Friday 30 September 2016

The Centre Of Attention – But Not In A Good Way!

Don't Say It, Andrew! If the Labour Leader, Andrew Little, cannot refrain from shoving his philosophical foot down his political throat every time he opens his mouth, then maybe he should sit out the next twelve months in silence!
WHY, OH WHY didn’t Andrew Little keep his mouth shut? Or, when asked by a journalist to respond to the political observations of his party’s former leader, just stick to the time-honoured current leader’s script?
“I’ve enormous respect for the wisdom of Helen Clark. Her record of winning three elections on the trot speaks for itself. Her political observations are informed by the experience and achievement of many years. Only a fool wouldn’t listen very carefully to her advice.”
If that wasn’t sufficient, then Clark’s remark about Labour needing to “command the centre” should simply have been endorsed. Something along the lines of:
“She’s quite right about that. When questioned, the overwhelming majority of people position themselves between the extremes of left and right. And if you don’t secure the votes of a very big chunk of these centrist voters, then your party’s chances of being elected to govern are next to zero.”
A statement of the bleeding-bloody-obvious, of course, but sometimes the bleeding-bloody obvious is what people need to hear. It reassures them that you, and the party you lead, are in tune with their own general view of the world. Nobody gets to become Prime Minister by making voters feel that the Leader of the Opposition is out-of-tune with their general view of the world.
And yet, that’s exactly what Little did. He described Clark’s bog-standard pol-sci observation – that, to win, his party must “command the centre ground” – as “pretty hollow”.
Pretty hollow!
Let’s give Little a smidgen of credit and accept that he was not describing Labour’s longest-serving leader, and her nine-year record in government, as “hollow”. Let’s assume that he was channelling the spirit of the inimitable Roger Scruton, who described the political centre as:
“The supposed political position somewhere between the left and the right, where political views are either sufficiently indeterminate, or sufficiently imbued with the spirit of compromise, to be thought acceptable to as large a body of citizens as would be capable of accepting anything.”
The only problem with endorsing this sort of definition is that it is almost without exception to be found in the writings of political philosophers for whom epistemological vagueness is the most unforgiveable of all academic sins. Scruton, himself, is an old-fashioned conservative, but his lofty disdain for the notion that politics is constituted “not by consistent doctrine, but by successful practice” is shared by many left-wing political activists.
Perhaps Little is one of these latter types. A radical left-wing firebrand hiding his light under the bushel of a dour trade-union boss.
Definitely not. When challenged by RNZ’s Susie Ferguson on Tuesday’s Morning Report to come clean on his “hollow” remark and confirm that Labour was set firmly on a left-wing course, Little’s prevarication was nothing short of heroic. Left and right, he insisted didn’t matter anymore, he was much more interested in responding to the issues brought to him by the people he met every week as he travelled around New Zealand.
Ferguson struggled on womanfully for several more minutes in a futile attempt to get Little to acknowledge that the sort of political engagement he was describing was precisely the sort of engagement that Clark was advocating when she offered up the bleeding-bloody-obvious comment that Labour must “command the centre ground”.
Despairing of getting a coherent response from the leader of the party which still lists “democratic socialism and economic and social co-operation” among its objectives, Ferguson changed tack and asked Little to name the left-wing politician from whom he drew the most inspiration.
His answer to this question was even more depressing than his earlier responses. In a year when Bernie Sanders proved that calling oneself a “democratic socialist” is no longer a declaration of political irrelevance. In a week when that “radical left-winger”, Jeremy Corbyn, was re-elected with an increased majority by Labour’s 600,000 members. Who was the left-wing politician Little identified as his inspirational role-model?
Bill Shorten.
That’s right, Bill Shorten. The charismatically challenged and ideologically inert leader of the Australian Labor Party, for whom the need for Labor to “command the centre ground” enjoys the status of unchallengeable holy writ.
If Little cannot refrain from shoving his philosophical foot this far down his political throat every time he opens his mouth, then maybe he should sit out the next twelve months in silence!
A version of 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, 30 September 2016.


Polly said...

Chris agree with your sentiment. Need more be said.

peteswriteplace said...

