Friday 18 January 2019

The Politics Of Distraction.

Keeping Their Eyes On The Road: The Coalition Government's re-election depends crucially on the dominant themes of the 2020 election remaining firmly rooted in the practical concerns of the majority. If, however, the National Party Opposition can wrench the electorate’s attention away from the Coalition’s bread-and-butter priorities, then everything will be made significantly more difficult for Labour, NZ First and the Greens.

2020’s GENERAL ELECTION will differ from 2017’s in one vital respect – it will not be about “the economy, stupid”. This poses serious problems for the Coalition Government. 

The unlikely pairing of Labour and NZ First would not have happened had the dominant themes of the 2017 election not been inequality, homelessness, child poverty and pollution. Fluid public concern surrounding these issues had congealed into a broad political consensus that “something must be done”. This, in turn, had led to a blurring of traditional electoral boundaries. It was this blurring effect which encouraged a party of the populist right to reach out to a party of the centre-left and, more surprising still, accept the participation of radical greens in a new government.

The re-election of this unlikely electoral alliance depends crucially on the dominant themes for 2020 remaining firmly rooted in the practical concerns of the majority. Is the gap between the rich and the poor widening or closing? Are people better housed than they were in 2017? Have first-home-buyers been given the hand-up they were promised? Has the percentage of kids living in poverty gone up or down? Are New Zealand’s rivers and lakes more – or less – swimmable?

Positive answers to these questions – and the absence of too many distracting alternatives – should turn the Coalition Government’s re-election into a slam-dunk. If, however, the National Party Opposition can wrench the electorate’s attention away from the Coalition’s bread-and-butter priorities, then everything will be made significantly more difficult for Labour, NZ First and the Greens.

Unfortunately for the governing parties, the 2020 election shows every sign of being defined by the politics of distraction.

For this, the governing parties have no one to blame but themselves. They were the ones who decided to put euthanasia, the legalisation of cannabis, the decriminalisation and liberalisation of abortion, and the reform of New Zealand’s justice system on the political agenda. All of these issues are distinguished by one over-riding political characteristic: their capacity to polarise the electorate. The very outcome which this curious, composite government should be straining every political sinew to avoid.

The National Party and its allies have lost little time in girding their loins for this fight – one much easier to win than a battle against consolidating the material gains of the voting public. Already, the conservative lobby-group, Family First, is pouring over the poll results supplied to it by Curia Research, the agency directed by National’s long-time pollster, David Farrar.

Family First have noted the white-heat generated by all aspects of the transgender issue and, thanks to Curia Research, now know how New Zealanders feel about some of the most sensitive questions associated with transgender politics. More importantly, Family First has hard evidence that the gulf between the attitudes of NZ First and Green Party voters is vast. The potential to destabilise the government by driving the transgender issue to the front of the electorate’s consciousness is, correspondingly, huge.

Curia’s data also makes clear how divided the centre-left’s electoral base is on the transgender issue. If the Right is able to goad the identity politicians of Labour and the Greens into displaying a series of extreme responses to the transgender issue, then the potential for alienating a significant number of socially conservative Labour supporters is considerable.

The likelihood of the activist left perceiving this danger is, however, remote. Of more significance to them will be the fact that upwards of a third of voters are happy to have transgender issues canvassed within New Zealand schools. They will, rightly, celebrate the sheer numerical dimensions of the tolerance and solidarity on display. Of less interest to these activists will be Curia’s finding that a clear majority of citizens are opposed to teaching children that their gender, far from being biologically fixed, can be changed.

The exploitation of the political sensitivities associated with the transgender issue will only be the first of many diversions as the politics of distraction unfolds between now and the general election. At most risk of electoral injury will be NZ First, whose deeply conservative electoral base will experience ever-increasing levels of personal and political unease as Labour and the Greens advance their ultra-liberal social agenda.

If, by 2020, National is able to convince NZ First supporters that Labour’s and the Green’s priorities are no longer theirs, then it will win.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 18 January 2019.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

I don't know about euthanasia, but I would have thought that given the trends around the world, that the legalisation of marijuana and the legalisation of abortion would not necessarily have a huge divisive effect on the electorate? Just sayin'.
The problem is, that something like housing is going to take years to solve if indeed it solvable under a centrist government. I suspect that they are going to have two play out the few houses that they have started and I also suspect that they going to take a hammering on promising to build 100,000 houses. Which many people are saying they can't possibly do. Don't know enough about it myself, but it does seem a tad unlikely.

peteswriteplace said...

Some distractions perhaps, but I see a swing away from NZ First to Labour and a more sold and established Left Govt. Winston's lack of support for labour's flagship employment policies could backfire on Winston. Perhaps Winston needs to be removed from NZ politics by giving him a knighthood and an overseas posting to London.

Unknown said...

Labour-NZ First-Green coalition should have no problem winning the next election.

They have a secret weapon - Simon Bridges.

If that fails the next V-2 is Judith Collins.

I usually vote NZ First because they were founded to fight the neo-liberal agenda.

I did not leave Labour, Labour left me. They kicked off the neo-liberal coup in New Zealand. They have long ago given up giving a rat's arse about the working class. They have long been more interested in feel good bullshit causes like nuclear weapons free zones and normalising homosexuality and, now, normalising gender dysphoria.

But gay/transgender issues do not keep me awake at night. I have long ago given up caring about the odd beliefs of the bourgeois liberal elite and brainwashed millenials.

I will vote for NZ First regardless of what PC bullshit Labour and Greens push.

