Tuesday, 23 September 2014

"Something Hugely Dramatic": The 2014 General Election

Three In A Row! Defying political gravity, Prime Minister John Key wins a third term with a higher percentage of the votes cast than he received in 2008 and 2011. In the words of Martyn 'Bomber' Bradbury, National now enjoys "full spectrum dominance" of the New Zealand political environment. And Labour? Labour seems unaware that its wounds are fatal. That it is dying on its feet.

IT SEEMS such a long time ago, now, but it was only back in March. Looking ahead to the General Election, I wrote: “Unless something hugely dramatic happens between now and polling day, 20 September, the General Election of 2014 is all but over. The National-led government of Prime Minister, John Key, looks set to be returned for a third term by a margin that may surprise many of those currently insisting that the result will be very close. What may also surprise is the sheer scale and comprehensiveness of the Left’s (especially Labour’s) electoral humiliation.”
 
Well, “something hugely dramatic” pretty much sums up the 2014 election campaign. But “unless” turned out to be an utterly redundant qualifier. Mr Key and his National Party-led government faced one “hugely dramatic” event after another: everything from Nicky Hager’s Dirty Politics to Kim Dotcom’s Moment of Truth to Edward Snowden’s XKeyscore. But, not only did these events fail to slow Mr Key’s progress, they actually appear to have accelerated his march to an historic victory.
 
In achieving the seemingly impossible: securing an outright parliamentary majority under a system of proportional representation; Mr Key proclaims his complete mastery of the New Zealand political landscape. A friend of mine, borrowing the terminology of the US military, describes National’s present situation as “full spectrum dominance”. It’s a hard judgement to refute.
 
In just about every facet of the political process: leadership, communications, polling, strategic judgement, fund-raising and on-the-ground campaigning, National is (quite literally) streets ahead of its rivals. John Key’s private retention of the Australian-based Crosby-Textor political consultancy, coupled with the constant flow of data from David Farrar’s polling agency, Curia Research, permitted National’s seasoned campaign manager, Steven Joyce, to micro-refine National’s electoral pitch not simply day-to-day, but practically hour-by-hour. The tone and volume of the Government’s propaganda effort (Eminem’s angry copyright protests notwithstanding) was similarly effective. With New Zealand’s rowing teams dominating the sport, the rowing-eight image proved to be a potent political metaphor for coordinated effort and national success.
 
In describing the efficiency of its machine, I do not mean to suggest that the National Party’s victory was effortless – far from it. The release of Nicky Hager’s book inflicted real damage on National’s campaign – forcing the Prime Minister onto the back foot and sending the party’s poll numbers south. The critical point here, however, is that National’s campaign team was able to monitor the effects of Dirty Politics practically as they unfolded, and to test the efficacy of possible responses. It was this that allowed them to identify the Justice Minister, Judith Collins, as the figure most prejudicial to National’s re-election chances. Her resignation cauterised National’s wounds almost immediately – just as its pollsters knew it would.
 
And through it all, John Key manifested an uncompromising combativeness which first steadied his supporters and then reassured them that the charges levelled against him were groundless. It also afforded New Zealanders a rare glimpse of the steel beneath John Key’s velveteen exterior. Far from being repelled (as his opponent’s no doubt hoped) the Prime Minister’s supporters were delighted. Mr Key’s smiles and waves are appreciated, but so, too, is the force of his counter-punches.
 
Overall, the image presented to the electorate was one of John Key as the embattled matador. Alone in the arena, he faced charge after charge from a seemingly never-ending succession of bulls. But with every twirl of his cape and flash of his sword the pile of dispatched cattle-beasts grew higher. The crowd cheered. The roses rained down. “Bravo!” shouted 48 percent of New Zealand. “Three more years!”
 
