Political parties reflect the times in which they exist. As the times and the lives of their members change so they must adapt. As discussed in an earlier article in these pages it is the failure of the Labour Party to adapt from standing as the voice of those who have only their labour to sell that has marked its demise. Of the other groups represented in Parliament; the Greens are really not a political party at all. They began life saving Wales and did a very good job. That morphed into a vague wish to save the environment, but it was the advent of the global warming mania that propelled them to where they are today. When that yields to science then they will have no reason to exist.
The Maori Party is merely a collection of angry mostly young people having some Maori genes who want more than their share of the benefits that “colonialism” has brought to our country. Once the voice of those Maori people who are fully integrated into society is heard their star will wane. That said the recent election has thrown up a similar challenge to the National Party resulting in the first Mixed Member Proportional government since the idea was first proposed for New Zealand in 1986. And the question is why, given that by 2023 Labour was in terminal decline something recognised by Ardern when she jumped ship at the beginning of that year. By all past experience National should have romped home in a landslide but it did not. To answer that question, it is necessary to say something about its history. Traditionally its core voters were those who believed in a set of non-negotiable values for the ordering of our society. At the heart of these are: democracy, personal freedoms, private property, the Rule of Law, education of children and the young in essential core subjects necessary to make sense of our surroundings bolstered by an impartial media. In earlier generations many fought and died to uphold these principles. Sadly, they are increasingly up for negotiation by some of our political class, although not forgotten by the majority of voters. The threat comes from a number of quarters; the internet society which opens endless opportunities to absorb the opinions of others in a way that was never possible when all we had to rely for our opinions and knowledge was the print media and a largely biased state radio and television news service. This proliferation of information has accelerated the rise of single-issue causes such as the global warming mania, racial privilege, self-appointed sexuality, hatred of the history which brought us to this place to name a few. Above all the curse of affluence which now manifests so often as simple greed and envy for ever more wealth. These and other factors all conduce to the same end, a fracturing of society and the accelerating demise of the vital importance of “facts,” science, and common sense. The effect on political parties of this tidal wave of social change has been that the two major parties have increasingly found it necessary to devise policies which must seek to accommodate this ever-widening spectrum of views and adapt their message to the electorate accordingly. The result has been that various strains in the National Party electorate no longer trust the established parties to protect their values and so have cast about for other voices which do. Hence the electoral success of ACT, New Zealand First.
Against this background of unrest and uncertainty the 2023 election was a watershed. For those who took the trouble to attend political meetings during the run up to the election they would have heard some excellent speeches from National giving voice to many of its traditional values. But it was from the minor parties ACT and New Zealand First, braving the cries of racism, and privilege that they heard promises on such matters as ending the meaningless, but dangerous maorification of our country, the reduction of the impossible burden of regulation stifling most private endeavours seeking to replace private property rights at the heart of its core beliefs. In times past voters who held these beliefs would uncritically vote National in the hope that it would attend to these matters once in office. In 2023 that trust was lacking hence it is the coalition government which manifests the political structure recommended by the 1986 Royal Commission. With a startling prescience the members of that body foresaw that as society became more sophisticated and greater divergences of wealth and ethnicity emerged the old party bonds would weaken and there would be less room for a “broad church” capable of meeting the divergent strains of political beliefs. They understood that these expectations which would no longer be accommodated within the parish by the exercise of goodwill and common sense as it has in times past. A good example of what is at work here is the current mania surrounding global warming. There are those within the National Party (at the highest level) who “believe” that increasing levels of CO2 will cause the planet to overheat and become uninhabitable. There are others who are not interested in “beliefs” but prefer to study the science which they say points in in the opposite direction. Then there are those National voters who are simply disinterested in the subject and want to get on with their lives. That this “belief” system is devoid of any scientific basis is illustrated by the fact that when questioned, the Chairman of the Climate Change Commission had no idea what the CO2 component of the atmosphere is. The damage this sort of ignorance can cause within the “broad church” was graphically illustrated by the public shaming of Maureen Pugh now the member for the West Coast (in a stunning victory for National) for daring to ask to see the evidence on the topic. Unquestionably this blind adherence to a “belief” on this and other issues cost National a significant number of votes at the election and in practice raised the problem of irreconcilable expectations by a portion of its voters. To meet this clash of expectations would have involved the Party having to be prepared to slay sacred cows but then would run the risk of antagonising those who worship the particular “cow.” The gulf between science and belief on this issue and the meeting of radical Maori expectations is too unbridgeable and National’s only option was to maintain its “beliefs,” jettison science and appease the radicals.
Similarly with the current mania among some young people to choose their sexuality. A party is needed that includes among its policies an undertaking to ensure that in these matters only verifiable science would be taught in the schools and Universities leaving it to those parents who wish to have their children brought up in this confusing half-life and to accept the responsibilities for the consequences.
Another policy strain might be to ensure that science becomes a compulsory subject in all schools to a stage enabling students to discriminate between fact and a fantasy of their choosing. In the same vein is a policy that would ensure the availability of second language teaching other than English. Leaving it to the parents and children to choose a second language of their choice if they so wish.
Over-regulation is another bug bear for many members of the public particularly when it comes to land and water usage. National and the coalition parties have made an excellent start by repealing the Three Waters legislation and the legislative nightmare (not to mention racist) agenda which was the Labour Party replacement for the Resource Management Act. A party which places private property rights at the heart of any replacements will find it attracts widespread support among the voting public.
