WHETHER OR NOT ABORTION emerges as a major issue following next year’s elections depends on National’s candidate selections. National lost 13 seats in 2020, and on current polling can be reasonably confident about reclaiming most of them in 2023. Much then depends on the beliefs – pro-choice or pro-life – of the candidates selected over the next few months. If National replenishes its caucus with pro-life MPs, and ACT emerges with a reasonable number of pro-lifers in its own, then the debate may, once again, be set alight.
The reignition of the Abortion Debate will become a dead certainty, however, if Brian Tamaki is successful at bringing together the fractious Far-Right political parties under a single banner. Should his new conservative coalition crest the 5 percent MMP threshold, the outbreak of an American-style culture war will be very hard to prevent. Moreover, if Labour and the Greens sustain significant losses in 2023, as current polling suggest they will, then that war will be very hard to win. Certainly, a woman’s right to a safe and legal abortion will be among the first casualties.
This state of affairs will not be attributable entirely to the electoral success of the Far Right. In both Labour and the Greens a defeat of sufficient magnitude to bring the likes of Tamaki’s Christian soldiers into Parliament will likely generate a particularly vicious backlash against the social-radicalism which conservative leftists will be quick to blame for their party’s punishment at the polls.
After all, it’s not as if Labour’s te Tiriti-driven, feminist and LGBTQI factions will be able to point to a proud collection of policy successes in relation to poverty, housing, health and education – quite the reverse. Working-class party members (if any remain) will have every reason to demand a thorough-going purge of middle-class social-radicals from Labour’s ranks. A similar purge, mutatis mutandis, will sweep away the identarian Greens.
If such purges do not eventuate, and the two left-wing parties remain in the grip of identity politicians, social-radicals and ethno-nationalists, then it is difficult to see them making a swift recovery at the polls. At least initially, the voting public is likely to cast about for a political movement less alienating, and more encouraging, of “mainstream” electoral support. If the rightward tendencies within Labour and the Greens do not succeed in providing these conservative left-wing voters with such a vehicle, then they will call forth somebody better equipped to offer them a ride.
Historically, the damage inflicted by such right-wing re-settings of left-wing parties’ ideological compasses has been enormous. Convinced that a Labour Party as left-wing as Norman Kirk’s could never be re-elected, the rightward elements that would eventually give New Zealand “Rogernomics” spent fifteen years destroying Labour as a party of economic redistribution. After years of bitter factional strife, the party’s left-wingers were finally driven from its ranks. Labour only survived to reclaim the Treasury Benches in 1999 on account of being restrained from veering too far from its electoral base by the competitive presence of Jim Anderton’s Alliance and Jeanette Fitzsimons’ and Rod Donald’s Greens.
The New Zealand of the 2020s is not, however, the New Zealand of the 1990s. Our thoroughly digitalised society no longer possesses the human resources capable of creating new political parties dedicated to the nation-building and/or nation-restoring missions of the Alliance and NZ First. Corny though it may sound, at the heart of these two essentially patriotic electoral projects lay an undeniable love of country.
Thirty years on, the creation of political movements is driven much more by the voters’ intense hatred of what their enemies: neoliberals, colonisers, patriarchs, heterosexuals – take your pick – have done to Aotearoa-New Zealand. Where once the urge was to build and/or restore, today’s activists seek only to attack, punish and destroy.
In relation to the issue of abortion, these destructive and punitive impulses will make it virtually impossible for the debate to proceed on a rational, let alone a civil, basis. Indeed, the very idea that those on both sides of the abortion issue might be decent and caring individuals, whose opposing positions are based on reasonable and eminently defensible philosophical propositions, religious principles, medical facts and socio-economic realities, will be rejected as dangerous nonsense. Pro-lifers are no such thing, they are simply misogynistic religious bigots. Pro-choicers stand condemned as monsters for whom human life matters less than personal convenience.
In these circumstances, simply to raise the issue of abortion is to set up the conditions for the most reckless expressions of hatred and loathing. In the Age of Twitter, Tik-Tok and Instagram, which is to say, in the Age of Declarative Solipsism, extremism will always arrive on the battlefield firstest, with the mostest. Small wonder, then, that Christopher Luxon is so determined to make sure that the battle never takes place.
Sometimes, as the US Supreme Court may yet discover, doing nothing is the only sensible thing to do.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 30 June 2022.