Trotter on populism in NZ


BRYCE EDWARDS AND JOHN MOORE have taken the country-and-western melodies of populism and over-dubbed them with their own revolutionary lyrics. But, the resulting songs will never be sung by populists. Revolutionaries, too, are unlikely to find the Edwards/Moore mash-up inspirational. In the final analysis, revolution should be about overturning and replacing the existing order. Populism, in almost every instance, is about restoring the old one.

This is a good point. Populists such as Peters and Trump love to hark back to the past.

Which brings us, of course, to New Zealand’s present prime minister, John Key. For Edwards and Moore, Key’s National-led Government is the establishment against which the flaming-torch-bearers and pitchfork-shakers of populism are massing menacingly. But in this they are, I believe, entirely mistaken.

Key and his government remain preternaturally popular because they represent, for a substantial plurality of New Zealanders, the most persuasive attempt, so far, at describing what the national community of twenty-first-century New Zealand looks like.

Key’s version of the national community is animated by the same virtues of resilience, hard work and self-sufficiency that characterised its earlier iterations. Wrapped around these core attributes are the traditional benefits of a happy family life, a “good” education, gainful employment and home ownership. Ethnicity, gender and sexuality only matter on “Planet Key” when they become a barrier to accepting the values and aspirations of the “average New Zealander”.

It was John Key’s promise to make the nation once again recognisable to the average New Zealander that propelled him and his party into office in 2008. Like another extremely wealthy businessman-turned-politician we are all learning to live with, Key’s message was one of restoration.

Helen Clark’s politically-correct, nanny-state establishment would be dismantled and replaced by the old order (tricked out for the punters in the glad rags of “a brighter future”). Busy-body public servants and the undeserving poor would be firmly but fairly put back in their proper places, and New Zealand’s “rightful rulers” would return to MAKE NEW ZEALAND [a] GREAT [place to bring up kids] AGAIN.

This is what Edwards and Moore cannot seem to see. That an “anti-establishment”, “authoritarian” and “nativist” government actually took office more than eight years ago. That the national/National community is an accomplished political fact. That Populism has already won.

Not sure I entirely agree, but an interesting analysis.

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