Friday 20 January 2012

Whatever It Takes

Don't Do It, Josie! Frustrated at Labour's failure to connect with the electors in 2011, Labour's highly talented candidate, Josie Pagani, penned an article for the NZ Herald in which she hints that if abandoning New Zealand's poorest families will help Labour regain the Treasury benches, then that is what it should do. But if electoral victory means embracing the prejudices of your political enemies, then what, exactly, have you won?

“ALL POWER CORRUPTS”, wrote Lord Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.” But the risk of political degeneracy exists not only in the proximity of power, but is also present in its absence. If winning is the politician’s sole objective, then seeing victory slip through her fingers over and over again surely renders her equally vulnerable to corrupt counsels?

The most persuasive of these siren songs is the one that begins: “One day in Government is worth a thousand years in Opposition.” Meaning: genuine political achievement is available only to those with access to the levers of power. Once this precept is accepted, the idea that serious politicians must be willing to do “whatever it takes” to win office becomes dangerously easy to sell.

And the moment it is purchased, the politician is lost. The means we adopt inevitably shape and determine the ends we arrive at. Being prepared to do “whatever it takes” means being willing to enlist evil in the cause of right; and in that encounter it is not evil which is changed.

Like all stories peddled by the corrupt, the notion that political achievement is restricted to those with access to the levers of power is a lie. The greatest movers of human events are ideas and the moral force they generate. And a person does not need to be in government – or even in Parliament – to advance an idea or exert moral force.

It would be most unfortunate, therefore, if Josie Pagani, the young, compassionate and very talented Labour Party candidate for the blue-ribbon seat of Rangitikei in last year’s election, and all the other progressive candidates who failed to enter Parliament, succumbed to the twin fallacies that only those who sit on the Treasury Benches wield genuine political power; and that parties should, therefore, do “whatever it takes” to get there. Unfortunately, a close reading of her recently published assessment of Labour’s unsuccessful 2011 campaign indicates that she’s at risk of doing just that.

“We lost because [we] were seen as looking backwards, not forwards” says Ms Pagani. “We didn’t sound aspirational, we sounded miserable. We were turning up on people’s doorsteps telling them their lives were gloomy. And anyone who has ever been poor knows the last thing you want is someone telling you your life is crap.”

Well, if Ms Pagani was standing on people’s doorsteps telling them their lives were crap it’s hardly surprising that she lost! And if the perceptions she describes were as widespread in the electorate as she claims, I’m not entirely sure it’s fair to lay the blame exclusively at Labour’s door. Isn’t it more likely that the voters’ negative perceptions of Labour are simply evidence of the superiority of National’s propaganda? Labour had a story to tell in 2011: it lost because it didn’t tell it well enough.

Much more disquieting, however, is Ms Pagani’s statement that: “The hardest week to door-knock was when we were telling people - who had just come home from a day’s work earning the minimum wage - that it was a great idea to extend their Working for Families tax credit to beneficiaries.”

This comment represents a calculated slap in the face to the many Labour members who have struggled ceaselessly for nearly a decade to force the Labour caucus to acknowledge the enormous social damage their policy of denying beneficiaries the economic relief of Working for Families was inflicting on the children of the poor. That Annette King and Phil Goff finally allowed themselves to be persuaded by the irrefutable evidence of the harm this policy was causing represented a genuine moral triumph for them and their party.

To abandon Labour’s new position, as a gesture of appeasement to the ill-informed prejudices of working-class National voters – because that is what it takes – would signal a willingness to march into office over the backs of impoverished families.

It’s hard to conceive of a Labour victory more corrupting – or less worth winning.

This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 20 January 2012.


Sanctuary said...

Yes, but the dishonesty of the title - "Working for Families tax credit" - is what has come back to bite them, not proposing to increase the income of the poorest. People scornfully pointed out that you can't give a working for families tax credit to people who are not working.

