GUEST BLOG: Louie Encabo – 2018 Marked National’s Gradual Descent into Populism

By   /   January 5, 2019  /   31 Comments

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In 2018, the National Party – under the leadership of Simon Bridges – very clearly attempted to push for the “Trump vote” in a bid to increase their voter base.

When Donald Trump snatched the presidency in the 2016 U.S. elections, he seemed to have ushered in a new era of populist politics. “Populism”, in political parlance, is defined as the application of policies and rhetoric that appeal to the widest number of people.

While at first thought that idea may sound perfectly fine, it is this new brand of politics that has led to anti-scientific, inhumane, and xenophobic demagoguery and legislation. Whether it is Trump stripping out many environmental regulations, Rodrigo Duterte of the Philippines making rape jokes on the regular or the newly-elected Brazilian President Jair Bolsonaro rolling back the clock on indigenous people’s rights, populism has been a worrying trend for the environment, the poor and the marginalized.

Sadly, it is also very effective. It is precisely that toxic brand called populism that has allowed such individuals to gain power and implement the disastrous policies they envisioned. And while detrimental to society, the allure of getting elected is just too appealing for some political practitioners to avoid replicating it themselves.

In New Zealand, many observers felt that we achieved the opposite of a “populist wave” in our most recent general election when a new government purportedly championing young people, the poor, the environment and the marginalized regional communities was elected. We had remained uncontaminated by the populist virus, it seemed, but what we did not see in our Government we instead saw in our political Opposition.

In 2018, the National Party – under the leadership of Simon Bridges – very clearly attempted to push for the “Trump vote” in a bid to increase their voter base. We saw it with their relentless assault on Conservation Minister Eugenie Sage’s plan to cull thousands of Himalayan tahrs (an invasive species) in the South Island, as part of conservation efforts to save disappearing native flora.

Under the 1993 Himalayan Tahr Control Plan, the population should be kept at 10,000 tahrs to be considered sustainable. The Department of Conservation (DOC) estimated that their numbers had shot up exponentially to about 35,600, which meant a cull was urgently required.

Despite that 1993 Plan being the handiwork of the Jim Bolger-led National Party Government, the Party’s present iteration conveniently ignored that and cried foul over this proposed population reduction. Starting a petition to halt the cull, National accused the Minister of “not listening to hunting and tourism representatives” and called her proposal as one “not based on science, but on ideology”.

What about the cull is not based on science, when DOC’s own experts have suggested the cull was vital to protect native bush in the Southern Alps? National also had the gall to link Minister Sage’s plans to her ideology, when in reality it was their own Party’s doing why she – under her role as Conservation chief – had to promulgate the population reduction in the first place.

In the accompanying message in National’s petition, they mentioned that signing was important “to protect the birth right of New Zealanders to access our great outdoors”. This purports that this freedom was under threat in the first place, when it never was. But alas, in the name of populism they will use such messaging to instil fear anyway.

More recently, National were again on the Trump-esque warpath when the Government – represented by the Foreign Affairs Minister Winston Peters – decided to vote in favour of the UN Global Compact on Safe and Orderly Migration. This resolution adopted by the General Assembly intended to create a non-binding framework to ensure the safety of migrants during the process of migration and to reduce the push factors for irregular migration, e.g. refugees.

Despite the Crown Law Office and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) both definitively declaring the Compact as non-binding and does not compromise our sovereignty, National repeatedly alleged that New Zealand will lose its ability to control the flow of immigrants as a result of our vote. Two of its MPs in particular, Chris Penk of Helensville and Simeon Brown of Pakuranga, spearheaded this disinformation campaign and both said that the Compact “undermines” New Zealand’s right to self-govern and would lead to “open global borders”.

 

The Global Compact is a well-meaning document, supported by 152 other member-states of the United Nations, which seeks to facilitate cooperation to reduce the risks involved with migration. Nowhere in the document mentions a “surrender” of a country’s sovereignty or a requirement to accept refugees or migrants.

