When Maggie Thatcher was elected the first female Prime Minister of the UK in 1979 there were many who hailed her victory as a victory for women. The argument went that irrespective of your political views it was worth celebrating the fact that a woman had finally made it to the top political job in the UK by popular vote.
It’s true her election represented a gender marker in UK cultural life but after 11 years of Thatcher as Prime Minister, driving vicious neo-liberal economic policies, millions of working class women had been driven backwards into poverty and daily struggle. Rich men and women became more obscenely wealthy under Thatcher while millions – whole families and whole communities – were hurled onto the scrapheap of free-market capitalism.
Thatcher’s election was a defeat for women.
Meanwhile, here in New Zealand similar comments are being made about the election of Simon Bridges as the first person of Maori descent to lead a major political party in New Zealand. Irrespective of one’s personal political views we are being invited to celebrate his election as a victory for Maori. Bridges himself has said he hopes Māori can be proud the National Party has elected their first Māori leader.
It’s true his election to lead National represents a cultural marker in New Zealand political life but the policies he is pushing are overwhelmingly bad for Maori just as Thatcher’s policies were a disaster for women.
Should Bridges get elected as New Zealand’s first Maori Prime Minister sometime in the future it will be a defeat for Maori.