A stark difference has arisen between the two major parties in recent days - one doubling down on old ways and another bursting with new generation vibes. Peter Dunne's resignation reinforces the sense that generational change is coming. But when?

So is this it?

At some point this era of New Zealand politics will come to an end. The long chapter that began in 1984 and which has been dominated by baby boomers and neo-liberalism will be re-shaped by a new generation of thinking and voters. We will get a transformation election and a change of heart. History would suggest that change will be led by a Labour government, as it was in 1984 and 1935. So is the Jacinda Ardern-led Labour Party the one to do it?

I know, calm down Tim. It's always tempting to see the present as more significant to history than it really is. False dawns have come and gone under Clark and Key. And the election itself is still very much up in the air; the major parties both have reasons for confidence and the New Zealand First caucus is still more likely than not to decide this one.

Most observers too would struggle to compare the ability in this Labour line-up to those led by Savage and Lange. Indeed, United Future leader and former member of the fourth Labour government Peter Dunne has said as much, and you only have to look at the two debates on the weekend politics programmes to see that Labour is hardly sweeping its opponents aside. But it's Dunne's decision today to walk away from politics that sends one of the strongest signals yet that the curtain is falling on his generation.

Trevor Mallard is the only other remaining MP from that '84 intake, and he's destined either for departure or the Speaker's chair. So Dunne's decision is bigger than him. In his statement announcing he would be standing down at the election, he described this period of politics as "volatile" and noted a mood for change. He seems to have sense that mood is for a new generation of politics that is not for him.

The idea that this election could be a pivot point in our political history has been growing in my in recent days. Witnessing the resignation of three party leaders in four weeks is unprecedented. So is that coincidence or is it freighted with more meaning?

Are we about to enter the post-boomer era sooner than expected? Were Jim Bolger's comments that neo-liberalism had failed - on the very day that John Key resigned - more symbolic of an end than I appreciated? 

Again, I'm reluctant to jump to conclusions. We have a whole campaign to go. National still has support on the right direction/wrong direction measure and will play the uncertainty card hard.

But like Dunne, I reckon it suddenly feels like a volatile time. The economy is not unsound, no war drums are beating and the state of our union is strong. And yet, we are unsettled. Perhaps even restless.

The dominant characters of Clark and Key have gone (a movie and a knighthood has them dancing on the fringes, but a glimpse of them only serves to remind the electorate that we lack such a dominant figure at the moment). Opportunities abound. Risks are being taken. Change is coming.

This isn't change out of crisis, as in '35 and '84, but the sense of a new generation arriving is strong. It's worth noting that for the first time at this election, more millennials will be eligible to vote than boomers. At long last, those who have lived in the shadow of that generation have the chance to take control and change the government's priorities.

Yes, the change is more incremental this time, which may mean voters see it as less urgent, if not less inevitable. Whether it plays out to fruition now or in three years, it seems Ardern, out of nowhere, will be the vehicle for this change. The Ardern years are coming, it's just a question of when we want them to start.

The sign is there in the pulling power of Ardern, sparking hour long queues outside the Auckland Town Hall for the party's campaign launch on Sunday, or - if Twitter is to believed - the equally long waits for selfies in Tauranga today.

National's greatest challenge now is to somehow match the energy and sense of possibility engendered by the Jacinda Effect. Its strategists are making fair arguments - there has been little in the way of new policy since she was elected, while National is steadily unveiling its carefully crafted plans. However inelegantly it was put, Gareth Morgan has a point when he says little of substance has changed from the Labour Party of a month ago - it just has a new face. (Although we can expect that to change on Thursday, once we see the Treasury's PREFU and we know how much an incoming government has to spend).

English and co seem to be doggedly sticking to their game plan, as laid out over the summer. What else can they do, you may ask? Maybe it's wise to play to their strengths. Maybe it's all you can do with English in charge, given his own limitations on the energy and charisma front. But they look less than nimble in the face of what's becoming a very different campaign. 

On our podcast, Caucus, last week, I said National was looking like the England rugby team, with English as Jonny Wilkinson - trying to keep it tight and grind out a victory. It seems ever more true after the weekend.

While National tried to drive one up the middle with an announcement of a whopping $10 billion on more roads, Ardern whooped up a fever at the Labour campaign launch and, in case you missed it, underlined the generational difference between her and English. She said climate change was her generation's nuclear-free issue - a brilliant comparison for the times. Not only does it start to put some clothes on the Ardern doctrine (along with a promised commitment to honour that age-old kiwi idea that we're 'a great place to raise kids'), it draws a line between her generation and do-better vision and English's boiled cabbage pragmatism and long years of service.

