Yesterday’s Reid Research poll suggested complete and utter failure for the National Party in this September’s election. Most media commentators rushed to congratulate Jacinda Ardern’s Labour Party, and suggested that their steady hand during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic was the reason for the good polling. The alternative explanation, as this essay will explore, is that National are shit.
The poll suggested that Labour is currently favoured to win 56% of the vote at the next general election. This would only be a fraction lower than what the African National Congress won in last year’s general election in South Africa, a country often criticised for being a one-party state. It’s a triumphant poll for Labour supporters; their opposition lies scattered and disorganised.
Predictably, most National supporters reacted by bleating about how Reid Research was in Ardern’s back pocket and how everything will be different once the economic effects of the lockdowns are more widely understood. But it won’t be. The fact is that the country has fundamentally lost confidence in the current National leadership.
This magazine reminded everyone last year, in response to increased complaining about the human rights abuses committed by the Sixth Labour Government, that Labour were only in power because National were shit. The Fifth National Government had unmistakably demonstrated its indifference to the suffering of New Zealand’s working class and younger generations, and, subsequently, Winston Peters went with Labour after the 2017 General Election.
Nothing has changed on National’s part.
Deputy Leader Paula Bennett has announced that she’ll be voting to keep putting cannabis users in cages this September. She isn’t bothered that cannabis prohibition costs the taxpayer $400,000,000 a year to enforce, or that it causes great suffering to many of her fellow citizens for no justifiable reason. She wants to charge on with cannabis prohibition as if we’ve learned nothing at all from the past 45 years of failure.
This position is a microcosm of National’s failings.
We tried the politics of cruelty for nine years – the term of the Fifth National Government. We saw John Key and then Bill English sit on their arses as medicinal cannabis was legalised across the world, leaving desperate Kiwis to suffer needlessly. They wasted some $3,600,000,000 on enforcing cannabis prohibition during their term, with nothing to show for it at the end.
During those nine years, we saw the suicide rate climb as the mental health system was pared down to the bare bones. Banking and finance interests grew fat and wealthy, while working New Zealanders were driven first into debt and then to the wall. The National Party rejected all pleas for relief with the same contemptuous indifference that the previous National Government had shown.
By 2017, New Zealanders decided that they’d had enough cruelty. National lost so much support that they lost their grip on power, and Winston Peters dealt the killing blow. It seems that National didn’t learn much from this, however. They have continued to campaign for a kick in the guts to all the usual victims.
Bennett’s position on cannabis shows that National still don’t give a fuck at all. They don’t give a fuck about science, or evidence, or what’s happening with cannabis law reform overseas. They’re just drifting along, in their own little bubble, as if it were still the 1990s.
Things were different in the 1990s. The Fourth National Government passed a Budget in 1991 that left the children of poor families to go hungry, and were rewarded. Kiwis didn’t care about hungry kids then, so we voted National back into power – twice. In the 1990s, we didn’t give a fuck either. But we do now (at least generally speaking).
New Zealand, and the world, have moved on from beggar thy neighbour politics, but the current National leadership has been slow to see it.
Today’s National Party are so out of touch with the average New Zealander that they might as well have a Deputy Leader who wants to put homosexuals in cages. Bennett’s position on cannabis is ludicrous in the light of existing evidence. The electorate inevitably punishes someone holding antiquated positions, and cannabis prohibition is an antiquated method of dealing with cannabis misuse.
To be in favour of cannabis prohibition today is to deny reality. A person is insane if they think that, by using the criminal justice system to put cannabis users in cages, the Government decreases the sum total of human suffering. Kiwi voters can sense this, and so they have overwhelmingly chosen to support the opposition.
The National Party needs to move away from the politics of hate that have characterised it in recent decades, and accept that policies like cannabis prohibition belong in history’s garbage can. This might necessitate a clearout of their current leadership. Nikki Kaye has previously demonstrated a 21st Century approach to cannabis law reform, and the electorate might reward this good sense over what Bridges and Bennett are offering.
Vince McLeod is the author of The Case For Cannabis Law Reform, the comprehensive collection of arguments for ending cannabis prohibition.
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