The ridiculous obfustication of the title of the benefit betrays the ideological embarassment of many of Labours current crop of MPs about the nominal ideology of the party they belong to. If they had called it the "low earning income subsidy" or, if they had to keep it from beneficiaries, the "private sector wage subsidy" then maybe voters wouldn't have been so scathing of Labours sudden desire to extend the payment to the unemployed.

Anonymous said...

A perplexing column from Chris which seems to contradict his previous view that Labour victories need to be achieved via the support of “Waitakere man” types. It sounds like Chris wants Labour to become what the Greens used to be, always taking the moral high ground, squealing from the sidelines while everyone ignores them. The 2011 election was lost for Labour the moment the WFF policy hit the news, and Labour will lose the 2014 election if they keep this policy

Chris Trotter said...

Not so perplexing, Anonymous. To describe something is not the same thing as endorsing it.

Waitakere Man and his missus are not the most appealling of electors and Labour would be most unwise to try and make itself as ugly as they are.

The primary route to the heart of Waitakere Man is by way of his self-interest.

Make it clear how Labour's policies are going to make him more prosperous, and avoid the impression of advocating unpopular social reform from above (i.e. encourage grass-roots organisation to prepare the way for legislative change) and I believe Waitakere Man will start listening to the party again.

Tossing in a little flattery concerning the hard-work and entrepreneurial flair of the small-to-medium enterprise might also help.

Above everything, Labour should strive to project an aura of authenticity to those whose votes it is seeking. If Waitakere Man believes he could sit down and talk to a Labour MP/candidate without feeling either uncomfortable or affronted, he just might vote for him - or her.

Rocket science it ain't.

Anonymous said...

Labour have very little ideological room in which to move.

If they take on board Chris' ideas, they'll move further to the left, towards the Mana party, and therefore make themselves even more irrelevant than they are now.

Supporting the wharfies sounds all "nice and motherhood and apple pie" - "solidarity forever" and all that stuff - but the vast majority of voters hate the wharfies. If Labour wants to tie itself to them, then good luck to it.

Labour has been "out-lefted" by Mana.
Their very reasons for existence are looking pretty shonky.

Anonymous said...

I normally agree with Bowalley Road posts, but feel compelled to defend the tens of thousands of culturally conservative but left leaning New Zealanders who simply won’t vote for a party that promises even more handouts to non-workers. Far from being a “prejudice” I’d call this good judgment. More handouts won’t solve any problems because what passes for “poverty” in NZ is more about bad choices, financial imprudence, and general moral failure than genuine African-style economic poverty. Feeding deprived kids directly (as suggested by Brian Bruce) is worthy of consideration, but increasing already generous benefits is to reward the undeserving and merely entrenches the welfare lifestyle. Labour must be the party of the worker again or it is doomed.

Giovanni Tiso said...

Waitakere Man needs to go, for the same reasons that Goff's misleading figure of the middle New Zealand struggler needed to go - these types overdetermine our politics. Their being white and male (Waitakere Man) or belonging to a family (the struggler) is both non-innocent and toxic to progressive politics.

That said, your last few columns have been almost disconcertingly timely and good, Chris. You hit it out of the park with your last sentence there.

Denis Welch said...

Thanks, Chris. I was going to blog about Pagani's article myself; my eyebrows, like yours, went up when I read it, and I'd been turning over its implications in my mind, preparatory to delivering some jewelled prose on the topic. But you have said pretty much exactly what I was going to say.

Anonymous said...

The noted Canadian philosopher Wayne Gretzky is reputed to have said: “I skate to where the puck is going to be, not where it has been”. Ms. Pagani – like almost every other contemporary politician – is only capable of doing the latter, and that’s the issue.

We all know that any long term political settlement tends to reward politicians who follow the basic rules of that settlement with an ongoing political career and punishes those who do not with failure and/or obscurity. In New Zealand over the last 25 years this has meant that being an obsessive poll watcher who has accepted the neoliberal settlement is more or less necessary for electoral success.

