Thursday 2 July 2020

Why Todd Muller – and National – Are Toast.

Not Ready: Todd Muller’s lack-lustre and self-contradictory performances offer conclusive proof that a political leader cannot be managed into competence. National’s new boss has Janet Wilson handling his media and Matthew Hooton writing his speeches. Both are highly professional political and public relations specialists, and Muller is lucky to have them. But, they can’t be Leader of the Opposition for him.

TODD MULLER is toast. All the signs are there. The weird contradictions contained in his own public statements. The constant leaking of damaging information from inside his own caucus. The obvious delight of former colleagues as they lower their lifeboats and pull away from National’s sinking ship. The party’s been here before. Unfortunately, it was in 2002.

Just think about Paula Bennett’s bravura exit performance. Dancing up a storm with Tom Sainsbury – as if to say: “You always thought Tom was exaggerating, didn’t you? Nah, the boy never even got close!” There was something very P.J. O’Rourke about Bennett’s departure: something subversively liberating. When right-wingers turn out to have a sense of humour strong enough to make even hard-bitten lefties chortle, it says something very reassuring about our common humanity. Though some of us are loathe to admit it, we are all much more the same than we are different.

One of O’Rourke’s most memorable lines was: “First we got all the money. Then we got all the votes. Now we’ve got all the power!” Bennett’s celebration boogie, in anticipation of Muller’s failure to win O’Rourke’s electoral trifecta, has about it the same bracing honesty. Speaking of her hardcore National colleagues, she once told a startled journalist: “We didn’t come to Wellington to fuck spiders!” And wasn’t that the truth?

Muller’s lack-lustre and self-contradictory performances offer conclusive proof that a political leader cannot be managed into competence. National’s new boss has Janet Wilson handling his media and Matthew Hooton writing his speeches. Both are highly professional political and public relations specialists, and Muller is lucky to have them. But, they can’t be Leader of the Opposition for him.

It was exactly the same with David Cunliffe. Not even Matt McCarten, a.k.a “Mattiavelli”, could transform the ambitious climber who deposed David Shearer into a credible alternative prime minister. In the end, the person has to want the job enough to do what it takes to get it. Also needed is a clear idea of what to do with “all the power” once you’ve got it. This is where Muller falls short. Quoting Mickey Savage is all very well, but when a traditional Catholic talks about “applied Christianity” – what, exactly, does he mean?

It’s something which, I suspect, Muller’s evangelical Christian colleagues would also like to know. Their right-wing, fundamentalist version of the Christian message would see National taking a very different stance on a broad range of social issues from the one so clearly favoured by Muller and his liberal allies. A couple of months back, David Cormack (another PR maven) offered up his own take on National’s Christian conservatives:

“There is a large bloc in National of Christians with some pretty extreme views. They’re not traditional Christian National Party folk, but more fire and brimstone. Muller is a traditional National Party Christian, he voted No on the abortion bill’s second and third reading, he voted No on all three readings of the euthanasia bill. But he is considered not right wing enough by the large Christian bloc.”

According to Cormack:

“All of the highly conservative Christian MPs want to fight their very own culture wars here in NZ; think GOP level. Staunchly pro-Israel, really strongly anti-abortion, anti-women and gay rights. They want to fight the ‘Marxism’ that they believe has infested our schools, universities and even Labour (!)”

Contrast these hardline views with the gentle conservatism set out by Muller in his Te Puna hometown address in mid-June. Beautifully crafted by Hooton, the speech enunciated a set of values radically at odds with the proudly reactionary beliefs of Chris Penk and his comrades. Reading that speech, Muller’s opponents in the National caucus must have wondered whether their party was any longer big enough for the both of them.

On the one hand stands Muller (and Hooton) eager to keep the two main political parties committed to delivering the same neoliberal lines (albeit with some relatively minor differences in emphasis) that have bound the precious “median voter” to the aspirations of the broad centre of New Zealand politics for the best part of four decades.

On the other hand stand what might best be described as the “Radical Conservatives”. Their principal objection to the existing neoliberal order is its acceptance of what they see as the immoral and socially-destructive consequences of the cultural revolution of the 1960s and 70s. With some justification, they see identity politics as intrinsically hostile to the unequal distribution of power and wealth under patriarchal capitalism. Take patriarchy out of the capitalist equation and, in the view of the Radical Conservatives, it will fall.

These are not the sort of ideas to earn more than a curl of Nikki Kaye’s upper lip. Rightly, she foresees the wholesale rejection of such an avowedly sexist National Party by the overwhelming majority of middle-class Pakeha women. Indeed, it was to forestall such a radical-conservative deviation into Trumpland that the coup against Simon Bridges was mounted. That it succeeded only because the erratic Judith Collins anticipated taking more satisfaction from shafting Bridges and Bennett than from saving them, merely reinforces the scale of the dysfunction currently besetting the National Party.

Such dysfunction is essentially ineradicable by anything other than the annihilation of one of the two contending factions. This is, after all, what happened in the Labour Party when the Rogernomes and their careerist enablers made it more-or-less impossible for the left faction to remain within the party without surrendering their most deeply held convictions.

For National’s Radical Conservatives, the path to this annihilation solution is clear: engineer a defeat on a par with the disaster of 2002. The principal victims of such a strategy would be the party’s liberal faction. In Lenin’s famous phrase, it would lead to “fewer – but better” National MPs. A solid foundation of radical-conservative patriarchal Christian capitalism upon which National’s electoral recovery can be built.

