Thursday, 16 July 2020

The Judith Collins-Led National Party: Be Scared – Be Very Scared.

Lookout! Here She Comes! It’s her political ambiguity that makes National’s new leader, Judith Collins, so dangerous. Collins does not belong to the crazy Christian Right faction of her caucus, but neither is she a member of the Nikki Kaye, Amy Adams, Chris Bishop “soppy liberal” wing of the party. For a long while now this ambiguity has constituted an unhelpful obstacle to her advancement. With the right rejecting her as too left, and the left dismissing her as too right. But now, with both factions severely discredited, being a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll has proved to be no bad thing at all.

WHOEVER E-MAILED MARK RICHARDSON on Wednesday morning’s [15/7/20] AM Show was right: Judith Collins scares me. For the first time since National’s caucus replaced Don Brash with John Key, the party has chosen a leader who can win. The new Leader of the Opposition is a clear-sighted defender of the neoliberal order who is prepared to give when she needs to give, and takes no prisoners when she doesn’t. Collins is articulate, shrewd and possesses a disarming (if somewhat cruel) sense of humour. Those on the left who dismiss her as a major electoral turn-off will, almost certainly, be proved wrong. She has what it takes to manoeuvre Jacinda and Labour onto the defensive. And, as everybody knows: explaining is losing.

Like Act’s current collection of strategists, Collins understands that delivering neoliberalism straight leaves voters with a sour taste in their mouths. It goes down much better when fizzed-up with lashings of law-and-order rhetoric – along with generous splashes of “culture wars” liqueur. That Collins, herself, happily owns up to being a “social liberal”, only adds an extra kick to her political cocktail.

It’s this political ambiguity that makes National’s new leader so dangerous. Collins does not belong to the crazy Christian Right faction of her caucus, but neither is she a member of the Nikki Kaye, Amy Adams, Chris Bishop “soppy liberal” wing of the party. (Although she may, from time-to-time, be found voting alongside them.) For a long while now this ambiguity has constituted an unhelpful obstacle to her advancement. With the right rejecting her as too left, and the left dismissing her as too right, she has fallen repeatedly between the two stools. But now, with both factions severely discredited, being a little bit country and a little bit rock-n-roll has proved to be no bad thing at all.

When pitted against Jacinda, however, it’s Collins’ neoliberalism which is likely to prove most deadly. Labour’s leader has never been that strong on economic issues, and of late she has taken to including a few anti-neoliberal flourishes in her keynote speeches. Collins and her propaganda team will seize upon these as proof of Labour’s reversion to type, and will do everything they can to cast Jacinda as an old-fashioned borrow-and-spend socialist. That the Prime Minister has never been anything of the kind will only make it harder for her to present a clear alternative to Collins’ orthodox economic prescriptions.

In debating terms, governments are required to present the affirmative case. It’s their job to sell an argument to the audience. Opposition parties have it a lot easier. As the negative team, all they have to do is rip the government’s case apart. If that case isn’t a strong one to begin with, and if the person making it fails the passionate commitment test, then guess who wins the debate? (Hat-tip to Prof. Wayne Hope for this analogy.)

Up until now, Labour’s strategists have thought it wisest to offer only the broadest of policy commitments. While National was led by Simon Bridges and Todd Muller this was a sound strategy. Jacinda’s handling of the Covid-19 crisis has elevated her to the status of national saviour, and with Bridges and Muller idiotically concentrating their fire on Covid-19-related glitches for which the Government could hardly be held responsible, Labour’s lead over National in the polls remained substantial. In the glow of Jacinda’s success, a detailed manifesto seemed unnecessary.

The election of Collins as National’s leader renders Labour’s broad-brush strategy politically untenable. She is far too clever to repeat Bridges’ and Muller’s mistakes. Labour and its leader will not be faulted for their handling of the public health emergency precipitated by Covid-19’s arrival in New Zealand. Instead, Collins will concentrate her fire on Jacinda’s alleged failure to present a coherent and detailed recovery plan for a New Zealand economy devastated by the impact of the virus. She will attribute this “failure” to the weakness of Labour’s team, contrasting the Ardern-led Government’s paucity of talent with what she will insist is her own stronger and more competent government-in-waiting. All of Collins’ cruel humour will be unleashed on Labour’s lesser vessels. Social media will be flooded with painfully funny memes and attack videos.

