Thursday 9 November 2017

Settling The Stardust: The Grim Logic Behind National's Opposition Tactics.

Starting As They Mean To Finish: Simon Bridges' opening parliamentary gambit has made it more-or-less impossible for National’s period in opposition to be anything other than a bloody, no-holds-barred fight to the finish. Bill English had hinted that this might be the Opposition's game-plan when he told the NZ Herald that “it’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming Government […] we have no obligation to smooth [Labour’s] path. None whatsoever.”

WHAT WAS HE THINKING? When Simon Bridges pulled his little parliamentary stunt and extracted his procedural pound of flesh – what was he thinking? Was it no more than a spur-of-the-moment bluff? Did Labour’s Chris Hipkins give in too readily? What would have happened if the Government had been prepared to call his bluff? We’ll never know. We never do. History turns on such moments. The course our political leaders end up taking is always just one of an infinite number of alternatives they could have followed. But the courses chosen: the paths followed; they matter. You can put a ring around that, they matter a lot.

What Simon Bridges was thinking, probably, was that it was a risk worth taking. As the Shadow Leader of the House, he had given the Government his word that National would support Trevor Mallard’s bid to become Speaker, providing that, in return, his colleague, Anne Tolley, would be elected Deputy-Speaker. Labour had agreed. A deal had been struck. As an “honourable” Member of Parliament, Simon’s word should have been his bond. So, yes, his bold parliamentary gambit represented a huge breach of trust. It was risky. But the potential reward was worth it.

Welching on the Speaker deal. Slapping Labour’s face in front of the whole world. Making them look weak and incompetent by turning the first sitting of the House of Representative into a shambles and a farce – and coming out of it with a concession that promised many, many more opportunities to frustrate and humiliate the Government. These were all victories – his victories – and they would transform him into National’s warrior knight.

Bridges’ actions had achieved something else. Such an open and unconscionable breach of trust made it more-or-less impossible for National’s period in opposition to be anything other than a bloody, no-holds-barred fight to the finish. Bill English had hinted that this might, indeed, be National’s plan when he told the NZ Herald that “it’s not our job to make this place run for an incoming Government […] we have no obligation to smooth [Labour’s] path. None whatsoever.”

But like this? On the first day? Surely not.

Jacinda Ardern must now decide how her Labour-NZ First-Green government should respond to Bridges’ ambush. Like Barack Obama, she has come into office with an all-embracing programme of social, economic and cultural uplift. A programme in which she hoped the losing party would not only be willing to play the role of her government’s necessarily critical opposition, but also that of a patriotically constructive partner in the urgent task of national renewal. It is now very clear that this objective will only be achieved over the broken body of the National Party. With all hopes of collaboration and compromise dashed on the very first day, Jacinda’s new government is faced with the additional challenge of advancing its ambitious legislative programme in the face of the Opposition’s implacable and unrelenting resistance.

The most effective way for the National Opposition to resist Jacinda’s reforming government is by doing everything within its power to shatter its supporters’ faith in the political system’s capacity to deliver real change. The most terrifying sight the National Opposition has witnessed so far must surely have been the size and enthusiasm of the crowd of ordinary New Zealanders who gathered in Parliament Grounds to welcome the newly sworn-in Prime Minister and her Cabinet back from Government House. Bill English and his caucus would have observed all those expressions of hope and joy and realised that unless this new-found faith in politics – Jacinda’s “stardust” – was dispersed, and rapidly, then the new government’s lease on the Treasury Benches was likely to be a long one.

National is well aware that its own supporters’ understanding of politics is very different from that of Labour’s, the Greens’ and NZ First’s followers. National voters see politics as a purely instrumental activity: the means by which their interests and aspirations are secured and encouraged. Most of them are well aware of the fact that this can only be achieved at the expense of the less prosperous half of the New Zealand population – and most of them are quite okay with that. In their eyes, the poor and the marginalised have only themselves to blame for the multiple misfortunes which assail them. If you’re a loser in this society, it’s obviously because you haven’t tried hard enough to win!

It is this ruthlessly competitive approach to life and politics which allows them to respond to Simon Bridges parliamentary ambush with nothing but unalloyed admiration. Whatever it takes to win is fine by them. If their opponents label such tactics “dirty politics”, then they will simply shrug-off the accusation. “Dirty politics?”, they will chortle. “Is there any other kind?”

What was Simon Bridges thinking when he staged his parliamentary ambush? That it would not hurt his political career to be seen to be responding so unequivocally to the expectation of his party’s supporters that everything must be done to make politics appear tawdry and mean-spirited? That every stratagem which serves to make people despair of politics; and every act that causes them to turn away from politicians in disgust; will be heartily approved by National’s voters?

