Friday 13 March 2020

Responding To “Events” - Badly.

Learned Nothing, Forgotten Nothing: Assembled across the parliamentary aisle is a collection of politicians who appear to have benefited not one iota from their rotation to the Opposition Benches. Indeed, the policies released by  National Party Leader Simon Bridges so far contain nothing new, nothing imaginative, nothing inspiring. Confirmation, sadly, that the party has drawn precisely zero lessons from the nine years it spent in power.

“EVENTS, DEAR BOY, EVENTS.” That’s how the British Prime Minister, Harold Macmillan, answered the young journalist who asked him what might blow his government off-course. Macmillan’s response is remarkable not only for its aristocratic brevity, but also for its weary fatalism. Compressed into Macmillan’s bon mot is the political experience of a lifetime. It speaks to the folly of trying to anticipate the future: the whole ridiculous notion that the lives of individuals – and governments – are theirs to command. Who would have thought an old Tory could be so wise?

Although our “youth adjacent” Prime Minister was a long way off being born when Harold Macmillan (Britain’s PM from 1957 to 1963) made his contribution to History’s Big Book of Memorable Political Quotations, the last seven days have given her plenty of reasons to appreciate it. The last time the world faced anything as serious as the present triple crisis of a global pandemic, tanking sharemarkets, and a hugely destabilising energy price war, was more than ten years ago when the entire world teetered on the brink of financial catastrophe. It’s easy to see why the Prime Minister might think that somebody ‘up there’ really has it in for her!

Not that she needs to look up to locate those ranged against her. A quick glance across the parliamentary aisle in the direction of the National Party Opposition will more than suffice. There she will find assembled a collection of politicians who appear to have benefited not one iota from their rotation to the Opposition Benches. Indeed, the policies National has released so far contain nothing new, nothing imaginative, nothing inspiring. Confirmation, sadly, that the party has drawn precisely zero lessons from the nine years it spent in power.

Instead, we have witnessed the very worst of ‘tick-the-box’ conservative politics. Tax cuts for the rich. (Tick.) Crack-down on the gangs. (Tick.) Make a “bonfire” of irksome regulations. (Tick.) Weaken the trade unions. (Tick.) Build more roads. (Tick.) Pay lip-service to fighting Climate Change – but make sure nothing gets done. (Tick.)

An intelligent Opposition would have analysed the causes of voter dissatisfaction with the previous National government, and then asked itself whether simply replicating its policies was a politically responsible electoral strategy.

Further shrinking the fiscal resources of the state by deliberately lowering the tax-take, for example, can only render it less capable of meeting the needs of its citizens. It means leaving the country’s crumbling infrastructure unrepaired. Similarly, the country’s rapidly ageing population’s sky-rocketing health needs will go unmet. An intelligent Opposition would have recognised these consequences and refrained from placing tax cuts on the election-year table.

Especially irresponsible, is the National Party’s promise to make a “bonfire” of irksome regulations. Reading the media releases of the Opposition Leader, Simon Bridges, and his Finance Spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, one is left with the impression that they were out of the country at the time of the Pike River Disaster and the CTV Building’s collapse during the Christchurch Earthquake. How else to explain their complete inability to grasp the role New Zealand’s notorious “light-handed” regulatory regime played in those tragedies? Do they truly believe that the persons responsible considered themselves to be exercising anything other than “common sense” in health and safety matters?

As if these failures weren’t egregious enough, the National Opposition has clearly decided that it would be an unforgiveable political error to let a major health emergency go to waste.

In the very worst case scenario, the unfolding Covid-19 pandemic could kill millions and unhinge the global economy. As an open trading economy, New Zealand would be especially hard hit. Of course, if the virus moves aggressively into the community transmission phase, the crisis will be compounded by several orders of magnitude. New Zealand could not be more at risk if faced with an imminent military attack.