A stable political settlement advantages those who are followers of public sentiment rather than genuine leaders. These people are fine until the accepted political settlement is found wanting, at which point they are revealed as useless, ineffectual and stupid. I don’t think I’m being entirely inaccurate in describing almost every member of our parliament as falling in to one or more of these categories (and western elites in general). It’s not their fault. They are followers of public sentiment and the public are exactly like them in not quite being able to accept the fact that we cannot go on as we were. What we need at a time like this are genuine leaders – people who are prepared to take actual political risks – not the sclerotic faux leaders we’ve got now.

You’d have to be living in a cave not to know that New Zealand needs a new political-economic settlement. We can’t go on as we have been – it doesn’t work any more. That means that some politicians are going to have to stake their careers on new and unproven ideas. Most will lose, but eventually we’ll end up with something new, the public will accept it, and then we can get on with our lives. We need actual ideas – not warmed over rubbish that is electable in the short term.

Even the right wingers have cottoned on to the fact that there exists an ambitious, self serving and entitled political class who are no longer of any real use. They can’t seem to get it into their heads that an increasing portion of the public simply want them to go – not to change, but to eff the hell off. Pagani and her husband epitomise this class of people. I wish they’d all move to Australia.

XChequer said...

"Above everything, Labour should strive to project an aura of authenticity to those whose votes it is seeking. "

Just being authentic would be a good start, Chris. Your words point to the same issue you are panning Pagani about - style over substance.

For example, when voters see Ms Fenton rubbishing a pillar of New Zealand society (and a bloody good bloke, at that) over perceived slights to the "working man", when they see Carmel running down her opponent only to have it turned back upon her with an ungraciousness that astounds - those are some of the examples where in the absence of any other example, the electorate will focus on the only "substance" available. And as Josie is right to point out, it is miserable - downright awful even.

She wasn't telling us that our lives are crap - our leaders (Fenton, Sepuloni et al) were reflecting the crap.

And this gem - " .....ill-informed prejudices of working-class National voters" - for goodness sakes, Chris - the working man is meant to be symbolised in the Labour movement. The fact that they abjured the Party does not make them ill-informed. The fact they saw someone else's ideas as being better than Labour's doesn't denigrate them to second - class people.

“ALL POWER CORRUPTS”, wrote Lord Acton, “and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”

It sounds like it has corrupted, Chris. It feels like you're talking down to "the poor huddled masses", the wee bairns that have struck from the true paths of socialism. And the corruption of principles and ideas is exemplified in the behaviour of the Labour Party over the last few years.

I congratulate Josie on trying to look for fresh ideas, to try some critical self-analysis in a bid to become better and more worthy of my vote - something that at least a fresh face as in Mr Shearer and Josie gives me hope for - a credible opposition and, with luck, one day a credible government.

Anonymous said...

"...avoid the impression of advocating unpopular social reform from above (i.e. encourage grass-roots organisation to prepare the way for legislative change) and I believe Waitakere Man will start listening to the party again.

Tossing in a little flattery ... might also help.

Above everything, Labour should strive to project an aura of authenticity to those whose votes it is seeking."

What XChequer said. Unbelievable. So Labour should stand on principles and project an 'aura of authenticity', while 'flattering' and 'avoiding the impression' of social engineering by getting your grassroots groups to do the dirty work.

For shame Chris. Your post was good, but your coments betray you, and us.

A worker.

Grant Michael McKenna said...

Lord Acton actually said that "power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely".

The corruption is inherent in having power over others- and it is that corruption -or arrogance- which the democratic process has purged by removing Labour from office. National will slowly be corrupted by office, and Labour will cleanse itself, and the wheel will turn. Of course, Labour can hasten the process; National could by incompetence do the same.

Giovanni Tiso said...

