Turn down the hysterics on #TurnArdern, or risk alienating many on the Left

OPINION: New Zealand, the nation of the Springbok Tour protests, anti-nuclear action, and Dame Whina Cooper’s hikoi, has apparently undergone a cultural transformation and no longer tolerates political protest.

In the last few weeks, a small group of Kiwis led by a 66-year-old Christchurch man has been quietly turning around books and magazines featuring our Prime Minister in stores around the country.

They contend that she spends for too much time on photoshoots and fluff pieces and not enough time working on the eradication of child poverty, homelessness, and the housing crisis.

Fair enough, right? We don’t necessarily have to agree with this, but good on them for peacefully demonstrating their political discontent with our Prime Minister and her Government.

Wrong! Oh how wrong.

What should have been a flash-in-the-pan, barely noticed protest has now made not only national headlines but it has also been featured in international press.

This is thanks to the characteristically hysterical response of the increasingly militant and intolerant section of the Left who are determined to attribute the most horrendous of social crimes to anyone who holds opinions contrary to theirs.

The founder of the #TurnArdern movement has had his private and business information published online, been threatened, and — along with all who have participated — been labelled a misogynist, racist, white supremacist extremist.

Now, I do not know the people involved with the protest, but as far as I can tell turning books around is about as benign as political objection can get.

It is also reminiscent of those who hid books about John Key when he was Prime Minister and if I recall they were not labelled anything other than ‘petty’ by their political opponents.

The intolerant Leftists call the action a dog-whistle to more sinister motives. But it is their hyperbolic response that is a dog whistle to an increasing determination by the chattering classes to police political opinion, speech, and even thought.

The ever-changing new social rules, language, and taboos they promote are compulsory if one wishes not to be ostracised socially and politically.

Often these new codes of ethics are incompatible with the traditional and small-c conservative social-cultural values of Labour’s historic voting base. And this could be a problem come Election Day 2020.

Evident in the way angry tweets and reports about #TurnArdern almost always reference its founder’s working class job, the New Zealand hard-Left seem determined to uncritically follow the road to opposition that their counterparts took in Australia, the US, and — most recently — the UK.

Handing victory to populist right and centre-right parties by steadfastly ignoring the experiences of the working class and scolding them for their failure to adhere to the new cultural demands of middle-class, university-educated liberal elites.

The Left — of which I reluctantly remain a part — must reflect on to what extent the new values and rhetoric they’re espousing are no longer compatible with those who have been their core voters.

Politicians on the Left must be aware that parroting the neo-academic liberalism of their pals on Twitter will inevitably alienate those for whom economic stability and traditional values are most important.

If we learn one thing from our international counterparts it should be that you cannot spend election year insulting the working class and calling them bigots and then expect them to turn around and vote for you.

Ani O’Brien is the chairwoman of Speak Up for Women New Zealand

Originally published at https://www.stuff.co.nz.