post – Lefties on The Standard: UK election edition

Bill: “Ah well. It’s yellow vest time then, innit.”

Adrian Thornton: “Yes it is, time to get out on the streets.”

If you don’t like democratic elections revolt.


I hope Labour sticks to a strongly progressive agenda, and doesn’t return to its neoliberal / Blairite ways. Might take a few election cycles before people give a progressive party a go – best to keep working towards that, than simply returning to Tory-Lite.

Weird that public support for individual Labour policies is strong – but they can’t get enough people to vote for the party. I suppose the party is the target of the media smear campaign, while the individual policies are not.

Adrian Thornton:

I am not really sure why anyone who has been following UK politics is at all surprised  at a poor result from Labour, Corbyn has been absolutely and well and truly fucked over by all MSM, and most damagingly by so called ‘liberal media’ who, as I harp on about here all the time, have shown that they are more closely aligned ideologically to the Tories and Boris than they are to a progressive Left project…at this point in this very real battle for the future of  our planet, and a more fair and equal society for all citizens,  they are our No,1 enemy.

Often something or someone else to blame for failings.

The 2017 election here showed that a different leader with much the same policies can make a huge difference. Media have their faults, but in general they give better coverage to better leaders, and poor coverage to poor leaders.’


If the exit polls are correct, then this is a really ominous result for Jacinda and her administration of merry and complacent elite politics managerialists.

It looks like the centre has collapsed in the UK, USA etc and that has largely been to the benefit of the far right.

NZ Labour continuing to cling to neoliberal centre will eventually lead to it’s destruction.

An alternative view from Ad, who for some reason was allowed to comment critically against ‘the left’:

The hard left saddos you describe are dying off and only appear here on TS for the occasional ideological burp.

And occasionally at protests like Ihumatao and in socialist youth gatherings numbering no more than two hands.

They’re gone.


Drawing conclusions for NZ is frankly pointless (MMP changes everything).

There is now a vast gulf between Scotland and England, between London and northern England, etc. That’s reinforced and exaggerated by FPP.

Poli-geeks like us might view everything in terms of left and right but actually “We’ve had enough” is a major driver of voter behaviour. Traditionally, “we’ve had enough” is about a long-lasting government. This time, it’s Brexit.

There will never be another Brexit election in the UK (there might not even be a UK). So simple lessons “for next time” don’t apply.

I posted a comment that was promptly moved as I’m not deemed left enough (I think i was the only one moved), but that evolved into an interesting to an exchange on Open Mic.

Wayne (ex National MP):


I note in your “lefties only” comment item on the UK election that some (you included) are saying Jacinda will loose in 2020 because she is not left enough.

Surely the result in the UK shows that is wrong. Jacinda is successful because she is not seen as extreme. She uses progressive language, but does not threaten an economic revolution. Instead she says things can get better with a moderate amount of social democracy.

Most people don’t want revolution because who knows where it might end up. Revolutions are full of risk. And basically don’t happen in democratic nations.

While there is no doubt Johnson’s simple Brexit message appeals because it offers certainty (in contrast to Labour promise of more confusion), I am also certain that Corbyn’s socialist message did not appeal. What Labour needs is a modern Blair. In fact that is exactly what Jacinda is. Which in my view is why she is successful.

A question, would Blair be reviled if Iraq had never happened, or instead would he be seen as the most successful Labour Prime Minister ever?


No, I think Labour will get to form govt next year, but it will be closer than is comfortable for the left. Labour do have a problem in that many people voted Labour last time presumably because of JA (multiple reasons) but may be disappointed in what Labour have achieved. The solution to that is to vote Green, so we’re not in the same situation as the UK.

“I am also certain that Corbyn’s socialist message did not appeal.”

Obviously not enough, but I think the UK election is more about poor voter turnout, people being sick of Brexit back and forth, Labour Leavers objecting to Labour’s second referendum, vote splitting with the LDs, MSM and poll bias and so on. In other words, lots of dynamics going on.

The issue for the left is how to shift the Overton Window in NZ. I agree with you that NZ doesn’t want a revolution, but that doesn’t mean it’s not possible to move the centre. The right has done this in the past 35 years without prior approval /shrug.

Blair is hated because of how he cemented neoliberalism. Without Iraq only the neoliberals would see him as a great PM


I know that is a theme with the momentum left, but in truth their views only appeal to a small minority of voters. Some on the left also accuse Helen Clark of also accepting/endorsing neo-liberalism, but most people regard her as a very good PM. Without Iraq wouldn’t Blair be seen in the same light?

