Where to now, after the disinformation election?

It was a big weekend for Aotearoa, and not the outcome we wanted. It was a concerning election, but with some big wins. What's next for our communities?

8 min read
Where to now, after the disinformation election?

Woof - what a weekend, huh? Communities around Aotearoa are feeling dismayed and worried about what’s to come under a National-Act(-NZ First) government. I think this election raises a whole lot of questions for so many of us, across so many different areas.

But first, let’s celebrate the wins - because there sure were some wins in amongst everything else.

The Wins

Te Paati Māori achieved one of the best results we’ve ever seen, picking up (so far) four electorates, with another possible on the special votes, including electing our youngest MP in over 120 years in Hana-Rawhiti Maipi-Clarke. We saw them take seats that have been comfortably Labour for some time - Hana winning Hauraki-Waikato, held by Nanaia Mahuta since 2008, and Tākuta Ferris taking te Tai Tonga from Labour’s Rino Tirikatene, held since 2011.

And te Pāti Kakariki, the Green Party - making history by holding on to an electorate seat for the first time, and topping it by picking up two more in the process. With 14 seats (and likely picking up another in the special votes, bringing Kahurangi Carter to Parliament, something I’m personally thrilled about), the Green Party flipped some Labour strongholds, too.

After the special votes are all up and counted, we may well have 20 seats between Te Paati Māori and the Greens, which I think is the strongest Opposition we’ve ever had - something we are going to sorely need.

I think these results speak to a shift in the mindset of the voting public, too. Labour haemorrhaging votes to the left, while not a great outcome for this election and surely a sign of a failure in political strategy, might be a benefit for actual MMP, instead of the MMP-flavoured first-past-the-post we’ve had so far. This is the first time any third party has won more than a single electorate seat - two parties did so this election, and they’re the two parties our communities and our planet most sorely need. As much as I hate to admit it, ACT and NZF picking up a higher vote share is a sign of this shift, too - voters are seeing the ‘smaller’ parties as a genuine option, many for the first time.

It feels so, so disingenuous and bad and nasty to speak the phrase “the next election” so soon, because the next three years are going to be so hard fought and truly anything can happen, but I think that if this trend holds true, the next election might be the first true MMP result we get. I could foresee a much more even vote share in future elections, which might mean some more radical or courageous policy platforms, rather than red and blue fighting over the centre bloc.

The Disinformation Election

But what comes next? I think this election campaign has been characterised by disinformation, in so many forms, and rather than political parties and the media taking a clear stance against disinformation, I think we saw the opposite.

If anything, I think we saw mis- and disinformation enter the political sphere in a way we haven’t seen before in Aotearoa, and not even in a way that I anticipated.

I expected anti-trans disinformation - sadly, I wasn’t surprised to see NZ First and Act’s policy platforms about bathrooms, sport, and education. It became pretty clear pretty early on that that rhetoric would enter the political sphere. I feel proud of our collective attempts to refocus conversations about Aotearoa’s rainbow communities on our actual needs in health, education, housing, and legislation.

It was also clear well before the campaign period that disinformation about Three Waters and co-governance was going to be the norm - we saw how quickly the ghost of ‘co-governance’ dominated the conversation about legislation that, actually, was about ensuring the quality of our water supply in a year where we saw threat after threat to that water quality. Unfortunately, the same communication failures that led to such strong anti-vaccine disinformation came into play with Three Waters. A lack of good messaging about why that legislation was necessary meant that the void was filled with bad actors scaremongering about Māori ownership, which parties on the right could then latch on to to scare up votes.

What I didn’t expect, was disinformation from the parties themselves about their own policy platforms. I certainly didn’t expect the media to totally let that lie - with my generous hat on, I guess the media themselves didn’t expect such poor quality information to come directly from the parties themselves.

I’m talking, of course, about National’s tax plan - their ‘good political move’, deserving of a ‘standing ovation’, a ‘masterclass in political marketing’ that would deliver ‘average’ families ‘up to’ $250 a fortnight.

What part of the plan was the ‘masterclass’, exactly? It was how National took a small figure and made it look much bigger:

“National has taken what is in reality a $25-a-week tax cut for most middle earners, doubled it into a couple, doubled it into a fortnight and slapped in their childcare subsidy - and then all of a sudden they have a $250 figure to slap all over their billboards.”

Because in reality, only 3000 families would get that $250. And National Party comms and marketing, from Instagram to Leaders debates, conveniently omitted that critical ‘up to’, effectively misleading voters with promises they never intended to keep.

By the 10th of October, when the CTU released their analysis on National’s tax promises and the same media who lauded their dubious math as a ‘masterclass’ finally caught up, over 800,000 people had already voted.

That’s nearly a million people who cast their votes under intentionally false impressions of how they might be better off under a change of government.

I’m not a professional political commentator, or a political historian, but I’d struggle to identify any other election where disinformation from a political party, affirmed by the media, has influenced so many votes.

