Monday, October 16, 2017

While we wait

While New Zealand continues to wait for Winston Peters and his New Zealand First party to tell us what our government will be, there’s some time to have a look at something minor from the election, something so small that it didn’t even get a mention in the mainstream press, even though it’s good news.

The good news is that, once again, religious extremism failed to gain any traction in New Zealand elections. In my own electorate, a guy, Ian Cummings, ran as an independent candidate and lost badly—very badly. This is good news because he was a rightwing Christian (among other things…) and he put his religious beliefs at the centre of his campaign, without being totally transparent that it was the main focus of his campaign.

I wrote about the guy’s appearance at a local “meet the candidates” event back in August. At the time, I wrote:
I’d seen his ads in the paper, where he talked about being a “family man”, which I thought was a dog whistle to social conservatives, especially because he also touted his being on the Board of Trustees for a Christian school as being a qualification for being a Member of Parliament. Turns out, I was correct.
All of his materials, and his speech at the meeting, stressed that he was opposed to abortion and euthanasia, even though no bills to reform abortion law or to allow assisted suicide (not euthanasia) are likely to come before Parliament any time soon. For most things, it was necessary to use a little intuition to hear his dog whistles and what he was actually trying to say.

Under a section on his flyer called “Family” he said that he was for “reducing government interference in the rights and decision making of parents”, though it didn’t explain what all that was supposed to mean. Given his overt religiosity, he probably meant things like repealing the anti-smacking legislation, and maybe allowing parents to put their kids through “ex-gay” torture programmes (which may be legal in New Zealand, anyway). That’s what other supposedly “Christian” candidates usually want.

Another point was “insisting educators teach our children how to think not what to think”. This dog whistle probably meant that schools couldn’t teach tolerance and acceptance of, among other things, LGBT students. That’s been a big issue among rightwing Christians in Australia, and, to a lesser extent, here in New Zealand.

Finally, he also had “protecting our borders from immigrants that are aligned with radical religious idealism”. This had to mean keeping Muslims out. I draw that conclusion not just from what such a dog whistle has meant elsewhere, but also from his refusal at that candidate meeting to explain what it meant or to deny that he wants only Christians to migrate to New Zealand. That was under “Family” because the other two areas were headline “Life”, which only mentioned abortion and euthanasia, and “Property”, which was a mishmash of unfocused populist slogans vaguely relating to property.

When he said at that meeting that he "doesn't like evolution", I knew he had odd viewpoints, and his answers that night reinforced that view. I wasn’t worried about him though, precisely because he was an independent: Under our system, the only way an independent MP can have any influence over a government is if the government needs their vote to form a majority in Parliament. Otherwise, they’re like the crank who shows up at a community meeting to whine about grass in the park being 1cm too long: They have a viewpoint, sometimes even a point, but they have absolutely no way to actually get the policy they care about enacted and no one really listens to them.

The voters in this electorate felt the same way about him: According to the final results, he came in fifth out of six candidates, receiving a mere 710 votes out of 40,270 valid candidate votes cast. The only candidate who did worse than he did was the guy from the Act “Party” who was only on the ballot so that he could attend candidate meetings to ask for a Party Vote for Act. As far as I know, he had no campaign signs or materials of his own, unlike Cummings, who paid to have NZ Post deliver his flyer at least twice, advertised in the local papers (and in premium positions), and apparently had at least some signs. Money totally wasted, that was. I’d be very surprised if he spent less than $10 for every vote he received; he probably spent considerably more.

As I’ve said many times, overtly religious candidates, in this case meaning fundamentalist Christians, never do well in New Zealand, and no overtly “Christian” party has ever won any seats in Parliament since MMP began in 1996. There’s still no indiction whatsoever that this will change.

I realise that I’m utterly dismissive of the religious guy, but that’s actually because he clearly had no clue how Parliament works and what an MP’s job includes. That’s fundamental, so to speak, for anyone seeking the job, and not understanding it is unforgivable. The fact that he didn’t know how to campaign is kind of irrelevant, because there were other candidates who didn’t do a good job, either (as I mentioned in talking about that candidate meeting). Even his religious agenda and ideology wasn’t an issue per se; rather, it was his attempts to hide it under a bushel in order to deceive the vast majority of voters who don’t share his religious views—or political views, for that matter. Still, what he did say made it pretty clear that his one-note tune wasn’t one the voters of this electorate wanted to hear.

So, this very minor story had a good ending. It happens sometimes.

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