- Date published:
7:30 am, November 6th, 2017 - 94 comments
Categories: Conservation, Deep stuff, democratic participation, Economy, elections, Environment, farming, farming, jacinda ardern, labour, national, Shane Jones, vote smart - Tags: first labour government, richard seddon
What would it take for Labour to win back rural support?
Even at this Jacindamania peak, Labour got pasted in the regions. Again.
The Democrats are having to face the same question, particularly with the Virgina election coming up in a couple of days:
Beyond the seats of Hawkes Bay and the West Coast, Labour no longer has a meaningful rural component.
Invercargill and East Coast have been won occasionally, both with a large rural hinterland. New Plymouth used to be pretty even, same with Whanganui.
Then slim pickings.
Well, Labour doesn’t have a meaningful rural component, except for the Maori seats.
Three of those are largely rural: Hauraki-Waikato, Ikaroa-Rawhiti, Waiariki.
Far be it from me to detect a common pattern of attractiveness in Labour’s Maori members to rural voters there. But there’s a big rural component, which they win.
The Labour Party must be able to maintain its strong base with women, ethnic minorities in South Auckland and northern Wellington, and inner city electorates, while simultaneously creating a successful rural strategy.
Yet we have to go a long, long way back in history to find progressive politicians who have really inspired the provinces.
Let’s start with Prime Minister Richard Seddon.
This guy came out of the hard core of the west coast. He was mocked in parliament for his provincial accent, and had no formal education.
So what did he do that the whole people of the west coast so loved him for?
He became the nation’s king of mining operations and regulation. He also railed against all elites. But his signature policy was the formation of old age pensions.
It was incredibly hard to get through parliament, such that it undermined his health. This policy was the foundation of our welfare state. He was a guy with fire in his belly, an expansionist and confident view of the future of New Zealand, and he stood up for the west coast as a real hard-ass fighter, and was adored for it.
The first Labour government thought and acted in the interests of rural people.
They established a country library service and a horseback allowance, they expanded the correspondence school, increased boarding and travel allowances for rural children, strengthened rural schools, enabled returning servicemen to get farms, and guaranteed prices for farmers’ produce. That and a whole bunch more, despite abolishing the country quota of electorates. Ministers of Agriculture were hard working farmers themselves, including Lee Martin, James Barclay, and Edward Cullen.
This current Labour-led government is the first to have positive policies aimed straight for the rural sector in a long, long time. $1 billion to rural projects. Scrapping the water tax. Encouraging organic farming. Supporting the rural riparian margins. Supporting free trade particularly for rural exports (despite the Canadians and Japanese) against global subsidies and protections.
Time to attempt to reverse this trend to losing the rural vote.
There are a few possible inroads, which may turn a few votes their way next time if it’s highly focussed.
I sure ain’t saying it’s going to be easy to reverse generations of growing district of Labour. It’s going to be hard, tough, repetitive political work.
Above all, sound like you have a positive and optimistic view of the whole of New Zealand that explicitly includes rural life. It’s not some sickly-sweet chocolate box of tasseled boganettes rolling in rich tall green hayseed grass popping out babies, or some wastrel paradise of P production where cows roll around lighting their farts on a Friday night doped to their fat eyelashes, nor some knuckle-ragging squad of f-grade provincial Rugby teams smacking down all effete university-trained opposition like a running yelling line of Braveheart highlanders. They are committed people who work hard on the land and for our land. Labour could do worse than to be and be seen to be the same. One word: respect.
The alternative is increasingly to let National have it all – a fully blue New Zealand set of electorates – without resistance.