Hard News by Russell Brown

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Hard News: Limping Onwards

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  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to Che Tibby,

    This is probably apostasy, but I’d consider dunne. Only because chauvel is about as far from my electorate as you get on the representation scale.

    Heh, and the usual objection he’s a homo coconut in a suburb of desperate Khandallah housewives.

    I’d vote for Charles if he were my local. Representation is good and all, but he’s really really competent, and that’s a rare and precious quality.

    L

    * Never stated with quite such a fine point as this, of course :)

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 109 posts Report Reply

  • giovanni tiso, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    Ok. How about Orewa? Far from an election as you can get. Gave them a massive polling bounce.

    There is a very obvious reason why Brash's speech succeeded at Orewa. It was designed to shock and it tapped into popular sentiment. I'd love the Left to do this, except in a progressive fashion, but it's not an easy proposition, and you can't really magick away the difference just by saying "it's their job". That's a ludicrous statement really, and I think you know it.

    Wellington • Since Jun 2007 • 7473 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    The point of saying that it’s the opposition’s job to position themselves to win elections – a plain statement of fact –isn’t to elide the difference between Orewa and every other political event; it’s to say that regardless of the difference, they should be trying to do so anyhow. Of course I don’t expect them to pull out an Orewa every year, or even every term. It was an epochal moment in Aotearoan politics, and one which still informs the discourse after seven years and two elections. But the opposition haven’t done anything even remotely approaching Orewa; they haven’t done anything which has reached into the nation’s soul and given it a tweak; or even looked as if they might.

    It’s not an easy proposition, but the job is to find ways to do it anyhow. If they try, and fail – fair enough. My main objection is that I don’t see them busting arse to try and make it happen. I don’t see any of the necessary groundwork being laid with clear, consistent, repeated, resonant positioning statements, I don’t see the followthrough when they do make the headlines for the right reasons.

    They did seem to be building up a head of steam in February last year, and I wrote about the wealth of raw material they could use to craft a narrative of the government as essentially rapacious crony capitalists. Shouldn’t have been too hard an ask, since that’s how the majority of New Zealand saw National until about mid-2004. But to work as a narrative for this coming election, that groundwork needed to be laid down good and early, and it wasn’t. If it had been, tying this February’s privatisation agenda into it would have been a great deal easier. This is how Brash and his advisors did – the Orewa speech came before the Ngāti Apa decision which kicked off the Foreshore and Seabed thing, and the two dovetailed.

    And that’s not even getting into the 2008 election. I’ve gone on long enough.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 109 posts Report Reply

  • Alex Coleman, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    There is a very obvious reason why Brash’s speech succeeded at Orewa. It was designed to shock and it tapped into popular sentiment

    Well, kinda. But here is the Herald report of Bill English's speech to the party conference in 02:

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz/nz/news/article.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=3512357

    In a keynote speech to the party's conference in Christchurch, Mr English said Labour was marching New Zealand down the road of separatism.

    He offered around 400 delegates a policy promising one rule for all "where rights come from a common citizenship, not from ethnic identity".

    The Government was backtracking from a promise to legislate to ensure public ownership of the seabed and foreshore, Mr English claimed.

    New Zealand was a society of converging ethnic groups with shared values, that should be covered by a single set of rules.

    Mr English pledged a National government would close the books on new historical treaty claims within a year and clear up the 900 claims on the books within five years.

    He also repeated promises to scrap the Maori seats and end tokenism, but said National could still work with Maori groups.

    I think Brash's speech was more inflammatory perhaps, (re-reading it again it's still brutal)

    http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0401/S00220.htm

    ... but I can't find a copy of English's speech to compare them. The point is though that the message wasn't new, the leader was.

    Wellington • Since Nov 2006 • 247 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    I'd love the Left to do this, except in a progressive fashion, but it's not an easy proposition

    Indeed. It requires the popular sentiment in NZ to be progressive, and currently, I don't think it is. It makes me a bit sad about my country, but it doesn't change my own mind about what is right and wrong.

    However, there is one thing that I think National misjudge - selling assets will be very unpopular. This absolutely MUST be hammered by Labour, and all the Left, and anyone on the Right who feels bitter about spending years paying for something only to see it sold off into private hands so that we can buy the services back with our after-tax dollars. The drum beat should begin before it happens. With luck, that could actually avert disaster. Which is another responsibility of Opposition - if not in power, at least pulling the important strings. Once that even begins to happen, the worm has turned.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    It was an epochal moment in Aotearoan politics, and one which still informs the discourse after seven years and two elections.

