JOHN BISHOP: Where’s the anti-status quo alternative to National?

Elements of Labour, NZ First and the Greens could combine into a nationalist political force. With special feature audio.

With Labour now back to its 2014 election night ratings in the latest opinion polls, the question arises of how to develop a credible opposition to National.

There is one possibility. It is a common strain running through Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens that, if united into one party, would provide an alternative.

National represents itself as an open, pragmatic, internationally minded, free market party with both liberal social values and a social conscience. Logically an opposition party would be none (or mostly none) of these things.

From time to time, Labour, New Zealand First and the Greens have all attacked the free market economy and pointed to its (allegedly) adverse consequences on sovereignty, jobs, the environment and on the cherished social ideal of equality.

Suppose somehow that a single party could be formed that campaigned against all of the core values and policies of National, and against the general direction of politics over the last 30 years. (Leave aside the question of how this might be achieved for the purpose of argument.) There are precedents.

In 1950s France, a shopkeeper called Pierre Poujade built a political party around concerns about the intrusion of foreigners, big capital and modern technology into French life.

In New Zealand for years, Social Credit explained to the sharemilker and the small shopkeeper that it wasn’t their fault they couldn’t get ahead. The system, particularly the banks, was loaded against them.

Labour used to see a job, with a reasonable rate of pay, a house and a social security system as providing the fundamentals of a decent society but voters don’t see them as delivering that.

Pro-New Zealand and anti-foreigner
So what would the new party look like? Fundamentally it would be pro-New Zealand and anti-foreign, whether it’s foreign investment, land sales to foreigners or immigration.

Blaming foreigners, particularly those of a different ethnicity, is a go to reflex for Winston Peters and Phil Twyford. Witness also the Trump campaign, and there are large elements of anti big city elitism in the Brexit space, too.

Then there are Hillary Clinton’s “deplorables, racist, sexist, homophobic, xenophobic and Islamaphobic, you name it.”

Around the world and in New Zealand, the anti-status quo is a sizeable constituency. The trick will be to round up the various elements into the same party.

Such a party would prioritise sovereignty over prosperity. There’s be a strong strain of Fortress New Zealand (come back Jim Anderton).

More incentives, controls
There would be a raft of incentives, tax breaks, and corporate welfare schemes (oops, we already have those, but in future there would be even more).

There’d be tougher controls on foreign banks and businesses which “don’t act in the best interests of New Zealanders,” new policies to regulate commercial behaviour, stronger labour laws favouring unions and protecting jobs, and possibly quotas for women and minorities across the public and private sectors.

It’d be even tougher, longer and more expensive to develop land or natural resources than it is now, as the anti-capitalist elements of the new party insists that the best way to protect our clean, green environment is to lock it up.

All this would all involve a larger state bureaucracy and a wider tax base and higher taxes. This would be justified as the obligation of the rich to look after the less able. (A high moral tone, evoking the Methodism and Presbyterianism of the early Labour Party could be adopted.)

Social justice would be a centrepiece, with attempts to narrow the so called widening gap between rich and poor, and there’d be plenty of government initiatives to reduce income disparities, reduce inequality, even out access to services and to boost opportunity.

It would be big city union organised Labour meets small town New Zealand First and linking to the anti-capitalist side of the Greens.

National is criticised for its slow moving pragmatic reforms but at least it is open to change. The new party alignment I have described would be a step back to the 1950s.

Personally I could not support that, but if you want to tackle National, perhaps only an all-out assault on all fronts by all opposition forces acting from a common platform will do the job.

John Bishop is the chairman of the Taxpayers’ Union. These views are his own.

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