I grew up with Labour burned deep into my DNA. Both sides of the family were supporters. Mum worked on Margaret Shields’ campaigns in my infancy, and my parents and grandparents kept their loyalty through the tumultuous eighties.
Back then, I saw Labour – and only Labour – as the party of reform, hope and progress.
Sadly for tens of thousands of once loyal supporters, that is not the case today.
The activists, staffers and MPs who control today’s Labour, many ex-Alliance, have become distant from – and, worse, disdainful towards – much of its loyal voting base. They take their heartland for granted and sadly fail to understand the ambitions and challenges of working New Zealanders.
More and more of their caucus have almost no life experience outside politics and unionism.
Earlier this year, Andrew Little stunned a Porirua business person who was one of about a dozen people who turned up to hear his ideas on local economic development, by asking what had been happening in Porirua since the closure of Mitsubishi Motors. Given the plant closed no fewer than 18 years ago, the message was unmistakable: Labour hasn’t a clue what’s going on in communities like ours.
I’m surprised as many as 12 people turned up!
Like any tribal loyalist, I used to think National Party people had no heart, and didn’t care about the aspirations of communities found in Porirua. But, as mayor for six years, I have seen first hand that National is sincere in its desire to improve the ability of all New Zealanders to get a fair go, earn a good wage and be able to choose how they make their way in life. The party has also delivered on critical infrastructure like Transmission Gully and the Kapiti Expressway against Labour’s vocal, and baffling, opposition.
A useful reminder that Labour has joined the Greens in opposing almost every new road.
As a social liberal I’d always taken it for granted that Labour was the only party for people like me on issues like marriage equality and abortion rights. But – shock horror – it turns out that National, under John Key, actively welcomes and promotes people with the same views. It simply does a better at job at balancing internal differences and accommodating a broad range of opinions and ideas.
This is the key. Both social liberals and social conservatives can feel at home in National. Social conservatives in Labour are seen as reprehrensible by most of their peers. And likewise on the economic side you have people at home whose views range from Maurice Williamson to Nick Smith. But in Labour anyone who isn’t a denouncer of neoliberalism is now treated with suspicion.
As New Zealand continues to evolve as an open, multicultural society – while placing at its core respect for the social, cultural and economic contribution of tangata whenua – it is National, not Labour, that has the policies and values that best reflect my own.
My wife, Emily, who is proud of her Maori, Samoan and Pakeha heritage, is a National Party supporter. As we had our first baby a few months ago, we have talked more and more about the kind of country we want for our son. We want Tane to grow up in a proud, diverse and confident New Zealand. Diversity – of cultures, beliefs and ideas. Open to the world, trading with our neighbours, and offering more and better opportunities for successive generations.
Sounds a great future to fight for.