Tuesday, 7 June 2016

Judging Our Leaders By What They Mean To Say.

Right Place, Right Time, Right People: Andrew Little earned a standing ovation from Green Party members for his speech to their AGM, held in Lincoln over Queens's Birthday Weekend. (4-6/6/16) He was followed by the Greens' Co-Leader, James Shaw, who delivered the best speech of his career. Wouldn't it be nice if our political leaders were judged by these considered and deliberate statements of their political intent, rather than by the "Gotcha!" journalism of today's news media?
 
HOW DIFFERENT politics would be if our political leaders were judged solely by the force of their public speeches. Fanciful though it may sound to twenty-first century ears, a good or bad speech could make or break the politicians of yesteryear. It’s why such political giants as Winston Churchill devoted so many hours to perfecting the wording and delivery of their public utterances. It’s why Abraham Lincoln will forever be associated with the 266 words he penned on the train to Gettysburg. Likewise, but in darker hues, can anyone imagine a successful Adolf Hitler without the extraordinary power of his public oratory?
 
Had these giants of yesteryear been subject to the unending and intimate scrutiny of today’s political leaders would they have succeeded? Would Churchill be remembered for his inspiring wartime speeches, or for the screaming newspaper headline: “Lazy Winston’s silk undies!” Would the fledgling Republican Party have pinned their hopes on such a peculiar-looking candidate as Abe Lincoln? Or would their media advisors have ruled out broadcasting so odd a face into the living-rooms of America? Could Hitler have survived the Twitter flash: “Adolf and Geli! Keeping it all in the family?”
 
These were the questions that occurred to me as I watched first Andrew Little, and then James Shaw, address the Annual General Meeting of the Greens last Saturday afternoon. What if these two speeches were all that we, the voters, had with which to assess Labour and the Greens?
 
Both addresses were well constructed, well written, and surprisingly well delivered.
 
James Shaw, in particular, was visibly buoyed by the audience’s reception. Having heard him speak on a number of occasions, I was not expecting much more than an adequate presentation. Even with an excellent text to read from, Shaw’s past performances have typically involved considerably more wood than fire.  Not so on Saturday. As the audience – already heated by Little’s rousing address – stamped their feet and cheered, Shaw braced himself against their warm gusts of positivity and, digging deep, found that magic vocal register which at once reassures and inspires a political audience.
 
“I want to give New Zealand a better vision of the future”, Shaw effused. “It’s a future where, on your weekends away, you’ll go to sleep at night safely knowing that the same beach that you’re enjoying will be there for future generations, unthreatened by rising seas. In the morning, you’ll be woken by a dawn chorus from flocks of birds that once bordered on extinction. After lunch you’ll pack the family into your electric car and head safely home on uncongested roads while your kids count the containers on the freight trains running on the tracks alongside you. If you’ve got time, you might even stop by a river on your way home – and actually swim in it!”
 
So vociferous was the audience’s response that the static camera through which the event was being streamed live across the Internet actually began to shake on its tripod. It was only when I glanced at the meter displaying the number of people logged-on that I realised how very few we were. While I watched, it never registered more than 172 viewers.
 
Five hundred people, tops, would have absorbed the messages that Little and Shaw delivered live on Saturday afternoon. (Although, it must be admitted, tens-of-thousands more may have tuned-in to watch the one-to-two minute clips of the event broadcast on the six o’clock news.) What is undeniable, however, is that how the event should be framed, and which tiny fraction of the two speeches should be broadcast, were decisions over which neither Little nor Shaw exercised the slightest control.
 
Eighty years ago, Labour’s first Prime Minister, Michael Joseph Savage, got over this problem by legislating for the live broadcasting of Parliament. Notwithstanding the near universal media hostility, Labour’s leaders were soon able to communicate directly with their supporters. Tens-of-thousands tuned-in to hear the parliamentary debates that changed a nation. Speeches were more important than ever.
 
The opening of Labour’s 1984 election campaign is the last time I can recall a party leader’s speech being broadcast live to the nation. David Lange’s minders were biting their nails, but the moment the big man opened his mouth it was clear their fears were groundless. Lange’s rhetoric, to paraphrase Labour’s campaign anthem, soon lifted them up where they belonged.
 