Jacinda and Labour can counter Collins in one (or both) of two ways. The first relies upon the Prime Minister’s superlative communication skills. If the Prime Minister can parry Collins’ attacks by making the voters laugh at her, then the Opposition’s strategy will fail. Rather than become angry or defensive in the face of Collins’ jibes, Jacinda needs to make fun of the thinking behind her criticisms. If she can expose the emptiness of National’s claims of superior competence and strength, for example, or make a joke out of her own government’s failures (KiwiBuild!) then the Leader of the Opposition will herself become an object of mirth and scorn. If Jacinda is able to embarrass her opponent severely, then there is every chance Collins will reveal her dark side. That would be “Game Over”.

The second way to counter Collins’ attack-lines is for Labour to give Jacinda a comprehensive and popular recovery package to defend. The Prime Minister is a quick study and, as she demonstrated during the Level 4 Lockdown, has an impressive ability to master voluminous and complex detail. Properly briefed, and personally committed to the message she has been asked to deliver, Jacinda performs magnificently. Indeed, those occasions when her performances have tended towards the less magnificent, are those occasions when she has been given too few details to work her magic with.

Of course, if Jacinda was able to laugh Collins off the stage and argue passionately for a Jeremy Corbyn-style “For the Many, Not the Few” election manifesto, then Labour’s leader would be unstoppable.

Herein lies the problem which Collins (who has already demonstrated her leadership qualities by doing what Todd Muller lacked the guts and gumption to do – sack Michael Woodhouse and replace him with Dr Shane Reti) is bound to exploit throughout the election campaign. Confronted with a whole host of critical policy choices (most particularly on the future shape and direction of the New Zealand economy) Labour has proved itself woefully indecisive. In almost every circumstance, the party simply defaults to the orthodox Treasury line. Boldness and imagination is not to be expected from this government – and Judith Collins knows it.

Throughout this term, Labour has failed to do what Michael Joseph Savage’s government did: introduce radical and comprehensive changes and then spend every waking political hour for the next three years explaining to the voters why they were worth keeping. It’s a bloody big ask to set Jacinda the task of selling even a mildly radical recovery plan in just 6 weeks – although if anybody can do it, she can. With considerable justification, however, Collins is betting that such a recovery plan is beyond the capacity of the 2020Labour Party. Presumably, that is why she told RNZ’s Kathryn Ryan that National has some “mildly radical” plans of its own.

You can bet your bottom dollar they will not be mildly radical left-wing plans! Which is why we should all be scared of a Judith Collins-led National Party – very scared.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 16 July 2020.

18 comments:

Lindsay Mitchell said...

"Of course, if Jacinda was able to laugh Collins off the stage and argue passionately for a Jeremy Corbyn-style “For the Many, Not the Few” election manifesto, then Labour’s leader would be unstoppable."

The way Corbyn was "unstoppable"?

Trev1 said...

Time to frighten the children with that hoary old monster "neoliberalism" again? If personal responsibility and self reliance are "neoliberalism", then I want some. If valuing diversity of thought over diversity of skin colour (as Collins quipped yesterday) is "neoliberalism", then give me a double helping please. How refreshing.

Kat said...

Following the sinking of the SS Shambolic and the disappearance of Kapt Muller a new but old attack vessel left the crumbling National party dock to hunt down the HMS Labour. With a hiss and a roar the SS Death Star with the cunning Countess Collins at the helm and a few less rats aboard caught the last wave on the outgoing tide. Things were not right though, the SS Death Star had already developed some leaks along with a noticeable list to starboard. The loose cannons aboard the SS Death Star had been shackled but the balls were rolling and the powder had become wet.

Meanwhile aboard the HMS Labour Admiral Ardern gave a wry smile poured herself a single malt and continued reading...... "Strange women lying in ponds, distributing swords, is no basis for a system of government!" .....

Simon Cohen said...

Of course, if Jacinda was able to laugh Collins off the stage and argue passionately for a Jeremy Corbyn-style “For the Many, Not the Few” election manifesto, then Labour’s leader would be unstoppable.
I just wonder Chris why you believe that this would be unstoppable.It was hardly a success in the United Kingdom.

Jens Meder said...

