Tuesday, 21 March 2017

John Key's Legacy - A Protected Status Quo.

Shhhh! Don't Frighten The Horses! And that, in essence, is the story of John Key’s prime-ministership. For National Party voters the status quo of 2008 has been protected and extended. The lives of most New Zealanders have not been subjected to sudden and dramatic changes.
 
INCREMENTAL CHANGE is, generally-speaking, the most effective expression of democratic government. Most human-beings are uncomfortable with sudden and dramatic change. They can live with it, and through it, if they have to. (Just ask the citizens of Christchurch and Kaikoura!)  But most people, given a choice between the status quo and massive upheaval, will opt for the status quo.
 
Understanding the New Zealand electorate’s sensitivity to change is what made John Key such a successful prime minister. Like all clever politicians, he approached the whole fraught business of change with the wary circumspection of someone handling nitro-glycerine.
 
There are, of course, exceptions to this general rule about change. If, for example, the status quo has become unbearable, then the prospect of dramatic change acquires a much less frightening aspect. In these circumstances, the smart politician not only embraces the necessity for “Big Change”, but he also does everything he can to cast the dog-in-the-manger defenders of the status quo as “enemies of the people”.
 
On 4 March 1933, the day Franklin Delano Roosevelt was sworn-in as the thirty-second President of the United States, nearly one in every three adult American males was out of work and most of America’s banks had closed their doors. For many millions of Americans the status quo had, indisputably, become unbearable, and they were hungry for change.
 
Nevertheless, Roosevelt was mindful of the need to reassure his fellow citizens that he understood their anxieties concerning both the magnitude of the economic crisis gripping their country and the radical scope of the measures required to fix it. “So, first of all,” he told the American people, “let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself”.
 
By the time John Key became prime minister on 19 November 2008 there were many who believed that Big Change would be the defining characteristic of his ministry. His election victory had coincided with the full onset of the Global Financial Crisis and the world was teetering on the brink of an economic calamity every bit as transformative as the Great Depression.
 
New Zealand’s free-market enthusiasts were as eager for Key to take advantage of this real crisis as they had been for David Lange to take advantage of the 1984 speculator-driven financial crisis triggered by Labour finance spokesperson, Roger Douglas’s, leaked promise to devalue the New Zealand dollar by 20 percent. Their hope was that the incoming Key government would seize the opportunity provided by the Global Financial Crisis to announce a raft of savage spending cuts and launch yet another round of radical deregulation.
 
But John Key was made of considerably sterner stuff than the politically inexperienced and economically illiterate David Lange. The new National Party prime minister understood that for most New Zealanders – especially those who had been kind enough to vote for him – the status quo was a very long way from becoming unbearable. Quite the reverse, in fact. A lengthy period of economic buoyancy had turned the status quo into something to be protected and, if possible, extended for as long as possible.
 
And that, in essence, is the story of John Key’s prime-ministership. For National Party voters the status quo of 2008 has been protected and extended. The lives of most New Zealanders have not been subjected to sudden and dramatic changes.
 
For those Kiwis living on the margins, however: the unemployed, solo mums, unskilled workers, homeless people; the changes have been wrenching and unceasing. Unfortunately, a majority of New Zealand’s more secure and contented citizens have been willing to accept the suffering of this marginalised underclass as the price to be paid for maintaining their own, very comfortable (and increasingly valuable) status quo. Had the poor mobilised politically against the unbearable conditions of their daily lives, the status quo might have changed. But they didn’t – and it hasn’t.
 
All the evidence points to Andrew Little and (most) of the Labour Party having, finally, absorbed the key political lesson of the past nine years. That a clear majority of voting New Zealanders remain unconvinced that New Zealand faces anything remotely resembling the conditions that confronted Franklin D. Roosevelt in 1932, or Michael Joseph Savage in 1935. The status quo, for most Kiwis, remains far from unbearable. Big Change is not required.
 
Certainly, the multiplying number of government failures: the lack of affordable housing; declining water quality; land sales to foreigners; overcrowding in primary school classrooms; the sorry state of New Zealand’s mental health services; is fast reaching the point where, after nine years, the voters are ready for “an orderly rotation of political elites”. What the electorate (as presently configured) is not ready for, however, is revolution.
 
The contemplation of six impossibly big changes before breakfast can safely be left to the TOP of Gareth Morgan’s head.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 21 March 2017.

17 comments:

greywarbler said...

Yes TOPS really useful purpose is to bring up the subjects that make the hair bristle on complacent voters and do the job that Labour can't afford to do and National will never consider doing. That is face reality, be kind, enable people to have a place in society where they can have wellbeing. But Morgan isn't that keen on government intervention and deliberate action for the people except to bring some order to unfettered capitalism. All the same, he is a change of wind cooler than the hot flatulent air we are accustomed to.

Sion said...

Perhapse more incremental change will do, if not by the encombents, but fairly radical change over a time frame of perhapse less than 9 years is likely going to be required.

In fact radical change has already occurred. It's political nature is yet to unfold. Technology is changing lives at an increasing pace. The next nine years will be defined by the political al implications of the changing technological landscape as expectations change with it.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" Unfortunately, a majority of New Zealand’s more secure and contented citizens have been willing to accept the suffering of this marginalised underclass as the price to be paid for maintaining their own, very comfortable (and increasingly valuable) status quo.

