OnPoint by Keith Ng

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OnPoint: Dear Labour Caucus

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  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to Sacha,

    Sinister ambi-dexters...

    I reckon we're at an interesting point where
    the underlying models are actually changing.

    and chirality (handedness) is losing relevance...
    it is no so much whether the hands are Left or Right
    but whether they are Even, Fair or Heavy
    and as long as they make a good fist of it...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 5055 posts Report Reply

  • Isaac Freeman, in reply to Islander,

    Maybe among squirrelly academic types, but not among the disadvantaged and thoroughly turned off voters who compromise my whanau (of whom all voted, including the 18yr olds,)

    No disrespect to your whanau, nor to anyone else who identifies as Left. I'm with you on the substance.

    However, I'd say it's precisely when we use vague terms that we create pointless squirrelly debates about semantics, or we talk past each other. It's hard to talk in a straightforward way with someone who mentally classifies everything you say into Left or Right, and dismisses whichever isn't their side.

    I'm perfectly happy to keep multidimensional graphs as an academic curiosity. I'm only advocating for well-tested words that describe general political values: liberal, conservative, egalitarian, nationalist, green, authoritarian. You can just about always make a position clearer by substituting one of those instead of Left or Right.

    I believe it also has a practical side-effect: it makes your position stronger, because it connects it with values that are harder to dismiss. "We're the party of the Left" gets you nowhere with people who think of themselves as Right. "We're the party of freedom, equality and fair play" is saying something they have to reckon with.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 133 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Isaac Freeman,

    I believe it also has a practical side-effect: it makes your position stronger, because it connects it with values that are harder to dismiss. “We’re the party of the Left” gets you nowhere with people who think of themselves as Right. “We’re the party of freedom, equality and fair play” is saying something they have to reckon with.

    Indeed.

    Perhaps people might like to consider the history of the terms - oh Wikipedia, is there nothing you don't know?

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2163 posts Report Reply

  • Isaac Freeman, in reply to BenWilson,

    if argument ensues about the right to use one term, the only way forward, really, is to use a new term, one devoid of existing connotation preferably, so that it has a strict meaning that can be agreed on.

    Mi parolas Esperanton malbone.

    If Left and Right aren't productive terms for discussing politics, I think it's equally problematic to go to the opposite extreme and insist on extreme rigour. Politics isn't mathematics, and much as I'm attracted to the idea of graphing pretty much anything, I don't think we can expect people to think that way in practice.

    Apart from that, which I'm sure wasn't what you were saying anyway, I am in general agreement with you, sir.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 133 posts Report Reply

  • Isaac Freeman, in reply to nzlemming,

    Perhaps people might like to consider the history of the terms – oh Wikipedia, is there nothing you don’t know?

    I view it with deep suspicion. It has not a single word about any of my cats.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 133 posts Report Reply

  • Rich Lock, in reply to Sacha,

    I reckon we're at an interesting point where the underlying models are actually changing.

    The inevitable convergence of experimental particle physics and politics is close.

    As soon as CERN comes back on-line we can split the party vote and release the vile energies of 1000 in-fighting lefty factions.

    back in the mother countr… • Since Feb 2007 • 2401 posts Report Reply

  • HenryB, in reply to Isaac Freeman,

    “We’re the party of freedom, equality and fair play” is saying something they have to reckon with.

    Nicely said.

    Palmerston North • Since Sep 2008 • 106 posts Report Reply

  • nzlemming, in reply to Isaac Freeman,

    I view it with deep suspicion. It has not a single word about any of my cats.

    That's because the cats are in charge and know how to preserve their privacy.

    Waikanae • Since Nov 2006 • 2163 posts Report Reply

  • Andrew E,

    Ermm.... Lolcats?

    174.77 x 41.28 • Since Sep 2008 • 199 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Isaac Freeman,

    I believe it also has a practical side-effect: it makes your position stronger, because it connects it with values that are harder to dismiss

    Tricky question there. Marketing messages have to be short, by their very nature. They must capture attention, hit emotion, be easily remembered, etc. More sophistication in discussion, I fully agree with. But when it comes to translating that into pitch, it's always going to be generalized. And there's the rub.

    As with marketing products, there's always going to be a conflict between the extent to which marketing itself should take priority over development. A great product dies if no-one knows about it. But too much marketing of a bad product can collapse the organization too, because the truth will come out about what owning the product is really like.

    Also, there have been many cyclical waves over the years of diversification vs cutting back to core competency. Both ideas have appeal at different times. Typically, when one stops working, you go back to the other. So you're pitching at a wide mass market, but getting outcompeted by a bigger, better financed corporation on price. So you cut back the number of products, cutting back the number of people you're selling to, and work out what it actually is that you do best, and then intensively hammer that market segment, totally dominating it, at which point you can start setting your own prices again. Meanwhile the big competitor hits the wall of overexposed debt fueling their huge product range and massive advertising budget, and a rising perception of low quality products, and then a downturn in the market turns a giant into a bankrupt quite suddenly, and it's torn apart by it's receivers, if it hasn't managed to do that with its own chainsaw consultants first.