In my view NZers (apart from a mysogonist rump) have formed the same view of Jacinda as they did with Helen. A same pair of hands who won’t fundamentally unsettle the economic compact that prevails in NZ (for instance her commitment against CGT so long as she is PM). The major criticism she gets is that she (her government) have not delivered that well on their stated targets. In my view that is fixable with more focus and discipline.

A problem with a place like The Standard is you get a few remaining die-hard (I mistyped that as dire-hard and nearly left it) anti-neoliberal far lefties who make a big noise, aided by their ‘lefty only’ approach, not just as commenting rules but active and often nasty attacks on people deemed not left enough.

But they only represent a small minority of voters.

Weka sometimes says she wants to encourage views from the right but the calls them trolls if they say things she doesn’t like, and warnings and bans strongly favour her left.

Elections won’t be won and lost in blogs, but they can provide an interesting insight to dedicated political activists and their frustrations (there is a similar but more open avalanche of ‘not right enough with more abuse of alternate views at Kiwiblog).

We don’t have strong a strong left or right in Aotearoa. Which I think is a good thing, most voters don’t think as divisively as the political blog remnants.

Left versus right proposing surveillance powers

I’m not sure that a ‘non-partisan’ group set up by Jordan Williams for surveillance of surveillance would be embraced across the spectrum, especially when suggesting it he also takes a swipe at ‘those on the far left’.

The right overestimates, the left underestimates people’s responsibility

I’m usually leery of generalisations about the left and right, but…

The left underestimates people’s responsibility for their own condition and their agency for improving it.

The right overestimates it, ignoring systemic disadvantages and circumstances outside people’s control.

The truth falls, as is often the case, somewhere in the middle.

…the third point in particular is close to the mark for a lot of political and social issues


Are NZ media left or right?

An age old argument is whether the media favour or lean left or right. One common claim is that editorially they lean right but most journalists tend to lean left. I think it’s far more complex than that.

The alleged leaning of the media is often stated in relation to the leaning of the person of accusing them of favouring the other lot and not giving enough weight to their preferences.

Last month Justin Hu tried to pigeon\hole New Zeaaland media and political blogs – Subjective New Zealand media objectivity/bias chart\ –  but that seems to be a work in progress, after a lot of online discussion and criticism he adjusted his chart.

It came up on Reddit yesterday: What NZ media are neither leftist nor right and have no political opinion?

I’m truly tired of hearing stories with extreme leftist and politically correct opinion. (News hub is guilty) It seems that so much media in NZ is extreme left with all there political opinions. Does anyone know of any neutral NZ media with no right leaning nor left opinions but just tells the news as it is? Hard facts.

No media can be entirely neutral – especially not from everyone’s perspective. And no media publishes on ‘hard facts’. And if they did they would probably be accused of only publishing selected facts that resulted in bias.

An attempt to judge the media here:

I think you would struggle to call our media extreme left.

Stuff and Herald probably have centre right editorial stances but both seek leftist commentators. This probably is a result of having a traditional media base.

TVNZ is simply too bland to say it has any political persuasion. news hub is all over the place but O’Brien is clearly a fan of Jacinda. Garner is simply a dick and I have never been able to work him out.

ZB is clearly a right wing mouthpiece. Most probably a result of the fact that it is talk back.

Then you come to the independents. RNZ is largely left these days but morning report is objective and Espinar is great. Campbell clearly sits centre left.

Then you have Newsroom that is edited by Hickey and Murphy both of whom are left wing.

And blogs:

Then you come to the web natives. spinoff, standard and the daily blog (and scoop) that have left wing editorial stances. Although I agree with someone else that the Scoop has largely gone downhill and largely just straight releases press releases but Gordon Campbell is as left as they come.

Then on the right you have kiwiblog and even further Whaleoil.

All four of the above mentioned blogs (not Scoop) have clear political leanings and are to varying extents political activists promoting their preferences, and far more commonly, trying to trash their opponents.

Are any extreme?

Just out of interest what do you consider extreme left and extreme right?

Because those terms are relative to your beliefs, what one person might consider extreme right another might think is more center right.

Relative to one’s political perspective:

A general rule of thumb is that if you are a left-wing person, then all media or right-wing and vice-versa. Interpretations of media bias are a very common way to see the persecution complex in action.

Declining standards?

