National shift worth acknowledging

National Party leader Simon Bridges speaks to about 80 people at the Mornington Presbyterian...
National Party leader Simon Bridges. PHOTOS: PETER MCINTOSH
Nary a whisper has been uttered about it, but the National Party has recently released an environmental discussion document suggesting a range of moves which, no matter where one stands politically, is significant.

Significant because many of its proposals sound like Green Party ideas from not too long ago - ideas National would have debated at the time with an argument that went something like: "But, business ..."

The point isn't whether the proposals go far enough, or prove the party will be a good custodian of the environment in the future - those are judgements voters must make for themselves. The point worth celebrating is that the party was wrong to not focus enough on the environment in the past, and is now accepting that fault.

How can it be said it was wrong? Because to represent voters, politicians must listen to voters. National has shifted stance because voters have demanded it. That is the power of the New Zealand voter base. And that is what is worth celebrating.

Certainly, political parties sell ideological views not shared by the majority of voters. But every three years it is the voters who get the power, and if political parties don't pay attention, they become obsolete.

The National Party has realised, belatedly, environmental concerns are now firmly mainstream in this country. While its policy ideas may be short of what many environmental campaigners demand, the party has now painted itself into a difficult position if its future rhetoric ignores environmental concerns.

It is the nature of conservative parties to move slowly, to be cautious with the new while trusting the old. That is their philosophy. That National is now advocating for the environmental points raised in its discussion document shows much of the environmental hearts and minds battle has been won.

That does not mean the battle is over, though. As the political centre shifts to represent the market, so too do the fringes shift to represent those agitating for change, for more, for better. That they are on the fringe should not mean their views be relegated clearly many fringe views become mainstream in time. But many fringe views end up consigned to the scrapheap of unwise political ideas, too.

It is always necessary to test fringe views - as best we can. Do they go too far? Do they take the nuances and complexities of a situation into account? Do they represent all sides of an argument, or are they a product of tunnel-vision with scant regard for wider consequences?

There is a reason why voters tend to demand political parties converge in the centre ground. Because bold policies can be dangerous. If they end up being wrong, people's livelihoods, their ability to raise their children, go to work, save for their retirement, live in relative peace and harmony, could be risked. Voters generally dislike such risks.

Bold policies can also be right, but for fundamental change New Zealand voters tend to demand policy positions be well considered, tested, understood and sensible. And, eventually, if the changes stack up, the New Zealand people will slowly and happily move in that direction.

That slow speed of change can be valuable, and shouldn't be admonished. Nor should the political views which agitate for more change, faster. As long as we continue talking, discussing, debating and committing to understanding our country's politics, we seem to reach the desired destinations in good enough time. The current "greening" of the National Party could be held up as proof of this.

It is easy to look at the day-to-day frustrations politics creates, and feel despair. But, and in the absence of a better idea, it seems our country's democracy is in good shape. And, in the case of our environment, the payback for that will be for all of us to enjoy.

 

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