We Didn't Die Before We Grew Old: It is sobering to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”. More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
PICTURE THIS. It’s a just a few weeks before the 2020 general election and social media is smoking. A superb piece of digital fakery has the National Party leader, Simon Bridges, inhaling enthusiastically. Over a Pink Floydesque soundtrack, Bridges exhales an impressive cloud of marijuana smoke. “My party is opposed to legalising pot” he explains, grinning broadly and winking knowingly. “But, if the people of New Zealand vote yes to dope in the forthcoming referendum, then a new National Party government will honour their decision and end cannabis prohibition within its first 100 days.” The clip ends with a rather glassy-eyed Bridges flashing his viewers the peace sign. The video’s tag line flashes up on the screen: Simon says, VOTE YES – AND NATIONAL.
Now, the prospect of a “funky” National Party mobilising the “Head Vote” will no doubt strike many readers as a most unlikely proposition. For a start, the staunchly conservative Mr Bridges would certainly not take kindly to being portrayed as some sort of peace, love and mungbeans hippie. Less certain, however, is whether his campaign team would be all that bothered by such a clever piece of guerrilla advertising. Not all fake news is bad news.
It is, similarly, important to realise that by 2020 roughly half of the Baby Boom Generation will be drawing a pension. The “Over-65 Vote” will no longer be composed overwhelmingly of what Colin James dubbed “The RSA Generation”.
More and more of these older voters will cherish youthful memories of sex, drugs and rock-n-roll.
On a darker note, their personal experience will have confirmed over and over again the brute reality that alcohol is capable of inflicting immeasurably more harm on families, friends and workmates than cannabis sativa.
Their children will point out the absurdity of preserving the market for increasingly deadly iterations of synthetic cannabis by prohibiting the cultivation and use of the real thing – a substance with no known fatalities to its credit.
The idea that the careers of their grandchildren may be jeopardised by engaging in what is, essentially, a harmless habit, will fill them with a mixture of exasperation and dread.
What’s more, as the Baby Boomers’ bodies begin to fail them and the aches and pains of old age make themselves known with ever-increasing intensity, the analgesic and stress-relieving qualities of cannabis will recommend themselves with ever-increasing force. Why should the law be interested in the consumption of a slice of hashish-infused chocolate-cake to relieve arthritis?
These are the considerations that National’s campaign strategists will be inviting Simon Bridges and his conservative colleagues to consider. Active Christian worship is now very much a minority sport. Likewise the misogyny and homophobia of those involuntarily celibate keyboard warriors who daily defile the Internet. The overwhelming majority of New Zealanders are men and women of good will and good humour. Those responsible for developing National’s election manifesto would do well to remember that.
Good will and good humour does not, however, signal soft-headedness. Sixty-five years and more on this earth has a habit of exposing the weaknesses of youthful propositions concerning human nature. Monty Python mercilessly satirised the notion that all individual failings could be laid at the door of “Society” by offering to “book them too”.
The explanation for the rock-solid character of National’s massive electoral support owes a great deal to older New Zealanders’ reluctant acceptance that many of the wounds which their less fortunate fellow citizens are expecting them to heal have almost certainly been self-inflicted. For the past forty years, doubt has been growing steadily in “Middle New Zealand” about the Welfare State’s capacity to improve the lives of either its “clients” or the society in which they live.
Bill English recognised this growing doubt and attempted to address it by means of his “Social Investment” initiatives. Much more work on these is required before they are ready to be rolled-out as the replacement for the First Labour Government’s “Social Security” model. There is, however, the whiff of the future about English’s ideas, so, if Simon Bridges is as wise as he is ambitious, then social investment will be the project into which he and his caucus colleagues hurl themselves in the run-up to 2020.
Bridges simple message to Middle New Zealand could be: “National’s not hard-hearted – just clear-headed”.
Except, of course, when it’s stoned.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 August 2018.