IN LESS THAN TWO YEARS the New Zealand Right will face a battle for its very survival. If the combined votes of Labour and the Greens add up to a parliamentary majority in 2023, then the rules of the political game will be changed fundamentally. Capitalism as we have known it, along with our liberal-democratic political system, will be changed profoundly.
The re-foundation of New Zealand (a name which the new Labour-Green government will likely consign to the dustbin of history) will make it virtually impossible for the traditional Right to stage a comeback – at least democratically. Why? Because there will be literally nowhere for the force of a right-wing majority to be brought to bear. The restoration of the status quo ante will, constitutionally, cease to be an option.
Over the top? Don’t you believe it. This is how top-down revolutions work. The first decisive changes are made, and then, if the revolutionary government is re-elected, those changes are embedded beyond the capacity of practical politicians to reverse.
Still don’t believe me? Well then, cast your mind back (or grab a good history book) and review the processes by which the reforms of “Rogernomics” were first implemented and then rendered permanent by the Lange-Palmer-Moore Labour Government of 1984-1990.
More importantly, consider the behaviour of the National Party following the 1990 General Election. In spite of Jim Bolger’s promise to restore the “decent society”, his National Government refused to unwind the economic changes of Roger Douglas and his allies. Indeed, the National Party’s Finance Minister, Ruth Richardson, ably assisted by Jenny Shipley and Bill Birch, turned out to be the one which placed the capstone on the Neoliberal Revolution. By 1993, the social-democratic state erected by the First Labour Government and its successors had been almost entirely dismantled.
Nearly 30 years later, no serious attempt has been made to rebuild it.
This is the key point to take away from the Rogernomics experience. Unless a top-down revolution is stopped in its tracks at the very next election, the chances of rolling it back at some point in the future are reduced to something very close to zero.
Not only will the public servants, business leaders, politicians, academics and journalists controlling the revolutionary process win the time needed to make the necessary legislative changes, but they will also enjoy sufficient time to change the ideological environment in which politics is conducted. By 1990, six years after the neoliberal revolution was unleashed, there simply wasn’t the will in either of the major parties, to launch a counter-revolution. Jim Anderton’s New Labour Party, the only political party unequivocally committed to reversing Rogernomics in 1990, received just 5 per cent of the popular vote.
That’s why 2023 is so important. If the National Party and its ally, Act, are not unequivocally committed to rolling back the ethno-nationalist changes already imposed: the Maori Health Authority; Three Waters; Te Putahitanga; and to repudiating entirely the whole He Puapua blueprint; then by 2026 it is almost certain that neither of the right-wing parliamentary parties will any longer want to. By then, the ethno-nationalist constitution imposed upon “Aotearoa” will be seen by virtually the entire political class as no more than the application of simple “common sense”.
That’s how hegemony works.
Rolling back the He Puapua Revolution will not, however, be easy.
Perhaps the biggest problem confronting the parties of the Right will be a mainstream news media resolutely opposed to giving the ‘hate speech’ of ‘racism’ a platform. Unless National and Act conform to the new ethno-nationalist orthodoxy, they will find it next-to-impossible to secure even-handed media coverage. Rather, they will be presented as fronting a racist, white-supremacist campaign to preserve the ‘privileges’ of ‘colonisation’. Increasingly, the 2023 election will be framed as a life-and-death struggle between the retrograde ideologies of New Zealand’s past, and the Labour-Green promise of a re-founded, te Tiriti-guided, ‘progressive’ Aotearoan future.
The parties of the Left don’t even have to be nasty about it. All they have to do is adapt the crushing line from the movie “Don’t Look Up”. In the movie, whenever a right-wing Boomer makes an unforgivably racist or sexist remark, the stock response from the people in charge is: “He’s from another generation.” Confronted with National’s and Act’s promises to roll back the He Puapua blueprint, Jacinda Ardern and Marama Davidson have only to smile sadly and shrug: “They’re ideas from another generation.”
There’s no worse fate than to be killed with kindness!
The Right is also likely to be hounded by the already shamelessly politicised Human Rights Commission. (Act has, after all, promised to abolish it!) The Commission will call out the parties of the Right for their ‘racism’, ruthlessly and continuously branding their policies as ‘white supremacist’ and ‘colonialist’. With the endorsement of the HRC, other groups will use Labour’s new hate speech law to embroil the right-wing parties and their leaders in court case after court case.
The $64,000 question is not whether these sorts of tactics will lead to polarisation, but exactly where the break in the electorate will occur. If most of those over the age of 50 are driven into the arms of the Right by the He Puapua blueprint then the election will be a damn close-run thing. If, however, it is only a solid majority of the over-60s who opt to stand up for New Zealand (as opposed to Aotearoa) then Labour-Green will likely edge out National-Act. Obviously, effective polling and focus-group work will identify the trends long before Election Day.
Which, inevitably, brings us to the last and most important question: Is the leadership of the National and Act parties capable of withstanding the unrelenting pressure of the ‘racist’ accusation that most New Zealanders currently go to almost any lengths to avoid? Does Christopher Luxon have the mental resilience to confront charges of racism head-on and, Jordan Peterson-style, out-argue his accusers? Does David Seymour? Or will the old saying “explaining is losing” cause them to throw in the ideological towel and join the merry ethno-nationalist parade?
Upon the answer to this question will turn the future of the New Zealand Right. If, as happened to the Labour Party after Jim Anderton and his followers broke away from it in 1989, the new ideology simply swallows up National’s members and parliamentarians, then the He Puapua blueprint will, like Rogernomics, become firmly embedded in New Zealand’s legal and administrative infrastructure. Moreover, it will do so with the same impressive level of cross-party support – quite possibly surpassing the 75 per cent required for major constitutional reforms.
The New Zealand Right thus has no choice but to transform the 2023 General Election into a make or break proposition. If, however, it is electorally broken by its Labour-Green opponents, then politics in Aotearoa-New Zealand will undergo an irreversible sea-change. The constitutional re-foundation of the country suggested in He Puapua will swiftly render the old Left/Right ideological conflicts redundant. By 2026, Aotearoans will be battling politically over very different issues.
Chris Trotter is a political commentator who blogs at bowalleyroad.blogspot.co.nz.