Out there in the big wide world – or at least the big white western world – traditional politics has polarised. When anxieties rise, people think more left or more right. The Great Depression of the early 1930s led to the massive increase of Fascism and Communism, bloodshed and trauma.
When things are going well, economically at least, the extreme ends of the spectrum shrink and the middle expands. Look at the 1950s.
The middle of New Zealand has definitely expanded – and it’s stuck in spread mode. Trump is so right-wing in his pronouncements, even dyed-in-the-wool Republicans tremble. While the United States tussles with the mawkishly Hitlerian antics of Trump, Sanders almost daily surprises with increases of a constituency that self-admits to being left – quite incredible in itself, in present day America. The only figurehead left upholding the middle, currently, is Hilary Clinton, the darling of her own establishment, and the pillar of its own smug ennui. If she wins (and we have to hope she does, over Trump, as unattractive as that prospect is), she will have a vocally and avowedly disenfranchised left wing to deal with on her own side of the fence – something that hasn’t properly existed in the US since the 1960s.
In England, Jeremy Corbyn is hated by his own party establishment but loved by its members. Those members put him there, whereas here in New Zealand, the practically useless unions still managed to get their own man in, instead of change and vision. In Europe and elsewhere, right-wing anti-immigrant and refugee parties are surging as people fear the future; fear the mini holocausts that flame across the Middle East; fear the consequences of their actions and inactions while struggling to stay out of it no matter the cost.
Here, the Left let a middle manager of a union rule the Labour Party again, eschewing the chance to break out of the white hetero middle class male mould even a little.
Here, the political fight is for the middle.
Here, it comes down to who you’d rather have at your barbecue, or currency trading at your bank, or who you think is a good bureaucrat. Someone who looks the same, doesn’t stand out, but can still make the ‘hard decisions’ to let a few rich people make even more money.
It’s boring. They’re boring. Rather than a titanic struggle, we have a disagreement over that bowl of boiled potatoes on the table. Who gets the biggest piece of white bread. Incremental shifts in slight tweaks of policy.
Labour won in New Zealand a few decades ago by embracing the middle. National won that middle back and now enacts Labour-type policies (what National used to refer to as ‘nanny-statism’) while pretending to still represent conservatism: laissez faire economics and farmyard interests under the smokescreen of increasingly telling people what to eat, drink, smoke and what medicinal drugs it will or won’t allow.
Is the middle a fight we can win? Not any more. It’s irrelevant, it doesn’t engage youth (and who can blame them), and it’s just bloody boring.
The world is under increasing stress.
And the middle’s not going to solve anything.