"If they take on board Chris' ideas, they'll move further to the left, towards the Mana party, and therefore make themselves even more irrelevant than they are now."

I congratulate you on this non sequitur.

guerilla surgeon said...

“We lost because [we] were seen as looking backwards, not forwards"

No, we lost because our supposed core voters didn't vote because we have abandoned them.
Find out how to get them out and you can do without the some of theaspirationals.

blueleopardthinks said...

Hey, thanks again Mr Trotter,

This article certainly airs my concerns.

I continue to feel that civics needs to be a compulsory subject at school, and that it’s not, in a democratic nation, I consider to be really quite astounding.

If the public are not informed, then any feedback asked of them is merely one of gleaning unquestioned prejudice, as opposed to informed opinion on any given subject.

Base prejudice is easy to manipulate, and this appears to be the only real angle that most Western democracies are approaching their constituencies with. (As you mention:. “…evidence of the superiority of National’s propaganda?”)

All I wish for is that my fellow compatriots take time to inform themselves and develop discernment in their political views/activities. (If they haven’t time, for this, connect with someone they respect and trust who does.) This, and only this, protects us from being at the mercy of the manipulation and propaganda of unscrupulous and ignorant types, and would inoculate us against the eroding effect such activities have on democracy.

guerilla surgeon said...

"what passes for “poverty” in NZ is more about bad choices, financial imprudence, and general moral failure than genuine African-style economic poverty."

Sen defines poverty as lack of options rather than lack of money. If we did have African style poverty in this country, it would be more of a national disgrace than we have at present, which is bad enough. And the idea that poverty is a moral failure is right out the Republican party playbook. I can't believe their lack of empathy generally shown by the right but to find it in a self described Labour supporter....

Anonymous said...

As a Labour voter, I'm worried for the future of the party if they go down the road Chris Trotter advocates. 26 percent is starting to look optimistic. Sorry I'm with Pagani on this one.

Anonymous said...

Thor42 - "If they take on board Chris' ideas, they'll move further to the left, towards the Mana party, and therefore make themselves even more irrelevant than they are now...Labour has been "out-lefted" by Mana."

That's pure nonsense - it's the other way around. the reason why Labour became so irrelevant (and they haven't shown any real signs yet of changing so still are) is because they made themselves almost indistinguishable from National thus lost traditional Labour support as a result. By competing with National for the same constituency they simply gave voters no choice. Labour needs to reclaim its traditional Labour Party foundations and start again - from the bottom up. This will make Labour relevant again. As for being out-lefted by Mana goes, theoretically you're correct, but practically you're wrong. This is because regardless of how good almost everything that Mana stands for is, voters, including traditional left-voting Labour supporters, don't listen to what Mana says because they've been sucked in appearances. If those on the left truly listened to what Mana said then I'd agree that there'd be a greater chance Labour would be out-lefted by Mana, but until that happens it just ain't the case. Do you really think one seat and 1% means Labour's been "out-lefted"? People need to first listen to Mana, then vote accordingly, then we might achieve a bit more "out-lefting".

blueleopardthinks said...

I wholeheartedly second, both Guerilla Surgeon and Anonymous-8.26pm's comments.

I hope left wing party strategists are reading these points of view, it might save them paying out huge amounts for some expert to arrive at the same conclusions.

Bart said...

Steady on Chris. Josie in no way has stated that you need to abandon the poor, as you alluded to in your note attached to the picture. She instead, and quite rightly, pointed out that many of the workers feel disenfranchised by Labours attitude. The party needs to reconnect with it's core, can it not do that and keep a weather eye out for the poor, or is multi tasking beyond you!

Olwyn said...

Anonymous @ 2.43 is right: "You’d have to be living in a cave not to know that New Zealand needs a new political-economic settlement. We can’t go on as we have been – it doesn’t work any more." Bart is also right in saying that Labour does not have to be constrained by a false dichotomy between the middle class and the poor.