The reason for journalism’s decline is changing economics. Opinions are cheap, repeating press releases even cheaper. Everything has to generate its own clicks. Advertising is dead, but PR is very much alive to buy articles with.

Consistent editorial lines, a multitude of outlets and more personnel to report did make news higher quality in certain senses.

Many claim that there is a lot more crap published by media, and publishers and broadcasters are certainly under increasing financial pressure.

But we have far more available to see and read.

There was a time when almost all my news came from one newspaper and one TV channel, with a bit of variety from a Sunday newspaper.

I can find a lot more than that now if i look for it.

And I can find balance if i look for that too.

Bias can easily be detected if that’s what you want to find.

I’m only biased towards my own views, but I do try to consider and present other points of views and arguments too. One of the best ways to to this is allow other views to be expressed without restrictions.

Radical, liberal and identitarian left “locked in an unproductive deadlock”

It’s common in political forums here to see accusations of (looney) ‘leftie’ or ‘rightie’ or RWNJ by people of different leanings. More often than not it is an exaggeration at best.

Here is an international view on left wing bickering.

Helen Pluckrose at Areo:  No, Liberal Lefties are Not Right-Wing

Left-wing liberals who are opposed to the identity politics developments on the left increasingly find ourselves accused of being right wing, referred to as “right wing” and scornfully urged to admit that we are right wing by identitarian lefties.

People in politics often seem to like applying labels to themselves, and also to people they disagree with. Calling someone the opposite (ish) of what they are is one of the ultimate political insults.


To understand this, it is probably necessary to have a quick look at divisions on the left right now. While all lefties support economic policies which seek to redistribute wealth, reduce inequalities and support the most socially disadvantaged in society, the largest and longest split is between the socialists who advocate social ownership of the means of production—thereby putting control in the hands of the workers—and the social democrats who seek to redistribute wealth within a regulated capitalist system within a liberal democracy.

These have loosely been understood as the “radical Left” and the “liberal Left” and this is also loosely connected to differing principles around social issues such as feminism (radical feminism vs liberal feminism).

More recently, we have seen a rise of the identitarian lefties who hold very different ideas about objective truth, evidence, reason and language and who view society as structured by discourse (ways of talking about things) which perpetuates systems of power and privilege.

As they often fit the definition of “radical” but have little in common with the older radical leftism and seldom address economics or class issues coherently, preferring to focus on identity groups like race, gender and sexuality, things have become much more messy, and communication and compromise much more difficult.


Liberalism is a broad concept which holds to certain values of freedom (both of markets and individuals), humanitarianism in the sense of assistance for those unable to support themselves and equal opportunity in relation to removing any barriers that prevent certain groups in society from accessing all the opportunities it offers. Liberals believe in social progress and that it can be achieved by refining all of the above.

The Identitarian Lefties

They are a product of an intellectual shift which occurred in the sixties when leftist intellectuals became disillusioned with Marxism and developed the concept of postmodernism. This mode of thought saw society as a system of hierarchical power structures and argued that knowledge was actually a construct of power perpetuated by speech (discourse) which served the interests of dominant groups in society. B

y the nineties, this had been incorporated into several fields of scholarship like feminism, postcolonialism, queer theory and critical race theory. It had also been made more explicitly political and actionable. Concepts like “intersectionality,” “toxic masculinity” and “white fragility” became a part of social justice activism.

Consequently, these left-wing academics and activists saw identity politics as politically empowering and were critical of liberal leftism which sought to make identity categories socially irrelevant.

They tended to see liberalism as part of an outdated and inadequate modernist system which was created by straight, white, rich, western men and therefore can be understood to support the interests of straight, white, rich, western men. They still do.

The New Conflict

We are now in a situation in which the three parts of the left—radical, liberal and identitarian—are locked in an unproductive deadlock.

The radicals oppose the identitarians whom they see as bourgeois elitists rooted in the academy who have completely abandoned the working class and the meaning of leftism. They remain at odds with the liberals for their lack of support for socialism.

The liberals oppose the identitarians whom they regard as profoundly illiberal and threatening to undo decades of progress towards individual freedom and equality of opportunity regardless of race, gender and sexuality. They find the radicals of little help in supporting liberalism.

The identitarians largely ignore the radicals except in the form of radical feminist rejection of trans identity which they condemn as transmisogynistic hatred but pay some confused lip-service to anti-capitalism (which does not mollify the radicals). They reserve most of their ire for the liberals who are addressing the same social and ethical issues that they are.

