“The tumult and shouting dies; The Captains and Kings depart: Still stands personal sacrifice, and humbled if uncontrite heart.” (with profound apologies to Rudyard Kipling for butchering his beautiful Recessional)
The moving verse in the aftermath of war is also an apt description of the aftermath of last weeks general election and a battered but unbowed the National Party asking, “what went wrong?” Nothing went wrong and it is only a disaster if they let it be. Candidates and parties presented themselves for selection. Three and a half million individuals made their selections and only they know why.
There will be attempts to define the collective will of voters by us commentators and we are fortunate that we are not selected and easily ignored. Which is precisely how should be. After more than half a century of observing people and politics this move to the political left however was dramatic enough to demand comment.
It is more than a swing to Labour away from National based on the personal charm of a popular leader who acted decisively and with kindness through an unprecedented series of catastrophes. The most recent is the deadly Covid-19 global pandemic. The Labour-led Government slanted the response towards protecting vulnerable people from the virus ahead of protecting private enterprise. Employers and employees pay a high price for that decision.
National and Act wanted to swing the needle a few points the other way towards protecting the economy with “managed risks” for public health. The recent breach of border rules with Australia by New Zealand travellers shows the folly of that approach.
Act, which has pushed hard to relax border controls, has sat on the outer circle of the political arena alongside The Greens and New Zealand First. Each has tried, with varying degrees of success, to control the balance of influence between to the two major parties which, until this election, were fairly evenly matched.
Outside of these hopefuls sit the fringe parties made up of climate change sceptics, dope smokers, Covid-19 deniers, religious fundamentalists and a collection of intellectual cripples peddling mis-information, conspiracy theories and unadulterated humbug. They have an undeniable right to be on the hustings even if for no other purpose than to give thinking voters a yard- stick against which to measure parties genuinely worth supporting.
Then there is the Maori party which returned from banishment and narrowly took a seat from Labour. With the departure of colourful Winston Peters their new MP promises to bring some much-needed character and an interesting intellect to Parliament.
The swing left was clearly much more than a strategic party vote as Labour won both Hamilton east and west electorates from National for the first time in 18 years. Anecdotally it seems many traditional National supporters born after 1970 have gone over to Labour. This is not betrayal but a clear message from the grass roots that National is no longer fit for purpose. If the party is to play a role in future parliaments, and it should, the soul searching must go deeper than the shambles of last year. National’s underlying philosophy has changed little in 80 years of existence but the era of unlimited growth in industrial out-put, intensification of archaic agriculture and exploitation of finite resources without catastrophic consequences are a nostalgic memory. Those consequences can already be measured but often the National and Act responses to climate and environmental mitigation measures have been little more that attempts to justify or disguise the status quo.
They make much of New Zealand food and fibre production but we churn out enough of those to feed and clothe an estimated 35 million people who don’t live here. The result has been too many rivers and streams where we swam, caught eels and frogs as children are now little more than open sewers and toxic drains where we can’t swim our dogs. The undeniable truth is the world has too many people and we will destroy our country trying to feed any more than we do now with current farming methods.
The renown environmentalist Sir David Attenborough put it bluntly when he revealed that humans make up a third of all mammals in the world. Less than a quarter of the remainder are wild animals living in natural habitats. The rest are farmed animals and of the billions of birds in the world about ninety percent are domestic poultry. Planting a million trees and fencing off creeks will not address the problem.
A shift in National’s basic philosophy to recognise the need to massively reduce traditional agriculture, at least by half, in favour of more sustainable products and a total ban on all artificial fertilisers will mean the difference between relevance and political obscurity. That message comes from younger members within National’s own ranks.