Wednesday, February 27, 2008

No left turn? No right of way?

In times of inner turmoil it's always nice to be able to turn one's attention to the outside world - yes - it's still there, even if this becomes disturbingly easy to forget this while being all lovesy-smuvsy and in the dreary disbelief of a break-up.

We have an election this year. And while New Zealand politics is almost always annoying parochial back-biting and the same tired old shit wearing a slightly different navy-blue suit as far I'm concerned, the reality is that where the suits position themselves on the political spectrum allows us to better predict what they might do when in office. And their decisions, like it or not, grossly affect many facets of our lives. No matter how irritating and/or dry media reports on national politics are in New Zealand, we should try to pay attention since what our politicians and their parties decide in between offending each other across the house and behaving badly outside of it affects us directly.

Since I started uni I've had s sneaking suspicion that even extremely well-educated people who should unquestioningly know better really have no clue about what the political spectrum is. I consider this to be a complete indictment of the New Zealand school system and I invite what might be left of my readers to submit comments stating where they position themselves in relation to communism and facism, or whatever bland centre-bound party they'd like to navigate from - Peter Dunn, anyone? I predict a resounding silence and I'm refusing to entirely blame the paltry nature of my readership.

If you're confused I suggest trying this little number for some lefty commentary with a heavily Labour slant, and this for some more right-leaning babble. Each of these blogs claims the other is being run by a political party at the opposite end of the spectrum. Given the anonymous quality of the writing and much of the commentary, it's anyone's guess, but the ping-pong quality of the exchanges between the two often expressed is almost reminiscent of a little parliament and press gallery going hard in the cyberspace. Instructive and often hilarious, if somewhat plagued by trolling and parochiality of the highest order, these blogs are at the very least far more interesting than page "just shoot me now and be done " A2 of the New Zealand Herald.

7 comments:

lduncalfe said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lduncalfe said...

That's a tough question. I like communism and fascism equally.

Likewise I can't stand political apathy. Although what's worse is people having views but being uninformed. Because they'll still vote, whereas the others will just let me decide for them which is fine because I know what's best.

Especially in young people. But I don't think it's to do with the schools. Why would it have anything to do with schools?

I see the coming election in a mostly positive light.

National will get the party majority. It's only fair ...

Though unless it's over 50% it's still open season on who our government will be. I think MMP is the best.

I'd be happy to see National lead, for the most part. But my bleeding heart belongs with the left. So the way I see it, the right is fairly small .. although National will likely do very well, it's only National and Act, and Act is really one person. I can see Labour having it easier with regard to the successful smoochment of center parties. They've passed most of their legislation over the past 9 years and could probably quite happily compromise on a number of issues if it meant being able to firmly grasp their aging baubles. Yum. I mean yuck.

In terms of sport, I'd like to see the Maori party be the king makers and lead negotiations. If only Pita Sharples could become the Maori minister ...

The pendulum needs to swing, and if it swings at this time it's best we managed to weather Don Brash. Plus I like John Key's puzzled look. It's like he's hiding a fart.

So I think things bode well for Aotearoa. We either get more of the same, or something else that's more of what we would have had the last time.

Lyn said...

Ok - I don't get it - or not all of it anyway. But to clarify - I think we should all get taught what the left-right political spectrum is in school and that way we'd have some clue about whether we wanted to pay more tax and get collective health, education and other social services, or pay less tax and take care of these things ourselves as individuals.

I think things under a National-lead government would be quite different than they are now - there's bound to be a retrenchment of spending on things I quite like - including culture and heritage and arts funding. But we're a swing-state. Labour has been in for ages and so it's nearly inevitable that there's going to be a swing away. And given the fact that governments still cluster around either Labour or National, most people see two core choices. My point is that I suspect their choices have little to do with the core values of the major parties - it's just that people think it's time for a change. But that's the point of Mr Duncalfe's post really - isn't it?

lduncalfe said...

Change for the sake of change might work out okay though don't you think? It's fairly difficult for governments to set clocks back on legislation that's been passed, and there's been a lot of social reform in 9 years, it's easy to forget how much ... Sure, I can see the drinking age being rolled back, and probably the prostitution bill at least being amended, but I don't see these as being very important. I think Labour's left a big mark, and the good things will stick around. Reducing state spending could be a concern, but to me policy passed into law is the most important thing. Does that sound terribly apathetic? I think it might. I'd like to think philosophic.

Just quickly, I don't think the public would give National a mandate to strip money from things left right and center. We don't need economic reform in this country and everybody knows it. The difference between this National party and Don Brash's is Brash sought brutish policy for the sake of setting themselves an identity that was separate from Labour's, not because it was necessary or even particularly helpful. I don't get the sense that's where Key is heading.

Everyone needs change though, change is good, some new voices ...

Lyn said...