The Solution

The only way for the liberal left to fix this problem is to engage with it.

For too long, too many of us have minimized the problem due to a perceived need to maintain solidarity against the rise of the populist right, alt-right and far right.

Others have not addressed the problem, simply because they do not understand the counterintuitive ideological core of it and feel that anyone who seeks racial, gender and LGBT equality is an ally, even if some of them go too far in their zeal.

Others are afraid of being called racist, sexist or homophobic and associated with the right which is, in fact, what is happening. Some have become so alienated from the left due to being called racist, sexist or homophobic that they have genuinely gone right, feeling that there, at least, they will be welcome.

I find it funny how people seem to want to fit into one or other political box.

There is also that problem inherent to liberalism: an excess of tolerance, a willingness to compromise and a desire not to impose on other people. Because the liberal left is the least radical, least authoritarian branch of the left, it is vulnerable to being shouted over by more radical voices who come to define the left for waverers.

These louder voices undermine the left, however.

We need to get more visible, more unified and braver.

We need to accept that the problem exists, understand how it works and speak out against it calmly, civilly and reasonably at the risk of being called racist, sexist and homophobic—despite being the ones who reject the evaluation of individuals by their race, gender and sexuality.

We need to remember how to argue our case and not assume it is obvious.

The more of us who do this, the easier it will be for more to join. This is the way to win back the left, win back public confidence, win elections and bring about the policies we want to see made. We are not right wing. We are liberal lefties, we are the majority and we can fix this.

There is some interesting analysis in this article, but it finishes on an odd note – “we are the majority and we can fix this”.

Are they claiming that the left is the majority? Or the liberal left is the majority on the left?

I doubt that claiming to be a majority and claiming to be the ones to “fix an unproductive deadlock” is going to win a lot of favour from other political boxes that see themselves as the left.

The self destructive left

There has been a lot said about Steve Bannon lately, and what could be described as the partially successful but ultimately self destructive right in the US.

But the left of politics also has major problems, some of which are also self inflicted, repeatedly.

Andrew Doyle: On the self-destructive left

Which came first: the alt-right or the social-justice movement?

Will Donald Trump eventually be toppled by leftist activism, or will such activism guarantee his second term in office?

Is Katie Hopkins right to describe herself as the creation of her enemies, as the ‘monster’ to the liberal-left’s Dr Frankenstein?

Do attempts to shut down free speech on university campuses prevent the dissemination of extremist views, or make such views more likely to gain traction?

These are complex issues. Political activism is sometimes productive (for a cause), and it is sometimes counter-productive.

It’s a circular pattern that appears to be accelerating, largely thanks to the nuance-free arena of social media. As politics becomes more polarised, each side is resorting to increasingly distorted caricatures of the other.

Left wing and right wing politics may be getting more polarised. I think that’s debatable in New Zealand, they represent just a small minorities, but they can be the most vocal and visible in social media.

Less debatable is “each side is resorting to increasingly distorted caricatures of the other”. We see this here to an extent on Your NZ (I discourage it), and prominently elsewhere on political blogs – you don’t need to look far in comments at Kiwiblog or The Standard, or posts at The Daily Blog and Whale Oil, to see this in action.

This leaves us in a quandary. More than ever, we are in need of frank discussion about the issues that matter most. But with figures on all sides of the political spectrum so determined to double down on their alienating and ad hominem strategies, the possibility of debate is seriously curtailed.

This is a real problem in political discourse and debate. I have tried to combat this in this forum, but that’s an ongoing challenge as some seem determined to double down on their alienating and ad hominem strategies. In the past I have tried to confront this on other forums with limited success (I have certainly provoked reactions and believe that has resulted in some changes but they are minor at best).

The rapper Joyner Lucas has addressed this problem in his recent viral hit ‘I’m Not Racist’, which presents two men – one white, one black – candidly airing their grievances. One commentator found the conceit ‘exhausting’, claiming that ‘the notion that social divisions [can] be reconciled through “honest” conversation’ is ‘hopelessly outdated’.

Unless there is a seismic shift in attitudes to those who choose to be actively involved in political debate in social media then, while I will not concede they are hopelessly outdated, honest conversation is under serious threat of being trashed by those with ill intent in political forums.

It’s an attitude that is entirely self-defeating.

I’ve been trying to make that point for years, but the worst offenders are deaf and blind to the damage they do to their own causes.

Smearing one’s opponents as ‘racist’ or ‘stupid’ may be satisfying in the short term, but it’s unlikely to change any minds.