So, the next time you see Andrew Little rear like a startled draughthorse as the camera lights are switched on, and the microphones, like snakes’ heads, are thrust under his chin, ask yourself whether this is the sort of test which the great leaders of the past (or, indeed, any ordinary person) could have taken in their stride?
 
If our leaders are no longer judged by their speeches: but by their gaffes; in what way is our democracy improved?
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 7 June 2016.

27 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
peter petterson said...

Positive comments Chris.

Anonymous said...

And Chris, while slightly off topic, James Shaw's vision of us all driving on uncrowded roads in our electric cars will only happen when the auto makers give us the variety of car types we buy today and at affordable prices. Where is the equivalent of my beloved Subaru Outback? Closest maybe is Mitsubishi's Outlander PHEV, but that's only a hybrid and with not much better consumption than their diesel version of the same model. The only NZ new electric cars available to us at the moment are the tiny Mitsubishi (kike Nick Smith's) or an expensive Telsa saloon (that's even if they have an official importer here). And Nissan pulled the Nissan Leaf from sale here. No matter what any political party exhorts us to achieve to, nor our minuscule population base demanding the worlds auto makers provide us electric cars, they are not going to listen to us. Change will only happen when it happens in the major developed population centers first, not when we may like it. So even if James Shaw were to be on treasury benches, in this respect, his being there is going to change nothing in the time period his party members may like to see. And, as an aside, until the purchasers of freight space decide the logistics of their goods being better on a train than a truck happen, Jame's vision of uncrowded roads aren't going to happen either unless the treasury benches legislate against trucks to some degree. Meddling with free enterprise? Subsidies - no thanks, we know where that goes and does not the taxpayer end up paying ultimately. Sorry for ranting, Chris - not that I'm against Utopia.....

Guerilla Surgeon said...

David Lange was indeed great at speechifying. But he was actually a terrible leader. As evidenced by the way he let Roger Douglas RAM through all that neoliberal bullshit which generally ruined the economy. And I think the strain actually told on him quite a bit. I would rather we didn't judge leaders by their speeches to be honest, I would rather we judged them by their policies. Now this might seem a bit naive, but several of those good speechmakers you mentioned the world could have easily done without.
We used to be able to tell something about a leader's robustness and resilience at least when they held public meetings that weren't filled with sycophants. But then Lange was brilliant at dealing with hecklers as well. And look where he got us.
(Sorry about that – the spelling and all – in my defence it was early morning.

Anonymous said...

I do not care how good the speeches were spoken,
I want to hear about the creation of JOBS, of more Housing, on the stopping or serious curbing of IMMIGRATION, and how they will grow and manage our ECONOMY.

These are the matters which are exercising my mind and the minds of New Zealanders.

Winston Peters came out publicly last week and vented his views on immigration and Maori separation (Greens), I need more from him but so far he has got my vote.

Both Little and Shaw's speeches were platitudes and both were verbally committing intercourse on each other and each other's followers, Shaw in particular was cringeworthy.

Kat said...

Electric cars, why don't we just build our own here in NZ?

Oh, but then if we wait for the rest of the "major developed centers" to make it happen we may save 20% when we buy them in.

And we can't have a govt that actually makes decisions can we, best to just appear to be 'aspirational' because 'really' its all in the presentation 'sweetie'.

Richard Christie said...

It’s why such political giants as Winston Churchill devoted so many hours to perfecting the wording and delivery of their public utterances. It’s why Abraham Lincoln will forever be associated with the 266 words he penned on the train to Gettysburg.

Yeah well, neither of the above had to deal with wall to wall gotcha jonolism, jonolism that has no real interest in informing the public on political issues. Jonolism that is exemplified by the vacuous Patrick Gower and others that inhabit the TV3 stable.

Unknown said...

I wonder if only 60% of cars were powered by electricity, how many more hydro dams, wind farms, and or solar power panels NZ would have to have and wouldn't each and every one of those alternatives be environmentally unsound?

