Thursday, November 6, 2008

New Zealand General Election Campaign Limps To A Close: Another McCain's Election?

The New Zealand General Election campaign limps to a close within the next 24 hours. No broad vision, no coherent set of policies has been provided by the two major parties, National and Labour, and with even less from most of the minor parties.

The major party leaders, Labour's Helen Clark and National's John Key, have quibbled over this and that, eking out a policy here and there, unable to find anything much of the other side's policy they might like. Unlike the US election just completed, neither leader seems to be able to find anything much about the other one to admire or respect. No shared vision of New Zealand or what it means to be a Kiwi, or not so much as either cared to share with the electorate.

The tendency in New Zealand politics over the past 25-30 years to mimic US presidential-style electioneering means that the current and would-be front bench leadership has been missing in action. Voters could be excused if tested on who these politicians were and what they had been saying during the campaign.

Even the pollsters seem to have given up, the latest poll having been released in mid October they seem to have departed for the beaches of Fiji.

The news media seem bored in having to post an occasional campaign story - the lowlights in reporting in the past week being Ms Clark tripping in a cafe at Riccarton Mall or Mr Key being heckled by a few opponents in Christchurch's Cathedral Square, par for the course for anyone who opens their mouth in the Square. This passes for political journalism when the pickings are slim.

As for policy positions, National has progressively moved to the centre, so close to Labour's policies it has become difficult for the observant voter to distinguish the two aside from the brand name. This is Hotelling's law at work. Economist Harold Hotelling observed that competitors or political opponents will produce products or policies that are similar to one another in order to attract the greatest number sales or votes by appealing to the median customer or voter.

Take Wellington's Oriental Bay beach, for example, with two ice cream sellers located at the start of the day at either end of the beach.

Over the course of the day, they will move their carts closer and closer to the middle of the beach to attract the most buyers (or voters). So, Helen and John, ice cream vendors, end up back-to-back in the centre of the beach dispensing their wares.

The best argument that it seems that can be made for voting for National in this election - they have a substantial lead in polls - is that they are Not-Labour. But their policies and leadership make them seem very much like just another ice cream seller.

Both parties missed the key message of the US election campaign and the "secret" of Barack Obama's success.

He articulated a vision of a United States that would take a new direction, that would abandon the failed, painful policies of the past 8 years under George W Bush.

Obama's is an optimistic vision - about how that country can be different, can rebuild its relationship with the rest of the world, and can take care of itself by rebuilding a sense of community beyond a mere aggregation of individuals. Whether you agree with it or not, it persuaded a majority of American voters it was worth taking a chance on.

The same cannot be said for National or Labour. Both parties have taken on the John McCain losing strategy: erratic, disorganized, whining, sniping, tear down the other guy, and lacking much of any vision. Both have failed to capture the interest and enthusiasm of younger citizen voters, a phenomenon that helped propel Obama that last step into the highest office for a person of colour in a cumulative transformation of US race relations over the last 150 years.

Instead, Kiwi voters are faced with another type of McCain's election - as in the frozen foods brand.

After the election is over and done with, voters may get a McCain's surprise: they may find yet another dead mouse among the frozen veggies (See Fair Go segment here for explanation).

"Ah, Labour/National, you've done it again".

Now get out and vote - sensibly!

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