Friday 30 August 2019

A Grim Necessity.

No Laughing Matter: Simon Bridges and his National Party team are all too aware of the voters’ disinclination to confront too much in the way of political and economic reality. It is why, presumably, they are not only expecting them, like Lewis Carroll's Red Queen, to believe in six impossible things before breakfast, but to perform the same feat before lunch, dinner and supper as well!

POLISH PATRIOTS will tell you that, while fighting the Germans became a grim necessity, fighting the Russians was always a guilty pleasure. Old fashioned leftists feel much the same way about Labour and National. Upbraiding Labour-led governments is something the Left engages in not because it wants to, but because it has to. How else can these hopeless social democrats be shown the error of their ways? The National Party is a different proposition altogether. Demolishing its arguments is something the Left enters into with genuine relish. There is about the entire political exercise an inescapable element of fun.

National’s biggest hurdle, electorally, has always been how to present policies designed to advantage a fortunate few as being, somehow, to the advantage of everyone. The party achieves this by convincing people that managing the economy is something only the Nats are qualified to do. Handing over the job to people with no real experience of operating successfully in the marketplace, say National politicians, is bound to end in tears. Best to leave that sort of thing to people who know what they’re doing.

Why does this argument work so well? Anyone who’s studied the economic history of the last forty years (and that’s all of us who remember Maggie Thatcher’s historic electoral victory in 1979) cannot reasonably confirm the assertion that right-wing politicians are better economic managers than all the others. The political chaos gripping the United Kingdom, and the economic chaos poised to emerge from it, is traceable directly to Maggie Thatcher’s project.

Closer to home, the six year period between 1984 and 1990, when a tiny cabal of Labour Party politicians decided to embrace the policies of Thatcherism, is distinguished only by the enormous damage which their radical right-wing agenda inflicted on their fellow New Zealanders. So much of what disfigures this country in 2019: beggars on the footpaths; the crippling lack of affordable housing; a crumbling social infrastructure; daily living costs which far outstrip the incomes of ordinary working-class families; is the legacy of Roger Douglas’s “revolution”.

Ultimately, the Right’s argument works because, in a society comprised of a small number of winners and a large number of losers, the creation and maintenance of a strict social hierarchy is indispensable to its rulers’ survival. Accordingly, we are taught to believe that the brutal struggle to seize and hold the summit of the socio-economic pyramid produces an elite group of rulers characterised not by a ruthless will to power, but by wisdom, tolerance and love for their fellow human-beings.

Believing in this fairy tale is, in many ways, a psychological necessity for the put-upon majority. Accepting that our rulers are cruel and exploitative ogres, but obeying them anyway, engenders more cognitive dissonance than most of us can handle. Rather than look this petrifying Gorgon in the eye, we turn away. Distraction is the sine qua non of modern politics – and in the distraction department, at least, we’re spoilt for choice!

Simon Bridges and his National Party team are all too aware of the voters’ disinclination to confront too much in the way of political and economic reality. It is why, presumably, they are not only expecting them, like Lewis Carroll's Red Queen, to believe in six impossible things before breakfast, but to perform the same feat before lunch, dinner and supper as well!

Like: their promise to simultaneously reduce taxes and improve the quality of our health and education services.

Like: their pledge to improve the productivity of New Zealand labour while stripping New Zealand workers of their rights.

Like: increasing housing affordability while reducing the “bright line” test for property speculators from five years to two.

Like: promising to mitigate the effects of Climate Change while inviting the energy exploration companies to: “Drill, baby, drill!”

My favourite promise, though, the promise that reveals how convinced so many voters have become that National knows best; is its promise to eliminate 100 regulations in the first 100 days after regaining office and, after that, to abolish two old regulations for every new regulation introduced.

Do we really think this is a good idea? Can we really have forgotten the Leaky Homes Saga, Pike River and the CTV Building Collapse so soon?

That last question has forced this old left-winger to concede that fighting the Nats isn’t a guilty pleasure after all.

It’s a grim necessity.

This essay was originally published in The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 30 August 2019.


peteswriteplace said...

Lest we forget. Never give up the fight.As a senior cabinet minister in the first Labour Government said at the time predictively, "The people will walk down to the polling booths to vote us in, and in a few years drive down in their cars to vote us out." They did.

Kat said...

The next election should reveal the true state of how the electorate at large is thinking, or not thinking. If the National party secures any more than 40% of the vote then we just carry on in the same old divided country. Personally I can't help laughing at the situation, it is ludicrous, almost Monty Pythonesque that with the likes of Bridges and Bennett at the helm the National ship remains afloat.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

I think I've said before, that the neoliberal experiment was the biggest and most successful social engineering operation ever undertaken in this country.
Having said that, I think a far better example of right wing mismanagement of the economy comes from the US, where at least in the recent past, Republican neoliberal presidents have dropped taxes for the rich on the back of "it all spark a renaissance in business and money for all, and deficits don't matter" idea – enriched the rich – blown out the deficit and buggered everyone else. To the point where there is now the "superrich" and a category called "merely rich" which beggars belief. And yet with typical right wing hypocrisy, whenever a Democrat is in office, the deficit is extremely important and (insert Democrat name here) is Satan's first cousin for not doing something about it.
And even when you look within the US, neoliberal experiments in states like Kansas for instance have completely buggered the economy. Schools bankrupt, police departments shutting down.............. and yet. God help us, I can see how they sell it in the US, because there is this myth that if you work hard you will move up the social ladder. The myth isn't quite so strong in New Zealand, but it still seems to sell.

Wayne Mapp said...

There is a conceit in the "old left" and indeed the new left of always characterising National as specifically designing "policies designed to advantage a fortunate few as being somehow to the advantage of everyone". It also a basic misunderstanding of what National is about, and why it is that National gets elected.