You don't give up do you? To help Andrew you could also refrain from some of the severity of your comments. NZ First is not going to be the govt

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I get a little sick of the "left and right don't matter any more" stuff. It's usually espoused by conservatives in order to convince people they should vote for them. In fact, it matters more now than at any time in my living memory. We have what the RWNJS like Michael Laws call an underclass – and let's give credit for telling it like it is – of long-term unemployed, and a larger group of people in dead-end service jobs. The upper working class seems to have almost disappeared. And it might be a little old-fashioned but I think that they provided better leadership to the workers than the current crop of professional politicians.

Olwyn said...

Firstly, Little was right to reject talk of the centre, since it has become code for business-as-usual. During the 2011-2014 period "you can't abandon the centre" was the line of defense used by the Labour right against the left. It is sensible of Little to distance himself from that conception of the centre, since it has become a damp squib for those who hope for change through Labour. Secondly, have another look at Shorten. I preferred Albanese myself when Shorten became leader, but Shorten has since stepped up to the mark, and has shown himself to be a very able political strategist. I take heart from both Corbyn and Sanders, but I can see that the conditions are not in place in NZ for Little to name either of them as his hero without risking a hell of a hammering for small reward. We do not at this stage have an equivalent of Momentum, but we do have a hubris-filled right and a biased media, which Little must take into account as he charts his course.

Kiwi said...

Since 2008 and the collapse of the neo- liberal economic edifice it is clear that politicians who espouse strictly left or right policy have problems appealing to liberal voters. No longer are the cliches left or right a wise part of modern political speak as it signals you are still a classical economic misfit unable to appeal to liberal voters.

Little had the right idea but the delivery was a bit miss.

Unknown said...

The future will differ from the will future leaders. Whining from the sidelines is easy, being a leader is hard. Good leaders don't exist on lies and Little seems at this stage to fit that bill

Jayson said...

Chris, for him to draw inspiration from Sanders would not be an issue.
Regardless of whether or not you agree with his policies, he is a good political operator.
Contrast this with Corbyn who is a political imbecile who has be placed in power by an extreme faction that cares far more about politics than the rest of the country, but are in the end irrelevant.
Sanders made a good contest of the Democratic Primaries and would have been a decent president (better than the current two main candidates).
Corbyn has precisely no show of getting his hands on the levers of power, which is presumably the reason May has not chosen to opt for an early election.
After all, why go to the polls now when you can go to the polls in four years time and still be guaranteed a victory.

Dennis Frank said...

Excellent, Chris. Nailed it comprehensively. His response ought to have been `yes,but...'- introducing the essential spin to present as viable contender for PM in a change of government election. He's just not there.

And GS, left & right don't matter any more to around a third of the electorate, including the crucial swing-voters. Have you noticed that nobody ever tries to define those terms? I think they slipped into Polanyi's realm of tacit knowledge several generations back. Someone ought to do a polscience doctoral thesis on this: conduct a survey asking voters to define those terms and analyse the results. It would produce a fascinating outcome.

The thing about tacit stuff is that it motivates behaviour via subconscious prompting. Identity politics combines that with consciously-identified affilations on the basis of belonging and like-mindedness. Tacit stuff only gets explicit when people think about it, more so when they talk about it, even more so when they write about it. Centrists are not just constituted by the unthinking, but also by those of us who have spent years or most of a lifetime explaining what's wrong with the left & right.

Jim Rose said...

This rejection of the median voter theorem seems to be catching across the left.

Corbyn does not seem to put forward many policies that would appeal to Tory voters.

But the Fabian Society calculated that 4 of the 5 votes he needs to win to win a majority of one outright in the House of Commons is from Tory voters. Even assuming a coalition with the Scottish nationalists does not improve his position that much.

Anonymous said...

I agree with your sentiment totally Chris - Little is clearly hopeless

But why model yourself on Sanders or Corbyn when neither will get within shouting distance of governing?


greywarbler said...

I can understand your despair Chris. A smart principled union leader has been tried, a considerate and experienced politician with concern for identity politics has been tried, a bloke with overseas experience has been tried, a go-getter who considered getting big things done was important whatever the cost, professionals such as lawyers who know how to play ball with the law have been tried.

I don't think any of them would be able for various reasons, to carry Labour forward. I think Shane Jones should be invited back. He catches the fancies of the blokes, and probably has charisma for the females with red rather than blue blood in their veins. At least he is interesting and would hold his own in a political scuffle if he was given the lead position. Anything thrown at him he could just brazen out.