    I think this happens with political parties. When entering government, they're always in a phase of broadening their appeal, reaching out with the policies that have been clamored for but denied by the previous incumbent. They get stronger for a while, as they grab the lowest hanging fruit.

    The losing team goes back to the drawing board, working out who they appeal to and why, and what core of new policy can they possibly create to distinguish themselves from the dying juggernaut they were, without losing absolutely everything they were about. Why did their policy fail to connect to the masses? Why did the economy tank, despite all of their fiscal brilliance? Do they actually have a philosophy at all, is there any real "industrial complex" of worth, or did they outsource everything so much they're actually just 30 directors in a company, with a vast array of contractors who might have seemed great when they were easily squeezed, but don't seem like such a good idea now that they're shipping product to the other crowd.

    This is what Labour is emerging from now. They have done most of their soul searching and the new product line is coming through. It can and should expand, but even fixing those products in the minds of the marketplace without actually getting the sales has been important, the brand building exercise. There is widespread support for their economic ideas even amongst those who vote National, and most certainly amongst people who voted for anyone else, barring ACT (on the party vote. Epsom voters are not actually ACT voters at all).

    What is missing from Labour's product range is enough for the sharply rising unemployed, underemployed, exploitatively employed, criminally employed, and in-training. I don't have hard facts on this, and will happily eat my words at some point if they become available, but I think those were the non-voters. They look at policies like CGT, compulsory savings, tax-regime adjustments, etc, and think: <see next post>

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    "yeah but those are for people who have training, well paying jobs, credit lines, assets. It might be righteous to do that in a vague way for society, but I've really got to find some cash right now before that scary looking bastard comes back and takes my car. And I really don't want to shit my boss off right now by asking him if I can take the time off to go vote. Anyway none of them are going to free the bloody weed, like everyone knows should happen. And quite frankly, right now, my only chance of ever getting out of this bloody dive is if that rich great-uncle dies and leaves me something, so I can't claim to be too much of a lefty anyway. And fuck those greenies telling me I shouldn't eat fish and chips, it's the only fucking lunch I can afford these days. Smug fucking hippies. The asset I really need right now isn't an expensive bike with no gears, it's a bloody plane ticket"

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Ian Dalziel, in reply to nzlemming,

    reading between th efelines...

    That’s because the cats are in charge and know how to preserve their privacy.

    they embody the compleat I-pad...

    Christchurch • Since Dec 2006 • 5055 posts Report Reply

  • Damian Christie, in reply to Isaac Freeman,

    If Left and Right aren’t productive terms for discussing politics, I think it’s equally problematic to go to the opposite extreme and insist on extreme rigour.

    I agree Isaac, with most of what you've been saying in this thread. Yes, in a broader sense, "left" and "right" hardly do it - and even the classic double axis (social/economic/liberal/conservative) doesn't really cut it. But when we're talking about NZ parliamentary politics, it's a fairly useful shorthand to describe those parties or potential colaitions on either side of the line, and unless one seeks to be deliberately obtuse or contrary, everyone knows what you're on about.

    Part of the reason I often find the Green's message attractive (and that's why I have voted for them, rather than because I voted for them) is precisely because their solutions don't always fit on that left-right spectrum of less intervention/more regulation.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 1130 posts Report Reply

  • DeepRed, in reply to BenWilson,

    People can like foods without liking the cooks, and as it stands it's the same with Labour - people are liking its policies without actually liking the party itself.

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 4355 posts Report Reply

  • Rich of Observationz, in reply to Damian Christie,

    the Green's message attractive

    That apostrophe causes me much worry: Greens? Green's? Greens'

    I guess I should defer to Damien as a professional, but OTOH isn't "Greens" a plural that should take a trailing apostrophe to make the possessive?

    Back in Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 4463 posts Report Reply

  • John Armstrong, in reply to BenWilson,

    I feel inadequate from having little to show for such time spent.

    You may not have much to show but don't think the time has been wasted. I am reasonably sure I can speak for other PAS serial hangers-on when I say that these discussions are one of the staples of my intellectual diet.

    As an aside, the intellectual differences that are displayed are one of the key reasons for that. Stick around, Gio.

    Hamilton • Since Nov 2007 • 132 posts Report Reply

  • Russell Brown, in reply to Damian Christie,

    But when we’re talking about NZ parliamentary politics, it’s a fairly useful shorthand to describe those parties or potential colaitions on either side of the line, and unless one seeks to be deliberately obtuse or contrary, everyone knows what you’re on about.

    I've also been thinking that the two maiden speeches I've looked up this week -- Grant Robertson's and Craig Foss's provide a good example to illustrate that shorthand.

    Part of the reason I often find the Green’s message attractive (and that’s why I have voted for them, rather than because I voted for them) is precisely because their solutions don’t always fit on that left-right spectrum of less intervention/more regulation.