You see now why Todd Muller is toast! Also clear, is why so many National women are now determined to give their votes to Jacinda.

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Thursday, 2 July 2020.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

Ah, PJ O'Rourke – along with Florence King one of the few conservative humorists that actually has a sense of humour – who punches up rather than down most of the time. Wasn't it him who said something like "A libertarian is just a conservative who wants to smoke pot and get laid."? I've got most of his books somewhere.

Colour me naïve though, but I didn't realise we had much of a religious right. I spend a certain amount of time online discussing the American ones with online acquaintances, and I keep downplaying ours. Am I making mistake here? Surely not that many people are going to go for their extremely illiberal ideas? Hopefully not anyway.

Angel Gabriel said...

Chris, I see us rapidly approaching a time when both major party's & Politics in general are Toast. We didn't notice that the Elevator Lift top floor button had been pushed when we all got on for Lockdown in late February (tho it wasn't announced until 23/3. Now that we've arrived on the top floor, there's nothing here. No economy, no happy campers, no benevolent leaders working diligently toward the change they all say that we need, but fail to make any effort to start any work toward.
Mr. Muller is not equipped to lead the National Party. He's a stand-in for the next great messiah coming up thru the ranks somewhere over the horizon. There is no one in the National Party with the leadership ability, and people management skills to lead a group of blood thirsty individuals anywhere but to the opposition trough where they get their free lunches on the tax payers ticket.
Hooton is an old Political Hack of the Mike Hosking and Paul Holmes Clan. Talking heads, good for stirring shit and feeding table scraps to the Attack Hounds only.
Labour is no better. They are equally clueless in navigating their way around this broken Neoliberalist System of smoke, mirrors & Algorithms.
When we all left the lift on the top floor we noticed the baron landscape, but we haven't yet figured out what to do with it. With this current Government unable to grasp a plan of attack, we're left to stand around with our thumbs up our bums until someone comes along to kick start the way forward. Who knows when thats going to happen? It's all very hapless and hopeless at the moment...
How did our Battery go so flat in such a short period of time??

The Veteran said...

Heh Chris ... clearly you've seen Labour's internal polling and you're coming across as both worried and desperate.

Brendan McNeill said...

The idea that there is some ‘sane’ ideological neutral ground upon which politicians ought to stand is an oversubscribed myth. All politicians, like all voters are animated by their internalised worldview. Everyone has a view of what is true, what is just, what is good and what makes for human flourishing.

I understand the Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern formerly held the position of President International Socialist Youth. This is not neutral ground. The electorate can make up its mind about her and the party she leads on that basis.

As it happens I agree with your analysis of Todd Muller. When he folded as quickly as his MAGA hat at the first sign of opposition, it told us all we needed to know. There was no recovery from that point.

I don’t know the Christian MP’s you mention other than by name, but your characterisation appears to come from a grab bag of derogatory stereotypes rather than firsthand conversations with the individuals concerned. Even so, do Labour and their Green allies avoid ‘culture war’ politics? Under their watch we have enacted some of the most liberal abortion laws in the western world, with abortion technically available up until full term. Babies who survive are not to be resuscitated but left to die unattended. Is this the unrelenting kindness we should expect from the Labour Left? Since when has defence of the unborn been an ‘Extreme’ or ‘Radical’ stance?

The assertion that these politicians are ‘anti-woman’ and ‘anti-gay’ is unsubstantiated in your article. On this basis the criticism is little more than an unbecoming smear.

I won’t be voting National at this coming election For a range of reasons. Not least their unquestioning support of a list MP who was a former CCP member and spy trainer and who admitted lying about his application for NZ residency. If it takes National another term in opposition to rethink its ideological foundations, then so be it.

Simon Cohen said...

What I find interesting about you Chris is halfway through each column I can tell which publication you are writing for.And if I listen you on Newshub I see another side of you.Do you tailor your comments depending on your audience and perhaps who is paying you.
Just wondering.

Kat said...

Burnt toast at that.....

Kokila Patel said...

National do have this issue, which is why they argue they are a "broad church", and has room for people who share their liberal economic, but socially conservative agenda. The same issue exists on the left, but it has not yet strongly appeared. The left has traditionally had religious ethnic minority groups who support them, but are anti-LGBT which are part of their "broad church". This is why it is better for Labour to have the Greens push these issues, rather than be seen to be leading from the front.

Chris Trotter said...

To: Simon Cohen.

You are quite correct, Simon, I do tailor my writing to the audiences for whom it is intended. All writers - consciously or unconsciously - do the same. We are, after all, human-beings and, as such, we are extremely sensitive to the receptivity or otherwise of other human-beings and adjust our behaviour accordingly.

The people who make no attempt to pitch their arguments in ways most likely to secure for them a fair hearing have a name: we call them fanatics.

And, no, this is not about who is paying me, since those who can still afford to do this (which does not by-the-way any longer include television and radio) hired me in full knowledge of my political and economic leanings.

So, that's enough of the snide innuendo, Mr Cohen.

sumsuch said...

Passing over your post, I like Todd Muller. Cf Oz Righties. He remembers the time he grew up in.

The stories pouring out of the US plutocratic Mordor continue to poison my generation of NZ Pakeha males who fail to remember. Our Right leaders hang on to their consciences.

Actually, I think we'd laugh at an unscrupulous sort playing Rich bullshit as a card.

But we don't know our story which leaves us open ...

sumsuch said...

The needy have to organize themselves to be relevant and it's never a good time for the Left -- two recent essays. You are always lustrous but it would need a ph.d to specifically follow your thought process.