Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Political roundup: The search for New Zealand's Sanders and Clinton

9 comments
As if the rise of the extraordinarily polarising Donald Trump wasn’t reason enough for political aficionados to be glued to the US presidential primaries, there has been an equally fascinating spectacle taking place in the Democratic Party nomination contest. So what do New Zealand pundits have to say about the battle between Clinton and Sanders, and the parallels here?
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidate Hillary Clinton. Photo / AP

The bizarre rise of Donald Trump has fuelled speculation about who in New Zealand might play a similar role to the rightwing populist maverick - see my earlier column, The search for New Zealand's Trump.

Can New Zealand parallels also be drawn with Democratic Party hopefuls Hillary Clinton and Bernie Sanders? It's so not hard to find Clintonesque politicians in New Zealand but there are fewer Sanders-like figures, which raises some interesting questions about the nature of New Zealand politics, especially for the political left.

New Zealand's Hillary Clinton

Who is New Zealand's Hillary Clinton? Former Prime Minister Helen Clark is an obvious candidate. There are some clear parallels. Both women are highly experienced career politicians, widely praised for competence and breadth of political experience and knowledge. Both have a reputation for ruthlessness, and have spoken of the sexist double standards they face compared to their male counterparts.

And both have been criticised for being willing to change their politics and policies to suit the circumstances.

Clark and Clinton have chosen to gloss over their conservative backgrounds when it suits them. Clinton downplayed her brief stint with extreme conservative Republican Barry Goldwater's campaign in the 1960s, while Clark's tales of growing up end of an unsealed road might play well with the UN but will have bemused many rural New Zealanders who grew up in the 1960s and know that it doesn't equate with poverty.

And as far back as 2007, Tim Watkin was writing in the Guardian newspaper about the parallels - see: Identity politics.

More recently, Barry Soper has chosen another Labour politician to anoint, asking Is Annette King our Hillary Clinton?

Others have even pointed to Judith Collins as having similarities to Clinton. And last year, Collins spoke of her own backing of Clinton - watch her interview on TVNZ's Q+A: Judith Collins wants Cabinet job back, in which she says "I'm very happy to back people like Hillary Clinton, who I've met, had dinner with, lovely discussion".

But could Clinton's counterpart actually be John Key? Writing back in October, Karl du Fresne explained "Clinton is a conviction politician only in the sense that she's convinced of her entitlement to office" - see: At least he's consistently barmy. Unfortunately, he argues, "Conviction politics tends to be a dead-end street" and "Successful politicians are those who take a pragmatic centre line, such as John Key. We don't have a clue what Key's values are. He's never really told us. Does he have a non-negotiable bottom line on anything? I couldn't say. Does he have any fire in his belly? Not that we've seen... He represents a breed of bland centrist politicians who tack in whichever direction is expedient."

Key, like Clinton, is the quintessential politician and would certainly fit within the establishment Democratic Party in the US with no difficulty whatsoever. However, he has more of a common touch than Clinton, has less "baggage" and, unlike Clinton, Key is not the consummate insider, having come in as a non-politician.

Of course, when Clinton announced her entry to the presidential race, Patrice Dougan reported John Key: Hillary Clinton would be good partner for NZ.

Feminist debates about supporting Clinton

"Card-carrying feminist" Rachel Stewart has vowed to "refrain from using the derogatory term 'old, white man' ever again" as lately she finds herself Impressed by old white men of politics such as Bernie Sanders and Jeremy Corbyn.

On the expectation that women ought to support Clinton, she reasons "African-Americans haven't seen much institutional change under Obama, so it makes about as much sense for women to have confidence that Clinton will advance their lot more effectively than Sanders... The fact that we share the same genitals is not enough. Sharing the same political values would be best."

Another New Zealand feminist has argued against a gender vote for Clinton. Rachel Smalley says "Clinton and two of her key supporters - the former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright and Gloria Steinem, the voice of America's feminist movement in the 60s and 70s - have got their message to women very, very wrong." Smalley argues that trying to demand women vote for a woman because of her gender means Clinton missing mark on modern feminism.

Paul Henry got in some trouble last year when he argued that both Clinton and Clark shouldn't campaign on the basis of their gender. You can watch his five-minute discussion with Khyaati Acharya: Clinton should run 'on her merits, not gender'. This received a rebuttal from the Equal Opportunities Commissioner - watch the six-minute item, Dr Jackie Blue: Paul Henry wrong on feminism. And for an interesting response to it all, see Narelle Henson's Paul Henry, feminism and disagreeing with Dr Jackie Blue.

Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo / AP
Democratic presidential candidate, Sen. Bernie Sanders. Photo / AP

Does NZ have a Bernie Sanders?

Is New Zealand too conservative to have its own Bernie Sanders? It's not often that the US is seen as more sympathetic to leftwing politicians but, certainly at the last election, leaders such as David Cunliffe, Hone Harawira, Laila Harre, and even Kim Dotcom - figures who might be seen as having some Sanders-like political characteristics - were heavily defeated by the popular vote.

In fact recently released survey data from the NZ Election Survey backs up the idea that these leaders were very unfavorably viewed by the New Zealand public. This can be seen in David Farrar's blog post, 2014 Election Study on Leaders. He reports that while John Key was viewed favourably by 60 percent, for Cunliffe it was only 21 per cent, Harawira 10 per cent, and Harre 7 per cent. And when looking at how unfavourable such leaders were, the results were equally stark: Key was disliked by only 28 per cent, while the most unpopular leaders were Laila Harre with 60 per cent disliking her and Hone Harawira with 64 per cent.

