Saturday 13 January 2024

Where The People Walk.

Walking Us Back:  It required no great brilliance on the part of National, Act and NZ First to grasp the enormous motivational power contained in the word “back”. They could see that a clear majority of the electorate were growing increasingly anxious about the way their country was being led. Voters wanted to go back the way they had come, to the beginning of the strange and unfamiliar footpaths they’d been asked to walk. 

WHAT PASSES for “Left” commentary these days insists that New Zealand is living under a “hard-right” government. Clearly, these commentators are unfamiliar with what constitutes a hard-right government. Equally clearly, they know next to nothing about New Zealand political history. Compared to the governments of Bill Massey, George Forbes, Sid Holland and Rob Muldoon, the coalition government of Christopher Luxon is a decidedly mild affair. The Left has mistaken a moderate and well-signalled political course-correction for a reactionary reversal of progressive fortunes.

What the Coalition Government is attempting to accomplish is the restoration of the state of affairs inherited by the coalition government of Jacinda Ardern and Winston Peters in 2017. Ardern’s political rhetoric indicated a determination to “transform” New Zealand. Exactly what their country was to be transformed into was never made clear to New Zealanders. Indeed, it seemed that the Labour-led government was itself was uncertain of its ultimate purpose. Events – unforeseen and deeply disruptive of New Zealanders lives – turned out to be the driving force of the Sixth Labour Government.

Without the Christchurch Mosque Massacres and the Covid-19 Global Pandemic, the serious weaknesses in Ardern’s ministry would have come to light much sooner – and it may not have lasted longer than a single term. But, Ardern’s superlative handling of the Christchurch tragedy won her international acclaim, and her country was hailed as a bastion of progressivism. Her management of the first stages of the Covid crisis proved similarly inspirational – both domestically and internationally – delivering her the seemingly impossible, an absolute majority in New Zealand’s unicameral Parliament.

It was the possession of this unassailable majority that spurred Labour’s Māori Caucus into action, and encouraged Labour’s social liberals to proceed as if their radical ideas enjoyed wide popular support. These misapprehensions: that New Zealanders were ready to become a Te Tiriti-based nation; and that the peculiar notions of the educated urban middle-classes could be imposed upon the rest of the country without provoking passionate resistance; were what convinced Labour and the Greens that they could move sharply leftward without generating a significant conservative backlash.

The late Jim Anderton understood, as did his hero, Norman Kirk, that, at heart, New Zealand was a conservative country. That said, when confronted by profound economic and/or moral challenges New Zealand voters have demonstrated a willingness to embrace new and unorthodox policies: Savage’s Welfare State; Lange’s Nuclear-Free New Zealand. What is noteworthy about both of these historical examples, however, is that significant public support had been assembled for them patiently, over many years. They were unmistakably popular measures. This was the political point embedded in Anderton’s aphorism: “Always build your footpaths where the people walk.”

Initially, at least, the footpaths laid down by Jacinda Ardern were well-trodden. Her rapid outlawing of semi-automatic rifles and shotguns in the wake of the Christchurch massacres enjoyed broad support domestically, and won her the loud applause of tens-of-millions of American progressives. It was her appeal to the “Team of Five Million”, however, in the first months of Covid, that inspired the deep affection of the New Zealand people. It had been a long time since the collective welfare of the nation had been put ahead of the individual rights of entrepreneurs, consumers, and taxpayers. New Zealanders liked standing together, and they became confused and angry when the evolution of the Covid virus required the government to break them apart.

The footpaths laid down by Labour in the direction of co-governance, the curbing of free speech, and the erasure of biological sex differences were not, however, trod by the masses. Indeed, they appeared to most New Zealanders to be leading them into wild and unknown territory. Not only did they not want to go there, but they became increasingly suspicious of the motives of those who kept insisting that they should.

Had the economy been in tip-top condition and the citizens’ standard-of-living rising steadily, then perhaps these other initiatives could have been tolerated. Labour’s problem was that all these radical departures from familiar termini were being demanded by people who did not seem to be up to the job of running the country. Why go haring-off into the ideological Badlands at the behest of politicians who could not keep inflation under control – or bring just one major project to fruition on time and on budget?