However, Labour does need to grasp the nettle. Consensus at this point in time means accepting wholesale privatisation and the casualisation of jobs. Which in turn means accepting property prices (which for most New Zealanders is their wealth) being propped up by various doles and sub-doles, and shored up by immigration, until such time as the tax take can no longer meet the demand. Then what?

That said, no one can lead without followers, and it is time that those of us on the left made our presence felt rather than just railing at Labour to do so. We should be on picket lines in large numbers, and responding fiercely to every serious injustice. That way we may have a chance of embarrassing political Labour into action, and will not have to spend the next three years hearing Mr Shearer's string of concessions being put down to "his great negotiating skills" while his every second sentence begins "When I was in Somalia..." My apologies to Mr Shearer if it does not go like that, but that is what presently seems to threaten.

Anonymous said...

In her desperate flailing around Pagani has perfectly illustrated the lack of understanding of the political economy that has led Labour to its present predicament.

Labour needs to start from scratch again.

The first thing to do would be a programme of economic education of its candidates, MPs and activists so they understand there are real choices to the neo liberalism that has so captured them.

An objective understanding of what capitalism is and how it works would be a good start.

If they understood capitalism they might come up with an andidote.

Instead they do stupid things like subsidising the bosses through programmes like Working for Families then acting surprised at the surliness' ignorance and desperate need for recognition by a working class that has been turned into beneficiaries.

A modicum of economic literacy might help them realise that if employers had been made to pay these workers properly themselves we would be a far more prosperous country and they would never have been outflanked by National with its bullshit aspirational politics.

They might understand that deliberately holding benefits at level designed to be 20% less than needed for survival, a supposed incentive to work, is morally wrong, a denial of labour market reality, and serves only the interests of the 1% by keeping a reserve army of labour on standby.

They might get their heads around the enormity of the con thats been pulled on them by the financial sector and that they don't actually need it at all in its present private form, let alone feel so dependant on it they jump to its every command.

They might not borrow to gamble on the stock market, that has only a tenuous connection to the real economy, to pay our future pensions instead of investing in a sound productive economy that provides well paying jobs and a tax base that would have no difficulty meeting future pension needs.

It might even dawn on them that socially liberal policies are only embraced by a population enjoying the success brought on by progressive and empowering economic policies.

As the middle class shrinks and various economic, social, political and environmental chickens come home to roost, the next few decades will become about the needs of the many, not the phoney aspirations of the priviliged and the deluded that have given National short term electoral success.

And thats where Labour could be positioning themselves to offer hope and a concrete plan for the future based on a bit of economic understanding, a rejection of neo liberalism, a real desire for greater fairness and equality and the application of half a brain.

Chris Trotter said...

Amen to that, Anonymous! Well said.

Brendan McNeill said...

I genuinely wonder at someone like: Anonymous 4:15 PM when they say:

"Instead they (Labour) do stupid things like subsidising the bosses through programmes like Working for Families....A modicum of economic literacy might help them realise that if employers had been made to pay these workers properly themselves we would be a far more prosperous country."

Imagine living in a country where the Government determines the wages that employers must pay their staff (minimum wage to one side).

Oh, that's right, we don't have to imagine. There was East Germany under Communist rule, we could look there, or a dozen other failed Communist states.

How anyone thinks for one moment that WFF is an employer subsidy is beyond me.

Such thinking can only originate in an 'upside down' parallel universe, where welfare payments are viewed as subsidies for the rich and undeserving.

Meanwhile, thankfully, back here on planet earth, the dynamics of work, thrift, deferred gratification, risk and reward still operate.

Oh, and here in NZ there is a generous welfare system that presently supports upwards of 14% of all working age New Zealanders so that they don't have to stave, or live on the streets.

In the words of Fred Dagg. "We don't know how lucky we are".

Scouser said...

I really don't see how one gets to going after power for power's sake as the message from Pagani. I suppose there's a small chance that's where it might end up but the message was much simpler.

