Tuesday 27 August 2013

The Happy Warrior And The Consummate Courtier

Happy Warrior: At his campaign launch on Monday, 26 August, David Cunliffe gave a powerful display of the sort of political evangelism that has made him the first choice of the Labour Party's rank and file.
THE TWO MAIN CONTENDERS for the Labour leadership may display radically different political styles, but both pursue substantially similar political goals. David Cunliffe goes after his foes with a boisterous, swashbuckling glee. Grant Robertson is a much more cautious and conciliatory politician. When the chips are down, however, neither Cunliffe nor Robertson are afraid to do battle with the Powers That Be.
Their contrasting styles are clearly evident in the two controversial interventions that helped to define their respective political careers. In Robertson’s case it was his 2005 intervention to secure the removal of interest payments from student loans. In Cunliffe’s case, the 2008 dismissal of the Hawke’s Bay District Health Board.
The General Election of 2005 was one of the closest fought in New Zealand’s political history. As the weeks wound down to polling day, the advantage shifted, relentlessly, from Helen Clark’s Labour Government to National and its hard-line neoliberal leader, Dr Don Brash. Labour needed a circuit-breaker: a policy to generate a solid surge of support from right to left; something to slow the Opposition’s momentum.
It was Robertson, the former student president, who came up with the idea of suspending interest payments on student loans while the recipients were still engaged in tertiary study. As a former president of the New Zealand University Students Association, he understood that his proposed policy not only gave every tertiary student in the country a strong financial incentive for voting Labour, but, by diminishing the need for parental subsidy, it also gave their Mums and Dads a similarly compelling reason for sticking with the Government.
Robertson understood from bitter personal experience the burdens of genteel middle-class poverty. His father’s imprisonment for embezzlement had left deep scars on the young Grant Robertson and his family. He knew what it costs some parents to keep their children’s aspirational goals in sight.
To secure his proposed policy change, however, Robertson had to go into battle with Dr Michael Cullen and Treasury – both of whom were strongly opposed to the pressure it would place on the Government’s accounts. But, Robertson had the Prime Minister’s ear. He understood how alarmed she’d become at the prospect of a Brash-led National Government.
Ultimately, Robertson, the consummate courtier, prevailed. Cullen relented. Treasury was (for once!) over-ruled. Interest payments were suspended. And Labour was returned to office.
The Consummate Courtier: The Only other credible claimant for Labour's crown is the party's Deputy Leader, Grant Robertson.
But, if Robertson is the consummate courtier, then Cunliffe is Labour’s happy warrior. Raised in an Anglican manse where the traditions of Christian Socialism ran strong, he has never shied away from the challenge laid down in John Bunyan’s classic protestant hymn “To Be A Pilgrim”.
Who so beset him round
With dismal stories
Do but themselves confound
His strength the more is
This sort of Labour politician does not hesitate to do battle with the allegorical “lions”, “giants”, “Hobgoblins” and “foul fiends” that regularly assail his party on the road to the Holy City.
Then fancies fly away
He’ll fear not what men say
He’ll labour night and day
To be a pilgrim.
Newly appointed to the health portfolio in 2008, Mr Cunliffe was called upon to lance the pustulent boil that the Hawkes Bay District Health Board had, in the eyes of the Labour Government, become. Within weeks the entire Board had been sacked and a Commissioner installed. A subsequent official inquiry produced a damning report.
Speaking in the Urgent Parliamentary Debate occasioned by the Report’s release on 18 March 2008, Mr Cunliffe declared, with typical swashbuckling eloquence: “This report has lifted the lid on a nasty little nest of self-perpetuating, provincial elites”.
The Hawkes Bay “county” set were incoherent with rage. No one could remember when anyone, let alone some grubby little Labour Party oik, had spoken to them in such insulting language.
To those whose job it is to observe the hurly-burly of parliamentary debate, however, Cunliffe’s words marked him out as a politician with something different to offer. Something that Labour’s battered constituency has not been given for the best part of thirty years.
Cunliffe offers Labour’s core vote a voice. Not the voice of a party whose purpose it is to pacify or cajole the Powers That Be, but a voice that is willing to accuse and condemn them. A voice to hold the “nasty little nests of self-perpetuating elites” accountable for what they have made of New Zealand, and what they have done to her people.
It is the only voice that can rouse the Labour vote from its disillusionment and despair. The Happy Warrior’s call to begin again the task of building Jerusalem in New Zealand’s green and pleasant land.
Of course, a happy warrior, such as Cunliffe, will need a consummate courtier, such as Grant Robertson. If only to reassure the elites that though they may be mightily shaken, they will not be fatally stirred.
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 27 August 2013.


