Sunday 17 December 2017

Governing For The “Other Half” Of New Zealand.

Up Where We Belong? In the end, the promise to be a “transformational” government is a promise to put the need of the many ahead of the greed of the few. Keeping that promise is unlikely to retain the confidence of the business sector, but it just might be enough to win the confidence of that “other half” of the New Zealand people whose votes made this government possible.

THE LABOUR PARTY has never been very tolerant of dissenters. It is, therefore, unsurprising that very few within its ranks have reacted positively to my recent posting on The Daily Blog. No matter how many private reservations Labour supporters may be harbouring about Grant Robertson’s “fiscally responsible” economic policies, they would rather his critics refrained from giving public voice to their concerns.

The case they make for maintaining radio silence on the new government’s performance is that criticism, no matter how well-merited or constructive, will only reinforce the National Oppositions “shambolic” narrative. What Jacinda Ardern and her team need more than anything else at this time, argue their supporters, is a few weeks of relative calm in which to prepare themselves for the challenges of 2018.

Convincing New Zealanders that their new finance minister is not a swivel-eyed economic loon is regarded as crucial to this process of political consolidation. Grant Robertson winning accolades from mainstream journalists for his fiscal and economic responsibility is much more to be desired, at this stage of proceedings, than receiving the hearty endorsement of radical leftists. It’s “baby steps” that Labour needs to take right now – not giant strides.

One critic of my criticism put it like this:

“What you are dealing with in NZ today, is a fairly conservative political climate. The political Left is no longer a strong and coherent force. The electorate is split roughly down the middle between Left and Right. Any government somehow has to bridge the conflicts and disunity to represent the voting population, and it’s going to be centrist. The new government is treading carefully very deliberately, so as not to alienate the business sector or impede market confidence. The new government has to gain confidence and that imperative guides it for now.”

But, if the electorate is “split roughly down the middle”, then describing the Left as no longer “a strong and coherent force” makes no sense. Equally nonsensical is the suggestion that in a society characterised by “conflicts and disunity” the only viable strategy is to embrace the politics of centrism. Governing on behalf of the centre makes sense when, on social and economic issues, there is a broad measure of agreement. While that may have been the case in the 1960s, it is certainly not true of today.

Nor is it true that New Zealanders are living in a “fairly conservative climate”. Mainstream newspaper and magazine editors may like to think that their own conservative views are also those of the majority; and talkback hosts like Leighton Smith will loudly insist that they are; but that half of the population routinely excluded from mainstream political discourse seethes with entirely justifiable resentment and barely suppressed rage.

These New Zealanders are unlikely to be mollified or impressed by the spectacle of a Labour-led government “treading carefully very deliberately so as not to alienate the business sector or impede market confidence.” They have, after all, seen this happen many times before and they know that the moment “their” government makes the maintenance of business confidence its No. 1 priority, then all hope of it ever living up to its promise of “transforming” society flies out the window.

Because, of course, gaining and maintaining the confidence of the business sector involves a great deal more than managing-down Crown debt and building up healthy surpluses. Nothing requires more in the way of constant state intervention and control than a laissez-faire economy. The slightest hint that the plethora of legal constraints required to keep the markets “free” might be thinned-out or, horror of horrors, done away with altogether, is absolutely guaranteed to send the confidence of the business sector into a nosedive.

Just recall the howls of outrage that accompanied Metira Turei’s promise to make a bonfire of the MSD’s hated “sanctions”. New Zealand’s brutal social welfare regime fulfils exactly the same role as Britain’s nineteenth century workhouses: it is a means of ensuring that workers will accept low wages and poor working conditions in preference to enduring the humiliation and material deprivation of life on “the benefit”. Any relaxation of the “rules” governing beneficiaries’ lives would shake the business sector to its core.

Even more destabilising to the business sector would be any serious attempt on the part of a “transformational government” to rebuild the strength and fighting spirit of the trade union movement. Restoring “compulsory unionism”, and lifting the current legal restrictions on the right to strike, would instantly provoke employers into full-scale revolt. They do not need to read the works of Karl Polanyi to know that “the only way politically to temper the destructive influence of organized capital and its ultra-market ideology [is] with highly mobilized, shrewd, and sophisticated worker movements.”

My point is that just about any measure aimed at loosening the controls that keep the “free market” running smoothly will be deemed unacceptable by the business sector. Any attempt to make the lives of working-class people less constrained and fearful; any move to emancipate and empower the inhabitants of the social depths; will be interpreted by those who occupy the commanding heights of our society as a direct thrust at their interests and privileges.

Yes, raising taxes and/or increasing the deficit would be regarded as an unfriendly act, but so, too, would decriminalising marijuana, or emptying the prisons of all those found guilty of victimless crimes, or following the example of Costa Rica and abolishing the armed forces.

In the end, the promise to be a “transformational” government is a promise to put the need of the many ahead of the greed of the few. Keeping that promise is unlikely to retain the confidence of the business sector, but it just might be enough to win the confidence of that “other half” of the New Zealand people whose votes made this government possible.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Saturday, 16 December 2017.


aberfoyle said...

