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"Skippies"and the Malaise of the Centre-Right

Fri 21 Jan 2005 In: Comment

National and ACT are bedevilled by an infestation problem - Social Conservative Ideologues and Populists - or "skippies", for short. Like that dire Aussie kid's series from the seventies, skippies are irritating creatures that bounce around and have limited spans of attention about anything other than their favourite obsessions. Unfortunately, examples litter the landscape of the contemporary centre-right. They include ACT's Muriel Newman, who is raving yet again about the iniquity of pluralist political constituencies and organised social movements that threaten her bucolic rural ideas about constricted community and religious moralism. The Maxim Institute professes interest in welfare and educational policy but devotes most of its time to abortion, LGBT rights, sex work, euthanasia, spanking and other trad Christian Right obsessions. Don't ask me why the Business Roundtable and other corporate centre-rightists keep throwing money at it. Not all centre-rightists are skippies. Rodney Hide, Katherine Rich, Pansy Wong, Brian Donnelly and Heather Roy certainly are not. They are trying to return their respective parties to mainstream centre-right social liberal/classical liberal values, so that they can appeal to younger, gay and female voters. Unfortunately, they face an uphill battle against the chattering marsupials within their ranks. If "skippies" are unlucky enough to occupy public office, they perform risibly outside their narrow range of obsessions and ideological purism. Bill English as Leader of the Opposition? Nick Smith as Temporary Deputy Opposition Leader? Newman. Most of the United Future caucus. Richard Worth and his failure to debate his own obstructionist tactics during the final reading of the Civil Union Act. The Maxim Institute, when it comes to any mainstream centre-right issue like fiscal responsibility. Thanks to the skippies, the centre-right will lose this year's election, and bequeath a poisoned chalice to the National Party for the foreseeable future. How did things get this bad? National performed disastrously badly at the last general election, which left it with a skewed social conservative bias within its caucus. As New Zealand elections are won from the centre, they will be marginalised, as long as this situation remains unremedied. Skippies will continue to mouth their diatribes and maintain ideological purity at the cost of the lessons of history. National has historical amnesia if it believes that 1987,1996 and 2002 never happened, or that Australian and American social conservative constituencies can be constructed from scratch within the New Zealand context. They did. National either lost elections, or faced political instability that sabotaged its ultimate hold on power as a consequence. Don Brash and National's 'skippies' are deluded if they believe that urban voters will wear their turn toward social conservative extremism during this parliamentary term. What does this mean for reformist social movements? It may mean that the lesbian and gay reform agenda is safe, and can be completed with trans-inclusive antidiscrimination law reform and adoption law reform. It may mean that parental punishment and abuse of children can finally be banned during the next parliamentary term. It may mean that constitutional reform goes ahead. Skippies will continue to hop around, making inane chattering noises masquerading as serious political statements, but if the centre-right doesn't resort to culling them, they may render them an endangered species. Craig Young - 21st January 2005    

Credit: Craig Young

First published: Friday, 21st January 2005 - 12:00pm

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