Another body was found in the halls of parliament this week when the corpse of Peter Dunne’s political career was found slumped in the corner of his plush office.
There were no marks on his body but it was clear from the masque of terror on his face that he had seen the slavering horror of FukYoo Politix and his heart had simply stopped out of the sheer fear of actually having to do some genuine political campaigning in his previously safe, niche, electorate.
And like the other recent bodies found inside parliament (that of Metreia Turei and Andrew Little) it was clear that some unknown force was stalking and killing political careers left, right and centre.
In Turei’s case she was run over by her own fetid ambitions (suspiciously found in neutral gear and with the hand brake off when parked on a steep slope) while Little was bludgeoned to death by his own low poll ratings (his mashed body was found locked in the caucus room and no one could find the key).
Then there is the body that started all this, John Key, which at the time was thought to be from natural causes but now, like all good murder mysteries, seems to have met with foul play (possibly poison slipped into his morning expresso by a “trusted” friend and confidant).
Thus, this election campaign, like all good teenage horror movies, has now entered, as we discussed a few months back, that final phase (cue the creepy synth music) as the killer is now out in the open, striking at will and the panic this has engendered in the survivors has them sweating with fear and swiveling their heads as they try to figure out where the beast will strike from next.
But this post is not about the last few weeks of this increasingly chaotic political campaign but what will happen in the days after September 23rd because it’s clear that there are only two real options for an electoral outcome and both of them boil down to whichever way Winston Peters happens to go when Labour and National front up and try and jam his hairy, outsized foot into the political glass slipper they are carrying.
And the mechanics of that podiatry nightmare are best covered by the recent work of Chris Trotter who shows that while we can track the creature that is Winston by his spoor and territorial leavings (think the usual Winston rhetoric) it could still come down on the day to some obscure factor like how tight his pants are or what color a reporters shirt is.
What is certain is that there are only two possible political outcomes: a National Coalition government or a Labour coalition government.
And while the composition of those governments remains malleable (think Labour and NZ First with or without the Greens or National and NZ First or even National and the Greens* if Winston decides to go with Jacinda to the ball) there are only two major structures that will be constructed post-election.
The ramshackle Mc-mansion that National will build will do its best to hide the rot (as I describe in my previous post National party embiggened by cromulent election victory) or the slightly newer looking house of Labour which may start with the best intentions to restore the property to its original condition but instead turns into a The-Block style superficial makeover before they flip it on for a quick profit.
This then, is the peril of post-election politics for Kiwis this year, the election ends on September 23rd but the next three years of our political lives start the very next day when whoever or whatever we elect will take office.
And this message was never clearer with the end of the political career of Peter Dunne as Dunne entered politics 33 years ago in 1984 with the then Lange Labour government which immediately proceeded to enact the neo-liberal reforms which brought us to where we are today.
How ironic that the deeply cynical populist anger that Dunne helped create was also what chopped him down this week, the same populist sentiment that chewed up and spat out Andrew Little, Meteria Turei and James Shaw and even John Key was born of these last 33 years.
And if we can get all Pol-Sci for a moment the dynamic that is now at play works like this.
When the majority of the voting populace is content with the current government and its policies it will maintain that government and its policies.
When the majority of the voting populace is not happy with the current government and its policies it will seek to first change the policies; then the government; then the structure of government and finally the system of state (in that order).
And in the last 33 years we have seen the voting populace first object policies like the mother of all budgets, the dismantling of the welfare state and the privatization vital public services before getting ticked off with being ignored and then deciding to remove one government for another (as in 1996 and 2005) before arriving at where we are now with the mood of both NZ and much of the rest of the world reflecting a want to change the structure of governments themselves (by removing the neo-liberal and free market ideals which have created the housing hernia, dirty water and a swelling underclass living in dire poverty) and substituting other (possibly new possibly old) ideas and theories for how we wish to organize our society.
This is why all the recent calls for having a focus on policy this election are the proverbial rearranging of deck chairs on the sinking ship.
The last 33 years has seen a raft of policy and politicians who ignored reality, and any who dared to call for it, while crafting policy cut from a particular vein of ideology which created people like John Key as our PM; created dirty dairy farming; pumped up the housing market until it became a national hernia; threw up an open door immigration system as a way to provide cheap labour; built up a culture of poverty and beneficiary bashing while ignoring any and all indicators that something was deeply wrong with the direction that society was heading.
Nor is New Zealand the only place where this dynamic has played itself out; the US, the UK, France, Spain, Italy, Greece and may other democracies around the world have been though the crazy that we are going through now in NZ.
But here is the kicker because this election is not really about who or what we vote for, or even if we vote at all but what will those who are elected do once they get given the task of fixing the mess the last 33 years has left us.