Labour came across as a bunch of complaining, miserable b*****ds who were really depressing. No positive message. I did a bit of a straw poll with non political friends and aquaintances at the election time and, without fail, they stressed a similar perception of negativity. Not scientific, sure, but highly indicative.

Chris Trotter said...

Granted, Scouser, Labour did not sell its message as effectively as the National Party, but Josie's article is not limited to that observation and carries a great deal of its critique between the lines.

There are tens of thousands of New Zealanders hurting at the moment and they deserve a voice. To deny them that representation, or worse, to collude in making them the target of "Mainstream New Zealand's" feelings of fear, guilt and hatred towards the poor, Labour would be turning its back on everything it once stood for.

Anonymous said...

I quite agree Chris what a shocking thing to say that Labour should be a supporter of people working and not on benefits!
You fail to realise just how pissed off many people are to be working hard to subsidise the loafers and layouts-or perhaps you don't think that there are any...

Anonymous said...

Terrific posting, Chris. I haven't always agreed with you over the years but you have nailed this.

Anonymous said...

I have to say that if Pagani and the collective blandness (blindness?) of "Shearerism" are all Labour Party has to offer the electorate in 2014, then the party is in deep, deep trouble. It is worth reflecting on Daniel Singer's analysis as to why the British Labour Party lost the 1992 which was, in effect, if the choice is between two accountants and capitalism is the only horizon it is little wonder the voters opted for the one with the proven track record at counting.

Anonymous said...

Yep, it takes a historian to spell it out. The minute Labour caves in to tory propaganda they're toast. Even Key knows Progression can't be tinkered with: when Labour does it, the giant "Bogus: vote-chasing" light flashes to all swing voters.

That's how Hels lost it. All downhill from F&S, abolishing Special Benefit and cold-shouldering unions.

Prior to that she sailed in on raising the top tax rate and cruised on WFF.

Surprised that Josie's forgotten the incredible Alliance victory in Stratford and Te Kuiti 98 and not applied those lessons to her rural possie. Especially as she was there.

First lesson's in the name. Labour wasn't "trounced" in 11: the Left alliance came within a seat. Get down with your cobbers or perish alone.

Second lesson's those rag-tag locals who did all the ground work over years before: birds of all feathers with a common goal under a leader who never flinched.

Third lesson's how to destroy everything: a handful in privilege forget history, lose sight of the goal, and carp and eat from within. Don't go there girl.

Loz said...

The 1908 & 1911 elections highlight Labour's current problem.

The Liberals opposed the idea of "every man for themselves" and believed that the state had a role to play in building infrastructure, providing pensions and education for the young. It believed in opportunities for people to better themselves but did not believe that the state should be directly involved in enterprise. Increasingly the party also came to believe in conservative principles of free trade.

In 1908 the country held deep concern for recession as London's money markets appeared to be on the brink of collapse. The Liberals attracted constant criticism for having a lack of policies, stated principles or a visible agenda criticism (points denied by Liberal leadership). Apart from advocating general ideas of fairness, the party was forced to campaign on the memory and past achievements of Seddon from a decade before. By 1911, Liberal supporters were publically agonising that no one could identify exactly what reforms or principles the party stood for anymore. The level of frustration can be read here.

The Liberals accepted a market driven economic philosophy where a charitable government could alleviate hardship and suffering. Benefit payments or "unemployment insurance" was a typically liberal response to the problem of unemployment.

The apparent winner of the 1908 & 1911 elections was the Reform party. Reform outlined a familiar conservative strategy to cut taxes, cut spending, sell assets (National Endowments) and making the government owned railways more profitable. In 1911 the Reform party even pledged to introduce a national unemployment insurance scheme which made it increasingly difficult for the electorate to see what the real differences between the parties actually were.

