Wednesday 15 November 2023

The Most Unlikely Trinity.

The Three Amigos (Pro Tem): Three politicians, one from National, one from Act, one from NZ First, walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? The punchline, however, is that all three politicians walk out of that bar as the leaders of New Zealand’s next government.

BY THE END of this week, or the next, New Zealand will have a government. It is unlikely to be a pleasant one. The three political leaders, and the three political parties they lead, comprise the most unlikely trinity. Whether they are able to work together constructively for more than a few months is a dubious proposition – at best. Such overarching visions of New Zealand’s future as exist among them are more likely to divide than unite the members of the coalition government. In a nation already polarised politically – and growing more so by the day – the new regime’s prospectus will struggle to find long-term investors.

National, the new coalition’s dominant partner, has become a party of echoes. Most obviously of the highly successful government of John Key. But, Christopher Luxon has very little in common with Key. Where his political mentor had a keen strategic sense and an instinctive feel for where the majority of his compatriots wanted to go, Luxon is utterly lost without his talking-points. In their absence he reaches for the most banal tropes of the suburban Tory. His ad-lib political observations are peppered with the commonplace insults of his class: “whiney” and “bottom-feeders” being the most memorable examples.

Ask this man for his vision of New Zealand and he will blather-on about building a future where hard-working New Zealanders can “get ahead”. While that is indisputably the baseline ambition of every sensible citizen – who would want themselves and their family to go backwards?! “Getting ahead” is not, however, a vision.

Indeed, the whole structure of the National Party’s desideratum resonates with prejudice and resentment. Identifying only the “hard-working” for advancement presupposes a society containing more than its fair share of shirkers, grifters and malingerers. Luxon and his party see no reason why these sorts – these “bottom-feeders” – should get anywhere at all. Most certainly, they should not be allowed to get “ahead” of all those hard working Kiwis.

Mind you, those “hard workers” may not be the individuals ordinary working-class people think of when they hear the words tripping off Luxon’s tongue. When they hear someone described as a hard worker they may think of their neighbour who gets up when it’s still dark to clean offices in the central city, puts in a shift at the local supermarket, and then prepares the evening meal for her family. That’s a lot of work, and all of it is hard. She’s putting in 14-hour days, six days a week, for just enough to pay the bills. She’s a hard worker, but she’s not “getting ahead”.

In the mind of the National Party’s ideologues, however, “hard work” means something quite different. It refers to the mental agility and stamina required to manage people and resources. Only in the rarest of cases will those resources have been amassed by personal effort. In most cases they’ll belong to the shareholders of the corporation that hired its CEO. Making those resources grow is his job. It means reading reports, attending meetings, making decisions. Often in entails travelling to other cities, staying in hotels, eating out at restaurants. Putting in 14-16 hour days is not uncommon. Where the CEO’s job and the job of the working-class cleaner differ, however, is in how much they get paid for doing it.

For the CEO, earning well into six – sometimes seven – figures, “getting ahead” does not mean being able to put aside a few hundred dollars for family emergencies. No, the “getting ahead” he has in mind means arranging for his income tax to be slashed by tens-of-thousands of dollars. He resents his hard-earned money going to all those “whiney” “bottom-feeders” who haven’t so much lost their “mojo” as never possessed the faintest idea as to what it even means. All those shirkers, grifters and malingerers who have never done an honest day’s work in their lives. All those people without a clue about what people with “mojo” (which some of us refer to as ‘luck’) can do – or what they deserve for doing it.

For the most part, National’s politicians are too clever to say too much of this where anybody unsympathetic to the trials and tribulations of being “well off” might be listening. They expect their supporters (and in most cases these expectations are well-founded) to be able to read the sub-text of their otherwise anodyne political pronouncements. To be a National party member, a National Party voter, means not having, or even wanting, to have things spelt out too clearly. National’s politics is a bit like the hedges, fences and walls they erect around their properties. They are there to conceal what lies behind – lest the little people start getting big ideas about how much wealth is too much wealth.

The difference between National and Act is that the latter is seized by a curious determination to be honest about power and wealth. Raising hedges, fences and walls suggests an unwholesome pusillanimity when it comes to individual prowess. Let the little people see what “mojo” can achieve. Wealth and power is nothing to be ashamed of, indeed, the lack of it can be read as a confirmation of individual deficiency. Act members, Act voters, are comfortable with the idea that all human-beings are not born equal. Nor would they want them to be. Yes, they believe in democracy – but only because it is the best protection against aristocracy and oligarchy: the best political system for allowing the superior individual (rather than the “hard worker”) to “get ahead” without being held back by the leg-irons of class, race and/or gender privilege.

Which leaves us with the classic conservatives of NZ First. Winston Peters and his followers aren’t so much interested in changing the world – or even themselves – as they are in protecting the things they believe should not be changed. They are the sort of people who believe there is a place for everything, and everyone; and that everything, and everyone, should be made as comfortable and secure as possible in that place.