We know that if National get back in it will be more of the same and Steven Joyce might even dust of that “final solution” policy he has had locked away in the Beehive basement for the last nine years, the one where they stop pretending that we are not a third world banana republic and where he and the rest of National decide to live and act like the plantation managers they really aspire to be while remaking NZ into something like Thailand (with its booming tourist industry, military junta, grinding poverty, mass corruption and semi lawless society) rather than a genuine social democratic state (with the rule of law, fairness and natural justice and an economic and social system that prioritizes people over profits).
Of course with Jacindamania building to a fever pitch we could end up with the Labour party bus parked up our driveway for the next three years and the scent of change fading from our nostrils as Jacinda and Labour keep the ovens rolling but with a “kinder and gentler” face to the proceedings to help sooth those liberal sensitivities which were bruised under National but unwilling to acknowledge the cognitive dissonance that it was a Labour government that unleashed the beast 33 years ago and that it will be a Labour government which will attempt to stanch the sucking chest wound that is our failing state with a Band-Aid.
Let’s be clear here, if Bill and the B team are out and we get Jacinda and Co in they will still have to “win the peace”, as it is, by actually doing something to turn back the tide of neo-liberal garbage washing up on the beaches of NZ because if they don’t there is a very clear fate waiting for governments which fail to live up to the promise they embody (be it conscious or not).
In the US populism splattered Donald Trump all over the faces of the US public and now sees him deeply unpopular and divisive; while its brought Theresa May's popularity to its knees, Brexit horror, Tory Decline and a resurgent Jeremy Corbyn to the UK; Its seen the recent Macron government popularity sink less than six months after being elected; Justin Trudeau (who unseated the uber-neo-liberal Harper government in 2016) stumble as his feel good glow begins to fade and the PC brigade start to act just as bad as Harper and his goons were; while even Australia has descended into a carnival of revolving door PMs, bat guano insanity passing as rational debate and rabid racist sentiment becoming the core theme for how Oz behaves both domestically and internationally; not to mention a murderous town mayor running the entire Philippines (complete with one of his clones campaigning for National in Auckland) and all those other wavering democracies which are failing to address the core issues they face and having powerless politicians in office.**
This is the post-election slump and this is why policy is no longer relevant because the policies that are driving NZ today (see my recent post about the three P's of politics) are tied to a system of principles, which unless changed, will see us strangers in our own country and Godzone nothing more than a slogan on a shirt sold at some roadside stall in Roturua or Queenstown.
NZ has ascended the scale from seeking to change policy and party to now changing the actual principles and if Labour get in and fail to grasp this fact then expect to see Jacinda become just as unpopular as Trump, Macron or Trudeau as she does nothing but minimal or incremental policy tweaks to the overpriced and undervalued society that Labour needs to fix wholesale.
Also worth remembering is that if the populace fail to change the principles the next step will be to change the system and the other words for that are ones like revolt, revolution or civil war as I have alluded to in earlier posts.
It won’t be enough for us to just vote for the brighter day and then those voted for can sit and act like a few small policy ideas will save the day; they won’t. And if the pendulum swung far to the Right in 1984 then it may have to swing just as far Left before it can be brought back to the center because while I don’t endorse NZ becoming a communist utopia I do wish to see a civil society that is not an adjunct to the market and people, not profit, as the virtues of this nation.
Given how the current election campaign has gone the remaining four weeks are sure to be just as rowdy but both we, the voter, and the politicians coveting our vote would do well to heed what we see elsewhere when voting and enacting that vote because populism won’t go away until the things that are causing it go away.
This is why so many have recently fallen to the beast and why this campaign has become so chaotic as few, if any, in NZ politics really understand the animal they are seeking to ride into office. Unlike previous electoral cycles where they could play the popularity card while on the hustings and then forget it once safely in parliament this time the beast is riding them.
Any MP or political party who seeks to harness populism to get elected best be aware of the horror of the post-election slump if they piss away all the positive energy of the populist mood by trying to keep the status quo because populism is the diametrical opposite and will brook no backpedalling.
Naturally this applies to Labour and NZ First much more than National but in the end the beast is still hungry and, as we have seen, anybody can end up between its teeth.
Finally I am open to the idea that, as it is today, democracy may need a major tune up or even to get "pimped out" to make it work but that is what revolutions are for and I don't think we are up for that yet.
*- Six weeks ago even I would have scoffed at this suggestion but given how crazy things have gotten this campaign, how bad the Greens have botched their election chances and how desperate Shaw has acted to get into government I would not put it past him, or Bill English to consider the most unholy of alliances post September 23rd.
**-Of course political popularity always goes down once the honeymoon is over but this is not just the reality of government sinking in but also the public realizing that they have been duped again.