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Old battles

Written By: - Date published: 9:29 am, September 16th, 2008 - 64 comments
Categories: election 2008, john key - Tags:

When John Key responded to the PM’s announcement of the election date on Friday he stated:

This election is not about the past. It’s not about the old political battles of the past 20 or 30 years.

And I got to thinking, what exactly are these “old political battles of the past 20 or 30 years” that John Key doesn’t want to talk about this election?

Does anyone know?

64 comments on “Old battles”

  1. monkey-boy 1

    I think he’s referring to the knee-jerk tribalism of the left-right ideological divide. But he might be referring to Mallard and Tau Henare.

  2. Tane 2

    He could be. What do you think that means in practice MB? Which issues do you reckon he doesn’t want to talk about this election, and why?

  3. He’s hinting at privatization and trying to claim that it would be better for all New Zealanders no matter what ideology it’s coming from (in this case the far right).

  4. bill brown 4

    Perhaps he’s talking about the battle between the NZ population and Roger Douglas.

  5. jcuknz 5

    [threadjacking, deleted.]

  6. r0b 6

    Our nuclear free policy is an old political battle. As recently as Brash the Nats wanted it gone by lunchtime. That’s probably one of the dead rats that they don’t want to be reminded of.

  7. jcuknz 7

    As a Labour minister [Sir]Roger Douglas got the country out of the morass of Muldoonism but the trouble will all politicians is that they tend to throw the baby out with the bathwater. Many New Zealanders were/are better off for being kicked in the butt by Roger and made to get a life but there needs to be careing pragmatism to modify the policies that are not working. I find it somewhat amusing to hear the current Labour leaders exposing ACT principle as I knew them in the mid-nineties. Roger wasn’t completely wrong as many portray him though I suffer a 20% reduction in my pension becuase of his policies. I have to accept than and do becuase it was for the good of the country if not me.

  8. Tim Ellis 8

    This is an interesting topic, Tane, but you seem to have ascribed motives to John Key that don’t appear accurate. When John Key talks about not wanting to talk about the old battles, I don’t think he’s saying he’s scared to talk about them. I think he’s saying that they’re not issues that are high on the public mind; they’re not hugely dominant in the way voters make up their minds now.

    It’s a clear attempt to draw a line in the sand between Key’s supposed “freshness” vs his political inexperience, and Helen Clark’s “tiredness” vs her political experience. The line is, John Key thinks about the current issues that dominate our future to get fresh ideas and fresh leadership, while Helen Clark is stuck in the past battles, obsessing over historical events that have little to do with New Zealanders now, and is therefore tired and stale.

    As for what those historical battles are, a few I can think of, off the top of my head: the Vietnam War, Manapouri, the Springbok Tour, Muldoon’s economic policies, homosexual law reform. These are all issues that were pretty central to left-wingers, and while they were important historically, many New Zealanders take the results of those struggles for granted. Likewise, a small group in New Zealand worked hard to make the resolution of treaty of waitangi claims a high agenda for government; their work is largely taken for granted.

  9. Key doesn’t want to talk about whether his party’s secret agenda – ‘privatise, privatise, privatise’ – is right, he would rather that be an old debate. problem is you see media commentators mindlessly repeat his claim that the right/left divide is dead.

  10. Pascal's bookie 10

    Tane, it is interesting framing isn’t it?

    The National lost the last three elections on these undefined battles, therefore let’s not talk about them, as if there is no longer any disagreement.

    He is not saying that the Left won these arguments, just that he doesn’t want to have them.

    It’s that Brand thing again, painting National as post partisan, forward looking, cuddly teddy bears without having to have a discussion about what they believe, whether they’ve changed their minds, and if so why? and what to?

