All political parties are churches. As with churches, there are a small group of any membership who are able to provide a sober reflection on the strengths and weaknesses of their parties, the leadership are realists but the large majority of the membership are believers. The policy platform is a hope; a description of salvation. So elections are potentially traumatic or transcendent, as one’s soteriology is affirmed or negated by the voting public.
This election was a little of both: Labour achieved a much higher party vote than seemed possible two months ago, but not enough to easily change the government; the Greens are thankful to have avoided oblivion, whereas two months ago I was looking forward Jack McDonald being an MP; the Māori Party are gone, a tragedy for the loss of the best performing Māori MP in the last term, Marama Fox; National ate all of its support parties, but not enough to govern alone; and Winston did Winston. Again. So a few reflections after a couple of days to sit with the results so far.
The Māori Party are out in the wilderness for at least the next three years. As a voter in Waiariki, I was honestly shocked by Te Ururoa Flavell’s loss. I think I was shocked because I often saw Te Ururoa at different events in our electorate and regarded him as an active local MP despite his ministerial roles; I’m one who assumed that a lot of my fellow Waiariki voters who didn’t vote for the Māori Party would nevertheless vote for him. More fool me. What I’d forgotten is that I saw Te Ururoa at marae and iwi events and there is a small community of us in Tauranga Moana for whom that is our world, a world that is boundaried by te reo Māori, tikanga, kawa, whakapapa, raupatu, wānanga, kura and kōhanga reo. Most Māori in our electorate and round the country are clearly not immersed in that daily, so Te Ururoa must have seemed a bit distant and unrelatable, whereas Tamati Coffey had an air of celebrity (if What Now counts as celebrity) and youth. I don’t expect Tamati will be anywhere near as involved a local MP in Tauranga Moana as Te Ururoa; please prove me wrong, Tamati.
My view is that Tukuroirangi Morgan shoulders the lion’s share of the blame for the exit of the Māori Party. His strategy as Māori Party President seems to have been to centralise the mana of the key iwi leaders, the Kīngitanga and the Māori Party into one powerful political force. What an abject failure; it came across as a directive to Māori voters from on high about how to vote. Hauraki-Waikato voters riled against the appearance of being directed to vote in a particular direction by our King. A re-energised Nanaia Mahuta is absolutely correct in her criticism that the Kīngitanga is a movement, not a political party. Rāhui Papa was put in an unenviable position of having to be both the unifier of our many iwi as the māngai for our King and needing to wrestle with his cousin Nanaia on the political stage; it was an uncomfortable show. Outside of Hauraki-Waikato, Tukuroirangi’s strategy also appears to have squandered the Māori Party’s best asset, by putting Marama Fox in an unwinnable seat and ignoring her astute desire to vote on the cross-benches throughout this Parliamentary term.
The Greens survived by the skin of their teeth. I support the discussion that Metiria Turei wanted to start; the social welfare system as it currently stands is unjust and her story reflects the reality of many of our whānau on benefits and living in poverty in our community. Unfortunately Metiria’s approach was naive. She was at that stage the senior MP as well as co-leader in the party; she must have had some awareness of the scrutiny and dirty politics the Greens’ opponents would bring to bear. I support her telling the story, but the Greens should have anticipated the questions that would be asked and had answers prepared. They looked shocked every time a new angle came up. I agree with Russel Norman that it was “disaster” for the Greens and Metiria is largely responsible for that terrible mistake.
Gareth Morgan enraged some people on the Left. He was blunt and arrogant and seemed unable to hide his disdain for people he regards as dumber than he is. He was also spot on on election night when he described most New Zealand voters as selfish people who have no desire to look after the poor or the environment. The issues were stark in this election: tax cuts or more spending on health, social welfare and education; continuing dairy intensification or moderation to help us clean up our waterways; paying the costs to mitigate climate change or not; tools like a capital gains tax and more state housing or continuing to rely on the housing market for our wealth. New Zealand First and National voters are the majority, and they voted for the worst of those options. As long as each of them is safe and wealthy, they are happy to be lied to so they can pretend that there is no real poverty and climate change is not actually happening.
That’s Jacinda and the Labour Party’s challenge; the majority don’t want change where they have to sacrifice anything to help others out. So Labour keeps getting dragged Right, to inaction and political expediency over principle. I hope that Jacinda will prove to be a leader rather than a poll watcher. However, her instincts in the election seemed to be to put out a values based approach, then to play down or change those aspects that the polls said people didn’t like. That is everyday politics in New Zealand and it undermines democracy as people can’t trust their representatives to be people of integrity.
So, not a great election if you want change; the results we are going to get from this election will not change any fundamental problems in our society and environment. Even if Winston, Labour and the Greens go into coalition rather than National and Winston, the New Zealand First influence will ensure largely status quo policies. It would probably be better for their chances in the election in three years if Labour and the Greens weren’t in a coalition with Winston, but I can’t handle much more of the selfish pandering to interest groups and corporate ass-kissing of another National-led government. This is beginning to feel like a church service I never asked to come to and never get the chance to leave.