I woke up yesterday morning to yet another NZ Herald piece castigating NZ First as a warmed-over party of the past with nothing new nor worthwile to say.
This is, to my mind, considerably ironic - as that's pretty much *exactly* how you'd have to describe a print-media publication running tired attack lines from ten years ago on repeat like anyone cares.
Although I'm not sure I'd *quite* stoop to calling anyone who takes Armstrong's latest column seriously "the politically dazed and confused". Even if Armstrong himself demonstrably fits that category.
As far as I can make out. Armstrong's "critiques" boil down to three key points:
- that NZ First doesn't have a Post-Winston succession plan, and therefore will struggle to attract new members;
- that NZ First's core narrative that life was BETTER under something other than Neoliberalism is somehow flawed;
- and flowing on from this, that NZ First's policy-development is rooted in the past, with a "back to the future" feel to it.
All together, he's basically trying to say that much like New Zealand's economic sovereignty under National ... we ain't got a future.
Well bollocks to that!
First up, NZ First quite clearly and demonstrably has a completely capable, competent and even charismatic future Leader in Ron Mark. I know I haven't gotten around to the much-awaited Part III of my Life After Winston series yet, but just check out my commentary on him from this weekend in the interim.
What's needed to turn NZ First into that genuine "mass-movement" Party that Winston was talking about on Saturday is a focused combination of inspiring motivation and guidance from on high, coupled with ability and know-how from the rank-and-file membership to bring in more people.
And from everything I saw over the weekend, New Zealand First is a Party that's undeniably got both in spades!
It's not my place to run around the country anointing MPs with future leadership positions, or predicting the timetable by which any succession plan may unfold. But to return to Armstrong's prognostications ... we aren't publicly indicating how we're going to sort the leadership-succession plan yet, because there is not yet any great need. As even some of our harshest critics in the media have been forced to concede, "Winston Peters is in the form of his life!"
So when it comes to the big question for the near future about how we boost up Party membership numbers by the thousands in order to counter Armstrong's supposition that our support base is "pass[ing] away", contrary to what Armstrong might think the answer is not rooted in who'll take over at some as-yet unspecified point in the future.
Instead, we need to work out how we can properly support Winston to the absolute BEST OF OUR ABILITY in continuing to attract new members, activists and voters.
Because quite frankly, ever since the last Election, the average age of our potential members and present-or-future supporters has been dropping rapidly. If John Armstrong had bothered to attend our Convention personally, he'd have seen that for himself with his own eyes.
We'll always be a Party that's resolutely and justifiably proud of backing our Gold Card holders and elderly New Zealanders - but more and more young people and 30-50 year olds are ALSO making the decision to Come Over To The Dark Side and support our politics.
Why, I think I've signed up at least half a dozen youth members myself in the last week alone.
More to the point, where Armstrong sees a "diminishing fanbase", I instead see a flourishing popular appeal - just look at our recent polling and the fact we managed the 'impossible' feat of capturing a theoretically safe National seat up in Northland!
The lesson from this is simple. Winston and Winston's politics continue to draw in the members - and average, ordinary New Zealanders (as well as the occasional eccentric mad genius type such as myself) are flocking to our banner in record numbers unseen and unheard of within our Party for at least a decade. Possibly two.
This is reflected in polling, wherein we're on pretty much double what we were ten years ago - while Winston enjoys more success in Preferred Prime Ministership rankings than the Labour Party's own somewhat lackluster leader.
So when it comes to Armstrong's tired attempt at caricaturing us as a Party exclusively of, by and for the can-remember-the-1950s brigade ... I find myself wondering whether it isn't him that's 'out of touch' with modern political reality. However you slice it, what he's said in his Herald column has very little relationship to either our Party's burgeoning membership, or its appeal to newer converts.
Instead of worrying about the pontifications of politically confused (and more than a little dazed) print-media publications, our efforts are focused on building up the requisite Party infrastructure to equip our members with the tools THEY need to match the Boss's efforts and bring more rank-and-file personnel into the fold. That's how we'll ensure our longevity as a Party - by maximizing our advantage right now and building productively and progressively towards the future.
