Not-Young, Not-Poor, Not-Maori: The Mana Party may not need the votes of most New Zealanders to capture a parliamentary foothold, but unless it offers a compelling - and inclusive - political vision to the overwhelming majority of their fellow citizens who are not-young, not-poor and not-Maori, its chances of achieving very much at all are pretty slim.
HERE IS SOMETHING for all those leftists currently celebrating the birth of Hone Harawira’s Mana Party to think about.
Most New Zealanders are not-young, not-poor and not-Maori.
And, even by the most optimistic count, only about one-in-twenty of them are “Left”.
Now, to hear some of Mr Harawira’s champions tell the story, none of this matters. The Mana Party, they say, isn’t seeking the support of “most New Zealanders”.
With as little as 1.6 percent of the Party Vote, Mana’s spin-doctors tell us, the MP for Te Tai Tokerau (assuming he retains his Maori electorate seat after November’s election) will be able to walk back into Parliament with the veteran Maori nationalist, activist and lawyer, Annette Sykes, on his arm.
With just 3.5 percent of the Party Vote, Mr Harawira could be cantering up the parliamentary steps alongside four new Mana Party MPs.
To do what?
Socialise the local supermarket and replace GST with a “Hone Heke Tax” apparently.
Well, no – not really.
To implement its policies of taking monopolies and duopolies into public ownership and replacing GST with a Financial Transactions Tax, the Mana Party would have to become the dominant partner in a coalition commanding more than half the seats in the House of Representatives. And to do that it would have to win a great deal more than 3.5 percent of the Party Vote.
Which brings us right back to the stubborn, undeniable (and I’m sure Mr Harawira’s supporters would add “counter-revolutionary”) fact that most New Zealanders are not-young, not-poor and not-Maori.
How to reach middle-aged and elderly New Zealanders; average-income earners; the 85-90 percent of electors who are Pakeha, Pasifika or Asian: this is the stuff of serious electoral politics – and it cannot be accomplished with a megaphone. Most of the compromises that make for effective political action are knitted together. Some are hammered out. With others a dog-whistle is required.
Mr Harawira and his supporters have made a virtue out of their unwillingness to compromise and have rejected what they call the “politics of fear”.
All very inspiring, I’m sure. But, if the immediate and all-too-genuine fears of their fellow citizens are to be addressed – let alone allayed – more than fine words and uncompromising stands will be needed.
And what are those fears?
The greatest fear gripping New Zealanders at present is that they may be living in a society which can no longer guarantee their children and grandchildren a life as secure and prosperous as their own.
It was Winston Churchill who promised “The Greatest Generation” that Hitler’s defeat would see the life of the world move into “broad, sunlit uplands”. For the thirty years between 1945 and 1975 that promise was kept. But since the mid-1980s the skies have darkened. Cold winds now sweep our narrowed and no longer sunlit uplands.
New Zealand’s political future belongs to the party (or parties) which offer voters the most effective and comprehensive shelter from the storm.
And if our society is not to turn on itself in a Hobbesian struggle of “all against all”, that shelter must be built by, and for, as many New Zealanders as possible.
The task of the genuine left-wing party, therefore, is not simply to target enough voters to win a handful of parliamentary seats, but to construct a programme capable of commanding enduring majority support.
Campaigning for the Democratic Party’s nomination for President in 1968, Bobby Kennedy confided to a handful of trusted journalists that what his daily encounters with real America had taught him was that: “It’s class, not colour. What everyone wants is a job and some hope.”
Mr Harawira needs to understand that the not-young, not-poor, not-Maori core of the New Zealand electorate will punish severely any party that writes it off as a collection of racist, rednecked, colonialist motherf***ers. [And any leader who praises Osama Bin Laden, one suspects!]
The Mana Party’s proud refusal to compromise its principles should not be cited as justification for refusing to seek, or driving away, potential allies. No party has a right to the voters’ automatic support. People are entitled to ask: “What’s in it for me?”
As the Democratic Party populist politician, Fred Harris, noted in the early 1970s: “The blue-collar worker will be progressive as long as it is not progress for everyone but himself.”
We move into those “broad, sunlit uplands” together – or not at all.
This essay was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 6 May 2011.
POSTSCRIPT: The TVNZ Close-Up phone-in poll of 40,000 viewers on 5/5/11 which showed 81 percent of respondents disagreeing with the proposition that “Maori have a special place in New Zealand” confirms the enormity of the attitudinal obstacles confronting the Mana Party and its supporters.