ELECTION YEAR POLITICS
By Dr Muriel Newman
With an election just seven months away it’s useful to reflect on the changing nature of politics – on both the left and right of the political spectrum – and what influence it might have on New Zealand.
On the left, Karl Marx believed that the best way to protect the working class from capitalist exploitation was through government control of the economic means of production and distribution. The nationalisation of industries, however, no longer became necessary, once governments realised that they didn’t need to own industries to control them – they could do it through regulation instead.
The Italian philosopher Antonio Gramsci, who viewed art, literature, and education through the prism of class struggle, understood how influential culture can be and championed government restraint. His writings inspired a socialist march through the institutions, targeting those that shaped culture – the media, universities, and the Church. Their weapon was political correctness, which was used to muzzle contrary views and control the narrative of political debate.
The latest attempt by politicians of the left to establish their niche and remain relevant has given rise to ‘Identity Politics’, which focuses the struggle for social justice on the so-called ‘oppressed’ groups in society – centred on gender, race, and sexuality.
It’s being taken to extraordinary lengths in some countries.
In the Province of Manitoba in Canada, social justice advocates, concerned about the perceived dominance of ‘white’ women in the teaching profession, have forced through a new quota policy to counteract this ‘imbalance’.
Now, 45 percent of spaces in the Bachelor of Education program are reserved for the ‘oppressed’ – 15 percent for the indigenous; 7.5 percent for racial minorities; 7.5 percent for those with a physical, mental, psychological, sensory or learning disability; 7.5 percent for those who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, transsexual, two spirit, or queer; and 7.5 percent for the socially disadvantaged – those who are homeless, under-educated, poor, or unemployed.
Identity politics is also embedded in the Australian school system, where the Department of Education requires schools “to recognise and respect the cultural, linguistic and religious backgrounds of all students, in order to promote an open and tolerant attitude towards diversity in the community”. Now, male Muslim students in some schools are refusing to shake hands with women – claiming it’s against their faith – instead, placing their hand across their chest as an agreed ‘alternative protocol’.
Educationalist Dr Kevin Donnelley, says this proves that the Australian education system’s politically correct embrace of diversity and difference – the new code for multiculturalism – reigns supreme: “Education now embraces identity politics where the rights and privileges of particular individuals and groups nominated by the cultural Left are granted positive discrimination. Whereas in times past schools would teach all students about the values, beliefs and institutions that bind us as a nation, the focus is now firmly on what divides us. Even worse, instead of their arguments being properly analysed and evaluated, anyone questioning multicultural groupthink is quickly condemned as Islamophobic, racist and intolerant.”
Hilary Clinton, of course, championed identity politics during her campaign for Presidency. But many felt she crossed a line when she called Donald Trump’s supporters “deplorables” – effectively alienating almost half of America.
In analysing her campaign, social scientist Professor Mark Lilla of Columbia University observed that too much focus on diversity does not win elections. He said that voters overwhelmingly want to have their imaginations captured, not by images of difference and division, but by visions of commonality and a shared destiny.
Here in New Zealand identity politics has been embraced by the Labour Party. Their Constitution requires that candidate selection “fairly represents Tangata Whenua, gender, ethnic groups such as Pacific Island peoples, people with disabilities, sexual orientations, and age and youth”.
Not only that, but Labour feminists forced through a requirement for half of their Parliamentary Caucus to be made up of women: “The Moderating Committee must, in determining the list, ensure that for any percentage of the Party Vote likely to be obtained, and taking into account the electorate MPs likely to be elected with that level of Labour support, the resultant Caucus will comprise at least 50% women.”
Since most of Labour’s electorate seats are held by men, their party list is likely to have women ranked in all the top spots – except the first place, which is reserved for the leader.
The political ‘right’ has changed too. While helping people to get ahead through lower taxes and faster economic growth remains their objective – in contrast to the ‘left’s’ agenda of higher taxes and more government spending – they have now realised that the only way to get elected is to occupy the centre-ground.
The ‘Median Voter Theorem’ says that to win elections parties must appeal to the middle voter, since undecided centre voters are the ones who usually determine the outcome of elections.
That’s why, in New Zealand, whenever the Labour Party heads to the left, as it did a few years ago, when it changed its constitution to give the unions more power, and as it is now doing by embracing the Green Party, National too can be expected to head to the left.
John Key was a master at this. It remains to be seen how Bill English will fare.
So how does this change affect elections?
The two elections that dominated global politics last year – the Brexit referendum vote in favour of Britain leaving the European Union, and the election of Donald Trump as President of the United States – demonstrated that a major shift has occurred in the ‘body politic’.
Firstly, pollsters can no longer be relied on to get things right. Voters clearly no longer feel compelled to tell pollsters what they are really thinking – especially if their views are not politically correct. They do not want to be judged and remain silent until they reach the anonymity of the ballot booth.