But it is more favourable for the National Party’s political ambitions to twist the document into something it is not, betting on disinformation to scare voters into returning to their fold.

Brown has also been spreading disinformation regarding another piece of Government legislation, decriminalising medicinal cannabis use. Late last year, the Coalition Government passed “the most progressive legislation in relation to supply and access of medicinal cannabis” which aims to allow patients suffering terminal illness and under palliative care to use cannabis without fear of being arrested or charged.

Unsurprisingly, National and Brown found ways to twist this measure into something entirely different from reality. The MP for Pakuranga alleged that the legislation is “decriminalisation by stealth” which will allow anyone to smoke cannabis “outside mental health and drug rehabilitation facilities”.

The insinuation of “decriminalisation by stealth” was echoed also by his leader, Bridges, as well as another MP in Shane Reti, who called the legislation “lazy and dangerous”. Their claims of the bill having “no controls or regulations” is refuted by the fact that the measure mandates the creation of a regulated market within one year.

But disclosing the full picture does not bode National well, to improve their chances of winning support from voters they will have to stir fear among conservative voters by portraying the Government’s actions as something sinister. That is exactly what we saw aplenty in 2018, and there is little doubt they will continue to employ the same tactics in the coming year.

What will be their next Trumpian populist ploy? Will it be a policy recognizing Jerusalem as the capital of Israel? Will it be pulling New Zealand out of the Paris Climate Accord? Will they introduce American 2nd Amendment-style pro-gun policies?

It is obvious that National under Bridges’ leadership is gunning for the same voters who populist leaders appeal to, the Party wants to embolden the hard-right to vote for them the same way Don Brash did in 2005 with his anti-Maori rhetoric.

For those of us who remember that election, we know that he nearly achieved success with that strategy – and that should wake those on the left up.

  1. https://www.national.org.nz/stop_the_tahr_cull
  2. https://www.doc.govt.nz/about-us/science-publications/conservation-publications/threats-and-impacts/animal-pests/himalayan-thar-control-plan-1993/
  3. https://www.newshub.co.nz/home/new-zealand/2018/09/urgent-cull-of-south-island-s-himalayan-tahr-population-ordered-by-conservation-minister.html
  4. https://www.national.org.nz/stop_the_tahr_cull
  5. https://www.national.org.nz/govt_backs_down_and_consults_on_tahr_cull
  6. https://www.beehive.govt.nz/release/national-prioritise-invasive-species-above-alpine-ecosystems-and-landscapes
  7. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/109486713/new-zealand-votes-for-un-migration-compact-after-legal-advice
  8. https://www.beehive.govt.nz/sites/default/files/2018-12/5008076_Advice%20to%20Minister%20regarding%20Global%20Compact.pdf
  9. https://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=12175064
  10. https://www.radionz.co.nz/news/political/378034/medicinal-cannabis-bill-passes-final-hurdle-in-parliament
  11. https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/politics/109269050/medicinal-cannabis-bill-passes-with-regulated-market-promised-within-a-year-and-a-legal-defence-until-then

 

Louie Encabo is a freelance writer who focuses on politics and current events. He runs a blog, writing commentary on both New Zealand and Philippine politics. He is also a paid member of the New Zealand First Party.

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31 Comments

  1. Pete says:

    Two pictures of two MPs. And not a brain in sight.

  2. Keepcalmcarryon says:

    Sage has an agenda as a hardline Forest and Bird acolyte, to wipe out introduced mammals not just those regarded as predators. Hunters are right not to trust her. Sure the Nats over cooked their response, and yes they had done nothing but cater to commercial hunting for 9 years.
    A tahr cull needed to happen most agree. Sage just decided to instigate it without consulting other stakeholders.
    She should have gone hardline on water use and water bottling instead of picking fights with those who could help. Call it populism if you like.
    Where’s the water crackdown?