On reflection, would not the most successful Parliamentary Opposition be in not just only criticizing and opposing, but in utilizing every opportunity for publicizing what it considers a more promising and successful alternative or future, and agreeing (with possible amendments) and even supporting the govt. in emergencies ?

If so, then Collins' most promising prospect might not be in strengthened neo-liberalism, but in resurrecting emphasis on the "property owning democracy" vision with a systematic effort to achieve adequate personal wealth ownership potential for 100% of citizens eventually.

Since Labour is unlikely to respond to that with totalitarian State Monopoly Capitalism, and wealth redistributing welfare is always limited by the economic capacity to deliver, we then would achieve an economically very positively competitive political culture.

John Hurley said...

Jacinda's achilies heel is when she says she "leaves issues about [Hamilton] statues to the community". As though the community (Christchurch) had any say in a library that turns it's face away from the people who represented 98% of the city for it's first 121 years. That's her pit bull. And the snide people who tweet that Christchurch "too often feels very white at times" (while advising Age Concern and National Health Foundation). And NZ On Air whose documentary making seeks to "disrupt the colonial narrative". And RNZ where Guyon Espiner "loves winding that sort up" (and Steve Maharey agrees "there's going to be a lot more of it").
https://merionwest.com/2019/12/17/the-best-kept-secret-of-our-political-divide/?fbclid=IwAR0quEjI_4d5qxuNgg-M1O4hFlbjAqoO6BuBQvFXXOx6YDiNjkH4ttzGR3o

Chris Trotter said...

To: Lindsay Mitchell & Simon Cohen.

Jeremy Corbyn presented his "For the Many, Not the Few" manifesto to the British people in June 2017. He won more seats for Labour in that election than any Labour leader since Clement Attlee. If his predecessors in the job had been able to position Labour a little nearer the FPP finish-line, then he may even have become Prime Minister.

But, as Paul Keating so rightly observed: "A souffle doesn't rise twice." Corbyn's failure to lance the antisemitism boil and his refusal to back the judgement of Labour's most loyal voters over Brexit set him up for the Gotterdammerung of December 2019.

It is often helpful to read more than the propaganda pieces of the Tory press. History - event very recent history - usually has great deal more to it than the headline writers are willing to admit.

John Hurley said...

My understanding of neoliberalism is markets ruling across social boundaries. Harcourts Shanghai. Ha-Joon Chang in 23 Things They Don't Tell You about Capitalism argues that markets are political constructs?

Simon Cohen said...

Chris,you mention the propaganda pieces of the Tory press.Perhaps you would be wise to think about whether the term propaganda might be applied to what you write.I do not hold any brief for Judith Collins but I abhor inaccurate statements made in support of a point of view.You say:
Jeremy Corbyn presented his "For the Many, Not the Few" manifesto to the British people in June 2017. He won more seats for Labour in that election than any Labour leader since Clement Attlee.
Perhaps in the light of that statement you would like to comment on the following which is a list of all the elections since 1951 [when Clement Attlee was a wonderful Prime Minister who I remember very fondly] when Labour have won more seats than the 262 they won in 2017.
1955. 277
1964. 317
1966. 364
1970. 288
1974. 301
1974. 319
1979. 269
1992. 271
1997. 419
2001. 413
2005. 356.
From this it can be seen that Corbyn's 262 seats in 2017 and 203 seats in 2019 highlight his position as probably the most unsuccessful leader of the Labour Party [with the exception of Michael Foot]since the second world war.
And this is not propaganda from the Tory press !!!!

Lindsay Mitchell said...

Corbyn bombed in 2020. Your 'maybes' are as useful as the NZ Right's 'maybes' over 'if Winston hadn't picked Jacinda...' What the electoral system delivers is final. I don't read the 'Tory Press'. I followed the UK Election live and watched the northern counties turn blue.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Lindsay Mitchell & Simon Cohen.

The last British general election was on 12 December 2019, Lindsay. Corbyn was replaced by Keir Starmer in 2020.

I stand corrected, Simon. Corbyn achieved a net gain of 30 seats in 2017 - a marked improvement on his immediate predecessors. Not a patch on Tony Blair's effort in 1997, however. Full credit to you for taking the time to check. Clearly, I was misinformed - almost certainly by the socialist press!

Dr Who said...