  11. Tim Ellis 11

    SP said:

    Key doesn’t want to talk about whether his party’s secret agenda – ‘privatise, privatise, privatise’ – is right

    How do you imagine the discussion might go, SP? Because to date the conversation has been:

    Media: Will you privatise state assets?
    John Key: No.
    Media: Are you sure?
    JK: Yes.
    Media: Labour says you have a secret agenda to privatise state assets, is this true?
    JK: No
    Media: So will you privatise state assets?
    JK: No.
    Media: Are you sure?
    JK: Yes.
    Media: Are you lying about this?
    JK: No.
    Media: Are you sure?
    JK: Yes.
    Media: So will you privatise state assets?
    JK: No.
    Media: Are you sure?
    JK: Yes.

    I think there’s a point where further questioning doesn’t actually reveal anything, and we are well beyond that point now. It is all very well to claim there is a great conspiracy or a secret agenda, even though there is no evidence of same. At some point you just have to hold somebody at their word, and punish them accordingly if they prove to break their word.

  12. r0b 12

    The line is, John Key thinks about the current issues that dominate our future to get fresh ideas and fresh leadership

    And a “line” is what it is. I see no evidence that the Nats are thinking ahead long term. It is Labour addressing long term issues like climate change and the environment (Nats opposed the ETS and wand to gut the RMA), Labour addressing population demographics and ageing with the Cullen Fund and KiwiSaver (both of which the Nats opposed).

    In short, I’d love it if the Nats tried to run that line, because the record speaks for itself.

  13. Pascal's bookie 13

    Tim the sophist:
    nobody wants to have the debates you mention, they really are over.

    What key wants to not talk about is privatisation, deregulation, user pays etc. the Brash agenda that he was going to be the finance minister for.

  14. Tane 14

    Tim, I’d actually argue it’s purely rhetoric. I don’t think he’s talking about Vietnam and homosexual law reform because this election campaign was never going to be about those issues anyway.

    Like you suggest, Key simply wants to portray himself as ‘fresh’ and ‘forward-looking’ and Clark as ‘tired’ and ‘mired in the past’. These are words that have no real anchor point in reality, but resonate on an emotional level with voters.

    The great thing about that is it allows him to avoid the tough issues, like the adverse effects of neoliberal policies on things like child poverty, economic inequality and the environment. It also means never being held to account for impact your policies had in the 1980s and 90s.

  15. Tim Ellis 15

    PB, I think as far as the social policy battles are concerned, the Left has largely won the historical battles. As far as economic policy is concerned, the Right has largely come out on top of those battles. I agree there is a branding exercise going on, but there is also a branding exercise from those with a vested interest in only talking about historical battles.

  16. r0b 16

    It is all very well to claim there is a great conspiracy or a secret agenda, even though there is no evidence of same.

    No evidence except the long history of the National Party only recently (supposedly) renounced, the released policy (eg on “competition with ACC) and the secret agenda tapes.

  17. Pascal's bookie 17

    Tim the sophist,

    You left out the ‘not yet’ and the “in our first term” and the other qualifiers the Nat’s use in reality when the ‘deny’ that they want to privatise.

    Why am I not surprised?

  18. Billy 18

    Or maybe, Steve it’s that other (and completely opposite) thing he gets criticised for.

    Maybe he really just is Labour-lite.

    That’s my bet.

  19. Tane 19

    Billy. I don’t think anyone on the left really believed National under Key was Labour lite. It was a line run by Labour with the belief it would harm Key, but in reality played right into National’s “Labour Plus” strategy.

    It’s also, interestingly, being run by the radical right, albeit for an entirely different purpose.

  20. Well it wont be the tour, he cant seem to remember where he stood when that was happening.

  21. r0b 21

    Maybe he really just is Labour-lite. That’s my bet.

    Quite an idea! Always possible I guess, but even if it was true, the rest of of the Nat front bench are not. Almost all of them were members of the last disastrous National government, and willing participants in Brash’s right wing agenda. Bill English and Murray McCully as Labour lite? I don’t think so.

  22. bill brown 22

    Even if he is Labour-lite, he’ll be rolled by lunchtime so the Nats can start doing their National-Hevi worst.

  23. Billy 23

    Nah, I reckon you’re all wrong.

