221; Topic 19: Political Campaigning In A Modern Liberal Democracy, And Other Absurdities

For a New Zealand blog that is ostensibly about politics, I’ve realised I’ve had remarkably little engagement with, A.) the real world of politics at all, and B.) with what many would consider to be the most important New Zealand political event of this year, the election. There’s been much too much incoherent moaning and and pseudo-philosophical ivory tower bloviations. So right, election, 20th of September 2014. I’ll be voting for the party of which I’m a member, Mana, regardless of whether or not some deal with the Internet Party is hammered out, about which I am very ambivalent. I’m registered to vote in Te Tai Hauāuru (Tariana’s electorate), and will likely vote for the yet to be named Mana candidate, although the seat will in all probability go to Adrian Rurawhe, the Labour candidate (Tariana’s stepping down in case you haven’t been paying attention).

Mana will win Te Tai Tokerau (especially now Kelvin Davis is back in parliament, the one upside to Shane stepping down). Waiariki will be a nasty campaign with lots of back-and-forth about Te Ururoa being National’s lapdog, and Mana capitulating to the interests of a shady German millionaire (billionaire?) Bond villain. I think it’s too close to call (between Te Ururoa and Annette), but even if Te Ururoa does manage to sneak home, he will not bring anyone else to Parliament with him. Tāmaki Makaurau (whether it’s Taurima or Wilcox), Hauraki-Waikato, Ikaroa-Rāwhiti, and Te Tai Tonga will all turn to Labour, or stay with Labour.

Labour’s missed a beat in Ohariu after National, instead of giving Dunne a free run there after Katrina Shanks stepped down, named a candidate to replace her (Brett Hudson). Labour should’ve stood a high-profile candidate in Ohariu, or flown Charles Chauvel back from the UN to stand, but have instead named a no-name candidate (Virginia Anderson), effectively gifting Dunne a seat which should have been eminently winnable.

Key will have a sit down with David Seymour in Epsom, who should prove more popular than Banks, and be able to ride out a co-ordinated campaign from Labour and the Greens to get their voters in Epsom to hold their noses and vote for Goldsmith. I don’t think a similar deal will be cut with Colin Craig, after Bennett ‘bagsed’ Upper Harbour (Rankin will stand for the Conservatives there), and Murray McCully did enough with the Shane Jones ‘poaching’ to prove he’s still useful and will be rewarded by being allowed to run a ‘two-ticks’ campaign in East Coast Bays. The Conservatives will not win an electorate seat, and will get close, but not pass the the threshold.

Labour will increase their vote from 2011, but will be stuck in the low-mid 30s, instead of potentially the high-30s that were reachable before Shane left. The main beneficiaries of his departure will be largely New Zealand First, and to a lesser extent National, and Mana.

National’s vote will take a hit after a tough term, as finally the weight of unpopular policies and scandals, especially the corruption and cronyism scandals, builds and creates a substantive narrative that the opposition can build on. They will leak some low, and lower-middle income votes to Labour, some of the older vote worried about their cosiness with rich Chinese businessmen to New Zealand First, some of their social conservative vote, dissatisfied with the passage of gay marriage to Colin Craig, and a very small amount of their neo-liberal vote to a newly ideologically pure ACT Party. They will poll likely in the low 40s, as opposed to the almost 48% of last election.

The Greens have probably about maximised their potential vote, with polls showing them in the low-mid teens typical of usual Green over-polling, and will probably slip back a very small amount to 10%, with some voters going home to Labour, and some of the digitised civil libertarians to the Internet Party.

Winston has done enough to secure a ticket back into Parliament, and will probably stay in the 6.5-7% territory that it reached last time. A strong performance from Winston this term, along with some disaffected Shane Jones voters, and a few of the aforementioned National voters worried about National’s relationship with rich Chinese, likely to prove sufficient to replace the Labour voters who strategically voted New Zealand First in 2011 to make sure Labour had another potential coalition partner, but in 2014 are ‘returning home’, and the loss of some more right-leaning New Zealand First voters to the Conservatives, to whom a more visible (compared to 2011) Colin Craig appeals.