    • Nick J says:

      Good points, I fear the ideologically possessed “greenery” and their pursuit of mammalian extinction in NZ (trout too). Of course every NZer eats food grown on introduced grasses, introduced grain and potatoes. They walk on introduced lawns, smell introduced roses. I could go on but it’s boring. We must preserve what we can, but the genie is out the bag…there’s no going back.

      As far as populism goes it would be instructive for the Left to go to the annual hunts in places like Ohakune and check out the demographic…hint they look very proletarian. Kind of people who might not have the luxury of allowing their sport and tables to suffer.

    • Mind you, KCCO, do we need to “consult other stakeholders” when it comes to controls rats, stoats, feral cats, possum, etc, in our forests?

      Not really.

      But when it comes to thar and deer, all of a sudden there are “other stakeholders”. Who, it happens, is New Zealand’s own gun lobby, the hunting fraternity.

      When it comes to hunting, that particular lobby group is noisy and active. They’re also the originators (through brothers Clyde and Steve Graf) of the quasi-religious anti-1080 lobby group. The Graf brothers were highly effective in propagandising against 1080 when it seemed that their industry/hobby was under threat.

      We don’t have a NRA here in New Zealand. But we have elements that come pretty damn close.

      • Keepcalmcarryon says:

        Bullshit Frank.
        You conflate some kind of anti gun paranoia with hunting and 1080 and mix in some other made up crap about non valid stakeholders for good measure.
        Kiwis have some of the best gun control laws in the world no NRA (what are you on about), not all hunterss are anti 1080 although many are impacted by it. I’m sure you know what a straw man is, I do.

        Some actual facts to spoil your pre formed opinion:
        The Himalayan Tahr control plan 1993 (plural of tahr is “tahr” not tahrs by the way OP), had a tahr liaison group with recreational and commercial hunters represented https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/conservation/threats-and-impacts/animal-pests/tahr/thar-plan-1993.pdf

        As far as control methods the plan says: part B 1.2 “ to sustain hunting pressure the Department needs to provide opportunities for all the potential control agents- achievement of such an aim requires a careful balancing excercise between competing demands”
        So yes when the minister decided carte Blanche to start DOC culling, she was likely operating outside her legal requirements and was threatened with legal action which made her consult, as she should have all along.

        Hunters are not averse to reducing numbers by culling. Read that again if it helps ( it won’t ), it makes sense to cull inaccessible areas harder than accessible areas for hunters, clearly.
        I’m happy to bat away your prejudiced views on hunting all day Frank, you are simply wrong.
        I suggest you read the whole plan it was intended as a dynamic document but was allowed to stagnate.

        And what of the water that a vast majority of kiwis want sorted?
        Where is Sage on that? What is she doing to fix the damage ECAN is doing?

      • Keepcalmcarryon says:

        To further state the obvious, deer tahr and chamois all have recreational and commercial worth unlike the actual pest species you mention. Tens of thousands of New Zealanders hunt.
        Our Department of Conservation is required to foster recreation on land it administers.
        Recreational hunting remains the largest contributor to deer control year in year out, over any other method.
        Certainly a lot more than urban keyboard warriors.

        • Sam Sam says:

          Ministers can’t let these nobody’s say what goes. They’re unelected. The minister dictates policy, no one else.

      • Helena says:

        When are we going to discuss the culling of people…hasn’t anyone noticed that the Genocide Treaty is in full effect?
        https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=dsz53jDK7wE&feature=em-uploademail

      • Huria says:

        Absolutly correct Frank Macskasy.

    • Peter says:

      Funny how it works eh?
      Sage just decided to instigate a cull without consulting other stakeholders? She found out what was reasonable and sensible and decided to get it done it?

      If it’d been Steven Joyce doing the same thing he’d have received plaudits for being decisive and showing leadership.

      • Keepcalmcarryon says:

        The tahr management plan is a statutory document.
        Ministers are bound by the law of the land, at least that was the excuse given for signing away water rights by minister Sage.
        So which is it?
        If she’s going to ride roughshod then do it over something we all agree on

  3. countryboy says:

    I think most Thar would agree that it’s in fact humans who need culling.