Anonymous said...

Kat may be facetious in his/her comments, but if we could build electric cars here now, why aren't we still building cars as they are (petrol/diesel) here now?

Anonymous said...

The Greens are a slug on the back of NZ. They want to hinder or stop Farming, Gas and Oil drilling, Mining, Forestry and Fishing, (and NZ, my words)
In 1914 Shane Jones told the Nation and his caucus colleagues that the Greens were 'anti-industry', he was right and they still are.
I am picking that National and NZ First will paint Labour with the same tar-brush in the lead-up to the 2017 election.
Under the present Labour leadership: Labour have got themselves into such a Neo- Liberal mess that the Greens will throw cruelly at them that 'Labour needs the Greens more than the Greens need Labour'. The Greens are right.

Sorry to both parties but I do not intend to wager my own and my countries future to a anti-industry and a Labour Lite political mish-mash.

Chris ,it is much more than speeches, a lot more.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Both Little and Shaw's speeches were platitudes" -
and Winston's wasn't? He is the master of platitudes. It just makes them sound a little different. Open your ears. He's just telling you what you want to hear.

pat said...

"While I watched, it never registered more than 172 viewers."

And yet how much free and largely positive (or at least not negative) media coverage has this provided one financially strapped and the other largely dismissed organizations? Even Mike Williams appeared moved enough to to stand his ground this morning on RNZ while M.Hooton spent quite some effort explaining why it was all for nought...and I'm sure M.Hooton doesn't need to be told that explaining is losing.

The HD cameras will surely find the odd blackhead but good speeches can be replayed and repeated ....and its always worth remembering if you have nothing (or very little), you have nothing to lose.

Nick J said...

Well said unknown. We are faced with peak oil and peak resources and Shaw wishes to blithely carry on with electric cars made with huge embedded energy costs using as you say more power generated through who knows what resource exploitation. It is techno narcissism. Has anybody thought of all that bitumen from fossil fuels, all that energy embedded in the rusting steel and concrete etc etc. All very "Green". Of course then there is climate change that this love of cars plays a large part in, we might under Shaws plan be able to listen to herds of camels wandering dry riverbeds below empty dams.

Shaws speech is a good reason why the Greens are a joke; save the whale, and happy motoring (concurrently). Bad news guys, they are not compatible. Being "green", nice soft and fuzzy wont save the planet, and the commitment to techno fantasies betrays this.

jh said...

A good speech can't be (merely) skin deep. It has to connect (touch a nerve). The vaguer, the more useless. That is the problem Labour and the Greens have: they have different nerves form the majority ("bigots, xenophobes").

manfred said...

Little's a good speaker, I've said it before and I will say it again. He's had a lot of practice being a union leader. And yes, that is a legitimate job.

He needs to let his blokey charm come through more. The angry outbursts don't always work. As I've said in the previous thread, Labour need some cash. It's all very well to look to the Tory parties and say how well oiled they are. They are the political arm of the ruling class, they have money to burn.

Remember this current brilliant incarnation of National is them at peak performance, and they are still in real danger of losing the next election. As a US republican fixer said about the current US republican party, 'to win, the democrats have to be good. We have to be perfect'.

Labour is slowly and modestly improving, that might just be enough.

manfred said...

Labour, the party of working people are coming to the rescue. They may be arriving in a clapped out Holden, but I'll jump in if it saves me from the wolves in blue.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
The rudeness and arrogant disrespect that characterises the approach present day so called journalists make to their interviews of elected party leaders should embarrass everyone. It reflects the awareness those in modern media have of their power. The power to destroy an idea, to destroy a political figure, or to destroy an organisation with no sanction , no personal evaluation , and accepting no responsibility; in a situation where their responsibility is enormous. Elected representatives justify far more respect from the media than they get whether the interviewer or the audience agree with them or not. The position should be respected if not the individual.
The choice of example of great orators you have chosen is clearly not accidental in that you seek to highlight the skill rather than the virtue... People may remember a TV doco on Bill Cornelius about 6 months ago. He remarkably talked himself into a shepherding job with my father when I was an early teenager. He was (is) the archetypical Silver Tongue Devil , Black hair to the shoulder 20 years before the Hippies and a flowing black beard , in black tunic stetson and chaps all female eyes shone and cheeks went pink in his presence. His skill and understanding of livestock was otherworldly , freakish. You would think he had to love them but he didn't . His understanding was detached and syndical ; and so it was with people who's emotions he read like he read the mind and emotions of an animal. This is the same cynical detachment coupled with deep perception of an audience that a great orator requires . Not humanity or any virtue. These Men are Dangerous.
Cheers David J S

Bushbaptist said...

