Tuesday, July 10, 2018

TOP and the politics of impatience

Gareth Morgan has a post-TOP interview at The Spinoff, in which he makes explicit everything wrong with TOP and exactly why he is fundamentally unsuited for politics. There's the obvious constant slagging off of voters for valuing things different from himself, of course. But there's a top-down model of politics in which policies are offered "on a take-it or leave-it basis" and elections are bought so that they may be implemented. The problem of course is that people (and potential coalition partners) can just leave it, and (as we've seen in the case of Colin Craig and Kim Dotcom's respective vanity vehicles) elections in New Zealand are not just about money. But Morgan's biggest problem is that he is impatient:

That implies that to change the voting public’s political priorities requires a massive investment of time – time that individuals who have other options might more productively apply on other projects. While of course there is a body of politically active enthusiasts for TOP’s approach who would like to keep plugging away, the project needs money if it’s to realistically ever be more than a bit player like the Greens or NZ First and actually challenge the status quo of the two Establishment parties.

Morgan calls the Greens a "bit player", but if you look at the way policy flows in New Zealand - who introduces it, who advocates it, who adopts it, and who has to pretend to to avoid being offside with the public - they're a major influence. And they do it not by Morgan's (or rather, his hero Roger Douglas's) preferred methods of "crash through or crash", but by slow and patient advocacy. Why are we going to get a capital gains tax? Because the Greens advocated it, convinced the public (with the help of a housing crisis), and Labour and National had to follow (to the extent that National was forced to introduce the first steps). Why do we have a home-insulation scheme and a renewable energy target? Its the same story. Why are we going to clean up our waterways? Because the Greens have convinced the public, and the major parties are following their steer. As a small party, you can have an outsized effect.

(NZ First are a different story, because as a reactionary party they're about keeping things the same, or returning to some idealised past, rather than advocating for new policy. So their story is one of veto, not advocacy).

But its not just about introducing policy, but ensuring its survival. If TOP had won power and implemented its policies, it would still have had to do the hard work of building consensus behind them, or see their repeal at the next election. We want change. We want change now. But if we want it to stick, we need to convince people, either before or after the fact.

Max Weber called politics "a strong and slow boring of hard boards" - and that was said in an era when that was done with hand drills. Building consensus behind policy and changing political priorities requires time and patience. It requires convincing people. Morgan didn't have patience, either for the process or with the people he was trying to convince. And that is why he was doomed to failure.