    The thing the Nats value more than anyting else is power. They are really hurting. I just can’t see them dooming themselves to be a one term government by pursuing (a quite sensible) right wing programme.

  24. Tim Ellis 24

    Tim, I’d actually argue it’s purely rhetoric. I don’t think he’s talking about Vietnam and homosexual law reform because this election campaign was never going to be about those issues anyway.

    I agree Tane that the election was never going to be about those particular issues, but it does highlight what is a different frame of reference, and what will be a generational change if National wins the election. The subtle message, as I read it, from what John Key is saying and what he represents, is that the baby-boomers have had their time. It’s time for them to make room for the next generation. Helen Clark and Phil Goff were radical hippies in the 60s and 70s; good on them, but they’re approaching retirement age now, and it’s time for a new generation to come through.

    We see this transfer of generational power time and time again: a few recent ones, of course, were Muldoon-Lange and Holyoake-Kirk.

    I think it is relevant, that the battles that make up a leader’s political frame of reference are different.

  25. Matthew Pilott 25

    I wonder if Key is going to start any new ‘battles’ or just try and glide in as Labour-Lite.

    Is this, by the way, a declaration that everything National and Key used to stand for was wrong, and he’s conceeding that? I guess so.

  26. r0b 26

    Billy – perhaps you’re right – in which case sux to be Nat. Your true agenda is electoral posion, the only way to be in power is not to do the things you want to do. Ouch.

    I don’t think they could live with it. They would have to start acting on their instincts an go hard right. They’d convince themselves that this time it would be different, this time it would work, this time the electorate would love it. All wrong, and history would repeat.

  27. r0b 27

    We see this transfer of generational power time and time again

    And once again – Key is young but National are not. There is no generational change if the Nats take power, just the front bench of the 90’s getting one last chance to screw it up again.

  28. Tim Ellis 28

    r0b said:

    And once again – Key is young but National are not. There is no generational change if the Nats take power, just the front bench of the 90’s getting one last chance to screw it up again.

    If National didn’t have any legacy MPs from the 1990s you would say they didn’t have political experience and wouldn’t be fit to govern. Sheesh.

    Labour’s heavy-hitters, Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Phil Goff, Annette King, Trevor Mallard, were all MPs in the time of rogernmomics. They are all a generation older than John Key. I find it interesting that you attack John Key for having experienced MPs at his side, while you gloss over the fact that Helen Clark’s closest and must trusted colleagues were all at her side when she was deputy prime minister in the fourth labour government.

  29. randal 29

    Keys response is a bit like Henry ford who said, “history is bunk”, and then went on to found and build a huge museum of Americana. what he really meant is I dont want anybody investigating me and I guess Keys is in the same boat. what is his history?

  30. r0b 30

    If National didn’t have any legacy MPs from the 1990s

    There’s a difference between some continuity to provide experience, and almost no change at all. The National front bench is almost straight out of the 90s.

    I find it interesting that you attack John Key for having experienced MPs at his side

    I didn’t attack JK at all Tim, why ever would you say such a thing? Please try and stick to the facts.

  31. I think its probably more in referance to the typical conservative MO. Oppose every single peice of social legislation, score the points for doing so at election time, then say oh looks like its not so bad afterall. The old hit and run that you guys were talking about a little while ago! I guess thats why they aren’t campaigning on taking votes away from women, I’d guess they probably opposed that back in the day!

  32. Tim Ellis 32

    r0b, I think you are trying to spin this. Labour/Alliance’s front bench in 1999 was Helen Clark, Jim Anderton, Michael Cullen, Steve Maharey, Phil Goff, Annette King, Sandra Lee, Jim Sutton, and Trevor Mallard. All but two of them, Sandra Lee and Steve Maharey, were MPs in the fourth Labour Government.

    The front bench of National in 2008 is no more dominated by National’s legacy of the 1990s, than Labour’s front bench was dominated by the legacy of the 1980s, in 1999.

  33. Tim Ellis 33


  34. r0b 34


    Umm indeed. Realised how silly your previous comment was?

