Revolutionary And Master Propagandist: John Ansell understands that to be effective an insurgent party's propaganda not only has to be bold, it also has to be cruel. The destruction of a government isn't a job for reasonable, fair-minded people.
JOHN ANSELL doesn’t give a rat’s arse what liberal New Zealand thinks – and that’s his strength. Don Brash’s and John Boscawen’s weakness is that, deep down, they still value the good opinion of their well-educated, middle-class peers. It’s what prevents them from embracing the sort of “fuck you” revolutionary politics that neoliberalism in extremis demands.
Mr Ansell also understands that in the current political climate (i.e. where the National Party is credited with attracting 55 percent of the popular vote) a revolutionary insurgent party, like Act, has only two immediate objectives.
First: it must find a way of cutting-through the “mainstream” news media’s ideological sound-proofing. If voters cannot hear Act’s alternative ideas, then National’s overwhelming electoral advantage cannot be challenged.
Second: Act’s messages must be as polarising as possible and framed in such a way that the voting public is instantly divided into strong supporters and (ideally) even stronger opponents. This is because many politically unsophisticated voters judge the worth and/or strength of an idea not only by how forcefully it is advocated, but also by how vehemently it is opposed.
The Act Party leadership’s decision to “tone down” Mr Ansell’s propaganda was all the proof he needed that his creative pearls were being cast before reformist swine. He might, however, have drawn some small comfort from the furore which even his bowdlerised newspaper advertisement had ignited. Mr Ansell’s strategic thinking has been vindicated in ways that Dr Brash and Mr Boscawen cannot refute.
Mr Ansell’s revolutionary temperament is also demonstrated in his conviction that, when it comes to winning power, Act should “go for broke”. Rather than accept a supporting role in what is essentially a National Party drama, he argues that Act should reject it’s traditional part as “National’s little helper” and pursue power on its own terms. Until such time as it has the numbers to form its own government, says Mr Ansell, Act should stay out of government.
Mr Ansell’s judgement as a propagandist is formidable. He is, after all, the man whose inspired “Iwi/Kiwi” billboards brought the Brash-led National Party to within an ace of winning the 2005 general election.
Central to his understanding of the Kiwi electorate is what he believes to be its profound indifference to the bland background noise of New Zealand’s mainstream parties. It’s this, the voters’ lack of political engagement, which confers such a tremendous advantage upon the incumbent party. Providing the Government of the day does nothing to really piss people off, it can be reasonably confident of re-election.
It’s why Mr Ansell emphasises “boldness” as the prime political virtue. Only by being bold can a politician and/or a political party hope to wake up the dozing colossus that is the Kiwi electorate. New Zealanders like a chancer and they appreciate plain-speaking. In their own, idiosyncratic, passive-aggressive, way Kiwis will quietly admire (and, at a pinch, even give their vote to) any politician bold and canny enough to tune them in to his or her political message.
How else to explain the phenomenon that is Winston Peters?
Or, for that matter, John Key?
The secret to the current Prime Minister’s extraordinary popularity lies, I believe, in his bold assertion that, with him in charge, Kiwi voters could quite safely forget about politics altogether.
Key’s “All New Zealand Boy” persona reinforces this. He comes across as a very ordinary person – at least in the way he thinks and talks, the way he chooses to enjoy himself, and the way in which he interacts with family and friends.
So, if you believe that New Zealand politics is fundamentally bland and unexciting, who better than a bland and unexciting politician to place in charge? (Of course, Key’s millions mark him out as someone just a little bit different, but that’s alright, because the unorthodoxy of financial success is one of the very few manifestations of non-conformity conservative Kiwis are prepared to accept.)
Even among working-class New Zealanders, Key’s ordinariness somehow manages to trump his millionaire status. He fits effortlessly into the classic Kiwi stereotype of “the good employer”, whose ownership of the shop or factory, and a big house up on the hill, in no way inhibits him from taking his coffee-break in the staffroom, “mucking-in” when things get busy, or wearing a silly apron at the end-of-year barbecue.
Crucially, this is the sort of Prime Minister that Phil Goff aspires to be: the genuinely liked, non-threatening Everyman who watches over the nation while its people get on with the things that really matter like pursuing their careers, raising their families, tending their gardens and minding the grand-children.
Phil’s (and Labour’s) problem is that there can only be one such leader at a time. The electorate seldom swaps one “Mr Nice Guy” for another. What would be the point?
“What indeed!” chuckles Mr Ansell who understands that the destruction of a government is no job for “nice”, reasonable, fair-minded men and women.
It’s what makes him so effective – and so dangerous. Not giving a rat’s arse for the opinion of reasonable, fair-minded people is just the beginning. As a revolutionary master-propagandist, Mr Ansell knows that an insurgent party’s message must not only be bold, it must also be cruel.
It must identify the source of all the frustrations and irritations of those not yet comfortable enough to tune-out of politics. And around the designated scapegoats (Jews, “Welfare Queens”, Maori Radicals) the revolutionary party must group their worthless, “women-thinking” enablers – the ones who want you to believe that “nothing’s wrong”, and that “everything’s just fine”, while all the time undermining everything you: the excluded, the over-ruled, the under-valued – hold dear.
Perhaps we should be glad that Dr Brash and Mr Boscawen are anxious to keep a foot in the reasonable and fair-minded New Zealanders’ camp. Because the day they decide to fall in step with Mr Ansell’s revolutionaries we are all in serious trouble.
This essay is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.