UPDATE: Through late 2018, NC stepped up as a prominent voice for freedom or speech and sovereignty, with deputy leader Elliot Ikilei being anything but "boring", so I am glad to have been proven wrong. In Feb 2019 I attended the first public meeting held that year and you can read my review of that here.
You'd be forgiven if you missed the Conservative Party rebranding into the New Conservative Party on the Queen's Birthday. In fact, you'd be forgiven if you forgot the CP even still existed at all.
The Conservatives have some big problems: a damaged brand, no high profile leadership, and no money. They tried to fix the first of those problems this week, with a new name and new branding: the New Conservatives.
You'll be excused for laughing, I did too. Don't get me wrong, I don't hate the New Conservative Party and I was hoping to write a positive critique of their rebrand. But I just can't. It's utterly boring and unimaginative. (A personal note to the NCP: please ditch the horrific CSS transitions on your website. They're the worst thing about the party by far.)
Let's start with the name: New Conservative. It's got the same problems as the old. What does it mean? What are they trying to conserve?
As we will see when I critique their manifesto, the New Conservatives are really missing radical policy and a solid identity. Before that, let's look at both slogans:
Your Nation. Your Voice.
A nice populist slogan, with a hit of nationalism. Inspiring or bold? Not really.
Stand for what you believe, not what you will tolerate.
What "you believe" will be different for everyone. These slogans don't really give you a sense of a unifying identity or goal either. These don't hold a candle to bold identitarian statements like the "Make America Great Again", "America First", or "One Nation Under God" slogans that propelled Donald Trump to the U.S. presidency.
The new website gives six main policy breakdowns, which I will comment on. I won't cover everything and you can read them for yourself in detail if that tickles your fancy.
Here is the first problem, the flagship policy is Binding Citizens Initiated Referendums. They also wish to replace the parliamentary conscience vote with binding referendums, which basically makes their whole family platform redundant. This policy also includes increased spending on referendums, so let's see if they make up for that with some spending cuts later.
Verdict: This policy potentially clashes with the party's policies on other issues, like euthanasia and marijuana. If both those issues get popular support via referendum next year, then will the Conservatives drop their stances on those issues? Therein lies the problem: populism says the people are always right, conservatism says there are some ideals and virtue above the whims of the mob. This has always been my biggest gripe with the Conservative Party, there is a huge internal contradiction between this policy and their supposed values.
The justice policy is a great read, I have a feeling that someone of the calibre of Garth McVicar or David Garrett was involved here. There is stuff in here about making prisoners work and also fines for crimes set at actual damages caused (times two, plus court costs). It includes plans to increase sentences on various crimes, to tighten bail and so reduce overall crime, to investigate and remove plea bargaining, to replace concurrent sentences with sequential sentences, and so on. There are many great policies. This part of the manifesto is the most solid. If anyone was given a chance to implement these it would be a start to seeing some real justice in this country.
Verdict: My one critique is that sadly nothing here hasn't been suggested before, both by the CP and other minor parties. This makes the justice policy, while the most solid item on their platform, too boring. It would be nice to have gone all the way and, for instance, called for reintroducing public hangings for murders and rapists. It's the kind of thing with a punch to it that would get fresh media attention, but as it is, these great policies will probably go unnoticed and undiscussed: there's nothing new to talk about.
There are some doozies in here, and since there is a lot to go over, I'll critique a number of points in detail, but you can read the whole thing here.
Abortion: Killing humans is apparently OK as long as they don't feel pain. Yep. This new conservative thing apparently doesn't even plan to prohibit abortion, it just wants to tighten the regulations a little. I think this one will go down like a lead balloon with the target audience. It also opens a can of worms for their opposition to euthanasia, after all, if old and disabled people can be killed painlessly then that might be fine too.
Income splitting: Nice enough, basically a tax cut for families with single incomes. But since it's for all "legally recognised relationship", does that mean a Muslim man can split income between all four of his wives and pay no tax? Asking for a friend.
Civil marriage: This one is actually a bit scary. It starts with redefining civil marriage in legislation, but then still has civil unions on par with it, covering "all other legal arrangements" (Which is supposed to mean what exactly?) Anyway, here is the bad part: State-funded pre-marriage training. Yep. No thanks to "highly recommended" state-funded indoctrination of anything.
You'd think that after having seeing the destructive power that governments has had on marriage and the family in the last half-century especially, that you'd be a little reluctant to further entrench that system. Policies like this simply won't work and will keep marriage as political football. This policy also makes me doubt their sincerity and integrity, because they've backed down on a hard-line stance for most of the cultural issues conservatives have lost in recent years, yet they've kept this one, for now.
Equal custody: Not exactly a policy to get excited about, but setting equal custody of children as the default in separation cases would address the current issues where courts generally favour women over men.
Welfare: There are some vague change implied here to make welfare a safety-net rather than a poverty trap. Not sure of over-all cuts are supposed to be implied, but if they are then we just encountered our first cuts to government. Yay!
Children: Parental notification, more paid parental leave, cuts to sex education, recognition of gender confusion as a mental illness, and restricting pornography to 18+ by default at an ISP level. I'm not sure if there have been very many successful implementations of the last one, but treating it like a restricted harmful substance might be a positive step to protect children from it. The increase in parental leave is another spending policy too. We haven't seen very much in the way of reduction in government yet.
Prostitution: Criminalise buying, which would target the men rather than punish the women. This is probably the most fair way to tackle the problem and is a generic conservative policy, one which recognises that people's bodies should not be for sale.
Values: A intentionally vague commitment to protecting New Zealand heritage, culture, and identity.
There's some good, some bad, and some ugly in here. In the end, it feels like none of it matters because of their policy to replace the conscience vote with referendums. They wouldn't even be able to enact any of these policies if that happened. There was an opportunity to reject the death grip that government has on families and individuals, but instead we see a desire to amass more power to the government.
There is a promise to get rid of the ETS and replace it with a different plan to reduce CO2 emissions. What a weak stance to take. There was an opportunity to stand out here to and straight up call out the global warming lie and place the focus entirely on real environmental issues. A real missed opportunity.
They're also pushing a focus on reducing river and waterway pollution, reducing commercial fishing around recreational areas, and support a reduction in the use of plastic bags.
The policy also contains lots of promises to spend more money on research.
Verdict: The New Conservative party is more green than the Greens, but they're isn't bringing anything new to the table here (just more of your money).
Not yet announced. Seeing what they have managed to put together, the lack of emphasis on economic policy doesn't give me much hope that they will have anything innovative here.
Not yet announced. I would be surprised at this point if it included anything radical or exciting.
They've got a pretty rock-solid justice policy. They have a halfhearted dedication to the importance of the family. The party has run-of-the-mill socialist policies, much like every mainstream party in New Zealand. And it's got the half-marks of populism in its slogans and cornerstone policy.
It's not really a traditional conservative party along the lines of either the British or American models. It doesn't feature plans to reign in out of control big government or to cut spending, taxes, and regulations. There is no emphasis on a strong foreign policy or economic freedom. Family values get protected, but only until referendums reject them.
The rebrand feels neutered. I believe they should instead be looking for something that will make heads roll, both figuratively and literally.
The uneasy mix of conservative values with mob rule brings to mind an old quote from Groucho Marx:
Those are my principles, and if you don't like them... well, I have others.