The Sixth Labour Government has already made one colossal error in its short time in power, and it looks like it’s set up to make another. Considering that their grip on power was already slim, and that they are relying on the infamously treacherous Winston Peters to maintain it, there’s every chance that the Sixth Labour Government ends up being a one-term affair. This essay discusses the possibility.
There are many forces that threaten to tear apart every party in every Parliament, but within the New Zealand Labour Party some gigantic fissures are starting to become particularly prominent. The decision to raise the refugee quota was a slap in the face to the poorer voters within Labour, and can be counted as a colossal error. The other error will be forced by the referendum to legalise cannabis.
Make no mistake – raising the refugee quota was an error of profound magnitude. The reality of the situation is this: European governments have, for a couple of decades now, placed the needs of foreign “asylum seekers” above those of their own working classes, and the consequences of doing so are clear. Doing so will lead to a return of authoritarian populists, as has been shown with the rise of the Sweden Democrats in Sweden, the AfD in Germany and Matteo Salvini in Italy.
If you are a poor New Zealander, then you are probably a natural Labour voter, but it’s extremely galling to see Labour spending the money that could have helped you on refugees instead. Adding insult to injury, these refugees are usually dumped in working class areas because that’s where the cheapest housing is. The cherry on the top is that any working-class person who protests their demotion in favour of foreign chancers will be denounced by Labour supporters as a racist.
The decision to double the refugee quota will drive a thick wedge deeply between the working-class faction of Labour, who are dependent on a limited pool of government largesse for their personal well-being and who resent more people claiming a piece of it, and the champagne socialist faction, whose primary concern is virtue signalling for the sake of social status and advancement.
This is the current rupture. It’s unlikely that a populist worker’s movement will arise merely on the basis of this, but it will cause some Labour voters to switch to New Zealand First in 2020 and some to abstain.
The inevitable future rupture comes with the cannabis referendum that will likely be held near the end of 2019. Labour will not admit this, but the referendum has the potential to tear the Labour Party right down the centre, for demographic reasons. This is not a concern for either the Green, New Zealand First or National Parties, because the demographic equation does not apply in their cases.
Maori voters are massively in favour of cannabis law reform – this is one of the strongest relationships in all of New Zealand politics. The correlation between being Maori and voting for the Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party in 2017 was 0.91. This is much stronger than all of the other well-accepted relationships in New Zealand society, and is immediately apparent if one observes the fact that the ALCP gets twice as many votes in Maori electorates as it does in General ones.
Pacific Islanders, by contrast, are much more lukewarm on the issue. The correlation between being a Pacific Islander and voting ALCP in 2017 was -0.00 (i.e. perfectly uncorrelated), much weaker than the correlation between being Maori and voting ALCP. The reason for this is clear if one looks at the general demographic profile of Pacific Islanders: they tend to be religious, and the religious tend to be prejudiced against cannabis.
Therefore, the Labour Party cannot avoid being divided when the cannabis referendum comes around, and they cannot avoid losing a large swathe of voters because someone will inevitably feel betrayed. Either Maori voters will punish them for being too strict on cannabis, or Pacific Islander voters will punish them for being too loose. So Labour is damned if they do campaign for change and damned if they don’t.
These two errors need to be viewed in their correct context. Many political commentators assume (incorrectly) that, because all political parties generally fall on a left-right spectrum, if a given voter doesn’t like the government of the day then they will move leftward or rightward to cast their vote next election.
The truth, as Dan McGlashan demonstrated in Understanding New Zealand, is that for many Kiwis, the alternative to voting Labour is not voting at all. If you are a working-class New Zealander, and therefore a natural Labour voter, the preferred option when Labour is too right-wing is not voting Greens but abstaining from voting.
As the article linked immediately above describes, the correlation between voting for Labour in 2017 and turnout rate in 2017 was a very strong -0.72. That tells us that as many as half of all natural Labour supporters actually don’t vote. The real challenge for the Labour Party is not convincing the masses that National is bad or even that Labour would be better, but convincing them that Labour would be better enough to make it worthwhile to vote for them, and to not rather abstain by way of protest.
The two major errors discussed in this article might collectively have the effect of significantly reducing support for the Labour Party. They have already greatly disappointed their voters who are dependent on social assistance, and the cannabis referendum will force them to either greatly disappoint Maoris (who will then abstain from voting in 2020) or greatly disappoint Pacific Islanders (who will then abstain or switch to National in 2020). This disappointment might be enough to tip the balance back towards National in 2020.
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