First published on Christian Controverser
The New Conservative Party is not really new. They are an existing party that was formerly led by Colin Craig (jokingly called CCCP by some) that receives a considerable amount of support from right wing Christian groups in NZ. The (New) Conservatives claim that they are not a Christian based party, but anyone who moves within conservative church circles in NZ will recognise the strong links between the party and various ministries which are known for their strident opposition to a narrow range of moral issues within the country. The party has somehow survived the huge psychological impediment of its earlier associations with Colin Craig and his three ringed circus of numerous court cases which are still ongoing at the present time. It is because of their adherence to a narrow form of Christian belief that the New Conservatives party makes it onto this blog at this time.
The problem for the New Conservatives is that they are apparently positioned to the right of the National Party, in what is very much a single digit percentage minority spectrum of beliefs currently largely taken up by the Act Party. Elections in New Zealand are won by appealing more to the centre of the political spectrum, but the MMP political system in this country has encouraged the formation of niche political parties with in some cases quite narrowly focused views. New Conservatives is one of these, and their policies are quite strongly focused on conservative Christian viewpoints despite their profession of being a secular party. It would not be an exaggeration to suggest New Conservatives find a natural synergy between themselves and white evangelical supporters of the US Republican Party. The claims of the NC Party to be essentially secular in nature are a desperate attempt to broaden their support and increase their prospect of electoral success.
Insofar as the New Conservatives have a conspicuous level of support from and engagement with the Christian community in NZ, their apparent inspiration from white evangelical Christians in the US fails to recognise the pitfalls of blind adherence to a movement that has rent huge divisions in the Church in that nation, largely due to formation of a secular political alliance with the wealthy Republican party and able to achieve much of its success by tacitly supporting the god of Mammon, apparently a core American value. Whilst in the US the more extreme elements of Republicanism are essentially focused on a libertarian tirade against big government or almost any kind of government, New Zealand does not have the kind of political hegemony, tradition or corruptibility that makes it possible for these types of US beliefs to gain a strong foothold. As a Westminster democracy and Commonwealth member, the political landscape in NZ is much more evenly balanced than in the US, which has a strong libertarian tilt built into its political landscape that show a marked degree of blind ideological (or in the case of the peculiarly Christian branch, theological) illiteracy that explains why libertarianism in New Zealand has failed to attract more than 0.1% of the votes in a general election.
However, parties like Act and New Conservatives have adopted strong streaks of libertarianist inspired policy, which the Act case has kept them at the level of representation of a single MP in the New Zealand parliament for much of their political history, and then only with a dirty deal with the National Party in a chosen electorate. It is very difficult for New Conservatives to position themselves as a more selective niche of far right beliefs with clearly Christian focused policies that many libertarians would find repugnant. It is probably not extreme to suggest that the Christian groups supporting New Conservative have theocracy, dominionism and dispensationalism incorporated within their core theological beliefs. The apparent strong following for these strands of Christianity within countries like the US are largely illusory, mainly because they have successfully been cloaked within a more libertarian secular type of opposition to traditional forms of government over there.
In the writing of this blog, the New Conservatives website has been consulted to understand what its particular policies are. The key problem for New Conservatives is that there are many examples of significant contradiction between different aspects of their policies, without explanation of how these would be resolved. An example is that New Conservatives call for $10 billion in tax cuts, whilst at the same time calling for affordable and accessible healthcare and a number of other state-funded benefits. Another policy attacks the growth in the welfare system, apparently in blind or wilful ignorance that this growth has occurred as a result of neoliberal economic policies that have entrenched a low income underclass in society. These contradictions and a broader analysis of specific policies that tend to favour particular viewpoints that have been championed by small but particularly vociferous groups in society (including more than a small number of Christian groups) create an impression that the core basis of New Conservatives beliefs is essentially reactionary in nature.
Obviously, the party name is meant to appeal to people who oppose change. However, conservatism as a global ideology has at its core a desire by those who are the fortunate few that hold large sums of personal wealth, to keep a hold of as much of it as possible, and therefore oppose any type of government that proposes to increase taxation in order to remediate any kind of social problem. This stands in contradiction to the views of many Christians worldwide, who believe in various forms of more equitable distribution of income, in many cases to be implemented through Government intervention. For a period in New Zealand’s history, from the mid 1930s until the mid 1980s, or about 50 years, the central Government focused on full employment, and society as a whole was much more egalitarian in nature than it is today after 35 years of neoliberalism. Notably, the rate of violent crime, and most probably drug addiction and theft was much lower than is presently the case. Most people had meaningful work, were able to earn a reasonable income, and had a good prospect of being able to buy their own home long term. The problem for Christian conservatives, which the New Conservatives party essentially is, is to point to the benefits to society of the policies they promote and uphold. A policy calling for $10 billion of tax cuts is one such example, as it will require cuts in other Government services that benefit the poor in New Zealand, and will thus have a net impact of increasing poverty and social dislocation. This has been the historical impact of most of the tax cut policies applied by neoliberal ideologies over the past three decades in NZ.
The broad inspiration for much of the New Conservatives’ policies appears to come from conservative Christian organisations such as Family First and other groups that have either a predominant or implied level of adherence with white evangelical groupings in the United States of America that have aligned themselves to the Republican Party. However, whilst this grouping in American society have achieved electoral success with this alliance with a secular party, New Zealand is a very different country to the US, and just as is in fact the case across a broader spectrum of the US church, many churches in NZ are opposed to the degree of influence that American values have upon the Christian and secular landscape in this country. The key problem is that American Christianity has become comfortable with secular values within their society focused upon financial and material wealth, partly due to a belief in American supremacy over the whole world. The libertarian foundations of US society and government are very much different from the monarchical-clerical form of government handed down to Commonwealth countries like NZ. This has result in the playing field in the US becoming very tilted in favour of greater extremes of economic inequality that is only able to be well addressed in specific states of that country due to their demographic makeup and consequently the dominance of moderate parties like the Democrats.
It is the firm contention of this blog that New Conservatives do not have policies that would bring much benefit to society as a whole and would merely entrench the existing significant inequality in society. This is due to the fact that much of New Conservatives’ support base is drawn from reactionary conservative Christian groups that are a divisive and narrowly focused force within the wider church in NZ and have as their key goal the pursuit of political power by compromising or dismissing aspects of Christian witness and practice in a way that is unacceptable to church members with a more moderate political outlook. This in turn creates considerable revilment of parties like New Conservatives within the Church as a whole and is damaging to the unity of the Christian faith within New Zealand.