It is not integrity and attention to citizens' needs and a well-functioning employment environment people care about, it is somebody doing interesting or even (Google: remarkable, exceptional, amazing, astonishing, astounding, marvellous, wonderful, sensational, stunning, incredible, unbelievable, miraculous, phenomenal, prodigious, spectacular) things to talk about over a beer. Entertainment for the gossip mill - that's what the broad mass of voters want. And some policies that seem worthwhile and sensible sprinkled on top.

Daniel Copeland said...

I'm not convinced you're right about this, Chris. At what point does the non-vote become bigger than the "centre"? Isn't it at least plausible that a growing number of people are not voting precisely because, in appealing to the "centre", the major parties are too willing to sacrifice the things they care about? I know that's why I've never voted for the Labour Party. There are certain values I want to see represented in Parliament no matter what, and if that means the party representing them stays in Opposition then so be it.

Michael Smythe said...

So when are you going to apply the same blowtorch to the more consistently incoherent and logically challenged utterances of John Key and many of his ministers? What jollies do you get from making overblown generalisations about Little's performance?

My understanding of Andrew's remarks was that focusing on the comfortable middle-class middle ground would simply echo the 'everything's fine, nothing to worry about' narrative that Key and co are manufacturing. Someone has to shine a light on the areas in which government is failing and offer an alternative approach. I support Andrew's stand against complacency.

For the record - I thought his succinct and confident remarks about Brash's latest rehas was spot on and well said.

Michael Wynd said...


I'm not surprised he chose Bill Shorten. Both are ex0union bosses now in charge of their parties. Shorten is famous for agreeing with something Julia Gillard without knowing what it was she had said. The more I think about it, they are both very similar.

pat said...

unfortunately Little appears to be a politician desperately appearing to not be......and poorly.

Jens Meder said...

If Andrew Little has confidence in "commanding the centre ground" - the winning recipe of Clark/Cullen and Blair(?) - then would it not be appropriate and permissible now to clarify by discussion the essence and material criteria of the socio-economic centre on the political spectrum ?

jh said...

Treasury’s Secretary and Chief Executive is not surprised the Government is ignoring the concerns Treasury has raised over some of the challenges caused by record migration to New Zealand.
“There are genuinely political choices to be made. The Government at the end of the day makes political choices. I’m completely relaxed about it," Gabriel Makhlouf  told in a Double Shot Interview
Documents released under the Official Information Act reveal Treasury in December told Finance Minister Bill English a spike in demand for housing, spurred by more people arriving in New Zealand, is contributing to rising house prices. It cautioned prices would continue to rise unless supply was ramped up.
Treasury went further saying: “There is a concern that recently there has been a relative decline in the skill level of our labour migration...
“The increasing flows of younger and lower skilled migrants may be contributing to a lack of employment opportunities for local workers with whom they compete…
“Current policy settings may not be doing all they can to support the growth of higher productivity firms and industries, including facilitating the flow of higher skilled migrants to sectors of the economy where skill shortages may be acting as a significant constraint.
“In addition, our current approach to selecting migrants may have encouraged reliance over time on lower-skilled labour in some parts of the economy. This may have been discouraging some firms from either increasing wages and working conditions or investing, either in training their existing workforce or in capital.
“The size of these effects may not be large on aggregate across the economy. But at the margin, we believe that there are benefits to making changes to immigration policy…”
Corrin Dann
you don't want to get immigration down , to fall though, do you. I just got to say something. I saw you in a speech after the budget and you were in a big room of business people, now some of those were the biggest business minds of the country and you stood up and said: “don't worry about treasuries figure the estimation that it will go back to 12000, you were confident the figure was going to be a lot higher than that.

I just think it is likely to be higher than that

Corrin Dann
But it's like telling them you wanted immigration to be up. You were telling them “ don't worry the demand will be there, the economies going to stay there, that's what's keeping New Zealand affloat

So Makhlouf's master is a big room of wealthy business people not the little people?

jh said...

In one way Little might be right as polls keep showing the public think the country is headed in the right direction but no one but a few in the know have any idea of what the alternative is? That is perhaps because the media are status -quo boosters (including RNZ).

