Tuesday 20 October 2020

Governing For All Of Us.

The Kind Colossus: There are those on the Left who fear that Jacinda’s attachment to the centre will prevent her from doing what so urgently needs to be done in housing, welfare, child poverty, industrial relations and climate change. They argue that the only people she and her government will respond to are the owners of businesses large and small. My own feeling is, that Jacinda will do as much as we compel her to do. As much as – now that she need ask no other party’s permission – the mood of the electorate urges her to do. And, given how incredibly skilled she has become at creating a mood, that could be quite a lot.

WHAT ARE YOUR OPTIONS when half the country has just voted for you? How should you respond to such a resounding vote of confidence? Jacinda Ardern has undoubtedly been giving this question considerable thought for several weeks. I say “weeks” because her party’s pollsters and their focus-group moderators have been making it clear to her for months that a Labour win of historic proportions was on the cards. From the tone and content of her gracious Saturday night victory speech, it soon became clear that, from the options on offer, Jacinda had already made her choice. She would lead a government “for all New Zealanders”.

It’s a promise that works as well for those on the bottom of the socio-economic heap as it does for those at the top. Indeed, it will be interpreted by both groups as applying particularly to themselves. For beneficiaries, the unemployed, and the working poor struggling to pay the rent; Jacinda’s words will be taken to mean that their needs will not be forgotten. For the rich and the very-rich, the Prime Minister’s speech brings reassurance that their wealth is safe. For the rest of us, it just sounds right: what sort of Prime Minister would set out to govern only for her supporters?

Part of the reason for Labour’s landslide win on Saturday is just how easy National Party leader Judith Collins and her colleagues made that question to answer. Throughout the campaign, it was made abundantly clear that National’s policies were intended to advantage its friends, allies and supporters – and virtually no one else. Time and again, when questioned about the huge disparity between the tax relief being offered to those in full-time employment on generous salaries, and those working two or three minimum-wage jobs, National’s finance spokesperson, Paul Goldsmith, talked of hard-working Kiwis on the average wage – as if everyone else were shiftless wastrels who deserved nothing better.

It’s precisely this dog-eat-dog attitude that New Zealand turned its face from in this election. If Covid taught New Zealanders anything, it’s that selfishness is a potentially deadly affliction. We learned how dangerous those who insist that “protecting the economy” be accorded the highest priority – ahead of the lives of elderly and vulnerable New Zealanders – truly are. We also learned the virtues of collectivism: rediscovering the simple truth that the well-being of each of us, and the well-being of all of us, are goals that can only be achieved by working together. It was her steadfastness in advancing this simple proposition that made Jacinda unbeatable.

That is not a rhetorical flourish. From the moment New Zealand went into Level 4 Lockdown, National found itself shut out of the election conversation. Individuals close to the party report campaign operatives telling them that the voters were screening their calls. Focus-group moderators quizzed their subjects relentlessly, desperate to find the words and phrases that would trigger former National voters into answering their phones. But, it was no good, nobody wanted to talk to politicians who thought it was a good idea to criticise, nit-pick, or in any other way undermine the nation’s determination to “stamp out the virus”.

National’s desperation was etched for all to see on the increasingly distraught features of Judith Collins. It was reinforced by her frenetic visits to the party’s rural and provincial heartland. It was as if any thought of reaching out beyond National’s electoral base no longer made any sense. It had become, in the metaphor so beloved by political journalists, a simple matter of “saving the furniture”.

Except, it didn’t work. In every South Island electorate the Party Vote was won by Labour. Rangitata fell. East Coast fell. Wairarapa fell. New Plymouth and Wanganui fell. Unbelievably, Ilam – Gerry Brownlee’s leafy Christchurch redoubt, the bluest of National’s blue-ribbon seats – fell. The furniture was burning.

Labour has ceased to frighten National voters. The class enemy turns out to have a kind heart, a toothy smile, and a special knack with ginger-cake. Their own leader, sadly, looks more and more like a fruitcake.

