Sunday 11 March 2018

Still Looking For A Compatible Rabbit.

A Blast From The Past: It is nothing short of astonishing that Bill Sutton, the former Rogernome who aggressively countered the Fourth Labour Government’s critics with the assertion, “There is no alternative!”, is still unable to connect the dots between an economic and political system which insists that it represents the terminus of history, and the rising levels of political disillusionment and despair.

BILL SUTTON, a Labour politician of the 1980s, was the butt of one of David Lange’s most vicious jokes. Like so many of Labour’s “Class of ‘84”, Sutton was a Rogernome. Swept-up in the tornado of change unleashed by Labour’s Finance Minister, Roger Douglas, he and his colleagues found themselves, by the beginning of the Fourth Labour Government’s second term, dangerously off-side with both their prime minister and their party. By 1988 the divisions within Labour had grown to the point where Lange felt besieged by upwards of half his own caucus. Bill Sutton was one of the more outspoken of the prime minister’s critics.

This was the context in which Lange quipped to reporters that Bill Sutton’s much-needed brain transplant had been delayed because his doctors hadn’t been able to find a compatible rabbit.

Not many politicians come back from a crack like that. Certainly, few were surprised when Sutton’s “marginal seat” of Hawkes Bay – along with a great many others – returned to its more natural shade of deep Tory blue in 1990. In a few years, Bill Sutton had become just another former MP whose name, outside of Hawkes Bay, had been forgotten by everyone except political train-spotters.

As a member of that querulous fraternity, however, I simply had to discover whether the Bill Sutton whose Hawkes Bay Today/NZ Herald opinion piece I’d spotted in Dr Bryce Edward’s inestimable “New Zealand Politics Daily”, was the Bill Sutton – David Lange’s incompatible rabbit.

It was. And the title of his commentary, “Politics Has Changed For The Worse”, was more than interesting enough for me to click on the link. After all, if politics isn’t what it used to be, then its Rogernomes like Bill Sutton who must shoulder a fairly large share of the blame.

Not that there’s a single contrite word in the entire piece about the ongoing social and economic effects of the “reforms” of the Fourth Labour Government. Although a scientist by profession, Sutton was never able to grasp that, for all its pretentions to the contrary, economics owes almost nothing to the scientific method. The whole so-called “discipline” has always been, and remains, a sub-set of politics – hence its original designation as “Political Economy”.

I always got the impression that Sutton saw Rogernomics as an expression of natural law, like gravity. Certainly, he was one of the most tireless repeaters of TINA – the “There Is No Alternative” mantra which Douglas’s defenders dutifully deployed against the growing number of critics of the Fourth Labour Government’s economic “revolution”.

Thirty years on, however, Sutton (a published poet) is acutely aware that something has gone wrong with New Zealand politics – and society. As he observes, plaintively: “in the 1980s it was still possible for people with good jobs and supportive families to set these aside, and seek election to Parliament, in the hope of changing New Zealand for the better. And even within a conservative electorate like Hawke's Bay, it was possible to persuade a narrow majority of voters to agree.”

Not anymore.

“That would be inconceivable today, because New Zealand politics has changed, and not for the better. Steadily fewer people are bothering to vote, significant numbers don't even get their names on to the electoral roll, and those who still do these things have fewer expectations about changing anything. The best that most voters today are hoping for is a government that won't make things any worse. What a discouraging prospect for potential candidates!”

It is nothing short of astonishing that the man who aggressively countered his government’s critics with the assertion, “There is no alternative!”, is unable to connect the dots between an economic and political system which insists that it represents the terminus of history, and the rising levels of political disillusionment and despair. If this, the neoliberal world order, is as good as it gets; and if all the truly meaningful decision-making powers have been taken out of the hands of politicians; then what, in God’s name, is the point of casting a vote?

How does Sutton explain this lamentable demise of the democratic spirit? Oh, that’s easy. The steady decline in political engagement is just “one tiny part of a global phenomenon, the move away from representative democracy towards its only proven alternative: rule by power-hungry despots, who brook no disagreement, even from their supporters, and are ready to resort to whatever means seem necessary to shore up their power.”

