National and its right wing friends

billboard

National today appears to be seeing a level of popularity unheard of in the MMP era. But behind the polls, the reality is much more mundane. Most political polls exclude undecided voters and those planning not to cast a ballot, yet these groups can occasionally make up as many as 15% of respondents. At the last election, the number who didn’t vote was even higher. In 2011, just over a third of the population voted for National, a quarter didn’t vote at all.

The party has barely campaigned, beyond some tough-on-gangs murmuring, the meaningless #teamkey hashtag and and the usual billboards featuring the faces of its leader and candidates. National has very little to campaign on, much of government policy is a holdover from the previous Labour government, which in turn did little to reverse the neoliberal economic reforms of the 80s and the 90s.

The changes National has made are hardly vote winners- further erosions of work rights, including such basic rights as meal breaks, attacks on civil liberties though granting more powers to the GCSB, and opening up protected areas for mining and drilling. Added to that is the deeply unpopular asset sales program, which triggered a citizen initiated referendum. National has also made cuts in education, social welfare and ACC- the latter of which they reneged on somewhat after an effective campaign to restore funding for sexual abuse survivors.

National plans to win this election through inertia, hoping that enough people will be too disillusioned or disinterested to turn up at the polling booth. Its a reasonable strategy, when the past three decades have seen little difference between National-led and Labour-led governments, why bother when the outcome is going to be one of the two?

A change in government could be quite significant this year though. Labour has previously shunned the Green Party, last time it was in government aligning with parties to its right- NZ First and current National partner Peter Dunne- but the Greens have grown their support over the past decade and can’t be ruled out. Of course, Labour has already stated it expects to rely on votes from National to pass legislation the Green Party would oppose on environmental grounds, so the presence of Green MP’s at the cabinet table is unlikely to be a shock to the system.

The major challenge to the status quo comes from Internet-MANA, while Labour has ruled out having them in government the electoral alliance between the MANA Movement and the Internet Party has been clear from the start that a vote for them is a vote to change the government. Last term Labour adopted MANA’s ‘feed the kids’ bill, voting on the bill has been delayed until after the election meaning a change in government will see it passed. MANA was the first party to call for the expulsion of the Israeli ambassador following Israel’s latest bombing in Gaza, within a fortnight the Green Party had echoed the call, the issue is now on the agenda. Small but significant victories like this make giving a tick to Internet-MANA on election day a worthwhile action.

National evidently recognises this threat, as Internet-MANA is engaging previous non-voters with social media, the ‘party party’ events, and packed out meetings across the country. As a result John Key has been pouring scorn over Internet-MANA to a much greater degree than he has toward any other party. Recently Key made the the sexist statement that Kim Dotcom was a “sugar daddy” to Laila Harre. The Oxford English Dictionary defines a sugar daddy as “a rich older man who lavishes gifts on a young woman in return for her company or sexual favours”.

Among the 35% or so of the voting age population that support the party, some are no doubt better off under a National led government, tax cuts for the rich are only a bad thing if you’re not rich, and a few people are. That said, National could not survive if it didn’t achieve a level of support from some of the working class. John Key’s image plays to a type of identity politics. While he refuses to appear in front of the no-holds-barred interviewers of Radio New Zealand, he is a regular guest on sports radio and talkback stations. Key has created an affinity with a number of male voters, the sort of people who praised him for his “not all men” response to Labour leader David Cunliffe’s speech on domestic violence at Women’s Refuge. He’s not losing any votes from that part of his base by standing by his “sugar daddy” comment either.

Identity politics is nothing new for National, under the leadership of Don Brash the party went from their worst election result in history to a near win in 2005 after a campaign full of rhetoric about Maori privilege, ‘one law for all’ and the infamous Iwi/Kiwi advertising campaign- implying that Labour was for Maori and National was for ‘everyone’ of course, the campaign was targeting just one ethnic group- Pakeha.

National would not go in for that rhetoric today, if for no other reason than the fact that it would seem hollow in light of its arrangement with the Maori Party, but the Maori Party is set to leave parliament (largely due to the stellar efforts of MANA’s Annette Sykes who is challenging Te Uraroa Flavell in Waiariki) and National has indicated it would like voters in Epsom to elect ACT’s David Seymour, and ACT has no qualms about playing the race card.

ACT

With the election of philosopher Jamie Whyte as leader, and the merger-in-all-but-name with the Libertarianz (former leaders now hold high list positions in ACT) the party once known as the Association of Consumers and Taxpayers looked set to become a doctrinaire libertarian party- with poll results to match: in one poll they were equalled by the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party, an organisation promoting the one libertarian policy the majority of the public actually agrees with.

Perhaps this is why Jamie Whytes conference speech was light on ideology and instead focused on anti-Maori populism. According to former ACT on Campus vice president Guy McCullum, Whyte told a small gathering of ACT supporters in Dunedin on the morning of 20 July that he was in search of a “stunt … because you know, the polls.”

That stunt came in the form of the bizarre allegation that Maori occupy a similar social position to the aristocracy in pre-revolutionary France. “ACT’s policies are about reminding you of scary burglars, zealous bureaucrats with a hidden green agenda, and resentful Maori…This is the imagery the vague words are designed to create. Liberals and libertarians are getting a rough deal from ACT” McCallum, who resigned from ACT following the speech, told Otago student magazine Critic.

ACT seems to be confused about what sort of party it is, libertarian, or conservative? perhaps the next parliamentary term will be the last one ACT is relevant, depending on the outcome in Epsom, they may become irrelevant even sooner. Unfortunately National has another right-appendage waiting in the wings.

The Conservatives

Colin Craig may be unsure about the historical validity of the moon landing, but he’s smart enough to see that ACT’s disarray, combined with the retirement of NZ First firebrand Winston Peters, which really can’t be that far away, opens up a space for his party. If not this year, then in 2017. As such, The Conservatives have joined in the attack on supposed Maori privilege, using the much more groan inducing slogan “one law to rule them all” and borrowed a number of NZ First policies.

Right now, the party is still a joke, but if given an Epsom-style deal in 2017 they may need to be taken seriously. For the mean time though, the best strategy is to keep laughing at them. If you need help, Colin Craig once did a glamour photo shoot which is easily found on Google Image Search.

New Zealand First

While finding anti-immigrant rhetoric not the draw card it once was, NZ First has spoken against “separatism” and ruled out working with any “race based” parties, meaning there are now three parties flogging that dead horse (actually four, if we count the tiny 1Law4All party which managed to register) NZ First has some progressive policies, but recent rhetoric has shown they are likely to support National, for example a bottom line is keeping the retirement age at 65, a policy where National is actually more progressive than Labour.

In 2011 some commentators argued that returning NZ First to parliament would mean a change in government, and a vote for them would be ‘strategic’ that was wrong then and its wrong again now. At best it would mean a centre left bloc in opposition with less Labour MP’s and more NZ First MPs (this is how Richard Prosser ended up getting a platform beyond conspiracy theory magazine Investigate to espouse his Islamophobia) at worst, it means keeping National in power with the help of a party elected in part by progressive voters.

The best outcome for anyone wanting a change in government would be for NZ First to drop below the 5% threshold, and the best option for bringing about a meaningful change is a party vote for Internet MANA.

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