Thursday 8 February 2018

Blowing Smoke: Why Jacinda Needs To Talk Less And Do More.

Star[dust] Performer: The image of Jacinda quite literally serving the people (with bacon butties!) will do nothing to diminish her lustre in the eyes of most New Zealanders.

“SMOKE GETS IN YOUR EYES”, wrote Jerome Kern’s lyricist, Otto Harbach, in 1933. The tears well-up even faster, however, when your eyes are full of stardust. This latter affliction appears to have struck just about every journalist assigned to cover the Waitangi Day celebrations of 2018. Simon Wilson’s eyesight, in particular, seemed to be quite seriously impaired. How else to explain his confusing the arrival of Prime Minister Ardern with the Second Coming of Christ?

Which is not to say that the PM didn’t put on a very good show. The image of Jacinda quite literally serving the people (with bacon butties!) will do nothing to diminish her lustre in the eyes of most New Zealanders. When it comes to contriving the perfect photo-op, New Zealand’s youthful PM is a true professional. Her speechifying skills are also up there with the best. Whoever wrote her address from the porch of the whare runanga certainly knew what they were about.

All-in-all, as she settles back into the Beehive routine, the Prime Minister has every reason to adjudge her 5-6 days in the Far North an unqualified success.

The early images of any prime-ministerial term make a huge difference to the way he or she is perceived in the longer run. Think of John Key swigging beer from the bottle as Prince William barbecues their steaks. Or, going back even further in time, recall the image of “Big Norm” leading a little Maori boy across the Treaty Ground in 1973. Priceless shots. And now, the image of Jacinda, radiant among the bacon and sausages, must be added to this memorable slide show. Smoke gets in your eyes, indeed!

But, no matter how bulging Jacinda’s good-will account may have grown after Waitangi, the day-to-day exercise of raw political power will soon empty it out. On a multitude of fronts: international trade, health, housing, and poverty-reduction; her government’s mediocre performance (read John Minto’s excellent summary, here) presents a stark contrast to its soaring and benevolent rhetoric.

Even the Labour-NZF-Green government’s grand gestures appear puny when placed alongside the grand gestures of its progressive predecessors. Compare Jacinda’s Waitangi Day barbecue with the gesture I describe in No Left Turn:

“Shortly after his election as Labour Party leader in 1961, Arnold Nordmeyer was asked by the New Zealand Broadcasting Corporation to recall for its listeners ‘My Most Memorable Christmas’. He spoke movingly of the first Labour Government’s decision, in December 1935, to advance the equivalent of an extra week’s relief payment to all the unemployed as a ‘Christmas Bonus’. That single act of state generosity, he said, sent ripples of hope and goodwill through thousands of destitute families and hundreds of cash-strapped communities. By Christmas its effects were evident across the whole of New Zealand.”

The newly-elected Labour Prime Minister, Norman Kirk, did something very similar in December 1972.

Not such an arresting image as Jacinda serving-up bacon butties to the Waitangi crowd, but I’ll wager Savage’s and Kirk’s gestures filled more bellies!

Perhaps, I’m being too harsh on the Prime Minister. Perhaps, in 2018, the public’s willingness to countenance giving away a whole week’s-worth of social assistance to every beneficiary in the country just isn’t there anymore. Perhaps, after 30 years of neoliberal brutality, we are no longer the caring and generous people we used to be.

Bluntly, my problem with Jacinda’s stardust is that, while it’s in the air, it’s difficult to focus on anything else. Amidst all the glitter it’s easy to lose sight of the fact that, apart from a handful of long-overdue inquiries, and a return to the status quo ante in employment law (read all about it on Richard Harman’s Politik website, here) very little of any real substance has been done.

Unless, of course, you consider signing-up to the “Comprehensive and Progressive” TPP a singularly worthwhile achievement. Personally, after reading Professor Jane Kelsey’s analysis of the CPTPP, I can’t help feeling that the whole tawdry exercise should be understood in the spirit of The Who’s incomparable line: “Meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

And, please, all you Labour apologists out there, don’t tell me that all this inaction is about the fiscal cupboard being bare.