What the Left still doesn’t seem to have got its head around is that the defeated Labour Party is not the innocent victim of “red-necks” and “cookers” – reactionaries determined to drag New Zealand kicking and screaming back to the “half-gallon, quarter acre, Pavlova paradise” of the 1960s and 70s. Labour lost because, after 2020, Jacinda’s political skills deserted her and, following her departure in January 2023, Chris Hipkins and his colleagues were exposed as a pretty hopeless bunch of politicians. What those Labour MPs celebrated as “progressive”, a great many voters considered either loopy, or dangerous, or a volatile mixture of the two.

It required no great brilliance on the part of National, Act and NZ First to grasp the enormous motivational power contained in the word “back”. They could see that a clear majority of the electorate were growing increasingly anxious about the way their country was being led. Voters wanted to go back the way they had come, to the beginning of the strange and unfamiliar footpaths they’d been asked to walk. At the very least this meant returning to 2020. Or, just to be on the safe side, 2017.

National, Act and NZ First did not need to keep their intentions secret – no He Puapua reports for them! Being parties of the Right, their preferences were all on the side of businesspeople, employers, landlords and farmers. It’s not that the electorate didn’t understand who they were voting for on 14 October 2023. It’s just that, from their perspective, there was more upside to a vote for the Right than the Left. They wanted rid of the Labour Government, and that meant voting for a party (or parties) of the Right.

Did that deliver New Zealand a “hard-right” government? Well, compared to the government of the Russian Federation, or even the governments of the US states of Texas and Florida – not hardly. Nor is it likely that Christopher Luxon will be signing-up Special Constables, or sending the unemployed to work camps in the countryside, or promulgating Emergency Regulations temporarily extinguishing democracy, or welcoming the sporting ambassadors of a viciously racist regime, any time soon. Not unless Te Pāti Māori and their Tangata Tiriti allies leave him no other choice.

For the moment, at least, New Zealanders seem happy to walk along National’s, Act’s, and NZ First’s footpaths. Not so much a “hard-right” government, as one committed to showing New Zealanders the “right” way home.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project website on Monday, 8 January 2024.


Anonymous said...

Yeeessss Chris - all pretty good, but you got it in the last paragraph. I do think, profoundly - that it is time intelligent, thinking people stopped using the terms 'left' and 'right' and thought in terms of what is good for all of society - people in their different roles and responsibilities. Maybe (oh no) that might mean we could give up racism and sexism and agism. Let's really give it a try.

LittleKeith said...

I cannot disagree with a thing you've said.

The infantile left shills screaming "the most right wing government ever", one assumes putting Bonito, Adolf and a half a hundred other despots in the shade, or "the most racist ever" just goes with the territory, just like their climate catastrophe terror hysteria that is their staple diet. Luxon at worst is dull, Peters a well known centrist curmudgeon and Seymour, an intellectual libertarian male version of Swarbrick without the mindless activism and the yearning to be the coolest - down with the youth try hard. More left of the typical "right" stereotype is about it.

It seems this "left" cannot see the sheer failure of their pure progressive left we've all just experienced. All of their university activist wildest theories turning to shit before their very eyes. It's because it didn't go far enough or it wasn't explained well enough or there was no 100 day plan or some other completely unconvincing manure that gets trotted out.

Remember the year of delivery that didn't deliver either following the previous year of non delivery? Seems catchy marketing phrases didn't cut it! They actually needed substance.

And yes, burying changes from voters didn't work either. In an attempt to lift Maori from whatever their fertile imaginations thought they were at to day to day partners but in reality unequal overlords only encouraged the more extreme "kohunga reo generation", resplendent with myths and legends of pre "colonised" Maori riding endless herds of unicorns over the equally endless rainbows, to now want to put the highly inconvenient English version of the treaty to rest, to finish the job off. So whatever naive Labour's good intentions were, they backfired too. Ever so predictably.

Labour Green forced this reset on all of us because without it, NZ was headed for the door. And not in a good way! And I think this reset is a good example of democracy working for the overall good the left once spoke of!

new view said...

I completely agree with your analysis Chris. I repeat what I’ve said in the past. A successful government is a left one with business acumen or a right one with a social responsibility. Any government can do this they just don’t most of the time. The different ideologies will stay alive and well as the working class who don’t trust business will gravitate to the left and business who need to make a profit but sometimes don’t share it will gravitate to the right. The need for a country to pay its way ensures the right sits on the treasury benches at least half the time and when the people believe they are being hard done by or social change is wanted they will look the other way. Successful governments find the right balance. The last labour government didn’t and the new National coalition has huge challenges to overcome if it is to get the balance right. It is a little like going back to the future.