Anonymous said...

I find him just too hard to take, just too full of himself, reminds me too much of egotistical John Key.

Grant Robertson is thoughtful and gentle, Shane Jones has mongrel and a great down-to-earth quality.

The race will be interesting, I know Cunliffe is clever and savvy, but I also see him as a chardonnay socialist, not really of the real world. Anyway, the race will be interesting, do we want a Key clone in power or a man-of-the-people, gritty and humble Labour man?

Anonymous said...

I heard Robertson and Jones interviewed on national radio yesterday. Robertson sounded sort of nice, Jones at least sounded like he knew something about working people. The problem is, they all sound like that when they're on the campaign trail. They make fake promises they can't be held to after they're elected. No wonder people are cynical. At least with National, you know you're getting - naked greed and the grinding down of the working class. I suppose with Labour you do get the possibility of something else. However remote.

Anonymous said...

"damning report" Ha! Watered down because one of the main protagonists was a Labour appointee.

Kat said...

I can see your beaming smile from here Chris!

Brendan McNeill said...

As long as Labour supporters believe that their Government is capable of delivering "Jerusalem in New Zealand’s green and pleasant land," both the beneficiaries and funders of their policies are destined to be disappointed.

Perhaps therein lies the difference between the Labour voter and the rest of us. Labour voters still believe Governments can deliver equality and prosperity for all at someone else's expense, and others of us simply observe the oppression that results from their attempts.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for that Brendo, I would never have guessed that was your take on all this.

Anonymous said...

Cunliffe has the best chance of ousting JK but he is a creep, arrogant and smug. That said, better him than a third Nat term...

Victor said...


Do you know for a fact that Cunliffe is too 'full of himself' and 'egotistical'?

Or has this been suggested to you through constant regurgitation of the charge by pundits, journalists and political rivals?

All I've ever seen in him is a competent, lucid, focused and intelligent professional.

To my mind, it's about time we stopped viewing competence and intelligence as characteristics that need hiding.

peterpeasant said...

I note Shane Jones is not mentioned.

We have the happy warrior and the courtier.

Do not forget Robin Hood, Maid Marian, Friar Tuck et al lurking in the hinterland (mentioning green woods) seemed tasteless. heh).

Actually, once the dust has settled Labour has a chance if Jones,Grant and Cunliffe can reach a rapprochement. Whoever wins needs the support of the other two.

None of them need Hipkins.

The Flying Tortoise said...

Haha, a wonderful post...

Anonymous said...

You speak of "oppression", Brendan. However there is nothing more oppressive than a government which does not understand it's civic role in reigning in the excesses of market fundamentalism and capitalism.

If a Minister cannot accept the challenge of delivering equality and prosperity for all Kiwis, they should hand in their warrant in gutless defeat.

Given the choice, too many corporate leaders would have NZ workers in price competition with the Guangdong Foxconn worker earning $10/day. All without the "expense" and "red tape" of health and safety, environmental standards, or protections from psychological abuse.

Time for a change.

Anonymous said...

Brendan, as long as people like you keep pushing that same tired old bullshit New Zealand will never be a green and pleasant land. All that will happen is that the gap between rich and poor will grow so great, and the rich will have so much influence on the government, that will end up some sort of failed state. Or there will be civil unrest. It's the government's JOB to redistribute income through the tax system. That's what taxes are for.

