Setting aside the economy, which I appreciate (a) one can’t do and (b) one shouldn’t do, here’s my non-expert election silver lining: Social and moral conservatism made no headway in this election. And keeping in mind aforementioned need to prioritise economic (and I’d say environmental) issues, keeping the moral conservatives at bay is actually a lot more important than it’s often given credit for. But more on that later…first my attempt at reasoning:
1. The Conservative party didn’t make it. Yes, I appreciate they gained ground on 2011, but there was clearly no significant appetite for their brand of moral conservatism, as in get rid of the “anti-smacking law”, introduce binding citizen referendums (which are a pathway to moral polarisation through nasty campaigns in which big money — conservatives — usually have a leg up) and…well, they check the boxes on issues like being anti-abortion, “tough on crime” (aka candidate Garth McVicar previously of the
Senseless Sensible Sentencing Trust etc.) Like ACT, they’re also big on “one law for all” – aka anti-Maori dog-whistling.
2. The Greens held their ground, and they’re the party that had the most progressive social and moral policies, actually coming out in support of decriminalising abortion, for example — the only major party (major third party anyway) to ever do so. It didn’t hurt them, because people aren’t voting on those issues –> because NZers are not socially and morally conservative.
3. Labour was totally wimpy on abortion, trying to do its usual side-step: Its policy was to have the Law Commission investigate the issue. As I said, people aren’t voting on the abortion issue, but Labour’s position and subsequent poor showing scotches any argument that moral conservatism might have hurt the Green vote.
4. ACT did really badly despite its eagerness to continue the Brash tradition of being anti-Maori, with one of its main slogans being “One Country, One Law”. Clearly I’m including anti-Maori racism as falling under the “social and moral issues” umbrella, which one might dispute. But accepting that for a moment, there appears to have been no appetite among voters to go down that road. (I suppose you could argue Hone Harawira’s loss might count against my thesis here, but I think that was an anti Kim Dotcom thing.)
5. Winston is a moral conservative of a weird stripe, but moral issues are not his brand. He gains / and gained / votes because of his nativism and his maverick brand, not because he’s, say, anti-choice.
6. John Key is a social and moral centrist, if not a liberal in fact. He’s pro-choice (though he tries to be a fence-sitter when it comes to talking about it or acting on it), not a homophobe and doesn’t seem to want to re-criminalise prostitution. He’s also an atheist (yay!) And it was John Key who won the election.
All of which is to say that if you are looking at whether or not we’re on the road to a U.S. style scary moral conservatism, joined at the hip with economic conservatism, then I think it’s clear from this election result that we’re not.
And, as I said, social and moral issues/attitudes are important. Oftentimes, social and moral policy translates into economic policy anyway. It sure does, for example, in the case of reproductive rights. Social and moral conservatism can polarise an electorate/a country in ways economic conservatism can’t, and that kind of polarisation is ugly and destructive. It, in turn, can facilitate economic polarisation. So the fact, on my reading of the results anyway, that we are not at least heading down that particular road is, I would argue, a solid piece of silver in the lining of the black election cloud.