A year and more into October’s tawdry election lead-up, it’s hard to stomach the daily cacophony of polls and hypocritical bickering that’s passing for electioneering in a once rich and contented little country that’s now facing any number of threats.
Media needs to get a grip. Have our major newsmongers learned nothing from the Trump circus that fed off every vapid word and slogan uttered by a bellicose charlatan and cheat, investing him in cult status and accruing a following that would have burnt down the US Capitol in righteous wrath? And who may still do it again?
The populist manual plays the man and not the ball, taking no prisoners. Ask Hilary Clinton and, more recently and closer to home, Jacinda Ardern. “String her up” normalised vicious schoolboy bullying, the jeering repetition jumping borders to reappear on the hallowed grass of the New Zealand Parliament early last year.
Every time mainstream journalists count the scalps National has claimed from the Labour caucus since Jacinda resigned, I’ve thought of John Key’s boast of the five Labour leaders he had seen off during his years as National’s leader. So disrespectful. Ardern – like party leaders Phil Goff, David Shearer, David Cunliffe, David Parker and Andrew Little before her – represented roughly half the voting population and their assets and aspirations.
Either we tackle inequality, get the population on a sound footing and acknowledge that everyone has access to a home, a generous education, meaningful work, equality of opportunity and space in society – or we’re toast.
We’ve lost decades with this ugly stuff when we should have been repairing our purpose-built inequality.
How mean all this brangling is. And, if you listen to the current divisive, winners-and-losers election polls, it’s obvious that, rightly or wrongly, the two major parties are barely operative in the face of the crises and challenges that are coming down on us – whatever we were hoping for when Labour secured a landslide election win nearly three years ago.
Some barriers are gone. Remember how lousy most people’s wages were before Covid? Be grateful, small business owners, for the lockdown packages. Poverty among children went back a long way and only got worse when housing stock was sold off in the Key years to tighten the noose on home ownership. Our Aussie supermarket and banks are at least on notice that their billions in profits are under scrutiny.
However, genuine leadership is an elusive quality and at this moment, the bets are on the second tier of parties if we are to rebuild an alternate and workable form of overall democracy capable of the serious, detailed planning required at this minute.
While Act leader David Seymour states the unbridled case for the right, the Green Party has stepped into a policy void on the left, tabling a manifesto that far outstrips Labour’s in stabilising and resourcing everyone more evenly in tough times. Available online, it envisages 95 percent of the population paying less tax and the wealthiest only five percent more. What’s not to like? A two-parent couple with three children, on median wages and working a combined 60 hours a week, would be $225 better off under the Greens’ plan. More money going round, less devastating anxiety, everyone being ratcheted up. Even children.
But now, we’re at a crossroads where everyone needs to be at the table and the state services bureaucracy needs to be forced on board.
MMP was introduced back in the 1990s to counter the binary left-right swings of the two dominant parties and I well remember a Swedish friend who clutched his head in dismay at the devil-in-the-detail version of the alternate MMP voting system we chose at the time. However, both the UK (still with first past the post) and our own current three-yearly bloodbaths are barely functioning in the interests of their citizens and remain utterly intransigent when it comes to the threats of climate change and the extraordinary power of global capital, so the problem is systemic.
In a recent Guardian opinion piece, economics editor Larry Elliot pointed to the lack of consensus about what needs to be done to put the global economy on a saner and more sustainable footing. The shortness of political terms compounds the powerful tendency to put off tough decisions and leads to a lack of consensus about what needs to be done and when it needs to happen, he said. In both the UK and the US, the failure to forge a bi-partisan approach provides an incentive for parties to look for short term political gain.
“The solution lies ultimately in the hands of politicians because they have the power to remove barriers to change.”
In the developed West, this means using the financial firepower of the state to recognise the link between global heating and grotesque levels of inequality – and a willingness to do something about it. Both Covid and the Goblal Financial Crisis showed that swifter responses are possible if the crisis is deemed big enough, he said.
Elections, like most important things in life, are a matter of ‘buyer beware’ and the stakes are very high now. Existential, in fact. •