As the dust of combat settles, the identity of the Matador’s defeated attackers is revealed. Among them is the political corpse of the redoubtable Hone Harawira, his thick hide pierced by multiple lances. And sprawled alongside this mighty bull of the North, his blundering sponsor, the massive German beast called Kim Dotcom. Some distance apart lies the slim political carcase of the brave little steer known as Colin Craig – his wide-eyes still staring imploringly up at the crowd. (Missing from the pile are the bodies of those bulls whose horns actually drew the Matador’s blood: Nicky Hager, Glenn Greenwald, Edward Snowden.)
 
But in all that vast arena, the most pitiful sight is that of the old bull called Labour. Its ancient hide is pierced and bleeding; around its mouth a bloody froth. The Matador’s sword has penetrated the unfortunate animal’s lungs and heart, but the poor creature still stands there, defiant. Panting noisily, quivering legs about to fold beneath its battered body, Labour seems unaware that its wounds are fatal. That it is dying on its feet.
 
Only two bulls continue to circle the Matador – albeit at a safe distance. Snorting derisively, New Zealand First and the Green Party promise to go on fighting the good fight.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 23 September 2014.

42 comments:

Anonymous said...

Nice prose and all that Chris.

With all due respect,did it ever occur to you that another reason for National's victory is that a majority of voters have decided that they don't want a bar of socialism.

Or are the bright lights of the left, such as yourself, still convinced that the NZ public are just too dumb to know what they need, and that they are dazzled into stupidity by John Key's blinding political brilliance?
G

Anonymous said...

I think you're suffering from Stockholm Syndrome Chris! http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stockholm_syndrome

Alistair Young said...

Im not sure the Labour Beast is dying, brutalized and intent on a self cleansing yes - but not dying. Cunliffe, Moira and Tim must go, the members and affiliates must be re caged and labour must reflect the views of its 'rightwing cuckoo electorate MP's' - Kelvin, Stuart etc, the experiment has failed and the pursuit of the missing million by the great read hope - Cunliffe is revealed to be a mere gimcrack bauble of the hard left - labour must ignore them on its return to power.

NZFirsts future is still in doubt, Winston at 70 may or may not survive or be coherent in 3 years, does he have a sucessor (the Jones boy ??), Winston will dominate the opposition for a while till biology levels him out.

For now the great game continues, Blue is in control but 3 years is plenty long time in politics.

Barry Thomas said...

Kodak limps on... the entire left need a summit. Will KDC call it?

Patricia said...

I think the saddest thing about the New Zealand election is that there are fewer and fewer people who remember what New Zealand was like when we had a government that made sure all who were able would prosper and those who couldn't were looked after. When the Government provided the infrastructure to enable the country as a whole to prosper. The first 70 years of the 20th Century in New Zealand was amazing when you look back. And now it is gradually all being dismantled. I am getting EQC repairs and today the Manager, an Irishman who has been here for three years, asked me why New Zealand didn't have a railway system up and down the Country!! It would be ideal he said!!

David said...

There's also the corpse of New Zealand and New Zealanders as we once knew them. Now simply a ghost used by corporates like TVNZ and Air New Zealand to sell their product (a la kiwi baches and No 8 wire)

Matt Wallace said...

Hi Chris, do you really think this is terminal for Labour? After 2002 National were in a similar amount of disarray and look at them now! They definitely need to do a lot of soul searching and completely change the way they engage in the political process, but New Zealand needs a strong workers party.

Phil Toms said...

Harsh

Tinshed said...

Some mighty fine writing there Chris. And some useful insights too. I am not so sure Labour is in terminal decline but it will take a Herculean effort to re-group and become a viable alternative to National. More pragmatism and professionalism will help, rather than vilification and delusion. The signs aren't promising right now, but if a week in politics is a long time, three years is an eternity.

Anonymous said...

Not going to comment on the politics of Labour's demise as I'm taking a hiatus for the day.

However Chris, can I congratulate you on a splendid bit of writing, in particular your bullfight analogy. Excellent prose. Thank God we have writers of your quality commenting on this mess of a result.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Don't want a bar of socialism? There basically isn't a great deal of socialism in New Zealand the moment – and Key is just about as socialist as Cunliffe. Were you right wingnuts stop labelling every piece of government involvement as socialism. You're beginning to sound American :-).

