GAURAV SHARMA’S DEATH-DIVE into the Labour mothership may strike many traditional leftists as fortuitous. Certainly, his decision to force a by-election in Hamilton West will inflict far more damage on Jacinda Ardern’s radically elitist government than any number of old-school leftists could possibly hope to achieve. This should not be permitted to obscure the fact, however, that, in 2022, it is the Right, not the Left, that is driving New Zealand politics.
Just how decisively the Right is shaping our politics will become clear in the run-up to the Hamilton West by-election. Though National may consider the by-election outcome a foregone conclusion, it is likely to be disabused of any such notion relatively quickly.
Between them, Act, NZ First, and the new parties of the Far-Right have the potential to siphon-off enough votes to place the contest’s outcome in serious doubt. The lazy assumption among political commentators that National’s strategists will be able to browbeat its right-wing rivals into giving it a clear run at Labour smacks more of wishful thinking than sound analysis.
If National wants a clear run, then it will have to give its rivals some pretty unequivocal assurances about what it will – and won’t – do in government. Even then, the arguments for delivering National a sharp lesson in the raw power of ideological conviction may prove hard for its right-wing competitors to resist.
A political novelist would look at this evolving situation and explore the question of exactly who informed Sharma that Ardern was planning to waka-jump him less than six months out from Election Day 2023. Sharma insists that it was a member of Labour’s New Zealand Council, but, honestly, that seems unlikely. The New Zealand Council of the Labour Party has been pretty effectively “scrubbed” ideologically. The notion that there is someone sitting around that table harbouring dark thoughts about Ardern and her colleagues, and spilling the beans to Sharma, is most unlikely. Easier to believe is that someone – a genuine enemy of the Labour Government – is pulling Sharma’s strings.
If such a person exists, then he or she is almost certain to be a right-winger. But, just how far is that person, and those s/he is working with, prepared to go? Is the idea of a Sharma-led “centrist” party his own, or was it planted and watered by his unnamed “friends”?
It’s an important question. A group of seasoned operatives who knew what they were doing might actually pull together something that looked enough like a genuine centrist party to draw-off a useful number of Labour votes. Then again, why would they invest so much energy and cash in a guy who’s never going to be more than a political footnote?
The only plausible explanation is that the political force best placed to draw off Labour votes – the Greens – have been so thoroughly battered and bullied by Labour, that they no longer possess the necessary political courage to demonstrate their indispensability to the “left-wing” cause.
A surging and ideologically rampant Green Party, slashing into Ardern’s record from the left, would make it next-to-impossible for Labour to retain Hamilton West. Not that a genuine Green Party would care. It’s only goal would be to show that if 2023 isn’t a Labour-Green victory, then it won’t be a victory at all.
Sadly, only the most unrealistic of optimists could foresee such a welcome recovery of electoral nerve. Most likely the Greens will meekly agree to sit-out the by-election. Meaning that, if there’s any vote-siphoning to be done, it will have to be done by the Right.
Viewed from the perspective of the non-National Right, the best possible outcome of the Hamilton West by-election would be a narrow (the narrower the better!) win for Luxon’s team.
A romper-stomper victory for the National candidate is the last thing the non-National Right wants. A win like that would reassure National that they have no need to make serious policy concessions to the parties on their right. It will convince Luxon and Willis that they can continue fudging on the Treaty and Three Waters, and double-down on John Key’s successful formula of doing whatever it takes to win and hold the suburbs. Knowing that, if National holds the suburbs, then the rest of the Right has no real option but to make do with half an ideological loaf.
Ensuring that National’s candidate only just makes it would put an end to all the party’s thoughts of an easy campaign in 2023. The idea that it will be enough to just shuffle along a few paces to Labour’s right, and muddle-through as usual, will be scotched. National will have no option but to respond to the gravitational pull of all those political forces unwilling to accept Labour’s radical elitism. The results are unlikely to be pretty.
But that’s what your country gets when it lacks a mass movement, grounded in the working-class, and dedicated to social equality – rather than radical elitism. The penny has yet to drop in Aotearoa-New Zealand that identity politics is not left-wing politics. Labour and the Greens are by far the slowest learners – dangerously slower than the Right.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 20 October 2022.