You see, I hate tories - of all social classes - more than I despise the Greens.

David Stone said...


I think the housing crisis will be solved when a crisis in the world finance system changes the dynamics of investment in housing from speculation to owner occupation and letting. I'm sure the houses that are needed are there but they are empty.
@ PP I don't think NZF will exist for long without Winston.

I would like a clear definition of "popularism". Presumably it refers to political movements that falsely claim adherence to a socially desired philosophy that the actors cynically espouse to gain support from the electorate while their real agenda is concealed . The trouble is that it is widely used to imply discredit to any political movement that has popular support that is not the philosophy of whoever is writing the article. It almost says that if it is a democratic movement it is bad.
I'm not sure Chris has defined the dynamics of the last election accurately. It was a strange election that is unlikely to repeated. It first departed from the day to day political issues when Metiria announced that she had falsified her situation to claim enough to exist on the DPB as a way of establishing the inadequacy of benefits. It was wildly well received at first giving the Greens a surge in support at the expense of Labour's to such an alarming degree that with strong and articulate urgings from the countries most influential political commentator and historian , the labour leader nobly and astutely recognised that there was a person within his party's ranks that had a popular appeal that he could never match whatever wisdom he might be able to bring to government and so invited an attractive articulate and energetic young politician to take over the party leadership.
The mood went against Metiria as her "inlaws" debunked her claims of hardship and conservatives deplored the idea of falsification and Jacinda scooped up all the loose support that Metiria had collected. Giving just enough to the left for Winston to work with. I don't think the last election can be assessed without reflecting on this drama.
One problem Jacinda now has looking forward to the next election is the unjustified economic revolutionism that our leading political commentator attributed to her in his enthusiasm to promote her selection. She had never ventured into that aspect of politics, only on the allocation side, and was set up to disappoint those of us who believe that no significant improvement can be made to social justice until radical change is made to the basic economic structure. In the short term this would mean isolationism as the western world shares the same problem. It will be a shame to lose all the political personnel who lived and acted in the pre-neoliberal capitalist world before this happens.

John Hurley said...

"Treasury made waves in 2016 when it noted that high immigration could push New Zealanders out of low-skilled jobs, depress wages and increase housing pressures. That view is now widely accepted and is a major reason why National – which oversaw a huge increase in the population – is no longer in government."

And then the chameleon Winston merges with the coalition. He slams critics as "alt-right". If we have learnt one thing it is that NZ First is not part of the solution. So will it be Labour/ Green limousine liberals or banks and property developers or....? The key is to develop speaking/debating talent who can trounce the media party.

caz said...

The transgender issue is not just a split between left and right as your article implies. Gender critical feminists across the world are campaigning heavily against transgenderism including here in New Zealand. The vast majority of us come from the left - most were previous Green Party or Labour supporters even active members of these parties. Many have a long history in trade unions, the peace movement, radical second wave feminism, environmentalism etc. We have some massive concerns about the erosion of sex based rights for women and the implications of gender identity on sex based protections in the Human Rights Act.

Already trans males compete against women in sport - see Gavin Hubbard who 'transitioned' in middle age competing against women in weight lifting - with obvious physical advantages he would have taken Gold in Brisbane Commonwealth games had he not dislocated an elbow. Biological males are already transferred into womens prisons in NZ - one woman tried to cut her tongue out after a sexual act with one such trans male who remained physically intact.

It will seriously affect data collection, and have serious consequences in medicine as gender identity categories are mixed with biological sex. This is already happening in the NHS.

Children/young people attending endocrinologists for puberty blockers continues to soar here and overseas despite the off label drug Lupron being associated with serious side effects, rainbow groups in NZ hand out breast binders for girls, and some are having double mastectomies. 70% of young people attending these clinics are girls, most are either lesbians or gay, 80 -90% will desist if allowed to go through puberty.

The Green Party has serious problems with those of us trying to bring this issue up for attention with Marama Davidson, Golriz Ghahraman and (Labour's) Louisa Wall very abusive to anyone opposing trans gender ideology. Jan Logan is responsible for attempting to bring in sex-self ID by stealth through what was described by Parliament as a non-controversial administrative bill on cremation (Births Death Marriages Relationship Recognition Act). This was based on a petition signed by 54 people! New Zealanders are properly being consulted on Whitebait Management but not whether or not you should be able to change your biological sex on your birth certificate by statuatory declaration.

Tracey Martin who is the Member in Charge of this Bill, yet she refused to comment publicly and will not meet with individuals or feminist group Speak Up For Women NZ.

It is my view that one of the deals done with NZ First last election was that they would support the Green Party in pushing this dangerous, misogynist inherently reactionary trans movement.

Don Franks said...

It will be interesting to see how the "Transgender issue" plays out when it hits the floor of the house. Honourable members are not completely stupid and not about to commit political suicide. Most mps will realise that the general public won't buy the fallacy that human males can turn into human females. Or that women can now be dismissed as " bleeders" , or the nonsense that boys too can get periods.Its not a left right issue though. A number of those opposing extremist trans activist ideology are marxists.

sumsuch said...

I just want more soapbox oratory on the part of the government. Persuasion, guidance, rather than reading ever more myopically the tea-leaves of polls. They have a bully pulpit. That's the best the Left ever has. But , of course, as ever, the leaders don't concur. The outrageous things Right-wing populists get away with, but all within the lines on the Left. A leetle fury. For the people. They haven't even raised the benefits to pre-Shipley levels -- nil credibility.