Ummm, no, Bill. I don’t think so. The malaise you describe is traceable to the hollowing-out of our political institutions which began with the very same reforms you were so proud to champion as a young MP in the Lange-led Labour Government. The reforms which caused the Labour Party to shrink from a party numbering close to 100,000 members to one numbering fewer than 10,000. The reforms which gave birth to a professionally-trained political class, whose members glide effortlessly between the public service, the news media, public-relations and Parliament, and who have nothing but contempt for the opinions of ordinary people.

People haven’t “moved away from representative democracy”, Mr Sutton, representative democracy has been moved away from them. A necessary precaution, lest ordinary people get it into their heads to take on the greatest “power-hungry despot” of them all: the totalitarian ideology we call Neoliberalism.

The despot you helped to enthrone, Mr Sutton. The reason why New Zealand politics has changed so profoundly for the worse.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 9 March 2018.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

None of these guys have shown any introspection as far as I can see. I'm not sure they're capable. AFAIK, Douglas still thinks we didn't go far enough. It's more akin as I've said before, to a religion than an economic theory. Because they are immune to evidence.
And you are correct, economics is not a science – yet. Although some economists have in fact started to take into account psychology and are I think in the process of reforming their mathematics. Not before time. But I think it will take years before this filters through to the political class, and quite possibly never to the right wing political class, because they are basically in the pockets of business who don't want to believe they might be mistaken obviously.
Personally I think Rogernomes just go into hibernation whenever the climate is not suitable, and come out every so often when it warms up a bit to make stupid statements. Moore and Douglas are typical examples. They are the tardigrades of politics.

BlisteringAttack said...

Two things:

I'm in the middle of Naomi Klein's 'The Shock Doctrine'. An authoritative account of how Neo Liberal maniacs operate.

I met Bill Sutton at the NZ Poetry Conference at the National Library in 2015. He came across as a blithering dickhead.

Geoff Fischer said...

Whoever we might like to blame for the demise of democracy - "power-hungry despots" (populists?), or liberals like Bill Sutton - confronting the reality and finding solutions should take precedence over laying blame on individuals, factions and parties, or futilely exhorting a disenchanted population to involve themselves in a political system which has lost all credibility.
The way out of this morass is simple enough and it is within our own power as ordinary citizens to extract ourselves from the current predicament. We have the means to create a truly robust twenty-first century democracy organically, individual by individual. All that is needed is the will, and if we lack the will to do better then we should not waste our energy on recriminations.

Nick J said...

GS you are so correct that the buggers have shown no introspection (nor for that matter contrition).

Chris our hollowed out state just this week undertook an event that exemplified the rot; the census. I was away and am yet to fill it in, apparently it's online so the state is making the assumption that everybody has access and knows what to do. I've heard heaps of people say that they have not filled it in yet. I'm fully expecting to be contacted by a call centre in Karachi to do my "duty as a citizen".

And there's the nub of it. I don't feel like a citizen governed for the mutual benefit of all by a neutral parliamentary system through a public service.

Years back the Wizard of Christchurch went to extreme lengths to avoid the census, he was forcefully reminded that it was a citizens duty. Now I don't feel that my duty as a citizen is reciprocated. I am a number, a case to be managed by a client manager who is no longer a public servant in terms of our respective positions. And if I can be automated away via a web interface or call centre all the better; I need no longer bother the contractor or employee who masquerades as a servant to the citizens. Worse all I see now from the civil service is a cascade of regulation that advances peripheral benefit and escalating demands for payment through direct bills, taxes and levies. So I'm now an "economic revenue raising opportunity" in my diminishing role as a citizen.

And yet the state and it's whole edifice demands we do our duty as "citizens". Now that this thinking and relationship has become entrenched it will be nigh impossible to change from within. The parasites feeding on the corpse of the "serviced public" has become legion. Only solution is to do as Italy just did, massive rejection.

sumsuch said...

The man is a complete idiot. Thanks 'Hawke's Bay Today' for the exhibiting , as per , 'NZ Herald', with their 2 right-wing columnist couples. Double-teaming. Business still loves you, Herald.