Watching the news on Sunday night it was striking. There was English under a grey sky with a group of older folk, promising ever more roads (a symbol of the 20th century if ever there was one), while Ardern glowed on stage as around 2000 people cheered.

Then, she followed that up by committing at least to the first stage of what would be a game-changing (new generation?) of rail lines linking faster trains to Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga.

Although the National Party strategists must be aware of the obvious risks, they don't seem to be willing or able to stop English heading off down the "strong and stable government" path so ineptly paved by Theresa May in Britain earlier this year. It reeks of stale ale, yet it English is using the language repeatedly. It's authentic, but suddenly looks out of date and a little lame. It could end up looking like fear v hope.

If people like voting for a winner and feeling like they are part of something bigger than themselves, then it's hard to deny Labour has the momentum as the campaign proper gets under way. National needs a game-changer of its own; to throw it to the backs, you might say. Keeping it in the forwards looks unlikley to be enough now.

Yet five weeks of volatile campaigning and three big factors remain in its way. First, the PREFU this week, Steven Joyce's cunning and whatever promise/bribe/wedge issue National chooses to unveil. Will it be enough to turn the tide? Second, the debates. English has thus far been schooled to attack the policy, not the person. But one-on-one on TV, it becomes personal. Can he win an argument without mansplaining? Can she look assured enough to those worried she may not have the experience and financial chops to run the country? 

Third, and perhaps most vital of all, there's Winston Peters and New Zealand First. If Labour and Nation finish close, they will be the ones to decide who governs. Will the sense of transformation and generational change resonate with the 72 year-old. Peters has out-lasted even Dunne. Will he be willing and able to adapt if this is a transformation election? Or will he be tempted to give his generation one last whirl?

It may just be that the last dominant figure of the previous political era is the one to open the door to the next.


Comments (27)

by Charlie on August 22, 2017

You're not on your own in thinking this because it was the topic of conversation around the coffee machine this morning.

I just hope that the lessons we learned in the 60's and 70's in the UK (ie that socialism is the road to ruin) don't have to be relearned by this generation.



by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2017
Andrew Geddis

Change is coming.

Yes - and look at you getting all pop-culture relevant on us! 

But what the flavour will that change have? I see only three realistic varients (because I simply don't see National's vote share recovering to a place where it can have a status quo governing arrangement with Maori Party/ACT support):

1: A National-NZ First governing arrangement, where we get a socially conservative resistence to further societal change (drug policy/euthanasia/etc) mixed with Bill English's "social investment" strategy and more regional infrastructure spending? 

2: A Labour-NZ First governing arrangement, where we get an economically populist focus on delivering to those perceived to have been left behind over the last nine years (urban poor and regions) mixed with Grant Robertson's "Future of Work" policy ideas?

3: A Labour-Green-NZ First hybrid, where I'm not really sure what we'd get, tbh?

by Ian MacKay on August 22, 2017
Ian MacKay

Noted that on the Herald Leader questioning this morning, Bill in relation to the Housing question, that there was no real need to intervine as "The Market Decides."

Old thinking as helpful as Trickle down?

by Anne on August 22, 2017

"A Labour-Green-NZ First hybrid, where I'm not really sure what we'd get, tbh?"

I think it would be better than a National-NZ First-Maori/Mana Party-ACT hybrid.

It is likely to work in much the same way as the current MMP government works. Labour would hold the primary reins of power while the support parties are left to concentrate on their self selected area of prime importance eg. Greens on Climate Change and related issues. NZ First on immigration and related issues.

Can't see too much of a problem off the top of my head. 

by Rich on August 22, 2017

I'm mostly interest in how Labour addresses the economic gap between wage earners and asset holders.

Under Clark, marginal tax rates were 39% on wages, 0% on capital gains.

Under National, they are 33% on wages, 0% on capital gains.

So in some ways, Labour are actually worse - and from their policies, they'll put the burden of paying for better services onto wage earners and leave asset holders (like MPs with rental properties) untaxed.

I'm not sure how this is *change* ?


by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2017
Andrew Geddis


I don't think we'll see a "National-NZ First-Maori/Mana Party-ACT hybrid" ... I think National-NZ First will have enough to govern together and Peters then will demand a monogamous relationship. I think Dunne thinks this too, and so one of his reasons for jumping was that even if he won Ohariu and National got back into Government, he'd still be frozen out of office.