Those would certainly have been the thoughts of a young, ambitious leader-in-waiting, brashly confident that the National Opposition will retain the unwavering support of all those New Zealanders intent on recovering their lost social and economic ascendancy – no matter what it does.

Use any means necessary – just so long as that bloody stardust settles!

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 9 November 2017.


peteswriteplace said...

Bridges fired his first shot in a leadership attempt. English showed his known weakness. Somebody else will now attempt to ascend the spiral staircase to the Tory throne?

JanM said...

It is almost as though from now on we will be split, not so much on whether we prefer one set of policies to another, but on moral, ethical and social issues (though I suppose you could argue that that is already the case with a 'policy' stance).

Do we want an honest, open, people-friendly government which is inclusive and fair, or an aggressive, winner-takes-all, whatever-it takes one?

It's really quite creepy that all pretence at morality is now unfashionable with the latter. Although dishonesty is nothing new in politics, of course, until now, in our society at least, it was hidden as being unpalatable - now it appears to be something to crow about!

In the fairytales of my childhood the good always wins over the bad - fingers crossed!

Polly said...

Which ever way you look at the first day of Parliament, National not only won the day they made Labour look shaken and foolish.
Labour further caused embarrassment to themselves by telling lies about their strategy.
I believe we will have a no holds barred Parliament, particularly when Winnie shows up with his arrogance and negativity to the future of New Zealand.
Come on Labour pull your socks up. try and advance our economy and the well being of it's citizens.
Do not destroy both.

pat said...

“Dirty politics?”, they will chortle. “Is there any other kind?”

Indeed there is....the kind displayed to date by Jacinda Adern,

National may score some points along the way, though likely only noticed to any degree by those who live and breath politics, however I suspect the majority of voters will support "a kinder government" and National may well descend into internal power plays and irrelevance....deja vu all over again.

Heres hoping

aberfoyle said...

Yesterday was the first sitting day, and the Nat!s opposition benches full of petulant play ground children all bleating to the prefect,they stole my lunch, they stole my pencil case,they stole my seat in the class room.Today at question time it will again be full on bleating from their benches,and the target will be the week link that will be Labour!s deputy as both Prime Minster, and agreed coalition deputy Prime Minister,are out of the house today.

Soon the Nat!s petulance occupying the opposition benches shall accede to acceptance to be monarchs of those benches, as the voting public sees their petulant play ground outrage to be nothing more than a child spoiled brat spitting their dummy.

Kat said...

44% and tracking ever so slowly and painfully downwards. By 2020 National will be fighting even dirtier for survival and it won't just be in parliament. The "powers that be" and the fabric that makes up the "winners" will cause as much havoc as possible for as long as possible for the new govt.

The notion that parliament is a contest of ideas for the betterment of the country is nothing more than wishful thinking. The National party want power and at any cost. It will take a "real" left turn by the electorate at large to change that attitude.

Jens Meder said...

Isn't that all just as irrelevant as making a mountain out of a molehill, with no influence nor relevance on the policies to be introduced ?

In other words - will it not be only to the credit of Jacinda not to be drawn into such time wasting pettiness ?

greywarbler said...

Thinking about NZ and what it expects but accepts from politicians, we are in a quandary. The vaunted ambition to have smaller government by the free marketeers and neo libs could well have been based round the equally vaunted idea that government is ineffectual and needs to have the fat cut out of it and be more efficient. However that understanding by many voters, is only a partial one and now a piece of propaganda.

It no doubt did apply at first, but the fat that was available for the knife has gone. What remains is the fat in the CEO salary. The person may well be very skilled but not at the multiplication level to the common professional, for instance a registered nurse to the CEO.

The smaller government spoken of now alludes to less government, deliberately incompetent, ignorant and indefinite government for and of the people. Branches being shut down, telephone contact through underpersoned call centres, etc.

It is in National's interest to destroy the government, completely discredit it in citizen's eyes. Yet this is an attack on democracy, more insidious than communism and the totalitarian end of it anyway. People must be hypnotised by talking heads interpreting for them, choosing the line to take, appealing to emotion and 'best practice'.

This morning on Radionz Kim carefully read out the treatise of a child psychologist? commenting on a dastardly teacher who had carried a naughty child to the Principal's office, saying that the teacher should never have touched the child because it could lay the foundations for future mental distress. This avoids the presumption that the child has come to school affected by mental stress and poor parenting, the likely reason for anti-social behaviour. It was an attack on the teaching profession, part of a continual barrage. Another failed government service! The private industry can do it better. Probably teach by robot so that no human hand should ever touch an acting-out miscreant.

BlisteringAttack said...

Bridges and Amy Adams have been laying down their credentials for a future leadership bid in a year or so.

Kat said...

I would add that a "real" left turn would be reflected in an increase in voter support for all three coalition parties putting National/Act support at less than 30%.

Victor said...

