OH, WHAT A SURPRISE – it’s Amy Adams! On the day after Steven Joyce announced his retirement from politics, Simon Bridges appoints the runner-up in National’s latest leadership contest as his Shadow Finance Minister. So far, so utterly predictable.
Equally predictable, but a lot more depressing, were Adams’ announced priorities. In her first press release as Opposition Finance Spokesperson, she singled out “Labour’s overseas investment changes, employment law changes, and proposed new taxes as things that would ankle-tap the country’s medium-term economic performance.”
Anyone seized with the notion that the Nats new leadership team might actually make a serious effort to face up to the enormous challenges confronting New Zealand and the world should now un-seize themselves. Adams has made it very clear that National will be governing, as it has always done, for the only New Zealanders who have ever counted for anything in their political universe – farmers and businessmen.
Just listen to Adams assessment of National’s economic stewardship:
“New Zealand currently has one of the strongest economies in the western world. That’s not an accident. That’s a result of the hard work of New Zealanders backed by the strong economic plan of the previous National-led Government”.
Strong economic plan? And what might that have been? To open the floodgates to tens-of-thousands of immigrants? To facilitate the transformation of New Zealand’s agricultural sector into one huge dairy farm? To quietly inject the trade union movement with yet another cocktail of immobilising drugs? To dole out millions of dollars in corporate welfare to the National Government’s most generous friends?
If Adams’ only measure of success is the growth in GDP under National; or, perhaps, the appreciation in the value of urban real estate; or, the increasing share of New Zealand’s economic surplus currently being distributed to shareholders, at the expense of wage- and salary-earners; well then, yes, her party’s “strong economic plan” may be rated an unqualified success.
That Adams clearly cannot appreciate that all of these positive outcomes need to be set alongside a much longer list of negative economic and social consequences: homelessness, rising inequality, declining health and educational outcomes, environmental degradation; merely reinforces her own and her party’s location among the comfortable third of New Zealand society.
National’s capacity to present itself to the New Zealand electorate as something more than a crude political vehicle for the advancement of narrow sectional interests can only diminish while its leaders feel free to spout such facile and uninspiring rhetoric.
Adams’ words betray her party’s continuing failure to accurately interpret the result of the 2017 general election. Under a proportional electoral system, the support of just one third of the population is simply not enough to guarantee victory.
That National’s support manifested itself in a Party Vote of 44.5 percent only indicates the continuing depressed levels of electoral participation. If the progressive political parties can secure even a modest lift in the participation rate of their supporters (and if anybody can do that it’s Jacinda Ardern) then National’s share of the Party Vote will be driven down even further. Without a coalition partner commanding approximately 10 percent of the Party Vote, Adams’ hopes of re-booting National’s “strong economic plan” will be unfulfilled.
Conservatism, as Winston Peters demonstrated so adeptly at the head of NZ First throughout 2017, is a political philosophy capable of transcending sectional boundaries. Conservatives appeal to their fellow citizens from the much more solid foundation of shared values: individual freedom and responsibility; cherished cultural and religious traditions; the principles of equity and fairness. Values as likely to be found among the poorest members of society as the wealthiest.
Certainly, conservatives are hostile to the claims of the mob, but they are no less hostile to the grasping selfishness of the elites. The power of the state is important to conservatives not only because it guarantees law and order, but also because it alone is strong enough to resist – and, if necessary, overawe – the special-pleading of the heedless rich.
While Bridges and Adams espouse a social and economic programme which reeks of sectional self-interest, the National Party’s ability to break out of the ghetto of the comfortable third will continue to be compromised. If, between them, they are unable to convince the New Zealand electorate that a principled conservative party called “National” still exists, then they may soon find it necessary to re-invent one.