This is a paper I gave to the Australasian Political Studies Association conference in Christchurch, 1998
Abstract: New Zealand parliamentary politics has, in recent years, entered a new political cycle characterised by party fragmentation, the dominance of personalities, and a focus on trivial issues. Volatility and fluidity are the order of the day. The parties themselves lack any real dynamism. Moreover they are characterised by a policy convergence and an ideological exhaustion - in the sense that there has been a tendency for all parties to not only move towards the centre of the political spectrum, but also to place less emphasis on their ideological component. Subsequently, the new cycle of party politics can be characterised as a “politics without policies”. More than ever before pragmatism and electoral calculations shape political culture and politics can no longer be understood by the traditional concepts such as left and right. This paper seeks to find explanations for this strange state of affairs. It posits that while the shift to MMP may have accelerated the disintegration of mainstream politics, a number of other interconnected influences have combined to bring about the current state of political parties. The most obvious one is that two decades of economic slump and social decay has undermined the possibility of any of the current parties being able to provide anything of substance. A further explanation for the present impasse of the parties can be found in the effect of the ending of the Cold War, which has unleashed a crisis of legitimacy for the political institutions of Western society. The increasing blandness of political parties can also, in part, be attributed to the suspension of collective conflict between workers and the employers and authorities in the 1990s. With class conflict suspended, the parties lack the class anchors that once provided parties with ideological stability and direction. Essentially then, this party political fragmentation and malaise reflects deeper socio-economic trends.