Sep 21, 2014

Election 2014: the left represents no one while claiming to represent everyone

Our returning Overlord: the Rt. Hon. John Key.

There are, it seems, many New Zealands. There is the sceptical, radical, reformist New Zealand – the one I admire, the one I’m proud to support – and then there is the thin-lipped, conservative, know-your-place New Zealand. Neither New Zealand much likes the other, let alone understands the Other. Yet my New Zealand – and, if you’re reading this, probably our New Zealand – is in retreat, even disarray. Meanwhile, status-quo New Zealand – their New Zealand - is ascendant. 

Even before the results rolled in my sense of alienation had blossomed into something closer to a full-scale culture shock. Where has my New Zealand gone? How could the party of Dirty Politics poll this high? It used to be said that politics was a secondary and subservient branch of ethics, did we forget that or never believe it in the first place? New Zealanders pride themselves on a kind of earthy realism, yet this seemed  like something closer to Stockholm syndrome. 

Of course, the answers don’t matter because we’re asking the wrong questions. This election was never about Dirty Politics or ethics in politics. It wasn't even about the politics of mass surveillance or hope for something better. No one is suffering from Stockholm syndrome either. This was an endorsement of a third way government. It was an endorsement of a man who is less politician, more phenomenon.

The fifth Labour government’s redistributive policies are still in place. Government spending is rising. Unemployment is gradually decreasing. We are in the magic zone (surplus). The status quo still serves those it's meant to keep content – the middle. In light of that change always seemed unlikely. For those who are at the hard edge of government policies and a mediocre economy – beneficiaries and the working poor – voting is increasingly becoming a class act. A middle class act. Not because beneficiaries or the working poor are feckless scum stuck in their self-defeating ways, but because the left isn’t reaching them. 

That's not to say the left isn't left enough. Labour 2014 is further to the left than Labour 2004. Labour 2011 was more left than Labour 2008. The problem is more fundamental than a shift to the left or right. After all, there was plenty to vote for. What excited me, knowing the awful living conditions the poor in this country must put up with, was Kiwibuild. 100,000 new homes. It’s very easy to treat that as an abstraction, but for people living with rotten bathrooms, sleeping in damp bedrooms and eating in mouldy kitchens 100,000 news homes matter. 

Yet the problem wasn’t that the policies were poorly pitched. The problem seems to be that politics – the process, the institutions and then the policies - isn’t reaching voters at the hard edge. Our New Zealand not only talks past the New Zealand that won last night, our New Zealand also seems to talk past the people we claim to represent. Everyone is entitled to a better life, yet our leaders seem incapable of giving convincing expression to that very simple idea. Labour and the Greens made two cases very well – “here’s what we’ll do and how we’ll do it – yet the sine qua non – here’s why we’ll do it – isn’t reaching New Zealand. Notice that I’m using New Zealand as the collective now, not its many parts.

I saw David Cunliffe this morning. I had no words for him. What do you say when your side has been routed? And how do you say it to the man who will be held responsible? Although he put on a very brave face, he was clearly a broken man. Not in an emotional or physical sense, but spiritually spent. It was a uniquely horrible feeling. And's that's for me. 

I saw Metiria Turei too. She was warm, as always. We hugged it out while she was leaving the set. It was small moment of optimism in a bleak day. I reflected on that moment today and decided I’m not going to wallow in the collective pity nor indulge in self-pity. Fuck that. National deserved its crushing victory – credit to them - we most probably deserved our routing. Defeat is an opportunity and I’m taking this opportunity to join the Greens. I see it like this: the left’s old guard has no answers. None. We need a new generation. It's time for our New Zealand to step up. 

Sep 1, 2014

Who's ahead in Te Tai Hauāuru?

Chris McKenzie: the front runner in Te Tai Hauauru

It seems we have a new front runner in Te Tai Hauāuru. Via the Whanganui Chronicle

“The race for Te Tai Hauāuru is as close as predicted with the Māori Party's Chris McKenzie holding a slim three-point lead over Labour rival Adrian Rurawhe. 
A Māori TV/ Reid Research poll released on Wednesday had Mr McKenzie on 32 per cent with Mr Rurawhe on 29 per cent, the Greens' Jack McDonald on 11 per cent and the Mana Movement's Jordan Winiata on 10 per cent - impressive given that he had only been in the race for one week”.

I’m told this reflects the Māori Party’s internal polling. I’m also told it’s difficult to poll at the electorate level, doubly so in the Māori electorates. For that reason, we should treat the poll as indicative, not definitive. In any event the gap between the two front runners is within the margin of error (5%).

But on the strength of the Native Affairs debate last week, Chris McKenzie deserves to lead. I called the debate for Jack Tautokai McDonald – I’m hopelessly biased, granted – but Jack is only after the party vote. Thus, between those who are running for the electorate vote and the party vote, the winner was Chris McKenzie. He was in command of his policies and his facts. More so than Adrian Rurawhe and Jordan Winiata who, it should be noted, were both strong, but there were two professional politicians at the podium: Jack and Chris. As talented as Adrian and Jordan are, they were clearly a cut below the more experienced candidates. 

Not that the debate will change much, other than the respective campaign teams. This is where Adrian’s advantage lies. He has the stronger campaign team (like the formidable Gaylene Nepia). One shouldn’t underestimate the advantage of institutional support too. Drawing on the Labour Party’s campaign knowledge is an advantage, as is the brand bump from standing on the Labour ticket. If the trend continues, the Māori Party candidates will suffer from a brand slump ("a vote for the Māori Party is a vote for National" etc…).

But Chris has a secret weapon too: Tariana Turia. Her endorsement and support might be enough to hold the electorate. However, Ken Mair made an important point last year - "we aren’t looking for a candidate to fill Tariana’s shoes. We are looking for a candidate to carve a new path". I agree with that in one sense - the challenge is not to succeed Tariana the person (though I still think succession politics is relevant). Instead Chris must frame himself as the successor to Tariana’s legacy. That is, the successor to kaupapa Māori politics. 

So, in that light, who holds the advantage? Probably Adrian. As attractive as I find the philosophical and practical argument – that Chris is needed to protect kaupapa Māori politics – Adrian’s position is much stronger. Material needs trump and, on that one count, Labour is in a better policy position

Kiwibuild; KiwiAssure; Kiwisaver; NZ Power; the Economic Upgrade; extending ECE; restoring adult and community education; Māori trade training; the living wage in the public sector and $16.25 minimum wage; forestry and wood products policy; food in schools; subsidizing school donations and free tablets; bowel screening; free dental care; GP visits and prescriptions for pregnant women; healthy homes guarantee; manufacturing upgrade. The list really does go on.  

Labour's position is more comprehensive than the Māori Party. Few voters will know the details, but many will know intuitively that a Labour-led government is in a better position to meet Māori needs than the Māori Party within a National-led government. Now that's a very powerful narrative.