Secondly, the mainstream media is not longer as influential as it once was. The decline of quality journalism and the rise of ‘trash tabloids’ – as media commentator Dr Brian Edwards likes to call some of our major newspapers – means that their partisan reporting is falling on a diminishing and more sceptical audience, as voters seek their news elsewhere.
We certainly saw that during our last election campaign when the news was dominated by journalists pushing Kim Dotcom and Nicky Hagar’s dirty politics. It got to the point where many people simply couldn’t bear it anymore and switched off.
Just as concerning is the fact that the media no longer engages in ‘balanced’ reporting on major issues of public concern. Who represents the views of those New Zealanders who believe that nature controls the climate, not mankind? And what about race relations – even though a majority of Kiwis are opposed to separatism and racial privilege, newspapers will barely cover that viewpoint anymore.
The point is that by failing to engage in both sides of a debate on contentious issues – as good journalism requires – the mainstream media is making itself irrelevant. Not only that, but by losing touch with the silent majority it is no longer able to recognise changing public views, nor predict when a backlash is building.
And thirdly, it was obvious that in the UK and US elections, voters threw tribal political alliances aside, in favour of voting strategically for change.
In Brexit, by rejecting uncontrolled immigration and smothering by the EU’s elite and unaccountable bureaucracy, voters wanted to ‘take their country back’.
And in the US, voters were rejecting the ‘establishment’ – epitomised by Hilary Clinton – in favour of the anti-establishment Donald Trump.
Of course, New Zealanders have been voting strategically for over 20 years – ever since the introduction of MMP.
Two years ago in the Northland by-election, National’s surprise loss of their ‘safe’ seat to Winston Peters, was a case in point. It was the result of a protest vote by National supporters, who wanted to send the government the message that they were tired of being taken for granted.
The result came as a shock because neither the pollsters – nor the media – had picked up on the fact that a backlash amongst the disgruntled silent majority was growing.
So looking forward to our election on September 23rd, what can we expect?
With immigration being of such a concern around the world, this could certainly blow up into an election issue. But the situation here is very different from that overseas. Our record levels of net immigration are due largely to Kiwis returning home – and not leaving – along with migrants coming to this country to fill the chronic job shortages being created by our growing economy.
During the election campaign Labour will most likely focus on housing and poverty – and oppose tax cuts. The Maori and Mana Parties will try to win the Maori seats off Labour, by promoting more race-based privilege. Social justice will dominate the Greens’ campaign. NZ First will probably position itself as the anti-establishment party, and push immigration and one law for all. And Bill English will most likely promote tax relief for families, and appeal for votes based on National’s track record of being a steady pair of hands.
However, under MMP, since there is little chance of a single party governing alone, Winston Peters is likely to become the ‘kingmaker’ – especially if the disenfranchised, feeling emboldened by the results in the US and UK, decide that their votes really do count.
Meanwhile, the Reserve Bank Governor has warned that an international trade war could develop – if Donald Trump goes ahead with his protectionist policies. As a result, growth would not only slow in the US and China, but the impact would be felt around the world. And this year’s European elections in France, Germany, Holland, and Italy – where nationalist parties are gaining traction on anti-immigration and anti-EU platforms – could also lead to further disruptions.
So all in all, we could be in for a bumpy ride.
Earlier this year, I asked this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator, former Judge and Law Lecturer Anthony Willy, if he would share his views on what he thinks may be in store for us in 2017. He has provided an excellent in-depth analysis and I will leave the last words to him:
“New Zealand is looking forward to one of the most interesting years in its short political history. The elites have been firmly in the saddle for the past twenty years or so setting the agenda for major public policies including: race relations, creeping socialism and the massive economic effects of global warming.
“The public have been curiously supine in the face of this assault on what were thought to be our shared values of ‘live and let live’. This has happened largely because their views have been ignored and there have been few platforms for them to express their opinions outside of the mainstream media – and that is firmly in the camp of the elites. This newsletter stands, quite literally, as ‘the light on the hill’ – as a voice for the deplorables. There is much to be done to reverse this tide but in some measure it will turn in 2017, most notably in race relations.
“If there is one serious indictment that can be levelled at the government of John Key it is that in its visceral dislike of the New Zealand First Party it allowed itself to be captured by a tiny group of radicals claiming various, often small, quotients of Maori blood. These people fashioned themselves as the ‘Iwi Leaders Group’. What is clear is that they have no belief in democracy, or freedom of speech…
“The deplorables are more than restless – they are deeply worried about what is happening. Race relations have therefore reached a tipping point which will be resolved one way or another at the forthcoming election…”
THIS WEEK’S POLL ASKS:
Do you believe race relations could have a significant impact on this year’s election result?
*Poll comments are posted on the website daily at the end of the main article.
*All NZCPR poll results can be seen in the Archive.