“THE COALITION OF CHAOS”, that’s how Matthew Hooton and the right-wing commentariat are describing the putative Labour-Green-Te Pāti Māori parliamentary alliance. Which is a contradiction, of sorts, since the notion of New Zealanders voting in favour of chaos is, on its face, nonsensical. Then again, Hooton is more than shrewd enough to grasp that the mood of the electorate may be sufficiently volatile to generate precisely this result. As he has pointed out in recent commentaries, the combined vote of the two main parties, at 70 percent, is historically low. Nearly a third of electorate is “grumpy”. That’s a lot of pissed-off people. Chaos is an option.
But, Hooton’s chaos will only eventuate if Te Pāti Māori and, to a lesser extent, the Greens, are able to attract the support of a great many more young and/or disillusioned voters than usually make it to the polling-booth. Since neither party has the political organisation to mobilise a mass vote on their own, a higher than usual turn-out on 14 October will be a sociological – not a psephological – phenomenon. For some as-yet-unrecognised reason, tens-of-thousands of young and/or marginalised citizens will have arrived at the same conclusion: this time, casting a vote will make a difference.
What could lead them to such a conclusion? Paradoxically, it could be the Right’s crazy-screaming-horror campaign against the “Coalition of Chaos”.
Between them, National and Act already have approximately $7 million to spend – most of it over the next four months. More than enough to spread crazy-screaming-horror far and wide. Undoubtedly “Middle New Zealand” will run wild-eyed into the arms of the Right, terrified that a bloodthirsty mob of socialists, eco-warriors and revanchist Māori are coming for the family trust. The question is: will such a scare campaign only make those voters who were already walking towards National and Act break into a panic-stricken sprint? Who will it get them that they haven’t already got?
Advertisers – including political advertisers – generally create their product with a specific demographic in mind. The message they craft is for that particular demographic, and if they get the message, then the ad is counted a success. But, most ads contain multiple messages which, in the demographics not specifically targeted, may excite responses which were not in any way anticipated by their makers.
An ad for a motor vehicle retailing for $80,000, for example, will not be framed for a person living on the dole. And yet, such a person may well see the ad. He or she may notice that the people driving the luxury vehicle are all beautiful, thin, and moving through a physical and social landscape light-years from their own. The fast-moving sequence of images may, therefore, arouse intense feelings of exclusion and deprivation: angry fantasies of conquest and vengeance. Not at all what the ad’s makers intended.
In much the same way, a party political message contrived to inspire crazy-screaming-horror in middle-class Pakeha women who usually vote National, but who gave a vote-of-thanks to “Jacinda” in 2020, may convey a very different message to angry young Māori determined to escape from the impoverished environment in which they feel imprisoned. If the prospect of Te Pāti Māori becoming part of a governing coalition strikes such abject fear into the hearts of the Pakeha, then casting a vote for TPM might begin to look like a very good idea.
If the Left is smart, it will take a leaf out of the playbook of those who campaigned in favour of adopting MMP. Arguably the most effective pro-MMP poster stated simply: “If you’re looking for a good reason to vote in favour of MMP, just take a look at the people who want you to vote against it.” By the same logic, if National, Act, and the whole right-wing establishment are trying to scare New Zealanders into voting against a Labour-Green-Te Pāti Māori government, then maybe that’s the best possible reason to vote for their “Coalition of Chaos”.
Labour, the Greens, and Te Pāti Māori might also decide to simply turn the tables on National and Act by spelling out for the electorate the chaotic consequences of a right-wing victory predicated on thinly-disguised racism, climate-change denial, and the upper-classes’ mortal fear of being required to pay their fair share of tax.
Te Pāti Māori, in particular, could politely enquire of National and Act how they propose to squeeze a million aspirational Māori back into the colonial box from which they have only just begun to emerge?
The Greens could demand to know how a National-Act Government was planning to explain to the rest of the world why Aotearoa-New Zealand isn’t pulling its weight on climate change?
And Labour could invite the voters to decide which combination of parties had the best chance of dealing effectively and fairly with the urgent and inescapable challenges of delivering ethnic, social and ecological equity to Aotearoa-New Zealand: National-Act, or Labour-Greens-Te Pāti Māori?
That the two ideological blocs remain so close in terms of their overall voter support (see the latest Taxpayers Union-Curia poll) suggests that very close to half of the electorate knows that Aotearoa-New Zealand must change. Business-as-usual sounds wonderful, as does the return of racial harmony, and the weather getting back to normal. But, deep-down, half the population understands that a “return to normalcy” is not a realistic proposition. Maybe the other half, the half telling the pollsters that they intend to vote for National and Act, also know that things cannot go on as they are, but they’re resentful that so many difficult challenges have fallen to their generation, and frightened that they may not be equal to them.
Raising the spectre of a “Coalition of Chaos” offers this apprehensive half of the electorate an acceptable excuse for running away from the changes every New Zealander should be steeling themselves to embrace on 14 October. The changes necessitated by the Treaty. The changes necessitated by Climate Change. The changes necessitated by the extreme disparities of wealth in Aotearoa-New Zealand.
That’s what makes the expression so despicable. Electing a National-Act coalition government won’t protect New Zealanders from chaos, indeed, the probability is that swinging hard to the right it will only make their lives more chaotic. Change may be delayed for a while, but it cannot be denied indefinitely. Those who try to stop it are almost always overwhelmed by it.
In chaos there is fertility. Out of chaos new worlds quicken and grow.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 11 May 2023.