The night MMP couldn't save us from ourselves


Last updated 01:33 09/11/2008

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Well, the New Zealand Left has woken up to its very own 9/11.

Last night's result represents not just a slap in the face for Helen Clark and her Labour-led government, it sets the seal on the political values of a whole generation.

Clark and her colleagues stood for all that was good about the baby-boomer generation: its idealism and its 40-year refusal to bow down to the reactionary values of an uptight, male-dominated society driven by a dangerous determination to discipline and punish.

That's what triumphed last night: the hunger to punish - and a crippling fear of social change.

And, like most things in this world, it's happened before.

The New Zealand electorate doesn't often behave selfishly or stupidly. In fact, apart from last night, I can recall only one other occasion when it has done so - 1975.

In every other election I can remember, the New Zealand electorate has demonstrated an acute grasp of what was necessary politically. They didn't always get it, but that was because of the way the first-past-the-post electoral system worked to frustrate the will of the majority. Had the popular vote been reflected in the composition of its parliaments, New Zealand would have had a very different post-war history.

Even in the 1975 election "Rob's Mob" did not achieve a majority of the popular vote. Had MMP been in place 33 years ago, Bill Rowling would have continued to be prime minister of New Zealand at the head of a Labour-Social Credit-Values coalition government. Nevertheless, with 47.6% of the popular vote, National came very close in 1975.

Thirty-three years ago the feral nature of Muldoon's support was discernible everywhere. You could see, as well as sense, the curious social chemistry that was fusing the interests of lanky Young Nats with tousled locks, smart pullovers and slacks, with grizzled old working-class battlers in oil-stained overalls. They wanted no part of Bill Rowling's "New Society" - in fact it scared them to death.

Thirty-three years on, that same queer chemistry is again in evidence. You can smell it on the blogosphere, as rank and rangy as a young man's student flat. You can read it on the pages of the right-wing media: the smug certainties of our genteel suburban fascisti - regurgitated to order by publications long-used to dripping the oleaginous phraseology of "responsible journalism" all over the jagged edges of their readers' class-advantage.

And it's been there for all of us to absorb in the polls - though many of us simply refused to believe our fellow citizens could be so dumb - or so mean.

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But, we were wrong. They were.

Looking at the result, you realise just how much this country and its people have changed. So much so that, last night not even our proportional system of electoral representation could rescue us from ourselves.

So, what was it in the end? What led a majority of the New Zealand electorate to reject a government that has not only done it no great harm (as National-led governments are historically prone to do), but might even be said to have done it some good? Why did voters reject a prime minister with nine years of hard-won experience in government, for a chap who's barely spent six years in parliament?

Last night's result was manufactured out of the besetting sin of the last 150 years of western history - the crisis of masculinity. What, exactly, is a man in a world of corporate and public bureaucracies? A world of tin-pot bosses, impossible schedules, and unrealistic expectations? A world where to show your feelings is to reveal your weakness? A world where girls can do anything, but boys make a virtue out of boorish stupidity? A world where cynicism trumps heroism, and where simple human decency is dismissed as political correctness?

It was these: the men who just couldn't cope with the idea of being led by an intelligent, idealistic, free-spirited woman; the gutless, witless, passionless creatures of the barbecue-pit and the sports bar (and the feckless females who put up with them); who voted Helen Clark out of office.

John Key - you're welcome to them. 

- Sunday Star Times

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