But will they vote? A Marxist analysis of Election '11

On Sunday morning the left woke up with its biggest headache in three years. Although we all expected Key to be re-elected, the shock of his victory along with wins for the right in Epsom, Ohariu Belmont, Auckland Central and Waitakere were gutting. Added to this the modest vote for Mana at 1% alongside the disappointing showing of many of the candidates, including Bradford and Minto, made the defeat even more painful.

But below the surface appearance of the next Parliament, with its tiny majority for National-Act-United Future and Maori Party are some interesting trends. These are the numbers behind the numbers that activists should understand.

The numbers behind the numbers
"A million eligible New Zealanders did not bother to vote in Saturday's election, producing the lowest turnout in percentage terms in 120 years. Turnout dropped by just over 90,000, from 79.5 per cent of those on the rolls in 2008 to 73.8 per cent." This must be influenced by the fact that 100,000 New Zealanders have left for Australia in the last three years as well as by increased depoliticisation.

If special votes fall on the same lines as the votes did on election night there will be an 84,000 vote swing against National, Act, Maori and United Future parties. Government parties lost 7% of their votes 2008-2011, although a 0.6% swing to centre right parties overall. A modest swing against the Government and a swing against the centre left.

Voter turnout went up in all South Auckland Labour held seats. e.g. Mangere up 2406 voters. The increased voter turnout went to Labour. The $15hr message and No Asset Sales did turnout the working class (Pacific/Pakeha/Asian) vote for Labour. This increased left vote in South Auckland will only go up again in 2014 as youth rates and energy privatisation kicks in. Labour held up its party vote better in areas where it has an electoral machine (capacity to doorknock, phonebank, process information and ferry the vote on election day). However the Labour vote has been decimated by emigration to Australia and the Christchurch earthquake. centre-left strongholds all saw huge drops in voter turnout: Wellington Central -4365, Mt Roskill -2021, Hutt South -897, Christchurch East -6390, Dunedin North -3080.

Green Party eroded both Labour and National support in the middle class and tipped over 10%. This is clear from the affluent, liberal suburb of North Shore, where support for National/Act and Labour is down and the Greens will be up 1000+ votes (after specials come in). Greens also continue to do well in the inner-city, suburban seats where they are beginning to look likely to overtaking the Labour vote.

Much more tactical voting on the right and the left in electorate seats sees Epsom retained by Banks, Ohairu by Dunne, Labour retake West Coast and cut into National's majorities in Auckland Central and Waitakere.

The Conservative Party is a dead duck at the moment. The Christian right, focused in the bible belt of Rodney, is not yet strong enough to be a national electoral force even with the war-chest of Colin Craig. It may yet merge with Act. Act has essentially been wiped out and already Banks is floating the idea of rebranding Act and merging it with the Conservatives.

NZ First voters were its traditional Grey Power support base as well as probably a section of Labour voters who thought if NZ First could hurdle the 5% buffer, Key would lose his majority. This seems to be confirmed by the surge in the polls that NZ First rode on the backs of the Nats dipping. The mobilisation of the elderly is interesting. They could prove a political roadblock to attacks on the welfare state. The rapid growth of Grey Power in the early 1990s came as they organised protests against hospital closures, attacks on superannuation and privatisations.

Voter turnout huge drop in Maori seats 2008-2011: 3034 in Te Tai Tokerau, 3157 in Waiariki, 3471 in Waikato, 3647 in Ikaroa Rawhiti, 3934 in Te Tai Haurauru, 4520 in Tamaki Makaurau, 5264 in Te Tai Tonga. The stronger the Mana candidate, the higher Maori voter turnout in general. Mana came from nowhere to come second in two Maori electorates. Sykes put in the best performance and will likely trounce Flavell in 2014.

Mana's party vote outside the Maori roll was tiny. However its strongest showing outside the modest South Auckland vote it received was amongst radical students and intellectuals, Dunedin North 150, Auckland Central 184, Wellington Central 175. 154 in lefty liberal Mt Albert, home of Unite Union's HQ and encompassing Western Springs and Kingsland. It did not get more than a tiny few of the working class vote. Mana failed to create an identity that broke out of the Maori world. This must change before Mana will broaden its appeal.

It is clear that the declining level of struggle in Maoridom has adversely affected the Mana vote. Mana did well in Waiariki and Tamaki Makaurau, both places engaged in struggle with the Government in the last three years. Waiariki against the terror charges laid against Tuhoe and Tamaki Makaurau for Maori seats on the Supercity. The highpoint of Maori struggle was the 2004 movement against the FS&SB Act and as this struggle has gone into decline there has been a corresponding drop in political militancy and activism amongst Maori.

This drop could not be reversed in the six months Mana had between the Te Tai Tokerau by-election and the general election. It can be reversed in the next three years. A radicalisation of Maori against deep sea oil drilling, mining, climate change and for the return of stolen land could take place and mass struggles could give well to significant gains for working class Maori and Pakeha.

Let’s look at five good parts and five bad parts of the Mana campaign.

