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. 


  1. You are right in some ways. Labour no longer has the ground membership. The Unions have been sidelined and dis-empowered. Further legislation coming to make this worse. Once the power base of the Labour Party the unuions have no backing from the people. The poorer people who need the support are too busy or ground down to have time for active membership and volunteer work to support campaigns. It will take some mighty leadership and some constructive planning to get the left rolling again.

  2. Please. Don't ever say "left" again. Say "progressive". Don't ever say "right" again. Say "selfish wing of the conservatives". Please. Or say "good Nationals" to distinguish them from the selfish Dirty Politics Nationals. We need to reclaim the language. Promise?

    Welcome to the Green Party.

    I'm not too sure I agree with your analysis. I think it's about trust, personality and bending the rules a la No. 8 wire. Many voters are happy to see the rules bent if the end justifies the means (mass surveillance for example). They know Key behaves the way he does, but trust him not to go too far. They warm to his persona. They didn't trust David or warm to him.

    Meantime I'm looking forward to a growth in civil society. eg. teachers opposing the education "reforms", ordinary NZers supporting KidsCan, neighbours helping each other and encouraging uptake of green initiatives (imagine kitchen gardens on all the berms), farmers getting together to farm better, truck drivers realising that most congestion slowing them down is in urban areas, low paid workers joining unions, the list is endless. We can get things done.

  3. Key the great actor, a man of no real substance. But still, PM for a third term.

  4. A triumph of marketing, over reality. .

    Or as one National supporting corporate servant said to me. "Perception is reality.

    Welcome to the Greens by the way. Look forward to our heated discussions in the policy forums.

    And rebuilding the grass roots movements for change.

  5. Internet MANA represented me just fine I thought. Speak for yourself, man. You can't speak for everyone else.

    And, this.

    "National deserved its crushing victory – credit to them - we most probably deserved our routing."




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