Friday 12 September 2014

Have We Got The Right Horse For The Course - Or Is A Mid-Stream Change In Order?

“Horses For Courses”: It's an expression you often hear in the mouths of old politicos. What they mean is that some elections are better suited to demon politicians than angelic statesmen.
WITH JUST OVER A WEEK TO GO, the core issue of this election is at last coming into focus. It is difficult to recall a political contest so fraught with diversions and divisions as this one. Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics, has told us very forcefully what politics shouldn’t be about, but it’s been nowhere near so helpful at informing the better angels of our nature. What Mr Hager has managed to do, however, with characteristic prescience, is place the issue of trust at the heart of the choices we must make in eight days’ time.
But trust, in politics, is not a simple thing. Like love, it is apt to be bestowed upon the most unlikely and undeserving of individuals, institutions and nations. That’s because trust is about a great deal more than simply keeping promises. Indeed, the people we trust most are often those who’ve proved that, sometimes, promises must be broken. Given a choice between an angel and a demon for prime minister, it is by no means axiomatic that a desperate electorate will always vote for the heavenly creature.
“Horses for courses” is the expression you often hear in the mouths of old politicos. By which they mean that there are some tasks better suited to demons than angels.
In the course of a lengthy political career, Winston Churchill earned the enmity of just about every section of British society. In 1904 he betrayed the aristocracy by abandoning the Conservative Party and joining the Liberals. In 1926 he helped defeat the Trade Union Congress’s General Strike. Throughout the pacifist Thirties he constantly urged his countrymen to prepare for war. And, as the arch-imperialist of his generation, he did all he could to deny the people of the Indian sub-continent their independence. In short, Churchill was a reckless egotist, an avowed racist and an inveterate warmonger: anyone searching for the angelic in his character faced a daunting challenge.
And yet, when the shadow of a much darker demon fell over Britain in 1940, it was to Churchill that the British people turned. Given the fateful course that lay before them, only a warhorse would do.
Five years later it was a different story. The “Spirit of ‘45” wanted nothing more to do with warhorses. Winning the peace could not be accomplished by harnessing the same demonic forces that had won the war. It was one of those rare occasions when, given a choice between the devil they knew, and the angels they didn’t, people voted for the angels.
Now, John Key is no Winston Churchill, and yet there’s no disputing that for most New Zealanders he’s been the right horse to carry them through the course of a global financial crisis. In a world teetering on the brink of economic disaster, who better than a millionaire currency trader? True, currency traders are not known for being angels. They are quick and ruthless and shamelessly opportunistic. But, for the last six years most New Zealanders haven’t cared. They’ve trusted National’s demon to take them where Labour’s angels feared to tread.
The questions New Zealanders must ask and answer before 7:00pm on 20 September is whether or not New Zealand is still on the same critical course as 2008 and 2011, and whether John Key is still the right horse to carry them through?
Labour has put up a challenger who, frankly, calls to mind Clarence, the wingless Angel in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. David Cunliffe is gentle, well-meaning and, like Clarence, just a little accident prone. He’s urging us to do the right thing by our communities: warning us against letting the country’s problems get too big to fix. But Cunliffe’s and Labour’s big problem is that New Zealanders aren’t yet sure if it’s the right time to start trusting accident prone angels. The economic recovery is, at best, precarious; at worst, over. If things, again, turn pear-shaped, is David Cunliffe really the right horse for the course?
Then again, just how far to the dark side has John Key already taken us? Nicky Hager has posed the question, but a disturbingly large number of New Zealanders seem too frightened to hear the answer.
And that’s always the trick with the demonic horses we mount in times of danger: knowing when, and how, to get off.
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 September 2014.


Richard Christie said...

there’s no disputing that for most New Zealanders he’s been the right horse to carry them through the course of a global financial crisis. "

I believe that's highly disputable given his party's percentage of the popular vote cast and given the percentage of non voters.

Kat said...

Thats why Winston is rising in popularity, he is the "warhorse" that will get us out of the dark, David will then take us into the light with Russel and Metiria singing songs of earthy love.

Party vote Labour.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Although the right tend to witter on about social engineering, the biggest and best depending on your point of view :-) piece of social engineering undertaken in New Zealand since the 1930s was undertaken by Roger Douglas and Co. New Zealanders have been over time conditioned to be selfish, condemning of the poor, and dismissive of social welfare.
Not that there wasn't always a streak of this in New Zealand society. But it was brought out and officially approved of under that Labour government. Helped by the fact that most people couldn't remember the great depression, and also by the press, who in spite of a pretence of even-handedness have always been right wing.
It's a truism that some sections of society have done rather well out of this. And they are determined to hold on to their gains – not that they would necessarily lose a great deal if social welfare was increased or as I like to put it, reintroduced – but they have been conditioned to fear it.
John Key for all his faults and there are many – is a self-made man, something we have traditionally admired, although traditionally it was more a man of his hands than a parasite. And he has very carefully nurtured the whole Statehouse to millionaire bullshit. So I think he's going to remain Teflon for some time. But again, how many times have a party managed a fourth term? I can't be bothered looking it up, but it can't be many. People just get tired of the same old faces. Which doesn't say a lot for the New Zealand voters' thought processes, because it's obvious they don't necessarily vote on policy a hell of a lot. Much though we might like to think that they do.
I mean you've only got to see some of the interviews they've had in the paper with people saying "I've always been National and I'll always vote National till the day I die" et cetera et cetera. I think people tend to seize on a party that they think represents their interests and then in the main stick to it. As I said before it's what the swing voters think that matters. Particularly under MMP. To be honest I don't think Labour stands a show this election, but I'll stick my neck out and predict that they'll make it in next time – it's their turn of the cycle :-).