    By 1999 the Labour Party had shed the right wing (shudder) Labour MPs of the 1980s – Douglas, Prebble, Caygill, Basset. They were all gone (to start ACT). The Labour party had renounced their right wing agenda and returned to its roots.

    In 2008 the front bench of the National Party is still full of right the National MPs of the 1990s – English, Smith, Williamson, McCully, Brownlee, Ryall, Mapp, Simich and so on, all still there. The National of today represents continuity with the 90’s.

  35. Tim Ellis 35

    Umm indeed. Realised how silly your previous comment was?

    Not at all, r0b. In error I posted a response to another thread, in this thread, and since I couldn’t delete the whole comment I’d just posted, I edited it to “umm”.

    As for your substantive point, Phil Goff was never of the left of the party. He supported the Douglas reforms. He was as right wing, if not more so, than David Caygill was. David Caygill never joined Act. He was appointed chairman of ACC and from memory played an important role in several energy issues in the time of this current Labour government.

    Helen Clark voted in favour of all the Douglas reforms in Cabinet. She voted for the flat tax package. Annette King was never of the Left of the party. Nor was Jim Sutton.

    The record shows that Helen Clark’s cabinet front bench of 1999 was more dominated by legacy MPs and Ministers from the fourth Labour Government (who supported that Government, despite your claim to have had Damascene conversions), than John Key’s cabinet front bench in 2008, will be dominated by legacy MPs and Ministers from the fourth National Government.

  36. Draco TB 36

    what he really meant is I dont want anybody investigating me and I guess Keys is in the same boat. what is his history?

    JKs history is being a prime mover in the money-go-round culture that has brought the world to recession and on the brink of depression. I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want this to be discussed.

  37. Tim Ellis 37

    In 2008 the front bench of the National Party is still full of right the National MPs of the 1990s – English, Smith, Williamson, McCully, Brownlee, Ryall, Mapp, Simich and so on, all still there. The National of today represents continuity with the 90’s.

    English will be on the front bench in a Key Cabinet. So, I expect, will Brownlee, Ryall, and McCully. Simich was a Cabinet Minister in Shipley’s Cabinet, but he’s retiring this year, and is not a front-bencher. I doubt that Williamson or Mapp will be front-benchers. Power, but Collins, Power, and Tolley will be. That makes at least four National Ministers who were not even MPs during the last National Government. That doesn’t sound like a rehash to me, when compared to what Labour’s front bench looked like in 1999.

  38. Felix 38

    So Tim are you saying that Labour’s front bench are neo-liberal moles who have been biding their time waiting for a fourth term in which to unleash their right-wing fury?

    Or are you saying that National’s front bench have had a major philosophical shake-up and no longer support the neo-liberal policies they did in government in the 90s (and in opposition until after the last election)?

    Either scenario is preposterous. So maybe, as usual, you’re saying nothing and just filling in the white areas on your monitor with black symbols in the vain hope that there are a few fools reading who will equate word count with coherent thought?

  39. Tim Ellis 39

    No, Felix, I’m not saying either. I’m saying that r0b’s claim that National’s front bench is filled with 1990s legacy people in 2008, is no more valid than the reality that Labour’s front bench was stacked with people who supported the Douglas reforms and were part of the caucus of the 4th Labour government.

    In 1999, Labour made clear that it had no secret agenda, and wasn’t going to deliver things that it didn’t promise. From memory, that was when the pledge card became really important. Remember that? “Our Promise To You”. They were saying, this is what we stand for, this is what we will deliver. History has shown that despite their involvement and participation in the 4th Labour Government, they have largely delivered on most of the promises they made.

    In 2008, National is less dominated by the legacy MPs of the 1990s as Labour was by the legacy MPs of the 1980s. National says it has no secret agenda. They have made specific commitments on what they will deliver. The public gave Labour the benefit of the doubt. I think they will give John Key the benefit of the doubt as well.