New Zealand, has always been political farm fence right.Aotearoa, its people have been more social leaning untill the two percent cash treaty settlements kicked in.

Two points of notice, N.Z.First, is predominant bourgeois.The Greens mostly the same, check out what side of his jacket collar their co-leader wears his party button.So the Neo-Liberal factions with the Labour Party and caucus should feel quite at home.

greywarbler said...

I think that all in this essay is to the point Chris. But the discourse around politics is not cheering me and I have to keep my spirits up so I can enjoy Christmas.

So I have recourse to the Bible: Matthew 6:34 (KJV) Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof. Instead Monty Python with their french taunting skit comes to mind.

Picture the unions gathered round the base of the castle and NZ business leaders and 'wealth creators' are up above and can call down rude remarks and create unpleasant outcomes. No discussions for a possible united way forward to a better future here.

Anonymous said...

The only reason Labour is in power is because Winston chose them. Actually, National won far more votes than both Labour and the Greens combined. So they can keep saying
'people voted for change' as much as they like, but in reality they lost the actual election, no matter how they spin it. So, they don't have the majority of people on board, and that must be a first for any new government. Yet they are acting as though they have a huge mandate for change. Sheer arrogance, and the main reason I could never ever vote Labour. NZ First are toast already, so who will grant them power next time? I would bet my house and farm (if I owned one), that National will get a single party majority next time - voters are still rankled out there.


David Stone said...

I posted a comment to this page that perhaps because I copied Loz's comment from 2x previous took my post back to that page.
If anyone is interested look back 2 blogs.

Kat said...

The Govt is an enabler, it can borrow, print money and run strategic depts. The only difference this new coalition govt can be from the last is a better enabler but for the many.

We should define "strategic" and give the govt a few directional signs for back to the future.

They have got off to a good start by all accounts and can always do better. When the MOW is reinstated NZ will definitely be heading in the right direction.

A reinstated MOW is one of those signs.

sumsuch said...

Bright, oxygenous point, 'governing for the other half'. Where much dull, grey swamp has been endured by the two thirds (allowing for those who don't vote).

This is the year that matters, Jacinda has her mandate to do it, even the right-wing Labour MPs that put her in power will bow before Morrinsville Mormonism. Her advisors are folk scared by the rich (Clark and Cullen) however.

Yes, Venezuela in the last 20 years, despite its third world authoritarianism, highlights the imperative of VOTES. It is the life and death of demo-cracy.

David Stone said...

Thats very good Countryboy
I wondered if your hero was Carol King's hero from Tapestry.

Charles E said...

It's only opinion, like your post but I would say your left Chris represents about 5% at best. Your left being old days left from pre WW2 really. The radical left about another 10% perhaps? These are the angry loud boorish left, like one in particular above.
The centre left about 35% currently but they are so centre they could be called (kiwi type)conservative left. If you ask them they say they are centre voters who like a strong welfare state. These people like JA a lot, currently.
Centre right about 40% (Nats) and serious right about 10%.
Hard to know really what these figure are but suggest there clearly is no mandate or call for radical change. Change yes, but incremental and definitely still a regulated and moderated capitalism without a doubt. So the current lot have it bang on I reckon.
You are one in a small minority Chris. But interesting, and bold.

greywarbler said...

Perhaps some oomph is required from a significant minority of NZs who are in positions of destiny for them and our country. Are they man and woman enough to match the crying need for real understanding, strength of purpose and cunning enough to avoid the traps set but able to set some of their own?

I am just looking at Alan Mulgan's book published after WW2 which ended up with his son dead, John author of Man Alone. The book is dedicated to Lieutenant-Colonel John Alan Mulgan, M.C.

There is a quote from 'Report on Experience' by John Mulgan.
It seemed to me, meeting them again, friends grown a little older, more self-assured, hearing again those soft, inflected voices, the repetitions of slow, drawling slang, that perhaps to have produced these men for the one time would be New Zealand's destiny.

Everything that was good from that small, remote country had gone into them - sunshine and strength, good sense, patience, the versatility of practical men. And they marched into history.

It seems to me that we owe them a bigger effort, a practical one. Words, and cross-words, a welter of words delivered from people assured of their worth and unwilling to bend so as to weld a vehicle that will take us forward. Spoilt and conforming, ready to be judged wanting and wanting the kudos from overseas, a cargo cult mentality. We could build our own vehicles for transport during WW2. Judged ugly, and dismissed by many; not as good as overseas.

The idea was discarded after the tanks attracted public ridicule.

If the NZ derring-do died down in WW2, have we got it back or is the average person too craven to do something and see it fail or not be a hearty success? And with that in mind, to resent others' success and enjoy predicting others' failure? Because, if so, we are wasting our time and should go home and wallow in the spa pool of paddle pool.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I noticed on national radio "From the left and the right" that you are on the extreme left Chris. I think the conception of extreme left has moved a fair bit right since the 1980s.

