Dear Politicians of the Left
Well, I suppose Saturday night was a tad frustrating for you all. You got an old fashioned shellacking, by any standards. I imagine you’re now so caught up in games of blame and shame, that you’re not much interested how it feels to be one of the minority who voted for you. But you know what, we’re mighty frustrated too. I voted for you because I thought some of your policies made sense, and I share a great many of your values. I rather hoped the polls were wrong, and you might contrive of a way to sneak over the line and put some of those policies in place. It was, of course, a naive form of optimism. With all due respect, you screwed up. So here is a short list of things I would love to see from the Left, as you regather and start thinking about another three long years in opposition.
First, I would love to see you concentrating on something other than beating each other up. Seriously, I don’t mind that most of the Labour caucus don’t much like David Cunliffe, but I do mind that I know about it. How the hell did you think people would vote for the man when you made it so patently clear you, his colleagues, didn’t like him? Shut the hell up about this stuff, keep it behind closed doors. The only possible reason you could have had for so gleefully spreading your disdain is personal gain. And I really object to having my views represented by politicians more interested in their own careers than the trajectory of their policies. When Bill English got rolled, he took a deep, grown-up breath, and went to work as a loyal finance minister. I can’t imagine everybody in the National caucus likes everybody else, but they’ve worked pretty darned hard to keep their feelings private. You folk, however, have made an art form of disloyalty. And it turns out voters don’t find that venal approach to careers appealing. Who knew?
Stop pretending you’re the only party that cares. You might believe this, but nobody else does. The average voter believes that, by in large, our politicians are interested in solutions that make our lives better. We won’t agree with all of their ideas, but we find it awfully hard to believe that just because somebody tends to the right politically, their great aim in life is destroy our environment, and torture the young. We don’t believe John Key lies awake at night dreaming up new ways to compromise our privacy or steal our children’s toys. He strikes us as slightly over-enthusiastic, sure, a little goofy too, and we don’t love all his policy solutions, but the devil incarnate he just ain’t. Key supported the anti-smacking bill, and gay marriage to boot. And his economic instincts are nothing like the craziness of the Roger Douglas era Labour Party (yeah, we’ve not forgotten about that. Sorry.) So why on earth did this campaign turn into one attempt after another to undermine his credibility? I know, you’ll argue that circumstances overtook you, but who invited Dotcom to the table, and who came running to the media to express their outrage every time another slur hit the headlines?
And how about paddling together? Seriously, the election was barely over and we saw The Greens lining up to position themselves as the true voice of the opposition. So what, your plan, now that Labour is on its knees, is to start kicking it? They don’t need you to kick them. They’re doing just fine on that front all by themselves. Here’s a thought, how about The Green Party go back to being, you know, Green. Doesn’t it make a certain amount of sense, if your reason for being is the saving of the planet, to focus on environmental policies? Do you know how many clicks of your website it takes to get you to anything substantial on Climate Change? Because you want to feed the children. Well guess what, so does everybody else. But, by couching this earnest concern in terms that make it impossible for you to work with anybody on the right, you have left yourself with precisely zero political leverage. If the only party you can work with in government is Labour, then you can only have influence when they’re in power, and even then you can’t negotiate credibly because they know you have nowhere else to run. Meanwhile, the planet grows hotter, and you’ve given the major parties no political incentive to worry about it. Who’s plan was this, exactly? Why haven’t they been fired?
Here’s a final thought. New Zealand elections are fought in the centre because our instincts are remorselessly moderate. You will regain power when you find a way of appealing to the centre. And the big problem, that you don’t much like to talk about, is this: you don’t much like middle New Zealand. You should get over that.
There, that’s out of my system now. The thing is, I really wanted you to win. It’s bad enough living in Wellington and having to support our sports team, but this too?