None of this has anything to do with the simplistic nonsense of “left, right and centre.” It has everything to do with the tension between those who wish to conserve the ideas and practices which advance and protect our core values, and those who wish to impose some new or different political and social structures. Viewed in this way the old ideas and the ingrained political beliefs which drove voters to the polls under the two- party system, loose their force if they allow these core beliefs to be watered down. Assuming the present coalition is as good as its word, and there is every indication will be, it will serve as a model in place of the “broad church” in which future voters will have the opportunity of selecting various different but compatible strains of practical political beliefs and be able to choose the combination of parties which best reflect those beliefs.
Party candidates .
Ranking in equal importance with policy is the calibre of those who wish to represent a Party in Parliament. There can be no better illustration of this than the fate of the last Labour Government. I doubt many readers would have contemplated that any long-established political party would offer up to the public such an unsuitable and at times simply incompetent (not to mention dishonest) collection of individuals charged with protecting our values and running the economy. To avoid replicating such a mare’s nest places a great burden on a Party administration. Long gone are the days when a farming background supplied many of the National Party candidates. In the present ever changing society a wide range of skills and experience are required. That said all parties must go back to the well- tried method of “shoulder tapping” rather than the current practice of people putting up their hands wanting to become a Member of Parliament. Often only to represent one or more of whatever is the current manias. Recognising that such causes are mostly the province of the young and which most will assuredly grow out of when they get their first real job and a mortgage (other than those who choose to spend their lives in the “Green Party”) National has always been fortunate that enough of the old practices remain to ensure that it has a number of candidates of the required quality and experience – and this message was ingrained in the ACT Party from its inception. Given its size and the circumstances in which it came into existence it is the living example of focus on the qualities needed to manage our freedoms and our economy. The experience of Sir Roger Douglas, Richard Prebble, Dereck Quigley, Jo Walding, Michael Bassett, Dr Newman, and others serves as a standard to which all parties should aspire. The party has built on those foundations and continues to offer wisdom and experience to the voters. Similarly with New Zealand First. It comprises years of political experience in Winston Peters and Shane Jones, and it is encouraging that the calibre of the new entrants such as Jamie Arbuckle who comes from a horticultural business background and has cut his teeth on years of service to local body democracy. Then there are the new stars in the political firmament, Casey Costello for New Zealand First and James Meager for National. Casey Costello’s Maiden Address in Parliament as a new MP representing New Zealand First was sublime. A mother, and woman with experience in the work force including schoolwork in an ice cream parlour, work for her father’s newspaper as a crime reporter. A career with the New Zealand police force rising to the rank of Detective Sargeant. Then to become the first woman vice president of the police union and later a security consultant in which role she assisted in managing the security requirements of Parliament. Before entering Parliament, she was chosen by Don Brash to manage his “Hobsons Pledge” web site which has as its motto the words of Captain Hobson at the signing of the Treaty “now we are one people.” Her Maiden Speech was a moving but devastating rebuttal of the of the racial policies of the previous government and the posturing clowns who so brought our Parliament into contempt on its opening day. She made it clear to all that her mission is to heal the racial wounds opened by Ardern and her acolytes and to fight for a society in which we all have equal rights and opportunities in which ethnic privilege has no place. In this she speaks as a direct descendant of one of the Chiefs who signed the Treaty. With that strength of character and life experience it is not inconceivable that we are witnessing the rise of a future Prime Minister. Unsurprisingly In Parliament she has been entrusted with the two Ministries and three Associate Ministries.
Further hope for a colour- blind democracy comes from James Meager the successful National Party candidate for Rangitata, a blue-ribbon seat which National sacrificed in 2020 by its appalling choice of candidate. The new Member is also of Maori descent and was chosen by his electorate against excellent opposition for his qualities of character, and his ability to rise from humble beginnings and make his mark in the world. Before turning to politics, he was a successful lawyer and had a Parliamentary background. His maiden speech was also devoted to the need to preserve our democracy and freedoms from race-based attacks such as we have lived through for the past six years. He will stiffen the resolve of those in his Party who wish to pander to such insidious demands in order to keep the peace as happened in the Key government with the surrender of the foreshore and seabed to tribal interests and signing up to the United Nations rights of indigenous peoples. Both of which have caused unending litigation in the Courts and the Waitangi Tribunal. His voice will no doubt be heard on matters such as the place of the Treaty document in our society, and the name of our country. There are others both sitting members and newly elected who have carried the banner of common sense and principle and now their hand will be strengthened by support from such principled new Members.
There is now reason to be optimistic that our political institutions can return to implementing the policies upon which they were voted to office, and it will be our first truly MMP government which will make that possible. No longer will it be necessary for a government to have to distort or abandon policies on which it was elected in order to appeal to a noisy minority. With a policy platform agreed to by all three parties, and in the public domain the coalition can simply ignore the wishes of those who did not vote for any of them and govern with principle and common sense.
It is therefore no surprise that the ”broad church” parties in New Zealand may well not survive. The days are past when any political party can be all things to all people who share a vague affinity or loyalty. This is becomingly depressingly apparent in both The United States of America and Great Britain. In the US the Democratic Party, which has roots similar to those of our founding Labour Party is so hopelessly riven with competing single issue and racial demands that it is difficult to know what core values it will take to the electorate in 2024. The Republican voters have the dilemma of either choosing Donald Trump or enduring another four years of the current mayhem. Similarly with the United Kingdom. In a recent Times poll 7% of the electors said they would vote Conservative at next year’s election and 15% said they would vote Labour. Clearly there is massive discontent with the two “Broad Churches” in Britain leaving the composition of a future government unknowable.
As is so often the case Shakespeare had the last word when in “Julius Ceasar” he had Brutus say of the coming battle:
There is a tide in the affairs of men,
which taken at the flood leads on to fortune.
Omitted, all the voyage of their life.
Is bound in shallows and miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat.
And we must take the current when it serves or lose our ventures .
The tide is gathering around our “Broad Churches”.