The best description of Neoliberalism I have read.

https://www.salon.com/2016/06/06/this_is_our_neoliberal_nightmare_hillary_clinton_donald_trump_and_why_the_market_and_the_wealthy_win_every_time/

greywarbler said...

Nick J
How many parties have you started>? How many electorates have you stood for? What you do well is rile people up, but it's for their own good right? And you may be right in whatever you say, but getting the votes to carry it out is something you could never achieve. So don't diss Shaw for making such big steps, which you consider laughable, but he is working with real people trying to convince them to change their minds and comfortable lives when they don't want to believe it is necessary.

Anonymous said...

REALLY ! The party of the working people!

Sam Viskovic said...

@Anonymous, at the risk of oversimplifying the impact of electric cars.
To start with they should be made to charge overnight when the grid is not utilized for no extra cost.
As demand increases we have fantastic wind resources and our existing hydro can cope for a significant increase in penetration. As we got clise to 100% electric private vehicles the grid would need further investment.
NZ electricity is the most expensive in the world as we privatised the industry. Nevertheless the cost of running your electric car would still be less than half of the most fuel efficient hybrid vehicles available. Windfarms have low impact, not so sure about electric car batteries.

Sam Viskovic said...

Voting for the greens wont help make this happen though. They would have you subsidizing uneconomic solar.

manfred said...

You're damn right the party of the working people. Which party has done as much for the working class in this country?

Nick J said...

Grey I take your point that Shaw is trying to change peoples ideas. My approach does not attempt that any longer on the issue of the environment. I have come firmly to the conclusion that the current political economic nexus will not cope with the crisis we are in simply because it is fundamentally part of the problem. We are so addicted to "progress" and its handmaiden "technology" that we believe that they can overcome the physical limits of our reality. When Shaw or anybody says we will use new technology to cure a problem caused by technology this techno faith becomes evident. Its narcissism versus reality. Cassandra made no friends and she had no interest in being right. She did however tell it as it was. And that is precisely why I damn the Greens. I dont expect the others to say anything so I suppose they are dismissed as beyond redemption.

Did I ever start or stand politically? For my sins I have taken frontline protest stances which on occasion bruised, been members of groups who did such things as gain environmental conservation orders, ran electorate committees etc. I have had the opportunity to seek selection but had other pressures at the time. My current stance is to call it how it is and make my own plans.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"uneconomic solar"
The thing about technology is that it gets better with time. And these days it gets better very quickly.

KjT said...

Solar in many countries is now cheaper than coal.

And. Business as usual, infinite growth in a finite world, is not possible.

At some stage, better sooner rather than later, we have to consider what a steady state Green economy will look like.

The Greens are working towards it. National and to a certain extent, Labour, have their heads in the sand.

NZ as a small country has a golden opportunity to lead a low energy future. Which will involve electric vehicles, trains and ships, not hydrocarbon wasting, and polluting diesal trucks.

charles e said...

Getting back to our host's ideas, I agree that this understanding has some worries for Labour. Why do it and why now? Those are the questions.

Is it not as old as the hills that one of the more nasty of political fights is found between the moderate left and the hard left? If so then perhaps Little's advisors fear losing a fight with Shaw, resulting in the Greens eating up more of their cake, so keep them close?
But I would instinctively have gone the other way and tried to get back the people the Greens have already taken away from Labour. To me Greens are single issue fanatics, not fit for power, ever. There are sound reasons that sensibly, NZ has never given them any and so Labour could be making a fatal mistake here.