Sunday, 21 September 2014

Post-election blues

Frank Macskasy has written an interesting piece on the Daily Blog about things Labour needs to take away from this election.

Some people picked him up on his claim that National has not increased its vote over 2011, pointing out that the special votes have yet to be counted.  Although National may increase its vote once all the specials have been counted,  it's unlikely its percentage of the votes cast will increase significantly. 

And there's still the missing million - the 8.7% of eligible people who are not enrolled and the 23.2% who were enrolled but did not vote. Just under a third of people who could vote chose not to - resulting in the 3rd lowest turnout in 100 years.  

National's core support was, as always, consistent and obedient. They turned out and did as they were told, including voting tactically.  The Right's strategy to maximise its vote and discourage opposition voters is working well and what counts as the Left in NZ seems powerless to counter it. 

About 1 in 3 NZers voted for a party that was deeply implicated in a series of scandals which, in most countries, would have resulted in electoral failure.  I hoped it wouldn't but thought it was likely that National would be able to form a government, but the outcome was so unexpected as to leave some people convinced of voter fraud.

The morally-challenged National supporter who boasted on his Facebook page about having found a way to vote multiple times,  and the 'vote-National' tweets on election day from prominent athletes to tens of thousands of their followers have not helped soothe the conspiracy theorists' brow. That the athletes were from the two sports which featured heavily in National's formal and informal campaigns adds to the mix. 

So what are we seeing here? Why did NZ sashay further to the Right with John Key?

I often joke about the Amygdala Brigade but there are studies which support the theory that liberals and conservatives not only think differently but have differences in brain structure. 

Political conservatives have been typified as 'low effort' thinkers (LETs), and political liberals are 'high-effort' thinkers. It's theorised that the former cognitive style dominates in times of threat, social instability and danger and was perhaps the evolutionary 'default' mode. But, of course, without 'high effort' thinking we wouldn't progress. In truth, we all switch between the two but there are people who tend far more towards one than the the other and there are some who are incapable of anything but low-effort thinking.

We can all agree that a lot of New Zealanders react badly to any criticism of their country, however valid it is.  'Dirty Politics' shook many Kiwis' cosy notion of their country as honest, decent, moderate -  a 'mature, sensible and successful'  nation.  Some just trusted Key and shrugged the revelations off as untrue.  Some reacted with anger, anxiety or disgust at Nicky Hager's revelations but that wave of emotion didn't sweep away the perpetrators of the dirty politics.  With the considerable assistance of a largely compliant mass media (which itself has far too many LETs in its ranks), the wave was directed at the author of the book and the Left in general. 

I've met a lot of people who would stake a claim to reason and rationality who declare trenchantly that they will NOT read that book because they don't need to; they know it is - as a manic letter writer in The Press today puts it -  'accusations, half-truths, innuendos, smear and lies'. 

An ethical and thorough investigative writer and the broad Left were accused of engaging in the very dirty politics that had been exposed. It was the purest expression of political spin.

The LETs' emotional state was then heightened by appeals to their (highly selective) xenophobia when the nature of Internet-Mana's Moment of Truth was unveiled and repackaged by National and the media as a group of foreigners (some of them 'criminals' and 'traitors') who were attempting to hijack our mature, sensible and successful nation's election.

John Key  - who is the arch exponent of intellectual and political minimalism - was the teflon-coated port in the ensuing emotional storm.  

But Key's non-stick coating has degraded and is leaking toxins. However much the National Party's spin machine and the MSM pour oil over the damaged surface,  stuff will stick. 

Contrary to Josie Pagani's fervent assertion, the forces on the Right are not as united as they seem. They're very good at giving the appearance of stability and unity, which is vital given the mindset of their core supporters, but the leaders of National's factions are predatory and would eat each other with as much relish as they display when they tuck into the flesh of Wagyu cattle. 

That dogfight may be triggered when the rock star economy is found dead from an overdose of hype - or mutagenic swede perhaps.

On the question of the Green's failure to vote tactically in Ohariu and Epsom - Labour rejected an offer to work together with them, presumably because the blimps in the Labour party thought a formal alliance would turn off some voters.  That was inexplicable to an outsider like me as Labour was always going to need the Greens to form a government and a coordinated strategy was logical and necessary in light of National's plans to manipulate the vote in Epsom again, and Peter Dunne's continuing vulnerability in Ohariu. 

Having been rejected, the Greens could have taken the moral high ground anyway and not stood candidates in Epsom and Ohariu and other strategic seats - but why should they?  And once they'd decided to stand candidates, why should they tell their supporters not to vote for them?   

The fault lies with Labour. Who in Labour I don't know - but Cunliffe is leader and he carries the can for what he's now admitting was a major tactical error. If I was him I'd be looking long and hard at the people who were in favour of rejecting the Green's proposal. 

The Greens then paid Labour back with their statement about Labour's policies needing to be vetted and having a MOU with National. This  meant that what should have been a strong, principled alliance ended up looking like the strained relationship that's 'only staying together for the sake of the kids'.  

It contrasted badly with National's media-assisted appearance of harmony and unity - and is why that slick piece of ad-man agitprop featuring elite rowers worked so very well. 

On the question of Mana - the decision to ally itself with Internet was always going to end badly in my opinion. It was always going to be hard for people to buy into KDC's  transmogrification - from someone who was the personification of the Wednesday Lotto ad - into a leftwing politico concerned about the impact of mass surveillance on the lives of ordinary NZers. 

But that does nothing to mitigate the unpleasant fact that Labour - with the help of NZ First and National -  took Mana down.  Kelvin Davis got into parliament on the back of right wing votes - which may be very apposite - and I suspect Josie Pagani is correct and he'll prove to be a loose cannon in the party. 

A shabby strategy yielded a crappy outcome for progressive politics given the end result is a staunch advocate for ordinary NZers and Maori has been lost to parliament.  Add in Cunliffe's unnecessarily high-handed rejection of Internet and overall it was badly done. 

There's a lot else that borders on the surreal in this election. 

Stuart Nash, who was described by far-Right political strategist Simon Lusk in 2013 as, 'an exceptionally gifted politician', won Napier only because Garth 'I love Joe Arpaio' McVicar split the rightwing vote. Nash has said he is considering entering the leadership race along with David Shearer, Grant Robertson and David Parker.  They would all do well to sheath their knives and ask themselves if 2/3rds of the Kiwis who did not vote National either want or need National Lite. 

National's machinations in Epsom resulted in a political neophyte (I'm being kind) getting into parliament with 0.69% of the party vote, while a party that got 4.12% of the vote was left out.  And I was so looking forward to seeing Key having to deal with Craig, Rankin and McVicar.

Winston Peters is swishing around in his mantle of the nation's senior statesman, pontificating about the Green's being the cause of Labour's failure.  If No 3 on NZ First's list - Richard 'Wogistan' Prosser - is a measure of Peters' political integrity and acumen, we needn't take any notice of his opinion.

Finally, what put the mainstream media's role into perspective for me was the counterposing of Matthew Hooton and Josie Pagani as representatives of the political right and left; and the presence of Paul 'tells jokes about infant mortality in the third world' Henry who, judging by his outfit, thinks he's still 15. 

And meanwhile in the real world, there are the still unresolved questions of National's complicity in dirty tactics to influence candidate selection and advance corporate interests; mass surveillance and subservience to global corporate interests; the deep and growing fissures in the body politic.  All the spin and slick agit prop in the Right's makeup bag does not change the fact that the overwhelming majority of NZers did not vote for John Key's National Party. 

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