Social democracy is in trouble. Social democratic parties have been annihilated in Greece, reduced to a shadow in France and struggle in Scandinavia. Corbyn in Britian and Sanders in the United States have support but can't get elected. Can New Zealand Labour show that it is not only possible to form a government but also to save social democracy? 

Social democrats like to do good. That is why they seek to be in government. They can use the resources of the state to improve lives. 

At least that is how it used to be in the good old days of the welfare state. Then we lived in a world characterised by homogeneity, standardisation and economies of scale. A single party in one nation could aspire to balance the interests of the state, business and labour. 

Now we are entering a world of diversity, differentiation and fragmentation. Megatrends like globalisation, the knowledge economy the declining importance of class politics, climate change, choice and individualisation have made it difficult for national governments to manage their economies, provide social benefits and run one-size-fits-all policies. 

It was these New Times that caused the traditional social democratic bureaucratic top down model to falter and be overtaken by the "market knows best" approach of Margaret Thatcher and Ronald Reagan. It was why social democrats, led by Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, tried to reinvent their tradition via a Third Way. 

As it turned out, neither the market nor the Third Way provided an enduring response to the fundamental changes taking place. 

This opened the way for populists like Donald Trump to argue that the answer was "strongman' politics. Someone who says the answers are simple - leave it to them. What they mean is that they will act as if the trends that define the modern world can be ignored and national governments are in control. 

Short of the collapse of capitalism, environmental disaster or nuclear war (all possible), pretending change can be ignored is a fool's errand. New Times are here to stay. Sure populists will peddle their snake oil, but when they do win power (see Berlusconi, Trump, the Brexiteers) it does not take long for their words to turn to ashes in their mouths.

 The 'emperor has no clothes' reality of the populists should make it possible for social democrats to once again get a hearing. Yet in most countries they have struggled to craft a message that has lifted them above more than 20 percent of the vote. In Greece, they have been annihilated, in France they command 6 percent of the vote. Even in Scandinavia, social democrats are struggling. 

The considerable support voters have given to Jeremy Corban in Britain and Bernie Sanders in the United States has raised hopes. But neither have yet been able to make it into government. 

All of this makes the Labour-led government cause for celebration not only in New Zeland but also around the democratic world. As Jeremy Corbyn said in the lead up to the 2017 election - "do it for all of us". Labour delivered. Social democrats could breath a sigh of relief - it was possible to govern. 

Now comes the hard part. Social democratic parties are not out of favour because of some temporary blip in the electoral cycle. It is not, as some persist in saying, that politics is all about waiting for the pendulum to swing their way. The problem for social democrats is that they have yet to show they are equipped to deal with the 21st century as well as they were to deal with the mid-20th century. 

The question Labour needs to answer is whether they are ready for the future or not. 

There are encouraging signs. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, has made it clear she represents a generational change. She is at home in the new world of social media and information. She is at once a global citizen and a fiercely proud New Zealander. She has identified climate change as the nuclear free moment of our times. 

In opposition, now Finance Minister Grant Robinson showed a willingness to take on big issues when he led a discussion on the future of work and even went as far as to consider a universal basic income. Other Ministers have shown a willingness to rethink key areas like education, agrifood and healthcare. 

Labout is not the largest party in Parliament  - that honour goes to National. This means we may have the first truly MMP govenment. Previously National and Labour dominated any coalition. Smaller parties were marginalised and hurt badly at the polls

This time, Labour will have to listen carefully to its partner (New Zealand First) and supporter (the Green Party) to ensure it can form a government at the next election. It may have to reach out to other parties to allow for other options. For the first time, a major party is going to have to let go of some of the reins of power and allow other voices to be heard. If this extends to the wider community and the democratising of democracy, alll the better. 

New Zealand First may seem an odd bedfellow for Labour, but it has placed firmly on the agenda such key issues as regional development. 

The Green party is not around the cabinet table but they have enough power to keep their agenda of the environment, conservation, climate change and social justice alive. 

But, we are in the early stages of a government that was a surprise not only to the country but the parties involved. There is a lot of work to do - especially for Labour. 

They need to explain to New Zealanders that generational change is about more than millennials taking over. It means articulating a new vision of a good society in the context of the New Times we live in. 

The urgency of the immediate problems left by National - poverty, dirty rivers, homelessness, inequality - cannot be allowed to crowd out the importance of this long-term project. Indeed, ensuring answers to these problems requires a fundamental shift in the way we live because there is no quick fix.

What has to be avoided is the temptation to dip too heavily into the policy toolkit used by Corbyn and Sanders. What they say can sound good when measured against the incoherence of Donald Trump of Theresa May. But Corbyn and Sanders follow the traditional social democratic line that one party in one nation using the bureacratic state and higher taxes can solve eveyone's problems. 

This is to act as if New Times and old social democracy belong together when they do not. 

What social democracy, and the world, urgently needs is an understanding that the changes we are living through demand new thinking. Everywhere people are looking for new ways of addressing the problems they see around them. To date, social democratic parties have not been able to respond. Labour is now in a position to show the way. Throughout its history Labour has been the party of change - the welfare state in the 30'/40s, internationalisation in the 70s, deregulation in the 1980s. It is time to show the way again - for all of us. 


