Saturday 21 December 2019

Reconnecting Jacinda With her Inner Swashbuckler.

Let's Do This - Again? If all Labour has to take to the electorate in September 2020 is an automobile-driven infrastructure programme borrowed wholesale from the last National Government, then Simon Bridges is going to make sure that being the prime minister of a one-term Labour government is the only thing Jacinda will ever have in common with Norman Kirk.

HOW DID 2019 END on such a jarring note of neoliberal bi-partisanship? With the Coalition and the Opposition united in their backing for a lavish spend-up on roads, roads, and more roads? It’s possible the two parliamentary groupings may diverge on the question of how all this bitumen should be paid for: directly by the state, or through Private-Public Partnerships (PPPs); but that’s about it in terms of potential disagreement. The year is ending on an apparently unanimous parliamentary assumption that trucks and cars will continue to provide New Zealanders with their prime means of transportation. With this slavish commitment to the automobile, the country’s political class has demonstrated its near-total moral incapacity. New Zealand’s claim to be taking Climate Change seriously stands exposed as utter bullshit.

Also exposed is Labour’s intellectual exhaustion. By returning to National’s pro-automobile vomit so shamelessly, Jacinda Ardern and her senior colleagues are essentially admitting that they lack the necessary competence to translate their promises of “transformation” into reality. It’s a fatal admission. By acknowledging that the big stuff is simply too much for them they have opened a royal road (if you’ll excuse the expression) along which Simon Bridges and his team can now motor to electoral victory.

Bridges’ script is pathetically easy to write: “National and Labour are in full agreement about what needs to be done in New Zealand. But, let’s be brutally honest, only one party possesses the competency required to do it. From KiwiBuild to the Provincial Growth Fund, the Labour-led Government has proved woefully inept. By the time the election rolls around, New Zealanders will be looking back at three wasted years. About the only things our Prime Minister and her Cabinet are good at is making promises, finding excuses and providing hugs. By contrast, National possesses both the will and the talent to get this country moving again – and that’s exactly what it’s going to do.”

Which is not to suggest that Bridges and his team won’t employ Topham Guerin Ltd to mastermind a complementary social media campaign. If the high road of “competency” fails to inspire, then the low road of crude emotional arousal will be primed and ready for all the traffic it can bear. Indeed, Ben Guerin and Sean Topham may advise Bridges to use both roads – at the same time. They’ve already proved they can do it – just ask Boris!

Labour, the Greens and NZ First could beat this style of campaigning easily – if they only had the will and the talent to get even a little bit creative on the propaganda front. But, that, alas, is where the party falls so woefully short. Unless he or she is being kept extremely well hidden, there just isn’t anyone in Labour’s ranks who even remotely fits the description of “a little bit creative”. How could there be? The culture of the Labour Party in 2020 is hardly what you’d call welcoming to the swashbuckler and the maverick. Its ideologically rigid and puritanical apparatchiks simply wouldn’t know what to do with a political gunslinger like Ben Guerin.

Even if Jacinda intervened on behalf of the 2020 equivalent of Bob Harvey – the young swashbuckler who somehow persuaded Norman Kirk to take a punt on him in 1969 and who then proceeded to transform the public’s perceptions of both Labour and Kirk by deploying state-of-the-art advertising techniques – it’s doubtful he or she would last the distance. Ideological Orthodoxy and Art have never been the best of friends.

Which only leaves Jacinda, herself, to take on the role of the swashbuckler and maverick. Looking back, that’s exactly what she did in 2017. There just wasn’t the time – or the script – for anything other than Jacinda’s inspired, seat-of-the-pants, political acrobatics. The party had to let her carry more-or-less the whole campaign because it had nothing else to offer. When it did step back in – remember the sudden about face on the Capital Gains Tax, and the equally sudden reversal of the about-face? – it succeeded only in slowing Jacinda’s momentum and carving 3-4 percentage points off Labour’s final tally of Party Votes.

The best we can hope for is that Jacinda will be put in touch with someone with the same insouciant brilliance as Ben Guerin. Someone who simply doesn’t care if what he’s pushing out there is politically correct or incorrect – only that it works. Only if it causes the person scrolling-down his or her device to stop and read Labour’s latest post. That means engaging them at the level of the heart – not the head. To win “The Battle of the Thumbs”, as Guerin calls this struggle to hold the modern voter’s attention, you don’t have time to make them think – so you have to make them feel.

In the last, crucial days of the UK general Election, Topham Guerin Ltd’s brilliant parody of “Love Actually” was watched by more than 7 million British voters. It held them spellbound for the few minutes it took the equally brilliant Boris Johnson to give them his simple, but winning, messages. “The other guy could win.”, and “Get Brexit done”. Jacinda has the skills to do something similar – just ask Stephen Colbert! The $64,000 question, however, is: “Does she have anyone smart enough, and creative enough, to come up with an idea that good?”

