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April 13, 2014 | by  | in Opinion Politics |
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Best Party on Campus

Black bow tie, champagne flute in hand, on the balcony laughing at the commoners below. Not exactly party of the people. Last week, the Young Nats held their annual ball. Leftists responded to the $100 ticket price with a party of their own, taking to the streets outside the venue with free soup and live music. It was as close to class warfare as we get in this country and the media were enthralled, the Nats’ haughty gesticulations projected into the 6 pm news. For a party selling itself as the spokespeople of middle New Zealand, it betrayed an embarrassing arrogance. Gratuitous conceit is not a good look.

The Young Nats are not the revolution. Steady hands on the tiller, better public services, a stable environment for business investment, reductions in the core Crown deficit – the National Party’s mantras don’t exactly grab at your heartstrings. Yet they still convince hundreds of young people to abandon their weekends delivering pamphlets or making fundraising telephone calls. These are young people who are immune to the sweepings of the political tides, young people whose only interaction with minimum wage rates is the markup they pay on their latte. It’s hard to see why so many bother.

But of course the Young Nats have always been as much social club as political movement. Their history is as a drinking club for the rural elite, the politics corollary to the collective pride of the landed class. These days, they have to compete with more than just cow-tipping, but their basic purpose remains the same. They are the door through which privileged youth gaze upon the corridors of power. Reading through their activists’ Twitter feeds reveals more half-formed sass and political in-jokes than policy analysis or ideology. The Young Nats are in it for the game.

But for some that’s not enough. According to one Young Nat I talked to while researching this column, the organisation is riddled with “toffs” – hacks who care less about the game than they do about ensuring that their pocket square matches their necktie. For these people, politics is manifestation of class pride, the celebration of aristocratic nostalgia. It is these hacks who so gratuitously celebrated the privilege of the ball, who were so astoundingly lacking in self-awareness. The toffs, I was assured, have little power in the broader party, but they aren’t particularly interested in that anyway. They are in politics for affiliation with the elite.

This year, the Young Nats have been calling themselves the “Best Party on Campus”. It is apt. For those insulated from the blizzard outside, there’s a good party to be had in playing with the weather. All I’d recommend is that they hide their smirks as they reach for the levers, lest we realise how little they feel the cold.

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