Over the last few months, I've PERSONALLY witnessed this, with new electorates being set up, committees empowered - and yes, even campus presences across the country being (re)-established.
And let me tell you. All us mass of firebrand 18-30 year olds in the Party - particularly the recent surge of new members in this demographic - CERTAINLY aren't here because we can remember the 1950s!
Instead, we're here because we know that THIS party offers the best genuine alternative to another three decades of Neoliberalism.
In other words, contra to Armstrong's assertions it's the blatantly unfair economic system WE grew up with that motivates us to join, campaign for, and ultimately to vote for New Zealand First. Not the halcyon memories of our parents' generation about how much better things were in their youth.
And yes, yes there are some obvious and important commonalities between New Zealand's previous economic system - and the one which I, and my younger comrades desperately yearn to see upheld across the land. That's just the nature of #Nationalist and anti-neoliberal politics. We'd be foolish indeed if we didn't take salient lessons from the past when it comes to our policy-making for the future.
I'm genuinely at a loss as to why Armstrong seems almost personally annoyed about the fact we have learned from history, and are absolutely determined to bring the best elements of the past into the present in order to avoid and undo the mistakes of previous governments.
Where I come from, that's just called sensible politics.
In any case, the clear and compelling vibe I got from reading Armstrong's piece was simple: this is a man who wasn't at our Convention, and is second-hand reporting from reading the media output of others who WERE there and were there with an agenda. (It's well-known and patently obvious that neither of Andrea Vance nor Brook Sabin particularly like us, for various reasons)
To add insult to injury, Armstrong appears to have decided to buy into the vested meta-narrative of some pundits which seems content to ENDLESSLY PREDICT the impending demise of New Zealand First.
As you may have noticed, my Party's about as good at Dying When Ordered as I am - and half the reason these pundits often seem to hate us to the point of willing us unto oblivion ... is quite simply because we keep showing up them and their predictions at every turn.
I've detailed my thoughts on the New Kiwi Deal elsewhere in another blog that should hopefully be up today; but suffice to say on that score, too, Armstrong's analysis fails dismally.
National's approach to job-creation and unemployment, much like the people it nominally purports to help, simply isn't working. And I genuinely can't work out why Armstrong seems so fundamentally wedded to defending it in the face of bold ideas from the likes of New Zealand First.
It's almost like he so doesn't want his delicate narrative of "tired old NZF doing the same old thing over and over" to be disrupted by a potentially game-changing economic policy suite that he's rejecting out of hand even the hint that we might bring about change.
That's unfortunate. But I guess he's just doing what he has to in order to maintain his *own* "diminishing fanbase".
When I was writing this piece, a quote from President Obama slipped into the forefront of my mind.
"Our challenges may be new. The instruments with which we meet them may be new. But those values upon which our success depends [...] these things are old, these things are true. They have been a quiet force of progress throughout our history. What is demanded, then, is a return to these truths. A willingness to find meaning in something greater than ourselves."
To me, that sums up one of the core elements of New Zealand First's appeal - particularly to a younger generation of members, such as myself.
We know, respect and appreciate the fact that this Party of ours is, in many ways, founded on principles and personalities *far* older than ourselves. Indeed, that's what we signed up for.
But we also believe that these values and philosophical inclinations - about the role of the state and the importance of a "fair go" for all Kiwis - are so intrinsically worthwhile that it shouldn't matter they were first conceived in a different age.
What matters is that they're still relevant today - in fact, increasingly so given that we've lost our way as a society thanks to three decades of neoliberalism.
And what matters even more than that is that here stands a political party - fresh and vibrant in some areas (particularly our 2014 intake of MPs), yet veteran and battle-hardened in others - that coils poised and ready to fight to implement them once again.
Mark my words. With Winston Peters continuing to outright flummox the critics left, right and center - and Ron Mark ably backing him up and supporting him while "riding shotgun" ... John Armstrong's career as a journalist will be well and truly over LONG before either Winston's story or New Zealand First's is.
The vibe I got from this year's Convention was not that of a Party slipping into a slow decline, as Armstrong appears to believe.
But instead, quite the contrary.
As The Other Winston famously said:
"This is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning."
Look forward to accompanying you every step of the way ;)
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