A meditation in uncertainty


    How peaceful it’s been this last three weeks – and I’m not talking about the appalled grief of last weekend’s Rugby World Cup final. Captain Sam Cane’s expression in the face of that apocalypse of a red card will haunt many of us, and perhaps rugby itself, into whatever future we may have.

    Rather, this is the hush of a nearly three-week interregnum in the election year’s unremitting brawl for populist votes. Mercifully, more informed voices have emerged as we wait for the final election figures this week.

    As John Campbell wrote for RNZ, Prime Minister Elect Christopher Luxon might have skilfully ridden a wave of discontent, but what had the flood brought in? What exactly had we voted for?

    “A windfall for landlords, but not (so much) for tenants. We voted for that.” Also tax cuts for just 3000 homes, benefit sanctions, getting tougher on crime (no mention of poverty and inequality), public service cuts, more roads and strikingly little action on climate change, he said.

    Electoral Commission figures crunched by commentator Bernard Hickey show there were just over a million missing voters in the election out of a total eligible population of 3.871 million; predominantly young renters, most of whom have never got “on track” in the first place.

    The odds aren’t good for them, although in the first five minutes of euphoric peace after election night was over, the prime minister elect did promise to govern for “all New Zealanders” – an impossible balance made even more improbable since he had already promised eager supporters that he would overturn almost all the social equity and housing agendas achieved by Labour in six dogged years of frightful societal and natural disasters.

    Covid, the Christchurch shooting, an incendiary march on Parliament in the style we now attribute to Russian troll farms, Whakaari White Island, the Auckland floods, Cyclone Gabrielle and the annihilation of the East Coast. 

    All turbulent times characterised by an astonishing absence of any bipartisan political co-operation.

    Among the clues were those incessant
     – and not cheap – polls but, more tellingly, the social media battle that apparently “left no Tic-unToked”, funded by National’s donated campaign chest which was 7.5 greater than the Labour Party’s. The NZ Herald subsequently revealed the extraordinarily successfully National campaign used the services of Sean Topham, co-founder of the agency Topham Guerin, which orchestrated the digital and video campaigning that helped right wing politicians Boris Johnson and Scott Morrison win recent elections. Shades of our own Crosby Textor and New Zealand’s Hollow Men years.

    Statistically, half of New Zealand’s voting public still espouse governance that wants a levelling up of wealth and social cohesion, fairer wages than we’ve had this last 30 years and a fair-but-firm tax system that captures overseas monopolies, bank windfalls, tech raiders and current tax exemptions. The mahi was done.

    As Campbell said, we had voted, instead, to resuscitate a conservative, free enterprise, largely male, largely Pākehā, status quo, despite the fact that ‘Back on track’ painfully reminded the sardonic among us of John Key’s nine years in office, with its vanishing tax cuts, massive rise in GST, self-serving second Auckland Supercity structure and a glacially slow response to the Christchurch earthquake.

    In the meantime, Richard Prebble (of all people) had pointed out that all the nation’s problems that our political right wing has been hacking away at while in Opposition are now their own – to fix or to fudge.

    The election’s flight to minor parties and subsequent wins for the Greens and Act is a signal that we want a courageous and more nuanced approach to governance than a pair of parties running on outdated ideologies, ruling from the top and infested with win-at-all cost ideologies.

    Chlöe Swarbrick was right at the Greens after-party. “It’s all made up,” she said. 

    And so it is. We can leave ‘it’ to either a centralised dictatorship of politicians, influencers and bureaucrats (which isn’t working too well for us) or can we sheet home the grandstanding to specific and measurable outcomes, relying on opposition leader Chris Hipkins to establish a strong and constructive version of parliamentary debate. 

    The rest of us need to take the power to put the brakes on runaway election spending, respect the rights and wellbeing of others (preferably above ourselves) and start doing the next good thing that comes to mind: Beaches need cleaning up. Potholes need reporting. Children need remedial dentistry. We all need a proper social contract in exchange for our tax and rates demands. We have to somehow grapple back local decision-making.

    We need to grow the muscle to do the ‘it’ we need and want. Nobody really wins when it’s all one way anyway.• Liz Waters

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