Thursday 12 July 2012

No Joke: Why I'm Not Laughing At Labour's Latest Speeches.

Waiting For The Punchline: If "energy generation" isn't even on the "closed list" of state-owned assets David Parker is determined to keep in public ownership, then everyone collecting signatures and marching in protest to save the energy SOEs has just become the butt of a very bad Labour joke.

IF LABOUR’s a “joke”, as the Prime Minister insists, then I’m not laughing. Now, my sense of humour has always veered toward the traditional, so it’s possible that what we’re dealing with here is a very esoteric variety of black humour. Perhaps Labour’s finance spokesperson, David Parker, was pitching to this darker side when he told the following side-splitter to the corporate head-hunters at Robert Walters Finance:

We also think infrastructure assets with monopoly characteristics are especially important to the functioning of the wider economy. Labour published a closed list of assets that we believe ought to be run in the New Zealand interest because they have monopoly characteristics - assets such as electricity line networks, water and airports.

The list excludes telecommunications and electricity generation.

If you enjoy your humour at other people’s expense, that’s quite a punch line. What Mr Parker was telling his audience of top-level banking and accounting talent spotters was that Labour does not include electricity generation on its list of “infrastructure assets” that ought to be “run in the New Zealand interest”.

So, all those people standing on street corners with clip-boards collecting signatures for a Citizens Initiated Referendum on asset sales; all those thousands of people planning to march in the “Aotearoa Is NOT For Sale!” protest this Saturday; all those hundreds of Labour Party members who’ve been reassuring their workmates and neighbours that the Caucus is rock-solid against the sale of Mighty River Power and Genesis Energy; all of them are wasting their time. Because “energy generation” isn’t even on Labour’s “closed list” of assets that should never be sold.

Some joke!

While we’re on the subject of Mr Parker’s speech, it’s worth noting the language he uses when talking about state assets. Rather than saying that industries and businesses with “monopoly characteristics” should be ‘kept in public ownership’, or ‘remain in government hands’, Labour’s finance spokesperson says that they “ought to be run in the New Zealand interest”. Could a former state owned enterprise be “run in the New Zealand interest” by a private New Zealand company? His audience undoubtedly thought so.

Mr Parker’s repertoire of drolleries was not confined to the fate of New Zealand’s publicly-owned assets. Consider these statements about the nature of the Labour Party:

Labour is a progressive party: fundamentally it is the party of change, the party that is willing to make structural changes when necessary ..... It’s always up to Labour to make the case for why change is needed, and why the status quo isn't working. So the difference between [Labour and National] is not that the Government is pro-business, and we are anti. Nor are we talking about ‘tax and spend’, or ‘cutting the pie differently’. Those are tired clichés. What we are talking about is the need to modernise because we can’t keep going as we are. We need to take some hard decisions and shatter some orthodoxies that are past their use-by date.

Who do you think Mr Parker was more likely to have been channeling when he wrote those words: Mickey Savage or Roger Douglas? And what sort of “change” does Mr Parker have in mind? The sort that empowers working people? The sort that gives them more say in their workplace? More security of tenure in their rented home? A better set of outcomes for their children from our health and education systems?

Let’s see:

What I’ve laid out for you is a comprehensive sweep of modernising reforms across superannuation, pro-growth tax reform, help for innovation and exporting, and modernising our savings and investment policy.

Once again, that sounds a lot more like Roger than Mickey!

What’s truly unfunny about Labour at the moment, however, is that Mr Parker is not the only senior member of its caucus who is talking like this. The Leader of the Opposition, himself, has picked up the same 1980s dialect of economic modernisation and sweeping structural change.

On 12 July, Mr Shearer addressed the Arbitrators and Mediators Institute of New Zealand. After regaling them with tales from his time as a United Nations administrator, he moved into a peroration that had more than a little of the “short term pain for long term gain” about it:

If we don’t make big changes, we stand a fairly good chance of becoming a 21st century peasant economy. And this is where you have to ask a fundamental question about leadership. Is it fair to people to go on doing what we are, when you know that what we’re doing is not enough? The Prime Minister said in a lecture last week that it's not constructive politics to get ahead of people – that if you don’t take them with you, your reforms will run out of engine power. That’s right, as far as it goes, but the lesson I take from that is that leadership is also not being timid and giving people only small and imperceptible change. The lesson I take from it is that you should listen, find the right words and the right arguments to paint the picture or vision of where we should be – and set out where we could be if we’re prepared to make big changes.