Victor said...

Writing of rare brilliance even by Mr T's standards.

But I'm not sure whether John Key is truly the matador who's slain all the meanest bulls in town or just a guy who's good at dancing the Paso Doble:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7ONCE5aGfaQ

Debbie Sullivan said...

I fear that the days of the Labour Party as a political force of the left or workers representative in the house may indeed be numbered...already the noises around moving to the middle ground to better represent the aspirations of the "average kiwi" are being made...if Labour survives it will be as a centrist party unwilling and/or unable to challenge the corporate culture that has steadily gathered power the past 30 years to the point where elected representation is little more than a middle management team.

Anonymous said...

At the same time isn't Palace Politics the best drama around?

A O said...

Oh well, time for a new matador to arise. There's more than one way to tame a beast and win over the crowd.

Davo Stevens said...

Quite right Surgeon. The rightwing idiots that post here wouldn't know Socialism if it jumped up and slapped them in the face! There is no "Left" either and hasn't been since the 1980's. Hone was the nearest to "Left" and Labour whacked him. With friends like modern Labour who needs enemies?

In response to Anon @11.51; it had nothing to do with Socialism at all, the majority of voters wanted stability and saw that Labour is Gnatlite so why change.

With the deals that the Key gang have in mind, the people will learn too late just how much damage he can do.

Rain333 said...

Chris, I must say that is an outstanding piece of writing.

I noticed a few here quibbling over some minor points. Remind me, what are the 5 stages of grief? ....Denial and umm, that'll do.

Paul said...


Except, as Bryan Gould points out only 1 in 3 voters actually voted the Nats, so it certainly isn't "full spectrum dominance"...http://thestandard.org.nz/the-election-that-left-one-third-of-us-behind/

But agree with you about Labour, unfortunately.

Than said...

Eloquent and entertaining as always Chris.

I would add one element to your metaphor. The wounded Labour bull has spotted a mirror leaning against the arena wall. But no matter how many times it charges and smashes headfirst into the stone, it does not realise it is fighting itself.

Len Richards said...

Labour is far from dead. This election's result was only marginally worse than the last one. The Labour core vote is rock solid at 25% and the return to genuine Labour values from the pit of neo-liberalism will see a revival if the internal enemy can be quelled.

Anonymous said...

Anonymouse = Grant

Thanks for the replies, guys.
Very interesting to note that those who, like me, have a right of centre view are automatically "nutjobs" and "idiots". Such tolerance of dissension....
Two things, if I may:
Perhaps Davo can tell us just what the deals are that Key and his gang have in mind. If he has inside knowledge that will protect the rest of us from the damage that he so ominously predicts, then perhaps he could share....
Secondly, it's interesting to see that my comment about the left's opinion of the New Zealand electorate went unchallenged.
G

Brewer said...

I agree with Patricia. This election gives us notice that the old Kiwi is now gone, the seeding of an American style self-absorbed culture that began in the eighties has now borne mature fruit.
Ted Lees (Lees Marine) exemplified the old self-reliant, socially responsible Kiwi. I was struck by the irony (and symbolism) in this article
http://www.marine-engines.co.nz/wp-content/uploads/2013/02/Ted-Lees-feature-03-13.pdf

.....with this

"In 1980 Ted sold Lees Group to NZ Forest Products in a profitable and friendly takeover. But in 1986, Ted says, Elders Finance, a company banned by the Australian government, did a buy-out of NZ Forest Products and began stripping the company and its subsidiaries. Unable to stand it, Ted, aged 67, bought back Lees Marine in 1990 and cranked it up again."