  40. r0b 40

    Well Tim, Felix has already given you a reply, but here’s mine. “Left” and “right”, to the extent that they exist in the Labour Party, are well to the left of Labour of the 80’s (Prebble, Douglas). Fact is that Labour long ago made a clean break with the right wing ACT faction, and to pretend that they haven’t is silly.

    And as for National, good luck with your attempts to portray them as a fresh faced break with the past. This is all well covered ground, see the following, and in particular the quoted text from the ODT:

    The National Party Old Boys’ Club

    For other’s in the “Same old National” series see:

    By their deeds shall you know them eh…

  41. r0b 41

    since I couldn’t delete the whole comment I’d just posted, I edited it to “umm’.

    Edit is still working for some then.

    Lynn, any idea why my browsers (Safari on macs) post directly without any edit time?

    [lprent: I’ll try it when I get home. Didn’t last time I checked, but there could have been a version update]

  42. r0b 42

    I have a comment pending (in the spam trap for links?) – no doubt it will appear in due course.

    You’re still missing the point Tim. Labour in 1999 represented an ideological break with the 80s (as the record shows). National in 2008 represents ideological continuity with the 90s (as the evidence suggests).

  43. higherstandard 43

    Any idea why my browsers (Safari on macs) post directly without any edit time?

    Indeed I have the same issue – I suspect Bill Gates ….damn his eyes !

    [lprent: I’ll try it when I get home. Didn’t last time I checked, but there could have been a version update]

  44. r0b 44

    HS – we have something in common at last! The enemy of my enemy is my friend…

  45. redbus 45

    Maybe he doesn’t want the election to be about forming a Government?

  46. Felix 46


    Labour spent the best part of the 90s railing against National’s neo-liberal agenda.

    They have now spent 8 years in government making good on that stance.

    National have argued, throughout this period, for a return to the policies of the 90s – it’s only in the last couple of years that they’ve kept quiet about that.

    This indicates that the comparison you’re trying to draw just isn’t there unless you admit that you believe National have had a 180 degree transformation since the last election.

    Edit: r0b has put this far more succinctly above.

  47. Jasper 47

    Key really is a labour lite boy. After all, he allegedly did approach Labour with a pile of dosh for a seat. Which Labour turned down.
    National however – more than happy to take it.

    What a funny old world we live in if it is true – it’s all just hearsay on my part. Anyone want to confirm/deny? Imagine if it was true….

  48. Bill 48

    Nat’s Key to the future unlocks an unholy trapdoor to the pits of the past?

    Or something like that.

    But lets not talk about it. Anyone for cricket?

  49. higherstandard 49


    I suspect we probably have lots in common like most people who argue the point one way or the other on this blog.

    Apart from the lunatic fringe on either side virtually everyone just wants what’s best for the country and their family I get a bit disappointed when everyone seems to have to be parcelled into nice little left and right boxes when I believe we’re all just a mixture of views depending on the situation and that no “lefty” or “righty” philosophy will work in all scenarios.

    If I can digress this has been my disappointment with MMP in that there was an opportunity for true inter party co-operation with the best people in parliament being put into positions of influence in their areas of expertise – why couldn’t/shouldn’t someone who’s done a brilliant job stay as minister (or associate minister) of a portfolio if their party wasn’t re-elected ?

  50. r0b 50

    Actually HS I’m sure you’re right.

    On MMP – maybe it hasn’t reached its full potential yet, but it is sooo much better than the old FPP…

  51. higherstandard 51

    Agreed – what do you think of an upper house as a potential improvement ?

  52. r0b 52

    Haven’t given it much tought, but as a first response I’m not in favour myself – it seems to me to add complication and expense, but little value. Can you make a case for it? What are the achievements of the House of Lords?

    Interesting topic but got to go for a few hours…

  53. Anita 53


    I’ll third the chorus that edit doesn’t work on Safari on a Mac (3.1.2, 10.5.4).

    I’m pretty sure it stopping working didn’t co-incide with any upgrade of either Safari or OS. My impression was that a whole bunch of us were having problems with editing a couple of weeks ago, you said you would look at it over the weekend, edit went away and I assumed that was part of the process of fixing it.

