The Precious Midpoint

It’s a truism of politics that you win the centre to gain and hold political power.

But there’s a difference between acting on that and worshipping it as a religious principle that requires politicians to do nothing but sniff the winds and bend accordingly to what they detect.

Politicians and political parties that do that are doomed to accomplish nothing in power beyond managing the status quo until they tire and are voted out in favour of the next new, shiny thing. And if enough time goes by and the status quo breaks down, such a party will simply be left on the side of the road.

Strangely this seems to be the fate of the old socialist parties of France and Germany, which are facing extinction as major players, and the British Labour Party seems to be intent on joining them, as noted in this article, The Road to Hartlepool Pier:

But worst of all is that this transmogrified middle-class party views its old working-class constituency not simply with incomprehension but with contempt. “Yep”, Liddle quotes a “Starmer superfan” as tweeting about the result, “as expected the working class love a bit of nationalism and racism. Well done Hartlepool, you turkeys. I’ve never been and I never will”.

“The Labour Party we knew is gone,” Liddle concludes, “gone for good. Those votes are not coming back”. Stirring stuff and written from the depths of a Social Democrat’s soul.

But the article points out that this is nothing new for British Labour or British Socialism, as implied with the title of the article, cribbing from one of Orwell’s famous books:

“The truth is,” Orwell concludes, “that to many people calling themselves Socialists, revolution does not mean a movement of the masses with which they hope to associate themselves; it means a set of reforms which ‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the Lower Orders.”

That was written in 1937.

Here in New Zealand I have to wonder if the same thing is true of the National Party? Certainly Chris Trotter notes the problems that Centre-Left parties are having overseas but is cocksure that the same won’t happen to NZ Labour, with his “Four Houses” analogy:

Far from losing touch with its brown working-class base, New Zealand Labour’s liberal, university-educated middle class: the house members of Working With My Brain and Taking Care of Others; are doing everything they can to empower Maori and Pasefika New Zealanders. They are doing this by strengthening their unions; by increasing their benefits; by more appropriately tailoring health and educational services to their needs; and, most significantly, by reconfiguring New Zealand’s constitutional structures to ensure their voices are heard and their cultural needs recognised.

Ironically, this leaves New Zealand’s National Party where British Labour now appears to be standing: with insufficient allies to win a nationwide election. Of New Zealand’s four houses, only Taking Care of Business (especially rural business) is overwhelmingly loyal to National. Increasingly, the house members of Working With My Brain, once more-or-less evenly split between National and Labour, are clustering around like-minded “progressives”.

And here also:

The only real questions, after Thursday’s Budget, is how long will it take National to realise how profoundly the political game has been – and is being – transformed by Covid and Climate Change? Will it be two, three, or four terms? And, how many leaders will the party have to elect, and discard, before it finally masters the new language of electoral victory?

While that’s amusing and something to think about, it must be said that poor old Chris has a long, repeated habit of swinging from orgasmic joy at Labour electoral victories followed by dark mood swings as they flail around and fail to recreate the wonders of Micky Savage’s First Labour Government. That second article might as well have been titled the same as the famous cover of Newsweek in 2008, heralding the arrival of Saint Obama and following the spending spree of the Bush Administration as they effectively nationalised a stack of financial firms.

Things turned out differently of course.

However, the reason for my post’s title was the thought that National may actually be thinking the same as Chris, and it’s been foremost with ex-Cabinet Minister Wayne Mapp, commenting on a number of blogs, including Trotter’s. Here on No Minister he has of course regularly lambasted me as being to the Right of 90% of New Zealanders and I have acknowledged as much.

But over on Kiwiblog this comment from Wayne in a DPF post on electric cars, made it clear that it’s not just me he’s concerned about:

Fourteen out of twenty four comments criticising DPF, either directly or indirectly, for choosing an EV. It does show how far Kiwiblog commenters are from the midpoint of NZ voters.

Given that the vast majority of those comments were not knee-jerk reactions but accurate observations about the cost, range, life-span and capabilities of EV’s, and given that many of those people are or have been National voters, I thought that was a foolish and reactionary comment itself.

But it does show the thinking that’s evolving here, at least with one ex-National MP, and it’s thinking that fits perfectly with Trotter’s about what’s wrong with National and where they have to go to regain power – which is basically to just cede all these fundamental arguments to the Left, roll over and awaken when the electorate eventually tires of Jacindamania.

Given that Labour and its policies were floating around the low twenty percent mark in mid-2017 before the Hail Mary pass to Jacinda yielded a massive increase in Labour’s vote share, even as the policies remained the same, I think that simply following them in those basic policies, if not in detail, is stupid beyond belief.

