Wednesday, 10 October 2018

Petrol Pump Politics.

Unaffordable?  Labour supporters should brace themselves for a National Party-driven social media campaign built around the slogan: “At $2.40 a litre, we can’t afford Jacinda.” Re-cycled though this catch-phrase may be, for Kiwis on low incomes paying far too much for gas it’s likely to have a catchy ring to it. (And anyone on the Labour team thinking about telling these folk to “go electric” should, perhaps, recall the effect on the breadless masses of the thoughtless suggestion that they should consider eating cake!)

“AT A DOLLAR a gallon we can’t afford Rowling.” Given his latest media release (8/10/18)  “Government Pricing Kiwis Out Of Their Cars”, someone’s obviously been schooling up young Simon Bridges on the way Rob Muldoon smashed Labour in 1975.

[Bill Rowling, for all you millennials out there, was the Labour Prime Minister of New Zealand from September 1974 until December 1975, and a gallon (4.5 litres) was the unit of measure at the petrol pump. So, yes, you’re right, the motorists of 1975 paid roughly a tenth of what we pay today to fill up our tanks! – C.T.]

But even back when petrol was only a dollar a gallon, Kiwi motorists were hurting. Ever since the Yom Kippur War of October 1973, during which Egypt and Syria came within an ace of destroying the State of Israel, the price of oil had soared. Saudi Arabia and the other Arab oil-exporters had imposed an embargo on the USA and its allies for resupplying the Israelis with arms and ammunition. The resulting price-hikes delivered a stunning blow to the Western economy. The so-called “Oil Shocks” of 1973-79 marked the end of the Great Post-War Boom. Almost overnight, New Zealanders – along with just about everyone else in the Western World – lost confidence in the future. Even worse, they began casting about for someone to blame.

Hence, the National Party’s propaganda blaming soaring oil prices on Bill Rowling. Of course, anybody who had been following current affairs over the previous two years knew perfectly well that National was peddling what today we would call “fake news”. But, those weren’t the people Muldoon was after. The voters he was seeking to enlist alongside National’s habitual supporters were the disoriented, frustrated and just flat-out angry working-class Kiwis who were struggling to work out what had all-of-a-sudden gone wrong with their world.

Like the former Democratic Party supporters backing Trump in 2016, these bewildered Labour voters found it increasingly difficult to identify with “their” party. Labour was supposed to stand for “the working man” and his values, but now, following the tragic death of that quintessential working-class battler, “Big Norm” Kirk in August 1974, the party was led by a training-college lecturer. What’s more, he and his colleagues were advancing policies which seemed to have more in common with the demands of the long-haired hippies and protesters in the streets than they did with the “ordinary Kiwi joker” and his concerns. Not the least of these being the soaring price of petrol.

Muldoon and his campaign advisers were only too aware of the culture war that was brewing in the Labour Party and they couldn’t wait to exploit it.

Over the course of the 1960s and 70s, Labour’s membership had dwindled. The party branches were peopled predominantly by people who may have been young and radical in the 1930s and 40s but who were now very settled in their ways – and views – which tended towards the socially conservative. Many Labour stalwarts were Roman Catholics, Baptists and Salvation Army members. They bitterly resented the small but active groups of liberals and radicals who had begun drifting into Labour from 1969 onwards. They were seen as middle-class carpet-baggers without the slightest idea of what it meant to be a working-class Kiwi.

These were the people for whom National’s election slogan, “New Zealand the way YOU want it”, was created. The people who had begun to feel neglected, misunderstood and even a little bit despised by the people at the top of the Labour Party – and their intellectual friends. Some of the more prominent of these had banded together in the group called “Citizens for Rowling”. In the ears of a great many Kiwis, that sounded a lot more like “Citizens Against Muldoon”.

