PoliticsOctober 19, 2017

Change is here. But is it the kind you hoped for?


In retrospect, it seems obvious that New Zealand First would never have chosen National. Now forward-looking Labour and Greens will need to learn to work with a party that would love to turn the clock back 40 years, writes Morgan Godfery.

There are only two kinds of politicians, insiders and outsiders, and then there’s Winston Peters: the two-time deputy Prime Minister who denounces the country’s “political establishment”; the bloke who covets power and the company of the powerful, but insists he represents “the forgotten people,” his people; and the former National MP holding together the incoming Labour government.

Winston Peters is a mystery.

Then again, he kind of isn’t, because who didn’t see this coming?

National and New Zealand First are like liquid and gas. National, smooth and slick, the party for liberals with board positions and housing portfolios, could never pair with New Zealand First, the party of blustering conservatives yearning for a return to the social democratic state. I mean, can you imagine Winston Peters, the longest serving MP in the current Parliament, taking orders from Paula Bennett, her of the panini and bowl latte?

In truth, for all the talk of National’s “moral mandate” and “moral authority” Winston’s purpose in politics is burning the world National built to the ground, from its immigration policy to its trade policy. New Zealand First voters are the people who despise National’s Ruth Richardson, the finance minister responsible for opening the economy, privatising the state sector and putting thousands of people out of work in the 1990s. Key and English are scarcely better, the cosmopolitans who opened the borders, an act representing New Zealand First’s ideological losses today and their voters’ demographic irrelevance tomorrow.

New Zealand First voters are the people who feel as if they went to sleep in one country and woke up in another.

And so Labour and Jacinda Ardern were the best – only – option, the team that could work together to help restore parts of the strong state communitarianism of Norman Kirk and the closed conservatism of Rob Muldoon. “We believe capitalism must regain its human face,” Peters told reporters before making his announcement, sounding positively Sanders-like. “We had a choice for a modified status quo or for change,” he continued, “and that’s why in the end we chose a coalition government with New Zealand First and the New Zealand Labour party”.

There it is. Think 100,000 new homes, three years of free tertiary education, billions more for the health system, investment in public transport, and at the very least rhetorical attacks against capitalism. For some this may seem like Winston is pulling a fast one, betraying his National roots and ignoring his conservative instincts, but this is Winston returning home. And home is the social democratic state.

In truth, National left Winston, moving further and further to the neoliberal right. But Winston never left National, at least not the National Party of Holland, Holyoake and Muldoon.  The question, then, at least for supporters of this new government, is how do you work with a bloke who would turn the clock back decades?

Labour, the Greens and New Zealand First might disagree on, say, immigration, with Labour and New Zealand First preferring fewer migrants and the Greens preferring more, but there’s one thing they can agree on: neoliberalism – it sucks. If one thing can unite each party, it’s that. Let’s do this, or something like that.

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