In Political Week Stuff looks at the trend towards political pragmatism and away from ideology.
This was prompted by a week of political liaisons that bridge supposed ideologies.
Winston Peters and Don Brash had a get together:
When it comes to political odd couples they don’t get much more unlikely than Don Brash and Winston Peters. So any passers-by witnessing them sharing lunch at Wellington’s Old Bailey on Thursday would have done a double take.
Peters used to harbour a special sort of loathing for Brash, whose dry stewardship of the Reserve Bank epitomised everything that was wrong about monetary policy in Peters’ eyes.
As someone who was regularly lampooned by Peters’, meanwhile, Brash was understandably distrustful of his NZ First opponent and appalled by his Muldoonist-style economic policies.
Also during the week Michael Cullen offered a fix for NZ Post with a proposed part sale of Kiwibank to the Super and ACC investment funds.
And John Key offered his and the Government’s support for Helen Clark’s bid for UN Secretary General.
Labour supported both the Kiwibank rearrangement (as did Jim Anderton) and Clark’s bid.
And what’s been National’s biggest noise in welfare lately? Raising benefits, something it might have nicked from Labour’s manifesto.
So what happened?
Pragmatism has trumped ideology. It doesn’t polarise the electorate the way ideology does, and it blunts the mood for change. Pragmatism shows politicians are listening. Pursuing ideology at all costs shows they’ve stopped listening.
There are still ideological lines drawn between National and Labour, of course, but they are well scuffed compared to the bright lines drawn by the likes of the Greens and ACT.
ACT’s David Seymour opposed the Kiwibank move, he wants full privatisation, and Greens opposed it because they feared it was a move in the direction of privatisation, but from either side of the political spectrum they can afford to promote ideological positions.
It helps, of course, that Key and Clark seem to have struck up a cordial relationship over the years, maintained by text and a personal visit whenever either of them is in each other’s town. But even if there had been any personal enmity, they would have put that aside for the greater cause in this case.
As for the Brash-Peters love-in, that one may yet have more to play out. As a staunch proponent of RMA reform, Brash will see in Peters a potential friend and ally if he is a means to achieving that end.
But Key may be harder to convincedthat the olive branch extended by Peters over RMA reforms doesn’t come with too high a price tag, namely doing over the Maori Party in Peters’ favour.
Nor will Key be convinced that once Peters’ achieves that aim he won’t use it to hold Key over a barrel.
That’s not about ideology; it’s self preservation.
Self preservation in politics often requires pragmatism. This has become easier with a significant shift in power seeking political focus.
Last century politics was more of a left versus right battle with ideology far more prominent.
Now the big battle is over the centre, where ideologies and pragmatism intermingle more and more.
It’s very hard to see what ideologies either National or Labour see as important, less so what they see as non-negotiable.
Clark’s Labour government won and held the centre vote.
Key’s National government now rules the centre, with Labour wavering between centre and left, wavering between leaders and wavering in the polls.
The ideological fights are confined more to the fringe fanatics in comments at blogs like Whale Oil and Kiwiblog on the right and at The Standard and The Daily Blog on the left.
Of the blog authors David Farrar is still closely involved with National’s ongoing success but due to major failures at the extremes Cameron Slater and Martyn Bradbury are increasingly impotent, and the Standard authors struggle to unite the left and they damage more than enhance Labour’s chances.
Their ideologies have been overtaken by political pragmatism and they seem unable to catch up.