Opinion piece by John Black

One of a few treasured photographs from my undistinguished university career is of myself appearing to lead a large student protest march. ‘Appearing’ because, to impress a politically-minded girl of my acquaintance, I nipped in front of some bemused student politicians, had my mate take the shot and then nipped out again, most probably to spend the rest of the day in the pub.

But was my little pantomime of political commitment any more fraudulent than that of the student politicians leading the protest? The issue as I recall was not altruistic, it was either to increase student allowances or remove interest on student loans. Did these types arrive at university possessed of a considered position on educational funding? No, my view of student politicians and their grown-up equivalents, then as now, is that of self-seeking blowhards who for some reason (not enough hugs as babies, I suspect) crave the approval of the mob. To get that approval (and most importantly the power it confers), they will say and do almost anything. 

Of course, this is wildly unfair to those people who enter politics out of a policy or philosophical conviction or, finding they have a gift for leadership, decide they want to use it to the advantage of their community and country. But these decent, competent, hard-working types are the ones you hear from the least. The advent of the ‘career’ politician has seen these ‘public service’ sorts recede into the background even further. 

As a reflex position, assuming that politicians are lying sewer rats engaged in an ongoing effort to screw you with your pants on, is no bad thing. Particularly when you are a small government conservative who finds most intrusions of the state an affront in themselves.

And so to the National Party. In a week that saw the government’s ramming through of repressive Covid legislation (drawing concerns from that highly reactionary organisation, Amnesty International) her majesty’s loyal opposition was busy tearing itself apart. These kinds of inside baseball power struggles are exasperating to anyone outside the parties and their political pundit enablers. We voters (remember us?), the ones these people are meant to represent and protect against government overreach, were abandoned so the Nats could have a long coffee break and sort themselves into team Judith or team Simon. Well, I am, like most of the country, team ‘who gives a toss’.

At the time of writing, I have no idea who has become the leader of the National party. And I don’t really care, except to say I am unsettled by Christopher Luxon. And not just because he bears more than a passing resemblance to Uncle Fester from The Addams Family. It’s that he is being foisted upon the party by the higher-ups, as a John Key clone, in the mistaken belief that this is what the party needs. Another bland, middle New Zealand success story. I’d prefer a street fighting, back to basics, boot-strapper, champing at the bit to go ten rounds with our kindergarten teacher PM. I just don’t know any. But if they do want a clone, they need to get on the phone to Boris and get some Maggie Thatcher DNA – although there’s precious little left in the British Tory party anymore.

But the question of who fronts National should be secondary to the party itself grasping the big picture. Which is: two years out from an election and the country is at the mercy of one of the most incompetent, ideologically driven governments of recent times, not only intent on changing the country radically but changing the role of government in the country radically.

All this needs to be resisted, urgently.

The bad news is the government and its chief saleswoman are still broadly popular. Although this may be starting to change.

The good news is National has a clear ‘unique selling proposition’ as the advertising gurus call it.

Behind the boilerplate of ‘the team of five million’ this government has been responsible for unprecedented division within the country.

The He Puapua report, the encouragement of Maori wards, the creation of a separate Maori Health Authority, the racial element to the Three Waters plan, and the insertion of propaganda into the school history curriculum, all pit Maori New Zealanders against non-Maori New Zealanders.

The ute tax, water regulations and a general air of ‘blame the farmers’, the productive foundation of the country’s economy, for vague ‘climate crimes’: all have divided rural and urban New Zealanders.

And now the legal requirement to prove your Covid vaccine status with the presentation of ‘papers’ (Jawohl, mein kommandant!) separates us all into free and unfree.

It could even be argued that the government’s failure to pay attention to our traditional allies (the Five Eyes-China debacle, non-inclusion in AUKUS) has left us alone, separated from the world.

So the way is clear for the Nats. They need to run on unity.

Promise to end Labour’s nascent racial separatism and emphasise all New Zealanders are equal before the law. The media and academia will cluck like headless chooks but those out in the real world will get it. Take farmers off the naughty chair and embrace them as the bedrock of our economy. Reduce what vaccine passports can be used for (scrapping them altogether is likely to be politically impossible) but promise to end them as soon as practicable (set a Covid infections rate target). Reconnect with our traditional allies and our traditional role as a member of the Anglosphere, sharing the same cultural DNA as the UK and America.

End Labour’s divide and rule tactics and push the idea of the nation and every voter’s right to be a part of it.

Time to truly be the national party.