It’s more likely to entrench differences, and I don’t see how it can be satisfying to anyone except for those who try to deliberately disrupt decent debate (and those offenders are often the most active participants).

Nor is it supported by the facts. A recent study by the think-tank Open Europe has revealed that although immigration was a major factor in the referendum, the vast majority of voters have a ‘far more nuanced and sophisticated’ attitude on the subject than is generally acknowledged. Likewise, the inaccurate and promiscuous use of terms such as ‘Nazi’ and ‘fascist’ has been a boon to the far right, particularly in the US. It has enabled vile fringe groups to claim a level of support they simply do not have.

Not just ‘vile fringe groups’. Political forum trolls and harassers may think the lack of opposition to their destructive behaviour means they have wide support, but I think that most people just avoid them – and they forums they operate on, one example of defeating one’s own purpose.

Is there any way of turning this around and finding better ways of debating and of airing differences in preferences and opinions without getting sucked into shit fights and personal abuse?

It’s easy to get drawn into the worst of political discussion – berating rather than debating – and to get dragged down to the worst level. Most of the time I think I’ve managed to resist this, and that can annoy the hell out of deliberate disruptors and harassers, but it doesn’t seem to stem their affliction or attempts at destruction of debate on anything they disagree with.

One reason (a major one) I don’t feel like putting more effort and resources into expanding content and functionality and participation here is because I don’t want to waste time enabling others to trash discussions. I think what we have here is worthwhile I don’t see it as worth my while putting more effort into having a forum that is abused.

Perhaps to an extent that’s an admission of defeat in my primary aim. Or perhaps I’m happy to chug away, learning more about what might work.

It is not just the left that’s self destructive – political forums across the spectrum are plagued by destructive behaviour by some of the most prolific contributors. Martyn Bradbury and Cameron Slater are examples of that – both say they want to create thriving alternatives to what they call a fading and failing traditional media, but despite some useful contributions they largely ruin their own chances of succeeding.

Andrew Doyle makes some good points but it is a wider problem in politics than his focus.

Is there a better way of appealing to decent debate?

Or is it futile to resist it’s self destruction?



New Zealand’s voting blocs

Alex Eastwood-Williams describes New Zealand’s voting blocs in a post at Right Minds NZ.

Last week’s election result has resulted in a barrage of commentary from those arguing that MMP’s time has come to an end and that we are returning to a two-party system. I’m not here to argue that – in fact I vehemently disagree – but I am going to argue that New Zealand’s political marketplace is overcrowded.

Last week’s election result was not an endorsement of the two-party system but merely a rejection of the six-seven-or-sometimes-eight-party system.

Both the Greens and NZ First looked at risk of failing to make the 5% threshold but enough voters rallied behind them to get them safely over the line.

The Three Voting Blocs

The main point of this article will be to argue that there are just three types of voter, and therefore can only be three blocs in the New Zealand political marketplace (and the same applies worldwide).

Voters and political parties are either “Left”, “Right” or “Non-aligned”.

A bit simplistic but close enough to how things work.

That’s not to say I believe there will be a three party system – in fact I believe the three blocs can allow up to six political parties to co-exist in Parliament at a time, although only four parties would be able to survive healthily and long-term.

The way the political market will usually work would be that the three blocs would create four parties: There would be the dominant one in power which would usually be the only party of its bloc. For example, right now the ‘Right’ bloc are in power, and the National Party is virtually the sole political party in that bloc. (You can pretend that ACT are an independent party if you like, but let’s be honest – if National pulls the plug, they’re gone.)

Then there would be the opposition bloc which would usually have more than one party within it – currently that’s the ‘Left’ bloc with Labour and the Greens – although when Labour were in government, the opposite was true with National and ACT both two separate political entities occupying the same bloc.

‘Right bloc’ and ‘left bloc’ is also a simplification. National have remained in power by dominating the centre, as did Helen Clartk’s Labour government. So they are rightish and leftish.

Finally you have the ‘Non-aligned’ bloc: That is the voters and political parties who are neither left nor right, basically the “protest vote”. Usually there would be just one party: Currently this is New Zealand First – though this is likely to change once the coalition deal is signed, and historically Social Credit (who were socially conservative but economically left-wing) dominated this part of the political landscape. Sometimes there’s room for more than one party in the non-aligned bloc – before 2005, NZ First, United Future and the Maori Party could all claim to be part of this bloc.