Chris Trotter said...

I'm intrigued, GS, was this on Monday's "Nine-to-Noon" politics slot?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Yes, I didn't hear it all but in the bit I did hear Matthew Hooton mentioned your name as being critical of the government and a member of the extreme left. Unfortunately I was running and getting out of radio range, but he said something like if the extreme left don't like it then the government's probably doing the right thing. I'm sure you can catch it on their pod cast thingamabob.

greywarbler said...

I always enjoy a laugh about politics so looked this up. The reference is near the 4m mark.

Chris Trotter said...

Thanks, Greywarbler, I thought that's what it would be. I listened to it and heard no reference to "extreme" at all. Hooton merely observed that the "Twitterati" and left-wing commentator, Chris Trotter, had been sharply critical of Robertson's mini-budget.

Well, "left-wing commentator" is a moniker I will always hold my hand up to (it's what I am!) but "extreme left-winger" - that is a description to which I do take exception!

All I've ever been is a Left Social-Democrat. If the world has rolled on past me in a rightward direction, then that is something for which I can hardly be blamed personally.

Indeed, to my way of thinking it is the "Centre" that has become "extreme"!

Charles E said...

No you are not extreme at all.
Traditional, solid, almost gentlemanly left.
Extreme are people more like Locke, Minto, Hager, Bradford, Norman and some of your 'guests' above at times.
To me extreme implies unreasonable and the type that would try to end democracy as soon as given the power.
These people we would be entitled to take up arms against if they did ever get in power. No different from the real far right fascists, which almost do not exist in NZ.
Not you at all.

Kat said...

Hooton in the same sentence with reference to "Chris Trotter the left wing writer" went on to say: ".....and the govt is doing the right thing in shoring up its center support even at the risk of criticisms from it's 'far left'.

Chris, you are perceived as being 'far left' generally by the MSM. You may not like or appreciate it but that's the media reality. But then who really cares about shabby labels, Hooton is a right wing spin merchant which is a far, far, less desirable moniker that left wing writer!

Keep up the good work and have a far out left Christmas.

Kat said...

Charles you left out Brash, Douglas, Prebble, Slater, Hide, Hooton, Seymour, lee Ross...................

greywarbler said...

But Chris as a tag after he had made his main comment Hooten did say more about your position on the left-leaning tug of war. Forgotten the exact words but he had been speaking about you, and so the tag must have been applicable to you also.

And I think that you seem to be applicably left-wing, but add a little sharp sauce now and then when you go to devil's advocate and try on a different perception.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Kat. That's my memory too. Something like "Chris Trotter has spoken out against it." Followed by, "The government is shoring up the centre at the risk of criticism from the far left." Seems to go together to me. But I will admit I could be wrong as I was in a deep valley in the bush, and reception was fading in and out. :) Anyway, as I said, the perception of "far left" has changed somewhat. A quite moderate stance is now enough to categorise you as far left in some circles.

kat said...

GS. The podcast at RNZ is available to listen to in detail :) Its all interesting stuff but take a peak at this ( for an intelligent insight into why perhaps people like Charles E are so easily swayed and form their opinions based largely on misinformation in the media. Just look at the people he named that he considers want to "end democracy"!

jh said...

Brian Edwards makes a good case
So the question is: Is it Mr Espiner’s job or responsibility as a current affairs interviewer on National Radio to educate that majority of public radio listeners who neither speak nor reasonably understand Māori?

I would have thought not. His job is to conduct, on behalf of his substantial radio audience, interviews on social and political issues, both national and international, that are relevant to their lives. That brief must certainly include a raft of issues pertinent to Maori, including of course the survival of Te Reo.

But it is not and cannot be Mr Espiner’s job to educate his listeners in the Maori language. Indeed such an intention can only be seen as presumptuous. He is not Maori and, by his own admission, even his wife is amused by his efforts.

An Apology

Posted by BE on December 4th, 2017

Well, given the level of controversy and protest about my post concerning Guyon Espiner’s use of Te Reo on National Radio, I had several options:

*To defend the post;
*To take the post down;
*To explore the issue further;
*If necessary, to apologise for what I’d written.

I decided not to take the post down. I wrote it. People read it. Some approved of what I’d said. Others were deeply offended. Taking the post down would do nothing to change that.

Tch, tch, tch, no more On The Panel, All roads Lead to Rome, It's a small interconnected world?
High Income, elitists. The media seem to be up above everyone else connected by a long ladder you ascend and enter another world. Like a religion or a caste, we don't suffer freedom of expression?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Thanks Kat. Interesting - and to think my son almost went into journalism. I told him he wasn't nearly pushy enough. :)

Victor said...

Dammit, Chris, as far as I'm concerned, you're clearly a Burkean Conservative, albeit with a sentimental nostalgia for the leftist rhetoric and loyalties of your youth.

And better a Burkeian any day than a neo-liberal!

If you're on the extreme left then I'm almost on the path to the extreme left, a thought at which I baulk/shudder.