Friday, 23 February 2018

Prepare Ye The Way Of The Lord!

Succession Planning: The core political mission for National’s caucus is a curiously biblical one. It must choose a John the Baptist figure to prepare the way for National’s Saviour to come.

WHOEVER EMERGES VICTORIOUS from National’s leadership contest will face the challenge of re-defining their party’s core political mission. With Labour showing little sign of deviating from the general policy lines of the Clark-Cullen ministry – lines which John Key and Bill English more-or-less adhered to for nine years – it makes little sense to define National as Not-Labour. The steady reduction of the formerly stark ideological differences between National and Labour makes the Not-Labour definition increasingly problematic.

The relative sameness of the two major parties leaves both of them acutely vulnerable to any sudden break from the status-quo. Any sudden lurch to the far-right by National, for example, would benefit Labour hugely. Without having to deviate even slightly from its current policy settings, the Labour Party would be able to energise its base by presenting Jacinda Ardern’s government as the defender of moderate mainstream values against right-wing extremism. A lurch to the far-left by Labour and its allies would confer an identical advantage upon National. Policy convergence guarantees obvious electoral benefits to both parties.

Just how important preserving bipartisan policy convergence has become in the major western democracies was illustrated by the reaction of the US Democratic Party’s National Committee to Bernie Sanders presidential bid, and the response of British Labour Party MPs to the election of Jeremy Corbyn. The reaction of both party establishments was one of shock and horror. They were convinced that the enunciation of radical ‘socialist’ ideas would render their parties “unelectable”.

Events appear to have proved them right.

By the same token, the triumph of the Brexiteers in the United Kingdom, and the election of Donald Trump to the US Presidency, has been taken as evidence of a sudden lurch towards extremism by two political parties hitherto perceived as moderate and mainstream. The dramatic improvement in the fortunes of the Democratic Party and the British Labour Party would appear to confirm the wisdom of keeping one’s political colours safely inside the lines.

Presumably, this explains why so many National Party MPs, while remaining tight-lipped about who they intend to vote for, are only too happy to make clear who they will be voting against.

The election of Judith Collins as Leader of the Opposition would allow Jacinda Ardern to go into the 2020 general election as the nation’s protector. The electorate would be urged to use their votes as shields against a rabidly right-wing National Party. The effectiveness of this pitch was proved by Helen Clark’s 2005 exhortation: “Don’t put it all at risk!” In successfully casting National’s Don Brash as an ideological bridge too far, Labour eked out a narrow election win.

The rejoinder of Team Collins would, undoubtedly, be that the secret to winning elections is to increase – not decrease – the level of political polarisation. Pitting like against like in any political contest benefits only the incumbent.

Polarisation can be benign, as it was, generally speaking, in Jeremy Corbyn’s “For the Many, Not the Few” campaign against Teresa May’s Tories; or, malign, as in Trump’s divisive crusade to “Make America Great Again”. The point Team Collins would make is that there has to be a clear reason for voting one way or the other. Without a clear choice before them, voters have an irritating tendency to opt for the devil they know.

The core political mission for National’s caucus is, therefore, a curiously biblical one. It must choose a John the Baptist figure to prepare the way for National’s Saviour to come. The hard-line Brash energised National’s base and gathered-up the overwhelming majority of New Zealand’s right-wing voters beneath its dark-blue banner. He was then removed from the scene so that John Key’s sunny, jokey, Labour-Lite Messiah could start turning water into wine. National’s caucus is thus tasked with identifying which candidate’s voice will sound the most persuasive crying in the wilderness. It must also decide whose head it is most willing to see served up on a platter in the aftermath of a 2020 election defeat.

The candidate seeking the role of Jesus in this two-part resurrection drama would be well-advised to spend the next two-and-a-half years keeping his, or her, head down in the National Party equivalent of Nazareth.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 23 February 2018.


Guerilla Surgeon said...
Dammit sorry posted in the wrong place.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Not sure that Corbyn proved unelectable as such. He did a damn sight better than he was expected to, and a damn sight better than the pundits of the left and the right was saying at the time. He at least energised some of the young people, something we could do with doing.

Kat said...

"With Labour showing little sign of deviating from the general policy lines of the Clark-Cullen ministry – lines which John Key and Bill English more-or-less adhered to for nine years......"

Isn't this is a coalition govt we have, not just Labour. Looking at the regional funding plan announcement today I would say based on that alone this coalition govt has done more in three months with "policy lines" than Key or English had nightmares about in the last nine years.

Victor said...


I agree with you that Chris is being excessively dismissive of the differences between this and the last government.

But the problem is that it's not different enough to start to cope adequately with our accumulated social, educational, skills and infra-structural deficits.

And it's specifically Labour's conservative fiscal settings that are likely to stymie necessary change for the next three years. I'd like to blame it on NZ First, of which I'm not excessively fond. But I can't, as these self-imposed limitations are essentially Labour's own doing.