Mana and the Internet Party will likely enter into a vote sharing agreement, and see a combined vote of 3.5-4%, with disaffected voters of the walking-dead Māori Party crossing over to Mana, and a more visible Dotcom-funded campaign managing to increase exposure to their message, plus whatever motley crew the Internet Party brings to the table, responsible for the increased vote.

Act will likely benefit ever so slightly from a return to its ideological roots, and will probably (just) secure enough of the vote to bring Jamie Whyte in off the back of Seymour winning Epsom.

Peter Dunne meanwhile will survive in Ohariu, but his party will be lucky to secure enough of the vote to prevent his seat from being an overhang.

The election will play out as follows:

National: 41%, 51 MPs, or 52 MPs if the Māori Party doesn’t win Waiariki (due to the vagaries of the Sainte-Lague Method)

Labour: 31.5%, 40 MPs

Greens: 10%, 13 MPs

New Zealand First: 6.5%, 8 MPs

Mana/Internet Party Alliance: 3.5%, 4 MPs

Conservative Party: 3.5%, 0 MPs

Act: 1.5%, 2 MPs

Māori Party: 1%, 1 or 0 MPs (depending on Waiariki)

United Future: 0.5%, 1 MP

That gives a Parliament of 120 (no over-hangs), and neither National, or Labour/Greens able to form a government without Winston, although crucially, any possible coalition (except National/Labour, or National/Greens – neither going to happen) will require at least three partners. Winston has sent absolutely no signals that could be interpreted as an intention to go with National, while joint policy announcements with Labour and the Greens can be interpreted as a warming of his relationship with the Greens (and so making co-operation with them in a Labour-led Government more likely), as can this snippet in an interview with Bryce Edwards (28:38-30:14) where he repeatedly says “I don’t hate the Greens”, and speaks positively of environmentalism (although in a rather back-handed way with regards to his new friends, the Greens). Another signal of a possible leaning towards Labour is Winston ruling-out working in any Government that included any ‘race-based’ parties, and proceeding to classify only the Māori Party, and not the Mana Movement as race-based, a classification that seems uncharacteristically charitable for Winston (I wouldn’t classify the Mana Movement as ‘race-based’ either, but it’s hard to deny that it includes a commitment to Tino Rangatiratanga that Winston has branded ‘separatism’ in the past). So while the commitment to raise the retirement age could prove to be a hurdle, I think after the 20th of September we’ll be looking at a Labour/Greens/New Zealand First government, with some sort of deal likely to be struck with the Mana and Internet Parties as well, although probably not a formal coalition.

The campaign will be tough. There will be lots of back and forth. National will focus on Key, its economic record, the return to surplus, continue its demonisation of beneficiaries, and revert to law and order when opposition talk of economic inequality requires a change of subject. Labour will run strongly the corruption and cronyism tack, and, as with the parties to its left, emphasise strongly the increasing inequality. The Greens will talk about deep sea drilling, rivers and the environment. Winston will talk about Asians and foreign ownership. Colin Craig will talk about referenda and smacking.  ACT about taxes and law and order, Dotcom about spying, Hone about the kids, Te Ururoa about how the Māori Party’s not done-for, and Peter Dunne about not much at all. There might be another scandal or two, Judith Collins might resign, the polls’ll jump around a bit, but it’ll all fold out with almost predetermined predictability, and I doubt significantly differently to what I’ve described above.

And this of course points to the absurd reality of political campaigning in the modern liberal democracy that arises from the utter incompatibility of liberalism and democracy, and the incoherency of liberalism as a political ideology. Every other political ideology has managed to grasp the nature of humanity’s fundamentally collective existence, the necessity of the other, of a shared commonality of experience, and the fundamental place of belonging to something greater, without which we would be unable to establish the relation to others that is necessary to provide the framework for which the transcendence needed to know ourselves is realised. It is only due to our relations to others that we are able rise out of the self to examine ourselves, to analyse ourselves, to know ourselves, and to actually realise the self in any meaningful way. Every other political ideology recognises this beautiful seemingly paradoxical relation that is at the heart of the ontology of man. That it is only in knowing others that we can know ourselves, and it is only turning outwards, away from the self, that the self is actualised. It is only in the collective of we, that I exists. For the socialist, that collective is class; for the communist that collective is the community; for the nationalist, it is the nation; the conservative, shared tradition and heritage; for the fascist, it is the state; for the Nazi, race; for the reactionary, our collective past; for the monarchist, it is, in a very real way, the family; for the internationalist, humanity; for the environmentalist, our shared place in the environment; for the anarchist it is our very reliance on others that collects us; and for the theocrat, it is our shared relation to God.