    I think it's become a key part of their brand, as Nandor Tanczos proposed that it should several years ago. How much their overall policy answers to the brand is perhaps a matter for analysis.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 18968 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to DeepRed,

    People can like foods without liking the cooks

    Like it. Political chefs must convince voters that their team can be relied on to serve the hungry crowd. A tasty-sounding menu aint enough.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16771 posts Report Reply

  • Greg Dawson, in reply to Rich of Observationz,

    That apostrophe causes me much worry: Greens? Green’s? Greens’

    Green's as Greens' do? They're always complaining about the coming environmental apostrophe, let alone the trailing one.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 277 posts Report Reply

  • Isaac Freeman, in reply to BenWilson,

    Marketing messages have to be short, by their very nature.

    I've largely self-taught in marketing, so I probably use terminology in unconventional ways. But recently I've been trying to steer clients away from the thinking of their brand as beginning and ending with a slogan, and getting them to think about stages of engagement.

    1. In the first ten seconds, you need to get across the core of what you're about. This will usually be at an emotional level. For a political party, this means stating your values.

    2. If you still have their attention, you have some time to introduce the product you're selling and show them you've got something they want. In politics, this would be your policies.

    3. Build trust. Just because they want the product, doesn't mean they're ready to buy. Show that you're reliable, and that they're safe doing business with you. This is where personality comes into it.

    4. When they're ready to buy, so make it as easy as possible for them. Get out the vote.

    5. Then comes the hard part, where you deliver.


    Labour, I think, is good at 2, 4 and 5.
    1 can be fixed relatively easily: Labour has values, it just needs to express them clearly.
    3, as politics are currently run in this country, is on the shoulders of David Shearer.


    The Greens, still in my humble opinion, are strong on 1 and 3, still weak on 4 and 5, and I think the jury is out on 2. Personally I think they have the best product, but the general public doesn't seem to be convinced yet.


    National seems to be strong on 3, weak on 2 and 5 and indifferent on 1 and 3. I'm not the best judge of this, having never spent enough time around National people to understand much about what motivates them.


    All tentative speculation, of course.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 133 posts Report Reply

  • Bart Janssen, in reply to Russell Brown,

    that shorthand

    But it still only a shorthand. And worse its a shorthand of variable meaning. It works only when everyone agrees on the current meaning. And when people start arguing about the meaning of the shorthand any hope of actually discussing anything meaningful is lost.

    But for the worst part of it is that we don't need the shorthand, particularly here. We don't have limits on space so why not actually take the time to describe the actual thought instead of tossing out the shorthand.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 3419 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Russell Brown,

    I didn't edit or delete the comment, I didn't threaten to ban you or abuse you, I just said I didn't think the response was warranted. You clearly didn't agree, but if you're going to describe that as "humiliation" and "bordering on the obscene" you may need to check your sense of perspective.

    I wasn't referring to humiliation here, obviously. But yes, I think the preciousness you displayed in this and other similar circumstances whenever what I shall insist in calling liberal sensibilities are very mildly threatened is galling and sets some pretty hard limits to what can be said on PAS. Thus ultimately

    the intellectual differences that are displayed

    are not real. And perhaps we shouldn't expect them to be - every community has its biases - but we should certainly not pretend that they are.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7386 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to Isaac Freeman,

    That's a useful way of thinking about it, thanks.

    The Greens, still in my humble opinion, are strong on 1 and 3, still weak on 4 and 5, and I think the jury is out on 2. Personally I think they have the best product, but the general public doesn't seem to be convinced yet.

    I'd say their policies ('2') are so strong that they've been adopted by other parties, notably things like capital gains tax. And are now touted by Shearer as his overall goal for Labour (admittedly before any further reworking of that party's platform).

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 16771 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Damian Christie,

    Part of the reason I often find the Green's message attractive (and that's why I have voted for them, rather than because I voted for them) is precisely because their solutions don't always fit on that left-right spectrum of less intervention/more regulation.

    Neither does NZF, but you openly despise them. Defining a vector passing from the central point of the NZF cluster to the central point of the Green cluster, and looking at it side on (from whatever point on the plane formed from all the perpendicular bisectors of this vector* that you like), what would you say are the core differences? Racism vs inclusiveness? Old rural vs young urban? Nationalist vs internationalist? Movement vs personality cult? Piss vs pot? Rugby, racing and beer, vs Soccer, music, and social media?

    *ETA Yeah I know mathematical purists are going to get bitter on me fudging the difference between a vector and a line segment, and a line. Feel free to make this model more accurate, my higher math is quite weak.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 8592 posts Report Reply

  • Isaac Freeman, in reply to Damian Christie,

    But when we’re talking about NZ parliamentary politics, it’s a fairly useful shorthand to describe those parties or potential colaitions on either side of the line

    This is a very good point. You do have to come down to voting yea or nay on any given bill, so the Parliamentary system does necessarily impose a binary distinction. As with Ben's approach in defining Left and Right as contingent on the current positions of Labour and National, I can see how it's meaningful if you're looking only at a particular time and place. Inside Parliament, in New Zealand, this year, sure there's (loosely speaking) a Left bloc and a Right bloc. After all, a parliamentary seating plan was where the terms came from in the first place.

    My dispute with Left and Right only arises when we try to also use them to describe wider movements in society.

    Christchurch • Since Feb 2007 • 133 posts Report Reply

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