Extraordinary Leadership: Jacinda Ardern sails serenely above the fray: resplendent in her all-conquering empathy and internationally feted for her heart-stopping hymns of peace and love. Were an election scheduled, then she and her party would be utterly invincible.
IT’S A RACE NOW between a transcendent Labour Party and a National Party determined to get back in the game. For the moment, at least, the winds of fortune are at Labour’s back. Jacinda Ardern sails serenely above the fray: resplendent in her all-conquering empathy and internationally feted for her heart-stopping hymns of peace and love. Were an election scheduled, then she and her party would be utterly invincible. Unfortunately, for Labour and its leader, the next scheduled general election is still 18 months away.
And that is Labour’s biggest problem. In 18 months the bright, poignant images of late-March 2019 will have faded. Five hundred ordinary suns will have bleached out all but the most solid outlines of the Christchurch Mosque Shootings. Other priorities will intrude – as other priorities always do. Life is a series of special moments imperfectly recalled. And politics is a kind of life.
National’s best hope of getting back in the game is to craft its conduct around the sad but irrefutable truth that powerful emotions cannot be sustained indefinitely. Eventually the electorate’s momentarily numbed hip-pocket nerve will reassert itself. It would be a wonderful thing if “They Are Us” proved to be a more durable slogan than “What’s In It For Me?” National’s election strategists no doubt privately agree – but they’re not counting on it.
What they are counting on, however, is that the Christchurch Mosque Shootings have holed the pocket battleship NZ First below the waterline. In eighteen months it will have long since slipped below the waves. The tried and tested political themes that have lifted the NZ First Party and its leader back into electoral contention: Anti-Maori, Anti-Immigrant, Anti-Muslim; have been rendered electorally toxic.
What else could Winston Peters have been contemplating so deeply in Istanbul? He is much too astute a politician to have missed the brute fact that the Christchurch Shooter, in addition to slaying his Muslim victims, has also killed any chance of NZ First mounting a right-wing populist comeback.
That leaves Labour with only one potential coalition partner – the Greens. And therein lies Jacinda’s other big problem.
Unless there is a pretty firm laying-on-of-hands within the Greens’ caucus – and soon – there is a better-than-even chance that in 18 months’ time the Greens’ own eco-socialist sloop will have joined NZ First at the bottom of the sea.
It is becoming ominously clear that the “strategy” of bifurcating the Green Party’s image between its calm and responsible Ministers Outside Cabinet (James Shaw, Julie Anne Genter, Eugenie Sage) and its “woke” firebrands (Marama Davidson, Golriz Ghahraman) is on the point of sending the whole crew to the bottom.
The Greens would not be the only progressive political organisation to have allowed itself to be steered into the wild waters of Maori sovereignty and revolutionary leftism. Who now remembers that formerly highly-reputable overseas aid organisation, Corso? Or the Unemployed Workers’ Rights Union? When hitch-hikers are encouraged to take over the driving, the destination of the original passengers is apt to change.
A radical environmental party committed to making climate change the nuclear-free moment of this generation is one thing; but a party dedicated to challenging the white supremacist assumptions of New Zealand’s settler state, is another.
In 2002, the Alliance Party cast aside the moderation and pragmatism of its leader, Jim Anderton, and invited the New Zealand electorate to carry its socialist agenda into Parliament. The voters responded by giving the Alliance 1.27 percent of the Party Vote.
Labour can no more afford to remain indifferent to what is happening to its left in 2019 and 2020 that it could in 2002.
The arithmetic of MPP is as brutal as it is simple. If the 2020 General Election is reduced to a straightforward scrap between Labour and National: a battle fought without the distractions of minor parties; then the most likely outcome is a National victory. Labour’s vote, minus 7 percent (NZ First + Greens) will, almost certainly, leave it with a smaller share of the Party Vote than National.
That wouldn’t be the outcome if the general election was held now. Even without the support of NZ First and the Greens, the Labour Party of late-March 2019 would carry all before it.
But, New Zealanders now know how long a fortnight can be in politics.
Eighteen months is agonisingly longer.
This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 29 March 2019.