......appearing next to a picture with the caption:

"Ted being inducted into the New Zealand Business Hall of Fame in 2009 with PM John Key"

Ted could probably be forgiven for missing the connection with Key's job history, given his age at the time. The results of this election indicate that younger NZ-ers do not care or perhaps even admire the Gordon Gekkos of this craven new world.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Grant, you're not automatically nut job or an idiot, only when you express a nutty or idiotic opinion. Like your opinions on socialism. Secondly, trying going over to the whale oil blog and dissenting there. I went over there and one whinger was going on about migrants and how they needed to speak English. And all I said was "gosh I bet Maori wish they had somebody like you around to make sure all those immigrants spoke Maori around 1840." Or something similar and I was jumped on by the oily whale's sycophants and banned by the oily whale. So while your opinions might get a rough ride over here – tough. You wingnuts get a far better reception than you give :-).

Victor said...

Could someone please cite the name of a single Labour MP who (were he or she not in parliament) couldn't possibly be envisaged as voting for one of the following?:

1. NZ First
2. The Greens
3. Mana(before its Faustian pact with Mr Dotcom)

d said...

Anon @6.38:

Johnny Boy has already spelled some out and they are just the tip of the iceberg.

Please get your head out of the sand: THERE IS NO "LEFT" NOW!! They are Right and Rightish with the Greens sitting clearly at the Centre.

Labour has to get back to it's core roots and re-build from there.

Mark Wilson said...

In the two previous elections Labour did everything in their power to destroy Key including some grubby underhand tactics of their own. And they got hammered at election time for it.
This time Labour had Hagar and Dot Com take over while pretending they had no involvement and got nuked for their pains.
Reading the leftwing conversation since such an historic defeat there is still much denigration and abuse aimed at Key.
I have no doubt that over the next 3 years the Left's inability to control their anger will gift Key a fourth term.
And the abuse is simplistic and downright stupid.
Voters know that Key is clearly smarter than his abusers and in fact did do a good job of steering the country through a global meltdown.
And he did not grind the faces of the poor doing it.Sure you can argue that he could have done more but claiming he is a monster (read the Standard) plays into the right's hands.
Most people who voted for him do want to help the poor and the hopeless - the right just disagrees how best to go about it.
And until the left realize that demonising Key means they are insulting the people who they want to vote for them.
Thanks in advance for giving us on the Right a fourth term.

J Bloggs said...

Chris: Surely you're not implying that the Left is all just Bull, are you?
;)

Jigsaw said...

Calling people who disagree with you 'wingnuts' seems to typify the left of politics in this country who as someone said recently, define themselves by who they hate more than anything else. Certainly the left seems to have terrible problems moving beyond defining their principles to actually producing policies that people might actually vote for.

Abroad said...

Okay Anonymous O font of right wing wisdom and Ayn rand enthusiast ...instead of dissing what you so misleadingly characterise as "the Left" in NZ ...why don't you provide a detailed account of what will be so good about three more years of a Key government in NZ?
Davo's comment that Labour is gnatlite is pertinent here .....?

Anonymous said...

Hi Abroad,
Have never read Ayn Rand, and certainly don't consider myself font of right wing wisdom, but if sarcasm is your thing, then you're obviously having a good day.
For me, one of the good things about the National Party's re-election is the fact that the population is is not going to be hit with further taxation. I'm tired of politicians, (of either stripe), seeing the work force as nothing more than a source of funds, but Labour in particular seem extremely fond at ensuring that no cent goes untaxed. I believe that their planned CGT would not have cooled the housing market in Auckland, it certainly hasn't in Sydney, and seemed to be nothing more than a cynical attempt to filch more money out of kiwi's pockets. Especially so, when the clumsy rules around the disposal of family home were finally revealed.
G

Tinshed said...

May I add some further thoughts. Chris has written an interesting piece and it deserves reflection.

Labour can still modernise and rebuild but it must take account of the realities of the what the outstanding consultancy group, The Providence Report, calls the "new New Zealand". This new New Zealand has some of the following characteristics:

- A strong and growing Asian population
- A vibrant Maori economy
- Maori and Pasifika youth no longer fighting the battles of their parents
- Large number of relatively wealthy baby boomers
- Confident cultural identity - no more cultural cringe
- Growing importance of China - no more tyranny of distance

How does Labour relate to these trends? Not very well I think. Listening to the chatter of left-wing blogs I hear talk of "left" "right" "center". For example there is a comment above the talks about New Zealand needing a a strong workers party. What does that term mean to the new New Zealand, or even 95% of New Zealanders?

