Tuesday, 31 March 2015

At The Centre Of Attention

Help Is On Its Way: Winston Peters storms home in Northland, but his historic by-election victory has raised a whole new flurry of political questions.
 
IT WAS WINSTON’S FINEST HOUR. The sheer scale of his Northland by-election victory had the commentariat scrabbling for superlatives. Even old enemies got into the act. In a generous tribute to the NZ First leader he betrayed, Tau Henare told TV3’s The Nation that Winston Peters must now be ranked as “the greatest Maori politician since Apirana Ngata”.
 
In answering all the questions about whether or not it could be done, however, Mr Peters’ historic by-election victory has raised a host of new concerns. Let us examine three of the more important questions his win has posed.
 
To hold Northland will NZ First be required to veer to the Right – thereby alienating the thousands of Labour supporters whose votes provided the foundation for Mr Peters’ upset win?
 
Will the National Government, looking ahead to 2017 and beyond, begin to re-position itself as NZ First’s future coalition partner?
 
How will Mr Peters’ Northland victory influence Labour’s political positioning – especially its relationship with the Greens?
 
Labour, if it is wise, will seize the opportunity provided by Mr Peters’ victory to put even more distance between itself and the Greens. In his continuing effort to “re-connect” Labour with its traditional constituencies, Andrew Little must already have marked the numerous ideological affinities that draw non-National provincial voters towards one another. These are conservative people, whose personal morals and political values often place them at odds with the more “progressive” voters of metropolitan New Zealand.
 
The extent to which Labour’s Northland voters defected to Mr Peters indicates that, at the very least, the NZ First leader’s political values presented no insurmountable barrier to Labour’s people following their own leader’s tactical advice. Indeed, just about all the insurmountable barriers to the re-connections Labour must make if it is to regain the status of a “40 percent party” have been raised in the cities – not the provinces.
 
Even in the cities these obstacles persist. Labour’s traditional urban working-class supporters have more in common with their provincial brothers and sisters than many Labour Party activists are willing to admit.
 
Shunting-off their social revolutionaries to the Greens might decimate the ranks of Labour’s membership, but it could, equally, swell the ranks of those willing to vote for the party in 2017. Shorn of its radical fringe, Labour not only becomes a much more comfortable fit for NZ First – but also for working-class New Zealanders generally.
 
National’s strategists will not have overlooked this potentially decisive strategic opening for the Centre Left. So long as the voters continue to bracket Labour and the Greens as indispensable components of any future alternative government, National’s dominant position on the political chess-board will remain unchecked. There are simply too many voters ready to believe that a Labour-Green Government must involve a ruinously radical shift to the left. A re-positioning towards NZ First would, however, allow Labour to present itself as an eminently electable party of the moderate centre.
 
To forestall such an eventuality, National’s strategists would also have to give serious consideration to re-positioning their party towards the moderate centre. Prime Minister John Key’s highly successful strategy of “radical incrementalism” (as close advisers, Crosby|Textor call it) would have to become a lot less radical and considerably more incremental, but the party would, almost certainly, regard slowing down the pace of economic and social reform as an option to be preferred well ahead of losing the Treasury benches altogether.
 
Mr Peters, meanwhile, describes the Northland result as a “seismic shift” in New Zealand politics. In the light of everything he has just achieved, we would be wise to take him at his word. But a shift to what? That is the crucial question.
 
Mr Peters would no doubt describe his prescription as “common sense”. And if by that he means offering solutions based not on ideological assumptions, but on the pragmatic assessment of what needs to be done, and who, or what, is best placed to do it, then he is almost certainly on to something.
 
All over the world, from Greece to Queensland, voters are growing tired of being told, usually by the very politicians they elected to help them, that they cannot be helped. That forces over which mere politicians neither can, nor should, exercise the slightest control have already determined their fate, and that there’s nothing anyone can do.
 
Mr Peters great insight is that what human-beings have made, they can also unmake: that change is possible; and that New Zealanders, more than anything else, yearn to meet one another halfway, between the extremes of Right and Left.
 
Twenty-one years ago, Winston Peters wrote: “When one walks down the centre of the road one foot falls slightly to the right, the other to the left, but the head and the heart remain in the centre. So it is with New Zealand First.”
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 31 March 2015.

13 comments:

John Buckley said...