My point about Labour-NZ First-Greens amalgam wasn't so much that they don't have policies that can fit together ... it was more that I genuinely have no idea about what the relative strengths of the 3 parties will be (and thus how much each will get to influence the overall thrust of Government policy).

by Charlie on August 22, 2017


Regarding those tax rates, you mentioned:

1. The 39% marginal rate under the Clark government was mostly only paid by middle class salary earners who had no choice. The wealthy restructured their incomes to avoid the top rate. So much so that NZ went over the top of the 'Laffer Curve', revenue fell and that government subsequently backing off the 39% by a few points.

2. When the Key government came into power they dropped the marginal rate to 33%, just as you say but at the same time they shut the door on various tax loopholes for landlords and the net result was that the wealthy paid a larger slice of the tax revenue than they had under the Clark government!

So your summary was more correct than you may have thought - in terms of inequality Labour were worse!



by Wayne Mapp on August 22, 2017
Wayne Mapp

Very nice anaylsis of generational change. There will be more than a few younger National MP's (you can guess who they are) who will be sizing this up as it applies to them. Are they in the zeitgeist?

It is a good point that New Zealand does not have a crisis as per 1935 and 1984. Notwithstanding the inequality or housing debates, there is no real sense that New Zealand is in serious trouble, requiring urgent and deep change.

So this limits what a potential Labour led government can and should do, and in any evernt the role of NZF guarantees that.

What I find interesting is how Jacinda Ardern can talk up some pretty modest policies, to give them an aura of real significance. The trains (not the innercity light rail, but the regional trains policy) is particularly in that space. Over the next decade maybe $1.5 billion, which in truth is not a huge amount in government spending terms. 

National is going to have to be smart.

Already there is plethora of new annoucements by National, but a lot of them will not get cut through. I personally liked the next generation of Roads of National significance. Four lanning the highway to Whangarei and to Tauranga would have a dramatically larger economic and social impact than Labour's regional rail proposal, and of course costs a lot more. But hipsters (I am looking at you Tim and Andrew) simply dismiss it as yesterday's plan, even though rail is even more yesterday! But again this is about the zeitgeist. Obviously we are going to get rid of our cars and road haulage in the next few year, right? 

Roads and rail have become part of the standard left/right debate and have been for a few years. Prgamatists might make some concessions to each other (National and CRL, Labour on some fourlanning) but for ideologues this has become as fevered as the inequality debate.  

Anyway National will need one or two really significant policy announcements that cut to the concerns of voters. Any more than that will get lost. And then really sell them relentlessly and with conviction. Needs to be done soon, because any new policy annoucements in the last two or three weeks of a camapaign never seem to get traction.


by Kat on August 22, 2017

Thats right Wayne nothing really seriously wrong in little old NZ eh.

Nothing serious like highest youth suicide rate in the developed world, high levels of mental illness, depression, child poverty, rampant economic and social inequality, rotten hospitals, inadequate health funding, rotten housing, no housing, homelessness, people living in cars, garages, under bridges and in motels, dirty dairying, filthy rivers, gridlock on the roads, high student debt, high debilitating and lethal drug use, high obesity, high diabetes death rates................need I go on. And I haven't even mentioned the serious Maori related issues.

NZ doesn't need a revolution but it certainly needs urgent and deep change. And its coming.

by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2017
Andrew Geddis

But hipsters (I am looking at you Tim and Andrew) simply dismiss it as yesterday's plan, even though rail is even more yesterday!

I regard your use of the term "hipster" as being highly defamatory and, absent an immediate withdrawal and apology, I shall have my very good McKenzie Friend Mr Colin Craig initiate proceedings.

Also, I only support monorails.

by Wayne Mapp on August 22, 2017
Wayne Mapp


 Wouldn't Graham McCready be interested in getting into civil proceeedings? Give him a call!

Anway I was giving you the benefit of youth, surely an elixir for all.

by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2017
Tim Watkin

Charlie, do you have a source on tax revenue actually falling when the rate went up to 39%? I've heard that argument a bit and never got around to confirming it.

It's fair to say that closing those loopholes helped the wealthy may a greater share of tax... except, National also put up GST, which is a terribly regressive move. So in net terms I'm not sure you'd be right there. 

As for inequality, it was Working for Families that flattened it out. Under National is hadn't got much worse until the last couple of years, when housing costs have driven inequality just a little wider. 

