As of when Winston Peters finally made up his mind who to go with yesterday, Jacinda Ardern is now Prime Minister of New Zealand, in a coalition government formed of Labour, New Zealand First, and the Green Party. I have mixed feelings about this. There was no big surprise in the special votes; as commentators evidently better-informed than me predicted, they took two seats off National and handed one to the Greens and one to Labour. And, as any New Zealander with half a brain could have told you, the prospect of a National-Green coalition (raised in all seriousness by some pundits evidently lacking that endowment) was a chimaera.
The good part of my mixed feelings is obviously that weve got a new government, which if not for the presence of New Zealand First would have been the left-most one of my lifetime. In concrete terms, this countrys decades-long trajectory towards Dickensian inequality and poverty might actually go into reverse. We might get a liveable minimum wage. We might get housing for homeless people. We might get unions strong enough to make a difference. We might get an economic strategy that doesnt depend on turning our rivers into sewers and lying to the world about it.
The bad part starts with New Zealand First. I dont think were in for a three-ring circus like the National-New Zealand First coalition government of 1997, because this time Winston hasnt brought in a cadre of loudmouths with egos as big as his own. Jim Andertons old gibe, calling the party Winston First, is even truer now than when he made it in the 1990s. But I dont know, and Im not looking forward to finding out, how much of its left-wing promise the Labour-Greens bloc has had to concede in order to secure Winstons support.
I do know, as Ive said on this blog more than once, that Winstons anti-immigrant stance is a cynical façade put on to garner votes. I also know that Winston is 72 years old, and likely to retire within a decade possibly by next election, depending on how well his health weathers old age. What happens to New Zealand First then? Will it crumble, leaderless, into irrelevance? Or will Winston be succeeded by one of his many sincerely racist admirers? And then will New Zealand have its own Brexit, its own Trump, to deal with? These questions scare me.
Also not comforting is the fact that National still has two more seats than Labour and the Greens combined. Im not confident enough in my expectation of a stable coalition not to worry about what that will mean if it does fall apart; and Im bamboozled, frankly, by the fact that it happened at all. How does a government preside over as big a social and economic crisis as this one has and still attract more votes than its competitors? What does it say about my countrys soul that nearly half of us are prepared to shrug off the child poverty and homelessness were seeing now as long as the men in suits get to hang on to more cash come tax time? Are we all clones of Cersei Lannister?
I dont like not understanding these things, I honestly dont. Its a cheap rhetorical trick to claim to be mystified by your opponents stupidity and malice, and more to the point its purely performative. It makes a good show if all you want is to assure people on your own side that youre one of them, but it doesnt budge your opponents an inch except to confirm their belief in your stupidity and malice. And if you really care about your political ideals, its your opponents you want to be shifting. The fact that I dont understand what motivates people to vote National means I have no idea how we can motivate them to vote more leftward. Maybe thats the real reason why this election result brings me so little joy.