Bill was Hawke's Bay's MP when I lived in Napier. No one expected him to win a rural electorate I suppose. His wife was having a baby at the time of his election. A thoroughly queer, self-centred pair (the 60s?).

I can't fully remember Lange's story about him suddenly standing up and declaring it's time for my dinner, or some such.

But he's not different in his self-care to our present elite. More especially, our liberal elite. As heard on Jim Mora's NZR's panel (so many of them these days publicists and journalists).

'Inestimable', as per 'invaluable', goodo.

GS, Jim Bolger has shown introspection. Doubtful me suspects him of campaigning for first NZ president.

GS, trickledown still has mass appeal in America where it has destroyed the lower middle class. Sales before reality (bottled water) will deliver us to Hell.

Alan said...

As Chairman of the Napier Branch of the Labour Party during the Rogergnome deform times, and as one who worked hard in the neighbouring electorate of Hawkes Bay to unseat the National incumbent in favour of Dr Bill Sutton, a candidate who came from the more progressive Tiritea Labour Branch of the party, I and others came. after time, to wonder if our late nights and shoe leather had been the sweat of fools.

We unseated a National man and replace him with one who took up a position far to the Right of anything in the then National Party.

My disbelief in the utter treachery and betrayal that Rogernomics represented became utter contempt for its apologists... and that has remained in full measure. Bill Sutton remains in my view one of the unconscionable facilitating ‘suck-ups’ to that stealthy Douglas /Prebble coup that clearly violated every tenant of the Labour Constitution that he, and others, had signed up to and has caused such social and economic damage since.

Everywhere in this country the consequences of that genuflection to greed and selfishness is widely evident. Dr Sutton still widely comments on this or that, but never a hint of insight or humility or apology for his enthusiastic support for the most dishonest, undemocratic political betrayal of both Party and country in New Zealand’s history breaks the surface.


Alan Rhodes

Anonymous said...

Was Sutton a convert to Rogernomics, or was he always a neoliberal, who just ended up in Labour because it represented the anti-Muldoon Coalition?

kaya said...

Very well said Chris, I commented today to someone that there is no political party in NZ today who I would vote for, only those I would vote against. Very sad, where is our Jeremy Corbyn? Apparently Labour in the UK have taken a handy 7 point lead over the Tories. Who could have forecast that when 80% of his chardonnay swilling, faux left fellow MPs voted against him?! I did, I knew his principles were honest and true, and that truth eventually comes through.
Someone needs to teach that to Ms Adern, the neo liberal, faux left (but currently off the chardonnay one would hope) leader of the Labour Party. Their stance on TPP has been disgraceful from the beginning.

Alan said...

Geoff Fischer says: 'The way out of this morass is simple enough and it is within our own power as ordinary citizens.' Tantalising. Can we have the signpost?

Alan Rhodes

greywarbler said...

Oh yeah Geoff Fischer.
Indiviual by individual - as one trying to get people talking and thinking about change I sometimes feel one lonely individual. I notice that in the discussion here in one comment about the census, the fact that gummint wanted it on-line was stressed and how difficult that can be for some people.

Just thinking about not doing it on-line, rebelling at the robot feeding our democracy to us from a distance (Karachi, Manila?) hardly gets mentioned. We must all participate in the technology which eventually will gently remind us what we should be doing every hour of the day according to our diaries on-line - for scrutiny by our life coaches no

How many individuals are there strong enough to know how much technology assistance is enough? To have it as our servant when we want it, not our master. In the words of Zager and Evans from the 20th century song:

In the year 3535
Ain't gonna need to tell the truth, tell no lies
Everything you think, do and say
Is in the pill you took today...

In the year 9595
I'm kinda wondering if man is gonna be alive
He's taken everything this old earth can give
And he ain't put back nothing, woah woah...

Now it's been 10,000 years
Man has cried a billion tears
For what he never knew
Now man's reign is through...

Andrew Nichols said...

It is nothing short of astonishing that the man who aggressively countered his government’s critics with the assertion, “There is no alternative!”, is unable to connect the dots between an economic and political system which insists that it represents the terminus of history, and the rising levels of political disillusionment and despair. If this, the neoliberal world order, is as good as it gets; and if all the truly meaningful decision-making powers have been taken out of the hands of politicians; then what, in God’s name, is the point of casting a vote?

