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Who should I vote for in 2023?
Thoughts on voting in this year's New Zealand general election
In 2020 I wrote about a change in voting philosophy. I still stand by this framework. For this reason, most of the following is not about whether I agree or disagree with their policies. Policies aren’t so important to me—I’m looking for competence and honourable dispositions. Here’s what I wrote:
It’s of course not possible to be fully rigorous in a post of this nature. But I started writing these thoughts out for friends who might be interested, and so far it seems like some friends have been, so I kept doing it.
I follow domestic politics fairly closely, mostly watching interviews of political leaders on morning current affairs shows. I’m too lazy to dig up specific examples for most of the following impressions, but that’s where they come from.
If you haven’t already voted, be sure to do so before 7pm next Saturday (14th)! If you’re a purist like me you can do so on election day, or if your mind is made up you can vote early. And, to be clear, you do not need an EasyVote card to vote—that’s just an admistrative convenience that saves you having to spell your name for staff to search for alphabetically. All you need is yourself, your name and your address.
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I have extremely few red lines in this game. And I really mean extremely few—even offensive policies and rhetoric aren’t dealbreakers for me. But one of them is haphazardly fucking around with constitutional conventions, and then doubling down when a chorus of leading constitutional law experts call you out for it. The Green Party did this last year. The Labour Party initially backed them, but once Jacinda Ardern caught wind of it, they backpedalled hard. The Greens did not.
If you don’t know this story, just type “Three Waters entrenchment” into your favourite search engine and look for articles around November to December 2022. Or start with this post from Graeme Edgeler, which has a bunch of links to relevant Twitter threads.
I like a lot of their other work. But constitutional abuse is an absolute disqualifier. The Greens are not on my radar until either they express regret for the episode or every other party commits similarly egregious constitutional sins.
The National Party has really been struggling to back up its criticisms and proposals under questioning. Christopher Luxon seems frequently caught off-guard by what I would consider to be fairly obvious questions from broadcast interviewers, and pivots painfully obviously back to rehearsed talking points.
The most painful example I can think of was probably Mr Luxon explaining their policy to loosen GMO laws: he seesawed between “there are no risks” and “the risks can be managed”. Earlier this year, they really had to contort themselves to explain why they thought tax cuts weren’t inflationary while hammering the government for spending. They’ve failed to explain their foreign buyer tax revenue estimates. I remain lost on how they imagine their ideas on law and order will work.
Look, these aren’t bad policies, and even if they were, I wouldn’t care. More important is this: Rolling out any policy successfully requires you to have a strong command of how policy works. The National Party seems unsure how they even want their policies to achieve their intended outcomes. This spells doom no matter how laudable they are.
Their caucus has exceptions. Erica Stanford has an exceptional understanding of her portfolios; if National wins, education and immigration would be a silver lining. Shane Reti and Chris Bishop (disclosure: I know him from debating days) also illustrate depth in their thinking. But my overall impression, not helped by their leader, is of a party that is worryingly incapable of thinking through their major policies.
Installing Chris Hipkins as leader definitely made me more likely to vote for Labour than if Jacinda Ardern had remained at the helm. I think a lot of this is just personal preference of political style. Mr Hipkins tends to think about then do his best to answer inconvenient questions. He’s more inclined than Ms Ardern was to be upfront when things aren’t going well. I’m not saying he doesn’t block and bridge—he does—but I think he does so less, and less vacuously, than his predecessor and his opponent.
Alas, I’m in the minority. After an initial honeymoon, the public does not seem enamoured by Mr Hipkins’ pragmatic disposition. This happens with many politicians. I have resigned to having preferences out of step with most.
Labour seems to have realised this and has gone unapologetically negative in their campaign. It bothers that they’ve overstepped the mark and started misconstruing their opponents, but then, I’d rather that they show desperation than complacency.
As for the rest of their frontbench, I’m less pessimistic than I was three years ago. Perhaps it takes people a while to learn to be ministers. But save for Mr Hipkins and Ayesha Verrall, the ministers I actually admire—Andrew Little, Peeni Henare, Kiri Allan—are ranked outside their top ten or (in Ms Allan’s case) have left politics.
On the whole, this leaves me confused. I think Mr Hipkins deserves a go at the top job. But the best I could say about his team is that they’re probably salvageable, and I’d be banking on him to do so.
Last election I gushed with praise for David Seymour, but worried that a jump from one to ten MPs would be too steep and declined to vote for them. To some degree, Act has proven me wrong: they went longer without scandal than any other party this term. But none of their new caucus, not even Brooke van Velden, has yet shown the depth that Mr Seymour has.
Moreover, presumably spurred on by their success, Act has been less selective about its battles, and there’s been a noticeable sacrifice in nuance as a consequence. About two-thirds of the time I hear Mr Seymour speak I’m broadly impressed at his ability to navigate thorny issues, including co-governance, despite his opponents’ misrepresentations of him. (Sometimes, hearing how his opponents talk about him, I almost want to vote for Act out of spite.) But the other one-third, most notably on criminal justice, he’s left resorting to unsubstantiated rhetoric.
I still think Mr Seymour is, on balance, an excellent contributor to Parliament. I think he needs and deserves more time to raise the rest of his caucus—but without an expansion of it. On current polling, a vote for them would not be helping this goal.
Te Pāti Māori
I’m glad that they exist, but their style of politics is not really for me. I was more in tune with their predecessors, who suffered heavy electoral losses in 2017. That’s not a bad thing—Parliament ought to have a range of personalities in there—but it means I’m just not their target audience.
New Zealand First
Obviously they’re not getting my vote, but their impending return raises a host of inconvenient strategic questions. Do I reward Mr Luxon’s willingness to work with Winston Peters by voting to prevent National from needing him? That would bring about some whack incentives in electoral strategy, so I’m inclined to say no.
The Opportunities Party
My assessment of TOP is largely the same as it was three years ago. They (and all other new parties) continue to be hamstrung by the democratic abomination that is the 5% threshold. I continue to think they will add a useful perspective, and that Parliament hasn’t had enough perspectives since we killed off the microparties of the 2000s. I continue to think they lack political maturity, and I continue to be forgiving of that, since, well, every institution has to start somewhere.
With their lack of media airtime, I haven’t followed them that much—I’ve just clicked on a few of their online things to make sure they haven’t gone batshit crazy (they haven’t) and that Raf Manji, their new leader, speaks credibly (he does). The fundamental conflict is this: On the one hand, TOP would not come close to the standard I’m applying to incumbent parties. On the other, I don’t want to be part of the chicken-and-egg problem by declining to vote for a party that I think has the potential to contribute, only because they won’t get in.
(“Potential to contribute”, in case you were wondering, is not how I’d describe any of the other microparties in this election.)
Since I decided not to bother with which policies I agree with, it’s no longer frustrating that no party has most things correct.
As my level of cynicism about the world has grown (is this just a fancy way of saying “I’m getting older?”), I’ve become more forgiving about its imperfections.
I also feel that figuring out what’s going on is easier, for two reasons:
I’m back in the country, so I’m seeing lots of interviews of politicians on morning current affairs shows, so I’m a lot more familiar with them before election year.
Since I’m not bothering with specific policies, I don’t have to wait until the election campaign to see what they are before I can assess parties. (If you advocate voting based on policy, I politely suggest that reserving judgement until the campaign is an immediate corollary.)
Anyway, one week to go! Decide well and vote, fellow Kiwis.
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