Somehow the left has convinced itself that National is simply a merciless con job, their MP's basically duplicitous, and that voters are gullible fools. Even in this item there is an implicit comparison of National to the Nazis, by using the analogy of Hitler and the Germans invading Poland. That National by implication are basically as evil as the Nazis. In using such an odious comparison there is no appreciation of what motivates voters and how they think about their lives and their aspirations.

In my view, it is not typically an error that National strategists and activists make about the Left. The Left (in terms of the two parliamentary parties) are much more likely to be seen as misguided but not as intrinsically evil. Hence concept of being socialist in youth, conservative later in life.

Anyway, why does National appeal to so many voters? Not because half of New Zealand have evil hearts or are stupid. But because National as its fundamental message an appeal to aspiration. That is, people are encouraged to use their initiative and resulting earnings for the benefit of themselves, their families, and therefore their communities. That people do best by being independent and able to get ahead. Everyone in National understands that there is a community component in this. That means a safe community (policing and education), advancing ones skills and understanding (education) and preserving ones health (health). Most people recognise the social importance of helping others in need (welfare, national super).

In short, aspiration is not only personal, it is also community, hence a decent public sector of around 30% of GDP, with taxes to match. The 30% (which is not a mechanistic formula) means the emphasis of personal endeavour is family and personal, placed above society. And that balance is intended to underpin personal freedom.

I suspect some commenters here will see me as naive, and as a dupe in thinking like that. As Policy Chair of Caucus I had a substantial hand in the basic settings that were implemented during the Key government.

And yes, I did shift from Labour to National in my late 20's. The basic reason being that I considered that economic freedom underpinned personal and society freedom. And that National had at it core, a belief in freedom, both personal and economic. Whereas economic freedom was merely tolerated by Labour, at least in the late 1970's. It is more core now. Whatever one might think of Rogernomics, it did result in a better economic understanding within Labour. I would add that it is no accident that every democracy is to a greater or lesser extent a free enterprise society. And that every communist society was/is a dictatorship.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Somehow the left has convinced itself that National is simply a merciless con job, their MP's basically duplicitous, and that voters are gullible fools. Even in this item there is an implicit comparison of National to the Nazis,"

I've never heard. Maybe I don't mix in the same circles as you Wayne. And I find it mildly offensive that you would suggest that this is what the left thinks of the national party. In actual fact all the "old left" that I know and for that matter the "new left" thanks of National as a centre-right party which has enough persuasive rhetoric to make people vote against their interests, while realising they're not going to lose too many of the state benefits which they have gotten used to since the 1930s. And while I would hate think this applies to all, some voters are obviously gullible fools or they wouldn't have voted in Trump, or Sam Brownback in Kansas. And Trump wouldn't still have 30 odd percent support amongst the American voters, including those that have been grievously hurt by his policies. God help us, if these people can get votes it must be relatively easy for a relatively moderate right wing party to get them. And maybe we don't have quite so many gullible people in New Zealand given that ACT gets Bugger all of the vote.

Anonymous said...

Wayne: While I'd agree that “If a man is not a socialist by the time he is 20, he has no heart. If he is not a conservative by the time he is 40, he has no brain.” your assertion that National's "appeal to aspiration" includes the wider community has little or no evidence to support it from my perspective after 45 years of NZ voting (Kirks election was my first.

The repeated lesson learned is that National stands for nothing excepting enriching their voting base at the expense of the rest of the country. NZ farming is a "tragedy of the commons", with no farming input cost on economic public goods such as the environment. All NZdrs now & in future generations are going to be paying farming welfare benefits to clean the country up & subsidise farmers private profits. Farm & other sector labour (eg tourism) has been manifestly allowed to be imported from countries who's people will accept the low real hourly wages & poor conditions instead of allowing NZ local market forces to raise wages & benefit NZdrs. All resulting in excessive immigration plus an additional 200,000+ work permits pa that pushed housing demand & property prices well out of the reach of average NZ families over the last 5 years. Then, a $100k donation will get a foreigner born person a place on Nationals candidate training scheme.

This is the true hypocrisy of National; they will advance any narrow argument that suits their purpose. That's why no-one trusts them. National appeals to so many voters because many people are selfish & duplicitous; National is the party that best represents them.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Further to that Wayne, you should go back and read some of your friend Charles'comments on this site. Or for that matter other right wing commenters who Chris is happy to have on. Seems to me every second sentence refers to Stalin or Venezuela or Mao – as if were all slavering for that sort of worker's paradise. When basically all most of us want is a decent social democracy with some better provisions for the less fortunate. They never seem to mention any of the Scandinavian countries when it comes to "I guess you'd like to live in....." So I think the left is more sinned against than sinning in this regard.

Andrew Nichols said...

Ultimately, the Right’s argument works because, ....our corporate media are committed to maintaining the illusion.

sumsuch said...

Appreciate your explanation, Wayne, as the descendant of 2 generations of National voters -- but , of course, that was under the settlement of '35. Leaving behind the lowest 20-30 % of us seems to me to be the major dividend of '84, let alone the struggle of everyone but the top 10 %.

And all society should be viewed from the vista of the weakest. If you can't agree with that maybe that's where you part ways with the real Left, and 1935, under which you and I grew.

National is about self-interest, or as I call it, mortgage-paying. Not bad of itself but it glares your eyes to wider interests, the water in which we swim. How can a democracy not break down without forceful demo-crats leading it. That is my 'learnings' from the laissez-faire coup 1980 on.

Drive impresses me, think it's the engine of economy and, so, society. And individual lives. And that comes from necessity. Being the descendants of African hunter/gatherers. But I object to that delivering us to the rule of the rich, which the 80s has.

Always appreciate your honest opinions, but we are always fearful of the Right we see in non-NZ countries.