Mickey Savage performed the same trick back in the 1930s. My father liked to tell a story from his childhood about the old dairy farmer he often helped-out after school. The 1938 general election was fast approaching, and politics was on everybody’s lips. One evening, the hard-scrabble cow-cocky, perhaps aware that Dad’s father, the local GP, was a firm ally of the Labour Government, observed: “Well, Tony, it looks as though we’re going to have the socialists again!” As my father told the tale, the farmer did not say this with bitterness, but with a wink and a smile. A few days later, Labour romped back to power with 55.8 percent of the popular vote.

There are those on the Left who fear that Jacinda’s attachment to the centre will prevent her from doing what so urgently needs to be done in housing, welfare, child poverty, industrial relations and climate change. They argue that the only people she and her government will respond to are the owners of businesses large and small. My own feeling is, that Jacinda will do as much as we compel her to do. As much as – now that she need ask no other party’s permission – the mood of the electorate urges her to do. And, given how incredibly skilled she has become at creating a mood, that could be quite a lot.

When confronted by urgent and indisputable need, Jacinda and Grant Robertson were willing to spend scores of billions of Reserve Bank-created dollars to keep the lights on. The Prime Minister is not afraid of breaking the rules of neoliberalism if that is what the situation clearly requires – and what the voters are urging her to do in numbers too great to be ignored. Far too many on the Left are unwilling to acknowledge that the only kind of socialism that endures is democratic-socialism. Or as Jacinda puts it: “Change that sticks.”

We must not be frightened of the Prime Minister’s pledge to govern for all New Zealanders. It is not a formula for centrist betrayal. It is just another way of saying that she will continue to look after “The Team of Five Million”? And hasn’t Jacinda already shown us how well she can do that?

Isn’t that why she won?

This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Tuesday, 20 October 2020.


Patricia said...

Oh, I do hope so Chris. What an opportunity the new Government has. There is so so much to be done. A Family Benefit is my first choice. Of around $100.00pw per child. That is roughly the equivalent of what it was all those years ago. So easy to implement but something that would give immediate assistance to so many while working on all the other things, like health, education, climate change. We live in hope.

greywarbler said...

I like the direction of your thoughts, hopes and wishes Chris.

Brendon Harre said...

I agree Chris the more we demand the more progress change that sticks we can achieve. I have been thinking about this for a month or so and have written the following.

I apologize for the length of the my linked piece but there is a progressive left solution to NZ's housing, rapid transit and land-use woes. In two sentences it is NZ should adopt the Austrian housing model by building significant numbers of affordable rental housing around rapid transit. This approach provides two significant benefits, it reengineers cities to grow sustainably around rapid transit and it better supports those most ill served by the housing crisis.

I think if we urge this government to move on this Jacinda and Grant could make it happen.

Tom Hunter said...

I have to roll my eyes at your endless sunny skies speculations whenever Labour is in power. I saw and heard the same from you in the 1999 and 2002 elections.

The reason that 1938 will not be re-created is that the institutions cannot be created a second time. We already have a gigantic social welfare state amidst increasing levels of poverty and homelessness. If it's not working now what fundamental changes to it could make a difference. Certainly none that I've heard from any Leftist, even the Greens, aside from UBI, which seems to have fallen in deaf ears in Labour and which is no panacea anayway.

No, all we're left with is more money being poured into this welfare state, plus our vaunted Public Healthcare system - the one that we had to shut the nation down to save from an Italy-like catastrophe.

And remember this also: National got 47% of the vote in a non-Key election. A lot of those voters have deserted National for Act and possibly even more for Labour, as Adern herself acknowledged.

You really think those people have been converted to the ideas and policies of Labour? No. It's Adern, and only Adern. Take her out of the equation and we're back to 2017, albeit with a National Party that looks as screwed up and shambolic as Labour did under Andrew Little - the unions choice - a few weeks out from the 2017 election.

Kat said...