Having talked to countless Jacinda worshippers and having always asked them the key question, “Would you vote for Labour policies if Jacinda vanished today?”, I’ve not been surprised to find them answering that they’re not actually aware of Labour policies and a hesitant answer that they might still vote for them. In other words, at rock bottom, the popularity of Labour is still in the pre-Jacinda range of early 2017.

As the threat of Chinese Sinus AIDS retreats and the costs of being a NoRightTurn extremist on AGW mount up, especially for that “brown working-class base”, I don’t think even the magic pixie dust of Jacinda will be enough.

Instead of aping the strategic goals of Labour and sneering at their own voters, what National should be thinking about is what the votes for Brexit and Trump in 2016 and for the British Conservatives in 2020 meant, and what the changing politics of things like the recent Hartlepool election meant – rather than imagining that the forces driving them can be wiped away by defeating Trump-like politicians.

National is not going to be rewarded by simply saying that it will do the same as Labour but with better management. In the face of failing public systems, especially education, that’s no longer good enough. The 2020 election told National that when voters are presented with such a choice they’ll just vote Labour.

And the lesson is not to be like the New Zealand equivalent of Mitt Romney, Theresa May or David Cameron – all squishes who either failed to get elected or if they were, failed to grasp the actual electoral environment they claimed their “moderate” noses could sniff out.

That approach just won’t cut it anymore with Centre-Right parties. Real, practical solutions based around giving incentives to individuals – in education, healthcare and other areas – are what is required. Certainly not something that “‘we’, the clever ones, are going to impose upon ‘them’, the Lower Orders“, from the hearts of wealthy suburbs sporting myriad electric cars.

The midpoint is there to be moved, not just accommodated while others move it.

Just as important is that all this needs to be backed by a willingness to fight with the likes of Tova-Jessica, Jessica-Tova, John Campbell and others when they use their usual emotional bullshit arguments in opposition. That’s yet another lesson that Trump has taught at least the next generation of GOP politicians. I see Nikki Halley is already being talked up, but the future actually lies with the likes of Ron DeSantis, Tim Scott, Tom Cotton, Mike Pompeo, and Kristi Noem.

Who National’s future lies with I have no idea.



6 responses to “The Precious Midpoint”

  1. The Veteran Avatar
    The Veteran

    Tom … the problem with your analysis is that it fails to recognise that the political dynamic has changed. Covid has put paid to to the old non-negotiables of balanced budgets and paying back debt in the short to medium term at least. Your Pary has the luxury of being able to offer simple solutions to complex problems … reduce benefits … in much the same way as the Greens (supported by their surrogates in Greenpeace) do with their solution to climate change being to shoot every fourth cow. Both parties can get away with this sort of crap because essentially all they need to do is to reinforce the prejudices of the non-thinking that there are indeed simple solutions to complex problems.

    National doesn’t have that luxury. It has to be and is a broad church Party able to accommodate a range of views and then (hopefully) distill them into a coherent policy offering a different way forward to Labour. It can’t just walk away from the climate change debate and pretend its all just a hoax … it could but it would then consign itself to permanent opposition. Likewise it can’t simply cut benefits but it can move the age of entitlement to NZ Superannuation out (with an appropriate led in time) and it can reintroduce and reinforce the requirement for those on Jobseeker support to be actively and genuinely seeking employment. Other points of difference to be emphasised is a rejection of separatism; support for the business community and a refocus on education as the pathway to success reversing the statistical evidence that education in NZL has lost its way.

    ACT can continue with its ‘hard cop’ approach but it would be helpful if that Party recognised what National voters in Epsom have long recognised … National Party vote and ACT electorate vote. If the ACToids in Northland and Whangarei had the whit to recognise that National would have won those seats. It would have made not a jot of difference to Party numbers but National would have gained the extra resources that come with winning electorate seats. Listen and learn.

    1. Andrei Avatar

      It has to be and is a broad church Party able to accommodate a range of views and then (hopefully) distill them into a coherent policy offering a different way forward to Labour.

      What you really u mean Vet a party that stands for nothing whose only “raison d’etre” is to win elections and to hold onto power when they have the treasury benches by taking giant dumps on the mug voters that foolishly put them there.

      If we have to have a progressive™ Government in this country I’d prefer we have one that is at least honest about who they are than deceitful about their intentions like the 5th National Government was.

      If National wants to regain the treasury benches it needs people substance and honour with a spine to stand up and fight for what they believe in.

      Instead we end up with wishy washy liberals and self serving, totally. immoral hacks like JLR on the ticket

      No thanks

  2. rossco Avatar

    Vet, 9 years in power eh, the arrogance of power is still there, we the dumb voters should listen and learn.

    Perhaps sitting at Nationals feet.

    The one thing I learned was that John Key was full of bullshit which is not that surprising when his career was a glorified money market dealer selling Congelese Govt Debt or some such rubbish.

