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

Bryce Edwards: Will Trump effect be felt Downunder too?

As the election of Donald Trump continues to send shockwaves around the world, New Zealand badly needs a revolt against the current political system for the good of our democracy, writes Bryce Edwards.
Donald Trump and his wife Melania walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill. Photo / AP
Donald Trump and his wife Melania walk with Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell of Ky. on Capitol Hill. Photo / AP

Donald Trump is the latest political success to highlight the power of anti-establishment politics - but he's not the best advert for it.

Instead, Trump is a reminder that revolts against the Establishment emerging around the world at the moment take many different forms. Some are left-wing, others right-wing, nationalist, populist, and so forth. So to be anti-establishment doesn't necessarily mean being a supporter of reactionary politics.

What all these revolts have in common is their rebellion against the status quo and those in power.

Such a revolt could be beneficial in New Zealand - especially if it took a much more progressive orientation, compared to Trump and other more populist, reactionary and nationalist demagogues who sometimes surf the wave of public disenchantment with mainstream politics.

Anti-establishment politicians and movements are a necessary part of politics. They shake things up and open up possibilities with radical ideas. By asking difficult questions, putting forward unfashionable ideas and questioning authority, an anti-establishment force can highlight problems in the system and give voice to the powerless and forgotten.

Such a movement here is likely to be more left-wing. Earlier in the year when a UMR opinion poll on the US presidential candidates gave a choice between radicals, 77 per cent of New Zealanders chose Bernie Sanders, compared to 8 per cent for Trump.

Of course, radical politics is rarely idyllic. There will always be ugliness and problems and sometimes this involves the destruction of parts of the status quo.
However that can allow something better to be built.

Here's my 10-point manifesto for change in New Zealand.

Pledge One: Bring fresh ideas

An injection of fresh thinking is badly needed. A popular revolt would care less about popularity and opinion polls, but more for dealing with the huge problems faced by society. Heartfelt and passionate ideas and policies would replace those created for "middle New Zealand" by focus groups and other market research. The notion a radical policy might cause offence, or be seen as "extreme" would not disqualify it. In other words, a true "contest of ideas" might be allowed, and convictions appreciated.

President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office. Photo / AP
President Barack Obama meets with President-elect Donald Trump in the Oval Office. Photo / AP

Pledge Two: Shake up the cartel

Parliament is not as diverse as people assume. Since the first MMP election 20 years ago, not a single new party has broken into Parliament. From New Zealand First to the Maori Party every group was either already in Parliament, or created by a party-hopping MP.

MMP hasn't delivered any outsiders. Instead, it's a cosy cartel of politicians who create and maintain rules that keep new parties from being able to grow and make it into Parliament. MMP was supposed to shake up the party system, but has failed.

It is notable that in 2015 polling by UMR research showed only 68 per cent of the public were "generally satisfied" with the political party options and 25 per cent "would like to see a new party or some new parties emerge before the next election".

Pledge Three: Reform, reform, reform

The MMP electoral system works very well, but needs further reform. All existing parties have an interest in preserving the status quo, or only allowing minor tweaks - hence no change occurs, despite an Electoral Commission inquiry and others recommending change.

The most obvious change needed is the abolition of the five per cent threshold that undemocratically prevents new parties challenging incumbents. This would also solve the electoral seat farce in which parties are exempted from the threshold, and various deals are done to game the system.

60 MINUTES Correspondent Lesley Stahl, left, interviews President-elect Donald J. Trump and his family. Photo / AP
60 MINUTES Correspondent Lesley Stahl, left, interviews President-elect Donald J. Trump and his family. Photo / AP

Pledge Four: Chuck our disconnected deadwood

Politics is now just a career - MPs want a job for life. And they want to be remunerated like CEOs or other elite professionals - putting them into the top one per cent of income earners.

Most New Zealanders struggle to buy their own house, but the average MP owns two and a half houses. They all have significant superannuation funds invested. It's no wonder MPs are disconnected from real life and real people. We now have a Parliament of the rich.

But democracy works better when it's a calling, not a highly paid career. Amateur politicians standing for office from all walks of life make for a very different type of Parliament and Government. An anti-establishment party could insist on MPs taking home the average salary. This would keep them in touch with constituents. And it would ensure MPs don't cling on to the life raft of Parliament, simply because of the riches it provides.

