Wednesday, August 27, 2008

John Key shows principle

Yes!! Remarkable really. Good for him though. It looks like a coalition or confidence and supply agreement between National and NZ First is ruled out. The NZ Herald quotes him saying;

"I am ruling out Mr Peters. He simply doesn't have the integrity in my view unless he can somehow change that".

It is more than what Jim Bolger said or did, but then the same Jim Bolger who voted to privatise NZ Rail Ltd is now on the board of the renationalised railway. The same Jim Bolger who sits on the board of Kiwibank. However I digress.

I do wonder though, that if National did need NZ First, whether it would surrender power to a Labour mongrel coalition. However, it is worth noting a rare appearance of backbone.

NZ First has always been a party of blatant brainless populist opportunism, it seeks to tap the mindlessness of talkback radio, the very worst of much of New Zealand culture. The envy dripping suspicion of foreigners, the envy dripping suspicion of successful businesses, the belief that state owned enterprises are good when they are state owned, regardless of how poorly they perform and the resentment and anger of their privatised equivalents. The kneejerk belief that the "guvmint should do something".

However it has not done this in a vacuum. It has tapped a series of trends that have a grain of truth in the concern that NZ First voters carry.

NZ First would not have succeeded had National not lied to the electorate in 1990. Some of National's supporters today try to reassure the likes of me, and other libertarians that "wait till the Nats get in office then they can do some of the things you like", even though the Nats are saying little different from Labour. It is THAT kind of politics that NZ First rejected. One thing you can't say about Winston Peters is that he isn't clear about his policies. Jim Bolger promised to remove the hated superannuation surtax, but continued it after 1990. That single move decimated National's support among senior citizens. National created Winston Peters, he was one of them and it delivered an enormous deception to voters - greater than anyone could claim Labour generated in 1984 and certainly in 1987.

NZ First was also an early carrier of disenchantment at the Treaty claims process. A resentment from some taxpayers that some Maori were benefiting enormously from their taxes, and that the benefits were enriching a small number very well, was a genuine concern Winston tapped. However, he then went on to focus on the Maori seats and taking them all in 1996. Having moved across the spectrum on this issue, NZ First retains a not insubstantial level of support among Maori voters.

NZ First's big issue has been immigration, but sadly although there are serious issues about whether new migrants should be able to claim anything from the welfare state including health and education, Winston focused on race and bigotry. He played the race card, and stirred up a vile level of anti-Asian sentiment that appeared focused on successful East Asian migrants - you know the ones not filling the jails, welfare lines and talkback call lines. It was possibly the most poisonous recent part of modern politics, one that didn't stop National signing up to govern with NZ First, and didn't stop Labour.

NZ First also tapped the ongoing popular outrage at crime and the poor performance of the criminal justice system in addressing this, although it was little more than a repositary for rage. It still showed that Labour and National had not got to grips with a core concern of the general public.

However it is telling that while the superannuation surtax issue provided a huge catalyst to Winston's political career, his supporters did not reward him for removing it. Policies don't matter to voters as much as impressions and feelings, and NZ First was decimated at the 1999 election for its appalling performance as a team - even though it delivered on several promised policies, including abolishing the super surtax.

NZ First attracts protest votes, votes from people who don't like the status quo. It is hurting because Winston keeps Helen Clark and Michael Cullen in power - he can't evade or dodge that, as he is desperately trying to evade the allegations around donations. His politics were built on National lying, and tapping populist resentment that National has since partly tapped (although has also since backtracked on). Winston has built a career on being upfront and honest, and not having a secret agenda - his political career may be finished if National keeps its word and offers a government of bland "me too" policies that the public appears to be endorsing.

The problem is National looks like it has a secret agenda - given that it has virtually no policy differences from Labour, it is the only hook others have to attack National. It is the hook Winston has, and if it proves to be true even though I may agree with some of the policies it is still deceit and contemptible. Winston's political career will be reinvigorated if National has a secret agenda.

However, if National does not seek to govern with Winston's support, and enters government doing what it has said, then Winston's poison will have expired. It is clear that Labour is happy to govern with his support, and it is that which should be the focus. Labour is no more principled than National, it's just more deft at hiding how it sells out.

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