Dr Liz Gordon: Old political forces form Freedom coalition

I have really enjoyed reading Martyn’s various posts describing the anti-everything protests as an unstable grouping of strange forces.  And I agree that many paths lead to the decisions that people have made, whether they are out protesting or not.

But, increasingly, I have been thinking about these people as being a political movement, however disparate. Some of these people have been on the edge of politics for many years. There is nothing new about them or their politics. This is a political reformation, not a revolution.

The most obvious of these is the Brian and Hannah Tamaki show. It might be said that they are gaining much more traction as the ‘Freedom and Rights Coalition’ than as Vision NZ, their political vehicle which gained just 4,236 votes in the 2020 election. Loosely modelled on the ‘Faith and Freedom Coalition’ in the United States, I suspect the Tamaki whanau intend to ride this new wave all the way to Parliament.

The second blast from the past is Bob McCroskie. Bob, as long term leader of the group Family First, was against getting rid of the ability of parents to hit their children, same sex marriage and supporting transgender students. He is anti-abortion and pro Conversion Therapy. You get the message.  We know the Bobs of the world. They are opposed to most of the stuff that most of us agree with.

And now, it appears he has turned his attention to the vaccine rollout. He has launched a campaign called ‘Don’t divide us’. The conservative pro-family lobby has never attracted much support in New Zealand (except for one extraordinary three year period when Peter Dunne’s claim to be the spokesperson for ‘common sense’ brought a bunch of Future NZ MPs into parliament, much to everyone’s discomfort, especially Dunne’s).  The aspirations of the Family First lot were blighted by Christian Heritage leader Graham Capill’s imprisonment for sex crimes against children, and have never recovered.

The third romp down memory lane was, I admit, something of a surprise, appearing in the print media over the breakfast cereal on Monday.  A full page ad by the Social Credit Party (now led by Chris Leitch) calls for ‘home based tests and early treatment’ to counter Covid.  It opposes the vaccine mandate and compulsory certificates.

At the bottom of the ad, a Social Credit ‘principle’ notes: “Communism, fascism and political authoritarianism in any form should be opposed”.  For a party that wants complete control over the monetary system, this is a surprising principle! They got 1520 votes in 2020.

Then there is the old Billy Te Kahika movement, still tootling away on Facebook despite him being prosecuted for electoral fraud. Billy has a strong track record as a fringe politician peddling conspiracy theories tinged with more than a touch of misogyny. He failed to get together a coalition with Vision NZ or the NZ Outdoors Party. Together with Jami-Lee Ross, a disgraced MP, he formed Advance NZ which performed surprisingly well in 2020, gaining 1% of the party vote, but no MPs.

Add in those who are not politically aligned but just don’t want to be told to get vaccinated or lose their jobs and those who have ‘ethical’ concerns (but these translate quickly into political issues), there is quite a fascinating coalition of disparate people.

I do think that many of those who oppose compulsory vaccination now feel backed into a corner.  There will be some, quite a few I suspect, who are on the verge of losing their jobs who wish they had not proclaimed far and wide that they will ‘never’ get the jab.

My message to these ordinary people is: do not get involved with this emergent political movement. Because while it may seem to reflect concerns you have, these people has as much chance of holding together a coherent political movement as taking a trip to Mars. Get your jabs, for heaven’s sake. Or go get a different job, preferably working from home. Unemployment is very low.

It is also interesting that Act, which has been focused recently on pinching votes from National, is now dipping its toes in the politics of the vaccine mandate.  It is echoing Bob McCroskie and Alvin Poole’s calls for non-vaxxed people to be given the option of frequent rapid tests to avoid them losing their jobs.

It must be galling for Act, which has always promoted itself as the party of ‘freedom’, to be forced to tread so carefully on this issue.  But the reality is that in the political numbers game, the Freedom Coalition is a loser, containing a maximum of ten percent of the popular vote, and probably much less in practice (I reckon about 2% in practice).  

Act is looking for a much higher vote than this. And attempting to lead this rag-tag group of fundamentalists, family extremists, conspiracy theorists, misogynists and crooks is surely a recipe for disaster for a party aspiring to extend its parliamentary participation.

Just to be clear, the call for frequent rapid testing is a political cul-de-sac.  As Covid spreads around the country, it will zero in on non-vaccinated people like a heat-seeking missile.  And, inevitably, that community will get sick and many will die, and they will infect the vaccinated community too, with less dire results but still significant sickness and some deaths.

As the ‘freedom’ of the Freedom and Rights Coalition becomes increasingly perceived as a freedom to incubate and spread Covid 19, with all the dangers that entails, the gap between rhetoric and reality will grow. All the government has to do is survive the summer, watching as the virus spreads relatively slowly through the whole country.

In winter, as numbers start to spike, as booster shots are given (perhaps every four months), as the flu starts to circulate, I think that all but the extremes will be calling for protection, not freedom to spread the vorus. And if a worse variant emerges (as everyone seems to expect), another chapter in the Covid-19 pandemic may be written.

Dr Liz Gordon is a researcher and a barrister, with interests in destroying neo-liberalism in all its forms and moving towards a socially just society. She usually blogs on justice, social welfare and education topics.

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