You can easily identify the men of Destiny New Zealand in a crowd. They look staunch. Like staunch pastors. Men with short-back-and-sides haircuts exist only at the hippie fringe of the party (an offshoot of Brian Tamaki's Destiny Church) - it seems the majority have shaved heads. They wear suits, or tidy casual clothes beneath bomber jackets. They scowl.
This weekend they gathered for a conference at Auckland's Rydges Hotel. The large banner that hung over the lobby elevators read something like, "Dad - if you're not raising your children, someone else is." Someone like drugs, I guess. Or Playstation. Or their mother. Coincidentally enough, I was at the hotel to meet a friend whose parents have recently split up.
By another coincidence, at the same time at Waipuna Hotel the Maxim Institute was also holding a conference - 'Political correctness: the end of an error?' The Maxim Institute is a lobby group, not a political party. A highly active lobby group (in fact, if you're interested, someone from the institute will be speaking to the Manukau City Council that he does not believe in the existence of a supernatural being with whom he can talk, which also rules out Gandalfthis afternoon in support of their draft Brothel Control Bylaw). If you pay close attention to the letters pages in your favourite publication you'll probably spot missives sent using their online letter-writing device (the name Steve Taylor is a dead giveaway). Maxim shares with Destiny a fondness for - as the conservative Christian euphemism goes - 'family values'. As Destiny says on its website, "New Zealand is a Christian nation ... currently being lead by a government that has forsaken our Godly heritage."
Some of the scheduled speakers at the Maxim Institute's conference were controversial; in a letter to this weekend's Sunday Star Times two Victoria University academics outed Frank Ellis (10.45am: The journey from Communism's 'Enemy of the People' to PC's 'Hate Criminal') and Peter Wood (1.55pm: Weta Nationalism: how diversity threatens New Zealand's identity) as "part of the right-wing circus travelling the world preaching their extreme dogmas". They said Ellis participated in the 2000 American Renaissance Conference alongside Klansmen, neo-Nazis, and anti-immigrant National Front members (he's in this photo, bottom row, second from right). Nice. The dinner speaker was Leighton Smith (6.30pm: The media, the rule of law and political correctness).
Thanks to the recent Christchurch Cathedral incident, we know that neither the PM nor the National leader are religious. Helen Clark is an agnostic and Dr Brash told North & South that he does not believe in the existence of a supernatural being with whom he can talk, which also rules out Gandalf. Overtly religious parties haven't done spectacularly well in the MMP era. Before the 1996 election the Christian Coalition looked promising (or threatening, one could say) but narrowly failed to fulfill their potential, taking 4.3% of the party vote. The coalition disbanded and Christian Heritage only managed half that total three years later. By 2002 they were skipping school with other 1% losers like Outdoor Recreation and the Alliance. But 2002 was the year of United Future, United being Peter Dunne and Future New Zealand being the former Christian Democrats. United Future were briefly scandalous when it was discovered Kelly Chal wasn't a citizen and she was forced to stand down after 17 days in Parliament (to the surprise of her pastor, Brian Tamaki of Destiny Church). Since then they've held the line on conservative and played down the Christian.
Currently National are at 49% in the polls, Labour are sitting on 39%, and the smaller parties are clustered around 1 or 2%. It'd be a reasonable bet that as we approach next year's election the smaller parties, buoyed by increased funding and participation in televised leaders' debates, will leech votes off the larger ones. But what will happen with the Christian vote? The Christian Coalition and United Future have proved that a conservative Christian voter base does exist, even if it's not always inclined to move as one. United Future will shine on through 2005 thanks to Peter Dunne, their crazy diamond (never mind the 5% threshold, in Ohariu-Belmont diamonds are forever), but they may face competition for the party vote from Destiny, who are aiming for 10%. A friend's wise mother once suggested to me that putting your kids through Catholic schooling is the best way to extinguish any holiness in them. I had 11 years of it - now I score 'under 25 - need help' in the morality test Christians promoting The Passion of the Christ hand out at Village on Queen St. I'm not likely to be swayed by Maxim's arguments. Neither am I Destiny's constituency. But they have one.
Patrick Crewdson is a contributor to Fighting Talk.