People Try To Put Them D-Down: When both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are twenty years younger than you are, the torch has not so much been passed to the next generation, as posted-up triumphantly on its Facebook page!
NOW’S THE TIME for Baby Boomers like me to start feeling really old. When both the Prime Minister and the Leader of the Opposition are twenty years younger than we are, the torch has not so much been passed to the next generation, as posted-up triumphantly on its Facebook page!
The moment had to come, of course. If New Zealand was not to become a moribund gerontocracy in the mould of the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union, then the Baby Boomers simply had to vacate the centre of the political stage for a younger cast of players.
Not that our new generation of political leaders can be expected to have very firm grasp on what the pre-Gorbachev Soviet Union was – or wasn’t. All that Cold War stuff: the terrifying stand-off between two ideologically hostile superpowers armed to the teeth with nuclear weapons; it’s all so very twentieth century.
For Jacinda Ardern’s, and the new National Party leader, Simon Bridges’, generation, the crucial date isn’t 1991, when the Soviet Union quietly blipped-off History’s screen, but 1992 when the Internet began constructing the future. If you want to talk about revolutions, then that is the only one that matters to the children of the twenty-first century.
And that, of course, is the challenge confronting both leaders: how to sail the Ship of State towards the future’s bright horizons, without first running it aground on the jagged reefs of the past.
Not every voter is a Millennial. The societies we inhabit are more crowded with generations than any which came before. There will soon be a million New Zealanders over the age of 65. A million! And practically all of them enthusiastic participants in the electoral process.
A million people who were born and grew up in a time so radically different from the present that it will require a constant imaginative effort on the part of both Jacinda and Simon to keep the cultural and political expectations of these older New Zealanders at the front of their own and their respective parties’ minds.
At the same time, Labour’s and National’s leaders will be expected to deliver to their own generation comparable levels of comfort and security to those displayed in the lives of their parents and grandparents. Well-paying jobs; affordable homes, or, at the very least, secure tenancies; functioning health and education services for their own families; a flourishing natural environment: if these cannot be delivered, then life in New Zealand is likely to turn very nasty.
Of the two political leaders, it is Simon Bridges who faces the tougher job. Although there are almost as many young fogies as there are old ones, conservatism, historically, appeals more to those of advanced years than it does to the young. As the leader of a conservative political movement, the voices resonating most loudly in Bridges’ ears will be those of the settled and the comfortable; the men and women who have the most to lose from any serious challenge to the status quo.
Investors, business leaders, landlords, will not take kindly to any suggestion that the system be changed to accommodate the interests of those without capital; lacking real estate; and unable to say “No” to their employers without jeopardising their future careers. And yet, these are precisely the interests that Simon Bridges must be willing to put ahead of those most firmly attached to the status quo. If the National Party is not to become irredeemably associated with the past; if it is not to surrender the future entirely to Labour and the Greens; then he must convince his own generation that National, too, is a party of change.
That he “gets” this, stands revealed in his observation that the party in Parliament he would most like to see National in coalition with, at some point in the future, is the Greens.
The greatest danger facing this young man: the first New Zealander of Maori descent to be elected leader of a major New Zealand political party; is that the past will rise in selfish revolt against the necessary adaptations that conservatism must embrace if it is to survive and thrive in the twenty-first century.
There are some Baby Boomers who see no reason why they should all just “f-f-f-f-fade away”. As they say in the pantomimes: “Watch out, Simon! She’s behind you!”
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 March 2018.