Once again, we are left wondering about the precise nature of these “big changes”. Unfortunately, Mr Shearer does not spell them out. And it is here that the difference between the Labour Party of Mickey Savage, Walter Nash and Norman Kirk stands in such stark contrast to the party of David Shearer and David Parker. Theirs was also a party of change – radical change. But it was also a party which spelled out in the clearest terms how the policies driving that change would work, and how working people would benefit from them.

With the bleak example of the Lange-Douglas Government before it, the electorate has every right to feel a shiver of dread run up its spine when it hears a Labour leader talk about leadership “not being timid”. After all, it was no less a Rogernome than Richard Prebble who used to talk about how brave the Fourth Labour Government was: about how much courage it took to defy the will of the people and sell Telecom.

In his speech to the Arbitrators and Mediators, Mr Shearer spoke movingly about how important it was to “understand as much as you can about the person on the other side of the table … If you can put yourself in their shoes, if you can imagine how the world looks through their eyes, you’ll have something solid to work with.”

If the Labour Leader were to do that now: if he were to try and understand how his words might sound to an electorate grown wary and weary of politicians who think there are more important political priorities than taking the people with them; then he might begin to understand why so many of us disagree with John Key.

Because when Labour talks like this the joke is usually on us, and when it’s all over nobody feels like laughing.

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.


blueleopardthinks said...

Wow! The big BOYS are going to be cross at Mr Parker's comments.

The thought arises: A politician can say such things in opposition, however, how can they follow through when in power? (If they can ever get into power when speaking such heresies)

From observation it is looking more and more like those in power are only able to do what the big BOYS want?

Why else is Mr Key going against such strong public opposition re asset sales if this is not so?

Was that what the downgrade from Standard and Poors was all about a year or so ago?

Our leaders appear to be completely powerless when it comes to going against big business interests. How do we change this?

Please don't misunderstand my comments. I am not referring to conspiracies here, simply the way "networking" amongst the big BOYS conducted with no respect for wider issues is creating a corruption of democracy.

Kat said...

Sorry CT, must have missed the punchline, whats the 'joke' again?

Olwyn said...

If you were not right in your suspicions, you would expect something concrete to have been said to allay them, since you are far from being the only one to express such thoughts. It seems as if there is a section of the LP (who knows how large) who see the Clark years as an anomaly; who can't wait to get back to where they were before the interruption. The difference is, then they could speak then of a promised land that was not going to eventuate. Now we know that it did not eventuate. Shearer looks increasingly like the face chosen for inflicting austerity on anyone poor enough to lack a voice. My only hope is that party members gain a voice and use it, before it is too late.

I am too sad to try and make a funny comment on the vests.

Anonymous said...

So telecommunications and electricity generation need not be run in New Zealand's interest, and we need "hard decisions" on "pro-growth tax reform".

ACT reincarnated in vest-wearing chipmunk.

You're right: comedic tragedy.


Unknown said...

Dear me.

The contrast between Parker's speech and David Cunliffe's recent speeches is, well, significant.

Uncle Jim said...

How well does Mr Shearer understand the people of Mangere? How well does he fit in their shoes?

Does he not undertsand the gap that exists in our society and that only a tiny minority in South Auckland cares about him or the Labour Party or listens to him?

Christopher said...

Thank you, Chris. This is my first venture into the blogosphere. It has been prompted in part by your introductory remarks about courtesy and respect. Also because I have taken your analyses seriously since those old days you refer to. Specifically, I want to draw attention to the remark made about the danger of becoming (I may not have the quote exact) "a 21st century peasant economy". It was clear from the context that the speaker thought this possibility unambiguously a bad thing. I think it worth examining the assumptions behind this swingeing dismissal.

For the sake of argument, let us suppose that the post-Rogernomic vision-shared by so many of those who purport to lead us-is itself fatally flawed. I do not propose to review the vision or the critique. Anyone who wishes can fill in the blanks. Suffice it to say that there are indeed limits to growth, and that vision is blind to them.

Conventional political debate, using appeals to the welfare of the people instead of capital, and so on, fails to articulate a convincing vision to oppose the Rogernomes. Terms like "class traitor" don't cut the mustard, do they? [One would love to retreat into diatribe, just for the satisfaction, but it doesn't work to any other good outcome].