"Clearly, there are serious questions to be asked about New Zealand’s economic policy and how we got into this mess. Why was it not better designed and managed, and more focussed, coordinated and strategic? Did the electorate simply get what it voted for, without realising what was really happening, or have New Zealanders not been well served over the years?
Underlining the current difficult situation, the government is spending at an unsustainable level and running large deficits (the opposite of saving). As a result, it is borrowing a hefty $300 million a week. It needs to return the Budget to a surplus of no less than 2% of GDP as soon as possible.
Looking ahead over the next 20 years or so, the government will face increasing costs from the effects of an ageing population. If the government is to keep its borrowing within a sustainable level (as it must) over this period, its options are to: substantially increase tax revenue, reduce government spending, or increase government sector productivity and performance. The first two options are clearly unpalatable. However, modelling shows that if the government can lift its performance and increase productivity by 2% a year for five years and 1% thereafter, there would be no need to raise taxes or cut government services. The SWG strongly recommends this.

On other government policy issues, SWG recommendations include:
- A much more strategic and integrated approach to policy generally.
- Serious consideration of the impact of the level and variability of immigration on national saving, and the impact that this might have on the living standards of New Zealanders. There are indications that our high immigration rate has pushed up government spending, house prices and business borrowing.
- Improving data on household and business saving."

Having said that I doubt that is what Little and the Pink Tu Tu's (James Dann) have in mind

Jens Meder said...

Clearly then, with reference to jh -

if Andrew Little, or Labour (or the government, or the nation - i.e. WE) have to keep borrowing within a sustainable level, and our only options are to increase taxation revenue, reduce govt. (i.e. OUR!) spending (on consumption), or (and!) increase "govt. sector" (i.e.OUR !) productivity -

we should be aware, that nothing of this can be done without raising someone's savings rate at the expense of consumption - for increasing investment and debt reduction -

which in the most fair, effective and egalitarian (universal) way can be done through an adequate NZ private and national wealth ownership creative savings rate built into the taxation system.

Who can doubt in that on what grounds ?

Charles E said...

I think Chris is right, Little should have said something more coherent than mentioning an Aussie very few Kiwis have even heard of. I would have said 'I definitely aim to appeal to the centre and move them my way some. Of course Helen is right about that.' Then move on, because the centre is not the first thing he needs to do. He needs to get back some support the Green’s have nicked, and NZF support too so he can if need be, dump the Greens and do a deal with Winston alone after the election. But I think he is too decent a guy to do that now since he signed that damn MoU. Foolish move. Political instinct is what he lacks I think.
I just can't see Winston Trump doing a deal with Labour plus the Greens. He would take the opportunity to blame them for 'forcing' him to go with National. He is a snake, but not a mad Green snake. He loathes them, and probably more so now they have a Maori co-leader, who talks up the treaty, which winds him up no end.
So Little needs a good chunk of the centre and the green left to get the PM's job.

Nick J said...

I saw the "centre" trudge up my street today toward the open home of another overpriced shack. Expectations of being able to garner capital gains driving their light footed airy dispositions. Behind the cheery facade the venality of tax offsetting against income, landlordism of excessive rentals,the expectation of tax free capital gains.
Most of these house hunters getting grey, post children, home owners since their 20s courtesy of the Housing Corp. No student debt. Holidays in Europe. Feasting on a bubble. All good so long as Key keeps the immigration going putting pressure on housing and rentals high.

That ladies and gents is the "centre". The people Little is supposed to win over. It won't happen unless he is willing to bribe them with more of the same, to their already base instincts. Little stands no chance with this "centre". Why try?

Jens Meder said...

Does Nick J suggest there is a more promising prospect for Labour and the future of the country through vigorous "class warfare" and demands for more redistribution of income (or what?) -

than in a cooperative effort with participation by all towards achieving at least a home ownership value of personal wealth ownership by all citizens eventually, even as it might take longer than one generation ?

This can be initiated through resuming the $1000.- Kiwi Saver kick-start to all "from cradle to grave", and would not any increase in taxation rates become politically more acceptable when seen as wealth ownership creative, rather than just more wealth consumptive ?

greywarbler said...

Jens Meder
You consider something must be done but are unable to expand your mind to encompass really useful and fast solutions. Going back to the past and enabling young people getting into their first home with a cheap affordable mortgage would be very easy while credit is so prevalent. You only have to pause in the street and someone will hand you a leaflet inviting you to buy on credit.

The young people who present as being responsible and committed to take charge of their lives and finishing tasks would be a worthwhile group to enable and invest in with immediate uplift. Government would provide them with low interest loans, and in a planned community suburb with services, schools and transport, allocate sections and have small teams training in skills, and helping each other build two or three houses, with skilled supervisors and Council checks also. The mortgages would be low interest and on 10 year rates to provide stability of finances. It is called building capacity, and is known elsewhere in the world. Only in NZ are we trying to go backwards into the Dark Ages of privilege and pauperism.