Comments (8)

by Charlie on January 31, 2018

I think a good place to start would be to understand exactly why most social democrat parties have been booted out of office.

As you point out, they were generally well intentioned. However, there is often a yawning gap between intentions and actual delivery. The road to hell is reportedly paved with it!

There are a few threads to this so I will try to break this down into the component parts:


Most of SD parties were (and still are in the case of NZ Labour) controlled by unionists. Given voluntary membership, the vast majority of employees rejected unions, and for good reason. So here is a major disconnect between SD politics and the average voter: If they wish to truly represent the majority of voters they need to end union influence.

There once was a time when the SD leadership was populated by normal working people with families and careers but that seems not to be the case today. Too often the political leadership comes from people without real work experience such as professional politicians, academics and media luvvies. These are the 'chardonnay socialists' who are convinced they know what's best for us but have never had dirt under their fingernails.

Sorry guys, but you're out of touch.


The SD movement today is infested with single issue factions. Various shades and shapes of radicals and nutters who make the movement a laughing stock. I don't need to list them all.

Failed economic policy

The Robin Hood economic policy pushed by the SD movement for the last century has clearly failed. Stealing from the middle class and handing it to the beneficiary class has just exacerbated the hopelessness and incompetence of the latter. The more you give them, the more they need. There is a thing called 'donor fatigue' and we are seeing the effects of this all over.

In summary: You call people like Trump 'populist' like as if it's a bad thing. But as long as we all have the vote, leaders with popular policies will get voted in. What you need to get to understand is why your policies have proven so unpopular!


by on January 31, 2018

Once again Charlie you have failed to connect the ideas in your mind with reality. In fact all through out New Zealand discourse and debate the population is becoming increasingly unhinged as we continue to lose that fortitude that our parents and parents had. Because with out unionisation the workforce have zero bargaining power and resources to be able to fight there cases in court. And once that happens more and more of the productive capacity shifts into fewer and fewer hands taking New Zealand down to lower economic performance.


but it's really nice how you've presented your shit ideas. 

by Kat on January 31, 2018


"charlie" is a nact troll, a tory elitetist and a born to rule pratt. I suspect he and Mr Hooten are familiar bedfellows.

Moving on. Prime Minister Ardern is well up in the preferred leader stakes and Labour is significantly rising, closing the gap with the national socialists and Labour will ultimately overtake the them.

A lot of New Zealander voters are slowy waking up from their slumber on planet Key.

by on January 31, 2018

We live in a New Zealand that needs additional supply. So if the government can't tax and spend then it has to print and spend. Basically the top line has to move on the government budget. So the inflation will turn up in increased prices and trade deficit and in New Zealand's case over the last few weeks inflation has shown up in both. So people are aware of it and normies gana blame.

At the moment what Charlie and his comedic opponents are actually doing is creating problems for which they and only they have the solution and I'm like boy, you niggas crazy. I see right through your charlatan acts like I see right through David Farrar, Cameron Slater or Lyne Prentice. There is a reason why people no longer trust politics, because the population has been trams formed into factories for producing propaganda that is divorced from reality. And this place is no different.

Go back through the Blogs here and you'll find that no more than 10% of it is true or actually happened. The vast majority of the commentariats and pundants tell people what people what they want you to think, it's got nothing to do with educational or cultural tools. That's were people like me and even the OP is a little different. People like me believe that if people have good information they'll be able to make rational decisions. 

by Charlie on February 01, 2018

Kat & Sam, please address the points I made rather than attacking me personally. The style of your response only undermine's your credibility.

Oh and Kat, I'm your worst nightmare: I was brought up on a benefit by a solo mum. :-)

by on February 01, 2018

Why should I be nice to you? I'm constantly grappling with the idea that crazy people don't know that they are crazy. And reasoning with crazy people (like yourself Charlie) is also a diffintition of crazy. 

Lets take your theory about factionalism shall we. That a political party can not gain the necessary majority to form government ruins a lot of egos. And this is a problem for the National Party. So it is impossible to say that I'm a National Party member and that I'm not hurting over the lose, it is impossible to say that I'm a National member and I don't question the campaign efforts, that I don't question the leadership. It's just impossible.

People like Bill English Lead the National for greater employer rights. But that's it. He does not run modern New Zealand. When a majority was obtained Jacinda took over and now has to run modern New Zealand. In other words Bill the politician Spurs his members with passion for neoliberalism and got 2nd place. But Bill English as a transformer of large to small government mentality does not exist.

by Charlie on February 02, 2018

Sam, I don't care if you're nice to me or not. I've got thicker skin than you can imagine!

What I want you to address are the points I made: Please address those and the topic of the original post:  Can Labour save social democracy?  

It's got nothing to do with Bill English!




by on February 02, 2018

God you are dumb. First off Marx theory of Labour is incorrect because the idea that surplus can be exploited from workers clashes with the second law of thermodynamics which says "surplus is exploited from the free energy stored in either fossil fuels, fissile materials and stars."


So you points are not points. They are conspiracy theories.

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