DS said...

What the Left still doesn’t seem to have got its head around is that the defeated Labour Party is not the innocent victim of “red-necks” and “cookers” – reactionaries determined to drag New Zealand kicking and screaming back to the “half-gallon, quarter acre, Pavlova paradise” of the 1960s and 70s.

The term "cooker" does not mean "nostalgic reactionary." It means "nutter" (more specifically a meth-addict), and refers to the rise of unhinged conspiracy theories. These are the people who literally think vaccines were a communist conspiracy, and they were (and remain) highly vocal in public discourse.

Labour richly deserved to lose, on account of its unwillingness to address cost of living crisis, or really do very much on economics at all. But stop pretending the Right aren't mobilised by something very dark.

Anonymous said...

If voters are anything like me, once dyed in the wool Labour, I didn't realise just where the "left" had gone since Helen Clarks government.

While I wasn't looking they had picked up the baton for the three tenants of the modern progressive left around the world...Race. Trans rights. Climate Change. All three, it could be argued, are led by personality disorders. Sure the red flags were there occasionally, Labours candidate gender balance policy probably in favour of females and definitely over comptence is obvious. Somewhat more opaque, sexual orientation weighted toward non heterosexual over competence and much more hidden, race over competence. In fact practical achievement and competence took a firm equal last in the skill sets required. I also assume a history of activism was a plus too, no matter how stupid.

And hence the slow relentless never ending train wreck that was the Ardern Hipkins government and the resultant mess they left the country in. Its all so obvious now. Their footpaths were a journey to destruction.

Whatever Labour had morphed into had little to do with most voters and I would also argue that were it not for their kindred spirits in the mainstream media, the unquestioning middle management university generated "journalists" being so fiercely loyal and purposely blind to their governments shortcomings, Labour were destined for less than 20%.

And hence the attraction for voters to look back to 2017 as a starting point to rebuild.

Chris Trotter said...

To: DS

Undoubtedly, the Covid-19 Pandemic exacerbated the grievances of many on the Far Right, but when you talk about "very dark" forces at work I feel it is important to acknowledge their insignificance when set alongside the political leanings of the New Zealand Right as a whole.

The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders who voted for National, Act and NZ First are not devotees of Steve Bannon or believers in Q-Anon, they are ordinary New Zealanders who had become increasingly alienated from the political culture of the "left-wing" parties and their allies in the news media, the universities and the public service.

The fact that nearly half-a-million of these voters had been prepared to vote for Labour in 2020 indicates the political malleability of the NZ electorate. National, Act and NZ First voters weren't the catspaws of "very dark" forces, they were just ordinary Kiwis royally pissed-off with Labour, the Greens and Te Paati Maori.

DS said...

The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders who voted for National, Act and NZ First are not devotees of Steve Bannon or believers in Q-Anon, they are ordinary New Zealanders who had become increasingly alienated from the political culture of the "left-wing" parties and their allies in the news media, the universities and the public service.

The "left wing" parties have not helped themselves, of course. Not caring in the least about Culture War nonsense, I myself felt thoroughly disenfranchised in the 2023 election context. And, as noted, Labour's inadequacy on cost of living cost it dearly.

However, what were fringe views on the Right once upon a time are now utterly mainstream, which implies a substantial shift has taken place within the past three years - and were another pandemic to hit in 2025, you would not see another 2020. The public response would be one of polarisation around voting patterns, with half of the Right literally thinking another conspiracy is at work.

Have you ever noticed how many of the right-wing commentators on this very blog have taken to using the term "globalist"? I know enough history to know what that is really a code-word for, and surely so do you. It is one thing to latch onto the extremes of wokery, and snigger at the resulting public backlash. It is quite another to ignore what has come bubbling up from the other end of the spectrum. Will it impact this government? Probably not. They just want to relive 1990s neoliberalism. But they also know who votes for them, and the likes of David Farrar must have noticed that his comments community is skewing weirdly pro-Putin these days.

yanawai said...

I'm finding it hard to reconcile the message of this piece (originally posted on The Democracy Project website on Monday, 8 January 2024. ) which appears in a sympathetic veinto interpret the nation's current socio-political "parallelogram of forces" as the legitimate expression of the democratic will of New Zealand people, with the message of Chris's latest piece a week later ("When Push Comes to Shove” - Democracy Project, 15 January 2024) which argues that to placate Maoridom immediately, aspects of the agenda of the Coalition Government must swiftly be undone And that as an outcome of the election we are now in a proto-revolutionary situation so that “As the bicentenary of the signing of Te Tiriti looms ever nearer, the Pakeha settler state faces two, equally unpalatable choices. It will either have to accede to a Māori-led constitutional revolution, or find its own, twenty-first-century equivalent of General Cameron.”