And Rich, Labour has shifted its positon on CGT in the past aeek, so I think you'll get your change there. If Labour gets in and doesn't introduce a capital gains tax now in its first term, I'd be amazed.


by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2017
Tim Watkin

Anne, I agree with Andrew. Winston in a coalition with ACT or the Maori Party will happen on the same day hell freezes over. But NZF and National will have enough every day of the week. The question is whether NZF will have the same choice of a two-party government with Labour.


by Wayne Mapp on August 22, 2017
Wayne Mapp


On a more serious vein. Yes, there are problems, some very deep such as youth suicide. But rattling off a list of woe as you have done does not equate to New Zealand going to hell in a handbasket. 

We have one of the lowest unemployment rates in the world, one of highest employment rates, one of the highest growth rates, almost continous real growth in incomes for nearly 6 years in a row, low interest rates, etc. That is why there is a majority saying New Zealand is going in the right direction. We are simply not in a 1935 or 1984 situation.

Of course the government might change, there is clearly more of a mood for that than in the past two elections.

But Jacinda Ardern, at least for me, seems to understand New Zealanders are not looking for radical change. The fact she has Helen Clark as her mentor illustrates where Jacinda sits.

The mood is perhaps more like 1999 or 2008, though not as strong as in either of those years. People voted for change but in neither case did they want "urgent and deep change", it was more incremental than that. 

by Tim Watkin on August 22, 2017
Tim Watkin

Wayne, I too reject any claim to hipsterdom. I do the dad jokes in my office and don't know nearly enough about craft beer.

I don't buy that trains are older-fashioned or that they would have a limited economic impact. Fast passenger rail would get significant numbers out of Auckland for a start. Equally, I'm not writing off roads. Driverless cars mean we could have a very different model of transportation, but the experts seem to suggest that individual car ownership would drop with the new technology, meaning more roads may have limited use. Demand for rail will last longer at the capacity we can build.


by Andrew Geddis on August 22, 2017
Andrew Geddis

Anway I was giving you the benefit of youth, surely an elixir for all.

I think the term d'jour is "youth adjacent".

by Kat on August 22, 2017


What Jacinda has mentioned is her conection and admiration of Peter Fraser and Norm Kirk. Jacinda also said that GDP rates, and numbers on a sheet of paper don’t always tell you much about the wellbeing of the people working to keep our economy going.

Your use of the term radical is a misnomer. Jacinda intends to make changes that will have a far reaching 'positive' effect for this country. That is the difference. So its not radical as in the introduction of some new and far out economic or social doctrine but rather a significant stabilising of the ship, getting it back on an even keel if you like. The effect of that stabilising considering the huge list the ship is on can only be achieved by making hard calls that reflect urgent and deep change. 

On 23 September we will find out just how many people want the ship put back on an even keel.

by Wayne Mapp on August 22, 2017
Wayne Mapp


While figures do not tell the full story, they are the best we have. A person in work (80% of new jobs are fulltime) is clearly better than not having a job.

Bad economic policy quickly stuffs the economy.

I know the Left love Norman Kirk, but he and Rowling almost wrecked the econonmy in three years. At the time I was in Labour and I was amazed that Labour members could not see that there was a problem with runaway inflation, high interest rates, hugh deficits and a whole range of economic controls, including limiting house sizes to 150 square meters, Maximum Retail Prices, Compulsory Super, more union power, and a host of other similar controls. The public hated it and voted Labour out after just three years.

Helen Clark would have recalled that situation, which was why she was a moderate in government. She will be counselling Jacinda Ardern to ignore Chris Trotter and other sirens of the old Alliance left. In any event I get the impression that Jacinda instictively knows this. Interestingly I reckon Clarke Gayford will help her in this. The things he does will make it clear to her that there are certain things she should not touch, such as taxing the hell out of people so they can't do the things that middle New Zealand enjoys.

One thing I agree with you is her positivety. People like that. They don't beleive she can be dangerous if she has that attitude.  

On rail, I thought her regional rail policy, lifted direct from Greater Auckland, was clever politics. Only $1.5 billion over 5 years, and you get tangible change. Relatively fast trains to Hamilton, and to Tauranga. People will like the symbolism, even if they don't personally use the trains much.

However, within a couple of years the full expressway Auckland to Hamilton will be complete, along with a widened Southern motorway. You will be able to drive Auckland to Hamilton door to door in less than 90 minutes. No train trip to Hamilton will be faster than a car even with 160 kph trains. You still have to get to and from from the stations at each end. 

I presume her transport policy is not only about trains and light rail, there will also be a policy for roads which most people will use for many decades to come. The driveless cars Tim talks about work best on properly designed 4 lane roads. Incidentially I don't buy the into the socialist meme that most people will share/pool cars. Their driveless cars will be mostly self owned. Most people have their own specific car needs and an expectation of style and quality. They want their car available instantly, ie parked in the garage. New Zealand/Auckland is not going to become Manhattan. 

