Confessions of a swing voter
The election’s just eleven days away and I’m nowhere near making up my mind.
I don’t normally give holistic political commentary on this blog. A busy offline life means I post only when I think my points haven’t already been raised, which naturally tend to be very specific points rather than issues in general. But as the election looms close, I’ve had a lot on my mind.
I’ll first say that, as a swing voter, this campaign’s been incredibly frustrating. This tweet explains a lot of the headache:
The most engaged minds in the country are voting on which party has the least policies that we hate. This is your election, New Zealand.
— James Cardno (@jamescardno) August 28, 2014
More than just a spate of upsetting policies though, the partisanship during this campaign has been really painful to watch. Perhaps the internet is amplifying the effect (being in California, this is my only means of keeping up), but it’s becoming hypocritical of New Zealand to snigger at America’s politics for being “polarised”.
The most pronounced manifestation of this was the controversy following Dirty Politics. With exceptions I can count on one hand (by bloggers I follow because they don’t let their biases blind them), reactions correlated one-to-one with party allegiance with virtually no middle ground. This made the criticisms flying both ways hard to take seriously. Opposing commentators engaged, but in superficial ways, the left determined to cast the right as evil, the right to cast the author, Nicky Hager, as void of credibility. There are deep ethical questions about journalism, hacking and the public interest that people seemed interested in only insofar as they could twist them to support or criticise the book.
What follows are some very abridged thoughts on the parties I’ve given any thought to voting for. If you’re looking for a disclosure statement, I’m not a member or supporter of any party, never have been, have voted for both left and right wing parties and candidates (and I’ve only voted in two elections), and to get a feel for my political biases, my Vote Compass result is here.
(Okay, these aren’t really “confessions”, per se. But I had to get you to click on this somehow, and now that you’re here, you may as well finish, right?)
To readers and friends familiar with my obsession with argumentative consistency, it should come as no surprise that I’m a great fan of its new leader, Jamie Whyte. His intellectual honesty and frankness is hard to find anywhere, let alone in politics. For that alone, I think he’ll make a superb contribution to Parliament.
There’s just one problem: I disagree with almost all of Act’s major policies and its basic philosophy of classical liberalism. I’m unconvinced, for example, that dropping the company tax rate so low will be as good for the economy as he suggests. For many reasons I take a very dim view of three-strikes policies, more so for one for burglary. A (lower profile) policy that claims to be about “honesty” fails the value-agnostic test.
Act, then, poses a conflict between my substantive political views, and more fundamental procedural views on how ideas should be contested. I’m not sure how to resolve this conflict. One way to think of it is that I want Dr Whyte in Parliament to ask the questions no-one else is asking, but I don’t want him to win his arguments. But I really care a lot about philosophical integrity, and Dr Whyte ticks that box like no other politician. Can that count as “representing” me if their policy conclusions don’t?
Despite criticisms on this blog, their early start on announcing policies, some of which were quite well-considered, impressed me. Earlier in the year, I was starting to form the impression that the Greens were in fact ready for the responsibility of government, notwithstanding the occasional ideological blindness.
However, more recent appearances have changed my mind. I was astounded to see left-wing commentators praise co-leader Metiria Turei for being the only “professional” leader in the first two minor parties’ debates. I wouldn’t call her unprofessional, but her snide interjections and dismissive laughter put her far from the most respectful in the room. She has been eager to cast the government as “destructive”, “extremist” and the root of all woes. To left-wing partisans this may resonate, but to an undecided voter, while the government’s record is far from stellar, Ms Turei’s description just doesn’t sit with reality. In the Herald’s Hot Seat, where most leaders welcomed the opportunity for an open discussion, the co-leaders insisted on repeating their election messages. Slogans are important, but to be honest, it’s getting tiring.
Perhaps I’m unfairly penalising them for one half of their leadership. Russel Norman tends to be much more thoughtful in his remarks, and showed as much in the third (TVNZ) debate. But even an average of the two would still represent a huge tumble in my mind.
When the government ditched every recommendation of the MMP review that it initiated, I promised myself I would not vote for a National-led government in 2014. That promise, as I quietly suspected, has become very difficult to keep. Until they announced their housing policy (which is problematic), I felt that National was leading for my vote, only because they were the only party on a non-negative score since the beginning of 2014. That is, they were the only party not announcing policies.
I’m still not sure quite what to think of them. John Key performed well in the second (The Press) major parties’ debate, albeit lacking in the first (TVNZ). Getting closer to the election, the rate of policy announcement is starting to raise a little, which might help between today and election day.
David Cunliffe has struggled, but I’m really not sure why. I don’t feel that I’ve seen any reason to believe he would be a bad prime minister. That said, it’s hard not to count Labour’s xenophobic stances on housing and foreign investment against them (and everyone else who holds similar stances). When American friends ask about the existence of racism in New Zealand (it’s an interesting cultural comparison), I feel obliged to admit that our left wing has started going that way in the last year—and that I know that’s the wrong way round.
I’ve had mixed feelings about their other policies. Some aspects of their “economic upgrade”, particularly ones that single out particular industries, are really concerning. KiwiBuild is marginally better than National’s housing solution, but still seems unrealistic. But the major reasons that drew me to them last election—capital gains tax and raising the retirement age—are still there, albeit not so emphasised. So there’ll be some hefty balancing questions to ask myself here.
Te Ururoa Flavell has been at pains, multiple times, to emphasise that you don’t have to be Māori to vote for the Māori Party. Admittedly, while I know this to be technically true, the perception that they exist to target Māori voters has certainly weighed on my mind as a voter. And to be honest, I’m still not sure why Mr Flavell is right. The party’s policies still unashamedly focus on Māori. In the current context, this is appreciable and has had positive effect, but as far as my priorities go, it’s hard to place this near the top.
Peter Dunne normally has a sensible approach to things. His legal highs initiative was laudable. But I’m not really satisfied a vote cast here would do anything. If he gets a second MP, would they add anything to Parliament?
Just kidding. There’s no way they’re getting close to my vote. To give him some credit, as I might write in an upcoming post, I think Colin Craig has been admirably consistent in his belief in politicians doing “what New Zealanders want”, even when it doesn’t align with what he wants. But for a multitude of reasons, binding referenda are an exceptionally bad idea, and their foreign investment rhetoric is worse than Labour’s and the Greens’, second only to Winston Peters’.
On another note, despite missing out on my vote, I think (with about two-thirds probability) that the Conservatives will hit 5 per cent. You heard it here first.