*Could Chris dispel my cognitive dissonance?

+ Are the “equally unpalatable” 2040 alternatives he proposes, to be the only ones available?

John Hurley said...

Those exceptional numbers have softened the 2022/23 labour shortages and lessened wage pressure, but it’s added the equivalent of a city the size of Dunedin into the general population in a year. It’s also a serious snafu when you’re trying to slow down an overheated economy.
It’s been the modus operandi of successive governments and an effective smokescreen across the reality of our falling total net wealth. Stack the country with new immigrants, creating the illusion of a booming economy with a tight job market and rising house prices, when all the country really gets is traffic jams and rising homelessness.
Flooding the country with cheap labour may be one way to tighten the labour market, but it also effectively hides one of the lowest productivity rates in the OECD. The country’s GDP per capita is about 20% below the OECD average, and an alarming fall from the 1970s when New Zealand’s GDP per hours worked was the median with 19 other OECD countries.

So who is talking about that?

BlisteringAttack said...

The thing about Labour politicians these days is that you would never see any of them at a workingmens club on a Friday night trying to squeeze in another jug before closing...

LittleKeith said...

I listened to Ingrid Leary today interviewed by Michael Laws on The Platform and the conclusion I came to was Labour have an awful long way to go. She and I assume they are still in the denial phase and absolutely miles off base as to the cause of Labour's demise!

The Barron said...

I voted for a party that failed to get into government, as such I accept the defeat. However, I do think this is a very right-wing policy platform and I question the mandate claimed. No-one voted for the coalition agreements. Industrial relations within that agreement are to disempower the most vulnerable workers. Anyone who thought that a vote for NZ First would modify the attack on workers should already have buyers remorse. National did not campaign on the cultural, political and treaty vilification of Maori. 14.72% of the voting electorate supported NZ First and ACT combined.

I believe that in areas that would damage the lives of various sectors, resistance is not just justified, but essential. Rights and progress have been fought by generations. It is a betrayal to those people and movements to allow a regressive government to take rights away and redistribute power and resources from need to greed.

The coalition agreement is a combination of ideological agenda that is power over. Divide according to prejudice. Government, as the Americans used to say, should be for the people and by the people. It is up to all of us to protect the people and protect social progress.

I take this column as that of an articulate Dalek "Resistance is Useless".

Chris Trotter said...

To: Yanawai

I do not see any contradiction between the ideas expressed in "Where The People Walk" and "When Push Comes To Shove". The former looks at the reasons behind the Right's victory in last year's general election, and the latter examines a potential domestic security crisis confronting the newly elected Coalition Government.

That crisis arises out of the unwillingness of some New Zealanders to accept the policy consequences of a democratic election. It is exacerbated by the stated willingness of the opponents of the new government's race relations policy to go to extreme lengths to stop it.

At the core of the argument of "When Push Comes To Shove" is the weakness of the NZ state - especially in relation to dealing with massive and well-organised protest action. A weak state is forced to defend itself by the use of deadly force. Unfortunately, the use of such force, almost inevitably, makes things worse.

Hence my conclusion that the new government would be wise to reach a compromise with the opponents of its race-relations policies - or even put them on hold - until it amasses the wherewithal to make them stick.

The Munich Agreement of 1938 has been roundly condemned for "appeasing" Hitler. It was, however, immensely popular at the time and, more importantly, it bought Great Britain another year in which to re-arm. That extra year made all the difference - when push came to shove.

John Hurley said...

Who speaks for the Working Class Chris?

Anonymous said...

Thanks to DS for clarifying the exact meaning of "cooker". I had heard Sean Plunket use the term, and had the general idea from the context.

I agree with Chris, there is very little "really dark" about the coalition government.

I think there was, and is, much that has become really dark in the Labour/Green/TPM axis. A contempt for free speech and democracy, an intolerance of differences of opinion, an abandonment of science, a turn to thuggish threats and thuggish behaviour to try to get their own way. How that's working for them was shown by the poll showing National up, Labour to record lows, and an overall increased majority for the coalition givernment, had it been an election, not just a poll. (Published in the Herald with much comment along the lines of "just a feel good summer poll while people aren't tuned into politics". Maybe, and maybe a majority is pleased the new government is doing what it said it would).