The right side of the road has grown so large in the last 35 years, that a scooter can barely move down the left lane. Even the "radical left" Syriza government, who have been severely compromised by the “Brussels Group”, would have been considered center right 30-40 years ago.

Anonymous said...

Oh, come on!

Winston is a brilliant campaigner and performer - but it is all about him.
Are The Left so desperate they will grasp at anyone as their saviour? Even someone who has brought down two governments by his own hubris?

This win for Winston is a blow for National , especially they way in which it was delivered, exposing THEIR hubris (word of the day!) - but it is a bigger blow for Labour and The Left, as it takes relevance and power from them.
Winston is NOT a left wing politician. He is a pro-Winston politician.

If he is ever in a position to form a government with Labour and the Greens, he will play off all parties against each other, until it all comes tumbling down. Like he has done twice before.
(Oh, and he and the Greens cordially and publically loathe each other.)

Someone should tell Labour that "tactics without strategy is the noise before defeat".

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I agree with John, this far too much slinging of this extreme left canard around. The greens are not extreme. They're mostly nice middle-class people, who have a few dotty ideas about stuff but they are not extreme left. Extreme left are the people I used to see at Auckland University in the 1960s and 70s always arguing ferociously with each other. And the Greens have shown what they think of the ordinary left-wing position by getting rid of most of their left.

vortexx said...

Academics and political nerds and theorists will get off on all the stuff about left and right and by how many degrees. The little nuances or seismic shifts are all just chaff to the people in Utakura and Ahipara.


Their little country rugby field was visited by the pros from the big smoke who came, told them it was all about them and that they were so important. Never mind the rushes on the field and the creek to wash in, this was so significant the big stars were being imported to play.

The game has been played and one of the old locals came through to win. The big timers have sloped off home and now the analysis and post-mortems and recriminations have started.

Voters all over the world might be growing tired of being told that they cannot be helped but now the voters of Utakura and Ahipara are being told they got it wrong, they were stupid, they didn’t think.

How dare the lazy yokels, those without aspirations do what they did from their dusty, pot-holed roads at the arse end of New Zealand to upset the game as it should be writ. All those game plans, all that history. How dare they, cheeky bloody amateurs.

Well sorry folks, but there ain’t no TMO and you can throw your toys out of as many cots as you like in as many directions as you like, right, left or straight up the middle.

And today Northland was mentioned in Parliament and it wasn’t about Ngawha Prison or crime stats, or unemployment.

david said...

Essentially what this piece underlines is that New Zealanders are in majority conservative and mentally not in any fit state to deal with the reality of what they and the world are about to face and that is catastophic climate change and the loss of the necessary resources to sustain life on this planet. The Greens may continue to be kept out of government but they continue to grow as those who can see the writing on the wall see them as the only party serious about this.

Chris Trotter said...

You're right, GS, and I remember those days too. The trouble is, a very large number of New Zealanders believe the Greens are far-Left - and they are voting as if it were true.

It's a sign of just how far to the right this country has shifted since you and I were at varsity.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Those were the days. Not that I was ever much of a joiner but one of the reasons I never joined any of those left-wing groups was that they seem to spend far more time fighting each other than doing anything constructive. And the vitriol – over tiny points of political philosophy that very few people other than they could make any sense of. And I use the word sense loosely. Still and all they had some sort of vision, and lots of passion. Something that these days I associate only with the Greens sadly.

Anonymous said...

3 or so months ago national won a decisive victory, now they lose a by election. Since the General Election there has been no major scandals or bad news (dirty politics was clearly beltway nonsense for most voters). Winston has won a by election, because of his name recognition and political skills. It was a safe bet for National voters in northland to tip his way, National will still preside over the big house. There has and will be no seismic changes this term.

In the long term I think we will see a rise in NZF's fortunes at the expense of the Labour party, Winston is on the rise and has hogged the limelight for the last month, I expect his parties support to continue rising and Labours to fall. Im not sure we are heading to a new constellation with National as the SUN and Labour, NZF and the Greens as smaller satellite parties, but I think we may be seeing the end of the Nat/Lab duopoly.

Time will tell and NZF really need a sucession plan. With Shane Jones and John Tamihere they could really cut into labours heartland and become a 20% or higher voice from the center of the spectrum.