    Indeed. It could be called "National's Famous Bluff". Considering that they just last week undid every consequence of it, and are now in bed with the elected representatives of the very sentiment that Brash attacked.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha,

    Great debunking of the debt crisis myth by Johann Hari, which Rich linked to on Keith's thread. Sounds rather familiar..

    British politics today is dominated by a lie. This lie is making it significantly more likely you will lose your job, your business, or your home. The lie gives a false explanation for how we came to be in this crisis, and prescribes a medicine that will worsen our disease. Yet it is hardly being challenged.

    Here’s the lie. We are in a debt crisis. Our national debt is dangerously and historically high. We are being threatened by the international bond markets. The way out is to eradicate our deficit rapidly. Only that will restore “confidence”, and therefore economic growth. Every step of this program is false, and endangers you.

    ...

    Which countries have come out of this recession fastest? They are the ones like South Korea, which have had by far the biggest stimulus packages, paid for with (yes) higher debt. Which countries have fallen furthest and shattered most severely? The ones that tried to pay down their debts immediately with huge cuts.

    Indeed, there’s an irony here. It turns out that if all you do is fixate on paying your debt now now now, and so you smother your economic growth, you will end up not being able to pay your debts off anyway. That’s what just happened to our nearest neighbor Ireland, may she rest in peace.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Che Tibby, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    It's more that I want to swap him for grant.

    Charles is a friend of a friend, but... not the man for the denizons of newlands

    the back of an envelope • Since Nov 2006 • 2042 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    Well, a debt-fueled economic expansion was exactly what National were constantly demanding right up until the credit crunch. But again they were arse-backwards. There is a time to pay off debt - when you're experiencing massive growth. Which was what Cullen was doing, which is why we don't have a public debt crisis at all.

    I'm not sure where they get the idea of borrowing during boom and tightening during crunch. It's hard to think of any policy that could possibly create more extreme fluctuations in the economy. The only people that would think to do such a thing are CEOs who have become incredibly greedy for their huge derivative payouts - if the company goes bust...boo hoo they lose their job. If it makes a good profit, they're unimaginably rich. The upside justifies the downside - to them, because they'll still be fucken rich anyway, having been on CEO salaries. Sucks for the shareholders and all the other staff, of course, but such people are an irrelevance in the power stakes.

    But it's not going to work for a nation. The ruling party doesn't get massive payouts if they increase national volatility. So I struggle to think of any reason at all that they do it, short of conspiracy theories, or blind stupidity caused by fallaciously translating success in business to success in national stewardship.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    there is one thing that I think National misjudge - selling assets will be very unpopular

    I'd like to wish that true, but one of Lew's central points is that National don't seem at all worried that anyone is going to stop them.

    I think he’s good, but mostly John Key just knows what he can get away with. The reason he can get away with all of these things is because there is no credible opposition to prevent him from doing so. Anyone half-decent can look sharp when playing against amateurs.

    It has been Labour’s job to prevent the government from reaching the state of near-impunity they now enjoy, and their failure to do so means there is now a real danger that Key will get the genuine and sweeping mandate he seeks. To a considerable extent they were doomed in the task of preventing this from the outset, because they didn’t think it was possible that he’d ever achieve it. Clark Labour throughout 2008 fundamentally misunderestimated Key, writing him off as a bumbling lightweight, and this was a crucial error.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to BenWilson,

    [Orewa] could be called “National’s Famous Bluff”. Considering that they just last week undid every consequence of it, and are now in bed with the elected representatives of the very sentiment that Brash attacked.

    I’d love to read this argued a bit more formally; it looks obviously true on its face, and I think there’s a lot to be understood about the last decade or so of NZ politics in it.

    This discussion has brought to mind a paper by Jon Johansson, Orewa and the Rhetoric of Illusion, in which he basically argues that the Orewa speech wasn’t grounded in actual objective reality – that it was a cynical political ploy, and that fact, more than the specific details of its race-baiting rhetoric, is what really made it deleterious to NZ political discourse.

    So much of the NZ and international right’s narrative discourse is thus. The whole ‘Nanny State’ line of argument by a party which, now in government, has since seen fit to impose all sorts of paternalism; the attacks against s59 by the party whose leader’s ‘statesmanlike gesture’ got the repeal passed; the economic argument Sacha cites, the Domino Effect, WMD in Iraq, and dozens of other examples – so much of it is simply demonstrably false. And yet the narratives work anyhow. In many cases, they come to replace actual observed reality for their adherents, even when contradictory events are bringing down peoples’ worlds around them.