Anonymous said...

Of course Shane Jones isn't mentioned. That might be a function of the fact that Chris has been lobbying for Cunliffe, and white-anting Shearer for some time now – you think?

Chris Trotter said...

To: Anonymous@8:11AM

No, it's a reflection of the fact that these columns are written days before they're published.

At the time of writing Shane Jones hadn't declared.

Quite apart from that, however, it is a simple fact that there are only two viable candidates in the race.

Anonymous said...

"it is a simple fact that there are only two viable candidates in the race."

That's one of those bullshit statements meant to define the debate. Like TINA :-).

Anonymous said...

The parallels between Cunliffe and the under-estimated Arnold Nordmeyer (read his google history) are interesting. A fine man, trapped by shallow tagging with the media "Black Budget" label. And all lost in history, a topic of little interest to today's commentators.

RMJ1 said...

Mr Dunne,
You are so full of it they should name a sewer after you.

And your name should be added to the Concise Oxford Dictionary under the definition of irrelevant.

A silly little hopeless middle age man who has tickets on himself.

Period of grace--- is that the best you can do. Your party is the party you have when you are not having one.

Dunne the member for Dunne.

Do NZ a favour and piss off. You know as trying as Muldoon was, he actually had some life experience and conviction.

You are just full of it and it is on daily show. A legend in .....

This email is not anonomyous. My name is Richard and phone no is 001161 402 486 193.

Kia Kaha I doubt you will put this up but as an old freezing worker and Otago graduate what the hell.

To put it in the Aussie vernacular it is manifestly obvious that unless Labour go with Cunliffe they are fucked and far from home. The point is simple- people now smell a rat in Key, hard not to but the middle mob are not going to vote against him unless the new model is "acceptable - we are talking Labour voters who were earlier sucked in by his walk on routine.
Jones too left, Robertson too flat.

AND Cunliffe is from Auckland. He might out shine slimy Key now. Any way if you want to respsond to the musings of a tired freezing worker cum barrister the email is rmjefferis@gmail.com All the best. Kia Kaha Richard Jefferis

Sanctuary said...

@Brendan, looking at your avatar shot, I would say you were around retirement age. A baby boomer, in other words. A generation that neither fought Hitler and returned to enjoy the fruits of their collective sacrifice in their Jerusalem or suffered the consequences of growing income disparity, unemployment and user pays. What is it with your generation? You all come across as as bitter, defeatist men who neither had to make the sacrifices to build the world they grew up in or suffer the consequences of destroying it. A spoiled generation consumed with selfish cynicism and intoxicated by it's own arrogance. A generation that is above all suprememly angry at the fact it is getting old when it wants to live forever. I am sorry you are old and bitter when the world is full of young and the pretty and of the hope of youth. But really, your generation is the one that failed. You were gifted the stewardship of a promised land, and you'll be leaving one helluva of a mess. Why anyone should listen to anything you lot say is beyond me.

Anonymous said...

Surly Shane Jones is a spoiler for for the Cunliffe vote.Understanding that he is a list member must raise some ?.

Paying more attention to Grant,and David in the last few as they speak in the house and front informal press capture, both have a lot to learn,one humility the other certainty.

That said,Davids electoral office candidacy affirmation,was nothing less than a staged pre election victory stunt, where he used the dreaded S word,a word that has been sadly vacant in Labours cabinet governing or not.

Grants affirmation on the other hand has been a more reserved affirmation,maybe for the reason of certainty who knows but there you are,for they are the two main contenders.

As for Shane well what can be said,my whanau and our extended Whanau when asking them, well more like them saying to me Shane Jones, he has to be joking.

Victor said...

I’m afraid, Sanctuary, that New Zealand’s baby boomers didn’t inherit a self-sustaining promised land. They inherited a land that was indirectly subsidised by what used to be known as the Mother Country (c.f. Commonwealth Preference). And, just when younger boomers such as Brendan were entering adult life, that indirect subsidy started to disappear, leaving them with an essentially non-functioning economy in which they had to sink or swim. They may not have done the best possible job and may well have been excessively complacent and slow to understand their predicament. But it’s not clear to me that any other generation would have done better in the circumstances.