How much would it have cost the Minister for Social Welfare, Carmel Sepuloni, to stand up in front of an appropriate audience (the PSA springs to mind) and deliver a speech in which she set forth the new government’s expectations of all those employed by the Ministry of Social Development? What, precisely, would have been the price of her instructing the people at Work and Income to treat their clients with a modicum of compassion and respect? Surely, a public reaffirmation of every citizen’s right to public assistance in times of hardship and affliction would not have bankrupted the Treasury?

Likewise, with the Minister of Labour, Ian Lees Galloway. Could he not loudly and publicly have proclaimed the government’s rock-solid commitment to protecting and expanding the right of every citizen to fair treatment in the workplace? Could he not have urged every New Zealander in a position to do so to join a trade union? And could not Jacinda, in the course of her negotiations with NZ First, have told Winston Peters that while she was prepared to compromise on many issues, on the question of workers’ rights – specifically the 90-day fire-at-will legislation – Labour was not for turning?

In her speech from the porch of the whare runanga, Jacinda urged Maori to hold the Labour-NZF-Green government to account if it failed to deliver on its promises of uplift and renewal. They were fine words. But, then, Jacinda has a thing for words. She is always promising to engage in “discussions” and “conversations” about the problems confronting so many New Zealanders. Ideally, however, political discussion and conversation is what happens after political action has been taken.

The “other half” of New Zealand is crying out to this government for brave deeds – not fine words. The last thing Jacinda needs to be remembered for is substituting stardust for substantive action.

For blowing smoke into our eyes.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 8 February 2018.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

So she's turned out to be yet another politician. What a surprise. It's just Michael Cullen's backdown from his "We won – you lost" statement covered in smoke and mirrors and as you say – glitter. No wonder people get cynical about politics. And yet if you express just a mote of cynicism you get a pile on by the fan boys I like to think I'm sceptical rather than cynical, but cynicism is creeping ever closer.

Jack Scrivano said...

Whenever I hear a politician talking about the need for a ‘national conversation’, I have an overwhelming urge to go and nap in some quiet corner, safe in the knowledge that when I awake we will, at best, be no further forward and, more probably, we will have taken ten steps backwards.

Kat said...

Yes its taking far too long for this govt to do anything. All the wrongs should have been righted by now and everyone should be happy and content living in Godzone. Its just not good enough that Jacinda Ardern has the temerity to take on the Labour leadership six weeks out from the election, become the govt and now three months later absolutely nothing has been done except a pile of "glitter" thrown about as a smokescreen for an expensive BBQ up in the Bay of Islands. Next thing she will be having a baby and taking time off. This is just not good enough and John Minto needs to mobilize the troops and take to the streets with placards and helmets and stir up some disquiet.

Every right thinking lefty activist should still have that helmet somewhere.............

sumsuch said...

Where do they go to hear about their past but here? Their roots. Our roots. Talking about left-wing MPs. Where-else, Douglas?!

Always a good (and frequent) reference ,the hard Left, John Minto. As solid as a bookholder. Where would we be without (humour and) lack of humour.

Nick J said...

I've been out of the country for a month and observed the effects of the same austerity in U.K. NZ has so much in common with the broken and frayed infrastructure, the tawdry run downess of UK, we just hide it with our environment and weather.

Chris's best point referred to the "public service". They collectively need to be informed that they are servants, not Grinch like Scrooges punishing the people who pay their fat overblown salaries.

Those of us who work in government town will have observed the huge numbers of consultants and contracted "public servants", the large number of fat cat managers on salaries of $150K plus.

