The word “should” is ambiguous. Or even polyguous. Here are a few:
1. If you set the kindling properly, the fire should light.
2. You should refrain from punching old ladies in the face.
The first one is a prediction, and the other is a moral imperative. So when I say, “Labour should lose the election,” while most people would be making a prediction, I’m actually issuing a moral imperative: do the right thing, Labour, and lose.
Yes, it’s pretty likely that Labour will lose this year’s election, though there is plenty of time yet for some absurd bullshit to come out. And that’s kind of what I’m talking about here. The absurd bullshit. Because at this point, what’s going to shift the average voter’s vote is either a competition of tax cuts or some stupid scandal where it turns out John Key’s boning Gerry Brownlee or something.
And really, neither of those things should have any impact on sensible voters at all. TV3 News authoritatively declared a few weeks ago that Labour would have to promise a $25/week tax cut in order to retain power after the next election. Seriously, this was national 6pm news. “Here is how much each person in New Zealand must be paid by the political party in order to get their votes.” As if, you know, that’s what democracy is all about – voting for whoever promises you the shiniest balloon and the sweetest lollipop.
And the stupid scandals are just stupid. There will be some this year. And they are stupid.
Throughout the past century, there has been a shift in attitudes towards democracy, from voters being seen as rational individuals who should be exposed to arguments about the best policies for the nation as a whole, to voters being seen as essentially consumers in a market economy of votes, driven by irrational desires rather than rational thought.
This shift has infected what used to pass for left-wing parties in Western countries. We saw it with Clinton and the Democrats, and then Blair and British Labour. Both parties were responding to tactics that had already been introduced by Reagan and Thatcher, appealing to the atomised society of selfish individuals who don’t see themselves as part of a community. The emphasis shifted from good policy to good marketing – echoing a shift already effected in the economy, from rational purchasers to subconscious desire-driven consumers.
In New Zealand, the political left is already basically non-existent. The nature of parliamentary politics in the market economy of votes has a feedback effect on the policies of “leftist” parties. Over time, there is an inevitable shift from true left and true right towards the “centre” – which is essentially a compromise between capitalism that accentuates the rewards for those at the top and capitalism that mitigates the effects on those at the bottom. “Left” or “right”, New Zealand political parties are capitalist, which makes them essentially right-wing in my book.
There was a conversation between Clinton and one of his advisers, when he started creating policy based on phone polling. “What’s the point of being elected if we don’t have any real policies?” asked the adviser.
Clinton replied, “What’s the point of having policies if we don’t get elected?”
At first glance, this sounds like a sensible practical view. In a representative democracy, politics must surely involve some compromise. The problem is, though, that the compromise is no longer a political or economic ideological compromise (“OK, we’ll raise taxes, but also offer incentives to start-up small businesses”), but instead are cynical vote-buying strategies akin to the marketing of retail products.
Labour’s on the defensive. They’re down in the polls thanks to skilful spin and misinformation from National surrounding the repeal of Section 59, the Electoral Finance Bill and tax cuts – misinformation that was picked up and carried by Kiwi media too excited by revenue to tell the (very) plain facts. It is simply the case that when things are going pretty well (well enough for Kiwis to have the education and wealth necessary to move their families overseas if they choose), people stop caring whence good living conditions come and start caring about who’s going to give them personally something they want in exchange for their vote.
Unless there is a radical shift in the attitude of the Kiwi populace (unlikely), the only way Labour will win the upcoming election is by focussing even less on good policy and even more on the kind of brand marketing National has spent the last few years perfecting. Even if they win the election, they will lose what remains of their integrity. And the effect on the voting populace will be one that shapes a nation of voters who care more about stupid shit than about rational policy.
So, Labour, boldly lose the next election. Concentrate on coming up with policies you think will work in the long run, campaign on information about those policies, don’t continue to stoop to National’s level of brand-marketing politics, and let National fuck things up for everyone. It’s the only way they’ll learn.
(more from the comments)
You supposed that Labour will lose the next election.
I said it certainly looks like Labour will lose the next election, though there’s time yet for that to change.
You also supposed that Labour will fight the election with cheap stunts rather than real policies.
I said that campaigning with good policies rather than brand marketing probably wouldn’t win it the election, and the chances are that Labour wants enough to win to prefer emulating National’s tactics to losing.
You decided that Labour ought to lose the election, so that the public will be taught a lesson about how silly they were to vote National.
That’s where I was unclear. What I meant was “it’s the only way they’ll learn to vote for good policy rather than be swayed by brand marketing”. The manner of learning would indeed probably be National fucking a bunch of things up.
I didn’t say that Labour should intentionally lose just to demonstrate how bad National is. I said that Labour should campaign on good policies even if that means losing the election.
If the current trends continue, elections will be more and more fought in terms of competing brand marketing rather than good policy, and in the long run that will be increasingly bad for New Zealand as a civic society. Labour could set a good example and try to push the trend back in the direction of policy, but to do so might result in bad things for New Zealand in the short term – a National-led government. But in the long term, I think we will suffer more if politics continue down this path.
Labour should campaign on policy, even if that means losing.