I often raise my glass to Winston for what he did not just for Jacinda and the Labour party but for "all New Zealanders".......without that decision back in 2017 we would be in a very different space today. Four terms if Jacinda wants it.

sumsuch said...

I saw their campaign pleas immediately prior, asking for votes from previous voters for English and Key. I think the case is closed.

I read 'governing for all of NZ' as continuing to not govern for the lowest 20 %. Where NZ and democracy's heart lies. And trying to imagine Rangitata's view.

Labour's bullshit is out in the headlines now, up in the hemisphere of the BBC. Truth rather than the spin Left talkers crap on about, after their 36 years of defeat crushing their heads. Truth is 'necessary' rather than 'possible'.

Mayz ben sur, we're fucked, but we final fucks can't imagine ... 'discomfort'. Entirely in congruence with the previous.

The beauty of Martyn's blog is he doesn't read the comments v. you and the high engined Standard, who kill the Left.

Harold said...

So why did so many voters chose ACT? Why was it in a number of eletorates did ACT beat the Greens into third spot? In Febuary National were two points behind in the polls and thr the choof happened and the Nats imploded. Thought experiment, its 2017 and Bill English discovers he is the leader of the opposition.Does he quit like a sook, and walk away? Hell no he stays on. Imagine the kiwi build debacle, remember 2018 through 2019 only with Biill instead of Simon. Do you think the Nats would have been two points behind in Febuary? or would they have been up? How would Bill stacked up versus Jacinda on covid management? He is competetnt and trusted by many voters. Maybe Labour would still have won. But not on policy, anymore than they did in the real election. Jacinda the rockstar beat a disfunctional rabble,If you leftys push your agenda you can be sure the centre right will push back equally hard. It hasn't gone away and when Labour's tinsel glitter wears thin as it will. If they tax the self employed tradies into bankruptcy, bury farmers and small businesses in red and green tape. The worm will turn count on it, so enjoy it while it lasts.

Wayne Mapp said...

A much better analysis of why Jacinda won and the opportunities she now has for her government and for the country, than many of the others I have recently read, including some your own over the last few months.

People trust Jacinda. They trust her to keep her word and to advance the countries interests. And the peoples ambitions.

As you seem to concede, she is not going to break her commitments to the electorate, which were particularly strongly reinforced in the last 4 weeks of the campaign. So there will be no wealth tax, no CGT, and neither of those things in disguise. Taxes will go up for those earning over $180,000.

However, the government has substantial opportunities, given the scale of QE. Perhaps not as much as you think (there are debt ceilings that NZ has to have regard to) but substantial nevertheless. What should her key priorities be?

I would say the first is housing. I know the government failed on this over the last 3 years, but all the Ministers have built up their skills. They will do better in the next three years.

Second would be transport, though in my view the govt needs to reappraise light rail. It could all too easily be a boondoggle. Maybe electric buses on dedicate busways would be more practical and much easier too implement. I would say the first should be the northwest.

I also think the govt should increase benefit levels. The single person's benefit is around $270 gross. It should be $300. I know a number of young people who have lost jobs due to covid. The current benefit level is too low. I know the government will be changing abatement rules but that is not enough. An increase to $300 should be affordable.

The final key priority would be environment and conservation. Predator free and clean water. Much more action here. The Green Ministers should be kept in these roles. On that point I would say the Cabinet should be solely Labour. From direct experience I know hoe important it is for the Cabinet to be of one party. It means much better and much faster decision making. The discussion is much more open without the "editing" required when Ministers from other parties are in the room. The Green Ministers should be outside Cabinet They would be on Cabinet Committee but not in the actual Cabinet.

Odysseus said...

The root cause of inequality in this country is the lack of affordable housing. It won't be fixed by increasing benefits because that only increases inflation in the rental market. Nor can the private sector be relied on to fix it because public housing is not as profitable as other investment options. So the government has to grasp the nettle and embark on a massive public housing programme by marshalling resources it can direct to the areas of greatest need. This will require recreating a Ministry of Works and abolishing regulatory frameworks that impede urgent action like the RMA.

