Saturday 8 February 2020

Jacinda’s Political Faith Broader Than Any Church.

Keeping The Faith: This Government’s broad, new, heavily moderated, progressive faith does not require a prime minister with the powers of a medieval pope. Jacinda’s regime has no need of subterranean torture chambers to ensure compliance. A gift for diplomacy and the ability to inspire her fellow human-beings is all the prime minister requires, and fortunately she had both of those qualities – in spades! Call it “The Incredible Lightness of Being Jacinda”.

AS ELECTION-YEAR GAME-PLANS go, it’s a good one. Why bother to reconstruct Labour as a “broad church” when the same effect can be achieved by creating a broad political “faith” out of three separate parties? Broad churches were mandated by the first-past-the-post electoral system; proportional representation allows a broad faith to have “many mansions” – and even more voters.

Jacinda Ardern was quick to see the possibilities. Many people marvelled at how well she and Winston Peters hit it off during the crucial days of negotiation following the 2017 election. One explanation had Peters intuiting that Labour’s new leader just might be willing to sing the same “Hallelujah Song” he’d been humming quietly since 1993. With the benefit of hindsight, however, it is equally plausible to argue that Jacinda saw in Peters and NZ First precisely the sort of social-conservative hand-brake she and her government needed to protect itself from Labour’s policy enthusiasts and the chronically “woke” Greens.

What emerged was an extraordinarily shrewd division of labour among the three parties making up the Government’s parliamentary majority. In the past, such a division had to be accomplished within a single political formation. For every warm and fuzzy Cabinet Minister offering peace, love and mung beans, there had to be a hard-faced conservative bastard preaching hellfire and brimstone. Preventing these clearly contradictory political tendencies from dividing the party membership into angry and antagonistic factions required a pretty brutal set of leadership skills and a determination to keep intra-party democracy on a very tight leash.

What Peters was offering Jacinda was a conservative faction positioned safely beyond the reach of her liberal and radical allies. The Labour and Green parties’ rank-and-file could come up with as many wild and woolly schemes as they liked: capital gains taxes; lowering the voting age to sixteen; a swingeing Carbon Tax; a radically down-sized dairy herd. But, while Winston and his team remained on watch, no such measures would ever make it through Cabinet. The same, of course, applied, in reverse, if ever NZ First’s hellfire and brimstone got too smelly.

Best of all, this broad, heavily moderated, progressive faith did not require a prime minister with the powers of a medieval pope. Jacinda’s regime had no need of subterranean torture chambers to ensure compliance. A gift for diplomacy and the ability to inspire her fellow human-beings was all the new prime minister required, and she had both of those qualities – in spades! Call it “The Incredible Lightness of Being Jacinda”.

There is, naturally, a weakness in this new arrangement. And, oh, how Jacinda must have hoped and prayed that her potential political nemesis, Simon Bridges, didn’t spot it. That weakness arises out of NZ First’s capacity to form alliances with the party to its right as well as to its left. Press Peters and his people too hard, or, even worse, deny them their heart’s desire, and they’ll start packing-up their suitcases and ordering an Uber. Robbed of its conservative brake, Jacinda’s government would find itself required to say “No” all on its own. Dark clouds would soon overtake the Prime Minister’s sunny disposition. Recrimination and division would weaken Labour and the Green in ways that would be as hard to hide as they were to heal.

The first question Napoleon Bonaparte is said to have asked whenever a senior officer was recommended for promotion was: “Is he lucky?” Can it be doubted that Jacinda would have climbed very high in Napoleon’s Grand Armee? Has New Zealand ever had such a lucky prime minister? And has a New Zealand Leader of the Opposition ever provided his principal political rival with such a valuable gift?

By unequivocally ruling out NZ First as a possible coalition partner for National, Bridges has bolted Jacinda’s conservative handbrake firmly in place. Some might argue that this can only weaken Peters’ position. Surely, Bridges’ decision means that calling an Uber is no longer an option for NZ First? After all, where’s Winston gonna go? The problem with this argument is that the parliamentary arithmetic only changes once every three years. After the votes have been counted, the numbers remain the numbers until the next election. And right there is where things get tricky.

