Friday 31 May 2013

The Name Game

A Spectral Green: John Key (with apologies to Sir Arthur Conon Doyle's The Hound of the Baskervilles) has labelled the Labour-Green alternative government a "Devil Beast" of the "Far-Left". But the names our politicians attach to their opponents very seldom correspond to their actual position on the ideological spectrum.
A CHOICE BETWEEN the Centre-Right and the Far-Left. That’s how the Prime Minister and his National Party colleagues intend to frame next year’s General Election. It’s a shrewd strategy. Most Kiwis feel considerably more comfortable with “centre” than they do with “far”.
Nobody wants to be far away when they could be at the very centre of things. And who doesn’t enjoy being the centre of attention? Indeed, the discovery that we’re not in this happy position leaves most of us feeling very far from happy.
By attaching the word ‘centre’ to the word ‘right’ National is also adding a crucial political modifier. Very few New Zealanders will own to being unequivocally “Right” or “Left”. It smacks too much of the sort of ideological inflexibility they associate with places where peace tends to be as short-supplied as freedom.
“Right-wingers” and “left-wingers”, alike, are deemed to lack the easy-going temperament and the pragmatic approach to problem-solving that we Kiwis (and, apparently, the rest of the world) find so appealing. ‘Laconic’ has always suited us better than ‘histrionic’. If asked to choose a path between two extremes, most of us generally head for the middle of the road.
And then, of course, there’s History.
Invoke the Right and people immediately think of Adolf Hitler receiving the “Sieg Heil!” salute, as rank after rank of jack-booted Brownshirts goose-step their way towards the Holocaust under a forest of swastika banners. Mention the Left, and the mental image is of Joe Stalin smiling wolfishly from Lenin’s Tomb as a May Day parade of Intercontinental Ballistic Missiles rumbles by and the Red Army Choir belts out the “Internationale”.
But how dramatically the picture changes when “right” and “left” are prefixed with “centre”.
Ask Kiwi baby-boomers to think of a “Centre-Right” politician and they’ll probably recall the ridiculously pompous – but essentially harmless – Sir Keith Holyoake. Ask a member of Generation-X, and five’ll getcha ten they think of John Key escorting Aroha to Waitangi, or swigging Steinlager from the bottle in the garden of Premier House.
Say “Centre Left” to the Boomers and they’ll recall David Lange informing a startled young American at the Oxford Union that he could “smell the uranium” on his breath. Gen-Xers will (hopefully) remember Helen Clark refusing to join George W. Bush’s invasion of Iraq.
It’s wonderful political shorthand – but is it the truth? Apart from conjuring-up both positive and negative political images and memories, does the Prime Minister’s use of the terms “Centre-Right” and “Far-Left” truly correspond to the Government’s and the Opposition’s objective location on the ideological spectrum?
The answer must be an emphatic “No!” National and Labour both subscribe to the same basic tenets of neoliberal economic theory that have dominated the policy-making of the OECD countries for the past thirty years. The Greens, too, recognise the marketplace as the most effective means of allocating scarce resources. Their “Green Capitalism” might be “cleaner”, and turn out a more environmentally friendly range of products than the Smoke-Stack Capitalism of the past, but the social relations underpinning that production are just as dirty.
Mr Key lambasts the Green Party co-leader, Russel Norman’s, enthusiasm for “Quantitative Easing” – citing it as proof of his “Far-Left” lunacy. But this charge merely reveals the Prime Minister to be either economically ignorant or deeply cynical.
Quantitative Easing is the official policy not of North Korea, Cuba or Venezuela, but of the United States, the United Kingdom and Japan. Mr Norman’s ideas about lowering the value of the currency by expanding the money supply are proof not of his revolutionary fervour – but of his economic orthodoxy.
Mr Key would be better advised to stick with his “Devil Beast” description of the Opposition parties. Using the term “Far Left” to characterise a Labour-Green coalition is intended to elicit exactly the same emotional response as likening it to Sir Arthur Conan Doyle’s Hound of the Baskervilles, but comes at much greater cost to the Prime Minister’s credibility.
The truly ironic aspect of this name game is that the New Zealand electorate is almost certainly well to the left of its political leaders and their parties. A visiting French journalist once described New Zealanders as “socialists without doctrines”. Talk to most Kiwis about the sort of country they’d like to live in and you’ll find that most of us still are.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 31 May 2013.


Brendan McNeill said...


It's difficult to call National 'centre right' when they kept almost all of the Clark Labour Government's redistributive policies, have facilitated anti-smacking laws, and the institutionalisation of gay marriage. Socially and economically this would place them to the left of most Western political parties regardless of brand.

However I agree that labels are rarely useful, they are normally used to demonise and denigrate rather than successfully explain a parties political policies.