And you see them all the time commenting on this blog. I'm pretty sure that some of them feel for the poor in a vague sort of NIMBY way, but many of them blame the poor for their poverty, and I think even more just ignore the whole thing– nothing to be done – the poor will always be with us. Just heard Rod Oram explain about a Chinese factory owner he was talking to, that every 3 years shifted his factory from a high labour cost area in China to a lower one. Not a word about the workers who were left behind. Yet if you read the Guardian you find out what actually happens to these people which is not very pleasant. Funny, I was always getting into trouble when I studied economics for saying things like this. According to classical economics these people just "move on to other jobs." Well – no they actually don't, but were not allowed to think about that, because we have to keep ourselves "objective."
We have become a nation of selfish arseholes thanks to Roger Douglas and his years of social engineering. He managed to unleash the shitty meanness at the bottom of the New Zealand psyche. And many people think this is okay.

Alan said...

A latter-day 'Steady as she goes' Keith Holyoake, who was another long-serving National Prime Minister with a great smile and reassuring chuckle.

Trouble is that the whole country has shifted steadily and unearingly to the Right since the time a National consensus PM could defend a quality public health system and near-free education system.... to say nothing of full employment policies.

Kiwi Keith would be drummed out of today's National Party as a closet communist. Nor would he be at home in a Nat-lite 'Labour' Party.

Alan Rhodes

Kat said...

What we don't want is layer upon layer of bureaucracy or knee jerk decisions foisted upon us disguised as "status quo" govt management. New Zealand can have little or no unemployment, decent housing, first class health care and an education system second to none. Key failed to deliver on all these. Key actually made things worse by not setting a steady course for change. Key's legacy after eight years is that he ended up frightening many of the sheeple.

Blaster said...

If Little et al do make it to the Tresaury benches in September, it's likely he will be just another tinkerer who won't address many of the social/economic/environmental issues facing NZ.

Not the kind of power at all costs of Clarke but Little will be a kind of petty seat warmer as PM.

BlisteringAttack said...

I remember when Key went to that working class state house suburb and took that Maori girl to Waitangi.

A publicity stunt that amounted to precisely nothing.

As a PM, Key was a moral failure.

greywarbler said...

Guerilla Surgeon
I think you are right and it breaks me up. There is a certain level of selfishness needed so we can have a life and be as full a person as times allow. And then stopping to think of the living soul in other people being put through so much, that is what has to happen.

Empathy and caring about one another and giving them space in the world to be themselves and show their best potential, that is my aim and has changed me, and what I want for myself and has altered how people respond to me as well.

We have become a nation of selfish arseholes thanks to Roger Douglas and his years of social engineering. He managed to unleash the shitty meanness at the bottom of the New Zealand psyche. And many people think this is okay.

Brendon Harre said...

"In the past NZ was fed TINA -'there is no alternative' to justify every radical neoliberal policy that the public did not want, now we are fed TINS -'there is no solution' to justify why the government can't change any policy that the public do want changed" ........this applies to housing, foreign investment, immigration, water......

I hate to use the term third-way due to all the awful Blair connotations -but is there one?

Nick J said...

Just been to the Hager book launch. Key approved the botched SAS raid leaving his legacy of dead and maimed Afghan civilians. Wayne Mapp you knew about it. Care to comment?

Robert M said...

Not really, Key like Lange was seen by his party as little more than a PR front man.In reality, Key was a bit of a market liberal, but lacked the political skill and faction to influence a government going increasingly populist.That plus the defeat of his golfing, clubbing friends, Obama and Cameron. Mrs Key would have little to say to Ivanka and the possibility of Max joining the Trump party party would have her rip out the phone lines

Kat said...

Reinstate:

1. Ministry of Works
2. NZ Forestry
3. NZ Rail
4. NZ Power

Regulate farming and transport and kick the blood sucking insurance industry out of health....

Nah!...........sheil be right mate.....Bill said there could be tax cuts...

Blagger said...

Kat @21 March 20:58 is correct.

Charles E said...

The complaints above are that we have had 18 years of little or no change. Not so.
Chris you understand conservatism & democracy but those above do not.
Little understands it and has a good chance of being our next conservative PM. Conservatism is the default setting for any stable, largely well functioning, mostly happy nation. That's us and it has seldom been otherwise in our history. Conservatism recognises that life involves constant, slow, natural change, and so good government only requires change at a similar pace. Unless there is a major crisis. Like WW2.
Clark & Cullen knew this & were I thought, even more conservative than Key & English. Not sure why. Lack of confidence? But they had the votes to keep change to the natural minimum.
Accordingly the combined support for these two brands of conservatism is always well north of 70% and sometimes 85%+ in NZ.
So you above want change on a much greater scale. Well you are not democrats then are you.
What sort of change? Like in the USA now? Like in Syria? Venezuela? Turkey? Perhaps France will provide you with some excitement in the next few years. I hope not.

Nick J said...

Wayne, I have seen your comments on Stuff this morning, I was confident of your integrity, I will now butt out.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"So you above want change on a much greater scale. Well you are not democrats then are you. "

Tell that to the Labour government of the 1930s. God, what Tosh. Patronising Tosh at that. not a Democrat......... sigh. Charles reminds me of one of those old Victorians at times, talking to their daughters and their wives saying "Don't you worry your pretty little head about politics dear, us (old white) men will take care of that for you." Tell that to Mabel Howard. :)

Kat said...

The irony in what Charles E wrote @16.34 is that the changes sought, though with some re-tuning, are just a return to what was once the "status Quo".