    ” Populism”?
    Create a moron class then manipulate them. Old as time.
    See ‘Idiocracy’, the movie.
    winston peters? A lying little punk.
    Go here, read this.
    Or not. Up to you. Personally, I don’t give a fuck.

    https://www.theguardian.com/commentisfree/2018/dec/31/advertising-academia-controlling-thoughts-universities

  4. Nick J says:

    Good points, I fear the ideologically possessed “greenery” and their pursuit of mammalian extinction in NZ (trout too). Of course every NZer eats food grown on introduced grasses, introduced grain and potatoes. They walk on introduced lawns, smell introduced roses. I could go on but it’s boring. We must preserve what we can, but the genie is out the bag…there’s no going back.

    As far as populism goes it would be instructive for the Left to go to the annual hunts in places like Ohakune and check out the demographic…hint they look very proletarian. Kind of people who might not have the luxury of allowing their sport and tables to suffer.

  5. Nick J says:

    Louie, I’d suggest that we currently have all sorts of populism.

    We have anti government populists wearing yellow jackets in France who likely have majority support. There are similar populists through out Europe calling for Brexit, anti immigration etc. To describe them as Left or Right is wrong, populism cuts across party lines.

    We have a form of inverted populism in the form of politically correct post modernists, characterised by an alliance of identity groups. The radical “New Left” dominates the language of discourse, but the current cultural ascendancy is populist and cuts across Left and Right. Consequently there is a counter populism described variously as Alt Right and Intellectual Dark Web.

    Then there is Trump and similar who represent any number of marginalised groups versus the old establishment, and not necessarily in favour of any other group.

    My point is to be very careful when talking populism, after all politics is about popularity. Popularity equals votes. And note it pays not to assume everyone else is populist, and that you side is pure. Robespierre was in his mind pure, as was Stalin. The ideologically possessed are deadly dangerous.

  6. Nick J says:

    Good points, I fear the ideologically possessed “greenery” and their pursuit of mammalian extinction in NZ (trout too). Of course every NZer eats food grown on introduced grasses, introduced grain and potatoes. They walk on introduced lawns, smell introduced roses. I could go on but it’s boring. We must preserve what we can, but the genie is out the bag…there’s no going back.

    As far as populism goes it would be instructive for the Left to go to the annual hunts in places like Ohakune and check out the demographic…hint they look very proletarian. Kind of people who might not have the luxury of allowing their sport and tables to suffer.

  7. mikesh says:

    Have any Wellingtonions spotted what I think is a tahr lurking in the foliage on the Eastern side of the Ngauranga Gorge? My wife and I, travelling down the Gorge, have seen it on several occasions in the last month, and wondered where it came from.

  8. Mike the Lefty says:

    Populism essentially means giving the people want they want – without worrying about what they need.
    It is the easy way out for any political party with no ideas.
    Just like National.

    • countryboy says:

      That’s exactly it. @ M.T.Lefty. It’s nothing more than a marketing strategy. ( Can I ask? Who’re the mice in suits? Don’t tell me that some moron actually voted for mice. In suits. OMG! You heard of the ‘ Dancing Chicken? Seriously, it was a thing. They put a common chicken on a hot plate… Then turned that fucker up. Behold! ‘Dancing’ chicken. )
      Re national’s ‘gradual’ decent into populism…? There was fuck all gradual about it. I think ‘plummet’ would be more the word, don’t you think?
      Our politics is becoming a comic opera. Winston pin-stripes is waging war against a tide of empty craniums in an attempt to hide a profound stupidity. No one will lose, that’s the only good thing.
      Dumb? Yep! Winner! Yay!
      Dumber? Yep! Winner! Yay!
      Is this why Jesus wept? Because? Jesus wept!