At the same time, it's also worth looking at UMR Research's findings on support for Sanders here - see Stephen Mills' If only Kiwis could vote for president. It's notable that "even National voters prefer the avowed socialist" by 76 per cent to Trump's 13 per cent.

Mills also has research from last year that showed only 68 per cent of the public are "generally satisfied" with the political party options, while 25 per cent - especially younger New Zealanders - "would like to see a new party or some new parties emerge before the next election" - see: Fringe politics new world order.

There is a wild-card nomination for the "New Zealand Sanders" from New Zealand First activist Curwen Ares Rolinson - see: Winston Peters, Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump. Peters is, of course, also viewed as having some parallels with Trump. Rolinson admits there "are some obvious surface similarities between The Win and The Don - such as their rampant if not outrightly bellicose public style, disdain for journalists, and penchant for saying the word 'China'."

But ultimately, Rolinson says, Peters is more like Sanders with his "decades of political experience", "eschewed, ignored, and ridiculed by more Establishment-oriented media and broadcast figures", campaigns funded by small donations, standing up to "big business, big banks, or the extant neoliberal consensus which has economically disenfranchised so efficiently so many".

Rolinson also makes the case that Peters is the New Zealand version of Sanders in an earlier blogpost, Why Winston Peters is the Kiwi Bernie Sanders. In this, Rolinson argues the role of New Zealand's Trump actually belongs to Colin Craig.

An argument can be made that New Zealand's simply experienced its leftwing radicalism and populism earlier than the States. The 1990s were fertile times for anti-Establishment politics in New Zealand. Support for both the Alliance and New Zealand First increased as the public suffered a massive loss of faith and trust in the existing political institutions and a deep suspicion that corporate interests had gained far too much power over the political process. Aside from any policy victories the period has had a deep and long lasting impact on New Zealand parliamentary politics via the introduction of MMP in 1996.

So perhaps a better case can be made that Jim Anderton is "New Zealand's Sanders", as no one else comes near the level of public support Anderton achieved when he left Labour and formed the Alliance.

In New Zealand, the tight control that parties maintain over MPs meant Anderton and Peters were forced outside National and Labour. It is testament to level of public disillusionment that they both succeeded where many had failed before and that the election system itself changed as a result. Therefore in the US, it's no coincidence that Bernie Sander's main campaign plank is reform of the electoral and funding system. The cry that "The system is rigged" has resonated deeply with American voters across the political spectrum.

The difference is that the American system is even harder to break through from outside of the established parties. Not only does the US have a first-past-the-post electoral system but the huge amount of resources required for a successful campaign make it almost impossible for outsiders to succeed. The primary system, however, makes it much it easier for dissidents to work through the existing party systems as long as they have the money.

In Trump not just an outsider but a renegade outlaw. Paul Thomas points out that the electoral systems of different countries play a crucial role in political success: "Unlike our parliamentary system, whereby the electorate indirectly chooses a prime minister from candidates selected by their parties, the presidential system enables outsiders to bypass party powerbrokers and appeal directly to the people. Under the parliamentary system, Hillary Clinton, rather than Barack Obama, would have been the Democratic candidate in 2008 and Jeb Bush would be the Republican candidate in 2016."

Labour is not "feeling the Bern"

Why are there no Bernie Sanders or Jeremy Corbyn-like figures in the Labour Party? The party appears to be resisting any connection with Sanders. When Labour MPs have been asked on Twitter who they would support in the US nominations race they generally don't answer the question, with the exception of Iain Lees-Galloway, who has replied to say he'd support Sanders.

Elsewhere, Andrew Little has said in a Trump vs Clinton contest he would lean towards Clinton who he describes as "a safe, steady pair of hands in the presidency" - see Jane Paterson's Trump or Clinton - who would be better for New Zealand?

Similarly, Labour figures showed a distinct lack of enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn's victory in the British Labour Party leadership race last year. Such caution is examined by Steven Cowan in his blog post, Labour's Brave new old world. He points out that "While some of Labour's remaining supporters have felt moved to write approvingly of Sanders on Labour-friendly blogs like The Standard and The Daily Blog, that approval hasn't translated into any change in political direction by the Labour leadership. The same antipathy toward policies that explicitly reject neoliberalism was also expressed when Jeremy Corbyn was elected the leader of the British Labour Party."

Chris Trotter explains that Labour is plagued by a political narrowness, and perhaps that is why no Bernie Sanders figure would be welcome - see his blog post, An Opposition Worthy Of The Name? Trotter says "A genuinely 'broad church' party of the Left would balance off Andrew Little with Hone Harawira, Jacinda Ardern with Laila Harré, Stuart Nash with John Minto, Kelvin Davis with Annette Sykes, Grant Robertson with Julie Anne Genter and Annette King with Metira Turei."

Finally, for a flashback about Hillary Clinton's supposed connections to New Zealand, and how Clinton used to claim she had been named after Edmund Hillary - see the New York Times article, Hillary, Not as in the Mount Everest Guy

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter

SIGN UP NOW
Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago.

Bryce Edwards is a lecturer in Politics at the University of Otago. He teaches and researches on New Zealand politics, public policy, political parties, elections, and political communication. His PhD, completed in 2003, was on 'Political Parties in New Zealand: A Study of Ideological and Organisational Transformation'. He is currently working on a book entitled 'Who Runs New Zealand? An Anatomy of Power'. He is also on the board of directors for Transparency International New Zealand.

Read more by Bryce Edwards

Have your say

1200 characters left

By and large our readers' comments are respectful and courteous. We're sure you'll fit in well.
View commenting guidelines.

Sort by
  • Oldest

© Copyright 2017, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf05 at 30 May 2017 14:13:50 Processing Time: 885ms