To quote Galadriel, the world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth. I smell it in the air.
I witnessed it capaciously at the Back Benches-styled event put on by the Auckland University Students Association last week.
But what was this change that’s gotten me sufficiently on-edge to be implicitly categorizing-by-allusion it alongside the corrupting and pernicious influence of that most hackneyed of NZ filmmaking tropes, The One Ring?
Some of the developments and trends in NZF’s membership which may have been awhile coming, but which I felt reached something of their zenith and apotheosis during the proceedings at the aforementioned AUSA debate some ten days ago.
Allow me to illustrate.
The evening started off reasonably well. The Young NZ First (for such we are now called) representative, newly elected Chairman Connor McFayden, didn’t do too badly for a first time outing. And, in fact, I found myself both inwardly and outwardly cheering when he railed against the “evils” of leaving important economic functions up to the vicissitudes of the free market.
But despite the few hours I’d spent training him on the Saturday afternoon immediately before the debate, the best putting across of NZ First policy on the night was done by the Young Labour and Young Greens reps.
Which caused a bit of a problem, because a not insignificant number of the ‘new recruits’ to our Youth Wing took to booing said policy, and yelling out jaundiced interjections along the lines of “COMMIE!” and the like.
“Er … guys … you *do* realize that’s our policy you’re booing?” I carefully ventured.
“But we’re *against* Big Government!” came the reply.
I riposte’d: “…did you not hear your rep railing against the evils of the market 15 minutes ago? Here in NZ First, we *are* Big Government!”
And while I could have gone on at quite some length about this theme (citing such instances as NZ First’s renationalization of Kiwirail in 2005; our proposals to bring a seriously vast section of the economy under direct governmental control in the areas of insurance, construction, electricity generation, and many other areas besides; or, for that matter the fact that many of our members are outwardly and avowedly #Muldoonist with an enthusiasm for throwing around terms like ‘Think Big’) … by this point the flow of the main debate we were there to see had moved on, so there the conversation ended.
Following on from this and some other incidents with the ‘new crowd’ that evening, another longstanding comrade who’s been with the Party almost as long as I have (the best part of a decade) turned to me and simply said “…this isn’t the Party we signed up to, mate”.
Now this might sound all a bit passe. A mere difference of opinion as to what a Party stands for in a pub-room type setting between a hoary old veteran, and some still-blinkered neophytes.
And yet, it speaks towards greater trends which are already sweeping us, and seeking – in essence – to begin to have wrought some considerable and capricious changes upon the ever-beating heart, nervous systems and twangy sinews of our mighty Part.
In short, over the last few months I and a number of others have witnessed some steadily spiraling slithers in Party demography, which are already generating some subtle – yet with the potential to be serious – shifts in Party ideology, ethos, and thus policy and political orientation.
What’s caused this, is simple and threefold.
First, as cannot have escaped anybody’s notice, New Zealand First has recently been doing incredibly well in both polling and in The House. Success is always going to attract more followers, and the prospect of a Party Caucus which might very well have doubled by this time next Electoral Cycle will no doubt act as a clarion angler-fish lure to all manner of craven opportunists. There is nothing wrong with more people in a Party – it means more warm bodies to pack halls, put up hoardings, be tapped for donations, and even hopefully vote for us come Election Day.
The issue is where these new supporters are coming from.
Historically, New Zealand First has depended in large part for our electoral success upon defecting ex-Labour voters (and a certain number of former-or-more-usually Greens) looking to cast a ‘strategic vote’ in our direction. Either because they recognize that we are the leading and loudest Opposition Party in Parliament – or because they’ve done the somewhat arcane electoral math, and worked out that the best way of denying National an easy Majority in the House is by ensuring NZ First gets over the 5% threshold, and takes some literal seats (list seats) off the larger parties. (as if we get *under 5%*, then those votes are ‘wasted’, and the seats we would have gotten are redistributed to those parties who are over the magic line – which will, predictably, favour the largest party in Parliament, which is almost invariably going to be National).
In 2011 alone, I believe up to and perhaps over 50% of our Party Votes came from exactly these sources.
The risk for New Zealand First is that any serious or significant moves in a ‘rightwards’ direction will alienate these supporters. Not merely in a “will think twice before casting a capricious ‘strategic’ vote our way” sense – but because many of these people are no longer purely “strategic” supporters of the Party, and now have some genuine semblance of loyalty towards what’s arguably the most vociferously anti-Neoliberal Party presently in the House. They fit in quite well – and like, in other words, the fact that we’ve historically run an economic policy which is decidedly and identifiably to the left of Labour. (occasionally also specifically because we have tended to focus almost myopically on core economic issues while not getting entangled in high-profile social policy stands-on-principle)
These guys aren’t the issue.
What *is*, are the new influx I was mentioning earlier. You might like to think of them as a newfound ‘conservative’ wing of the Party.
They come from two general sources.
The first one are Conservative Party refugees. As we’re all well aware, the Conservative Party messily – if not outright spectacularly – imploded about a year ago. Many Conservative Party people were in the CCCP [Colin Craig’s Conservative Party] because they didn’t fit in with National and didn’t like Winston Peters either, yet still had some core beliefs about opposition to asset sales or favourability for referendums and direct democracy which lead to some more than slight policy coterminity with NZ First.
Now that the Cons have gone, they’ve got nowhere else to really go. They can’t exactly return ‘back home’ to National, as the Nats have been perceived as ‘doubling down’ on social liberalism and economic neoliberalism … so they’re turning up in slowly growing numbers here.
But “Capital C” Conservatives aren’t the only ones presently immigrating to our political shores in droves.