It should be emphasised that the ‘Non-aligned’ bloc is not always “centrist” – in fact it’s often dominated by the parties whose views are so extreme that no other party will work with them – for example, the Mana Party between 2008 and 2011.

There’s possibly another group of voters as a part of or separate to the ‘non-aligned bloc’ – tactical voters. I could as easily vote for ACT or the Greens, depending on what my aim was.

And obviously non-aligned voters will often vote for left or right bloc parties.

As it happens, I think swing voters are much more rare and far less powerful than they’re assumed to be, though I would never discount the fact that, yes, there are voters who swing from the left bloc to the right bloc and thereby decide elections.

I think the power of swing voters is very debatable – I think their influence varied from election to election but they are a critical group of voters.

…one of the main reasons that left hasn’t been in power for a while is because the left bloc is totally fragmented. Even with Labour and the Greens agreeing not to step on each other’s toes, the left still can’t muster the same amount of support as the right and that’s because so many of their voters are wasting their vote on parties like Internet-Mana in 2014 and TOP in 2017. Labour in particular has failed to unify and dominate the left bloc the way that National has unified and dominated the right.

The main reasons for the left not being in power for nine years have been:

  • Labour has largely been seen as lacking direction, weakly led and run, and hopeless.
  • National have been seen as reasonable managers of the economy through a very challenging period and have done well enough to sustain unprecedented levels of support.

Meanwhile in middle

The ‘Non-aligned’ bloc is by far the most fascinating because it doesn’t play by the same rules.

As I stated above, “centrist” does not mean “non-aligned” – in fact centre parties rarely stay non-aligned for long. As soon as they form a government with either the left or the right, they become part of that bloc, and something else will usually emerge to take its place in the non-aligned bloc.

For example, while New Zealand First has been non-aligned for most of its history, it became part of the Left bloc when it entered a confidence and supply agreement with Labour in 2005. It didn’t return to power until it was able to reclaim its non-aligned status in 2011 by promising not to go with either side.

It wasn’t just their alignment – there were issues of competence and trust that played a significant part in NZ First’s exit from Parliament in 2008.

A similar fate befell United Future, who reached the height of their power and popularity in 2002 when they were truly unaligned, but have since faded away by attempting to join first the left bloc and then the right bloc.

It was more than attempts, it worked successfully enough over a number of terms.

What happened in 2017

Far from being an endorsement of a two-party system, the 2017 election left us with a five-party system (if you count ACT as separate to National), and down from a ridiculous and overcrowded seven-party system.

This is perfectly normal and fits the above parameters: National (plus ACT’s one seat) dominate the right bloc which came marginally ahead of the left bloc. Labour and the Greens dominate the left bloc which would have gained another 2% if people hadn’t wasted their vote on Gareth Morgan, and therefore would have been on par with the right. And NZ First, being the rogues they are, were the non-aligned vote – the people who were neither left nor right.

All that changed was that there were two less parties in the right bloc – because by joining with National, both United Future and the Maori Party became aligned with the right, and with there not being too much room on the right bloc for parties other than National, this is pretty normal.

Though it’s fully possible for the three blocs to result in seven or eight parties being elected to Parliament, this will seldom last longer than a term without an Epsom or Ohariu type deal – and anything more than four parties would be hugely inefficient.

While emphasis returned to the two largest parties this only happened late in the term, when Jacinda Ardern inspired a resurgence in support for Labour.

Not long ago, in July, it looked like being a very different mix – one dominant party, three moderate sized parties with opportunities still for ACT, UF, MANA and TOP.

So the number and mix of parties is fickle.

Not mentioned in this is a primary reason for the party sizes and mix we have – our MMP threshold. This has made it impossible (so far) for any new party to get a toe in Parliament’s door.

Left politics – same old or transformational?

The resurgence of the Labour left in the UK under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has prompted discussion here about whether the New Zealand centre left should stick to something similar to the same old, or if they should be promoting some sort of ‘transformational’ politics.

Yesterday from the Drug Law Symposium at Parliament Green MP Chloe Swarbrick was quoted:

It’s important that as we talk about drug reform we realise it’s just one part of a broader system. Let’s just not rethink drug law, let’s not just rethink prisons, let’s rethink politics as a whole.

There were some pokes at this.

@MatthewHooton “It’s a Chloeism. It doesn’t mean anything. But it will be spoken with great professionalism and passion.”