    So given my belief in policy and government which is based in reality rather than illusion, my frustration is that the left can’t – or more often, won’t – build narratives like that, but which are supported rather than contradicted by the real world. Imagine the potential!

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 109 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    I'd like to wish that true, but one of Lew's central points is that National don't seem at all worried that anyone is going to stop them.

    They might not be stopped but I'd be amazed if the action is the least bit popular.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • Lew Stoddart, in reply to BenWilson,

    If wholesale privatisation is not stopped, it won't matter that they're unpopular. The Nats will leave office in 2014 with heads held high.

    L

    Wellington, NZ • Since Aug 2010 • 109 posts Report Reply

  • Rex Widerstrom, in reply to BenWilson,

    It requires the popular sentiment in NZ to be progressive, and currently, I don't think it is.

    Chicken or egg though? Before I wrote the "Howick speech" it looked as though the ideas it contained had traction with about 3% of NZ. The fact that it succeeded in getting the meeja (and our more dimwitted opponents, like Bolger) flapping round and creating free publicity for us meant that a further ~27% came out of the woodwork when they either:

    a) were reassured their beliefs sufficiently mainstream so as to need far less courage to state, and/or
    b) were so angered by the ignorant dismissal of the ideas it contained by what they saw as the elitist commenariat that they voiced support out of sheer anger.

    Now of course one might say that the "Howick speech" and the kind of ground-shifting progressive speech about which you're talking appeal to diametrically opposed constituencies, but that'd be because one had assumed the speech I gave Winston to read was some sort of racist rant. It wasn't.

    Also, times were different then. What political discourse needed, then as now, was a circuit breaker that changed what people were talking about. The content that did that then wouldn't do it now, because it's progressive ideas which have been forced from most of the debate.

    Short version: If someone had the balls to try it, and provided they did it well, I think they'd be pleasantly surprised.

    Perth, Western Australia • Since Nov 2006 • 157 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson,

    that it was a cynical political ploy, and that fact, more than the specific details of its race-baiting rhetoric, is what really made it deleterious to NZ political discourse.

    To be fair, Labour's response was also an attempted cynical ploy, which simply backfired. They were pandering to racism. I put my own hand up as guilty of buying into the irrational fear of losing access to beaches, and it took Tim Selwyn of all people to convince me that I was guilty of backing something akin to land confiscation. This was via writing, not because I was impressed by his stupidity with an axe. But after that happened and he was charged with treason, I actually felt really bloody uncomfortable with Labour.

    The reason it backfired on Labour was because Maori were a traditional ally of theirs until then. After that, a wedge was driven.

    It was actually a foolish move (in hindsight) by Clark. She didn't understand that racists don't sweat the details. So far as they were concerned, Labour still pandered to Maaris, even after seizing into undisputed governmental control the entirety of the NZ coastline (they felt it was theirs by right anyway, so it was hardly stealing). Also, she did not grasp just how galvanizing that action would be to Maori, and how a Maori party that fundamentally opposed her could even come into being.

    Perhaps she was a little inspired by her success in crushing the Green Party's whole hysteria about GE. But Greens are far more tightly bound to Labour, so this was possible (and IMHO the right thing to do too).

    Re: Narratives. The political right are not the only ones with narratives that aren't always based in fact. There's a strong appeal to conspiracy in much of the Left, too. The conspiracies could actually exist (that's how conspiracy theories work), so it's a drumbeat that does work. Also, egalitarianism runs deep in the NZ psyche - so pointing out the rich getting richer and the poor poorer under National will always work in proportion to how outrageously it seems to be happening. A major drumbeat connecting those three ideas, that National are conspiring to enrich their mates because of a sense of entitlement they developed by association with the wealthy classes that form their leadership, is still the easiest line of attack. It's slid off Key so far because he has mostly done fuck all. But he's clearly lining up to do a lot. The drums aligning patriotism with national ownership against loss of power to foreign interests at a time of disaster, declining employment, and reducing incomes for the poor will still get NZ feet tapping.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • Islander, in reply to BenWilson,

    +1 Ben-

    Big O, Mahitahi, Te Wahi … • Since Feb 2007 • 5643 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Rex Widerstrom,

    Chicken or egg though?

    Always the egg!

    Undeniably an idea needs sympathy to grow. But it needs strong expression to even be born. So powerful statements of position, uttered at the right time, can cause things to happen that might otherwise not have. And the selling of a political change is more than one expression, it's repeated powerful expressions, preferably coordinated. To wait for the sympathy will be to wait forever. I could wait for a pohutukawa to grow in my garden, this is NZ, eventually it will probably happen. Or I could plant one, and look after it.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • Jan Farr, in reply to Lew Stoddart,

    Ok. How about Orewa? Far from an election as you can get. Gave them a massive polling bounce.

