Is NZ politics heading for its own Trump moment?

Analysis reveals the main path to Parliament is to be born into the middle class, go to university, spend a short time in work, then get elected via party maneuvering on to a list or into an electorate.

Being an MP is now a job, not a calling. This similarity of backgrounds, experiences and political careers reinforces the beltway paradigm of bland, uninspiring policies with little appetite for risk.

New Zealand’s political system has long been intimate and humble. Under MMP, Parliament is more ethnically and gender diverse. But a narrow range of working and socio-economic backgrounds is creating a governing elite with less direct experience of the lives of the people they represent.

We found, stunningly, a full third of our MPs have worked only as political “insiders” in taxpayer-funded jobs.

We also discovered the biggest single job category for MPs is not having any definable career or work history (23 MPs). These parliamentarians typically leave university, work briefly in largely dissimilar office-based jobs, before finding employment as MPs.

This category has emerged only over the past decade.

And this also separates the left from the right in general.  The left are more likely to be people with little real-life work experience, whereas the right will have had a career before politics.  

To his detractors, Trump’s messages are crude, arrogant and dangerous. But to his supporters, Trump’s ideas are bold, strong and refreshingly authentic – especially against a backdrop of decades of political blandness and double-speak.

Could New Zealand see the rise of its own Trump?

Our study’s findings show the ground is being laid for one. Across the political spectrum, our MPs’ lack of life experience is already creating a jarring political culture that increasingly bears little resemblance to the lives of voters.

Populists like Trump are extreme reactions to the very real inadequacies of the current political choices on offer.

If New Zealand’s political elites do not want to face a challenger to their own dominance, they need to start becoming more like the people they represent.

To some degree New Zealand has a safety valve with people like Winston and Key providing sufficient opportunities to both vent and feel there are still people in parliament who can be trusted to communicate directly (enough).

What authors Miller and Blackham don’t include in their analysis is the unelected political party: the Media party. They play a huge role, and generally not in a positive way. They have to be “talked past” if you are a politician on the right. And somewhat amusingly, the left still believe that the media’s general favouritism towards them is a plus.

As we’ve seen through elections and polls, the voters are not receptive to ideas from the left, nor are they taking messages from the Media party with anything but skepticism.

As long as the right keep drawing talent from experience and real life, rather than from trade unions, academia and activism, the emergence of a NZ Trump is unlikely.


The whole article is worth a read.

– Herald on Sunday; Geoffrey Miller is a New Zealand political analyst and researcher currently lecturing at Germany’s Johannes Gutenberg-Universitat Mainz. Mark Blackham is a public relations and political strategy expert with Wellington consultancy BlacklandPR.


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  • tas

    Having term limits for MPs might help curb the rise of career politicians.

    • Wheninrome

      Yes, could work, it certainly is important in business to have a sound sucession plan in order to gain fresh and new ideas, not the same old regurgitated out of date ideas that the left put forward time after time.

    • nzspambot

      For list MPs yes; for elected one no

  • XCIA

    I think it is grossly unfair that someone who is rejected by the electorate can still come in through the backdoor by way of their position on the MMP list.

    • Edward M Blake

      Nah, there is no problem with loser’s coming back on the list. Let their stench of failure come back and stink out the entire party. If a party is so stupid as to use the list to protect a bunch of has-beens and leave no room for new talent, they deserve to sink into the compost of history.

    • Wheninrome

      And can waka jump if their party rejects them during the parliamentary term even though never voted in.

      • Edward M Blake

        You could argue that a party is built on strength of the list so in effect they where just as “voted in” as an electorate MP. Now if a party is stupid and desporite enough to put unstable turncoats on their list’s maybe you should consider not voting for them. Though working with Winston would probly make anybody unstable.

    • sheppy

      At the very least the leader should be an elected MP. That’s get rid of a lot of the seat warmers!

      • Bartman

        With luck Labour will revisit its leader selection policy – after their inevitable defeat next (yep) year! That will rid them of Little, McUseless and other long term troughers. Then they will need to find a leader, and lo and behold we’ll have an opposition (sorry Greens unless you lose the loony tunes you’ll lurch forward at 10% +/- 1%).

    • rantykiwi

      I totally agree – if you’re standing in an electorate you shouldn’t be allowed onto the list.

      • And if you’re on the list you should never be allowed to hold a ministerial warrant.

  • Andrew Little is NZ’s Corbyn, if you think about it.

    • Left Right Out

      I choose not to think about it Pete…… it’s just too scary

  • JeffW2

    The desire for youth, to get away from older, middle or upper class mostly white people especially males, necessarily results in people with little or no work/life experience. Remember this when the local party organisation identifies a future star in his/her 20s or 30s.

    To me, MPs should have an extended period of paying genuine tax, i.e. not tax paid by the general taxpaying population via a government appointment, before they claim the authority to spend it (waste it).

  • Raibert

    And under MMP a vote for national seems to be a vote for Maori party policies. Yes, we really need a politician who will stand up to the rubbish we are being confronted with.

  • bevanjs

    This from DPF’s blog does not have me celebrating what the left call our “Political Elite”.

    • Yes. A lot of people would probably be alarmed that Winston’s party is made up of 58% of people from “business/property/finance” none from religion or unions and none from Maori which is hilarious given who their leader is.

  • sandalwood789

    We *need* our own Trump.

    We need a *true* right-wing party. A party with a leader like Trump with a “damn the torpedoes” attitude, and a party with “damn the torpedoes” policies (e.g. no more refugees). Our current parties are *gutless* compared with what I see overseas.

    ACT could have been this party but its left-wing refugee policy disqualifies it.

    • Old Dig

      If only the Libertarianz party had got their stuff together. ACT are becoming too socialist for my liking. I hope we will see the rise of a true right wing party soon.

      • Mike Webber

        Libertariansm is not right wing. Libertarians stand for the principles of civilisation, individualism and property rights and the liberty of the human individual. The right and the left do not, they all want power and control and our wealth.

        • Old Dig

          There are so many different versions of the political spectrum that left and right are almost meaningless. But the only version that I can accept has less government the further right you go, more government the further left you go. Personally I don’t really care where a party falls on a political spectrum, I only care about policies that are closest to my own morals and beliefs.

  • SaggyNaggy

    Winston Peters has filled the Trump role in NZ politics for a quarter century now. If NZ had a Presidential system, Winston would have been the National Party nominee some time around 1990 or so.

    We should thank God our Westminster system safeguards against fools like him, and pray that somehow Trump is thwarted at the last.