05/09/2019
Dieuwe de Boer
Opinion
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Stuff Columnist Liam Hehir Takes Swipe At New Conservatives On His Way Out

Liam Hehir, Stuff's token moderate, has decided to call it quits. His reasons are fairly noble: he wants to spend more time with his family and having to write a weekly column is too much pressure to balance against a real career and family.

It sounds like he's not quitting commentary for good, he just doesn't want to be tied to schedules with editors forcing stories out of him. (Hello, blogging!)

Yet he chooses to do some weird things with his final regular article for Stuff.

That was kind of my aim in taking up Firing Line in the first place. It is no secret that the ranks of the mainstream media are dominated by liberals in their various Left-wing, centrist and, occasionally, Right-wing forms.

But it has always frustrated me is that, where space is allowed for the non-liberal view, it usually seems that the angriest, least reasonable voices dominate.

Uh oh.

Lately, for example, broadcasters have been giving an awful lot of time to spokespeople for the so-called New Conservative Party. This fringe organisation received just 6253 votes at the last election. It has no real prospect of breaking into Parliament.

All of his objections are rather irrelevant: the old Conservative Party that contested the last election was doing so as the rubble of what remained after you-know-who burned it to the ground. The New Conservative organisation is radically different. The votes they got in 2017 are much less relevant to current discourse as polling numbers that consistently show them at similar levels to the ACT and Maori Parties.

I don't watch TV, but to my knowledge the New Conservative spokesmen haven't been getting a huge amount of airtime. Yet it's been enough to get Hehir's attention, so that's a good sign.

As to whether or not New Conservative has a real prospect of breaking in parliament, that will remain to be seen. If Hehir wants them written off and buried just before we enter an election year, it makes me think there is some panic spreading inside the farm. That gives me hope.

By contrast, the Opportunities Party won more than 10 times as many votes. How often are its people interviewed on TV? The Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party also outpolled the New Conservatives but, despite cannabis reform being a live political issue, its spokespeople rarely seem to be the designated for the legalisation movement.

It's more than a little weird to complain that there are no non-liberal views being articulated and then to cite TOP and Legalise Cannabis as examples of groups you want to hear more of. I'll take some of what Hehir is smoking.

The New Conservatives currently poll much higher than TOP, and TOP has suffered a bit of an internal implosion since 2017. That's not to say TOP shouldn't be given more airtime or that they don't have interesting ideas, but the attention goes to those who demand it.

Granted, that may be part of Hehir's complaint, but he's just labelling opinions he doesn't like as "angry" and "unreasonable". He makes no attempt to provide us with examples of his idea of calm and reasonable conservatism.

The Cannabis Party doesn't really need to be in the debate because (a) putting potheads on TV might make people vote "no" in the referendum (which would be against the interests of the Media Party), and (b) there is a referendum happening which a majority of parliamentarians support. The Cannabis Party is hardly a lone or prominent voice on the issue.

In contrast, the issues New Conservative are asked to weigh in on often don't have higher profile proponents. There just aren't any other conservative voices out there to consult.

There's a reason for that too: why would you risk taking time to be interviewed by left-wing hacks whose sole desire is to destroy you? That's the kind of hazardous and thankless work only brave men like Elliot Ikilei enjoy.

Somewhere between 30 to 40 per cent of New Zealanders are conservative in their disposition. They are not, as a rule, bigots, know-nothings or uncompromising libertarians. When their more measured views are not properly and credibly articulated in the business of news, liberals let themselves off the hook.

That's all very true, other than calling the progressive globalists who run the news business liberal, which is an insult to liberals of all stripes.

Rather than explaining why the media is so heavily biased towards left-wing causes or asking why they intentionally suppress moderate voices, he makes the incorrect assumption that the sliver of attention given to more hardline cultural conservatism is detracting from time that could be given to moderates. If that's genuinely his position, it's an incredibly naive one.

Yet it's far more naive to write New Conservative off as "bigots", "know-nothings", or "uncompromising libertarians". (Perhaps he's got them confused with another party?)

In the end, all he does is provide us with a great argument as to why the New Conservative movement needs more airtime. Whatever it is we're doing to upset Liam Hehir, let's do more of it.

This final column of his also gives me the impression that Liam Hehir, much like his progressive counterparts, doesn't really understand what is happening to the world.

In the years of my tenure here, I have looked to write on the issues of the day from a reasonable and moderate conservative perspective. I have probably not always succeeded in doing it well. All I can say is that I have tried.

I do believe that Hehir wrote interesting and balanced articles, but he could hardly be called a champion of the conservative cause. He was just moderately-moderate.

Overseas, many left-wing newspapers—like the NYT—keep on a token conservative/Republican columnist. Their job is to write "orange man bad" articles week after week.

If this weren't Hehir's last column, I'd say he's getting qualified to fill that role in a New Zealand context.

Perhaps token conservatism is now truly dead, and good riddance.