The NZ Herald had a headline after the election that talked John Key making "HisTORY" - Geddit? He is a Tory. But what does the word "Tory" mean to the new New Zealand, or even 95% of New Zealanders? I would suggest, not a lot. The word is no longer relevant.

I understand some of where Labour is coming from. I was a member of the Princes Street branch of the Labour Party back in the 1970's where the language was about socialism, the evil Tories, the unions and so forth. There are MPs in the Labour Party who cut their teeth on such language. But that New Zealand is gone and is being replaced by a new, vibrant, diverse and confident country that cares very little for the ideological battles of the 1970's and 80's. I understand that many on the progressive side of politics would argue the fundamental battle remains the same: labour versus capital. Much of the current angst being expressed by the Left it seems, to me at least, to be expressed in terms of the ideological battles of the past. I would argue that the language used do not resonant with either the Waitakere Man, the Somali taxi driver, the Chinese student or the South African accountant. Or even Lynn of Tawa.

Over 1 million New Zealanders were born overseas. Think about that, and what their perspective is, why they came here and what they want. Labour talks about the missing million. But, does it talk to the million new New Zealanders? How many of these people voted for Labour? For example, how many Asian MPs does Labour have now?

Labour needs to speak to those 1 million and until they do, Chris may well right about the dying bull.

Loz said...

Readers may be interested in what Labour Party stood for in 1922 considering its support continued to dramatically grow. The following is a statement issued by the Labour Party after that election.

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=EP19221212.2.80&srpos=6&e=--1915---1922--100--1

The statement below is from the Labour candidate for Wellington North a decade later as the depression carried on. It demonstrates how completely different Labour is now to the party that gained such steadfast support from the people of New Zealand.

http://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/cgi-bin/paperspast?a=d&cl=search&d=EP19351121.2.216.23&srpos=13&e=01-01-1929-01-04-1937--100--1

John Stansfield said...

Thanks Chris
for accuracy's sake it is 48% of voters not 48% of Nzers a figure not dissimilar from those who eschewed the great contest alltogether

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Jigsaw, blocking dissenting views seems to typify the right in this country. I suggest an experiment. Construct an identity, go to the whale oil blog, register a mildly dissenting opinion more than once – and see what happens :-). A few wing nuts thrown around is pretty mild by comparison. If you want to see hate, the right is what it's all about. God help us, look at the stuff spewed out about the Greens, (stemming from fear of course as most hate does.) In the blogosphere. When even your paragon of right-wing virtue Du Fresne mentioned that Russell Norman looked competent :-).

jh said...

Riding high on his magnificent victory, Key is asked what he wants to be remembered for:
“Going back to that main point I think it was Muldoon who famously said said "I want to leave the country in no worse condition than I found it".

"Isn't that a low ambition?"

"Yes I want to leave the country in better condition than I found it and if theres something (I genuinely beleive) It would be lifting our confidence to a certain degree about how we see our selves in the world and what we think we are capable of achieving. Now I think individually there is masses of ambition that sits out there there but can we actually take that and convert that to take the oppurtunity .
And I always thought what was happening in the opposition of politics (of course they would oppose National, that's their job actually apart from everything else) but it was a bit negative about out place in the world. So we played a bit about whether people coming here was a good or bad thing whether people should invest here was a good or bad thing, or wether we have a trade agreement with parts of Asia was a good or bad thing, but actaully in my mind, the reason that I want to say yes to those things is because they are the oppurtunities that reflect our oppurtunities to both get wealthier (which is all about what you can do with that money) and then ultimately the oppurtunities for Kiwis. I'd like New Zealanders to feel (after my time as Prime Minister) they have become more confident outward looking nation more multicultural.
------------
Before the election you will remember there was the poll on foreign ownership :

18000 replied to the poll. At the end of the program 94% said No and 6% yes.