Pledge Five: Challenge the political elite

Today's ruling class is the "political class", which refers to politicians and their advisers, public officials, and activists that are in the milieu of power.

There's an increasing awareness this group is killing off democracy with their inward-looking elite style of carrying out politics. They're responsible for the highly polished, scripted, professionalisation of politics.

An anti-establishment movement would reject this hollow way of operating. Party conferences wouldn't be empty, stage-managed media affairs, but forums for proper participation. The image-makers and opinion pollsters would be kicked out. Grassroots activists and mass participation would replace the duplicitous advisers and spin-doctors.
Such a movement would bypass the media and speak directly to the disaffected and the forgotten.

Supporters of Donald Trump react as they watch the election results during Trump's election night rally. Photo / AP
Supporters of Donald Trump react as they watch the election results during Trump's election night rally. Photo / AP

Pledge Six: No more big money

Contemporary politics is based on big money. Parties need it to pay for the professionals, the politician salaries, the marketing people and the advertising. All parties from National to the Greens are reliant on money from wealthy individuals. And obviously these interests have disproportionate influence in politics.

More importantly, they have their hands on taxpayer funds meant for parliamentary activities, which they invariably use for electioneering instead. This means that they don't need activists or even members any more. There are many types of taxpayer-funded resources in Parliament - for example, in the most recent financial year, the "Party Member and Support" budgets for National totalled $51m, for Labour it was $35m, and the Greens got $12m.

An anti-establishment party or politician would campaign to reform all of this, and to put a stop to the misuse of taxpayer funds by politicians.

Pledge Seven: Focus on the concerns of the masses

Plenty is wrong with New Zealand - economic inequality, housing unaffordability and cultural divisions. This receives lip service from politicians, but hard issues are mostly essentially thrown into either the "too-hard basket" or the "too electorally sensitive basket". We're not seeing any radical answers being put forward by the current lot.

A survey this year showed fewer than one in 10 New Zealanders had complete or lots of trust in elected officials, and trust in MPs had fallen by 54 per cent in three years. Clearly, the public need to be listened to - but contemporary politics appears incapable of this.

Pledge Eight: Mobilise the voters

In the past, one in four voters were members of political parties; now it's about one in 50. New Zealand used to have comparatively high voter turnout, but this is declining dramatically - in general elections, not much more than two-thirds of those eligible are inspired enough to vote, meaning that over a million chose not to when John Key won his third term in 2014.

Politics should be about mass participation. A radical movement would not only give more meaning to political activity, but it would embrace the input of citizens, rather than seeing them as voting fodder to keep politicians in office. What's more, an anti-establishment movement wouldn't just be about getting politicians into Parliament, but also about mobilising the public in other forms of protest and activism.

President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist during a rally. Photo / AP
President-elect Donald Trump pumps his fist during a rally. Photo / AP

Pledge Nine: Kick against the pricks

People despise politics and politicians. Survey evidence shows the public believe political parties and Parliament are the most corrupt institutions in New Zealand.

A new movement would relentlessly point out the political system isn't working for most people and democracy is in decline. The goal would be to bring about major reform. Crudely put, such a movement would "kick against the pricks", but in doing so would produce positive change.

Pledge Ten: Take seriously the struggles of those at the bottom

Much of modern politics ignores the struggles of those at the bottom, preferring instead to concentrate on identity politics or social liberalism. Gender politics in mainstream political parties becomes about getting women into business or ahead in the professional world - not helping working class women at the bottom. The same goes for ethnicity.
All political parties focus more these days on the easier answers of posing as bicultural, more politically correct, or culturally sensitive. This usually has minimal impact on improving life for those in poverty and hardship, but makes the coterie of liberal politicians feel superior.

There is a place for this cultural approach - highlighting sexism, racism, or transphobia - but an overwhelming focus on this can lead to a larger disconnect between politicians and the public. An anti-establishment movement would not simply mimic the parliamentary parties' increasingly metropolitan, socially agenda. Instead, the primary focus would be on material wellbeing, economics and class politics.

There's a lot of discontent out there amongst provincial and working class New Zealand. But a truly anti-establishment and progressive movement wouldn't dismiss or mock the masses as "deplorables". It would instead take their anger seriously. If not, a more Trump-like movement might be ready to listen instead.

- Herald on Sunday

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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.

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