I suggest we have never had an election with so much hatred involved. When the leading National supporting blogger in NZ uses the word 'scum' to describe not only opponents but also the citizens of Christchurch, or a publicly funded rapper composes a song which seeks our PM to be killed and his daughter raped, then we are a culture which tolerates the toxicity of hate as we seek to construct society via politics.
Yesterday's epistle, Romans 13:8-14 is both a powerful and a salutary reminder that to be Christian is to live in love and to bear witness to the God who is love. There is no 'liberal' v 'conservative' or 'high church' v 'low church' or 'Anglican v Presbyterian' option when we say we are to be a people for whom love is everything. Love is the way. It is not an option for Christians. So as we move on from this disastrous point in our political history, I suggest a great challenge for Christians and especially for leaders such as archbishops with a voice in the marketplace of ideas is to say, No more hate. The very least any body expressing an opinion in the political arena can do is respect the humanity of each New Zealander.
If we do not tackle the emerging culture of hatred we are on a pathway which will end in violence. Our number one priority as Christians on 21 September is to challenge both winners and losers in our election to speak and act differently. Love not hate builds society. Love not hate respects human dignity. The God who made each of us is the God of love not the god of hate. That god is at work all over the world currently and we do not need further manifestations here in these islands.
End of (a chunk of yesterday's) sermon!
It looks like a National-led government will be the winner of this election. I think it might be worth considering some aspects of why this will be so. (Only some aspects - a comprehensive account would include aspects such as how well or how poorly respective parties have conducted their campaigns etc).
As a preamble, I have been thinking about how, for Christians, there is something to celebrate in the foremost core value of each of the four parties which will be at the helm of either the government or the opposition: National, Labour, Greens and Maori.
In my humble opinion, and in no particular order of preference ...
National: personal responsibility
Greens: clean, sustainable environment
Maori: self-determination for Maori in accordance with Treaty of Waitangi.
It is not at all difficult to argue theologically for the importance of each of these core values.
If I had four votes, and my voting was determined solely by these core values, I would cast one vote for each party.
However all things are not equal between the parties in respect of both their policies for implementing their core values, and in respect of other values which they promote which are not necessarily causes for Christian celebration.
After that preamble, my curious mind is intrigued by two interconnected lines of inquiry. Why is National going to lead the next government and why is Labour polling so poorly as the party with the second largest support?
I have given this a lot of thought and the thinking has been done in a context of booming South Island economy in which, notwithstanding those living in poverty and those extremely frustrated by lack of action over their quake damaged properties, the vast majority of people are in work, enjoying life and generally feeling that they are getting ahead.
In that context I suggest National is polling high because people are making a connection (whether justified or not is not the point right now) between National's management of the economy and their materially happy lives. Conversely, Labour is not offering a credible alternative economic policy. In the circumstances of the day, a credible economic policy would need to tell a believable story that under a Labour led (let alone a Labour/Greens led government) life would be even better.
Now, Labour (and the Greens) have been trying to tell that story (e.g. by advancing possibilities for a better economy via new developments which lessen our dependency on selling milk powder to China), but it is not being believed. I suggest there are at least two reasons for that.
First, that story is connected integrally to another story of raising more taxes, some of which would be used by the government to advance the development of new industries. Here is a very simple point which strangely most politicians on the left seem impervious to receiving: the majority of NZers do not want to pay more taxes. (This, incidentally, is NOT because we universally subscribe to the notion that paying little or no tax is ideal, but because we think we pay enough tax already).*
Here is another point: whereas we once trusted the government to take the lead in planning economic development, we no longer do so. Despite railing against business from time to time (e.g. that it pays CEOs too much) we see with our own eyes, whether travelling around our cities, or past giant dairy factories in the countryside, that business begets business, not government. Why would we give money to the government to make money when business does it so much better?
Secondly, that story is connected integrally to another story of raising more taxes, some of which would be used by the government to fund a more generous welfare state. Here is a very simple point which strangely ... see above paragraph!
Here is a new point for this part of my analysis: collectively we think in the majority that funding for welfare is okay because we get it that over generous funding destroys to will to secure employment for many people ... and we wonder how strong that will to work is when we see how many migrant labourers we draw into this country to milk our cows, prune our vines and drive our taxis. Again, in case the point is missed: we do not in our collective majority have any desire to see the welfare state dismantled. We get the need for a decent safety net, we like the possibility that if we cannot afford health insurance we have a good health system paid for by taxes and we happily pay taxes for schools. But collectively we are not convinced by the way some stories are told from statistics that we are in crisis re welfare, health or schooling.
Just before you write a heated comment, let me underscore what I am trying to say above by saying that what counts re polls now and on the election day itself is what people believe the case to be, not what the case may be. By all means argue here that in reality, in actuality, we are a nation in terrible trouble, but I am not arguing for or against that proposition. I am arguing that perceptions, collectively, belie any proposal that we need a Labour-led government (as, for example, was the case in 1999 when we turfed a National-led government out because we were a nation concerned about the extent of poverty across our islands). Do you disagree with my outline of the perceptions the voting majority holds?
If, for example, we are a nation in crisis over poverty, then the story has not gained sufficient converts to vote Labour or for the parties which support Labour leading the next government. It is - he writes, covering his punditry backside - possible that between now and 20 September, those converts will be won to the cause. It just does not look likely.
Incidentally, as Audrey Young notes here, the whole cause of Labour has been done no favours by Nick Hager's well meaning attempt to tell the voting public that National has indulged in Dirty Politics. That book has made it harder, not easier, for Labour to tell its story of our future.
There are lessons all around to be learned from this election. Labour has the most lessons to learn. The chief of which is that its great and mostly well received appeal to Kiwis' sense of fairness must be allied to fiscal policy which tells us how fairness can be achieved by efficient use of the taxes we already pay and not by new taxes we do not want to pay.
PS Elsewhere, e.g. on Twitter, I have been arguing for the introduction of a Capital Gains Tax (a key Labour policy). To introduce that - as a matter of fairness across all means of taxing income- is not necessarily to impose a higher overall tax burden on the nation. When a new tax is introduced, another can be taken away! Or another existing tax rate can be reduced. UPDATE: As good an explanation of the fairness of CGT as any I have read is written here by Josie Pagani.
*ACT polls so poorly because the vast majority of NZers do not subscribe to its views on minimal government funded by minimal taxes.