The Morning After….Reflections on the 2014 NZ Election.
Kevin P Clements
News Asia called me in the middle of the night for a comment on the NZ election. They couldn’t understand, in Singapore , how or why New Zealander’s re-elected a government that in the first week of the campaign had been so mired in dirty politics and controversy.
I told them that it was part of a general and quiet drift to the Right all around the world. In a period of uncertainty , anxiety and change a small majority 48% of 72% of eligible NZ voters wanted stable and familiar politicians and re-elected the National Government.
They didn’t want political parties advocating more progressive tax systems, taxing wealth as well as income. They didn’t want any significant redistribution from the rich to the poor. They didn’t want to revive regional economies, support ailing hospitals or develop smaller numbers of students in public classrooms.
They didn’t want to engage child poverty, clean up rivers and lakes. They didn’t want to know what is in the TPP. They wanted avuncular Uncle John, good kiwi millionaire bloke. They wanted “selfies” with the man who himself likes to have “selfies taken with other celebrities like the Queen and Elton John. They wanted John’s “ shtrong economy” without thinking of strong for whom.
Kim Dot Com proved to be a massive narcissistic diversion for Internet Mana and the Left generally. He sucked up time and oxygen that would have been better spent on discussing the political choices on the table.
But this was not an election where rationality really counted. What counted was a smug feeling of complacency about the stability of the economy, the general economic direction of the country and the personality of John Key.
It was a presidential election in a parliamentary democracy. His Victory party was almost the exactly replica of a Victory party for a successful Republican President. There wasn’t as much blue confetti, not as many helium balloons but near hysterical support for “John, John, John” and “three more years”. It sounded a little bit like Nuremburg at one stage. At the end John Key lifted both arms in a Victory salute which looked like Richard Nixon greeting the crowds on his re-election. That was just a few months before Watergate finally ended his career. I wonder if any of the on going enquiries into misuse of the SIS and whether there was or was not mass surveillance or secret deals done with the NSA will start puncturing John Key’s current euphoria?
Anyway, it was an appalling night for the Left in New Zealand. Labour polled its worst since 1922. The Green’s didn’t capture the momentum that looked to be flowing their way. New Zealand First pandered to the Worst and the very worrying Conservatives managed to secure 4.3% of the vote. The morning after is not the time for the soul searching that should take place…. But I very much hope that there can be a Red Green Coalition formed over the next six to twelve months so that there is a United Front in place for the 2017 election. I hope that this progressive coalition will address the real challenges of the 21st century. e.g How do we guarantee social, political and economic equality for all peoples of Aotearoa-New Zealand and the world? How do we ensure a clean green environment for all people? How do we build sustainable development ? How do we deal with climate change? How do we house , feed and clothe all the people irrespective of status or position? How do we develop, education, health and welfare systems that do their jobs properly and treat everyone with dignity and respect?
I would like political leaders and political parties to dig deeper into the passion that brought them into politics and let us know why they are there and what brought them into this particular work. Politics is not a career it should be seen as a service vocation. When it ceases to be this it becomes corrupt, self serving and venal. Our politicians and our public servants are there for one reason only which is to serve the people. I didn’t get the sense that the last two National administrations did this and I do not see much indication that the third will either. The reality is that without the Christchurch rebuild and unusually high primary commodity prices, our growth rate and economic performance would look ordinary. John Key and Bill English are not financial wizards they have had some good luck and there is no guarantee that this luck will continue.
In the meantime, what remains of the Left needs to maintain even higher vigilance if we are to ensure clean, uncorrupt, non intrusive governance. We need to be mindful that our Civil Liberties and privacy have been and are being eroded on a daily basis. We need to be wary of the whole neo-liberal economic, social and political agenda. It has delivered more chaos than stability, more inequality than equality, and it requires an adversarial style of politics that generates disenchantment with political processes and reinforces the democratic deficit.
Oh well there is much to contemplate.
I’ll go and launch the Baxter Trust today in honour of a First World War Dissenter who said No to King and Country on grounds of conscience. In doing so I’ll remember all those who have stood for principles and passion in politics over the years. I’ll remember all those who struggled against orthodoxy to deliver votes for women, decent labour legislation and the welfare state. I’ll remember those who remembered their international responsibilities while celebrating our national strengths. I’ll remember those who combined reason and passion, vision and principle and who were not content with the status quo. I’ll remember all those who have given the people hope and confidence.
Even though I am aware that there are others on the Right of the spectrum who think they got these things yesterday. I don’t see these things with this third National Government and I anticipate a rapid unravelling as the government tries to cope with larger challenges than before with only pragmatism to guide them.