The ruling National Party is fighting for a third term in office at September’s New Zealand election. For most of the recent term National has polled well and consistently shown that it could almost govern alone. In July 2014 for example support for the government had climbed to 54.9%.
By Socialist Voice writers, New Zealand
While there has been some discontent over issues such as the government’s handling of the Christchurch earthquake recovery and the Pike River mining disaster, the state of public education and the ongoing issue of child poverty, Prime Minister John Key has remained fairly popular.
Key is actually more popular than the National Party itself. National’s spin doctors even started calling the party ‘Team Key” in order to further capitalise on Key’s standing. Key has been able to ride out a number of unpopular polices but as the election looms it is possible that National’s fortunes may unravel.
In mid-August, investigative journalist Nicky Hagar published ‘Dirty Politics’. The new book exposes the overlap and cooperation between John Key’s office, right-wing bloggers, the Secret Intelligence Service, and various big business lobbyists. In particular, the book exposes the media “black ops” carried out by these groups against opponents including unions and Labour Party figures.
Within days of its publication National’s popularity began to decline. Their support dropped from 54.9% to 50%. National is also exposed because its potential coalition partners have been doing poorly. The libertarian Act party polled at only 0.6% in mid-August, while the Maori Party polled at just 0.7%. United Future polled at just 0.4%. The Conservative Party is doing better with 2.6%, however that party is unlikely to win in any electorate seats and 2.6% of the party vote will not be enough for them to win a MP.
People are beginning to become weary of National’s smug pursuit of a pro-bug business and pro-wealthy agenda. What is obvious is that the relatively high levels of support that National experienced was more of an indication of the weakness of the Labour opposition rather than any genuine enthusiasm for the government.
Last year the Labour Party changed its leadership selection rules so that 30% of votes are held by the union affiliates, 30% are held by the membership, and 40% are held by the parliamentary caucus. Prior to that, all votes were held by its caucus.
Through the new leadership selection process David Cunliffe became the leader. He was pushed over the line by the majority union and membership vote. There was excitement amongst Labour’s ranks, and some other layers, who assumed that this would be the beginning of a strong left wing agenda to challenge National. These hopes however were misplaced. Labour is a party that is wedded to managing the capitalist system – not changing it.
The failure to move to the left, or to propose any sort of genuine alternative to National, has meant that Labour has been unable to capitalise on the changing mood. For example, in July Labour were polling at 26.5%. In the aftermath of the release of the Hagar book in August Labour’s support actually dropped to 25.2%. The Greens were able to pick up some of National’s lost support increasing from 9.9% to 13.7%.
The newly formed Internet MANA Party has also increased its share of the vote. In late May the MANA Party, led by Hone Harawira, entered into a strategic electoral alliance with the Internet Party. The Internet Party was formed by the wealthy internet entrepreneur Kim Dotcom and is led by Laila Harre. Harre has been a well known social democratic figure since the 1980s. As well as previously being a MP for the Alliance Party she has also led a major blue collar union.
In mid-August Internet MANA was polling at 2.1%. If Internet MANA gains just 2.8% of the party vote, and Hone Harawira retains his Tai Tokerau seat, then two other Internet MANA candidates will enter the parliament as well. This would include respected social justice activist John Minto, and Laila Harre. These three people would be seen as voices for workers and the poor.
While this would be an important step forward the alliance between the MANA movement and the Internet Party does have risks. While it appears that Dotcom has – to some degree – shifted to the left, his politics do not represent a clear way forward for ordinary people.
A key part of his outlook is that by building a “digital economy” New Zealand will be able to solve many of the social problems that exist. A “digital economy”, organised on a profit driven basis, would be no such saviour. Stable and full employment can only be achieved by removing the profit motive and planning the economy to provide for people’s needs. For this to work public ownership and democratic control of the major sectors of the economy is required.
While the formation of the MANA Party is a significant development, for it to achieve its full potential it needs to outline an economic and political alternative to the major parties. Rather than sowing any illusions in capitalism’s ability to provide for people the party should be outlining socialist solutions to the problems at hand.
While the program of MANA is not perfect, it does have a series of basic pro-poor and working class policies. For example its publication MANA News states that “Mana is a political waka for all people: beneficiaries, minimum wage earners and all others who refuse to accept that that they are second class citizens in Aotearoa”.
MANA is putting forward policies against budget cuts and regarding employment it demands: good jobs for all, community service jobs paid at a living wage, a minimum wage increase to $18.40, for youth rates to be repealed, guaranteed security of hours, and industry-wide pay scales.
On the issue of housing MANA says 10,000 state houses per year should be built, rent should be capped at 25% of income, rental properties should be subject to a warrant of fitness, and there should be no evictions from state houses.
These sorts of policies are important as part of creating a line of defence for working people against the continued effects of the recession. Also these sorts of policies point in the direction of the need for a democratically planned socialist economy. As modest as these reforms are in the scheme of things, capitalists would fight tooth and nail against their implementation. Side by side with progressives in the parliament the working class would need to mobilise on mass to secure these reforms.
Socialists participate in the MANA Party and are encouraging support for it in this election. But at the same time we argue that MANA could be more effective if it formally allied with other progressive organisations – including unions and anti-poverty groups. MANA should take a lead in building an alliance of those forces. This would provide a magnificent platform from which it could continue the struggle on the ground while using parliament to help get its messages across.
While the election is likely to be closer than many first thought the main problems that exist in New Zealand will not be solved regardless of which coalition of parties wins in September. The key task facing ordinary people is to build a movement that can force a new type of politics onto the agenda. In order for this movement to be able to effect real social change it needs to break with the pro capitalist policies of the major parties and win people to socialist ideas.