Well - yeah - I guess I can see your point re policy passed into law, and I doubt that National even need to brand themselves as different to get in this election, given the way the NZ electoral process works...however the point I'm attempting to make in the original blog-post is that National will take whatever mandate they choose once in power - the nature of democracy is that governments work on behalf of people, not in consultation with them. National are a right party and we have to expect that they will be aiming to reduce investment in NZ's social spending and infrastructure because this is what a party on the right of the spectrum will do. So their entre into government can only signal the gradual or otherwise attrition of things like Kiwisaver, Working for Families, arts funding, health spending, a collective approach to funding education - including schools, money for universities, student allowances, tax breaks for student loans....the list goes on. And I'm buggered if I want any of that to happen. I would like to see a substantial re-arrangement of cabinet though, reflecting the presence of the Greens and the Maori Party more strongly, and dare I say - a new prime-minister, even though I believe passionately that Helen is about the best we've ever had. You're right - change is good, but not at any cost.

Anonymous said...

THere's a depper problem with this - the left/right orientation dones't reallly cover enough to be useful - people have to sit somewher in parliament, so we tend to label the conservative right wing, and so on. But what are libertarians? What are anarcho-syndicalists?

The tax example you gave is only one of a wide variety of positions - I begin to cynically wonder if ideology means anything, and whether the great right left-divide is just a battle of competing selfish interests in society - more money for mothers! for kids! for drought stricken fathers! less tax for employers! but more infrastructure and power stations! smack 'em but not too much!

I find my political interest (and I studied a fair bit of it, all the greats, Plato, Machiavelli, Rawles, Hobbes, Rosseau...) is narrowing.

It's become harder and harder for me to care what a politicians ideals are - I'm only interested in their behaviour, and the outcome of their behaviour.

I don't like to see people suffer, but I recognise its inevitability. I don't like inefficiency - waste for the sake of supidity. I don't like imposing morality on someone just becasue ... but wait... that's what government is.. we can't get around it.

I reject extreme libertarianism because you can't get rid of government - you can oonly replace it with a dictator, or ganags, or tribes, sooner or later someone works out two spears are nastier than one and your perfectly individualistic, or perfectly egelatarian dream fails.

Is politics just the evolved expression of power?

So, in summary ( this window is too small to read back coherently. I think yes, we should teach the left-right "story", but "Politics" in the grand sense is much more complicated that that. (Who else knows what "Pareto Optimal" means?)

For what it's worth. I like public healthcare (it's more efficient AND it does better for the most disadvantaged). I like religious freedom, and moral freedom (no telling people what to do in their own beds, or public spaces). I think the military is neccessary, and should be kept in good shape. I think we should make rules about what externalities people impose on the environment. I don't believe in government bailouts. I believe in free education. I'm uncertain on government funding for the arts.

I'm very anti-subsidy and tariff.(Free-er trade would suddenly make South American and African farmers much wealthier, and people in the West who lose out could do something better instead.

I'm pro-justice, it should be swift, efficient, fair and consistent.

Who knows where I'd vote this election? I don't.

Lyn said...

I love the pragmatism of the last comment. I find NZ governmental politics frustrating to follow for some of the same reasons - although I certainly *haven't* studied the greats - the posturing and the narrowness of the political narratives that we're presented in the media and associated commentary does get a bit tiring. My political interest has never been high and I suppose that's reflected in my reductionist position in the previous comment - I'm not that engaged, but then neither are the majority of voters. However, when you said:

"It's become harder and harder for me to care what a politicians ideals are - I'm only interested in their behaviour, and the outcome of their behaviour"

I did think again of one of my earlier points which is that the left-right spectrum offers a way of predicting which way a politician will go on a social or economic issue (rather than simply tax as you state above), and also, and more importantly possibly, what their party will do if in power. Anyone who has lasted any length of time in politics hasn't followed their own ideals exactly but those of the party they come from - Catherine Rich's resignation being the latest example of how this can work. And it seems to me that parties in NZ tend to mark themselves out by an affiliation to either conservatism (basically individualism) or social democracy (basically collectivism) according to their historical antecedents. Granted under MMP there has been a profusion of parties that use other kaupapa to locate themselves (Greens, Maori Party, Christian parties) but they still have to position themselves in relation to social policy and economic policy and indicate which of the major parties they might side with after the election, and thus the left-right continuum is preserved - and party members must tow the party line on it.

Under my functional-reductionalist argument libertarians are on the right side of the spectrum because they're in favour of everyone being able to do their own thing, while anarcho-syndicalists are firmly on the left because of their belief in the power of collective organisation through labour unions. Social issues like abortion are conscience votes, and it's anyone's guess how a politician will go - but as NZ is fairly socially liberal, unlike the US, I'd never be an issue voter.

However, all of that said, I know that the current government has put through at least two pieces of socially progressive legislation during its time in the house (Civil Unions, anti-smacking), and these don't relate to the economic aspects of the left-right spectrum, but they certainly have my support as things which reflect a broadly humanist agenda. If I thought they might be revoked this would affect my voting behaviour. But again, I'd be looking for the party's position on this rather than just the individual politician because you can't make those kinds of changes without support in the house, and that comes in block votes. So while I appreciate that the left-right spectrum might have its limitations, I'd always look at party policy before committing myself. I'd never give my vote to a politician based on their own code of conduct.

As to how you should vote in this election - well given your own description of where you fit on the spectrum and what you support, I'd say you should vote for your labour candidate and put in a party vote for the greens (or vice versa depending on what sort of an electorate you're in) and then what you want is *likely* to come true. Unless you're in a National safe-seat, in which case you're buggered. But that's just me : )