We now have to reckon with that, because the disinformation problem isn’t going to go away - especially if parties get the feeling that they can get away with it and it could help win elections.

It’s more important than ever for us to make a real clear stand against disinformation. And it’s up to us - for NACT to take a stand on this would be to admit to what they’ve done, and considering the number of Act candidates who withdrew this election due to their association with COVID-19 disinfo I certainly wouldn’t expect them to be keen.

What now?

So, what now? What does this result mean? What happens next for us - for Māori, for Pasifika people, for rainbow communities and trans and non-binary folk, for the climate, for beneficiaries, for… basically everyone except those with robust real estate portfolios?

The mahi doesn’t end here - it never does. It gets a bit harder, sure, but we rest, recover, recuperate, and then we get stuck in.

It’s going to be a critical three years for so many of us and our communities and our causes. The day after advance voting started, researchers in Antartica declared an emergency as sea ice hit a new record low.

Time is running out - I don’t say that to cause fear, and I don’t say that to suggest we’re done - quite the opposite. Time is running out and the incoming government will not do what needs doing to prevent the impacts of climate change. They may well look to adaptation, but to do so is to condemn our whānau across the Pacific to losing their homes - it’s not good enough.

The next three years will be characterised by direct action and community care. It will have to be both coordinated and hyper-local as we start to build the community resilience we need.

So what do we do now?

Check in with your local community - whether that’s geographic or otherwise. Reach out to community organisations - check in with your local rūnanga or iwi. Build networks and start to build solidarity - with co-governance on the agenda, it’s more important than ever that we tangata Tiriti stand for and with tangata whenua. No one should stand alone.

Talk with the people around you about how they’re feeling and how they’re doing. Talk about your appetite for change - talk about the things you’re feeling most passionate about. While solidarity across causes is critical, not everyone has to take lead on fighting every fight.

Talk about what you can do and what you can offer. There are so many tools in our kete - electoral politics are just one, and they’re a slow-moving one. Talk to your friends and whānau about direct action and protest, about letter-writing, about mutual aid and community care. It will be a diversity of tactics that creates lasting change, and not everyone feels at home on the front line - and that’s okay.

Talking - to our friends, our whānau, our community - is going to be more important than ever. What we do know about the disinformation rabbit hole is that talking is one way out. Gentle conversations with someone trusted, questioning rather than combative, can offer a rope back up and out when those with vested interests are telling our loved ones the whole world is against them. I’m not telling you to go and seek out an anti-vax terf for a cuppa - but that you talk to those around you, you check in, you offer up that ladder to the whānaunga around the barbecue at Christmas who are spending a little too much time on Telegram. We can’t do this alone.

It is going to be more important than ever that we show up where we can. That we use our voices as much as we can. Bodies on streets is a powerful tool, and there are going to be many calls for solidarity for a number of our communities in the coming years.

Keep a hold of your values, and let them guide you. Remember there are many ways to make change, and no one way will succeed alone. There will be tough decisions to make.

When people fighting for our causes make decisions we might not agree with, reflect on those values, on our kaupapa - are the choices they’re making one way to make change? Do they have a part to play in the wider movement? Is there a way our different approaches could complement each other?

Now, more than ever, with an incoming right-wing government, we need to work together in the flaxroots. Our causes are interlinked - what causes disproportionately poor health outcomes for Māori, Pasifika, our rainbow whānau - what does relentless damage to our climate - what throws our most vulnerable in prison instead of asking how we can end the cycle of harm - what undervalues our disabled whānau - what causes so many of us to struggle in poverty - are one and the same.

Take care of one another, e hoa mā. Rest, recover, recuperate. Start thinking about what’s next, and start talking to one another about it. Take good care.

If you’re in te Whanganui-a-Tara tomorrow, the 17th (my birthday!), 350.org is organising an election response action for the climate: Power up for climate justice. Join them at Parliament tomorrow morning to call on the incoming government to commit to climate action.

If you’re involved in community organising, protest action, community care - anything I’ve talked about here and then some, I’d love to hear from you. I’d love to get to share the mahi so many of us are doing around Aotearoa, and to see if we can give others the opportunity to share and learn in that mahi, too. You can flick me a message at jennifer@jenniferkshields.nz, or anywhere you can find me online - I’m usually @jenkshields and @jennifilm.

And if you’ve made it this far, check out some other writers on Substack:

from Nadine Anne Hura, for gorgeous, important mahi and essays from an indigenous & climate justice lens.

and her community for a whole range of important reasons and causes, including health advocacy, parenting, and - so importantly - connection to a vibrant and supportive community.

for some really great, in-depth analysis from what I’d call an equity-lens economist. Bernard’s writing has helped me understand the complexity of issues like how Aotearoa’s electricity system operates and how that contributes to a lack of climate action, and I’m real grateful for that mahi.

for accessible looks at critical science issues, including vaccines and climate change.

from the Spinoff for a weekly roundup on climate change and the environment in Aotearoa.

Have some recommendations for me? I’d love to hear from you, too.