06 February 2014

The Auckland plutocrats

What do John Key, Kim Dotcom and Colin Craig share in common? Quite a lot: they are wealthy, white, male residents of Auckland, and shaping the politics of the whole country – each in his own distinctive way.
The gaffe-prone Colin Craig may have blown $1.4 million dollars of his own money on failing to get into parliament in 2011, but he is tipped this year to be a supporter, if not a saviour, of a possible third-term National-led minority government. An inside run in a blue-ribbon electorate would certainly help both him and Mr Key. Alternatively, it may be Epsom voters who decide the next government.
Meanwhile, Kim Dotcom is ready to splurge on his so-called Internet Party. He too may fail first time around to win any seats. But Dotcom has already had a huge impact on New Zealand politics. Had it not been for him, Peter Dunne wouldn’t have lost his ministerial portfolio last year, we would not have had that controversial amendment to the GCSB legislation, and John Banks would not be facing trial over donations to his failed mayoral campaign of 2010. Dotcom’s political scoreboard isn’t bad for a newcomer who isn’t even a citizen yet and is still on America’s most-wanted list.
There’s been some confusion about Mr Dotcom’s political ideology, though. Some see him as winning votes from younger people who otherwise feel cynical about politicians, and a threat mainly to the Greens. But make no mistake: Dotcom represents anti-State libertarianism for the global internet age, or Rogernomics for online gamers and the nouveaux riches sans frontières (pardon my French!) Some young lefties may be attracted by the way that he sticks it to the big corporates and the spy agencies. But far-right free-marketeers always were anti-monopoly and anti-State. And that’s where Dotcom’s loyalties will lie. Deep down, he’s just another rich … fulla.
In contrast, John Key’s brand of conservatism is trending further and further away from the neo-liberalism of the Rogernomics era. Picking winners, doing inside deals on golf courses and tightening control over schools, hospitals and communities represent a new brand of politics suited to an emerging world economy in which China dominates. Such a political regime may become more authoritarian as the world’s economy shifts its gearing from west to east.
What we are seeing in New Zealand is already quite distinct from the individualistic free-market fundamentalism of late last century. A few rich white blokes make it on the political scene, as a CV-filler, after having made their fortunes in the business world. It’s not so much a story of ‘the patriarchy strikes back’ as ‘the new plutocrats take over.’

Rule by the wealthy is logical when the costs of getting noticed and waging an election campaign are so high. And, like it or not, it is an Auckland elite who are now making the headlines and doing the deals that define the politics of the nation as a whole. The future for the rest of New Zealand looks like dairy farms, vineyards and oil-rigs, and dotted around will be retirement villages that we used to call provincial towns and cities. Wellington will consist of university graduates in dark suits who will take their orders from wealthy Aucklanders.


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