David said...

Key hasn't traded currencies for a decade prior to leaving His job, he was global head of derivatives for merril lynch in what is a 60 trillion dollar market. Currency trading is simple compared with derivatives, he also sat on the federal reserve of New York.
The left need to know and acknowledge their enemy and realize they have no one who is even close to being anywhere in Keys league, best they just sitin the corner and wait until Key gets bored and decides to do something else because if Labour carry on trying to defeat him with their current line up there will be no Labour Party left.

Victor said...


I’m not sure that I fully agree with you.

Unlike Churchill, John Key wasn’t, to my mind, the right man for the crisis, although, clearly, he is like WSC in being the wrong man for its aftermath.

Under Key, we’ve simply failed to take advantage of the recession in ways that would have helped future proof our economy.

We’ve enjoyed historically low interest rates and an absurdly good debt-to-GDP ratio (inherited from Labour), along with the twin serendipities of favourable terms of trade and access to the cornucopian Chinese market.

Even so, our non-primary exports have languished and productivity gains have stalled, whilst our infrastructure is in virtual tatters, under a government that couldn’t even pay school teachers correctly or on time.

As Churchill said of the Age of Appeasement, these were “the years that the locusts have eaten”

Anonymous said...

Churchill was right about only one thing in his entire life, but that one thing mattered.

John Key hasn't guided us through anything. He inherited solid numbers from the Clark/Cullen Government, and has sat on them, while smiling and waving to the adulations of his puppets in the media. John Key (unlike Churchill) has never taken a stand on anything.

Anonymous said...

But again, how many times have a party managed a fourth term? I can't be bothered looking it up, but it can't be many.

Four times.

The 1890-1912 Liberal Government had eight terms (1890, 1893, 1896, 1899, 1902, 1905, 1908, and 1911).

The 1912-1928 Reform Government had five terms (1911, 1914, 1919, 1922, and 1925).

The 1935-1949 Labour Government had four terms (1935, 1938, 1943, and 1946).

The 1960-1972 National Government had four terms (1960, 1963, 1966, and 1969).

Jennifer said...

The newspaper reading voters in the provinces now have a mental image of David Cunliffe as an accident prone, gentle angel. The NZ public has never voted in anyone remotely meeting that description. Why do that to him a week out from an election? It's not even true, and there is a lot at stake here.

Accident prone- no. A few mistakes on a steep learning curve that he is mastering- yes. Gentle angel? No. Compassionate and statesmanlike- yes. It matters what terms you use. I really rate David Cunliffe and I think NZ will too if he gets the job as PM, he has been rising in the polls on the back of his strong debate performances, but you have done him no favours here.

I so badly want to see the left get in to finally do something about factory farming, this may not be an election issue again for a long time, and people like you have thousands of readers that you can influence for better or for worse. Please be careful, there is a lot of suffering out there both animal and people that the left could alleviate. Think before you print.

Kat said...


Have you had professional counseling for this delusion you suffer under?

Key is a a 'mere' currency trader. My best friends mate is a waste disposal technician and far more worthy to society.

pat said...

Don Brash was Reserve Bank Governor for 14 years...hopefully the Left have no one in his league either..

Anonymous said...

Since Machiavelli's The Prince, haven't we had the uncomfortable understanding that chicanery is an indispensable ingredient in the operational diet of a successful politician? Even 'angels' have to cultivate pretence if they are to stay in charge. Key is a masterful Machiavellian. The last thing we need for his main opponent is the simplistic characterisation of him as angelic (which suggests naivety).

Paul said...

Labour struggle in the polls, so it makes it easy to pick on them. But one part of their strategy that has annoyed me is, why have Labour not attacked the strength of the National lead economic recovery, because when analysed, it has been driven by $40b of insurance proceeds and a timed to perfection huge increase in the dairy payout. Nether of these had anything to do with John Key and National. Rod Oram has explained this beautifully in todays Star Times...every voter should read it slowly.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Paul I somehow doubt that anything any New Zealand government does has a huge effect on the economy. Once this knowledge is commonplace, who knows what will happen :-).

Charles Etherington said...

If C is a gentle angel why do his fellow workers dislike him so?
Whereas K is loved by his colleagues and I believe it's not because they fear a ruthless tricky bastard as you and others think. It's because he's a good leader. And that's why he's preferred PM and should lead the next three years. Then C? Doubt it. Too fond of himself and clearly an act. He'll be found out.