    [lprent: Sorry got involved in helping in a flat move, and blogging on Rochelle (unlike SP – I’m a slow writer). However help will be there shortly – I have 2 weeks holiday starting the at the weekend. Some of it will be doing the required testing and upgrades on this site. Most will be used in making JK’s life a little more blighted. ]

  54. A fair thing you try do..

    I heard – was it bigfoot brownlee? – Key advice: if you are asking questions you are losing.. Quite a stopper, huh..

    So.. how about answering questions..? Of late I don’t see too many stoppers there.

    The issue: past battles.. let’s say we lift a stone or two and watch what crawls out. Not (necesarily) the enzed location stones. Elsewhere stones. And why..? Because they are coming to bear now.. in what this ambitious challenger to the incumbent administration might bring.

    Stones which even his political party folk don’t/won’t know a deal about, but whose ramifications just no one will want..

    Any ideas..? IF not come visit for an assist.. from time to time

  55. randal 55

    old battles huh…didnt John Keys work for bankers trust in 1994 when they were sucessfully sued by procter and gamble and gibson greeting cards after bt sold them derivatives contracts that could not be understood and after bt execs were taped boasting about it?

  56. rave 56

    Key doesnt want to face the fact that the state has always come to the rescue of the market whenever it got into trouble in NZ.
    He’s created this fiction that the market rules, and the state interferes, when its more like the state bails out the market everytime. The national business heroes are all state beneficiaries from Fletcher to Hart. Fear of the underclass masks the rule of the overclass. The dangerous gangs are the richwhite gangs who deal in ‘p’ as in profits.
    Privatisation is Keys agenda at a time when the biggest players in the world market like big banks and traders are being socialised, including his old firm. He’s trying to create a sort of Hollywood fantasy bubble in the middle of a real bubble bursting.
    The clue is the old lead actor Roger coming out for a return gig no doubt with Gibbs driving him up Queen St in his hummer.

  57. the sprout 57

    quite right rave, although as the current situation in the US shows, the State has to bail-out markets even in the most freemarketist environments.
    and yes, most of our very rich are indeed thieves of public wealth.

  58. the sprout 58

    good one TMS, been poring over Investishite in the toilet have you?

  59. Pascal's bookie 59


    This is interesting re possible political effects of the current unpleasantness.

    Americans don’t mind wealthy and even rapacious capitalists as long as they deliver the goods to everyone else. But when the big boys drag everyone else down, Americans rise up in righteous anger. The New Deal political alignment endured for decades because the financial elites were so profoundly discredited by the Great Depression. The New Deal coalition dissolved only when prosperity began to seem durable and only after the GOP discovered the joys of baiting Hollywood, the media and the academy.

  60. the sprout 60

    cheers PB. it’s an interesting observation, and it’ll be interesting to see how the triple-whammy of 8 years of Bush, Iraq and the financial collapse affect the GOP.
    and interesting to see the extent to which right-wing US media will be able to mitigate the effects.
    one thing’s for sure, they’ll have to fight pretty dirty to put the masses back in the dark.

  61. Pascal's bookie 61

    Don’t know how I messed that link up try this:


  62. Pascal's bookie 62

    Yeah the link’s broke, stink. I’ve got another in moderation. the always readable Digby posted about it today.

    On the GOPish dirty trick dept, the latest is the usual. Voter disenfranchisement targeting dem areas. the new twist is challenging folks who have had their homes foreclosed, on voter residency grounds. Charming.

  63. the sprout 63

    that is very charitable. get rich off them, then foreclose on their house so you can sell it again, then make sure they can’t vote for change.

  64. gobsmacked 64

    John Key doesn’t believe in battles. That requires beliefs.

    Key aims to be the first leader in the history of Western democracy to have his beliefs decided by the Sainte-Lague Formula. He’s passionately committed to either Ayn Rand or Tino Rangatiratanga. Or maybe just the Families Commission.

    He’ll let us know after November 8.

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