Wednesday, 23 November 2011

Making Conservatism Hip?

I've been holding off on doing a post about the Conservative Party for two reasons. Firstly, I wanted to know where the money came from and was waiting for a reply from the party itself; I got one tonight, which basically said what the article said: A few small donations that don't need to be disclosed (and fair enough too) with the bulk of funding from Colin Craig's own pockets.

Secondly, it's because they're one of those parties that I kind of don't want to give any oxygen to because once you get past the surface, they're actually kind of batshit insane. Not quite into the Tinfoil Hat Territory that some bloggers veer into, but they've got some... weird ideas, mixed in with their centre-Right populist policies.

Living in the Kaikoura electorate (which being farming country is a True Blue seat all the way) I've received a lot of their leaflets and mailers in the local newspapers. They are pretty slick documents; glossy, well designed, with lots of positive upbeat messages and lots of photos of Young People.

Here's a link to their Website and to .pdf's of their mail-outs so you know what I'm talking about. But I think I can sum up their chief point of difference with a simple graphic:

The Conservative Party is the election vehicle for one Colin Craig, the third place holder for the Auckland Super City mayoralty race (with 9% of the vote). He's poured $1.5 million into this campaign, mostly from his own pocket. He's campaigning on three key policy platforms:
1) Binding citizen's-initiated referenda
2) Repeal Section 56 of the Crime's Act (the "Anti-Smacking law")
3) Farmers are awesome and should be given everything they want so that the economy grows.

There's other stuff in there too, like how we need to lock up crims and throw away the key, coupled with a loosely defined "fence at the top of the cliff" policy that contains things like
For instance it is rare for a person raised in a stable family, with good connection to the community, reasonable literacy, and who is not under the influence of drugs or alcohol to commit a crime. (Mailer 1, "What do you really want?")

(Of course, no mention of white collar crime like dodgy finance companies or ruthless property managers running slum housing for absentee landlords, but hey, y'know.) (Absolutely no implication is meant there as to how Mr. Craig made his money as a property manager; there are some good property managers out there, but trust me, I've met some real bastard ones).

They've got views on constitutional matters too, like having a 4-year parliamentary term (which makes a kind of sense) and only having 99 MPs (which doesn't). They want the Foreshore and Seabed back in Crown ownership, but give Maori the right to go through the courts if they feel their rights have been breached. They want to abolish the Maori seats, having one roll for all. They want Work for the Dole.

On the face of it, it seems like the usual grab-bag of complaints from disgruntled Centre-Right to Right voters who're annoyed that their traditional patriarchy privilege has been taken away from them. But their support and their advertising material draws from a wider base: apparently they're popular with the Auckland Tongan community who like their 'traditional' family values; and in all their brochures they're keen to depict a multi-cultural face of smiling middle-age or younger people. They have a "14 point Conservatism Test" in the style of Cosmo magazines that it's kind of hard to score anything less than 8 on. They've been gunning hard for NZ First's supporter base before Winston made his Jason Vorhees-esque stumble back from the dead.

Take this quote, again from Mailer 1: What Do You Really Want?

Every vote cast for the Conservative Party will count because Colin Craig can win a seat.
This is different from New Zealand First who can’t win a seat. Many voters wasted their vote last election by voting New Zealand First. If you were one of those people we encourage you to vote for the Conservative

This is from before Colin Craig even decided which electorate he was going to run in.  I don't know if that's magical thinking or supreme self confidence.

It's a pretty slick machine, perfectly poised to capture a growing sense of resentment from people that politicians aren't to be trusted, and never listen anyway. They've been called the "dark horse" of the campaign, and with a self-selecting online poll (which can be easily manipulated) picking their support at 4.9%, they honestly believe they're in with a chance.

I'd hate for you to think that I think they're a bunch of nutters. Quite the contrary; they've put together a party with a slick image, and some policies well placed to appeal to a group of voters who may feel alienated by National's runaway charge towards neo-liberal economics, and who might still feel disgruntled about a lingering perception of the 'Nanny State.'

But the thing that I just can't get past is this: They want you to be able to hit your kids.

The removal of the 'reasonable force' defence was never intended to punish good parents, as the Conservatives claim it currently does. Instead, it was intended to remove a defence from despicable child abusers who would hide behind the fuzzy definition of 'reasonable force' and 'corrective purposes.'  The ninth Police review of the law, released in July of this year found that there were no situations where welfare staff or police had acted inappropriately with regard to the\is law; this review included Nigel Latta, host of the popular The Politically Incorrect Parenting Show, someone that Right-leaning bloggers hailed as a good choice due to his willingness to speak out on the issue in the past.

The best Family First could come up with to prove that 'good parents' had been criminalised by the law was a woman who was discharged without conviction after stabbing her foster child in the leg with a pen. Despite investigating 18 "smacking" incidents and 58 "minor acts of discipline," only 8 charges were laid in the last review period (I think that's the time period this article refers to).

Research has shown that spanking children can lead to an increased chance of aggressive behaviour later in life.

(The first link goes to an academic paper; the second to a TIME article quoting the author of that paper).

In short, there isn't really a problem here, no matter how much some people would like to see one. And really, given a choice between two people, one of whom wants the right to hit their kids, and one who doesn't?

I know which one's got my vote.

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