Rural resolve could tame circus

Jami-Lee Ross outside the Victoria Street police station in Wellington today. Photo: RNZ
Jami-Lee Ross outside the Victoria Street police station in Wellington. Photo: RNZ
As former National MP Jami-Lee Ross leads the media in his self-choreographed circus performance this week, spare a thought for the hundreds of thousands of rural New Zealanders who vote for the National Party.

It has long been accepted the country's rural electorates swing to the right of centre, just as it is known New Zealand's inner as well as poorer urban electorates often swing left.

There is nothing particularly strange about this. The very nature of rural living demands resilience and self-reliance - the cornerstones of conservative ideals. Terms like common sense, hard work, respect, salt of the earth and an honest day's work are synonymous with country folk.

In the urban electorate, where millions of New Zealanders live in relative harmony with strangers from all walks of life, different terms are common: unity, acceptance, collective ideals, tolerance, sustainability.

New Zealand is the nation it has become because, for the past 150 years at least, both sectors of our society have been considered important and have been represented in the corridors of power. Of course, New Zealand's population is far more urban than rural. Depending on how it is classified, somewhere between 500,000 and one million of the nearly five million New Zealanders are considered rural and, of those, many live and work in the country's network of regional towns.

Yet, that relatively small rural population remains the economic heart of the country. Its generally respectful guardianship of the land has helped in no small measure to sell New Zealand as a tourism mecca. Its ability to turn swathes of that relatively unbroken land into fertile, profitable, world-leading agricultural real estate has been our defining national success story.

As well as that, the rural sector's ability to churn out New Zealanders the nation admires and respects, from sporting leaders to business leaders and prime ministers, indicates there is something about the rural lifestyle that brings out the best in us.

Yet, rural issues, politically at least, are often portrayed as antiquated and undesirable by some of the country's urban commentators, politicians and voters. It can sometimes seem as if the country's rural sector is considered more an industrial evil than the green and clever image the rest of the world hails.

Meanwhile, those conservative rural voters - who want their resilience respected, their industry rewarded and their land not used as a utopian sketch pad - have little option but to vote for a political party now in the midst of spectacular angst at the hands of two young urbanites apparently lacking in the qualities the rural population admires most.

While National has long and proud rural roots, and the idea of a "rural" party is little more than a pipe-dream, it is interesting to contemplate the rural voter base doing what it is famed for doing; rolling up its sleeves and taking matters into its own hands with such a concept. In 2020, somewhere close to 25,000 party votes will equate to one seat in Parliament. While there are many times that number of rural voters in New Zealand, gaining a place in Parliament is, of course, reliant on a party either winning an electorate seat or passing the 5% threshold. History shows the latter threshold is almost always a bridge too far for new parties, while winning an electorate seat is something a rural-based party would likely require assistance with, as Act New Zealand receives in the Epsom electorate. There is no suggestion either option is likely.

Yet, if such a party succeeded, a political platform could allow the rural sector to far better articulate what it is, what it contributes, what it values and what it needs.

And as it has done across so many sectors of New Zealand life, it could put forward women and men who lead with the values many Kiwis will be yearning for after watching this week's political circus.


 

Comments

I agree with the sentiments but there is something wrong with the media at the moment. They seem to have moved towards a type of toxic reporting that tries to destroy party leaders. It is a brave person who puts their hand up for leadership as they are going to be ripped to bits. Bill English was much derided by the metropolitan media at the last election as some kind of country bumpkin.

I wish you would say by whom.
The media cover stories, and freelance writers analyse events. The media does not make the news, unless one of their own is in it. The media, responsibly, does not name names, in the present Tory meltdown. If, however, the media did not report, she'd be a great day for those who should be accountable.