Of course, not all of these instantiations of the collective is are positive things. But just because the likes of Nazism and Fascism exploit and corrupt what is fundamental to humanity, it does not mean that the concept of the collective is a damaging one. It is liberalism alone that believes this, and in doing so, retards and corrupts the way we understand others and ourselves. While the monarchist might build monuments to the king, the Nazi to the master race, and the communist to the common man, it is the liberal alone that edifies the self, that places himself at the centre of the universe, and it is in this hubristic concept of the self that he is unable to recognise and relate truly to humanity.

Since the self is the starting point for the liberal, all relations to others are inherently narcissistic. He is unable to transcend, to access his humanity to understand humanity and his place in it, and so instead turns inwards, to the self, where the rational is reduced to the emotive, where the absolute is reduced to the arbitrary, and his reductionist self is made God. And it is here, in the liberal’s emotive relations, retarded by their conception in the liberal’s narcissistic self-relation, where the human is turned into human resources, where the child is only child if he is wanted, and foetus otherwise, where addicts are free agents on the open market, where the drug peddler is made entrepreneur, and the person is made consumer. It is this narcissist anti-culture that capitalises I the way God is capitalised, that interacts with the world with my and mine, and in doing so reduces everything to mercantile, transactionary, market-based property relations.

The power of the market to corrupt to absurdity is everywhere in the liberal society, it engulfs everything, infecting the way we talk, and think, and so the very way we conceive of others. The search for union with the other is reduced to the ‘meat market’, and in doing so the apotheosised self is reduced to property – when romantic union is found, we say of ourselves, that we are ‘off the market’, like a building. Ideas are turned into intellectual property, and if we are not convinced by an idea we don’t ‘buy’ it, or if we are, we say that, we , ourselves are sold on it. It is in the liberal ‘democracy’ where the physical act of creation is necessarily preceded by the prostitution of one’s labour power on the labour market, and becomes no more than an exchange of the self for the privilege to live in the context of a worker-boss relationship. It is in the liberal ‘democracy’ where the search for enlightenment becomes no more than an investment to signal value to a potential employer. It is in the liberal ‘democracy’ where works become occupations, not acts of goodness, or creation, or industry, but merely activities to while away the time until death. It is in the liberal ‘democracy’ where democracy becomes no more than firms competing on the political market and where “…there is no such thing as society.”

That is why the modern political campaign in a liberal democracy is so absurd. It is no longer a battle for hearts and minds for the betterment of our human brothers and sisters, but a month-long (really three year-long) advertising campaign where the political party firms sell us products on the open political market, and their payment is corporate money, and our power. The products they sell are “A Brighter Future“, “Trust“, and “A richer New Zealand“.  What these things mean of course is rather more vague, but they are compelling messages. But that’s what this is all about. It’s not West Wing politics, it’s The Thick Of It politics, where control of your messaging on the 24-hour news cycle is what guides governance. Not substance, not values. In the liberal ‘society’, democracy is privatised, politicians are the profiteers, ‘bottom lines’ have to be met, and it’s the marketing department which calls the shots. And while they sell us ideas, it’s also us that are the commodities they trade in. Human lives. The wellbeing of your family, your children, your community are what they’re dealing with in these campaigns, and whether they are parties selling you products, using professional marketing firms to widen their market; parties just about the sales, that use advertisers to obfuscate their agendas; or if they are the ultimate chameleon parties, using market research to successfully navigate the turmoils and fluctuations of the ever-changing market, liberal ‘democracy’ is just like the campaigns themselves. Exercises in branding. (For more on these three different models of parties operating in the privatised political market, see the Lees-Marshment theory of political marketing).

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3 thoughts on “221; Topic 19: Political Campaigning In A Modern Liberal Democracy, And Other Absurdities

  1. You show an incredibly strong understanding of contemporary politics in this post. It is mostly, however, lacking in a theoretical underpinning. A great read though. And, yes, the paragraphs are too long…

    9.5/10

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