New Zealand politics: Steady as she goes


New Zealand politics are, for the most part a serious case of “Steady as she goes”. No wild swings across the political spectrum, left to right; libertarian to authoritarian.

How have we managed to keep such a steady ship for so long, one might ask. Over the years I have come to identify three key drivers of this which I describe below.

Part of the answer is that Mixed Member Proportional governance has never promoted this by way of encouraging coalition governments instead of single party ones with an outright majority. Coalition governments require deals to be cut with other parties that mean some bold policies that may have been acceptable have to be cast aside in order to secure the co-operation of a larger party (think Labour and the Greens; Labour and New Zealand First; National and New Zealand First). In 1996 for example when New Zealand First did a deal ending nine weeks of negotiations with National, the latter had to agree to give up the privatization of state assets.

A second aspect has been the li(n)es that are told. Politicians who say that they are working for the greater good of the country are often scared to implement changes that might be recommended by an inquiry or by the Ombudsman. Very often they will take the route that appears to be the shortest and easiest to get out of having to handle hot topic issues. In doing so, the legislative might offer up a half cooked solution that will not do the intended job. The politicians of the day will then say “It is the best solution available”, when they actually mean “it was the best solution that we thought was acceptable”. And being largely uncritical of the Government, most New Zealanders will swallow the story whole without thinking twice.

A third aspect is whether political parties are who they claim to be. In New Zealand we have the centre-left Labour and the centre-right National. New Zealand First claims to sit somewhere between the two, whilst the Greens and A.C.T. define the left and right field limits. At its heart, both Labour and National are not so much parties of the centre as their 21st century iterations are two shades of neoliberal. As is New Zealand First, despite its claims to not support trade agreements in their current format, or giving state owned assets to the private sector. Probably only the Greens and A.C.T. are true to their word. A.C.T. is an unashamedly neoliberal party who think market economics are the answer.

Last but not least, New Zealanders have an attitude in society, almost casual in nature to believe that wrongs will somehow come right in good time. It is a carefree attitude that has led to a toxic combination of lax safety at work, casual attitudes to socio-economic policies announced, which is unnecessarily coming to bite many people when and how they least expect it.

Our mediocre progress on economic, social and political changes as needed can be in large part put down to the above three factors and the dash of “she’ll be right”-ness that too many people believe in.

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