May I add that when I come across racism, sexism, homophobia, anti-Semitism or any other rancorous, fetid old prejudice on the web, I might be disgusted by the sentiment but recognise that the person writing it is in the grip of some well-entrenched albeit reprehensible meme of our civilization and that the singer might not be as bad as the song. Unfortunately, I can’t make the same sort of excuse for those who peddle new causes of hatred, such as ageism.

And, by the way, as an older boomer (born 1946), I tend to associate neo-liberalism of the Brendanite variety (and with which I wholly disagree)with generations younger than myself. Perhaps that’s unjust of me and I should get out more. Meanwhile, it's comforting to learn how pretty you and all your contemporaries are.

OneTrack said...

Sanctuary 8:24 - And the nasty lefty appears and tackles the man not the ball. Again. Is this something you guys learn in Lefty 101 or is it in the genes?


Anonymous said...

It wasn't a leftie who said Winston "wasn't good under a high ball".... Tackling the man with a touch of racism is that a rightie thing :-)?

Alan said...

Newly appointed to the health portfolio in 2008, Mr Cunliffe was called upon to lance the pustulent boil that the Hawkes Bay District Health Board had, in the eyes of the Labour Government, become. Within weeks the entire Board had been sacked and a Commissioner installed. A subsequent official inquiry produced a damning report.

Speaking in the Urgent Parliamentary Debate occasioned by the Report’s release on 18 March 2008, Mr Cunliffe declared, with typical swashbuckling eloquence: “This report has lifted the lid on a nasty little nest of self-perpetuating, provincial elites”.

The Hawkes Bay “county” set were incoherent with rage. No one could remember when anyone, let alone some grubby little Labour Party oik, had spoken to them in such insulting language

This action of Cunliffe's certainly lanced a boil Chris, but it wasn't of the elected District Health Board's making, at a time of fierce controversy involving the closure of a significant hospital.

Your interpretation is very wide of the mark.

It was the professional behaviour of management that was being challenged by the Board; 'management' being a CEO who came to the position straight from Prime Minister Clarke's office, and Minister of Health Annette King's husband Ray Lind who, after leaving his wife in Wellington and wandering up into HB on his motorbike, finished up in No.2 operational position in DHB management before you could say 'Jack Robinson'. His meteoric rise, as the DHB faced off a divided and angry HB community, suggested more than coincidence or uncommon brilliance.

Many could wish that well-paying jobs could reach out to them so easily.

The HB DHB had been batting for its paymaster, the government, for a number of years. It was fronting deeply unpopular policies that originated with stealthy, deceptive, and lying governments that had closed Napier's substantial modern hospital and Health Minister King, and her husband Ray Lind on the local DHB were a part of that.

With 'Labour' Minister King's appointment of someone to the DHB board who turned out to be a well-heeled private health and private rugby box provider and well known to her and her DHB hubby, the smell surrounding the DHB here wasn't antiseptic.

The final act involved a woman in management who alerted the board to a concern she had involving the level of higher management. The board regarded her information as serious and warranting investigation.

This was the background against which the new Minister of Health Cunliffe sacked the elected board and put in a Commissioner, suggesting wrongly that it was board dysfunctionality that was the problem, when the board was trying to do something it was elected to do.

It was widely felt that the upheavals in the health system in HB were driven by government which used an infiltrated DHB to both manage the mess and hide behind, and then, when the DHB board's investigations threatened exposure of behind-the-scenes irregularities that would have reflected on the government, Cunliffe sacked the board. He was judge, jury and executioner, ensuring that sordid details that could have damaged the government didn't see the light of day.

In doing so, he served the 'Labour' government and its appointees loyally.. He didn't allay the concerns of HB people at what was happening to their health system. Ultimately he didn't deliver fairness or justice to them either, by arrogantly sacking their elected board.

Such, is the Mr Cunliffe remembered here.