Friday, September 08, 2017

Minor politics

Televised debates have long been a staple of election campaigns in New Zealand. Time was, all the parties, subject to certain polling criteria, were included. In recent elections, however, they're separated into one set of debates between the leaders of the two main parties, Labour and National, with a debate just among the leaders of the minor parties—which means every party that’s not Labour or National. Really, it’s a bit too much like the original theme song for Gilligan’s Island, which ended with “and the rest”. Sadly, the viewers are the ones seemingly stuck on a desert isle.

Tonight I watched this year’s minor parties leaders’ debate, and it wasn’t very enlightening. I already know about Green Party policy, and I couldn’t really hear a lot of other party leaders’ answers because David Seymour, leader and only MP for the neoliberal Act “Party”, kept interrupting and talking over everyone else. He acted like a boorish jerk, to be honest. He’s also delusional if he thinks that his party will ever get anywhere near getting another MP, let alone crossing the threshold of 5% of the Party Vote to get into Parliament without winning an electorate—though that would only matter if Seymour loses Epsom.

The leader of New Zealand First, Winston Peters, backed out of the debate at the last minute. No explanation was given, but his party isn’t doing well this election, so he may be planning to spin it in some way. One never knows with him.

On the postive side, Damian Light, who became the new leader of the United Future Party after Peter Dunne announced his retirement, was something of a hit. This amuses me because I kind of know Damian: I met him when he was the United Future Electorate Candidate in Northcote in 2014, and I thought he was a genuinely nice guy. We’ve traded the occasional comment on social media ever since, but the announcement he had became the new leader came during one of the times I was away from Twitter (isn’t it always the way?). Obviously I don’t support United Future, but I certainly wish him well—he has a big job to do!

I don’t know Marama Fox, co-leader of the Māori Party, though the folks I follow on Twitter who are on NZ’s Leftward side of Left seem to like her a lot, which confuses me a bit because the Māori Party has supported the conservative National Party for three terms now, so they’re not exactly a force for progressive politics. Still, their own policies are not all conservative, though some are, and I know plenty of people who will argue their corner over whether the party has advanced the interests of Māori people or not, but that, too, isn’t something I can comment on. At any rate, she’s certainly passionate, and politics can use people who both mean what they say and say what they mean—even if it pisses other people off.

By the end of the debate, I was desperately hoping that Labour and Greens voters who live in the Epsom Electorate will do the only sensible thing they can do and hold their noses and give their Electorate Vote to Paul Goldsmith, the National Party candidate in Epsom. He’s the only one who could defeat Seymour and knock him and Act out of Parliament. Yes, I know such tactical voting would be unpleasant, and doing so would mean Labour and Greens voters would need an immediate shower, but it truly is the only reponsible thing for them to do for all of New Zealand. I say that mostly joking, but only because I know that most Labour and Greens voters will probably vote for their own parties’ candidates as they always have. Centre-Left voters don’t understand tactical voting, but the right does: It’s the only reason that Seymour is even in Parliament, after all.

So tonight’s debate was kind of pointless, really, except for one thing: For many New Zealand voters, it will be the only time they hear from the leaders of any of those parties. In fact, for many it will be the only time they hear from anyone in those parties, even in their electorate. In my own electorate, the Act Party candidate was the only opne from a minor party that showed up to a candidate forum (not counting NZ First, who weren't in this TV debate), and in his first statement he said he was only there to urge the Party Vote for his party (which isn’t going to happen, but points for trying), and NOT for the Electorate Vote. Even so, the debate was a sad and useless way to expose voters to alternative parties.

The quality of New Zealand’s political coverage is pretty bad, though what we have is often better than one finds in the USA. But our system is more complicated than the USA, and minor parties actually matter here, unlike the USA. We really need a better way for minor parties to be heard than these silly “and the rest” debates.

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