    The electorate realised National had failed when he tried to change the flag. It was his baby, nobody else’s, and he failed miserably

    Shortly after that he tendered his resignation with some bullshit excuse about the wife. One thing about Key he was no fool when it came to which way the tide was running.

    His legacy “we can manage better than Labour.”

    What an empty piece of rhetoric that is / was!!.

    And by the way its not a policy statement, its not a strategic plan, its not a goal for the economy, its not even a vision…its an excuse not to have an ambition for New Zealand.

    Whats worse even than that its an excuse not to look at the entrails and boy does National have entrails.

    Its sad to see what was once a great party reduced to prostrating itself in such a base manner to a meaningless phrase.

    I know Vet you hate Trump, but National should examine how he won, its simple really. He didnt tell 70 m Americans he was going to manage it better than the Democrats……haha. He probably really thinks National is filled with twats, and he’d be right.

    Oh and by the way Judith hasnt got what its takes to provide a vision, but hang on to her until after the next election, she’ll be able to get a job at any school in NZ as a Caretaker.!

  3. Tom Hunter Avatar
    Tom Hunter

    Heh. I’m reminded of this old post by Peter Cresswell, whom I disagree with on quite a few things but not this point: We didn’t see the economic collapse coming. Yeah right!

    It looks at the timeline of the GFC, which started in May 2007 with the house price collapse starting in the USA and …

    DECEMBER 16, 2008:

    · New Finance Minister Bill English stands up in Parliament and says, “National will not be going back on any of these promises, as we fully costed and funded them.”

    MAY 2009:

    · New Finance Minister Bill English stands up in Parliament and reneges on their fully-promised and “fully costed” tax cut package (which in the first tranche in 2010 would have cost just $100 million dollars).

    · At the same time he announces up to a billion dollars of extra spending on preparations for an emissions trading scheme and subsidised home insulation (which was not even a National Party policy, but a Green Party policy); and nearly six billion dollars of extra spending on the health, education and welfare sectors. . .

    It will be worse the next time around, since an incoming National government will commit to the process of cutting deficits and debt as their number one objective.

    I think the Left have twigged to the rules of this game: just blow out state spending, push the debt up, and leave National no choice but to screw their own voters tax-wise. After two or maybe three terms under the next Bill English the deficits and the debt may well have been reduced (or maybe we’ll even be running surpluses) and foolish people might imagine that the stage will be set for a bit of tax relief.

    Except that a Labour-Led coalition will then return to power and promptly and gleefully start blowing it all over again, and given that “crises” seem to appear roughly every decade they’ll have all the Keynesian excuses in the world that they need, and in that case, should National win a fourth term and find themselves dealing with it they will do the same as Labour, as we have been repeatedly assured they will on the Big Issues.

    Consensus. Rinse and repeat, although next time at least I won’t have to try and believe any talk about tax cuts.

    But I’m tired of that game, among many others being played.

  4. The Veteran Avatar
    The Veteran

    Andrei/Rossco … I’ll put it this way. If National folded its tent and disappeared into ACT then I suspect ‘their’ vote would be hard pressed to make 20%. Most New Zealanders expect and want to be governed from the middle ground avoiding the extremes of both the hard right (ACT) and hard left (Greens). That’s not to say that ACT isn’t important to National’s success anymore than Labour can afford to sideline the Greens witness 2/3 of a billion dollars for bridge to satisfy Julie Ann Genter’s fantasies.

    So you can toss any epithets you like at National but in doing so you are pandering to Labour’s narrative. Yes, National has to get its ‘act’ together and it would be trite not to acknowledge that. I accept there are a number of MPs in National (as there other in all other parties) where it would be better if they moved on. That’s for National’s Board and caucus to sort out with a start being made at the SGM set down for later this where important constitutional changes are to be debated.

    But there is a window of opportunity beckoning for the center/right. Labour is becoming increasingly arrogant, authoritarian and secretive. Their policy attempt to institutionalise co-governance with Maori will come back to bite with a vengeance and they can only go so far with their moves to ‘buy off’ and control the media narrative.

  5. uncoffined Avatar

    Vet, I can’t imagine a world where the National party has disappeared.
    We live in strange times, our PM is the result of a unthinking & disingaged population. The average voter doesn’t think, they ‘feel’, therefore policies and tactics mean nothing unless you take that into account.
    The PM simply reflects the mood of the public in general and what they can get away with, which is why a cycle lane across the Auckland harbour bridge is on back on the table (after a protest published in the MSM), and road upgrades have been cancelled around the country (presumably to help pay for it) .
    National is full of competant, but uncharismatic people, the reverse is true for Labour.
    I can’t see the current situation changing for a long time

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: