Tuesday, March 08, 2005


In a post about the silence of American left-wing blogs on anti-war MoveOn founder Zach Exley's sudden switch to working for the re-election of the pro-war Blair government, Nick Barlow speculates on the reasons for their apparant utter disinterest in the issue, and in news from non-US blogs in general. He concludes that the differences are significant, and that

maybe we shouldn’t be constantly looking towards the US for linkage - despite the appeal of getting their thousands of readers to glance over our scribblings - but instead try to build links with those we do have more in common with in the rest of Europe and even across the world. For instance, reading No Right Turn recently, I’ve found that there appears to be more in common between British and Kiwi politics than there is between Britain and the US.

What are some of those commonalities? There's an obvious constitutional similarity - the New Zealand constitutional structure is essentially the British one without the House of Lords. We used to have an equivalent - the Legislative Council - but we did away with it in the 50's when we realised that it was just a sinecure for retired MPs and party hacks and didn't really do anything useful. Likewise, our parties mirror those of the UK; we have a conservative landowner / business party (National), and a party which used to be "of the working class", but isn't really any more (Labour). And we have the shared experience of prolonged suffering under neo-liberal (Thatcherite) policies which caused immense social damage and a crisis of legitimacy for government. Which means that politics now is dominated by the aftermath of those changes - and whether they should be restarted or rolled back.

All of this is boosted by New Zealand political parties' habit of imitating whatever seemed to work for their side in the most recent foreign election. So if Blair uses a pledge card or tries to outflank the opposition on the right, so does the New Zealand Labour party. And if George Bush wins an election by whipping up bigotry and homophobia, National tries the same.

There are differences, however. One is that our local anti-immigrant hysteria is driven more by rich asians (whether students or businessmen) than by poor middle eastern refugees. And another is that here, "New Labour" was the brand of an offshoot to the Labour Party's left...


I think the Blair government is a long way to the right of NZ Labour (and indeed the US Democrats) on most issues. One key difference between NZ and the UK is that there is a left-of-centre party (the Lib Dems) who poll 20%+.

Partly this is because under FPP they are the main opposition to the Tories in the South-East and Labour in the North. I guess that was never the case in NZ - most electorates being primarily contested between National/Labour?
(except Tauranga, Belmont where a third party is entrenched).

Posted by Rich : 3/08/2005 02:33:00 PM

Obviously a very large difference is the issue of EU in the UK - an issue that has been looming large for all UK parties and has been the downfall of several past UK PMs. I guess the NZ equivalent is the extent to which we open our own market, as in CER, free trade agreements and immigration levels.
UK elections are essentially decided in a couple of dozen marginal constituencies, as it was in NZ under FFP. MMP in NZ is forcing parties to broaden their appeal, beyond their narrow base of farmer Tory and brown proletariat respectively, to try to capture that fabled middle ground.
UK devolution to the regions is interesting as they move to become a federal monarchy (it would be the only one in the world apart from Belgium)

Posted by Hans Versluys : 3/08/2005 04:34:00 PM

Wouldn't you regard Spain as a federal monarchy? Or Australia? Or Malaysia (actually they're a federation of monarchies as I recall)?

I agree that the EU is indeed a key factor in UK politics - apart from anything else, a lot of business people who one would regard as natural Tories support Blair because they see the disaster a Tory government would be for their business interests (and the wider economy).

Posted by Rich : 3/08/2005 07:47:00 PM

Rich: you have to go back quite a way to find serious three-party politics in New Zealand - to the 20's, in fact, when we had Liberal, Reform, and Labour.

But I have more or less ignored the biggest difference between NZ and UK politics: MMP and its explicit support of minor parties. While the size of the UK means that some small parties will gain a foothold, FPP means that they are grossly underrepresented (the LibDems have far less than 20% of the seats, for example).

As for the EU vs free trade, I don't think the NZ debate over free trade is quite the same, simply because there isn't enough disagreement. There is a consensus among both major parties to pursue an open market, and only the Greens and NZFirst really oppose it. Wheras in the UK, the parties are bitterly divided over further intergration with the EU, both along and within party lines. And of course free trade only indirectly affects our political independence, wheras Europe is very much a limit on that of Britain...

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 3/09/2005 11:47:00 PM