Because, if all Jacinda has to take to the electorate in September 2020 is an automobile-driven infrastructure programme borrowed wholesale from the last National Government, then Simon Bridges is going to make sure that being the prime minister of a one-term Labour government is the only thing she has in common with Norman Kirk.

When Jacinda stood in the Auckland Town Hall in 2017 and proclaimed Climate Change “the nuclear-free moment of my generation” – how we all cheered.

The thing is, we were expecting her commitment to amount to something more than the well-meaning but toothless Zero Carbon Act. Something like announcing a completely new, wider-gauge, electrified, national rail network. An infrastructure programme that would allow New Zealand to replicate the ultra-fast trains that move people around Europe, China and Japan. Something to put the greenhouse-gas pumping road transport industry out to pasture. Something more than a plan to build roads, roads and more roads.

Something to make young and old alike exclaim, at least one more time: “Let’s do this!”

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 20 December 2019.


Peter Payne said...

Some government initiative in encouraging the adoption of an electrified vehicle fleet, together with NZs potential abundance of renewable electric power, could turn the road building programme into a Green solution. Theyve done little on that front either, have they.

Kat said...

Norm Kirk had a functioning ministry of works, Jacinda Ardern doesn't. Until there is a govt run 21st century equivalent of the "once built NZ MOW" reinstalled then the ad hoc, lobby based, private sector focused, politically influenced and pitiful infrastructure development regime will continue.

Guerilla Surgeon said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chris Trotter said...

To: Guerilla Surgeon.

GS, I swear, you are the horse they were thinking of when they created the proverb about leading critters to water but not being able to make them drink. (Or think, apparently!)

Dyed in the wool, much, Comrade. Dyed in the wool beyond redemption.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Would you like to elaborate on that Chris? I did in fact post in the wrong place, but your comment is to say the least enigmatic. Died in the wool what for instance? Why beyond redemption, considering you know very little about me outside of this blog?

Kat said...

I didn't see and don't know what GS wrote but I do know that in general his thinking makes more sense than a large number of others who post comments on this blog. And by the way I have seen some "critters" at water edge sniffing but not drinking, the water was stagnant.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

If you are saying this because I didn't mention the fact that people believe this crap and that's why they voted brexit and Tory, I didn't think it needed saying. The working class has been abandoned by Labour in Britain and to some extent by the Democrats in the US. Although I have great hopes for the populist (a rather overused term it seems to me) Elizabeth Warren, but I'm not holding my breath.
But if this anger is directed at Labour based on myths – it still anger, but perhaps if the popular press explained that they are myths, rather than relying on clickbait bullshit would all be a lot better off.
But if you seriously believe I don't think............ not much I can do.

Tom Hunter said...

The year is ending on an apparently unanimous parliamentary assumption that trucks and cars will continue to provide New Zealanders with their prime means of transportation.

Well of course. The thing about tarmac roads is that they can carry all sorts of wheeled vehicles, including electric cars. Even foot traffic in emergencies, as NY found out during the 9/11 attacks. Ever tried walking a railroad track? There's a reason Roman roads are still used, even with lots of new layers on top of them.

... only 11 per cent of Britain’s commuters travel by train compared to 68 per cent who drive

And that's Britain, a nation that has, and has always had, a far higher population than NZ, with far greater densities that encourage train use, fifty years more investment in rail than us, and far more intense investment in rail over 200 years.

And yet there they are: 11%

And you think we can switch what proportion of NZ commuting traffic to rail?

Something like announcing a completely new, wider-gauge, electrified, national rail network.
There's no doubt that part of our rail problem is our almost "Mountain guage" narrow rail. But seriously have you actually looked at the cost estimates for such a thing, including all the tunnel and viaduct rebuilds. And that assumes far higher levels of freight and commuter traffic would use it, which given the British figures seems like a heroic assumption.

'only one party possesses the competency required to do it. From KiwiBuild to the Provincial Growth Fund, the Labour-led Government has proved woefully inept.'
Well yes. But you can hardly blame National or their spin merchants for taking advantage of such gross incompetence.

Exkiwiforces said...

Dear Chris,

We don't need to convert the current Cape gauge/ 3ft 6" to a wider gauge aka Standard gauge.

What needs to happen to NZ Railways is to fix up the loading gauge (and something else which I've forgotten atm), which will increase the speed and weight of fully loaded trains and for example the old Standard Railcars which operated throughout the Nth Island of which there are about 2-3 left for mainline operations now days can only be used on about 20% to 30% of Nth Island rail network compere to the 1930's until there replacements later on.
Most of the rail network alignment is still built when Steam Loco's were King of the Rails and again fixing up the alignment to for the more modern Loco's would allow for faster and heavily trains on the network.