    The point isn’t that it’s easy to own the media agenda from opposition – it’s not. But it is possible. It can be done. Parties just have to find a way to do it. It’s their job, after all.

    L

    Yes that's true - but negativity is always a winner - and our message is not negative.

    Carterton • Since Apr 2008 • 395 posts Report Reply

  • Jan Farr, in reply to giovanni tiso,

    Ok. How about Orewa? Far from an election as you can get. Gave them a massive polling bounce.

    There is a very obvious reason why Brash’s speech succeeded at Orewa. It was designed to shock and it tapped into popular sentiment. I’d love the Left to do this, except in a progressive fashion, but it’s not an easy proposition, and you can’t really magick away the difference just by saying “it’s their job”. That’s a ludicrous statement really, and I think you know it.

    Much more elegantly put than mine, thanks Giovanni.

    Carterton • Since Apr 2008 • 395 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    I'd be amazed if the action is the least bit popular

    Opinion poll support since the government started talking about privatising publicly-owned assets suggest you'd better practise that surprised face.

    Unless an opposition opposes it forcefully, convincingly and consistently and manages that competently so support translates into votes in November. That push might just need to come from outside parliament on current form.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    And the selling of a political change is more than one expression, it's repeated powerful expressions, preferably coordinated.

    Quite

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Kumara Republic, in reply to BenWilson,

    I recall a rousing speech by Bob Harvey, "Reclaiming the Spirit", from 1999 (had to look on WebArchive for it - Labour needs a better archival approach):

    "And so this coming election is more important than most. For it is the last window of opportunity that New Zealand has to be true to itself and to make a better future.

    For believe me, if we are not successful this time, the New Zealand that we pass on to our children and their children in the next century won’t belong to us.

    It’ll belong people in boardrooms in countries foreign to these shores.

    This landfall in an unknown sea, this isolated outpost of islands, will become nothing more than an ongoing experimental testmarket, with us as the lab rats.

    But here tonight is the will, the expertise and the leadership to ensure this does not happen."

    The southernmost capital … • Since Nov 2006 • 5428 posts Report Reply

  • BenWilson, in reply to Sacha,

    Opinion poll support since the government started talking about privatising publicly-owned assets suggest you'd better practise that surprised face.

    I have been with everyone I know. Sometimes it actually works. And I continue to be surprised because the idea seems so dumb. But OK, perhaps I'm out of touch on that. Also, perhaps Labour these days doesn't even think it's dumb. If so, they just eroded one of my main reasons to vote for them. And I'm one of those horrible swing voters.

    Auckland • Since Nov 2006 • 10646 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    Also, egalitarianism runs deep in the NZ psyche...

    I don't think that's so true any more. A selfish streak has emerged since 1984's neolib revolution. Despite some good practical policy and programmes the Clark governments did stuff-all to challenge that at a conceptual/narrative level after the fierce fight they faced against Closing the Gaps that was a precursor to Orewa - and a sign of an opposition prepared to actually, you know, oppose in their first term out of power.

    Labour's slowness to grapple with the concepts last decade is probably one reason they seem to be struggling now - and why tainted dinosaurs from the Lange government need to either fully and convincingly repent or be put out to pasture.

    It's encouraging to see their caucus addressing the lessons of the Spirit Level and suchlike. But they need to work with allies and translate that thinking into a campaign and into votes. Now, not in a few years at their leisure.

    ...so pointing out the rich getting richer and the poor poorer under National will always work in proportion to how outrageously it seems to be happening.

    That's Labour's line from the last election and it has been trotted out since by the Standardistas and fellow travellers. Doesn't seem to be working with the voting public, does it? Gets refamed very easily as envy compared with that aspirational Mr Key.

    This government are also far sneakier about their outrageousness. Witness English only admitting this week for the first time that they have fired 2000 public servants since being elected after claiming to be "capping them".

    Where was the effective opposition for the last two years while that was happening? And the head of the PSA tells us the public might get a bit concerned about it from now on if the cuts continue. Also fails to join the dots between lost jobs for her union's members and suffering for ordinary New Zealanders. Not good enough.

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

  • Sacha, in reply to BenWilson,

    Also, perhaps Labour these days doesn't even think it's dumb.

    I doubt Goff or King could credibly oppose privatisation given their baggage from the 80s. Who'd take them seriously?

    Ak • Since May 2008 • 19697 posts Report Reply

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