In response to comment by Trev1: Definition of neoliberalism:

https://www.investopedia.com/terms/n/neoliberalism.asp

In the NZ context: Rogernomics as practiced by both Labour and National (E.g Ruth Richardson)can be described as neoliberalism in action.

The Barron said...

'Don't let the past remind us of what we are not now' - Suite Judy Blue Eyes: Steven Stills
(written about the other Judy Collins)
In politics, timing is everything. Right wing populist bullies came to power in the UK and USA. A core group of Nats looked on enviously. They had their own, if only they could get her to the leadership. She would sort the wimpy empathy the NZ PM showed after the Christchurch Mosque and White Island. Then came Covid19. The world changed and the Trumps and Johnsons were exposed. The leadership shown in New Zealand became the envy of the world.
Tone deaf to the change, the Nats regathered themselves, after the footnote that was Muller, and put in place Judith Collins. Should we be scared? It is difficult to have total confidence that the shift in politics under Jacinda is seismic and lasting, but the likelihood is that NZ don't want to go back to the style of politics Collins offers, which may just come across as dangerous and dated.The Post-Covid, BLM world may well move past the Rights infantile need to be dominated and opponents belittled.

Simon Cohen said...

Chris I really admire your willingness to publish personal criticism and to admit when you are in error.Well done.

Rick said...

” Boldness and imagination is not to be expected from this government – and Judith Collins knows it….With considerable justification, however, Collins is betting that such a recovery plan is beyond the capacity of the 2020 Labour Party.”

Labour 6.0 have painted themselves into a corner using the Politics of Fear.

Their gambit in confronting the Collins Train?

“Regional lockdowns on cards…A role for the military”;Checkpoints, soldiers, door-to-door testing: NZ’s new Covid outbreak plan!

More fear!

Oh, unless you count Space Jobs for Invercargill! Without boldness and imagination, Labour can only go authoritarian and try to scare us into voting for them. Who should we be more afraid of?

Brendan McNeill said...

Chris

I read your blog and comment occasionally because it's important to be informed by voices that are intuitively contrary to what you hold to be true, even when there is some overlap in worldview.

You are a person of the left, insightful politically astute, but like all of us still weighted with your personal blind spots. You said: "If Jacinda is able to embarrass her opponent severely, then there is every chance Collins will reveal her dark side. That would be “Game Over”. The second way to counter Collins’ attack-lines is for Labour to give Jacinda a comprehensive and popular recovery package to defend."

I have some empathy for Jacinda. She is a young mother cast into the most important political role in our country, and for the most part proving to be empathetic but completely out of her depth. What is worse, she is surrounded by fellow travelers whose competence is not about to disturb the Richter scale. She is doing her best with what she has to hand, and she should be acknowledged for that. This doesn't make her re-electable.

She may be able to embarrass Judith with her rhetoric, but it's unlikely, and I doubt most voters care about political point scoring. Your second hope of Labour providing her with a credible economic recovery package is even less likely given their lack of intellectual heft.

Does this mean that Labour cannot win the next election? No! of course they are in there with better than average odds. But can we really afford another three years of an inept government characterized by Kiwi Build failures? Even Labour voters in the deepest recesses of their hearts must believe we deserve better.

The lesson to learn from Labour's failures in office is that we must start to move away from believing that politicians hold the key to our economic and social prosperity. I have never believed that, not for one moment, but their systemic incompetence ought to be a warning to us all. And in that description I include the National party.

There is no salvation to be found in the beehive regardless of who owns the top floor. Let's widen our gaze, and begin to look for those commercial and social entrepreneurs that are able to make a difference. Those who don't look for funding from the State, but whose ideas and passion gather support from the investment and wider community, those who are prepared to risk their capital for social and economic improvement for all New Zealanders. Those people are out there, and their investment is far more likely to 'lift all boats' than an exhausted and bankrupt political class regardless of label.




rouppe said...

Wasn't Jeremy Corbyn's style to be anti-semetic and a supporter of Hamas terrorists? I believe he called them his "close friends...

Paul said...

I knew that picture of Judith Collins with the National party caucaus reminded me of a classic Steve Bell cartoon of Maggie Thatcher.
Found the cartoon and here is a link to it (too expensive to buy):
https://www.belltoons.co.uk/bellworks/index.php/others/Maggie-s-Farm/800500_MF18_YOUTHPROBLEMS