And there was a Reid Research poll:

"The poll shows 62 percent of voters want tighter restrictions on immigration, while only 35 percent say leave it.

"I don't think taking away the welcome mat is the right thing to do," says Prime Minister John Key.

Unsurprisingly, 84 percent of NZ First voters want immigration restricted. Sixty-eight percent of Labour voters agree, along with 58 percent of Green Party voters."
Despite Mr Key being on the wrong side of public opinion, he won't budge.

"New Zealand is a country that has been built on migration. We've done very well out of it and I think we should be very cautious about taking knee-jerk steps," he says.
….
Labour was equivocal and the Greens impotent. (and wasn't it strange the way key went into Labour territory before the election as though he wanted to win at any cost – you would almost think he was in it for the Property Council or something)

Gareth Morgan talks of a Blue-Green Party
" The election hasn’t provided answers for people concerned to keep the Kiwi way of life – including those who voted National."
despite the vote; the majority I see a bit of a hole that might come and bite Key (if progressives like Chris would allow it – Shearer at the Hornby Working Man's Club).

jh said...

To me Key's statement is a red-flag; it is Helen Clark's arrogance all over again yet to the media and liberal elite it is "that's okay with us"

Jigsaw said...

GS - You obviously read what you want to read but the last time I read the daily Blog-and the time before... it was full of some pretty nasty things. Using wingnuts may not be very nasty but it certainly shows a lack of a coherent argument in which you are at least consistent. I don't see that the right in NZ is much interested in blocked dissenting views they are just too busy getting on with doing things and not just talking about them. Hard to find anyone on the right with quite the vitriol of Bradbury I would have thought.

colette sale said...

Labour needs a visionary in the mold of Lange. A wit but a compassionate,caring man.Where are we to find one.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I won't say that you don't understand my arguments jigsaw, but you do ignore them. That doesn't mean they lack coherence. And you obviously haven't searched the blogosphere enough if you haven't found those rather hateful right wing sites where people blag on about how terrible Polynesians are and so on. I wasn't actually referring to the oily whale, whose only sin was to block me, but rather his sycophants who spew vitriol over every dissenting view. Not that dissenting views last very long. And his blog could even be regarded as moderate compared with some. You really must get out more.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I've just been to the Daily Blog, I must confess for the first time. Bomber Bradbury has never really floated my "since he was on afternoons with Jim Mora, and whenever he was asked what was on his mind read one of his columns – which I thought was cheating :-). You are joking though right? No you're not of course but the level of invective there is nowhere near what you find on whale oil – believe me I know. But if you want to engage on an intellectual basis, perhaps you could answer these questions or at least consider the statements.

Neoliberal economics, which I assume you agree with is based on various formulate or algorithms or whatever they call them, "borrowed" from physics. When physicists discovered this, they laughed, because these things are so old they regarded as totally out of date and useless. So where does that leave you?

Neoliberal economics is also based on assumptions about human behaviour which psychologists abandoned about 50 years ago if not more. So where does that leave you?

Why do most if not all of the most successful economies of the twentieth and twenty first century not have a bar of neoliberal economics?

Roger Douglas, and Jenny Shipley both promised us that if we adopted neoliberal economics we would be living in a workers paradise full of highly paid and highly skilled jobs. Where is it? Why can't our kids get jobs?

Thomas Picketty has pretty much shown that unrestrained capitalism means that the wealth gap will keep growing and growing. Others who I can't be arsed looking up again have shown that this is a bad thing. Where does that leave us? :-)

I hope this is all coherent enough for you.

Debbie Sullivan said...

We cant block immigration...it is the only growth strategy the government have.

GJE said...

A leftward turn will permanently consign labour to minority party status but a right turn will also do the same as they will lose the last of the little credibility the party has left with the general public!!!
It will be a long road back....