One of the more interesting features of the Tamihere affair to date has been the way National and ACT have latched onto his comments about Labour as being some sort of veritable truth. We are said to be more interested in gay marriage than in running the economy; in prostitution law reform than in building better roads: the basic charge is that Labour is out of touch with middle New Zealand.
It's a strange argument to make, because it shows the desperation National is feeling. They have given up on the arguments that matter - about social policy, about economic policy, about foreign affairs - and are instead relying on a flaky source as somehow explaining all about the dark evil underlying motivations of a Labour Party which is somehow portrayed as being held hostage by vested interests.
The reason this has some resonance - and it does have some - is largely because of the way the media has portrayed public life in the last few years. While 95% of Parliamentary time last year was spent on every other area of policy, a hugely disproportionate amount of media focus was on the civil union legislation. The same thing happened with prostitution law reform back in 2002/03. The media, displaying its herd mentality to perfection, decided there was something of a 'moral backlash' and framed all the stories and debates in this light.
The curious problem is that the evidence for this point of view - the whole thing - is shaky. If Labour was a) as out of touch as seems to be portrayed, and b) suffering the kind of backlash in "morality" as the media seems to sometimes think, then one would assume that:
- National would be competitive in the polls
- The government would be seen to be taking the country in the wrong direction
Neither of these things have come to pass. I suspect this is because the voters are rather more intelligent than the media - or the Opposition - gives them credit for.
People know that most of Labour's focus is on things that matter to every day families. They know that delivering economic success is more important than faux debates about moral issues, which have excited the Wellington elite more than the public at large. They also know that, broadly speaking, on the social reforms it has pursued the government has been running in step with public opinion, rather than far ahead of it.
Perhaps most importantly, people have not forgotten what National was like in government. They know that National started many of the liberal reforms it now pretends to critique. They know that National's economic policies were focused on delivering tax cuts for high and middle income earners, not for those who have the least. They know National's social policies were about running down public services and punishing the most vulnerable, through spending cuts and slashing benefits.
In other words, New Zealand has not forgotten that it is National which stands with the elites: the rich, the powerful. They know National will always back those interests, and not those of the ordinary bloke on the street. They know National is led by a man who can honestly be described as a fanatic in favour of slashing and burning, moreso than was done in the 1990s. They have not forgotten these things.
They also know precisely where Labour is going; where we come from, what we stand for, whose interests we will defend, and why we're the best prospective government - now, and post-election. They know that the moral reforms of the past two decades have all about treating people equally, and that is what they believe. They know we'll never cut taxes for the rich before delivering gains to the poor. They know we will stand up to the Americans and hold our heads high on the world stage. They know we celebrate the achievements of Kiwis in the creative industries. They like all these things.
All the polls, and all the responses we get on the doorstep, paint the same picture. So National is running scared.
Keep on running.