Historically, these are the circumstances in which political parties set aside their differences and join together to meet the national crisis with a united front – as happened with the all-party coalitions formed spontaneously at the outset of the First and Second World Wars.

Sadly, this is not what we’re getting from Simon Bridges’ National Party. On the contrary, the Opposition seems hell-bent on undermining public confidence in the Government’s handling of the crisis.

National’s response to “events” has, so far, been disgraceful.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 13 March 2020.


Kat said...

"National’s response to “events” has, so far, been disgraceful........"

And so has the fourth estate, especially TVNZ/RNZ, for not reporting Nationals blatant outrageous attempts to smear the Prime Minister and undermine the govt, every week.

David George said...

Yes, pretty uninspiring fare from the National party, I would seriously have to hold my nose to vote for them.
The idea that they are a conservative government, in the proper meaning of the word, needs to be put to rest. Jeanette Fitzsimmons was a conservative, the Nats only pretend to be. Their attachment to globalisation, centralisation, high immigration and their enthusiasm to be pawns of a regime that's the antithesis of conservatism (China) mark them as almost anything but.
The essence of conservatism is not materialist. Socialism, neo-liberalism and capitalism start with the premise that material improvement and it's distribution and ownership are the foundation for the elevation of humanity. Conservatism is premised on trust and obligation, the social contract between the dead, the living, and the unborn; the family, community and a shared morality as the foundation for human progress and happiness. Material progress is a result not a cause.
Sir Roger Scruton's recent book "Conservatism" is a great introduction to the philosophy.

Scouser said...

bonfire” of irksome regulations - except he didn't say irksome. Your repetition of irksome mimics the behaviour of the media you often criticise. It, perhaps accidentally, gives the impression that Bridges stated regulations are irksome.

I've owned businesses, worked for a large number of customers across many industries and (one of the most regulated areas I have seen) spent a decent amount of money in the building industry. Only a fool thinks regulation is not necessary but the opposite assumption that an opposition to bad regulation (of which there is a surprising amount IMO) is somehow anarchy incarnate or some sort of nod to the rich getting away with everything (yes deliberate hyperbole) is just as much nonsense.

Frequently, the creation of such regulations is by persons either not in the industry or not proficient enough at that industry to make a living in it or is in reaction to an event and addressed with too much urgency. The lack of understanding of the effectiveness or unintended consequences of the regulations is much too common. Regulations tend to get piled on top of previous regulations to add more and more checks with a significant amount of complexity introduced in to the "system"

An example. After the earthquakes in Christchurch and some subsequent earthquakes we now have minimum requirements for earthquake resilience, under the New Building Standard (NBS). All commercial (but not residential) buildings must hit a minimum of ~ 30% of the NBS. They must be brought up to that standard. Literally tens of millions of dollars have been spent on engineers reports and building strengthening. However, we have the ludicrous situation of applying such rules in the Waikato (one of the most stable regions in NZ) at the same level as applied to Wellington. We see that the NBS standards were insufficient for recent earthquakes in Wellington and that buildings that passed the 100% NBS in Wellington failed but many lesser %age NBS did cope with the earthquake a few years back. So, the regulations look to be badly designed. I personally doubt whether the large amounts of money expended have had any significant effects on safety in relation to earthquake resilience.

We frequently do not make good regulations. Too much regulation is a knee jerk response to an issue that is badly designed and often does not address the issue it is meant to generally poorly designed. Everyone feels better though, as we're "doing something". .... but we're not. We are adding overheads and costs via bad regulations.

Just in case, someone doesn't get my message. Regulations are required but that does not mean all regulations are required.

My vote is for a bonfire of the large amounts of bad regulation.

sumsuch said...

Just suggested a war coalition at Daily Blog.

All good for the necessary mobilisation to deal with climate change, and preventing National going full Murdoch Right Oz Krazo.

You're either heading Right or heading Left, and the last 36 years has been the former in our wee place, thus always open to the manipulations of the powerful dividers and rulers.