2017 in Review: The Establishment Strikes Back

Alex Eastwood-Williams

2017 has been a deeply disappointing year for those of us on the right-wing or populist end of the political spectrum, with the hard-won victories of 2016 turning to a bitter counter-attack from the establishment in 2017.

Though one could be fooled by the sudden rise of Emmanuel Macron and Jacinda Ardern into believing that some sort of great populist uprising occurred, in reality it's the same old globalism, this time disguised as populism and carefully crafted by the media. 

For the third year in a row (albeit the first year published on RMNZ), I will be writing my annual review of New Zealand and world politics, in which I rank who I feel has been the most effective player in the political game this year.

I do need to emphasise: rankings do not reflect endorsements of political views. When writing this I always put my own biases and personal views aside and seek to comment from a neutral perspective. 

I'll skip the waffle and get straight into it:

The Parties:

National: Despite the shock resignation of John Key in December 2016, for most of 2017 it seemed that National were probably sleepwalking to another victory. 

Despite his "boring" persona, Bill English maintained high approval ratings and was no doubt perceived as a respectable, honourable man even by his opponents. 

While the housing crisis and uncontrolled immigration were serious issues that National continued to deny and ignore while in government, the fact that their main voter base (employers and home owners) were benefiting from the unsustainable rise in property values and fall in wage costs that the aforementioned were bringing, one can certainly understand why National would claim that they were deserving of a fourth term - because for a certain strata of society, things had never been better.

Furthermore, the election night result for National was stunning - no political party in New Zealand history has ever achieved that high a percentage of the vote after three terms in office.

In the end National fell down due to the fact that after 21 years, they clearly still don't understand how MMP works, and spent much of the campaign undermining and backstabbing their one potential friend and avenue to achieving a fourth term. 

Labour: Well... I guess my face is now as red as the Labour Party's logo. 

After all, I did predict earlier this year that Labour was completely dead. To my utter astonishment, they have somehow ended up in government. I did not even remotely see this coming.

It would be a lie to say that Labour have had a good year - indeed, until about two weeks before the election Labour were as dysfunctional and disorganised as ever and looked destined for third party status rather than the treasury benches. As the cliche goes, a week is a long time in politics.

I will never claim to understand "Jacindamania" or even remotely understand her appeal, but the fact is it happened, the Greens collapsed, Winston chose her and, well, here we are. 

There's no substitute for victory, no matter how undeserved. 

New Zealand First: I can't tell whether New Zealand First choked or simply gave up.

At the start of the year it looked like Winston Peters and New Zealand First were going to ride the populist wave of Trump and Brexit all the way to victory. I seriously felt that Winston Peters had a serious shot of becoming Prime Minister, he spent most of the year ranked ahead of the Labour leader in the polls and at the beginning of the year I was even privy to a poll that put NZ First only two points behind Labour. 

There are many theories on what went wrong for NZ First - on the left, it's claimed that the policy to hold a referendum on the Maori seats may have alienated the party's core voter base. On the right, it's claimed that NZ First's emphasis of left-leaning policies like raising the minimum wage and introducing a form of free tertiary education may have alienated conservative voters, as the party unsuccessfully tried to mine for Labour voters for the third election in a row.

Finally of course the combination of negative media coverage following Winston Peters' leaked pension details, and the media blackout of all politicians not named Jacinda Ardern that occurred at the end of the campaign was also damaging. 

Though NZ First did enjoy a month of being the most powerful people in the country while they chose a coalition partner, the fact is that what could have been their best election since 1996 instead ended up with them scraping back in by the skins of their teeth.

Greens: I actually have an article sitting in draft on RMNZ that I wrote just in case the Greens didn't get back into Parliament this year. Fortunately for them and unfortunately for me, I never got to release it.

I'm not sure if the Greens are on life support, but they're certainly in intensive care - it hasn't been a good year for them. 