Perhaps they were useful once, when parties held clearly defined ideological positions, but in the world of pragmatic politics, they have lost all meaning. Voters on both sides feel betrayed by those who claim to represent them.

David said...

What John Key said is a load of bollocks but so far he has managed to do quite well in politics by following the maxim below:

"No one in this world has ever lost money by underestimating the intelligence of the great masses of the plain people. Nor has anyone ever lost public office thereby" - H. L. Mencken

Alfriston said...

Keith Holyoake essentially harmless?
Forgotten Vietnam already have we?

Davo Stevens said...

Good points Chris. The comments by John Key are about frightening the younger voters. Those of us who are a bit longer in the tooth know the difference. Of course John would refer to any party that is a bit closer to the Centre as being "Far Left".

Joe Stalin was never "Communist" or "Socialist" his bunch were Fascist and more alike Hitler than people realise.

The Greens are a mainstream party in their views and of course, John Key would rubbish "Quantitive Easing". There is no profit in it for his rich mates. I re-call Rob Muldoon's response to Social Credit's ideas back in the 70's and so he went overseas and borrowed millions for the Think Big Schemes that got us in the pooh!

Anonymous said...

Holyoake kept our Vietnam contribution to a minimum under great US pressure. AND he had his number in the phonebook :-).

Brendan McNeill said...

Quantative easing would benifit the wealthy whose fixed assets would increase in value through inflation. Those most hurt would be the poor and those on fixed incomes.

Alfriston said...


For which no doubt the families of the 30-odd New Zealanders killed in Vietnam will always be grateful.

Anonymous said...

Geez Chris you've been pumping it out lately, like a modern day Cobbett. Calling on your vast fund of erudition I hope, rather than sweat. Our 'Republic' seems as forlorn as in 'I,Claudius'. Only the democratic germ of kindness remains general, like an aggravating mirage.

Anonymous said...

Hah, John Key pulling the wool over people's eyes yet again, I guess.

Have you ever heard of the name "LUCIFER"?

Well, learn something here:

"Lucifer" is associated with light, and in Latin called something like the "light bearer". Of course there is association with Venus, and in Hebrew the same is connected to HELL, as that is the domain of the Fallen Angel.

So add one and one together, and "see the light", perhaps?

Have you recently heard about the "brighter future", and who was supposed to be bringing it to you? Brightness requires light to shine, hence a kind of "light bearer", right?

So got it? The so called "light bearer" is also Lucifer, and with that the Devil. Guess who that is in reality then, in New Zealand?

The one promising the "light" and telling us to "bring it", and that is Lucifer Incarnated!

John Key is Lucifer, hence also called "the Devil", so all this talk about the "Devil Beast" is a cunning and evil distraction.

The Evil One is the One up there, sitting at the top, in power!

Lucifer and the devil are know according to biblical and other records, to have handsome and cunningly convincing charm. So you have just been charmed once again, by that devil re-incarnated, John Key!

Amen - HC

Anonymous said...

"For which no doubt the families of the 30-odd New Zealanders killed in Vietnam will always be grateful. "

No but the thousands of territorials and conscripts who DIDN'T get sent (as they did in Australia) would be.

Anonymous said...

Anon 10.03 that IS irony right????

Davo Stevens said...

@Brendan ~Quantative easing would benifit the wealthy whose fixed assets would increase in value through inflation. Those most hurt would be the poor and those on fixed incomes.~

Depends on what the money is spent on. QE works well for internal infrastructure jobs, but if it goes overseas it just creates inflation.

The dams on the Waikato River were built using QE as were the mountain passes and the Rail system. All benefit Kiwi's in one way or another. The major roads and even the Newmarket Viaduct were built using it too. None of those created inflation.

Than said...

Left and right are not absolute positions. They are directions, defined relative to where one is now. A hypothetical party which proposed to do nothing and leave everything exactly as it is now would be the center. How far left/right political parties are should be defined by how much and how quickly they want to alter the status quo.

Labour haven’t confirmed most of their policy platform yet, so we don’t know whether they will go into the 2014 election claiming to be center-left or far-left. But the NZ Power policy is a significant shift to the left. Most of the policies Labour presented during the 2011 election were modest to major shifts to the left. And (most importantly) a Labour-led government would have no option but to rely on support from the Greens. Green Party policies (as stated on their website) are unequivocally far-left, by any definition used by political commentators worldwide. In my experience Green supporters proudly describe them as such.

Trying to claim a Labour-Green government would not be far-left is simply asking to redefine the word “apple” to refer to an orange.

Kat said...

Careful Chris, any reference to the third Reich and you will be courting Godwin's Law.

Anonymous said...