We only need to look at Qld which is the same gauge as NZ's network at what could be done to NZ's network IRT to freight and High Speed Passenger Tilt Trains for both Regional/ Inter City and Urban networks.

There is so much potential in KiwiRail, even though a lot of land was sold off by Government prior to privatisation and under privatisation which restricted growth in some areas of the network which has hampered further investment.

A lot of people have forgotten there was a petrol ration during WW2 which lasted until the early to mid 50's and just imaging a 15% cut or greater to POL products if a major conflict broke out in the Middle East or in the South China Sea? The only reason that NZ kept producing goods was the Railways and the MN aka Coastal Shipping with the Trucking Firms restricted to the Ports or the various Rail depots to places that weren't serviced by ships or by the railways.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Still haven't got a clue what you mean Chris, but I'm a little offended considering it comes from someone who thinks that social Democrats should lie to the electorate. Did you not THINK that that's exactly what was done in 1984? And that was why so many people left the Labour Party. Did you not THINK that it also happened in 1991 where we were promised a kinder, gentler neoliberalism? And yet we got Ruthanasia. Seems to me I'm thinking a little better than you at the moment.

Trev1 said...

New Zealand's population has grown by more than half a million in the past five years, mainly through migration. It will shortly reach 5 million, some thirty years earlier than planners in 2000 believed would be the case. Some four million tourists now visit New Zealand annually, most see the country by road. Our roading infrastructure is in large part a relic from the 60s and is desperately in need of serious investment. Where upgrades have occurred there are far fewer deaths. Voters understand this and have been affronted by the coalition's ideologically driven halt to new desperately needed roading projects. It will cost Labour the election and for very good reason. Upgraded roads save lives, improve productivity and reduce congestion and emissions.

Mike Grimshaw said...

One issue is that to do any substantial infrastructure development- rail or road- requires an increase in immigration.This government has scaled back immigration and seems unlikely to commit to the levels requires for such an infrastructural great leap forward. Secondly, North Island infrastructure will requires different priorities to those in the South Island, and upper North Island to the rest. It is a question of infrastructure planning for infrastructure investment and development.
Secondly, the two real priorities- both population wise and politically- are Auckland and Wellington; with Auckland including the shift of the port to Whangarei.
The third area is the Bay of Plenty. However this causes the populism/ Brexit issue- population growth and investment and growing economies in particular areas while vast swathes of the country feel 'left behind'.

Sam said...

Mention sick leave, holiday and maternity leave and it all comes out. Left wing people must stick together and be prepared to fight for worker rights. The 1% should be scared of the workforce not the other way around. Capitalism may well just fall over if it had to live up to its ideals so be prepared to fight.

pat said...

If thats scaling back I'd hate to see an immigration drive...suspect I may be trampled in the rush

Kat said...

"Upgraded roads save lives, improve productivity and reduce congestion and emissions"

@Trev1......isn't that exactly what the Labour coalition is doing.....where do you get your news/information from, sounds like the Bridges & Bennett misinformation channel.

And all Bridges promised after nine years of being in govt was no bridges and ghost roads.

Get real and stop spreading National party lies.

sumsuch said...

'Inner swashbuckler'. You must have searched a long while for that neutral term of persuasion.
Isn't she an adult? I think the weakest link is the pol sci girl, Clark. She's had a brilliant career on the back.

sumsuch said...

I expect we aren't supposed to treat Ardern like an adult, more a good-intending , unresponsible, kid everyone likes. Well, she won an election out of the blue on that basis.

On the plus side our political forum is way less polluted than other places. Even Oz with their Murdoch infected politicians. Maybe even, an honest strong voice could still break through. That is the only defence, attack for the people.

Brendan McNeill said...

“National and Labour are in full agreement about what needs to be done in New Zealand. But, let’s be brutally honest, only one party possesses the competency required to do it. From KiwiBuild to the Provincial Growth Fund, the Labour-led Government has proved woefully inept."

While this is stating the obvious, it's a tragedy to see the Labour Party depleted of talent to level it has now attained. The Westminster system requires an effective and capable opposition. Sadly Labour was not that in opposition, and as you have pointed out "has proven to be woefully inept" in Government.

The question Labour needs to be asking is why is it not recruiting and selecting people of talent? Where are the high achievers in business, the academic and corporate worlds? Where are the people who have been responsible for profit and loss, making payroll each week, serving their customers day in and day out? Where are the people who have actually done something with their lives other than engage in student politics or trade union spheres?

Somehow Labour seems more concerned about identity politics, victimhood, hurtful speech, legalising dope and making it easier to kill our elderly and more of our unborn children.

Well, OK - let's see how that narrative runs with the electorate in 2020.

Kat said...

