NZ First’s persistent refusal to announce a preference between working with Labour or National puts those of us who would prefer the coming election to yield a Labour-led government in a very awkward position. The best solution is for NZ First to declare that they intend to help oust the NatACTs, either by joining a coalition with Labour, or offering them a supply and confidence agreement, preventing National having the numbers to form a government. But based on NZ First’s history, I’m not holding my breath.
Without a clear public commitment from NZ First that they will not prop up a 4th term National government, the rest of us have two strategic options. Either treat NZ First as an ally in our campaign to change the government anyway, or treat NZ First as an ally of the NatACTs, and try to hack away at their support so they won’t be in a position to help the NatACTs stay in government. If we follow the first strategy, we risk being knifed in the back by NZ First as we were in 1996. If we follow the second strategy, we risk the opposition looking like a bickering basket of snakes, unprepared to form a stable government, with the consequence that we lose votes to National or to apathy.
The worst case scenario is to have both strategies being followed at the same time, by different factions of the opposition, making us look completely incoherent. Sadly, this is the situation we find ourselves in at present, as the first salvos are fired in the election campaign proper. What to do?
Perhaps the solution has been staring us in the face all along. Winston Peters has been singing the praises of direct democracy via binding referendum for decades. His solution to any awkward and potentially divisive policy question? Put it to a referendum. Cannabis legalization? Referendum. Smacking? Referendum. Maybe it’s time for Winston to put his money where his mouth is?
What could be a more awkward and potentially divisive question than which party or parties NZ First should and shouldn’t be prepared to govern with? Maybe this question should be put to the NZ First
membership via a binding referendum, so anyone considering voting NZ First can be certain of exactly what kind of government they are and are not voting for? Sure, it might cost them some votes, but this would be the honest thing to do. The democratic thing to do. If NZ First are not honest and democratic, why should anyone vote for them?
All that said, the best answer, as it has consistently been over the last few months, takes the form of three words; policy, policy, policy! Again, I point readers to the Vote for Policies website created for the UK election.
In a war of personalities and rhetoric, those with the biggest media budget and the best PR companies win. If we lower ourselves to ankle-tapping NZ First with soundbite smears like “racist” and
“divisive”, we’re inviting the same and worse from them, and we’re setting ourselves up to lose. Instead, supporters of Labour, Greens, NZ First, TOP, and the Māori/ Mana coalition can debate each other in a fair and respectful way – attacking the ball not the player – focusing on policy differences and the deeper arguments for and against them.
This focuses the election campaign on policy, and hopefully, it demonstrates that a diverse coalition of major and minor parties can be a more unified and effective government than a diverse coalition of
opportunists, corporate lobbyists, and time-serving backbenchers (Nats), and one-man minor parties (ACT and Dunne).
In short, I’m proposing that we commit to the Bill and Ted principle (“Be excellent to each other, and party on dudes!”) and focus on solving our country’s collective problems, instead of each faction focusing on their preferred party gaining a few % points in the next round of polls.
If an obsessive focus on narrow, short term self-interest is the dead-end tunnel that “neo-liberal” corporatocracy has led us into, could it be that focusing on the long term public interest is the way out?
Danyl Strype is an activist and independent news journalist.