Oooh I wish I could write like this. Thanks mate. Sums it up so well.

Geoff Fischer said...

In reply to Alan Rhodes: There would be more than one signpost. They would read "Open ballot", "Continuous election" and "Electors free choice of constituency", waypoints on the road to a responsible democracy.

greywarbler said...

Geoff Fischer
You say they are waypoints to responsible democracy. But if critiqued would they tick all the boxes for such. Socialists love to grind out the barrel organ of their favourite systems, but they have to be viable for the citizens' needs not just rallying cries for the disenchanted. Wicked
wizards come along and cast a spell on a naive but ready populace, all ready to be led by the nose into a sweet-smelling field, and have it turn red with their blood when there is a power putsch from somewhere.

Many a slip tween cup and lip, down the cracks that open up when the power structure falls into disarray and some creep arises in the gaps who can say the right words to open the minds of the populace. All together salute. Even if it was like Rimmer's, it could be useful to confuse so that people thought it funny and cute, while behind the scenes real ugliness was being planned.

Geoff Fischer said...

Fear, uncertainty and doubt from greywarbler. Fair enough, but we should not be ruled by such emotions. The point is that if we are concerned about the failings of the present system - surprising or unstable coalition arrangements, parties reneging on their promises or betraying expectations, politicians abandoning their parties, "waka jumping" legislation, disenchanted voters, "voter regret", unrepresented minorities and so on - we should do something to remove the root cause of these deficiencies, conflicts and abuses. Think it through. Look at some of the models already present in our own society which show that those things we may have assumed to be obligatory in a political system - the secret ballot, fixed terms of office and geographical electorates of uniform size - are not at all necessary, nor even effective and efficient.

greywarbler said...

Re Geoff Fischer at 13.35
Past systems adopted may not now be 'necessary, effective or efficient. It is good to come here to this blog and discuss matters like this. Before we remove something its rights or wrongs should be thoroughly discussed with the interested and concerned population having a say.

This say would be more than having select committee hearings that can be dominated by business, religious, conservative lobby groups all embedded in their own view.

After preliminary discussion, the various points would go to a pros and cons list which has each point voted on by the examining group, then the top ones are transferred to another list and the remainder looked at to see if an important, but taken for granted point, has not been overlooked. Gradually the important direct and non-direct advantages and disadvantages would be understood and established.

And this thinking is then revealed to the public. Then there would be a random group of political and policy connoisseurs plucked out of a few thousand who have put their names forward and who have had practical and or sufficient academic and life experience to have relevant and wise viewpoints which they can communicate and argue to. This would be bringing the best 'wisdom of the masses' (informed) to the matter. And from them would come the recommendations for the shape of the new policy.

I totally disagree with you Geoff - we should be ruled by fear, uncertainty and doubt. Looking at history, what a mess, a bloody, destructive mess, and I fear that it is always likely to be so without great care, going forward with a great reliance on thorough analysis and informing the people what is being done and why.

It is uncertain how many citizens, reading and hearing about the revisions or additions to policies, would be amenable to thought and pragmatism; many would have doubts which would need consideration. In the end I believe, some Machiavellian moves would be needed to get such people off the pot.
Those who are for the status quo, who dismiss new ideas with the most limited discussion, are not interested in sensible planning for the future and that rebounds on everyone. This must have the time and thought put in. Let's not have any throwaway points about something being old-fashioned so get rid of that; 'hasn't worked' meaning not for the speaker's advantage, and so on.

Political change most involve awareness of the problems, and not just bold statements expecting that everyone will face up to the problems even of a great thinker and leader. Rutherford said 'We haven't much money so we have to think'. He knew how discovery of a new way relied on thought. Those who want instant answers will overlook important underlying issues. Just think about the RW governments getting out of state housing and upping rents to market level. That was going to set the housing market right, ready for the future. Right? Wrong!

dandurelles said...

Interesting comments. Yes I voted for change but reading the above confirms my concern that little change will occur. Neo liberalism is now entrenched and with a population who are disinterested in politics it is now the normal. The deadly sin of greed has won.