Anonymous said...

GS
The 'few dotty ideas' are their policy.
'Organic food', (which is a brilliant marketing scam on the more foolish members of middle class able to afford it, and a secular religious purity ritual) would result in worlds starvation if it became the norm - as is their policy.

One of them wanted to use homeopathic 'remedies' against ebola. We should have trialled it on him.

Their defence policy would leave is defenceless.

Their energy policy ignores physics and economics.

Rural people, who actually live 'on the land' don't actually vote for them.

Their have never seen a problem they don't want to legislate the hell out of - 'cos everything would be so much better if they were in command of the economy.

Need I go on?

They seem to have found their niche as a nice 'I like dolphins' comfort/protest party for a minority of the electorate who don't have anything better to worry about. They couldn't even capitalise on the epically , historically low Labour vote at the last general election.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Funny, the Greens'defence policy was pretty much the same as that far right paragon Bob Jones's :-).
Of course country people don't vote for them, they're wedded to industrial scale farming, and from what I can see today paying their immigrant labour 3/5 of fuck all.
The question of worldwide starvation is not only misleading, but complex. I myself fly no flag for organic farming, but it was industrial farming that produced the dustbowl as I remember. And practices today are not necessarily a hell of a lot better.
And to be honest I think we could do with more legislation, particularly around wages and conditions. Basically it's the right's fault, because your typical capitalist will go as far as he can and then just a bit further. Without regulation workers would all be on zero hours contracts, no guarantee of hours, forced to wait around for a phone call to see if they going to work that day. Apart from perhaps some few who have bargaining power because they are in really short supply. But even then – they run the risk of cheap imported labour or cheap outsourcing.
So while I regard the Greens as slightly dotty, they do keep some of you buggers honest. There are a necessary counterbalance to the business at all costs and fuck everything else brigade. And unlike Winston and most other politicians they do as Chris said, have ethics – mostly. Plus as somebody said to Catherine Ryan the other day – they're so nice to each other :-).

Davo Stevens said...

I recall back in '99 when Jenny Shipley got roundly roasted by Helen, people were moaning that it was the end of the Nats. They would never survive ever again. And to the Nat. supporters, it was the end of their world! But look at them now!

The same will happen to Labour too perhaps in 2017 or 2020 but be back they will!

The 'Left' 'Right' dichotomy only exists in the minds of Conservatives but doesn't exist in reality. THERE IS NO "LEFT!!"

Winnie is just a little right of centre, the Nats are centre right and ACT are far right. The Greens are just a little left of centre and Labour is slap bang in the centre.

jh said...

Labour and NZ First are chalk and cheese.

Labour:
The attitudes of New Zealanders in the mid-1990s towards immigration may not have reflected the positive perspective on the value of diversity in our society that is contained in the Review of Immigration Policy August 1986. But this does not mean that the globalisation of immigration to New Zealand was an “unintended consequence of policy changes in 1986”. It was a deliberate strategy, based on a premise that the
“infusion of new elements to New Zealand life has been of immense value to
the development of this country to date and will, as a result of this
Government’s review of immigration policy, become even more important in
the future” (Burke 1986:330).
//
New Zealand’s population is undergoing a profound transformation in
terms of its ethnic and cultural composition. This transformation is being driven by two key processes. The first of these is differential ageing of the major components of the resident population with the dominant “white” population experiencing structural ageing more rapidly than the Maori and Pacific Island components (Pool 1999). The second is international migration which is seeing a replacement in numerical terms of tens of thousands of New Zealanders who are moving overseas by immigrants from countries in Asia, Europe and Africa especially. This process of population replacement is occurring at a time when natural increase amongst all components of the New Zealand resident population is falling. International migration is thus playing an increasingly important role in changing the ethnic and cultural composition of the population, but to understand this
role it is necessary to examine both the immigration of new residents as well as the emigration of New Zealanders. Both dimensions are essential for appreciating the globalisation of international migration in New Zealand.
...
NZ First was formed in response to that underhand labour Party betrayal of New Zealanders.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Wow, I'll bet the Maori are glad that they are demographically 'advantaged'. But of course the reason why they are democratically advantaged is that they are poor :-). So I bet they're a bit less glad about that. As usual JH, you manage to turn any topic round to a discussion of immigration. One trick pony much?