Put this debate in context. '21st century' can be agreed as a usable term. Take the middle of it. What are the best projections on the macro scale for population, water, shorelines, weather events, species depletion? Generally, not good eh? How do the Rogernomes strategise growth into those concerns? They do so only to avoid their current consideration. Postponing agriculture carbon tax; failing to acknowledge the need to raise the age of Superannuation, etc. Selling the silver. Or have I missed a glowing and reasoned argument somewhere? Blind faith in growth, that's what we get. It is a self-serving religion, this capitalist fundamentalism, uncynically presenting itself as inevitable, brushing aside details. Peasant economies (for example) are the devil's spawn, those foolish enough to advocate them charlatans.No argument need be entered into, such ideas being patently absurd and unserious. There's nothing new about the nature of the rejection of different ideas as heretic. Here is a modern version.

That positioning makes me curious about the vision being rejected. One can ask: "What would a 21st century peasant economy look like? Would it be sustainable? Healthy? Equitable? Just? Preserve family values?" One can ask: "In what ways might a 21st century peasant economy differ from peasant economies of the past? Would it have to depend upon an aristocracy?" One can ask: "Would I like my descendants to live in a planned peasant economy, or something like that which I can attempt to envision today?" One can ask "Is there any viable alternative on the horizon?" These seem, to me at least, to be questions not without interest.

To employ a biblical metaphor, the rejected block may turn out to be the building's cornerstone. Personally, I work hard to achieve peasant status. It's hard work resisting consumerism. But for others? Well, I ask. Is the prospect of promenading Paris buying Gucci gear too beguiling to resist?

Christopher said...

Proving oneself to not be a robot can be difficult. I refer to Philip K. Dick's seminal "Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep?" I found it difficult anyway. I hope I got my maiden blog comment away alright. Ta ta.

Frank said...

"Labour published a closed list of assets that we believe ought to be run in the New Zealand interest because they have monopoly characteristics - assets such as electricity line networks, water and airports.

The list excludes telecommunications and electricity generation"


From the jaws of Victory, they snatched defeat...

Jill said...

There is a Left within the Labour Party and yes we do have a voice which we are exercising, and no we do not support the sale of any State assets, and yes we will be marching this afternoon against the sale of electricity generating companies, and yes we are collecting hundreds of signatures, and no it is not a joke, we are taking this very seriously because Labour will NOT be selling State assets when we get back into Government in 2014 and the Left will be fighting to make sure we buy back any that are sold by John Key's lot!

Jenny said...

"Nor are we talking about ‘tax and spend’, or ‘cutting the pie differently’. Those are tired clichés." David Parker.

Yet it is Parker and Shearer who keep raising the cliche about not redistributing the pie.

In fact it was such an important message to get across that Shearer made it part of his first speech as leader.

Shearer said at the time that he wanted to grow the size of the pie, not redivide it.

But this cliched rogenomic mantra is being said against the reality of global economic collapse.

The pie is shrinking. As the pie shrinks those with the biggest share will still be well off. Those with the smallest share will be left with next to nothing.

The other thing that Shearer and Parker ignore with their cliched rendition of not wanting to redivide the pie. Is that those who already have the biggest share are very interested in redividing the pie. The transfer of public assets to private hands is part of that redivision. Strangely a "redivision of the pie" that Parker et al are not "dogmatically" opposed to.

In his maiden speech to parliament Shearer spoke of an occasion where he was in the back of UN truck eating his sandwiches (Somalia possibly) and throwing his crusts out the back. To see the starving children fight over his crusts. Shearer from his perspective may have been appalled and wish he had more crusts to throw. But from the perspective of the children they probably would rather had his sandwiches his fancy pale blue uniform and the truck itself.

Anonymous said...

For heaven's sake, Chris, do us the courtesy of looking at the last Labour election adverts and you will see a dam, which implies that electricity generation asset sales are opposed by the Labour Party. Once again, you are displaying your risible absence of strategic policy appraisal.

Craig Y

Chris Trotter said...

I'll make no comment on your strategic prowess, Craig, merely refer you to Mr Parker's speech (the link is in the posting) as well as some of the very astute comments above.

The point being made, of course, is not that Labour did or did not have a policy opposing the sale of state assets (clearly it did) but that Mr Parker and his colleagues did not - and do not - consider electricity generators to be among those infrastructural assets which should be run in the NZ interest.

gregster said...

Labour it is then. Key's doing SFA to maintain Rogernomic progress.

Tim G. said...

Astute and prescient analysis or CT-sour-grapes-special?

I'll say this - you do enough to sow the seeds of doubt about Shearer/Parker. But what is the objective?

Agree with Christopher about the robot-test. Especially the random number captures on the left, which are obviously grabbed by a robot itself from random, low-resolution images. Crafty robots.

"Type the two words"
But of course, "urnmpa 34"