WHICH CAME FIRST, the Taxpayers’ Union’s campaign against the Wealth Tax, or the National Party’s “Stop the Wealth Tax Day”? My money’s on the Taxpayer’s Union. If the past week of the campaign has taught us anything, it’s that Judith Collins is making National’s campaign up as she goes along. I suspect she read, or someone summarized, Richard Harman’s Politik post on the Taxpayers’ Union’s direct mail shot. I can just see Collins’s eyebrows arching wickedly and hear her exclaim: “What a good idea!” Needless to say, she and her woefully inept campaign team then proceeded to cock the whole thing up.
If I’m wrong, however, and the whole exercise was, indeed, carefully planned in advance, then the Taxpayers’ Union’s mail-shot must have been timed to arrive in its targeted mailboxes just in time to underscore the media’s coverage of Collins’ “Stop The Wealth Tax Day” event. According to this script: just as the parties began their final dash for the finish-line, the voters were to be treated to a classic, last-minute, National Party demolition job.
There is actually at least one piece of evidence to support this theory. On the final “Politics” panel before the election, Trish Sherson and Neale Jones joined RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan, to discuss the state-of-play just five days out from polling-day. In the course of that discussion, Sherson told listeners that a letter explaining the impact of the Wealth Tax on her family’s future fortunes had turned up in her letter-box. Surely, this was the mail-shot exposed by Richard Harman in last Thursday’s Politik post?
So far, so good. On paper, this sequence does indeed have all the hallmarks of a potentially ruinous National Party hit. We have only to cast our minds back to Steven Joyce’s superbly-timed attack on Labour’s tax policy in the final weeks of the 2017 general election. In concert with his “There’s an $11 billion hole in Labour’s financial plan” assault on Grant Robertson’s economic competence, National’s attack on the Opposition’s proposed Capital Gains Tax delivered a devastating blow to Jacinda’s and Labour’s credibility.
Still, you must remember what Karl Marx had to say about history repeating itself? No? Well then, allow me to supply the quote:
“Hegel remarks somewhere that all great, world-historical facts and personages occur, as it were, twice. He has forgotten to add: the first time as tragedy, the second as farce.”
We could spend some time debating whether Steven Joyce is, or ever was, a “world historical personage”, but what is not in doubt is that he was pretty damn good at running election campaigns. If Joyce had been master-minding the joint National Party/Taxpayers’ Union hit, then “Stop the Wealth Tax Day” would have set in motion a dangerous, hard-to-counter Opposition effort designed to strip 5 percentage points off the Labour Party at a point in the campaign when Labour is least equipped to mount an effective counter-attack.
But – and it’s a really, really big BUT – Joyce is not running National’s campaign. According to Politik’s editor, Richard Harman, Collins has become her own campaign manager. Now, as a lawyer, you might think that the Leader of the Opposition would be familiar with the old saying: “The lawyer who defends himself has a fool for a client.” Well the same applies, with bells on, to the management of election campaigns. What do you call the candidates who decide to manage their own campaign? That’s right, you call them losers. What looked like a truly tremendous plan of attack on paper, simply could not survive the fog of Judith.
The Ancient Greeks used to say that those whom the Gods sought to destroy they first made mad; these days they just make them incompetent. The degree to which National’s number-crunchers cocked-up the calculations at the core of their “Stop The Wealth Tax” Facebook post simply beggars belief. After all, these are the guys who never stop telling us that when it comes to number-crunching, National leaves Labour in its dust. And yet, when critiquing the Wealth Tax, the Nats’ not only failed comprehensively to get the numbers right, but were also, clearly, unable to grasp even the rudiments of the Greens’ proposed fiscal instrument. No wonder that, for just about the first time since the days of Roger Douglas, the “Business Community” prefers a Labour finance minister (Grant Robertson) to National’s economic spokesperson (Paul Goldsmith).
It was such a debacle that I almost (and that word, almost, needs to be stressed) felt sorry for the National Party. Their soldiers lifted up their rifles, took careful aim at their enemies, pulled their triggers, and discovered that the party’s armourers had failed to supply them with live rounds. The poor bastards were firing blanks!
I do not, however, feel the least bit sorry for the mainstream news media. What I’m actually feeling is anger and disgust. Richard Harman broke the story about the Taxpayers’ Union’s mail-shot early in the morning of Thursday, 9 October. With the honourable exception of The Daily Blog, it was studiously ignored. No one that I’m aware of thought to ask Judith Collins if she was aware of the Taxpayers’ Union’s plans. No one from RNZ picked-up on Sherson’s description of the letter she received over the weekend. The parallels between this attack and the similarly timed, and targeted, Exclusive Brethren attack of 2005 have been missed completely. Okay, it happened 15 years ago, but are we really expected to accept that today’s political journalists lack the capacity to link the events of the present with those of even the relatively recent past?
Obviously, the politicians don’t think so. Why else would the National front-bencher (once again, this information is sourced from Harman’s Politik website) have leaked Denise Lee’s critical e-mail directly to the media? Waiting around for the modern gallery journalist to ferret out the level of dissatisfaction with Judith Collins in National’s caucus all by themselves is clearly regarded as a fool’s errand. When it comes to making sure the news media knows WTF’s going on, spoon-feeding would appear to be the order of the day!
We have already seen what has happened to the National Party, now that experienced players like Steven Joyce are no longer in control of their election campaigns. It’s amateur night in Tory Town. But, God alone knows what will happen to the mainstream media’s ability to maintain a properly informed electorate when experienced professional journalists like Richard Harman finally retire. Democracy defeated both Nazism and Stalinism: whether or not it can survive the sheer incompetence of its contemporary practitioners and reporters, is an open question.
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 13 October 2020.