It was in this environment that the labour movement and independent parties walked away from the Liberals and unified as the Labour Party. When Josie Pagani suggests: "The working world has changed. People contract their labour out. They set themselves up as small businesses. They do seasonal and shift work. They work part time or flexible time. They change jobs regularly."
- she's describing the working world from when the Labour party was first formed. Unknowingly, her suggestion of supporting those who did well was the position of the Liberals which was opposed by Labour and ultimately rejected by the voters. The Liberals also mistakenly thought that they would “always be the political party that is there for working people”.

When Josie states: "There's a reason we're called "Labour": We have always represented people who work" she is 100% wrong. Labour always believed (as did Milton Freedman) that unemployment was an integral component of the economic system. Labour represented those who had to work, not just those who actually had jobs. This is a big part of why the labour movement and working New Zealanders opposed unemployment benefits completely. If someone had suggested tax credits for unemployed they would have opposed that too. The "Labour Manifesto" issued by NZ's Federated Seaman Union in 1892 declared the principle for "work by which we can live without charity". The position was further defined by NZ's Surplus Labour League in 1896 (and repeated continually within the labour movement and parties) as "it is the duty of those in authority... to deal with a great necessity (of addressing unemployment) in such a way as not to pauperise the people by doling out charity".

Promoting “hand-outs” as a solution for economic problems is a bankrupt policy that has little appeal to any New Zealanders.

Labour's failing is a rejection of liberalism, not an endorsement to move even further to the right.

android black jack said...

If they had called it the "low earning income subsidy" or, if they had to keep it from beneficiaries, the "private sector wage subsidy" then maybe voters wouldn't have been so scathing of Labours sudden desire to extend the payment to the unemployed. very nice blog ....

Scouser said...

Chris, I think Labour sold its message accurately. The message was very negative is the point not that Labour was somehow outdone in the media message by National. It's hard to sell a bad message. But heh - if Labour continues to believe that somehow it has the true understanding of what the working and welfare man requires and it's a question of just getting the message across then it will be on the outer for a while. A flogging of such severity at the ballot box reflects something significantly more fundamental than 'selling the message less effectively' and, frankly, that type of arrogance deserves such treatment.

Victor said...

Ms Pagani is on the wrong track, not because she wants to throw beneficiaries to the wolves (I'm sure she has no such desire) but because she is further legitimising the misconceived economic narrative that is keeping New Zealand poor and National in office.

With one of the developed world's best government debt to GDP ratios, we simply don't have the hugely bloated, improvident state, that so fixates press, politicians and public. Moreover, payments to beneficiaries constitute only a small percentage of total government expenditure.

But we do have an atrociously large external deficit, fueled by private profligacy and aggravated by low productivity, lack of innovation, inadequate training, a shortage of investment capital and a resultant inability to reap appropriate benefit from the highly favourable export prices of recent years.

We have, in other words, an economy that is going nowhere and a government with no apparent plans for doing anything about it!

There is, in fact, no real benefit to New Zealand from making life uncomfortable for beneficiaries. Indeed, there may be a downside to doing so, as their poverty prevents them from making a greater contribution to economic stimulus.

Moreover, the obsession with government expenditure deflects attention away from the search for solutions to our real economic problems and suggests false panaceas. And nobody benefits from this: not the self-employed; not the salaried middle class; not unionised workers (including comparatively well-paid ‘Labour Aristocrats’ like the Auckland wharfies); not poorly paid, non-union labour and (obviously) not those without work.

Nor is there any benefit to Labour from pretending that excessive government expenditure is the source of our malaise. Why vote for National-lite when you can vote for the real thing?

And, frankly, if austerity is to remain the order of the day, I suspect that National can do a better job than Labour of selling our merits as the poster boy of ‘fiscal responsibility’ to the masters of the universe.

Not only is John Key more at home than anyone on the Labour benches in the corridors of global financial power. He and his mates wear better cut suits and flaunt classier labels than Pagani.