I could go on (and on and on and on....), but to cut myself short, just one example. Climate change is real, there is need for action in response. Nuclear power to provide baseload power with zero carbon dioxide emissions was discussed, and recommended, at the latest international climate extravaganza. Different jurisdictions around the world are moving to retain, or adopt, nuclear power.

Why can we not have a mature discussion here about nuclear power? Yes, it's dangerous, but so, it turns out, was mining coal and burning it. Yes, there is a strong anti-nuclear sentiment in New Zealand. Yes, we're really earthquake prone. I'm not even sure I'd like to see nuclear adopted here myself, but why no good faith public discussion? Why almost no coverage in the local media, about how, on a world scale, it might help offset climate change while assisting energy security?

Let alone a good faith discussion on constitutional matters...

Anonymous said...

Same anon. as 22 January here. Something else dark about the Labour/Green/TPM axis is the media bias backing them in the legacy media.

Just after I posted on January 22, Kathryn Ryan was on RNZ National with the first Nine to Noon politics panel of the year. She quickly skated over that most recent political poll, with words to the effect it was a an unreliable summer rogue poll, and New Zealand First was down.

Well, to give the figures, and make a small correction to my last post: National 41% (up), Act 7.8% (up) NZ First 5.6% (down, but still over 5%) Labour 28.4% (static) Greens 9.5% (down) and TPM 3.6%.(down). What was at a record low was not Labours vote, but support for Chris Hipkins as preferred PM. More people now think the country is on the right track rather than the wrong track.

Why not just read out the figures and let the panelists opine on what they think they mean? Because the figures undercut the narrative RNZ promotes, perhaps?

Why the great stress on Kiri Allan's mental health in the legacy media? What did slip out, was that she felt greatly stressed at being Justice Minister after both the "policy bonfire" and the plroposals for a "law and order" crack down to appease public concern about crime. Sounds to me like a classical political dilemma of choking on the dead rats you're asked to swallow. If she felt strongly that a "law and order" crackdown would come down hardest on Maori youth (which I'm sure will happen), and thus harm most the very people she came into politics to protect, she has a political problem. Which may well lead to a mental health problem if not addressed. The political options are resign from Cabinet to be released from collective responsibility, or swallow the dead rat to stay on. Neither would be easy, but politics is a tough game.

It seems to me the request to consider the mental health of those politicians in such tough situations is basically emotional blackmail. Let them have policy wins, to ease the stress on them. Only unkind and inconsiderate people could oppose such a kind solution to the awful stress individual politicians are under, and you don't want to one of those awful,unkind people, do you?

I'd rather go back to some basic ideas of how democracy should work. Like free speech, vigorous debate of the issues, and decision by majority vote. Such old fashioned, 20th century ideas seem to have become anathema to the Labour/Green/TPM axis and their media bootlickers.

Anonymous said...

Same Anon as 28 January, with a "it just got worse" sort of experience.

I'm a helpful sort, so I emailed Kathryn Ryan at RNZ with a summary of the results of the Curia poll published in the NZ Herald on Saturday (Feb 10), to make sure she had the figures for her Monday politics discussion. The poll was done leading up to Waitangi Day, and showed ACT up to 13.7%, National up slightly on 39.6%, NZ First at 5%. On those figures, National and Act would no longer need NZ First. On the other side, Labour at 27.9%, Greens down to 9% (down by 4.5%) and TPM at 2.3% (down 1.1%).

Treatment by Kathryn today (Feb 12) of the poll? Try to ignore it at first, then throw shade and cast doubt. Call it "rogue", say "we need to see trends". Point out National uses the same polling company. Only at the very end, name the polling organization, and admit you should have given the listeners that information earlier. It was so bad Neale Jones gently admonished Kathryn by sticking up for Curia by pointing out he considers they are reputable pollsters.

Neale does seem to be still connected to reality in a way that Kathryn seems not to be. He pointed out that basically Labour is very unlikely to be back anytime soon, they need time to reflect and change. (Very true, but also very, very understated, in my opinion).

If I was in Neale's shoes I'd be half expecting to now be dropped by RNZ. Trying to inject reality into the discussion, based on the facts, as presented by reputable pollsters? That seems to have become increasingly unwelcome at RNZ.