Ponder this; we need enterprise and commerce to make money for all of us. Yet we allow those who make no profit, who have no revenue generation responsibility get paid as if they do. What message does that send to those who create work and deliver employment and taxes? When these same public servants then treat the public as an unwelcome distraction to be whipped why should we citizens support their privilege?

This government could really get a win if it merely heeded Chris advice to tell the public service to start treating citizens as citizens. And they would get the double whammy if they took the knife to "corporate culture" in Wellington and spread the savings to real deliverers of public services like elderly care workers, nurses etc.

GJE said...

It’s useful not to forget it was Winston who chose Jacinda not the other way around....the tail is now very happily and quietly wagging the dog under a convenient cloud of Jacinda this space to see Winstons plan for full control emerge...did I mention Jacinda is pregnant..

Victor said...


You could argue that it was Bill who chose Jacinda as, by such accounts as I've heard, National offered NZ First zilch in terms of policy as opposed to a whole heap of baubles.

And so our current government became an inevitability. Time alone will tell whether or not it was a poisoned chalice for Labour. I hope not.

Victor said...

Nick J

Spot on

BlisteringAttack said...

@ Nick J: the 'corporate culture' among bureaucrats is at epidemic level in Wellington.

Mid management 'contracting' at $150 per hour + GST is common if you look around the larger ministeries.

It needs a seruious cull.

Charles E said...

Bang on Chris, Nick & Victor.
I'm a Tory believe it or not, and I want her to damn well do something!!
So far it is all mouth and no trousers and what is worse, she speaks in clichés and platitudes when someone has not written a speech for her.

A huge overhaul of the public service would get votes right across the spectrum. Local government too. In CHCH as I'm sureit is in your city, we have a 'CEO' on a vast salary with a huge equally over paid staff running the damn council. It's not flaming IMB or Apple! It's just the people who are meant to fix our roads and collect the rubbish in a small city.
Sack them all and hire ordinary hard working folk. For one CEO's salary we could have four new staff on $100K. So make it six new staff...
And I don't care if they all vote Labour in gratitude. Just DO IT!

Loz said...

Legislation enacted during the first 100 days of all the Labour governments casts doubt on how much the current administration is committed to any real change.

### Savage
Reserve Bank of New Zealand Amendment Act
Government Railways Amendment Act
Labour Department Amendment Act
Employment Promotion Act
Primary Products Marketing Act
Industrial Conciliation and Arbitration Amendment Act
Factories Amendment Act
Shops and Offices Amendment Act
State Advances Corporation Act
Fair Rents Act
Broadcasting Act

### Nash
Land and Income Tax Amendment

### Kirk
Trustee Savings Bank Amendment Act
Moneylenders Amendment Act
Trade and Industry Amendment Act

### Lange
Whangarei Refinery Expansion Project Disputes Act
Land Tax (Annual) Act
Road User Charges Amendment Act

### Clark
Hauraki Gulf Marine Park Act
Juries Amendment Act
Broadcasting Amendment Act

### Ardern
Private International Law (Choice of Law in Tort) Act
Christ Church Cathedral Reinstatement Act

Nick J said...

Charles, it's the end result of two malignant concepts.
Bigger is better....hell no, amalgamation of councils waters down local democracy and encouraged the growth of non accountable run away bureaucracy.
Expertise... as you mentioned its not difficult, keep it simple stupid means you do the job required and don't overpay a cult of experts to do it.
Same applies to private sector, the only real expertise required is the ability to generate a revenue stream. That's an art, the rest is mechanics.

Unknown said...

Chris, the Merino Country Cafe at Omarama has been a hub for tourbus drivers for decades. Imagine how it feels that it has been bought by Chinese. The left say that doesn't matter but the left don't work at the coal face. It isn't just that it has been sold to Chinese but it is now (will become) the hub of the Chinese tour bus driver - Yin-Yang Tours, Sky, Reach, Kia Ora, world way etc.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"she speaks in clichés and platitudes"

She does. So did her predecessor. So does almost every politician most of the time. So do you.