Satirist John Lapsley, writing for the ODT, muses with his golf club mates on whether New Zealand's prime minister is "raving left or merely pinkish''.


We sages of the golf club put our brains to examining the political bent of our new prime minister.

The question was framed in scholarly, unbiased, terms.

"Jacinda Ardern: Is she Raving Left or Merely Pinkish?"

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"I've a source inside the Labour Party who claims they're all worried," announced one of our better connected. "Jacinda's not the smiling moderate she seems. Behind all those teeth, she's left of Lenin."'

I raised an eyebrow, and questioned the quality of this "inside source". But it was impeccable - the bloke was so close to the centre of power, he'd worked on the team stuffing pamphlets in letterboxes.

"So what do we call her? Is Jacinda Ardern the Pink Princess, or the Red Queen?"'

They voted for Red Queen. How else do you categorise someone who only seven years ago was president of the Revolutionary Collective of Peasant Students? (Or perhaps it was the International Union of Socialist Scholars? It matters little. You have the flavour, and the taste is recent).

Reasonable people will shout that a Lapsley golfing group is a badly biased sample. They are correct. Shamefully, all these people are Old White Men, and belong to a club that is miserably unrepresentative of modern society. (This nest of neo conservatives hasn't yet set up a designated safe space. Women joke with men. No member is patched. The old-worldly committee insists that when keeping the score, life offers no Mulligans).

New Zealand politics has been so centrist there hasn't been a genuine Left versus Right battle since flared trousers. This will change now the Labour-NZ First coalition has announced itself in phraseology redolent of old class warfare.

"Capitalism has failed the people - so we're going to change it," was the thrust.

Our own media didn't seem greatly alarmed. But overseas, more than one outlet saw the rise of Ardern as some populist aberration akin to Trump and Brexit. Across the Tasman the country's quality newspaper, The Australian, ran an editorial titled "The Land of the Long Dark Cloud". It commented acidly: "For Ardern to use homelessness to try to litigate the broader argument that the nine highly successful years of capitalism under John Key's and Bill English's Centre Right National Party were a 'brazen failure,' reflects poorly on her".

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"Using clapped out Corbynesque rhetoric to deride `capitalism' does little to inspire confidence in her political maturity or her L-plated Government's prospects,'' The Oz admonished.

Ouch.

Agree or disagree, the lesson for PM Ardern is that if you announce your goals using that type of rhetoric, then that is exactly the context in which the policy will be discussed.

This sets groups against groups. It suggests Comrade Socialist Good versus Sir Capitalist Swine. One wing begins muttering that capitalism is God's way of sorting out who's clever and who's a wee bit thick. The other calculates the cost of a mansion on Queenstown Hill is 48 times the price of a two-bunk garage in South Auckland - and by crikey, someone should have their en-suite confiscated.

We'll be looking at New Zealanders who've invested their nest egg in rental housing, and quoting the wisdom of Chairman Mao: "There is a serious tendency towards capitalism amongst the well-to-do peasants."

The housing problem is not the fault of capitalism. If building low-cost homes is unprofitable then, as lunch follows breakfast, capitalism doesn't do it. If the omens encourage housing speculation, then as spaghetti tops a Bill English pizza, mad money happens. It's up to governments, not capitalism and the market economy, to work the very many public policy levers that dicker with the affordability of the family castle. (And here National fumbled.)

Few will gnash their teeth over putting more cash in the hands of the working poor. But who stumps up? With National, big government was to do this by dramatically shrinking what it lifts from pay packets. Ardern's coalition has punted the cost across the street to capital - I mean employers large and small - who'll pay minimum wage increases that the new Government has set around four times the rate of inflation.

We know our leader has a smiling face - perhaps we're now discovering she has a tin ear for matters economic.

A conservative once remarked: "The trouble with socialism is that eventually it runs out of other people's money." That was the Iron Lady - the demonised Maggie Thatcher. I doubt the Red Queen would have time for her.

Satirist John Lapsley is an Arrowtown writer and former columnist for The Australian.