The big question, to my mind, is whether the gap between rhetoric and reality will lead to the government's demise after just one term, thus preventing a more creative second term, once all the commissions, working groups etc. have reported and the new team is more used to the the levers of power.

On the whole, I remain optimistic on this score, as I'm not convinced that a majority for change is, at this point, quite the same as a majority for radical change. And there's quite a lot of non-radical change going on.

In addition, of course, change, for many, means just new faces and a new way of comporting yourself in government, which this government certainly has.

The acid test will be in two years time, when Labour again girds its loins for the election season. Will its limited successes to date and the undoubted popularity of its leader then allow it to embrace the far reaching changes that even a mildly conservative soul such as myself recognises as long overdue?

greywarbler said...

Thanks for the reminder of what Labour is achieving. Even if the Coalition is later viewed as not having realised its promise, it will always have been better than 'banging your head against a brick wall'.

We have been doing that too long, and of course some brain damage has resulted. We have to hope that our polity can recover health, as does the human body usually. It's too hard to cope with the thought that our present state might be just a remission from a terminal disease.

David Stone said...

Hi Chris
Not sure I'm convinced of the pattern of the "incumbent party being safe unless the opposition comes up with something radical except in that the incumbent over the years has usually been national, and the party with new ideas addressing a change in the social/economic situation has usually been labour. Once the changes for better or worse have been set in place national has adopted them , and gets elected again to manage the altered status quo. Partly because some of the electorate think they are a steadier hand , but mostly because the labour supporters don't bother to vote next time because their issue has been addressed.
I think the rise to 48% is more out of the small coalition support than out of national isn't it? To follow a familiar pattern.
In the situation where the present "incumbent" is in place because of change wanted by the electorate and promised by the parties but not delivered I suspect that at the next election it will be national that feels to the electorate like the incumbent , and labour like the fraud.
Cheers D J S

Guillaume said...

Why do we prevaricate? The need for change is as plain as the nose on your face. Whilst the rich grow richer, the rest slump into a slot of despond. A true, left-wing Labour party, would recognise this dichotomy and take immediate action to ameliorate this disparity.

Unfortunately, there are those in the party that subscribe to the neoliberal agenda. Someone, Jacinda, needs to get a grip and remind party members that they serve the people, rather than the corporate elites.

Patricia said...

Yes, Guillaume,

He aha te mea nui o te ao? He tangata, he tangata, he tangata. What is the most important thing in the world? It is the people, it is the people, it is the people.

greywarbler said...

Jacinda comes from political postings as below. She has probably grown up with the idea of fitting into the established world order, and the Third Way approach with a bit of diddling round the edges where it is likely to produce some good results. Welfare can achieve startling results where there has been almost complete neglect, and it is costing the country a lot of money and making us all despondent and vengeful towards each other. So one could show a 100% improvement in many areas when starting from a low base.

Even before earning a bachelor’s degree in Communication Studies (2001), Ardern began her association with the Labour Party. In 1999, at age 17, she joined the party and, with the help of an aunt, became involved in the reelection campaign of Harry Duynhoven, a Labour member of parliament (MP) in the New Plymouth district. Following graduation, Ardern became a researcher for another Labour MP, Phil Goff. That experience would lead to a position on the staff of Prime Minister Helen Clark, the second woman to hold New Zealand’s highest office and Ardern’s political hero and mentor.

In 2005 Ardern embarked on an “overseas experience,” an extended—usually working—trip to Britain, which is a traditional rite of passage for the children of New Zealand’s middle and upper class. Instead of labouring in a London pub or warehouse and then touring the Continent, however, Ardern worked for two and a half years in the cabinet office of British Prime Minister Tony Blair, serving as an associate director for Better Regulation Executive with the primary responsibility of improving the ways in which local authorities interact with small businesses. In 2007 she was elected president of the International Union of Socialist Youth (IUSY), a position that took her to destinations such as Algeria, China, India, Israel, Jordan, and Lebanon.

In 2008 Ardern was chosen as Labour’s candidate for MP of the Waikato district, a seat that historically had been beyond the party’s reach and that Ardern lost by some 13,000 votes. Nevertheless, she entered parliament as a list candidate. New Zealand’s mixed member proportional (MMP) election system allows

I want work centres where people can go freely and sign up to learn the basics of trades, and receive a reward for achievement and some money. And go back again to learn more or another one, till they find something they can do, where there are jobs. And I want jobs created by getting things done that need to be done, like the old system with Councils and Task Force Green, and also kids being able to take time off from school and work for nothing to get work experience with approved employers. I know one case of this, successful, and it can be replicated hundreds of times with the right support from the quartet concerned; teenage student, school,
government, employers.

