THE FUTURE of John Key’s government may turn on whether or not John Tamihere joins forces with Winston Peters. Yes, that’s right, the original “Waitakere Man” is seriously considering a tilt against Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, in the West Auckland seat of Waitakere.
But, if Tamihere (JT) runs, it won’t be in Labour red. Though the party eventually agreed to accept his 2012 membership application, the word in Labour circles is that a Tamihere candidacy in Waitakere would be approved only over the dead bodies of the party’s women’s and LGBTI sector groups.
That the very attitudes and values that produce such an allergic reaction among Labour’s social liberals and identity politicians might also be the attitudes and values of the average Waitakere voter, is as neat a summation of Labour’s dilemma as one is likely to find in the topsy-turvy context of contemporary electoral politics.
It certainly explains why Paula Bennett continues to hold the Waitakere seat. Oozing BBW sex-appeal in her flashy bling and trashy leopard-skin-print coat, National’s most famous former solo-mum and welfare beneficiary actually looks and sounds like the candidate Labour would once have counted itself extremely lucky to find.
Not any more. To the “modern social democracy” of 2013, the Bennetts and Tamiheres of this world have all the appeal of cheap perfume and Brut 33 aftershave.
What Labour is forgetting, however, is that “modern social democracy” is very far from being the only game in town. Quite apart from the nasty mixture of fiscal conservatism, neoliberal laissez-faire and suburban vigilantism that National has become under John Key’s leadership, there’s the Green’s chic ecologism and Winston Peters’ socially conservative but economically radical populism.
It is to this latter ideological confection that JT is now turning his attention.
Social conservatism wedded to economic radicalism is, of course, the most succinct description of the Labour Party that grew out of the Irish Catholic, Welsh Methodist, Scotch Presbyterian, Salvation Army, Ratana and trade-union mediated communities of the New Zealand working-class. And, while the religious overlay of the first three quarters of the Twentieth Century has faded away to almost nothing, its social and moral legacy persists to a degree that is all-too-often under-rated by the denizens of “modern social democracy”.
JT, both as a working-class Maori male, and through his dedication to the Waipareira Trust, speaks directly to the working-class communitarian values of familial solidarity, mutual assistance and collective effort with an authenticity that today’s social liberal Labour candidates find it increasingly difficult to carry off with any degree of conviction.
Which cannot be said of Winston Peters and his NZ First Party. Social conservatism, blended with a communitarian ethos, which has, over the 20 years of NZ First’s existence, swung violently between a left- and right-wing emphasis, is what Peters’ party is mostly about. It’s why between 1993 and 2013 he has been able to recruit candidates from the subscription lists of both the NZ Political Review andInvestigate magazine.
But, if JT is seriously considering NZ First, is NZ First seriously considering JT? That has yet to be established. Peters is notorious for playing his political cards extremely close to his chest. But looking to 2014, why wouldn’t he be interested in a chap like JT?
NZ First has never been so popular than in those election years (e.g. 1996) in which Peters gave a more-or-less free rein to his left-wing communitarians. By recruiting JT to the NZ First cause and putting him up in Waitakere against both Paula Bennett and whoever Labour chooses (probably Carmel Sepuloni) Peters could grow the overall NZ First Party Vote by as much as 2-3 percent. On election night that could mean a NZ First tally of 8-10 percent – rather than the 6-8 percent it is currently anticipating.
John Key could not be indifferent to the prospect of a NZ First ticket capable of stripping 2-3 percentage points off Labour’s Party Vote. It would, almost certainly, make the formation of a Labour-Green coalition impossible. (To the enormous relief of Big Business and the Right generally!)
National would, of course, have to moderate the pace of its right-wing “reforms”. But the prospect of a steady-as-she-goes National-NZ First Coalition might be just what otherwise doubtful National supporters are looking for. National unrestrained (except by Peter Dunne!) is a scary enough proposition to see the former Labour voters in National’s camp packing up and heading home – even if it means putting up with the Greens. But a National Government moderated by NZ First, and a Cabinet which included JT as well as Paula Bennett? Now, that would be something else again.
Could JT do it – win Waitakere?
In a straightforward three-way, FPP-rules, contest (four-way if the Greens stayed in) a candidate could claim victory with as little as 30-35 percent of the vote. That’s doable for NZ First – especially if you give Waitakere voters the additional incentive of providing the Government’s putative partner with a secure electorate base. It would be even more doable if John Key tipped Waitakere men and women the wink, that a vote for JT could save New Zealand from the “Devil Beast” of a “radical, far-Left”, Labour-Green Coalition.
With Paula high up on National’s List, Waitakere could go for a twofer!
Certainly something for John Tamihere, Winston Peters and John Key to think about.