Thursday 24 June 2021

Skating On Thin Ice: Labour’s Support Is Not As Solid As It Looks.

Deceptively Solid Support: What Labour would like us to believe is that they are skating on a solid sheet of ideological ice, more that capable of carrying the weight of their cultural revolution. In reality, the ice now bearing their electoral weight is wafer thin. Sadly, Labour’s leaders remain utterly oblivious to the currents surging just below their party’s fragile crust of support. 

WITH LABOUR polling in the mid-to-high 40s, and the Greens around 10 percent, the Left dominates New Zealand politics. At least, that is what it would like us to believe. In fact, Labour’s current dominance of New Zealand politics is both highly unusual and extremely fragile. The party’s commanding lead in the polls is due almost entirely to the approximately 15 percent of the electorate (roughly 440,000 people) who rewarded “Jacinda” with a vote that, in the absence of the global pandemic, would have gone to somebody else. Yet to be given a good reason for abandoning their heroine, these voters remain in Labour’s camp. Truth to tell, it is this 10-15 percent of the electorate that is dominating New Zealand politics – not the Left.

Since the introduction of MMP in 1996, Labour has averaged approximately 36 percent of the popular vote. Putting the 2020 election to one side, the best results achieved were under Helen Clark in 2002 and 2005. Even then, however, the party only just made it into the 40s. Jacinda, herself, only managed to claim 36.89 percent of the Party Vote for Labour in 2017 – well short of the National Party’s 44.45 percent. That she became Prime Minister at all was due entirely to her poaching NZ First’s 7.20 percent of the Party Vote. (Winston’s tally was generally expected to be made available to National.) Jacinda repeated this trick (albeit with twice the percentage of conservative votes) in the Covid Election of 2020.

At 37 percent, National’s average vote in the MMP Era confirms the centrality of that fickle 10-15 percent of the electorate which slips and slides all over the middle regions of the political spectrum. Until 2020, however, these voters’ preferences tended to be more right-wing than left-wing. National certainly thought so – hence its fury at seeing Winston Peters crown Jacinda with votes it was convinced had been cast by people favouring a right-wing coalition government. (In this conviction, they were probably quite correct.)

All of which adds up to a very peculiar political situation. In the past two elections, the parties of the Left – whose combined support between 1996 and 2020 averaged just 43.65 percent of the Party Vote – have been able to form a government. Not because the country had just swung decisively to the Left, but because hundreds-of-thousands of moderately conservative New Zealanders had acquiesced in the right-wing parties they usually voted for being excluded from power. Justifiably in 2020, given Jacinda Ardern’s superb handling of the Covid-19 crisis, and National’s extraordinary political implosion. Judiciously in 2017, given National’s nine year legacy of procrastination and neglect. In both instances, the mandates handed to Labour were strictly limited.

All of which makes the behaviour of the present Labour Government and its Green Party allies extremely difficult to fathom. Rather than accept the utterly exceptional nature of the 2020 General Election, and acknowledge the strictly limited character of the electoral mandate it conferred, the Left appears to have convinced itself that the 440,000 New Zealanders whose support for Labour was simply their way of saying: “Thank you, Jacinda, for keeping me and my family safe”, were actually begging Labour and the Greens to turn their world upside down.

Labour’s and the Greens’ sharp swing to the left, in cultural terms, may be acceptable to New Zealanders in the professions, the public service, the universities and the communications industries. After all, these are the highly-educated elites who, in practically all the advanced economies of the West, are the most comfortable, temperamentally, with the politics of race and personal identity. It is not acceptable, however, to the culturally conservative 7-15 percent of the electorate which “switched sides” in 2017 and 2020. They are becoming increasingly alarmed and confused by the Labour Government’s unheralded direction of travel. Not so alarmed that they are willing to overlook the National Party’s all-too-evident disarray, and re-pledge their traditional allegiance to the Centre-Right. Not yet – but they’re close.

Not that you can tell Labour’s apparatchiks any of this. Their ears are blocked to any suggestion that the Government has advanced dangerously far ahead of public opinion. Nor can they be convinced that they have made themselves vulnerable to the sort of brutal, right-wing political attacks that Labour’s and the Greens’ radical policies on race, gender, culture and climate change are bound to attract. If there was still a functioning Fourth Estate, it’s just possible that these warnings might eventually penetrate the static of the Left’s confirmation biases. Unfortunately, the same ideological virus that has melted the brains of Labour and the Greens, has also melted the brains of the nation’s mainstream journalists.

What Labour would like us to believe is that they are skating on a solid sheet of ideological ice, more that capable of carrying the weight of their cultural revolution. In reality, the ice now bearing their electoral weight is wafer thin. Sadly, Labour’s leaders remain utterly oblivious to the currents surging just below their party’s fragile crust of support. They have no idea how very strong they are, nor how deathly cold.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 24 June 2021.


Odysseus said...

Your analysis certainly matches the dynamic I have observed among extended family. Labour's landslide in 2020 was an expression of gratitude by otherwise socially conservative people. "She saved your elderly mother" was the rejoinder to any questioning of support for Jacinda. These people are not "progressives" however. Don't come between them and their choice of motor vehicle for instance. The tide will go out on Labour very rapidly if people sense their living standards and choices are under threat. Enter the Climate Change Commission with its wacko prescription that would destroy our export base and impose huge costs on ordinary people for no perceptible purpose while China and India continue to build coal-fired power stations without restraint. If Ardern picks up and runs with that folly then Labour are toast. But the first crack in the ice may come even quicker, as soon as the government brings forward their "hate speech" law. The very idea is provoking growing unease among the whanau.

CXH said...

Their behaviour is strange. They were given a mandate by this shifting group of voters to deal with things like housing, health and infrastructure. Things they promised to fix.

Instead they have disappeared into the weeds on the left, worrying about race, culture and green things. Stirring up discord rather than togetherness. Their saviour at present is a totally unelectable National Party. If National grow up and show any sort of leadership ability Labour will be demolished at the next election.

John Hurley said...

Jon Haidt/Eric Kaufmann say we are about 50:50 preferring novelty versus continuity. Within a decade we have seen a rapid turn around in demographics. In tourism we have seen Chinese become the motel owners; property investors and tour drivers throughout the country. Individually most people couldn't care less but on a population basis it looks like replacement to me. Eric Kaufmann talks about people being attached to an "intergenerational form of nationhood". Apart from high house prices what the hell do we get out of it.

I was just listening to Juliet Moses speech to the Terrorism Conference, she says "we need to normalise; we need to tell our stories".

In Chris's previous post Guerilla Surgeon comes out in support of Critical Race Theory which holds that there is unearned privilege in society which must be redressed. And you can see that being addressed on a grand scale since the 1980's where the geniuses deconstruct our culture. North & South can't get enough of Scott Hamilton and his segregated toilets (whatever the circumstances were).

Critics of CRT point out it is class based: there are more poor Pakeha than Maori (as Marama Fox noted of Christchurch). Spoonley's solution is a Critical privileging of identity (or as RNZ house ethnic, Julie Zhu from Xian China puts it): "I think it should be Maori and everyone else because Maori is the only unique part of this country that needs to be upheld and there just needs to be solidarity" and Spoonley and the Indian bloke grin in agreement.

I realise there is a snooty untouchable elite in NZ that hides behind the ideologues in media and the public service but why does a majority have see the identities of the towns and cities changed?

As I wrote in my letter to the Press credit where credit is due. Christchurch was built by the Church of England settlers. There were fewer than 500 Maori in the whole of Canterbury when the "pilgrims" stepped ashore..

Imagine if that Associate Minister of Education was PM and not Jacinda.

John Key another leader mistaken for good bloke.

JanM said...

Anyone who thought that Winston was going to support National in 2017 was not paying attention. In a conversation I had with a senior NZ First some months before the election I was assured there was no way that would happen. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Tom Hunter said...

Given the fantastic degree of incompetence that Labour exhibits in executing policy, - and that includes handling the post-Covid world of vaccinations, which surely counts as equal to or more important than the easily implemented lockdown policy of 2020 - I can't convince myself that Labour are consciously swinging to the cultural Far Left.

It's more that they're just falling into it along with the media, education and even corporate worlds (at least if the Comms and HR sections are anything to go by).

However, whether by design or accident, if I were Labour I would not listen to old Lefties like you Chris but would simply push as far and as fast on this as I could, for one very simple reason.

All governments lose power at some point anyway and when National eventually re-take the government benches they'll simply leave all this in place and reverse none of it.

Doug Longmire said...

Excellent article Chris. You have described the situation clearly and accurately.
However, I do not have much faith that the media, esp TV, will play much part in publicising any analytical or critical comments of the current government. After all - they have been given $50million from government, along with instructions on what to say, and how to say it.

The Barron said...

'Labour’s and the Greens’ sharp swing to the left, in cultural terms...'

Chris, here you accept that the cultural turn is 'to the left'. While the right may wail against identity politics, they generally do so to either protect or promote the inequities that groups in society face. It should be noted: recently National have stepped up on the issue of mental health, while they fall short on overall policies on disability, they have focus on one area of 'identity politics' and a group disadvantaged economically and socially.

Unfortunately, other sectorial groupings of social and economic disadvantage they continue to view as cultural wars. We may see a moderated approach on gender or sexual identity, some more accommodation for indigenous rights, a financial relationship with some new migrant groups and some disability rights policy. I say this because the right have been pulled towards noting that disadvantage in NZ affect different groups and Governmental understanding and support is needed. This is the zeitgeist. So the sharp 'swing to the left', isn't that sharp as the right recognize a need a requirement to follow the social shift and accommodate it.

Form Labour and the Greens, the very basis of a swing to the left is to have credible policies and actions which can reach the disadvantaged. Good industrial relations policy reaches all targeted groups (with the exception of some disabled), good benefit policies can reach the disadvantaged across the board, and some policies are looking at the historical and structural disadvantage that individual targeted groups face.