I can't see much point having tories if they don't behave like 'ladies and gentlemen', which sort of means keeping their word.

Victor said...

I find it impossible to take Simon Bridges seriously.

That irate little boy voice keeps reminding me of the late Terry Scott's most famous comic persona:

Nick J said...

Grey, I heard the teacher child incident in passing with the usual psychobabble. My thoughts....Are we so soft and wet between the ears. A teacher took charge and dealt to a problem, good, that's initiative.

The child learned something sorely lacking in the psychobabble...actions have consequences. Big tick teacher, pity nobody else took responsibility to teach the child this.

If we wish our children to face the world and become fully formed adults we Need to drop all this soft touch blame every body else culture. Start with the basic premise that the world is dangerous so learn early that actions create reactions good or bad.

David Stone said...

Jens Meder

Thats how I see it too.

Anonymous said...

National won the election over Labour by a country mile, so of course they want revenge. Labour sold a lot to Peters for seven percent support and no electorate seat for power, far more than he deserved or warranted. No matter how the left spins it, more people wanted National to be government than Labour, as election night proved. Arden even called English, admitting he had more votes. 'The voters have spoken' far more honest than 'MMP will decide'.

This govt under MMP may be lawful, but this is still a coalition of the losing parties, put in place by Peters, rather than the majority of voters. Otherwise, an election would actually be meaningless. So go National, be the Opposition from Hell (when you are actually the rightful govt), block and mischief make at every opportunity, and show this rabble up to be the student politicians they are! One term govt, if day one was anything to go by. Already our economy is on the slide..
MMP - great at delivering a shaky three headed govt, terrible at delivering the govt that the majority actually wanted (ten more seats, 200,000 more votes! That is huge, especially for a third term govt!!).


greywarbler said...

Nick J
That's how I see it. It is good to have someone write in and agree, often the other way. It is one example of the government not thinking about what we need in the 21st century as a people, not bothering to find out how we want to live. National have been so happy to follow along the path that renegade Labourites set up that we have gone backwards while technology outstrips us.

And we have no defences, no ability and time set aside to reflect and think about where we are going. Iceberg here comes Titanic! A technological marvel that wasn't being carefully managed I believe. We got computers and anything that came out of them was regarded as correct, even when a citizen disadvantaged could produce documents to the contrary. The whole trend is to accept what we are given and told, and not say Why and Isn't there a better way and That doesn't sound as if it will give a good solution, etc etc.

But I saw that complaint as also carrying PC to extremes. As happens these days. And fear of touching because somebody is too sexualised, not always the people involved. Male teachers are afraid to touch children now I hear. It's that moral outrage thing deja vu.

If Mum and Dad are all right with a balanced home, and talk to their children about how they try and behave and encourage the kids to behave well in their turn, then the kids don't turn on tantrums in the classroom. It's called socialisation, helping the kids find their place in the world. Why are people not making a fuss about their children having their class disrupted by these troubled kids? Education is for that, not a holding station for disturbed children.

Perhaps there should be a period away from parents, attending another school with one-on-one teaching to settle the kids, and then the threat of the costs being charged to the parents if they don't attend workshops teaching them how to bring up children with the parents being the adults. They can have a turn at being shouted at, do some empty chair therapy etc. The parenting of kids is possibly woeful in NZ and certainly needs more input and support by government and social services. Thus our socialisation as a society is in turn lacking.

We need a government that's for the people, for society as a whole, not just for individuals who plan to enrich themselves at the expense of we, the taxpayers. I hope we have one now.

jh said...

Domestic Workers’ Salaries’ Surge As Migrant Labour Declines in Brexit Britain

Nick J said...

So true Grey

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I sincerely think that if domestic workers salaries were "surging" that it would be all over the Tory press, and you wouldn't need to quote Breitbart, which no one in their right mind believes, because they have got this habit of what we call in the trade "making shit up." I'm pretty sure I've said this before. :)

Well blow me – in the old-fashioned sense thank you very much. The office of National statistics in the UK says this.

"Nominal wages grew at an annual rate of just 2.4 per cent in March, while prices are now rising at a rate of 2.7 per cent"

And the Guardian.

"Britons feel the squeeze as inflation rises to four-year high of 2.9%"

Charles E said...

The loser coalition is perfectly legitimate. Germans would not have put it in place but we are not Germans. It is entirely Kiwi, although so is the big stuff up so we can expect it to make serious mistakes. Like it is on track to do for our visa free access to Aussie, not that I personally give a shit for that dusty island.
The huge opposition, and a very united and very capable and very experienced opposition is perfectly legitimate when it does all it can to stop the governing set up getting what it wants.
Get off your high horse Chris, your horse has serious up hill work to do every furlong. Your hero Peter would understand that.
Speaking of which have you heard the rumours about his 'issues' meaning he may not go the distance?