And one thing that the Labour coalition can do right now - is to institute a polite system of answering all contacts with a confirmatory advice of receipt. I am hearing too many people say that they wrote and haven't heard a word, and that includes me. If they want to do something good to get onto a good path to the citizens, then that is one thing that is vital.
So get onto it you Ministers and departments etc. We are getting irritated, and that will grow to deep dissatisfaction if you rely on the occasional smile and wave. We don't want to get a repeat of Charles Schulz's Charlie Brown having a moment of bitterness when he said - "I love mankind, it's people I have". We the people voted for you so you have to come and talk with us you left-wing politicians.

Victor said...


The latest polling seems to me to suggest that Labour is nibbling, however slightly, into National's softer support, as well, of course, as taking support away from its coalition and support partners.

I base this on the consideration that a substantial minority of former NZ First supporters will have slipped back to National, in disgust at Winston going with Labour. Also Labour's rise is greater than the smaller parties' combined losses and National is itself losing ground.

On this trajectory, Labour and the Greens could look forward to a joint majority next time around. Indeed, if the trajectory were to continue, Labour might even be able to do it on its own. In fact, it might actually need to govern on its own if, as is possible, we revert to a de facto two party parliament.

But I also think we're experiencing a delayed post-election bounce and that it will get tougher for Labour going forward, unless National shoots itself in the foot over the leadership issue, which is not impossible. We also don't yet have a sufficiently large body of evidence to reach any really safe conclusions.

Meanwhile, it's an open question as to whether Labour will be damned for disappointing too many expectations. On the whole, I think not, as I don't believe there's a clear sense of where we need to go that's widely diffused across the nation.

Some people are horrified by the housing deficit, poverty gap etc. Others just want (and appreciate) a different style of leadership and others still are wholly fixated on single issues of one sort or another.

I also think that Labour has made too many promises about not upsetting the fiscal status quo, for it to now get away with a different approach to finances this side of 2020.

So expect two and a half years of mood music, with some issues of substance tackled along the way and others left till after the next election or not tackled at all. It's still an improvement.

David Stone said...


I think that the polling differences left/right are likely to be more about who gets out and votes than about anyone changing sides. Some when asked will say they support the left but when it comes to polling day ,stay at home. This will be influenced by their perception of whether their representative party has lived up to their hopes. Thats what I think will determine what happens next election.
National doesn't seem to me to have anyone as acceptable as they had last month for leader. They won't be hard to beat next time if this coalition comes through with some of their promises at least.
I concur with your assessments otherwise.

greywarbler said...

Of course Charlie Brown said irritatedly 'I love mankind; It's people I hate'. The thinking of National's political hopefuls will hardly settle momentarily on mankind or people in general, as it's their own careers that matter and their desire plus ability to fill the Party's demanding edicts.

But the typo of 'have' is a hint about how many people are not thinking of mankind as they go about their busy, productive lives developing new chemicals that use CRSPR and might enable someone wealthy to live to 500, or they mine the resources of the earth so they can send probes to distant planets etc. so they can find more of the substance they have exhausted on earth to enable them to go to planets to find.... And so on.

It is a 'bridges' too far to think that National will consider the above facts as anything but side issues, just a lot of meanderings by some stupid dreamer who lives in the past, not the golden future.

Here they all are like ducks in a row.

We will wait agog for the next rich and absorbing stories to come from the new National leader. I would imagine the Nats will be looking for someone in between Key and Baron Munchausen, whose stories are fabulous, almost plausible and enthralling.

"In this perplexity, I bethought me of a piece of bacon, left over from the provisions I had taken with me. Untwisting a dog-leash to four times its original length, and tying one end round a morsel of the bacon, I hid myself in the rushes and threw out my bait. To my delight the nearest duck swam up, swallowed the dainty, and I pulled her gently ashore; tying her to a tree, I proceeded to fish in the same manner till I had caught the entire thirteen. Then I passed the string through the beaks of all the birds and started to carrying them home. Just as I was reflecting that I really could not carry such a weight any further, the birds, who had recovered from their first fright, flapped their wings and rose in the air dragging me with them. At first I was rather alarmed, but I soon regained my presence of mind and steered with my coattails towards home. I soon found myself hovering over the chimneys of my own house, and, using the ducks as ballast, I twisted their necks one after another, and descended gradually through the largest chimney till at last, to the great astonishment of the cook, who was just about to kindle the fire for supper, I stood safely on the kitchen hearth.

"Is not the above a striking example of good, luck combined with presence of mind?

Victor said...


I think you're being a mite on the cautious side, at least in terms of the Colmar Brunton poll.

I agree that soft support doesn't always make it to the polling booth. But I'm not sure that all the soft Labour supporters are on the left or amongst the deprived and will, hence, stay at home if the party proves insufficiently radical. If anything, quite the contrary.

I know that the left hates the battle for the middle ground. But, for the moment, that, I suspect, is where the action is.