Desperate and pathetic. Words that could describe the floundering death throes of many politicians from any time or place. Words that I would use to describe Prime Minister Chris Hipkins’s abrupt pivot to personal attacks and weaponising the culture wars.
Over the weekend, Hipkins’ sneering virtue signals and belittling of (what his advisors consider) the unpalatable concerns of many New Zealanders, signalled what we can expect from Labour in the coming weeks. He has clearly made the same calculation that his party made during COVID-19 when they isolated and derided those who opposed mandates and questioned the Pfizer vaccine. Make one group the ‘bad guys’, ‘morons’, the ‘dangerous’ ones and encourage hostility toward them.
This calculation was as unethical then and as it is now. They are actively seeking to divide an already fraught and fractious population.
Hipkins’ Government is frankly so far up its own you-know-what that they struggle to see past the leafy Wellington suburbs and the ideological media class. They bask in the applause of their peers in politics and media, making the mistake of thinking that they reflect the sentiments held by the general populace.
In this election cost of living will be the most important issue, without question. Kiwis are struggling under the burden of inflation and cost increases and they want reprieve. This benefits National who are seen as the more competent managers of the economy and can credibly claim, as they aren’t the incumbents, that they will do something different.
However, there is an increasing distaste for both major parties as demonstrated by the polls steadfastly remaining between the late 20s and 30s for them both. Many voters have seen alternating red and blue governments and are sick to death of the lack of transformative improvement to our public services and economy. It is easy to see how the two parties can be viewed as on slightly opposite sides of the centre and serving the interests of slightly different groups of elite.
So while the cost of living is the most important matter and voters will back either red or blue, increasingly they are indicating that they will do so via the minor parties on either side. Why? Because the minor parties are values-based. They tend to stand for something. They have very little control or influence over fiscal policy in a coalition so they speak to the core social and cultural concerns of the electorate.
It is for this reason that many will decide where to place their vote based on what many politicians call ‘The Culture Wars’. The issues they say are ‘imported’ from – shock horror – America, conveniently forgetting that the response is not what is imported, but the original belief systems themselves. Critical race theory and the concept of non-binaryism, for example, have no history in New Zealand. These are ideas that were imported via academia from America. Naturally, just like there has been pushback against them in the US, so too there has been pushback wherever in the world they were transplanted. It turns out parents universally don’t want their kids indoctrinated.
It is the response (or resistance)to these elitist ideas intended to culturally engineer society that Hipkins has spent all weekend mocking and spitting at. His distaste for people who have concerns about race relations, politicisation of school curriculums, or trans activism, for example, is disingenuous. At least the people who resist these new elitist theories have honestly held worries and truly believe in what they are voicing. The same cannot be said about Hipkins.
Having spent the last decade raising concerns about women’s and children’s rights being eroded by trans activism and queer theory, I have spoken to a lot of politicians and a lot of advisors. I know who in Parliament is a true trans believer and who feels disempowered to speak out in the face of a hostile press gallery that manufactures outrage at any attempt to discuss it. Trust me there are so-called ‘terfs’ in every party with the exception of Te Pati Māori who I have not had the chance to speak with. Yes, even Labour.
Often there are a variety of views on sensitive topics within parties and this is apparent when Parliament takes a conscience vote rather than voting as party blocs. In fact, Hipkins’ snarking about ‘abortion’ over the weekend overlooked the fact that there were Labour MPs who also voted against the recent abortion reforms. It also deliberately ignores the fact that Luxon has said despite his own pro-life position he will not touch the abortion laws while Prime Minister. Hipkins is cynically wielding the reproductive rights of women – a group of people his party won’t acknowledge exists – in order to score points.
Unless our Prime Minister has had a rapid conversion to queer theory and transgenderism, he is pretending to be outraged about that too. He is rolling his eyes at ‘toilet talk’ knowing full well that the issue goes far beyond the bathroom debate. It is a convenient narrative. His globally viral stumble over the question ‘What is a woman?’ earlier this year was not because he holds views that there are not two sexes and that people can switch between the genders anyway. It was because he was afraid of the braying media in front of him.
I have always been discreet about the conversations I have had with MPs and those around them. I will not destroy a career by outing them as ‘terfs’, even though it is frustrating that they won’t use their influence to help resolve the matter. However, after this weekend, I am filled with nothing but disgust for our Prime Minister. He is using the so-called Culture Wars to beat down on people when he agrees with them.
In Labour’s first term of Government, via a conduit, I relayed the concerns of Speak Up For Women (the group I was a spokeswoman for at the time) to then Minister Hipkins. Through our conversations, he made clear that he was sympathetic with our concerns and said he would take them to Grant Robertson and Jacinda Ardern. He later claimed to have done so and expressed disbelief that despite having very close relationships with them both, Robertson and Ardern refused to even talk about the matter. They were cagey and basically told him that engaging with the issue was career suicide.
He continued to privately agree that trans activism presents a conflict with women’s and children’s rights while allowing the ideology to be embedded in our schools via InsideOUT’s bizarre relationship with the Ministry of Education. He presided over the public service while it systemically removed women and the language that describes us from policy and communications. He believed it to be wrong, but he allowed it to happen because his friends told him the media would destroy him.
So when Prime Minister Hipkins curls his lip and spits venom at those he deems to be partaking in ‘The Culture Wars’ he is cynically playing them himself. Instead of listening to the concerns of voters who he agrees with, he throws them under the bus and reverses over them.
Both Hipkins and Luxon will get what they deserve when whoever wins the election has to share a cabinet with a large minor party or two. Because the pair of them won’t talk about values and concerns that strike to the core of our social existence and how we relate to each other, the smaller parties who do will get the votes.