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Wednesday 08 October 2008

Hollow Men II? The Christian Right & Election '08

Posted in: Comment
By Craig Young - 19th August 2008

What role will the New Zealand Christian Right play in the forthcoming general election?

By my estimate, there are four central Christian Right organisations- and in the case of the anti-abortionists Voice for Life and Right to Life New Zealand, their attention is focused predominantly on RTLNZ's court case against the Abortion Supervisory Committee, now headed for the Court of Appeal.

So, that leaves the Maxim Institute and Family First. I'm ignoring the fundamentalist microparties (the Kiwi Party and Family Party) because that's what everyone else will do, come October, November or December. Will this be a repetition of Nicky Hager's Hollow Men?

Not completely. For one thing, the Maxim Institute has changed considerably since 2005. After Bruce Logan 'retired' in 2005, the organisation closed down its former Christchurch headquarters and ceased publication of Evidence magazine. Moreover, the Institute has had a frequent staff turnover, and its Real Issues email newsletter has reoriented itself. While it still holds its annual Compass youth indoctrination sessions, its predominant focus now is on shared issues of centre-right consensus, rather than sustained social conservative outreach. It paid considerably more attention to opposing the Electoral Finance Act than leading opposition to Section 59 Repeal, for example. I'd be very surprised if it updated its nzvotes website as a result of the above transformation in its raison d'etre. I suspect that given its newfound role as cheerleader for the New Right, it will continue to import 'public policy experts' from the United Kingdom or United States, with more emphasis on market-based 'solutions' to economic and social issues.

If the Maxim Institute has abdicated its social conservative past in favour of New Right policy advice to the National Party and business community, then Family First has clearly replaced it as ringleader of social conservative backlash causes against progressive social change. It's more 'encapsulated' within the Christian Right than the current Maxim Institute now is, and has close ties to National's "family" spokesperson Judith Collins, as well as opposing the Electoral Finance Act. Added to which, there's the small matter of its business donors. It would be most intriguing to speculate whether or not the Exclusive Brethren leadership hold any management or core shareholder status within their allied small businesses. Given its newfound prominence, it would interesting to speculate whether it will actually be Family First that provides 'voters guides' for fundamentalists. Happily, they do fail sometimes- as the Auckland Boobs on Bikes fiasco demonstrates.

However, there's also the possibility that we could use those voters guides against them- that is, if we haven't profiled party list candidates beforehand to smoke out any fundamentalists lurking within them, as may be possible. Egale Canada did a similar service during the last Canadian federal election, depriving the Canadian Tories of majority government.

Watch this space.

Craig Young - 19th August 2008