Peters and NZ First despise Act for many reasons, but primarily because, like Mark Zuckerberg, Act believes in moving fast and breaking things. As far as NZ First is concerned, societies cannot be made, societies can only be allowed to grow. And things that grow are not assisted by being hacked at, pruned or cut down. That’s why they’re suspicious of Labour and its recklessly ambitious plans to “build” a better world. But, it is also why they’re reluctant to trust National. Because all-too-often National smiles and smiles at the New Zealand people – and yet proves to be nothing but a villainous pander to the appetites of the ruling-class. The only justification for change, in the eyes of Peters and his people, is to make sure that everything remains the same.

Three politicians, one from National, one from Act, one from NZ First, walk into a bar. Sounds like the beginning of a joke, doesn’t it? The punchline, however, is that all three politicians walk out of that bar as the leaders of New Zealand’s next government.

This essay was originally posted on The Democracy Project on Monday, 13 November 2023.


LittleKeith said...

It's hard to see where this new government lands. Clearly there are differences so large that there is a slight but growing chance there will not be a new government. At least as far as I can tell, especially if National remain steadfastly obsessed with their out of date tax cut policy, a policy that belongs to another era. As each day passes, Luxon sounds increasingly delusional, Seymour disinterested and Peters unwanted.

Obviously the 3 long weeks awaiting the special votes were nothing more than a phoney war, a period where National prayed NZ first would not be required but when reality set in, they had no idea whatsoever, on what to do next.

It seems some sort of real solution is required to actually deal with the Maori separatist momentum, not just the usual stereotypical National do nothing virtue signalling response. It is apparent Nationals tax policy needs to go, replaced by bracket adjustments and reductions in fuel excises or similar. And an acceptance that NZ firsts blend of nationalism and conservatism is represented, some how. Which doesn't leave a lot of room for ACT but they need at least a couple of meaningful wins, perhaps a total ground up overhaul and or partial elimination of government bureaucracies.

One things for certain, Nationals campaign was so uninspiring that its vote total was akin to a failure especially given how bad the last government was, and it would do well to learn fast on the how not to, for next time. ACT similarly and the longer it went the more voters had second thoughts. But in any case the voters will crucify all 3 if we are forced to vote again. So Luxon et al better wake up and smell the roses. An incremental competent government for all the people, that is not at all like the last is all voters will allow this time around! They'd better get used to it!

David George said...

Most people, rightly or wrongly, see themselves as decent, hard-working etc. I think the use of terms like that by politicians is mostly an appeal to that majority- and their better natures? I wouldn't read too much into it.

Perhaps setting out to appeal to the indolent/resentful/deceitful carries a bigger danger.

Craig said...

I think your characterization of Luxon is both true and not so.
Yes, he is an uninspiring even slightly insipid character, however, I think it's a lazy cliché to think he subjects himself to politics simply to carve out a few tax breaks for CEOs. I think all people go into politics wanting to do good generally, how this ends up is of course another matter.

In reality Nat/ACT/NZF is only as much of a hash as Lab/Green/Maori.

Gary Peters said...

Wow Chris where did all that resentment come from?

We've just had 6 years of utter incompetence initially driven by ardern and Winston then continued by ardern alone yet you still pine for a bit of socialism because it'll work next time won't it?

We have one of the most accessible almost free education systems in the world yet those that need it the most are the most likely to refuse it, and this is after 3 years of semi socialist "be kind" drivel.

Whether you accept it or not there are a group of citizens, and non citizens, in our country that have no intention of providing for themselves, not by inability but by choice, and expect others to provide for them instead.

As Thomas Sowell says, "What exactly is your 'fair share' of what 'someone else' has worked for?" yet those of us that label those people as "bottom feeders" or "bludgers" are the problem.

Many who read your musings come from a less than fortunate past yet we have managed by hard work and effort, often physical, to attain a better standard of living than our parents could conceive yet you seem to despise us because we do not want to share much of that with those that only aspired to take from others rather than make the effort themselves.

Maybe that early rising cleaner or checkout operator or shelf stacker would be able to aspire to a better life if those that required that "assistance" made a little more effort themselves and reduced the societal drain of taxes and crime.

Luxon may not be the "Captain America" type of leader you desire but I don't need a leader to help me imnprove my life and the lives of my family, I need someone who will not waste the taxes that are necessary on their own vanities and self aggrandisement. I want a government that provides a playing field, I'll level it myself thanks.

mikesh said...

They say that "politics is the art of the possible". It seems that Luxon is trying to achieve the "impossible". Hopefully he pay a price for doing so.

Ian said...

The weird obsession that the NZ media has every few years about how long it takes to negotiate a coalition deal between parties that the same media has been eager to find differences between just days earlier seems dishonest at best.

