Some have recently been making histrionic arm waving about the decline of the Baby Boomer’s influence.
Let me introduce: the National Party.
This wasn’t the worst shot they’ve had. Like Donald Trump, the base has held under their very, very bad year. We can use Rangitata as an illustration of the best future for the National Party. Unlike Donald Trump, they’ll be back and at some point they will be government again. 2026?
National’s Rangitata Chair Alison Driscoll summed it up pretty well in her speech on the night:
I know this party will come back bigger and better. We’ve taken a hiding tonight and there’s a lot of people out there who really need to think long and hard about what they’ve done over the last two weeks because it’s our people that have fucked us up. I’m sorry – it is our people who have done this. I think personally, and I don’t mean to be negative, but the party needed a kick up the pants.”
National will of course come back stronger, and there’s some great opportunities to gain out of Rangitata itself.
Ashburton, Methven, Temuka and Timaru, Rangitata’s population centres, aren’t townships that spring to mind when discussing the Labour Party (big ups to those Labour activists who hung in there and triumphed anyway).
But in no small part when we are discussing the future of the National Party we are discussing the future of farming and the agricultural economy and its societies around that economy. That’s still the stuff that makes us the money.
As highly intensified and advanced agricultural centres, they have collectively managed their land to higher and higher levels of productivity over recent decades, and made a good living. The intensity of irrigation in this electorate is the highest in New Zealand.
One natural path back towards regaining such a seat is for National to reconquer New Zealand as driving wealth through agriculture.
It’s still only National’s agricultural heritage that best links our agricultural produce to crafts. Consider all those little cottage industries that thrived under lockdown. Weaving, for example, has one of the best global support stores out of Ashburton in a little company called Ashford. The whole of National’s caucus should be knitting in Parliament: what an awesome signal that would be to our local business and to crafts. No one would be laughing once all those women voters felt the support for their craft work, and all the wool growers and shearers saw the leadership.
National can also set out how it will enable the agricultural economy to use technology to extract more and more for less and less materials and land and labour. For example, shutting down seasonal workers as much as possible and providing bonuses to farm industries who employ year round. Or cash incentives for full roboticised mechanisation of farms. Or setting up a water price regulator so that farmers are rewarded for using less and less water rather than constantly assuring them of a single tariff for volume. Rangitata as an exemplar for practical high tech is a great illustration of National’s policy sector with huge political upside: our entire technology sector.
National will need more of the right people to gain deep inroads into this broad sector, but if they can do it they can help New Zealand re-imagine farming from being an old man’s game. They proposed a $1.29 billion plan for growing our tech sector. Does National have the right people to make that political bridge between the broad tech sector and agriculture? It should. If it doesn’t yet, it will. At least it started in the right place: with cash. Lots of cash.
Cash, rather than regulation, should be Nationa’s preferred tool for getting very similar results to what the Greens and Labour want. Public cash.
National can also unify New Zealand’s rural agricultural economy to the broader public health effort of Covid19 by bringing rural disease management, conservation pest management, and human disease into a single frame of national effort. It was National who started off the Predator Free nationwide effort. And it was National who took the Mycoplasma eradication effort by the horns (excuse the pun). While urban elites may rejoice that Kauri Dieback is now on the same biosecurity status as Bovine Tuberculosis, where National can lead is a simple underscoring of the growing complexity and interdependence of public and animal and conservation health: bridging agriculture to public health.
Our interdependencies are now across the world susceptible to widespread, irreversible and cascading failure.
Except in New Zealand. There is a political gift to be taken, if National wants to uplift it, of New Zealand as a fully unified effort across all its infection and restoration efforts. That’s conservative as a party in all the right senses. It’s the unification of effort that we are missing and probably only National could do. National needs to find the way to use this current crisis to put the national effort back into National.
New Zealand can also be branded by National as one of the very few countries in the world where there could be integrated management to pest and pathogen alike. You may well ask: how could such a profoundly negative story assist any major political party? Well if Labour can win an election on it, National can too. Whenever the World Health Organisation finishes its investigation into COVID 19, there will be massive new questions about pathogens originating from animal hosts, and that virus transmission risk is highest from animal species that have increased in abundance and even expanded their range by adopting to human-dominated landscapes.
So National can steal back the mantle of national purpose, unifying the city and the country together again as Labour can never do. At a pretty fundamental level, there’s agreement to restore New Zealand to an ever-stronger state of environmental purity. The motives for doing so may differ, but that united political and policy effort has a common national end few disagree with. Only National has that, or will have that.
Climate change and irrigation: Rangitata. Yes, it will likely need to bite the bullet of national water price regulation, not just water quality regulation. But as well as pushing irrigation as the driver for higher and more stable productivity for annual wealth per hectare, National could promote irrigation as New Zealand’s best defence against climate change. Water security has damaged Labour’s Phil Goff, is expanding the economic and social security of the Nelson area, and completely drives the economy of mid-Canterbury. Labour is also wading (sorry) into water governance reforms this term, which will of course piss off rural towns. Irrigation should be a major political issue where National can gain a strong edge back against Labour.
None of the above, of course involves National’s usual cut costs and cut worker power approach. It’s a conservative+liberal rural+tech approach. It’s Rangitata.
Rangitata isn’t the most obvious place to look for solutions to National’s future, but they should.