1. No central party campaign co-ordination. Branches like Auckland central fell apart. Candidate selection took too long. No central media message and volunteers and activists were not integrated well into a larger campaign and message. Campaigning was often focused around high-profile candidates and not around the party vote. For example in the South and West Auckland. This is counter-intuitive under MMP.
2. No vote machine in electorates. Labour have a sophisticated apparatus for collecting and gathering votes based on door knocking, phone canvassing and getting identified supporters to the polls. We need a similar machine if we seek to displace them in working class areas.
3. Too much Maori branding in general seats cost votes as people saw us as another Maori party. Tino rangatiratanga billboards, te reo leaflets are not necessary for people to know we believe in tino rangatiratanga. We needed branding that cut across the whole class.
4. Little relationship to local issues. In contrast with the Greens which took their rivers message around the country, Mana often failed to gain traction in urban areas as promoted policy existed at an abstract level from peoples lives, i.e. the financial transactions tax.
5. Not enough candidates. Candidates in every area could have significantly lifted the profile of our campaign. These should be chosen two years in advance so they can begin the process of weaving together local organisation and profile.


1. Gave left wing ideas a national hearing on billboards and in the media.
2. Shows significant appetite in Maoridom for a radical party.
3. Annette Sykes. She will win in 2014 easily.
4. Hone’s win. The North voted for revolution.
5. 1% isn’t nothing. It takes a while to build a party. 1% is decent, it’s a start that we have to use to get up to 3% by 2014.

For those who do not believe that 1% is a viable base to work from, they should consider the experience of the left in Ireland and in particular of SWP activist Richard Boyd Barrett who is now a sitting MP for the United Left Alliance in the Irish Parliament. Minto got a lowly 1.7% of the vote on his first run in Manukau East but it is now clear that Labour will deselect the invisible man before 2014. This is a good win for Minto and Mana but we must continue to deepen roots into the community.

Richard Boyd Barrett's electoral history

The increases in Richard’s votes came through ten long hard years of campaigning in the community and winning the respect, trust and then support of thousands of people.

2012-2013 - A campaign for Auckland
In Auckland our struggle will be to reach out to the thousands of Pasifika, Pakeha and Asian workers who liked our message but weren’t ready to break with Labour. Mana turned the language of socialism into the Tax the rich, Feed the kids and Abolish GST. We talked about a higher minimum wage, building more state houses and getting the parasites of poverty out of the hood.

But the collapse of strong Maori protest movements, militant trade unionism, beneficiary action or other forms of community organising did not stop at the ballot box. Only 1% voted for the Mana revolution and that tells us that only 1% are ready for revolution. We have to expand our influence and the numbers of people committed to the struggle for socialism here in Auckland. The only way we can do that is by involving people in local struggles that they can win and from there drawing out the connection with general ideas. In the English city of Liverpool in the 1980s as one of the original gangsters of neo-liberalism Margaret Thatcher commenced the first round of attacks on the post-war welfare consensus, a left wing city council kept the flame of socialism alive in their city.

Tony Mulhearn, one of the '47' Liverpool councillors from 1983 to 1987 described how they defied Thatcher 20 years ago.

"Liverpool showed how Marxists can link directly with working-class people on a clear set of socialist principles. Militant supporters linked up to the aspirations of the working class - a decent job, a decent wage, a decent house, a decent pension - basically what's required to lead a civilised life.

Then we campaigned to meet these aspirations. We translated socialism into the language of jobs, housing, and social services. We were elected in 1983, increased our majority in 1984 on these policies and implemented them.

We started more apprentices in our four years than had been started in the previous 40 years. We built more houses than all other councils in our time in office.”

With the Auckland Council under a centre-left administration we have a chance to push for the council to build council houses, fund more public transport works like the inner city loop through a tax on corporations and implement the breakfasts in schools policy.

A struggle here in Auckland around those three priorities will strengthen the Mana Movement politically and lead into standing a slate of candidates at the local level of city politics- community boards and endorsing councillors in the 2013 elections. Struggles at a local level over the next few years will feed into a larger campaign for Mana in 2014.

2014 Displacing the Maori Party, Making wider gains Electorally
The opportunity in 2014 will be to make gains electorally for Mana. This will involve standing strong candidates in the three Maori electorates where sitting MPs are stepping down. Tariana Turia, Parekura Horomia, Pita Sharples are all gone burgers. Mana will be in a good position to challenge and win these seats and we should support these challenges. Annette Sykes will also be well positioned to win Waiariki and thus destroy the Maori Party as a political force.

The campaign for these seats will have to begin early next year and not let up until 2014. It will mean detailed, well organised campaigning in the Maori seats.

2014 will also be a chance to increase the party vote for Mana. If Mana received 20,000 party votes in 2011 we need to aim to triple that vote to 60,000 votes in 2014. There are three places where Mana can win these extra 40,000 votes. Through the union movement, the student movement and in low income communities amongst non-voters. These are the three groups that will go into a struggle against the new National Government, against capitalism and the bosses.

Socialist Aotearoa will also seek to build a new movement in the unions through Mana Kaimahi Network by encouraging union activists who support Mana’s war on poverty to up the ante in their workplaces, calling for a wave of strikes in the new year for $15hr and a 5% wage increase.
In the community we need to support the struggles around state housing especially in GI. When land occupations break out we need to be there to support them.

We also need to focus on building out the strength of the revolutionary organisation. In a revolutionary organisation there are no rank’n’file members. Everyone should be a leader. We need to broaden our reach into the community, workplaces and universities. More good quality journalism, analysis and reviews going onto the blog makes it easier to get out Anti-Capitalist's quicker. We can use the Anti-Capitalist to link up the struggles, radicalise thousands and educate new activists who will come into the movement.

The election was just the beginning for the Mana Movement and a class analysis of the election results creates a much clearer understanding of the situation in the political New Zealand that allows activists to survive Key's re-election and capitalist dominance and avoid the despondency which has settled over a section of the left.

-Socialist Aotearoa


James Doleman said…
No discussion of the idea that perhaps the electoral road is not one SA should follow?

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