But no more dishonest than the claim that a deal worked out in deepest secrecy represents the democratic will of the voters.

There are plenty of voters who choose between ACT and National, and there are plenty of voters who choose between NZF and National. There are far more things these 3 parties have in common than say ACT and Greens.

All 3 parties have a strong distaste for civil servants with conspicuous exception of the Police. All 3 see white middle class Kiwis as their people, especially those with redder necks than average. They are not far apart on climate change and the environment. They care about car drivers and farmers and ensuring ever rising house prices. They have US-centric view of international relations. They are more likely to care about victims of terrorism in Israel than Ardamata or Gaza.

And none of them are opposed to tax cuts. While NZF and ACT will be trying to pull National in opposite directions on some policies, they are both skeptical of how National will fund its tax cuts. So we will see watered down National policies with the most change focused on policies that hurt those who vote for the opposition parties (or didn't vote at all).

new view said...

Even though I don't agree with you Chris, what you or I think is just what it is, our thoughts. Over a million people voted for National and most of those are not CEO's or high flyers. They are ordinary NZr's who believe we can do better with health and education and opportunity and want to see their tax dollar spent on something useful. Those who haven't voted for this coalition and don't have jobs may have to show they are incapable of having a job, or at least make an effort, and that may mean accepting work they wouldn't normally choose. The difficulty is encouraging people to try work without being ruthless. Our low wage society has created a situation where the minimum wage isn't far below the benefit so there will be a group that choose that instead of eight hours at the minimum wage. That doesn't make their decision right. If you believe that this coalition will be any less in touch with ordinary folk than what we have had for the last six years you are mistaken IMO. This next National coalition government won't be popular to many, including many Maori, but if they improve the lives of the majority they may well be a two term government.

David Stone said...

@ New View
'"Our low wage society has created a situation where the minimum wage isn't far below the benefit so there will be a group that choose that instead of eight hours at the minimum wage" ... Exactly. It doesn't mean that the dole is too high , it means that basic wages are just above subsistence., or not. That doesn't mean industry can afford to pay much more and survive. The whole system is at a basic level. The only sector that is flourishing are the money manipulators.
But I think that these 3 will work together better than they are generally expected to. The rhetoric during the election campaign between ACT and NZF was electioneering rather than real animosity IMO and they all understood.

Anonymous said...

almost free education systems in the world? Did you pay for UNi?

Anonymous said...

A big part of Luxon's difficulties is the obsession of Kiwis and our media with polititions personalities. Taken to an extreme this would elect charismatic clowns and charlatans ... neither of which defines Luxon.

Luxon scores.poorly by personality tests but this is not the feature critical to successful coalition negotiations. Luxon displays the skills necessary to make a deal. We have a choice. Have the patience to accept that the negotiations take a lot of effort, dialogue and TIME to reach a good ... not note necessarily a great deal as the cards played him hardly suggest a lay down mazzaire!

We are extremely fortunate to have a man who has had the experience of the deal making process both the successes and the failures. Accepting and assessing the risks of failure and tailoring an approach suited to the circumstances is the very nub of the issues Luxon faces

So it is what it is .. with no! guarantee of a lasting and durable outcome. Less crticim-invective please. Would you rather have a different negotiator? An arrogant Holyoake? a presumptuous arrogant Ardern ... or a man who is less obviously modeled on either of these flawed personality types? Go figger.

new view said...

I agree with you David. I also, like you believe this coalition has good potential. I have noticed the Media, the likes of Lynch, Burr and the like are beating up the time it's taking to come to agreement. It shows the usual poor standard. If there isn't a story we'll make one up. From what I can see most people can see time is needed, but the media are the ones who are sick of waiting.

Gary Peters said...

Yes I did pay to attend ubiversity and worked full time as well.

Learning to read. write and enumerate is hardly a university level education and that is what many who need it badly are happy to reject.

University or trade training is "elective" whereas basic primary and secondary education is not yet many are electing to not attend.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Somesuch.

Sorry to lose you, Somesuch. Your pithy comments and observations on the subject matter of this blog were a genuine asset.

Where you let yourself down was in your rather sad propensity to offer unpleasant and insulting remarks to your host. Breaching the Bowalley Road-Rules in this way resulted in an increasing number of your comments being deleted. As I warned you would happen on a number of earlier occasions.

Rest assured, you are most welcome to return - minus the unnecessary vituperation.

David George said...

New View: "most people can see time is needed'

Yes, the commentariat are having a bit of a tanty and interviewing their keyboards (pretty much as per usual then) but I think most of us are relaxed about it. Better to resolve differences now than have them festering in the background and causing problems later. God knows it's hard enough to set up a precise plan for the next three years for your own life; the one certainty is that the world changes.

mikesh said...

Perhaps Winston is prepared to continue negotiating until October 2026, which would no doubt make Hipkins the first "permanent" caretaker PM in history :-)