@AndrewBLittleNZ “Clearly Chloe is talking about a paradigm shift – not just a reimagining, but a new hyper-reality. Bold, inspired.”

Rethinking politics as a whole might be an interesting exercise, but changing how our politics works any substantial way will be very difficult – after looking at opinions, issues and options on our system of MMP democracy several years ago the main parties chose the comfort and safety of the status quo.

Andrew Dean, a Rhodes Scholar at the University of Oxford, has written at Stuff: For the Left, more of the same won’t cut it

Over the last year, Left politics has been transforming across the world. This has especially been the case in Britain.

Running on a platform of strong economic redistribution and state intervention, Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party has inspired activists and voters alike.

From an almost 20-point deficit at the start of the election campaign in April 2017, the party ended up running the Conservatives remarkably close on June 8. Polls now suggest that if the election were to be held today, Labour may win.

The Corbyn phenomenon is part of the wider delegitimisation of the so-called “Third Way”. It has been a year in which Centre-Left politics globally has been defeated by establishment parties and newcomers to both the Left and the Right.

This may be true of the left in the UK (remember that Labour still lost the recent election) it is hardly representative of the world.

Last year in the US Bernie Sanders made a mark but still failed against the ‘same old’ Democrat candidate Hillary Clinton, who lost the presidential election the the sort of Republican Donald Trump.

So I don’t know what Dean bases his “Left politics has been transforming across the world” from.

In retrospect, the June 2016 EU referendum in Britain and Hillary Clinton’s November 2016 loss to Donald Trump, both appear to be decisive moments. The Centre no longer holds.

Emmanuel Macron and his new party were successful in France. He has been in the Socialist Party in the past but founded En Marche, a ‘liberal, progressive” movement’ got support from across the political spectrum and doesn’t appear to be swing France left or right.

Parties of the Centre-Left in New Zealand, however, have doubled down on business-as-usual politics. The “budget responsibility rules,” signed by both Labour and the Greens, would require that a coalition government keep spending “within the recent historical range of spending to GDP ratio” – with “recent” here meaning the last 20 years.  Such a government would operate a surplus and reduce debt.

Through this gesture, voters are being shown that under a Labour-Green government, they would get more of the same.

In my view, the budget responsibility rules are a serious mistake. At the very least, they are unlikely to convince voters. They reflect electoral strategies from the 1990s and 2000s, in which Centre-Left parties shied away from criticising the contemporary arrangement of capitalism.

Helen Clark’s centre-left strategy seemed to be pretty successful for three elections and terms.

It was imagined then that electoral success lay with winning over a “middle ground” of voters who didn’t want to rock the boat too much.

That closely describes the National led government of the past nine years. We have had eighteen years of fairly centrist politics. It may be no coincidence that this is under MMP, something the UK doesn’t have.

It is decreasingly clear, however, either that there is such a middle ground to appeal to, or that most people are truly satisfied with things as they are.

I don’t think that’s clear at all.

A recent survey out of Ipsos shows that disenchantment is at remarkably high levels in New Zealand. As Henry Cooke reports, according to this survey, 56 per cent of New Zealanders think that traditional parties and politicians don’t care about people like them. Sixty-four per cent think the economy is rigged to the advantage of the rich and powerful.

But that doesn’t tell us much without knowing if it reflects a changing trend or if it is much the same as in the past.

It’s common to be disenchanted with the Government, but that doesn’t seem to urge people to vote for radical change.

Voters have resisted giving National one party rule, therefore moderating policies implemented. Green support seems to have hit a ceiling, suggested there isn’t a strong demand for a surge towards socialism.

In environments of high dissatisfaction, the middle ground contains fewer and fewer voters – and winning it will come at the cost of alienating many.

I don’t know where he gets this claim from. I don’t see any real sign of high dissatisfaction here – the poll didn’t measure whether people were dissatisfied enough to vote for radical change.

Promising not to change things too much is not an inspirational message for the political Left to be running.

Perhaps that’s because voters aren’t very interest in inspirational messages of radical change – and in any case we don’t have inspirational leaders of any of the parties.

A bolder Left party would make the following argument: wealthy households and companies are taking an increased proportion of national production, and have been doing so for decades. The idealised economic model which has driven this – that “free” markets are the most efficient, and therefore best – has failed on multiple levels, not the least of which is fact.

What ‘fact’?

We have nothing like an idealised free market. And our economy is doing very well right now, with larger than expected surpluses announced yesterday.