@ Brendan McNeill
Have you imbibed too much over Christmas Brendan!
For pity's sake what you have written is complete rubbish.

Firstly Kiwibuild may have been a failure in its initial manifestation but the reset should sort that out, and this govt is seeing more houses built since the 1970's including state houses. Secondly the provincial growth fund is such a roaring success even Matt King, yes Matt King one of the most vocal anti-coalition and National MP for Northland wants buy in.

Then you got your nouns and who's who mixed up but never mind easily corrected: "......Somehow National seems more concerned about identity politics(Paula Bennett), victimhood (Paula Bennett), hurtful speech (Paula Bennett), legalising dope (no, decriminalising cannabis, licensing and taxing its production and use)and making it easier to kill our elderly (David Seymour) and more of our unborn children.."(Labour making this a medical issue not a criminal one, supported by National and a parliamentary conscience vote)

Facts dear Brendan facts, best not discard them even for a cheap political shot.

sumsuch said...

Ideals run with the electorate, Brendan. That Labour doesn't have so many effective is more down to their stopping idealists like Bruce Jesson who ran the Auckland Waterfront magisterially for the people. The '35 govt was supremely effective. Labour has become a hereditable firm of elites since 84. It's cut off it's source.

You, as a Christian, understand Labour means better, or should. You're not as utterly disproved as the Yank evangelicals. Putting the unborn child above fairness and the woman's entire understanding to decide this disputed matter. By the way, why would Christ be on the side of the powerful?

Brendan McNeill said...

@sumsuch @Kat

“why would Christ be on the side of the powerful”?

Jesus is on the side of truth, mercy and justice wherever it is found, be that amongst the poor or amongst the rich and powerful. However, Paul reminds us that not many rich, not many powerful, not many ‘wise’ were called to be Jesus disciples, but rather God chose the foolish and the weak to shame the wise and strong. Those who were lowly and despised. (1 Corinthians 1:26-29)

If Christ is on anyone’s side it is the widow and orphan; the vulnerable. Which is why I speak out to defend the lives of unborn children. They are surely the most vulnerable and ‘at risk’ in our society today.

Kat, the facts are that it requires the political consent of the parliamentary majority Labour led coalition to put euthanasia, and the legalisation of cannabis up for referendum. They are committed to decriminalising abortion, and pretending it is simply a women’s health issue, and Andrew Little has stated his intention to introduce hate speech legislation in 2020.

This is not a cheap political shot, this is what Labour believes constitutes progress in 2020, and contributes to human flourishing. Death, dope and restraints on liberty.

Tim Frank said...

Thank you Chris,
That road building announcement does seem a capitulation to the road building lobby, makes the current government's commitment to mitigating climate change a lie, and is hardly imaginative and bold. Improving the railways (and especially electrifying the lines) would indeed be bold and transformative. Yes, it might take a few years to feel the effects, but it would enable more sustainable transport and also enliven regional towns.

Kat said...

"Death, dope and restraints on liberty...."

Brendan, you are beginning to sound as ridiculous as Mike Hosking.

sumsuch said...

You cut across women for the unborn, Brendan. I'm happy to leave it to those closest to the matter. It would be fine if you supported the poorest and weakest otherwise. Thankfully, your programme hasn't delivered a govt for the powerful as in Oz and America. Christ is for justice and so, the people. I doubt that credibility by the believers' 'fruits'.

sumsuch said...

'Swashbuckling' seems as nothingish as Christmas's 'bell-jingling'. Tired of warping my body and mind around for the happy elite, Right or Left. They both agree on cutting the poorest and, so, Maori, out of our commonwealth. Or, '84 was a war on Maori. Go to the welfare suburbs.

Charles E said...

Ardern saying "Climate Change is the nuclear free moment of my generation" actually says it all for her and the many other platudinous sound biters on her team.
And that is: Nothing of substance there, even their words.
Greta is similar but at least she has passion.

Why? Sounds fine does it not?
Well, how did that nuclear free thing go then?
Are China & India nuclear free? Actually, anybody nuclear free, except us?
Why them? she asks.
Well children, making NZ carbon free will have the same effect as making it nuclear free> That is zero. The planet depends on China & India being carbon free, kiddies.
So get to work on that girls. You're in charge now. Apparently.

Andrew Nichols said...

Which is not to suggest that Bridges and his team won’t employ Topham Guerin Ltd to mastermind a complementary social media campaign.

TGs involvement replacing the former wideboys Crosby Textor will see depths never before plumbed with respect to blatant lies and misinformation on all media platforms in the next NZ election. It worked spectacularly in Australia and the UK. All manner of easily debunked BS was spouted out, but noone remembered the debunking so overwhelmed was it by the sheer volume of stuff put out. I have no idea how anyone can combat it given the masses propensity to swallow all tosh they are presented with. Democracy? Forget it.