In years to come this election will be seen as a historic turning point towards one party rule. I don`t mean this literally, absolute single party dictatorship is not in prospect. In the New Zealand context though, one party has entrenched its dominance over the others. On the election night numbers National gained a Parliamentary majority, achieved twice Labour`s share of the vote and looked well placed for a fourth term. The conventional electoral cycle whereby centre right and centre left coalitions govern more or less alternately looks to be over. As National rules supreme, the left part of the party political spectrum has either fragmented or disappeared. The real situation here is actually worse than the election results suggest.
Let me explain.
I have argued previously that `National and Labour are not separated by a left right dividing line. Instead, this line runs down the middle of the Labour Party` (`Right versus Left` Daily Blog Jan. 16 ,2014). Objectively, the Labour right, in Caucus and outside, has served as a fifth column for the National Party. Just look at the record. Back in late 2013 the Labour right worsened internal party strife by obstructing constitutional reform. After David Cunliffe became leader they undermined his position by leaking to the media and a well known right wing blog. During the election campaign they conspired against Hone Harawira on behalf of Kelvin Davis and wiped out Internet-Mana`s small but significant percentage of the anti-Key vote. National`s strategists must have been jubilant, they had willing accomplices acting entirely on their own initiative. Incidentally, New Zealand First`s role in the Te Tai Tokerau assassination will live long in ignomy. Winston Peters is genuinely committed to the principles of national economic sovereignty, yet he undermines another political leader with the same outlook. Does he not see that an economic nationalist platform cannot be built without inter-Party discussion which includes Internet-Mana, the Greens and Labour ? Narcissism won out in the end, to National`s great advantage.
One party rule requires a cult of personality. The leader must pervade popular culture, the media domain and everyday life. During the election campaign anybody driving from Wellington to Auckland along state highway one would have seen John Key`s billboard image continually flashing by. The leader is enthusiastically endorsed by prominent sports people including Daniel Carter, Jonah Lomu, Israel Dagg along with gold medal rowers Eric Murray and Hamish Bond. Photos of All Black captain Richie McCaw next to John Key have been widely published. On election day Lomu, Dagg, Murray and Bond tweeted for John Key and/or National. These flagrant breeches of the Electoral Act will never be prosecuted by the Electoral Commission, another sign, perhaps, of one party rule. John Key himself turns up in many places on many occasions often with a TV camera in attendance. Historically, his public profile exceeds that of Robert Muldoon and Helen Clark. They were pre-eminent in their time but John Key simply crowds out all other political figures. Many of the growing number of immigrant voters born outside of New Zealand can name no other politician. National is the only party they care to vote for. Exceptions to this rule have no political leverage as the election night figures show.
Of course dominant political personalities don`t last forever; National may well experience succession problems when John Key leaves the stage. Of more concern is the structural dominance of the National Party as such. Compared to opposition parties National is wealthy and generously funded, by corporate backers whose primary motives are wealth defence, profit maximisation and the freedom to exploit workers. Consequently, a formidable political machine has been assembled and built. Its interlocking components include constant market research into voter preferences, feelings and concerns, real time survey data provided by National aligned polling companies in response to unfolding political events and a slick communications management operation which positions John Key as a national icon above the political fray.
The other, crucial component is `dirty politics` whereby political opponents and other anti-Party figures are personally ridiculed and attacked on right wing blogs (with assistance from government operatives close to the Prime Minister). Nicky Hager has exposed this component of the machine; it will be put into storage for now, to be re-calibrated when the furore goes away.
One party states require a compliant media. New Zealand is performing well in this regard. Newstalk ZB, Radio Live`s Sean Plunket and TV 3`s Paul Henry operate like mini-Fox news outlets reproducing the neo-liberal outlooks and prejudices of the Party. The rest of the mainstream commercial media, subservient to ratings figures and advertising revenue, are of no worry to the government. Remaining outposts of critical journalism commentary on public radio and Maori Television are vulnerable to political and funding pressure. On the subject of prejudice another thought comes to mind. One party states require targets of vilification. Of late , Kim Dot Com has been that target. In my view his flaws and shortcomings pale into insignificance compared to the bloggers, public relations practitioners and government operatives mentioned in Nicky Hager`s book. Former directors of our failed finance companies who have cheated New Zealanders out of millions receive only occasional media scrutiny. The wealthiest of them have escaped legal sanction. Dot Com`s vilification also reflects deep seated anti – German sentiment. Stereotypes originating from Hogan`s Heroes and World war Two Commando comics were spread like muck throughout the Te Tai Tokerau electorate. The same prejudices also reside within the mainstream media and our one party state. The illegal invasion of Dot Com`s home and property was disproportionate to the alleged offences. Financially benefitting from anothers intellectual property is central to the business models of all social media corporations. They are too powerful for the traditional film and media companies so it is the Megauploads of this world that are targeted. In any case Kim Dot Com has performed a major service for his newly adopted country. Without his technical expertise we would not have seen the testimonies of Edward Snowden and Julian Assange concerning mass surveillance of New Zealanders courtesy of the NSA and our newly empowered GCSB. In part,because of this contribution to democratic debate, Dot Com is positioned as an enemy of the state, a one party state whose arrogance knows no bounds.