With her right flank secured, Jacinda can now re-orient her government decisively towards the moderate centre. If her more radical supporters don’t like the idea of Labour building National’s roads, well, they can always bugger-off to the Greens. A move about which Jacinda, recalling her days on Tony Blair’s Third Way, can remain “intensely relaxed”. Because it just doesn’t matter whether the “woke” voters stay with Labour, or decamp to the Greens. Their voices continue to swell the progressive choir in either location.

But wait – there’s more. As Labour bulks up its vote by adopting policies dear to the heart of the moderate centre, and the Greens’ support is enlarged by Labour’s disgruntled progressive defectors, the awful prospect arises (from the perspective of moderate conservatives) of New Zealand electing its first, genuine Red-Green government. Better, surely, to head-off the possibility of an uninhibited left-wing government casting aside the clothing of common sense and getting all jiggy with the capitalist status quo, by making very sure they’re accompanied by a conservative NZ First chaperone!

Such is the delicious flexibility of this broad, new, ideologically ecumenical, political faith. The broad political churches of yesteryear were never able to be so accommodating!

One can only imagine Bridges’ dismay when he is finally forced to acknowledge that ruling out any kind of deal with NZ First was a very, very big mistake. When he realises that, in this country, both the Right and the Left only ever get to the seat of power by finding themselves a clear path to the Centre.

Jim Bolger, bless him, understood this – which is why he saved his prime-ministership by reaching out to Winston, on his left. Helen Clark understood it, too – which is why she was willing to break Rod Donald’s left-wing heart by making centrist Winston Peters’ day. Jacinda is a natural when it comes to inclusion – which is why she lost no time in learning how to sing Winston’s Hallelujah Song.

Simon Bridges, by making sure National remains a narrow political faith, has allowed Jacinda to further broaden her government’s ecumenical appeal.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 7 February 2020.


John Hurley said...

Jacinda is o.k until there is real opposition from the right.
1. The Labour Party decided NZ should have no ethnic majority.
2. it is government policy to dismantle national identity and create a new one.
3. Migrant identities are privileged on the ashes of the old national identity
4. A new national identity ia a dual "Maori plus everyone else"
5. The guiding principle is antiracism which assumes peoples identities are frivolous.
6. Government privileges ideas it considers "in the public interest" by giving them all the resources they need (and more), this applies to public media and academia.

Kat said...

New Zealand voters have a clear choice, luck has nothing to do with it. This is why this election is the big test for the electorate. Its either darkness or light.

Trev1 said...

Pure fantasy. As Peters has amply demonstrated his main interest is in looking after number one. Ardern is a remarkably unintelligent and naive operator, Woman's Weekly covers are her strength. This is a government of shallow self seeking poseurs who lack any empathy with or understanding of the hard working people who make this country tick. A coalition of liars and fantasists and a tragedy for New Zealand.

sumsuch said...

You are the bubbles in soda water of words. Scintillating.

Think you should stick to speaking our point of view and give up on what CAN be done. It leads to the US Democratic Party. A creature of the rich.

sumsuch said...

But blu-ry good analysis of the situation.

I just have a distrust of the short-term.

Wayne Mapp said...


Politics in New Zealand is not so extreme that we need to resort to WW1 analogies, "The lamps are going out all over Europe, we shall not see them again in our lifetime."

There is simply no case to demonise our opponents. Both major sides in New Zealand politics exist within a broad set of liberal ideas and values that they both accept.

David Stone said...

I think that if Winston was only interested in no 1 he would never have defected from the national party. He had a very enduring successful political career in front of him and I suspect he would have been prime minister for a large part of the time he has been around. We would have had a different economic path.
However at this stage of his career I think he is probably ready to take the easy road to retirement like Jim Anderson seemed to toward the end.
Chris is right about the flexibility that the three party grouping gives the central member. The extremes of the Greens on one side and the NZF on the other can be left to it while Jacinta cruses smiling through the middle.
What do you do though when you want to be an honest , but a successful politician? I've just been imagining trying to work out what I would do today if I were aspiring to that pursuit. I used to, until about a year ago ,totally accept that we were screwing the earth's climate by burning all that fossil fuel. It seemed to stand to reason that if we are releasing carbon in a couple of hundred years that has taken hundreds of millions of years to accumulate that it could cause a problem. but something made me realise that I didn't know the first thing about how it all works, and that some experts in the field vehemently disagreed with the theory. So to the best of my ability I have tried to get my head around it. Now I do not believe that the CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere can have anything like the effect on the climate that the popular belief holds to be the case.
But if I had aspirations to a political career I would have to lie about that now because whatever qualities and ability, and whatever sound and popular economic and social policies I might be promoting, in this day and age that one assessment would render me completely unelectable. How does anyone get to be an honest and a successful politician? The two adjectives are probably mutually exclusive.
I wonder how Jeremy Corbyn reconciled his advocacy of the need for action on climate change with the position of his astrophysicist older brother Piers. he can't have dismissed Piers entirely, they are clearly good friends, But Piers is one of the 3% of scientists that scathingly ridicules the CO2 narrative. Noticeably all Democrat hopefuls in the US are dutifully towing the acceptable line. I wonder what the all really believe .

I think I would rather be honest than a successful politician . Maybe that's why Chris won't get back into it.


Trev1 said...

Dear David Stone: the claim that 97% of scientists or "a consensus" believe we face a man-made climate emergency is simply a fraud, as this excellent fact-check video points out: explains: The fallacious 97 percent figure is derived from 2% of responses to a survey of 10,000 predominantly earth scientists by the University of Illinois in 2009, which asked two very broad questions that did not address a "man-made climate emergency". The so-called climate emergency is the liberal elites' response to populism. As energy is pretty much the basis of all human activity it is an excellent tool to manipulate in order to exert social control. The tragedy for New Zealand is that we have seen natural gas exploration banned on a whim and we are now lumbered with the Zero Carbon Act which will severely curtail jobs and living standards, especially for those at the bottom.

rowang said...

A good argument for making sure Winston and NZ First get back into Parliament.

greywarbler said...

There is simply no case to demonise our opponents. Both major sides in New Zealand politics exist within a broad set of liberal ideas and values that they both accept.

Yes Wayne that is what a lot of us are afraid of - the dictatorship of the comfy chair.

aj said...

" I have tried to get my head around it. Now I do not believe that the CO2 we are putting into the atmosphere can have anything like the effect on the climate that the popular belief holds to be the case"

I had reservations for some years but I am more accepting of it recently - too much evidence. But even if the science has it wrong, it may force people to change their habits to take a more sustainable approach to the planet, even if it if for the wrong reason.

Unknown said...

David Stone , good luck with your 3% odds of being correct now about man made climate change!

David Stone said...

Yes Trev ; the 3% was facetious . The 97 % has been roundly repudiated , and even the IPCC scientists will protest that it isn't a vote. They don't know and that is the "scientific" fact.
And yes aj , there are lots of other good reasons to look for a more natural way to live and make do with using less of the stuff. Not the least of which being that given the politics of the US and the Middle East it may suddenly become unavailable.
Cheers D J S

Kat said...


Gosh WW1, so that's where Crosby Textor must have got that "brighter future" slogan for John Key from.

I can assure you that the no mans land of liberal ideas and values between Labour/Greens/NZFirst and the current National/Act trench is way more than a couple of hundred yards.

Bonzo said...

NZ First on 3.6% and the Serious Fraud Office on the case. Has wishful thinking ever crashed and burned so fast?

sumsuch said...

Social democrats like me, Wayne, are furious about leaving the lowest 20 % behind, let alone the gurgling of everyone apart from them up to the elites.

You know the 20 % means Maori. Or where the liberal conscience lies. It must come first. After, I believe, off my counter, 30 fucken 6 years!

That's your 1984 triumph -- leaving many behind. How do you view 1984, Wayne?

John Hurley said...

"The ideological war starts with a pretence that class itself no longer exists. The only barriers to ascent that are said to exist in the liberal technocratic mind are racism and misogyny, which are everywhere. What is sought by the bien pensant middle class is ‘representation’ rather than revolution — effectively a corporate boardroom which resembles the middle class. Never mind those who toil away on the factory floor — social mobility, a creed beloved by politicians of all stripes, will ensure that the best and brightest ascend into the bourgeoisie.
Representation is of course not the same thing as democracy. In fact, if representation is the goal we might as well abolish democracy altogether and appoint a ruling class along the appropriate demographic lines. I suspect we will hear arguments like this quite soon even if they are not phrased as bluntly. As Lind writes, “In response to populist rebellions from below, the managerial elites of various Western countries may turn to outright repression of the working class by restricting access to political activity and the media by all dissenters, not populists alone.”