“Small C” (with your choice as to the number of letters immediately following) conservatives fleeing National have also begun arriving.
Some of these guys are alright. There’s always been what you might term a “Muldoonist” ideological rump left-over in National from their ‘glory days’ pre-Rogernomics and Ruthanasia; so as it’s become increasingly impossible for these folk to deny through ever-heightened cognitive dissonance the fundamentally anti-Muldoonist inflection of their former parent party … they’ve quite naturally followed the ‘political ley-lines’, as it were, over to us. Motivated by issues such as opposition to the TPPA, asset sales, and the increasing outright arrogance of the Prime Minister … it’s not hard to see how they can assimilate to a considerable and easy degree into our number and work towards shared and mutually agreeable outcomes.
Interestingly, the Green Party is also experiencing a small but steady influx of “recovering Nats”, although presumably for rather different individual reasons (perhaps prioritizing ecological sustainability over raw Statist anti-neoliberalism, albeit with a shared egalitarian ethos between both us and the Greens which is occasionally expressed in rather different ways).
But then, there are the other ones. To continue to consciously borrow an immigration shibboleth, the ones who really don’t seem too interested in ‘assimilating’.
In fact, as one (himself ex-National) friend of mine put it … “they’re Nats who haven’t stopped being Nats. Nats who haven’t realized they’re now in the wrong Party. Nats who perhaps don’t even know they’re still Nats.”
Some of them are clearly the sorts of people who didn’t do much research into the Party they were prospecting for beyond being mildly excited by the “racist” tag we occasionally seem to get in the media. The type who’d probably very well still be in National if National weren’t the kind of party to these days send delegations to Gay Pride parades. Needless to say, they don’t tend have any actual salient interest in serious policy except insofar as it caters to and reinforces their personal prejudices. (they tend to be quite big on ‘anti-immigration’ and ‘law and order’ type issues, but draw blanks when you ask them about our Party’s serious economics)
Now, the trouble with all of this is clearly not that we’re taking votes off National. I can’t stress that enough: it’s a GOOD THING for those of us who’d quite like a change of Government that there’s a vehicle – or, if you prefer, ‘lightning rod’ – out there capable of drawing these staidly charged particles away from the great blue stormcloud that’s presently occluding our electoral horizon. As people have said time and time again … you don’t win general elections by refusing to take votes off the other side.
However, my pet worry and distaste is that if this strong surge in NZ First recruitment numbers continues at the present pace, we’re pretty soon going to have gone from a situation wherein these ill-suited (but occasionally eager) National recruits will have grown from a tiny-but-noticeable minority into a small-yet-vocal sect. Within our tent. Attempting to get us to change the way things are arranged in our tent. Up to and including taking stabs at altering the position of our tent relative to the big blue tent with the three-ring yellow-purple-Maori circus going on inside just down the road, if you get my drift.
Despite what you may have heard, NZ First is a fundamentally democratic party in many ways, so “if this goes on” (to quote my favourite biblical Old Testament prophet maxim), they might very well run the risk of actually being listened to and having some skerrick of influence. (assuming they don’t hit the Party Conventions this year and next and find themselves either scared off or beaten into line by the somewhere north of two thirds of NZF who fairly actively despise National as the neoliberal devil incarnate)
But the purpose for this piece isn’t merely to have a soap-box hurling rant bemoaning the now steadily apparent differences and dissonances between the Party I grew up in, and the Party which has itself arguably come of stirling age more recently. Electoral vehicles change, evolve, and move about the place on a continuous basis in order to thrive if not simply survive. And in any case, as the great Spanish poet Antonio Machado wrote in his excellently poignant ‘Proverbios y cantares’, our footsteps are themselves the path – and upon glancing backwards, it is inevitably the case that we find there *was* no path (in the sense of a fixed road which we can re-traverse in the opposite direction) … just slowly dissipating foam-trails on an endlessly changing and trackless sea.
But just because we cannot, strictly speaking, go back … does not, no way and no how mean we can’t go forward. And, more particularly, forward in the right and proper way.
Which is why I’m writing this piece. To ask a favour.
We, the leftists of New Zealand First – the socialists, the social nationalists, social democrats, democratic socialists, and miscellaneously buzzword-oriented people of no fixed Internationale tendency – need your help.
If we are to counter the rising tide of slack-jawed soft-right ‘conservatism’ (or whatever you wish to call it) which is steadily (and invitedly) infiltrating our ranks here in NZF, we must fight fire with not more fire but instead its antithesis.
In short, we need principled people of all ages and backgrounds who /understand what is at stake/ to join up with NZ First, get involved internally, and help us to keep the Party at large on the straight and narrow going into 2017, 2020 and beyond.
I have every confidence that NZ First’s economic policy quite squarely and firmly aligns us with both the broadly social-democratic and anti-neoliberalist (indeed, anti-National or anti-slash-and-burn or whatever you wish to call it) agendas that have dominated left-wing and Opposition political circles for much of the last decade.
While there are some signs of fraying and changing at the fringes and in the margins (a member on a committee here, a proposed policy remit to Convention there), there is no serious signal that NZ First’s principled political orientation is yet under significant threat.
But as we move towards a progressively less-certain future, left-wingers and centrists of all stripes have but two options. Either sit on the sidelines in preparation to jeer and scream and hoot and holler “I TOLD YOU SO” as New Zealand continues to descend into Hell in a Hand Basket … or taking a stand and taking action with the only Party which, poll-in and poll-out appears to be perfectly poised to lock National out of Parliamentary political power in pulsating perpetuity.
Which is it going to be, New Zealand?
Help us, to help you. Help yourselves to ensure we have a bright, black future.
Help me to Make New Zealand First Great Again.