The concentration of wealth that we have seen has meant that political power has become further concentrated in the hands of the wealthy, stifling political change. Recognising all of this, this party’s policies are united by the grand vision of ensuring everyone has a fairer share of the nation’s economic production and political power.

A grand vision that is difficult to put into policies that appeal to voters.

In the place of budget responsibility rules and attacks on immigration, Labour and the Greens could make the case for an increased redistributive role for the government.

Rather than seeking to arbitrate between partisan tribes – constituencies in decline – they could try to give leadership to those who imagine themselves to be lonely and lost.

‘Partisan tribes’ probably are constituencies in decline, but the ‘ lonely and lost’ hardly seem to be in the ascendency as a voter bloc.

And it’s pointless trying to will Labour and the Greens into suddenly changing their election strategy of the past year just as they launch their campaigns.

A substantial change in approach now is more likely to be seen as a panic than bold vision.

There’s nothing wrong with grand political theories and visions, but parties don’t tend to read an article and suddenly change their whole approach based on claimed facts that don’t actually cite anything to back them up.

Any transformational politics is unlikely to emerge before the election. Post election, in coalition building is where that is most likely to happen, if it happens at all, but our MMP has so far moderated rather than radicalised.

You can’t just whack wings on the devil and call it an angel

Another lament from Chris Trotter, who seems to have resigned himself to needing divine intervention to rescue the mess of the left.

An Opposition Worthy Of The Name?

IT IS ONLY NOW, thirty years after the event, that the full effects of Labour’s 1984-1990 betrayals have become visible.

Still blaming today’s problems on a last century government that rescued New Zealand from Muldoon induced economic disaster.

The party’s inability to respond coherently to John Key’s National-led government has allowed the latter to escape, Scot-free, from economic and social policy failures that daily grow more intractable. All over New Zealand, voters shake their heads in frank disbelief at National’s extraordinary run of political good luck. Everywhere their cry is the same: “If only we had an Opposition worthy of the name!” How right they are.

Key’s successes and National’s successes are not an “extraordinary run of political good luck”, despite the left’s disbelief that they could do anything well.

But Trotter is probably right to an extent at least about “If only we had an Opposition worthy of the name!”

The bitter truth is that if a beneficent angel were to uplift the best politicians from Labour, the Alliance (before it disappeared) the Greens and the Mana Party, and drop them into a divinely crafted political entity that might – or might not – continue to exploit the still potent Labour brand, then the Government of John Key would be in real trouble.

The current Labour Party bleats on (and on, and on, and on) about being a “Broad Church”, but the sad truth remains that its reservoir of recruitment has never been shallower.

He may also be right about that. But then he goes into dream land.

A genuinely “broad church” party of the Left would balance off Andrew Little with Hone Harawira, Jacinda Ardern with Laila Harré, Stuart Nash with John Minto, Kelvin Davis with Annette Sykes, Grant Robertson with Julie Anne Genter and Annette King with Metira Turei.

The whole spectrum of alternative power: from Soft Centrists to Hard Leftists; would be covered.

a) Can anyone apart from Trotter realistically see  all or even most of those people being able to work together on a common cause?

b) Can anyone apart from Trotter see that one of Labour’s big problems is who they would need to make up the numbers to form a government. The electorate has rejected them for the last two elections.

That Labour’s fatal apostasy [the abandonment or renunciation of a religious or political belief or principle] has rendered such a divinely appointed caucus little more than a pipe dream is the besetting tragedy of progressive New Zealand politics.

Its embrace of neoliberalism in the mid-1980s left Labour with the political equivalent of syphilis. Sadly, every one of the many attempts to administer the Penicillin of genuine progressivism (God bless you Jim, Rod, Laila!) was rejected.

Consequently, Labour’s bones have crumbled and its brain has rotted. Small wonder that the other opposition parties are reluctant to get too close!

Trotter finally reveals his actual dream.

He doesn’t want a broad centre to far left left joining of forces. He seems to want Labour to leave the centre and hand itself over to the activist far left.

He fails to recognise that the mass of voters who can make a different government don’t want his far left to be seen as being too close to a centre-left party.

Labour are in serious trouble and are not inspiring hope of success on the left.

But trashing the centre and ceding to the far left is not the divine star leading to the promised land of the left.

The big plan last election was for the far left tail to wag the Labour dog, but the tail fell off.

Now they seem to be kicking an ailing dog thinking that a magnificent tail will morph out of the mess.

You can’t just whack wings on the devils of 2014 and call it an angel.