It was a huge strategic error on the part of Labour’s hifalutin supporters. Instead of turning people against the pugnacious National leader, it drew them towards him. Just as liberal America’s hatred of Trump only served to entrench his support among aggrieved Americans without college degrees or six-figure salaries, Labour’s near-obsession with Rob Muldoon proved to be one of the key factors in the growth of “Rob’s Mob”. This was the peculiar assemblage of “ordinary blokes and blokesses” for whom Muldoon felt more like a Labour leader than the thoroughly decent but doggedly uninspiring Rowling.

Forty years on, Labour supporters should brace themselves for a National Party-driven social media campaign built around the slogan: “At $2.40 a litre, we can’t afford Jacinda.” Second-hand though it may be, it’s bound to acquire some measure of political purchase. How could it not when, for Kiwis on low incomes, $2.40 a litre for gas is just one more burden for them to bear. (And anyone on the Labour team thinking about telling these folk to “go electric” should, perhaps, recall the effect on the breadless masses of the thoughtless suggestion that they should consider eating cake!)

National’s big problem is that Simon Bridges is not Rob Muldoon. Bridges simply does not possess Muldoon’s ability to inspire both confidence and hope, fear and dread. Nor is Jacinda Ardern even remotely like Bill Rowling. The latter always came across as the person for whom the saying “nice guys finish last” was invented. And although stardust was intermittently available to politicians back in 1975, the historical record makes it very clear that nobody ever got so much as a speck of it to Bill.

About the only thing Bridges has got going for him is that, unlike the 1973-79 oil shocks, the steady rise in the price of petrol over the period 2018-2021 cannot be sheeted home to greedy Arab oil magnates. This time, a large measure of it is Labour’s own work.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 9 October 2018.

14 comments:

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"They bitterly resented the small but active groups of liberals and radicals who had begun drifting into Labour from 1969 onwards."
Actually, some of them were working-class kids who'd gone to university because in those days it was as good as free, and managed to get an education. And so had naturally become more socially liberal, partly as a result of rebelling against their parents social conservatism, and partly as a result of being educated. But most of us had also worked in factories and on farms in the University holidays, so we knew what it was like thank you very much. In fact, one guy I was at university with was pretty much forced to become the union rep at Wattie's Cannery – "let the perdesser do it."

greywarbler said...

It's the wrong time for petrol taxes all right. The citizens can't cope with a price rise and a tax hike. Robertson will have to dig into the 5 billion and get some more buses and rail going as required in Auckland.

And adapt to uber drivers or similar, inviting some of those immigrants and others to set up circle routes in the suburbs where there are no buses. You phone early your intention to travel from home to destination, dentist, GP, shop? and back again and then wait for others in your area to do the same and share the ride, or even have set timetables that are flexible. But door to door at bus rates would be helpful at present for a number. Government would set up a call centre and have dedicated drivers for each area to limit competition and predatory pricing.

Polly. said...

Labour has "egg all over its face" on this matter.
Do they know what they are doing?.
Do they care?.
Jacinda is talking in riddles, as usual.
The media is in collusion to verbal nonsense.
Lets set up a 'commission to inquire' is Labours battle cry.
That should keep the peasants quiet they say, whilst they gurgle on the chardonnay.

Guerilla Surgeon said...


Dammit, that should be perfessor. :)

Shane McDowall said...

Great article. I would add that Rob Muldoon appealed to the authoritarian streak in the New Zealand psyche.

An authoritarian streak that came directly from our authoritarian education system. A system that remained in place - if you were unfortunate enough to be born male - right up until 1990.

One of the failures of the Kirk administration was to not go through with their 1972 election campaign promise to abolish legalised torture in our schools.

Speaking from experience, our schools were dominated by foul-tempered sadistic creeps.

I hope they all developed rectal cancer as that would be their karma.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I often wonder what would have happened if some New Zealand government had had the gumption and foresight to create a sovereign wealth fund as they did with the oil profits in Norway and put the money to good use educating and upskilling New Zealand workers. Or I suppose they could have done the selfish thing is they did in Alaska and give everybody $3000 a year. It's not as if the Norwegian government was particularly left-wing at the time I do believe.
And I'd also like to know why the hell when you get 100 km north of Wellington the petrol price goes down by about $0.20 a litre. That's damn near a dollar a gallon. I've never had anyone successfully explain to me why it costs an extra $0.20 a litre to transport petrol south of bloody Bulls. And until somebody has the courtesy to do so I'm claiming someone is ripping us off here.:)

Kat said...