Tim, your enthusiasm for driverless pooled cars makes you an honorary hipster.

Anyway If Labour does win, I anticipate Winston will knock off the crazier edge of socialist policy, as well as have his own requirements.

by Katharine Moody on August 22, 2017
Katharine Moody

Wonderful piece of writing, Tim, which certainly does capture the current 'feeling in the air' ... that yes, this is it - the time that baton will be passed to a new generation. 

I recall as a child that same 'feeling in the air' when JFK was running for the Presidency - his youth (44) and the fact he only had a 9 year history in government - made him much the same sort of unique phenomenon that Jacinda also presents to the electorate: young, relatively inexperienced and charismatic. Nothing like what the electorate had been 'served up' before.

And the televised debate against Richard Nixon (only four years Kennedy's senior) just portrayed a world of difference between them, such that the age difference 'looked like' a generation. And of course Kennedy is still the youngest president to be elected in US history.

The other thing that to me makes a huge difference between Labour and National are their Deputy Leaders. The possibilities of what Kelvin Davis could achieve for Maori alongside Shane Jones has such positive promise - again, real hope for real positive change.

And I'm with Kat - there is an extreme crisis of youth in this country and it is a deep seated problem - and many of the parents of youth are in near crisis, insecure employment and/or just treading water themselves. Change has to be much more than the incrementalism as practiced by JK's government these last nine years..  

by Kat on August 22, 2017


You leave a lot of facts out of your disparaging commentary on Norm Kirk. Sadly he only had two short years at the helm before he died. I won't go into all the detail on the positivity of his tenure as PM, its all well noted in history. On the economy of the time you convieniently ommitted to mention the first global oil shock and Britain dumping NZ for the EEC. And lets not mention dancing cossacks or the subsequent National wrecking ball called Muldoon and his Polish shipyard command economy that followed.

I agree with you Katherine, Labours deputy leader Kelvin Davis provides real opportunity for not just Maori everywhere but especially in the abandoned North. National has been a dysmal failure in Northland only offereing lip service at the best of times.

We are in a new era now and this country desperately needs the enthusiasm and leadership qualities that Jacinda Ardern brings to the table.

by Charlie on August 23, 2017

Tim, answering your question about tax rates:

I garnered this from two sources:

A friend who wored for a well known international consultancy/accounting firm said at the time that there was a queue of wealthy customers outside his office wanting to restructure as a result of Helen's tax hike, and he subsequently told me the story of the reason for the back down by the Clark government. (why else woudl they?)

My second source was the Treasury update in (2009?) which was in the public domain at the time (I failed to find it in google search - but I'm sure the National Party can provide you with a copy  :-)  )


Regarding inequality - I really don't see what the fuss is about. It has stayed roughly the same for the last 30 years through a series of different governments. Just empty election rhetoric?  See fig 1 below:




by william blake on August 23, 2017
william blake

That graph. It removes the top 20% where over 50% of the wealth is owned and leaves out the bottom 20% ie beneficiaries. S.d. is a bit shit for this issue.

by Anne on August 23, 2017

"I was amazed that Labour members could not see that there was a problem with runaway inflation, high interest rates, hugh deficits and a whole range of economic controls, including limiting house sizes to 150 square meters, Maximum Retail Prices, Compulsory Super, more union power, and a host of other similar controls. The public hated it and voted Labour out after just three years."

Hang on Wayne, you can't re-write history and be allowed to get away with it. You say the public hated it? While some - including you apparently - might have hated it, there is no way "the public" voted Labour out for all the reasons you have espoused. The primary reason is: they fell hook, line and sinker for Muldoon's Superannuation election bribe. You know, the one where everyone regardless of wealth would receive 80% (I think it was 80%) of the average wage the day they turned 65. In other words, personal greed won the day and  we have been paying big time for that major folly right up to the present day.  

by Katharine Moody on August 24, 2017
Katharine Moody

Actually, if these folks are right, it was 80% at age 60 - without compulsory contributions.




by Ross on August 24, 2017


I would've thought that one variant could be Labour and the Greens with NZF offering confidence and supply. I think it is unlikely however.

by Anne on August 24, 2017

Thank-you Katherine Moody. I knew there was something not quite right. :) 

It was a massive bribe and the above 40s voter bloc shifted en masse to National from the moment ot was announced, Few gave thought to the inevitible serious consequences further down the track.

by Charlie on August 24, 2017

Auckland is like a mule with a spinning wheel !




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