While initially the Metiria Turei scandal saw them rise to 15% in the polls, further evidence and the promotion of a certain MP from Mount Albert took a major and almost fatal toll on the Greens. Two MPs walked out, James Shaw (a first term MP) ended up leading the party on his own and the lyrics of a song by Kermit the Frog became rather accurate concerning the ease of being Green. 

Though they did return to Parliament, and did well from the special votes, things haven't improved much on the other side of the election. The revelation that one of their star new MPs defended a number of war criminals and attempted to gloss over it in her CV certainly isn't a good look for a party already trying to rebuild from a number of pre-election scandals.

I'm not going to repeat the mistake of prematurely predicting the Greens' demise three years out from an election, but I will say that the road ahead for them does not look pleasant. 

ACT: I literally almost forgot ACT existed. I imagine the public feel much the same.

My friend Tim Levchenko-Scott wrote an excellent article earlier this year arguing that being out of government could be ACT's big opportunity to rebuild its own brand. 

Certainly, regardless of one's views on the subject, the euthanasia debate has brought David Seymour a lot of positive press, and the first reading of the bill in Parliament is the first time in my life I've ever heard the words "ACT" and "compassion" uttered in the same sentence. 

The challenge for ACT is that they are a tainted brand, possibly a permanently tainted brand, that will have an exceptionally hard time differentiating itself from National - especially with National now containing a growing number of social liberal MPs. 

Furthermore, the game will be over when National finally realise that they don't need ACT - and to be honest, they really don't. 

The Maori Party: They're gone. Good riddance. 

United Future: They're gone and never coming back. Good riddance. 

My Top 5 New Zealand Politicians of 2017:

5. Tamati Coffey [Labour]: I ran into Tamati Coffey in 2014 when he was campaigning in Rotorua and despite our political differences, I liked the guy and was curious to find out whether or not he would succeed in his long held desire to become an MP. 

In the end, well, he was the one who single handedly got rid of the Maori Party, which was a major turning point in the overall election as well as a major victory against a racist political party. 

I was tempted to mention Greg O'Connor here, but O'Connor was simply in the right place at the right time - Peter Dunne was going to lose Ohariu no matter who stood against him. Coffey was not predicted to win Waiariki but he did it anyway. That's a decent achievement. 

4. James Shaw [Greens]: It's no secret that I wouldn't piss on most Greens if they were on fire, but objectively speaking James Shaw is a damn impressive politician. 

Let's not forget that this guy was a first term MP leading what was then the third largest political party in the country (unlike David Seymour who was just a glorified independent). Not only that, he has managed to almost rid the Greens of their hippy-weirdo image and make the party palatable to middle New Zealand.

Finally, the fact that he was able to keep the party together in spite of the Metiria scandal, the Golriz scandal and two MPs walking out in protest demonstrates to me some pretty respectable leadership skills. 

3. Jacinda Ardern [Labour]: Most pundits are ranking her in first place, but to be honest if she wasn't Prime Minister I wouldn't be including her in this list at all. 

The truth is, she's had an extraordinary run of good luck this year. She happened to be in Mount Albert when David Shearer resigned, and then won the seat. She happened to be deputy leader when Andrew Little finally saw the writing on the wall. And she happened to be leading Labour when Winston Peters delivered utu to the National Party. 

While she is to be commended for having some skill, in terms of managing to get Labour (a divided party at the best of times), NZ First and the Greens to all play nice with each other so far, the truth is that she got to where she is through luck, and very little else. 

2. Bill English [National]: This is basically the above argument but in reverse. Bill English lost the election, but came damn close to winning - and unlike Ardern he got to that position through hard work, not luck. 

The guy who once got only 20% came back, won more than twice that, after three terms in office and following the departure of his extremely charismatic predecessor. 

Not only that, he got that result despite the fact that a growing proportion of the country are sleeping in cars, the housing market is heading towards a very ugly correction and the economic numbers look good only to people who know nothing about economics. 

That's no mean feat - and as I've said before, National would have to be foolish to the point of being suicidal to replace him as leader over the next three years. 