Any swing to the left that can rise the aspirations and material well-being of those that have been left behind by neo-liberalism should be welcomed. The suggested political backlash is moderated through the normalization into the functions of Government.

Scott said...

The thing is the left don't care. They'll make hay while the sun shines. Over the years they've banned smacking of your own children, abortion until birth, euthanasia, Trans gender, legalising of prostitution, homosexual marriage etc etc. They know that the right will never roll any of those things back. So they're winning!
The right just leave all those things in place and concentrate on lower tax rates. For they are too scared to upset the journalists by rolling back anything.

Nick J said...

Odysseus, spot on observations. In my rural town the contempt for green policies and promotion of EVs over deisel utes is becoming very pronounced. Labours youthful caucus are sailing blithely forth unaware that not only the 15% of centre rightists will decamp but that the assured vote of old Labour socially conservative voters may just not vote. Equally lethal. Labours current crop of Jacobins somnambulate towards the guillotine. Somebody please wake them up.

Nick J said...

Barron, your overview of the Nats focus on mental health strikes a chord. Its got the smell of dog whistle and a lack of sincerity. With the other issues you list they will water down, bribe, anything to regain and retain control. Its the spots on a leopard.

In terms of gender and "culture war" issues I sincerely believe that the Nats dont care excepting that they will play any issue to garner votes and power. In that respect going "hard Left" wont get resistance from the Nats.

What will get resistance is a failure of the Left to deliver housing health
workplace and welfare. They might just survive that in the face of Nat incompetence but the secondary risk is that Labour get tarred as the party that cared more for fringe social issues than core social delivery. That would drive away a large chunk of Labour voters who are social conservatives.

As for the zeitgeist I'd suggest its actually centrism in the face of uncertainty. Safety and certainty, not risk.

Patricia said...

I am starting to think that the system of democratic government we currently have is failing the people world wide. Here we have one party that is designed to help the Haves and the other, so they tell us, is designed to help the Have Nots. But neither party is true to form. The American system is the extreme where there is basically one party with two factions. It is obvious there that the people are not part of that equation. I think that we are starting to go the same way. Yes climate change is serious but the plight of the people is more important. When house prices and rents are so ridiculous that the number of people who find life just too too hard is increasing. When the number of children suffering health issues increases by the day. When benefits are so low people are relying on food banks. When health and dental cost are so high an increasing number of people just can’t afford to access them. I don’t know the answer but perhaps an almighty economic crash might be the cause of finding that answer. It happened in the 1930s

The Barron said...

Yes, brother Nick, Nats accommodation of social and political trends doesn't mean acceptance. The key (as it was with Key), is that National would at worst moderate 'identity group' social progress, very little would be totally discarded.

If I have been caught out seeming too kind to her majesty opposition, it was not my intention. You are correct Nick, they make accommodation in a self-serving realpolitik, I thought that implicit in the term National.

Harry said...

Chris - you keep saying Jacinda handled Covid-19 superbly. I disagree. Depriving people of basic civil liberties and destroying small businesses is not an appropriate response to a flu virus.

Jens Meder said...

So Patricia - what about a democratic majority pressing for a systematic effort to achieve an "ownership society" without Have Nots, at a more vigorous rate than what we already have through KiwiSaver and the NZ Super Fund ?

On what grounds would you not be enthusiastic about that ?

Or do you think only a dictator could achieve that ?

DS said...

Anyone who thought that Winston was going to support National in 2017 was not paying attention. In a conversation I had with a senior NZ First some months before the election I was assured there was no way that would happen. Revenge is a dish best served cold.

Agreed. Winston was looking for any excuse to go with Labour. That was why he was waiting for the specials.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

A flu virus? It has killed more than half a million Americans. That is about 10 times the worst death rate from a flu virus, and about 20 times that of a mild dose of the flu. Thank Christ labour did in fact listen to scientists on this, because if they listened to conservatives we would have had thousands of dead. But then conservatives don't really care about other people – I've heard one or two at least say it doesn't matter about the dead because they are all old anyway. Obviously they were young conservatives.
Flu kills on average about 500 people a year in New Zealand – so we would have had about 5000 deaths, maybe 10,000 depending on how the vaccination program went. And I would assume that the vaccination program would be a damn sight more urgent and it seems to be today. I haven't had mine yet, and I'm about twice the age of the Prime Minister who has. Not sure whether this is the fault of the government or the DHB but somebody should perhaps get their arse into gear.

sumsuch said...

You are rather magnificent, GS. If reality ruled rather than the attempt at it of democracy, our best way, 10,000 deaths is irrelevant in light of climate change. And many countries have spent all their treasure on a matter that is democratically relevant but not really relevant.

According to my sister my 90-year-old very weak mother hasn't yet received a vaccination, but then again she's a BAC and so open to every conspiracy theory and so may well be lying to me. They are the slipperiest people on earth -- just from my 40 years experience of these arses.