This is what Labour could have done when in power and I think they were talking of such things as 'sweat equity' but after uttering the words they got tired and sidetracked. This approach and its triumph over problems to successful outcomes, would have revitalised their image in the voters' eyes, but they were stuck to their seats and old policies with superglue and lacked the ability to grasp the project and envisage hard manual labour.

Nick J said...

Jens Im suggesting that the current "centrist" voter is irredeemably corrupted by a venal acquisitive voting behaviour. Therefore Little either sells his soul to them by out bidding Key OR he finds another constituency. I am also going to suggest this constituency is those currently excluded from societies benefits which will soon include people burnt by a burst housing bubble.

I dont suggest Labour commit to class warfare, any acute observer can see we currently have class warfare from above initiated against the less well off by this National government.

The cure to this is actually remarkably easy. It is called making the playing field level and recognizing the issues. Their is nothing wrong with setting policy for "cradle to grave" welfare. It is the cost of a civilised society. And it belies the "right wing" myth of creative restrictivity. If you observe our current economy huge swathes of creativity is denied by the priveleges accorded to those that "have".

Nick J said...

Nice work Grey. One very obvious solution for those like yourself who care to look and realise what is under their nose.

Jens Meder said...

Yes Nick J and Grey - in principle it is simple what you say should or could be done, and was done to some extent 70 years ago with the help of Keynesian deficit financing or credit creation, fresh after the great depression and even war time austerity -

when overdraft indebtedness was much lower than what we have managed to get into since Muldoon's promise of a higher rate of NZ Super from the reduced entitlement age at 60, with the reserves supposed to have accumulated by then to help financing universal NZ Super from age 65 - already consumed well before Muldoon's time.

The simplicity is not in doing all these things again with the help of increased borrowing at our state of indebtedness now - but in raising our capital wealth ownership and debt reducing savings rate.

On what grounds might you not be satisfied with this simple and demonstrably effective policy, Nick J and Grey ?

Nick J said...

Jens who mentioned borrowing?

Jens Meder said...

Nick J - that's (borrowing) is what you get, when a govt. gets elected on the promise of "building capacity" and finds out no adequate capital (reserves) nor flow of income through earnings and taxes are available to finance it.

A democratic government's power to act is usually limited by having to balance the (self-contradictory?) public demands for more relief and benefits from the public purse and resistance to higher taxes and rates to finance them.

Therefore our priority should be to raise our national and individual capital ownership savings rate for needed investments and adequate reserves first, which actually builds up capacity for any- and everything else -

that is more wealth consumptive than wealth creative, i.e. the capacity of higher consumption potential in a sustainable way.

Would that not be a morally and economically unbeatable policy ?

Nick J said...

Jens have you considered that one mans capital is another mans debt (or womans)...its a zero sum. Or it should be were it not for the creation of future debt brought forward aka fractional banking. We have overlayed so many and various layers of debt instruments and obligations that we (whether owners of capital or indebted to capital) have tied ourselves in knots.

The housing bubble exemplifies the issue. The bubble pops and lots of people lose equity and become more heavily indebted with negative equity. This is debt slavery as a reward for taking on a risk.

So no I dont favour capital aggregation or debt. I would favour all government funding on social incomes i.e benefits pensions etc come from tax on current income. Thats a discussion well away from the topic at hand.

Jens Meder said...

Nick J.
Have you not considered or are you not aware that one's capital savings are NOT anyone else's debt?
Or if they are, please explain it to me, because how can my savings from my income be anyone else's debt to me - or to anyone else - or does my income actually still belong to the person I worked for - if I did not borrow it ?

Nick J - on current tax or whatever income you could not even build a house within a couple of months without having accumulated or borrowing someone else's accumulated capital, so your preference for no capital accumulation is nonsense, and therefore actually perhaps the most important issue on the topic at hand - Andrew Little's credibility on whatever he may promise on building more houses, create jobs or reducing and eliminating poverty - nothing of which can be achieved without saving for capital accumulation and debt repayments for borrowed capital -

unless you can come up with an example refuting that.

Are not all the world's (and our) economic troubles the result of inadequate willingness or ability to save enough for what we want (additionally to daily consumption needs), or keep up with the expected savings rate to repay what was borrowed for those wants or needs ?