The left and its penchant for fighting battles already won

Rob Hosking writes at NBR:

The conservative side of politics, in New Zealand anyway, doesn?t keep re-fighting old battles.

The ?progressive? ?? and I use the quote marks because in practice it is about as progressive as driving around in a Trekka these days ? side of New Zealand politics can?t seem to stop refighting old battles. Even – perhaps especially – the battles it won.?


There were?more grizzles this week when he ambled along to Auckland’s Big Gay Out festival: criticism that he didn’t do a speech, and grizzles that he should not have gone along at all?because in so doing he was taking political advantage of the occasion.?The fact that some people are making both those objections, meaning Mr English is under fire for both taking political advantage and not taking enough political advantage, is a little perplexing.

Even more perplexing is what happens when you run a kind of counterfactual scenario. ?

How would it have been if Mr English had declared himself a feminist ? perhaps not quite dropping quotes from The Female Eunuch or the Beauty Myth?but something similar? Or if he had got up on the stage at the Big Gay Out, declaring sexuality a social construct, gender norms a prison imposed by the patriarchy, and perhaps sharing his favourite show tunes with the crowd?

It would simply not have rung true. Mr English?s subsequent comments ? professing himself sceptical about social change ? have also been seized upon by the Labour/Green cultural warriors as some sort of damaging talking point.

To hear his opponents, you would think Mr English had endorsed some of the more robust views associated with the likes of Torquemada or Vlad the Impaler.

Of course, he?s sceptical about social change. He?s a conservative. In fact, Mr English occasionally manages to sound sceptical about whether the sun will rise in the morning, although he?d probably add that, on balance, it’s more likely to than not.

But he didn?t, note, say he was opposed to social change. Just sceptical. That is in line with classic conservatism, which in essence puts the onus of proof on social reformers of any kind. It?s a sensible approach?and one that allows people to move on once issues have been largely settled.

In the case of marriage equality, he?s happy to take a ?live and let live? approach. There are new, more urgent, battles to fight.

For several reasons, New Zealand?s ?progressives? are unable to do this. One is the ?colonised minds? syndrome ? the presumption that if the culture wars matter in the US, they can be made to matter here, to the same degree and in the same way. Yet New Zealanders ? New Zealand conservatives, especially ? are not Americans. New Zealand culture does not have the same degree of religiosity, or legalism, the entire US system is permeated with.

Secondly, it is part of the colossal demoralisation of the New Zealand Left. Unable to win new battles, its activists are increasingly intent on relitigating old ones ? even ones they won.?

In doing so, they are driving themselves further and further into a political blind alley, partly because they are only preaching to the converted, and partly because they are focussing on issues which, for most of the population, are settled.

But also because, to win government, they will need Winston Peters ? who is far, far closer to a culture wars opponent for them than today?s National Party.

Which is why you always see media asking what a politicians stance was on the Springbok tour. Most voters don’t even remember what happened last week let alone what happened more than 35 years ago. It is 25 years ago in August when the architect of that tour, Robert Muldoon died. No one cares anymore, except media luvvies and Labour’s activists. That is but one example of fighting battles long since won.