I'm getting so sick of people characterising modest left-wing proposals as "far left". You wouldn't know far left if it got up and bit you on the bum.

Anonymous said...

Quantative easing would benifit the wealthy whose fixed assets would increase in value through inflation. Those most hurt would be the poor and those on fixed incomes.

The expression 'crocodile tears' comes to mind. However, the point is that QE in the current environment is not inflationary. The Western World is in a liquidity trap: supply of money exceeds demand for an non-zero interest rate. As such, real interest rates remain artificially high, and hence growth suffers. QE, insofar as it might increase inflationary expectations, would help combat that.

Davo Stevens said...

@Anon 12.16pm: Quite right!

Elected Govts. are increasingly irrelevant today. It's just a silly game we play every three years. Tweedledum and Tweedledee.

We still have the Nats (centre right), Labs (right of centre) and the Greens (Centre), Maori (who don't know what they are), Peter (Wind in the Willows) Dunne almost non-existent now. Mana (Left). NZ First (Rightish).

Anonymous said...

Given your observations above, Chris, added to Key's latest "the GReen's policies are WACKY", several things seem to me to be at play here:
1. Key said if you have to explain you have lost, so he never engages with ideas in any depth (if he has to explain why his wy is better he might just have lost!!!)
2. As if often mentioned, Key has 'depoliticised' a lot of politics so people never look deeply.
3. As unfathomable as it is to me, Key has built up a huge likability and trust factor.
When he attacks or responds with derisive terms or names he is linking all three and people simply follow hi patter.
If that nice intelligent Mr Key who only has our best interests at heart has analysed those horrible Green policies and deemed them wacky, well then, they must be.
Job done!

Anonymous said...

KIWI!S are for most conservative when voting.All you have to do is check out the election results since day one.

In times of hardship not only in N.Z.voters tend to vote for the right and I would suggest we are looking at another term of farmer Browns party.Would like to think im wrong,but doubt it.

peterpeasant said...

danial young

I do not know where you get your information about kiwi voting behaviour.

Did the first Labour government get voted in on a tide of prosperity. Presumably that is a reasonable "day one"?

Consider the non voting population.

At the next election voters have choices.

1. Do not vote.

2. Vote Mana.

3. Vote Green.

4. Vote for one of the arguing twins.

5. Vote for an errant knight.

Left or right is a long dead piece of propaganda crap leftover from the so called "cold war" years.

Shon Key appears to be losing bits of teflon. Some of his US backers are not looking all that

Robert M said...

Anon 4.19. It's true that Holyoake limited NZ contribution to about 550 army infantry and artillery at a time. But it is also true that both the RNZAF and RNZN desperately wanted to be involved in this war against Asian communism. Some may be surprised that Robert Muldoon was one of the strongest supporters of sending second group of B8 Canberra's into the Vietnam war and that many prominent naval officers believed that NZ Leander with its reasonably efficient and moderately powerful 4.5 twin turret throwing about a ton of ammunition 12 miles every minute, might be more useful than the standard WW2 USN updated destroyer for shore bombardment. The RAN with the same 4.5 guns on its River class destroyer escorts and Daring class destroyers did use this type of RN gun on the US gun line off Vietnam for a few weeks.
RNZN officers believed it would give NZ servicemen critical experience in operating in wartime with US forces.
The debate over the potential deployment of the Canberra's was one of the most charged in NZ political history with the Cabinet at virtually fist brawling stage. Muldoon was the main propent for sending the BAE bombers, while Kaori Nat Marshall virtually threatened to campaign in the streets to stop the RNZAF bombers deploying. Both the USAF Martin version of the Canberra and the older RAN Canberra's proved effective and the RNZAF Canberra's built as low level bombers up to nuclear capability were more upto date than most. However the loss rate of Canberra's in the Vietnam was as high as that for A-4 Skyhawks. The USAF and USN lost 1000 Skyhawks and 500 Canberras during the Vietnam war, both being essentially one way attrition nuclear bombers in design unlikely to last more than 2 or 3 missions in Vietnam. Just like Muldoons determination to bring USN SSN nuclear submarines here in the late 1970s and 1980's it showed Muldoon and his Cabinet and a particularly unsophisticated and outdated view of how to support the US in the Cold war and indeed that Muldoon had little idea of what the Cold War was about. I support the US but I am not sure Muldoon would have if he had really understood the issue.

Anonymous said...

Robert, the US didn't have that many losses in Vietnam, even if you count accidents. Not that many Skyhawks for instance SERVED in Vietnam. You're beginning to remind me of someone who used to post here.

Anonymous said...

peterpeasant its in the election results from day one of Parliaments records what Government controlled and how many elections they had control.No big deal really for the answer.But could be angst for the questioner.