I’m over the election and almost cannot be bothered writing about it.
One of the problems for me is the script was written more than a year ago by the media – “it’s time for change” – and has been relentlessly enforced in a number of ways ever since. Just one example – every poll showing a substantial National Party lead over Labour made the front page of the Dominion Post. Every poll which showed the gap narrowing did not, instead buried further back in the paper.
And what, exactly, have the New Zealand public voted to change?
Not many key policies, as National have swallowed dead fish after dead fish because without promising to leave alone many plank Labour ideas, they were worried they would not be electable. In other words, the more stealthy social-democratic-while-still-pursuing-“free trade” economic agenda of Labour has theoretically not been altered too much. Or at least, that’s what the majority of New Zealanders who voted right believed when they cast their vote.
So if we accept that the majority of New Zealanders who voted right didn’t do so for a hard-right economic agenda a la Roger Douglas, then what exactly has changed?
This does not do justice to the anger and disgust many New Zealanders feel with the way Labour has behaved in governing. Helen Clark’s lust for power has been problematic for me since Labour responded in such a cowardly way to Don Brash’s Orewa speech in 2004. Dr Brash, under the guise of anti-racism, declared that race-based funding in New Zealand should not exist, because “we are one people.”
And Helen Clark’s Labour failed to defend race-based funding and services on the basis of race-based need. She could not find a way to combat Dr Brash’s liberal ideas about race – which ignore evidence of race-based inequality in Aotearoa, or attribute it to individual failings – because she was worried about a backlash from Pakeha.
At the time, this disgusted me – after all, who remembers Miss Clark’s post-election victory speech in 1999? It was all about “closing the gaps” in Aotearoa – between Maori and non-Maori.
But example after example of “pragmatism”, or less charitably “hunger for power” characterised Helen Clark’s Labour governments, and along the way, to my mind, she shed many by the roadside. Standing by Winston Peters was just the latest example of this.
That said, as far as Prime Ministers go, I agree with many commentators that Helen Clark is going to go down largely positively. Her grasp of policy, her skills in building coalition, her flat-out refusal to submit to the sometimes staggering misogyny that attacked her leadership style/voice timbre/choice to live child free/dress sense/hair styles.
I mean, really, we elected Robert Muldoon and David Lange as Prime Ministers – clearly attractiveness is not New Zealand’s most pressing criteria for political leadership – and for that we should all be grateful.
But I believe Labour’s arrogance in power is one of the things New Zealanders did want to change.
So we have a right-wing government to lead us into economic recession, while the USA and Australia have just elected left governments and Gordon Brown in the UK has been rejuvenated as an unpopular Labour Prime Minister due to his handling of the crisis to date.
Let’s see how that turns out.