1. The Media: Yes - the real winner this year has been the mainstream media. 

In 2016 it seriously looked like the public were waking up to the lies and manipulation, with distrust of the fourth estate at an all time high, and "fake news" being called out for the thinly veiled propaganda that it is. 

Unfortunately, in New Zealand at least the public have swallowed the media bait, hook line and sinker without so much as a raised eyebrow let alone a question. 

They nodded along as the media was determined to undermine MMP and present only a two party race, even when one of those parties was barely limping along. They worshipped Bill English when instructed to worship him, and then Jacinda Ardern when instructed to worship her instead.

What the media said was true the public believed, and sadly 2017 has gone to show that it's still the media, not the people, who wield the real power in this country. 

Top 5 International Politicians:

5. Donald Trump [USA]: I have to admit, I'm including President Trump only because I'm struggling to think of who else I can include this year. He was inaugurated in January and despite an impressive speech has so far struggled to walk the talk. Much of that isn't his fault - the media are more vicious, dishonest and hostile than they have ever been to a US President in my lifetime, his own party seems hell-bent on stabbing him in the back and he has made some very powerful enemies in the Deep State and corporate world. Although his opponents continue to call him a warmonger, question his temperament and slander him, currently Donald Trump is showing an heroic level of restraint where North Korea is concerned: North Korea have violated the armistice agreement by sending troops into South Korea, giving Trump the legal right to resume Korean War hostilities without Congressional or United Nations approval. The fact that he is choosing not to demonstrates that he is far more committed to peace than his opponents can even begin to understand.

4. Jacob Rees-Mogg [UK]: I will freely admit that my inclusion of the Mogg is entirely due to my personal biases, but I don't care. With Boris Johnson looking less and less like a serious contender for the British Premiership, and the dire need for someone to replace the Remainiac, Brexit-undermining, democracy-undermining, political disaster that is Theresa May, Moggmentum has been building in 2017 and in my view will be the only way to prevent Jeremy Corbyn from getting the keys to Number 10 in 2022. 

3. Sebastian Kurz [Austria]: This has literally been the only good news story I've heard all year in politics. 31 year old Sebastian Kurz, leader of the Austrian People's Party, has formed a coalition with the populist Freedom Party of Austria (who the media falsely call "Far Right") becoming to my knowledge the youngest head of government in the world. No prizes for guessing what issue preceded the change in government: The incumbent Social Democratic Chancellor, Christian Kern, was a strong supporter of Angela Merkel's immigration policy. The people of Austria... weren't. 

2. Jeremy Corbyn [UK]: I won't repeat the screeds of articles I've already written about the UK election, but to briefly recap: Remainiac Prime Minister Theresa May for some god-unknown reason decided to hold a snap election despite already having a majority and a clear mandate from the public about Brexit. It backfired. Although Corbyn had been written off by absolutely everyone including yours truly, he ended up making some serious gains in the election, solidifying his position as Labour leader and leaving Theresa May beholden to the DUP until the next election. Since then, Labour have remained ahead of the Conservatives in the polls and as I said above, unless Theresa May is replaced by either Boris Johnson or Jacob Rees-Mogg, I wouldn't be surprised if Comrade Corbyn ends up in Downing Street in a few years. 

1. Emmanuel Macron [France]: France have a long history of surrendering, and the election of Emmanuel Macron as the youngest President since Napoleon represents another surrender in my view. It's clear that Macron does not believe France should exist, being a vociferous supporter of a European superstate and calling on the EU to sue nations such as Poland for attempting to exercise their sovereign right to control their own borders. In terms of politics, what he did was very clever: The young man brought together the traditional left and the traditional right, convinced the public that he was some sort of populist and represented a repudiation of the establishment and then proceeded to be the ultimate symbol of the establishment, globalism and liberalism (both social and neo-).

All in all it's been a disappointing year politically, but for those of us on the right-wing or populist side of spectrum, we can hold our heads up knowing that when our preferred politicians lose, we don't run around attacking them or throw toddler-like tantrums in public.

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About the author

Alex Eastwood-Williams