I’d hate to count the number of times that political pundits have said that New Zealand First is dead for one reason or another. I’d really hate to have to find and read John Armstrong’s stash of them. He has been consistently wrong about the party for decades – probably because he has never managed to understand who they actually appeal to.
Like his “NZ First’s appeal to diminishing fan base spells doom for party“. Which looked like it had been written by a political dimwit rather than one of the better political analysts in the media. But I suspect that he has proclaimed the death of NZ First so many times that he has it worn into a groove in his brain.
But I watch people both inside NZ First and their supporters outside. That is why I know that the following statement by Armstrong is complete crap.
The party is marooned in a time bubble of the economic boom of the 1950s along with the suffocating social conformity of that era.
Its unwillingness to confront that myth of a better past will ultimately be the death of it as those who lived through those times and who gain comforting reassurance from Winston Peters’ pronouncements pass away.
Just to give John’s ridiculous rhetoric some context, I was born in 1959 and my parents at the time were 20 and had been working for a few years. They are 76 now. So effectively John Armstrong with his ridiculous rhetoric is talking about people in their 70s and above.
Now I have no time for NZ First and never have had. But I turn up at NZ First conferences as media these days to see what is actually going on. Perhaps John Armstrong should try it. Because NZ First isn’t likely to disappear any time soon.
Sure those conferences have a sprinkling of the septuagenarians and octogenarians who would have been working in the 1950s, but people older than my parents are pretty rare. There is definitely a grey tinge. but it is mostly the grey of people in their 60s or 50s. Quite a few in their later 40s and relatively few younger than that. But like all political parties
That is a demographic profile that is quite unlike most of the reporters who have been at the couple of NZ First conferences I have attended, they’d be in their 20s and early 30s. They also get played pretty well by various people at the conferences, and especially by Winston Peters.
But these youngish journos also lack crucial experience in reading political gatherings. I’m a veteran of at least 20 Labour party conferences starting in the early 1990s, and innumerable other political events on the left.
For me, the social clusterings and internal politics of NZ First are interesting to watch. A pretty vibrant party with quite a range of activists and characters. It is pretty clear to an observer who is experienced in party politics exactly why it is a particularly resilient party. Lots of tension between rampant egotists, a grudging willingness to work for common goals, and a long history of doing so. All signs of a long life party.
But this is where it gets interesting, because the people who turn up to conferences are not particularly representative of the people who vote for a political party. They are representative of the party activists, who at present have a strong tendency to be the people who were raised with little television. I’m sure that people will be able to figure out the reasons for that observation 🙂
Sure NZ First has a strong group of aged voters. But this is a party that has been running for 25 years. It had a strong group of aged voters back in 1995 when I first started running across their supporters when canvassing. That is why NZ First has a generic period of silence for their dead and departed. But you’d think that John would be able to do the demographic maths. Those first generation of aged NZ First activists have been replaced by people who can’t remember the 1950s. Just as their aged voters have.
But that isn’t surprising. At least half of the voters I have run across in the last decades who regularly vote for NZ First have been younger than I am. While they have no particularly strong memories even of the 1960s, they tend to have vivid memories of the 1980s and 1990s. Those conservative voters don’t have pleasant memories of the first Act government (mixed in with a bit of Labour) followed by a National government gone rabid on them – which is the way that they tend to view it. They sure as hell don’t want those kinds of mad dogs doing the same thing to their kids or their grand kids.
They don’t vote for Winston Peters or NZ First as much as they vote against the stupefying conformities of the present day. Which convincingly enough Armstrong then proceeds to demonstrate further down his article.
The majority of political thinking now favours the “investment” approach to getting people off the benefit through intensive management of circumstances that preclude an individual’s return to the workforce. The sharp drop in beneficiary numbers is seen as vindication for that approach, although a more buoyant job market has also been a major factor.
I’d say that it is more a “vindication” of the ‘screw the numbers’ approach that National has towards statistics. They simply use any excuse to drop people on direct full benefits by getting them to do a few hours a week, and then top up their incomes. This creative accounting means that foolish people can laud the falling numbers and fail to recognize that the overall spending on direct and indirect benefits (via the tax system) isn’t dropping nearly as rapidly. Nor that the grey and black markets for employment appear to be expanding rapidly because National has simply made it very hard to get on a benefit. But I digress..
Many of the people who vote for NZ First are largely conservatives who in the past would have been solid National party voters. Many of them or their kids got hurt by the kinds of daft fiscal fiddling that John Armstrong lauds. They simply don’t believe in it. What they want their taxes to pay for is the support that it is meant to – for those in real need rather than for mates of the National party.
It is the same type of arsehole accounting crap that Act put up against NZ First in 2008 at the behest of the dirty politics crew in National, and that I predicted in 2008/9 would result in an bigger vote for NZ First after voters realised they had been tricked. That happened, and I’d expect it to keep growing as the conservative voters desert National. Conservatives who vote for NZ First tend to put a very high value on the type of personal moral certainties that NZ First exemplifies for them. They really don’t like the kind of duplicitous bullshit that National have displayed since John Key and the urban money grubbers took control.
I think that NZ First has a long future ahead of it, even after Winston disengages, as they keep eating away at National’s conservative base in the rural and provincial areas. The old alliance that is the National party looks increasingly frail in those regions these days.