Yes "political purchase" with the lawful prey of the National party propaganda machine. Gun owners are being targeted at the moment.

Cedric said...


What was terminal for Labour in 1975 was inflation rising from 5.5% to 15.5% between 1972 and 1975.
Norman Kirk had campaigned on spending NZ's $1000 million in our Overseas Reserves Account because he claimed we did not need those Reserve Funds for "a rainy day". He spent that $1000 million and another $900 million as well. NZ has never been "in the black" again. Kirk had the good fortune to die in office, his belovedness intact. Rowling and his fellow profligates were deservedly thrashed in the 1975 Elections, the biggest turnaround in NZ's political history.

greywarbler said...

Cedric
The Te Ara history puts that in context:
The new government [from 25 November 1972] enjoyed a record surplus in its first year and revalued the currency. However, the slowing world economy, an unprecedented rise in oil prices, and a rapid rise in government expenditure fuelled inflation.

By the early part of 1974 the country’s economic prospects were less rosy. Kirk’s determination did not falter; he kept reminding the Labour caucus of the sanctity of its election promises, no matter what the state of the economy. Inflation kept rising. Large wage increases became necessary, and a complex – and ill-fated – system of price justification called Maximum Retail Prices (MRP) was devised.


It seems that whatever was done, there was bound to be a hobble on businesses, with or without inflation, such was the unprecedented oil price hike. Labour now no doubt, with this in mind, will have to manage the new oil price stir-up and restrain spending. Their task will be to restrain the non-CPI inflation from housing and CEO's dreams of gold and glory.

Calling Rowling a profligate is defamation I think. Only someone from the National Party (the political partisans who play the game of 'pass the parcel of infamy' so well), could so confidently spread the fibs around like a hippotamus.

Jens Meder said...

What an ungratefully pessimistic lot of political "hairsplitters" here !
Instead of being proud as taxpayers having delivered more than expected and willingly contribute to it through a bit of austerity at the expense of the marvelous luxury of motoring, all you can think of is some political nit-picking and speculation !

Is there no appreciation of the fact, that generating surpluses for "rainy days" and useful investments and their maintenance is the only way to create jobs and raise incomes in a sustainable way?

So let us increase our efforts of surplus generation for profitable investments and adequate security reserves accumulation, and applaud our government and encourage it to carry on with it in a "fiscally responsible" manner !

Nick J said...

Seems to me Cedric that all nations now have huge debt mountains, based upon ever increasing consumption, growth growth growth. We live a finite life on a finite planet. Now the debt is propped up by more debt created to pay the interest that growth can no longer be paid for through growth. That lets us keep consuming ever more. The solution is going to be forced upon us by the end of the age of cheap fossil energy. If we were individually and collectively smart we would severely trim back our consumption. Unfortunately we are addicts hooked upon material consumption.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Instead of being proud as taxpayers having delivered more than expected and willingly contribute to it through a bit of austerity at the expense of the marvelous luxury of motoring, all you can think of is some political nit-picking and speculation !"

Taxpayers being the operative word Jens. It's your average Kiwi battler that pays taxes. In full. It is not us that employs battalions of lawyers to get out of paying tax, so I think were entitled to grumble just a little bit. :)

Jens Meder said...

You are missing the point, Guerilla Surgeon, because is that not a matter of pride and confidence in the future, when despite the tax dodgers and other "greedies", we taxes paying "battlers" still contribute in delivering enough to produce "profits" for the national economy ?

Guerilla Surgeon said...

It would be more a matter of pride if we got together and did something about the tax dodgers and cheats though Jens. Then we would be able to have bigger surpluses for rainy days. And to be honest, I take no pride in the fact that I pay my taxes when the rich get away with paying bugger all. Do you it might be a source of pride, but to be honest it makes is all look like mugs.