      • Mike the Lefty says:

        When you mentioned dancing chickens I immediately thought of the Peter Gabriel video “Sledgehammer” with the row of dancing plucked chickens.
        How appropriate.
        Our political system has basically descended into a form of mob rule. It takes a lot of courage to go against the howling of the mob and this government, although it may harbour some good intentions, is gradually (and sadly) succumbing to the pressure.
        Happy New Year CB!

  9. Castro says:

    …a likely outcome following the Natzis’ rapid descent into Chinese ownership. What’s up with the spy in the Beehive, by the way…?

  10. Populism is, I feel obliged to point out to the author of and contributors to this discussion, about a great deal more than simply “the application of policies and rhetoric that appeal to the widest number of people”.

    Populists arise when a significant number of citizens believe themselves to be the victims of forces alien to their cultural values and economic interests. This can take the form of movements directed at the influence of distant elites. The American Populist Party of the late-19th Century railed against the “Trusts” – i.e. the vast oligopolistic combinations of capital located on the USA’s East Coast. Other populist movements, like the post-World War I Ku Klux Klan, drew their energy from White America’s fear of having to share “their” country with Blacks, Hispanics, Jews and Catholics.

    The power of right-wing populism – from the KKK to the Nazis – is often, and paradoxically, a sign of rising levels of support for progressive ideas. Those accustomed to social and economic dominance are terrified by the prospect of having to share power and wealth with those they have exploited and abused: workers, ethnic and religious minorities, women.

    Bolsanaro is the classic example of this phenomenon. He represents those who found the years of left-wing rule under the Workers Party unbearable. The viciousness of his programme reflects the pure hatred of upper- and middle-class Brazilians for the poverty-stricken underclass whose fortunes improved so markedly under the Workers Party Government.

    The NZ National Party is hoping that our progressive Coalition Government will generate similar levels of rage among the nearly 50 percent of New Zealanders whose fortunes were so spectacularly lifted by John Key and Bill English between 2008 and 2017. Simon Bridges’ aim is to paint the Coalition as a collection of individuals and parties whose goals run counter to the interests of “mainstream” New Zealand.

    It very nearly worked for Don Brash and it may actually succeed under Bridges.

    There is method to the National Party’s madness.

  11. Johnnybg says:

    Not sure which planet you’re from, but all political parties are populist in nature. Why do you think so much time, energy & cash is invested in onion polling? They’re all part & parcel of the wealthy middle class liberal establishment that sustains them & fosters their sham points of difference.

    Why on earth do you support the UN’s latest demoralising melting pot attack on national sovereignty & localised identity? I think I have an idea, but probably best to keep it to myself.

    The self serving, power hungry turncoat Peter’s is a traitor to go along with this UN migration/invasion supporting bullshit, so wake up grey power you’ve propped up this slippery prick for far too long.

    The UN is simply a front for furthering the hegemony of the elitist, homogenising & emasculating globalisation agenda.

    Do you really want the UN backed new corporate world order dominating & controlling every aspect of your life & destroying our planet in the process? Well I bloody don’t.

    • Sam Sam says:

      Alright, enjoy your post-neoliberal population decline and brain drain, I’m sure between the two your living standards will skyrocket due to your genius plan of refusing immigration.

    • Johnnybg says:

      Super duper Freudian slip here ‘onion’ instead of opinion. Onto something though, if you want to find the real eye watering truth you have to peel back the layers that keep it well hidden from view. Of course only a seasoned cook would know such things.

  12. DOC HORRORDAY says:

    Playing it safe with some counterfeit contretemps I see. A schtick that is populist itself, and more than somewhat. Don’t think no one notices

    • Sam Sam says:

      DOC HORRORDAY has got one of the biggest life style changes in New Zealand’s history tucked away in his glove box. It won’t be a small thing. It will be a monster.

  13. Zack Brando says:

    Trump got less votes than Hillary, just like Labour got less votes than National.

    American’s didn’t want another Clinton presidency so rolled the dice and elected Trump. If anything Labour, NZ First and the Green and more reflective of the Trump vote than National.