I doubt Jacinda's Ministers can do what is required. They have shown they are good at banning or abolishing stuff, eg performance standards, but they have no track record of actually creating anything. The country has been on "pause" when it comes to developing new infrastructure for the past three years. Too much time has been wasted because of their academic approach to issues. We need people who can actually get stuff done.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

That all sounds pretty good Wayne. Are you sure you're just not suggesting it because you think it will result in an electoral failure for labour next time round? :)
Given your support for these policies, are you sure of your place in the national party? :)

Alan said...

'Governing for all of us' is like the 'Team of five million' For all the familial warmth and yearnings they tap into they are meaningless word bubbles useful in war with some external enemy. In a society with haves pitted against have nots and competitive loser/winner values impregnating everything, these are sound-bites icing over the reality of the civil war that Roger Douglas breathed life into a third of a century back. There are very serious failings in our society that kindness and team talks in a 'guarded' and selfish community will not address. These failings underpin violent crime, mental health issues, and suicide, themselves symptoms of a society unable or unwilling to address the fundamental needs of people to belong and be valued. The changes needed to restore social value to people are both significant and costly. Whilst Jacinda now has the weaponry to do this, the extra costs in a Covid recovery period would threaten the Government electability in three years. It is a significant win, but many downstream consequences await, both predictable and unintended.

Alan Rhodes

Kat said...

Odysseus, I have been pushing for a reinstatement of a 21st century MOW for years and years and years.......however what such a reinstatement would signal is not just an end to major govt initiatives being allocated to and managed by private sector run contractors but the beginning of a necessary clean out of state service bureaucracy. A true govt run MOW is just that, govt run. To achieve any lasting change the very core of the state services and the bureaucrats that inhabit them require an overhaul and a return to a culture that does what a democratically elected govt instructs it to do in a timely manner. So any govt to put the idea of a new MOW on the table is inviting direct confrontation with these all to powerful bureaucrats. Jacinda and her team have a difficult task ahead in "getting stuff done" if the status quo bureaucratic quagmire remains.

Geoff Fischer said...

My own feeling is, that Judith will do as much as we compel her to do.
The same goes for Jacinda of course. I suppose you are saying that Jacinda is more susceptible to pressure from the left than Judith would be, and you are also saying that it will be our fault, not Jacinda's, if Labour pursues a conventional Blairite economic and political strategy.
Not too sure about any of that.

John Hurley said...

"Labour has ceased to frighten National voters. The class enemy turns out to have a kind heart, a toothy smile, and a special knack with ginger-cake. Their own leader, sadly, looks more and more like a fruitcake."
So what about
The culture wars. Is Labour not connected in anyway? Trump and Brexit are being treated as aberrations on an otherwise smooth Progressive Highway.

Mummy Media is speaking te reo; everyone is speaking te reo (except rotten old Don Brash and old white men.

Is this the End Of History - 99% Media collusion and a Jacinda figure? If the Press is anything to go by 90% of opinion pieces are woke and the other 10% are mildly conservative.

Meanwhile there is growing awareness of Critical Theory, thanks largely to Helen Pluckrose and James Lindsay. The effect of this insidious disease is best described as a "parasite of the mind"

I keep wondering why people think National were good managers when they ran the country on immigration which ANZ noted was "never a sustainable approach" and "gdp/capita lagged GDP".

Nick J said...

Kat, you are right. If we look at the big problems of the last century all have resulted in the creation of bureaucracy to cure the issue. None have succeeded despite the bureaucrats demanding more and more resources as they fail to deliver. So now we have all of Wellington stuffed full of fat cat overpaid under delivering parasites. Even my local council CEO who runs a mere 100 staff and does not need to find income gets paid $270k, for what I don't know.
The MOWD however did at least produce tangible output.

Nick J said...

Spot on Wayne.

sumsuch said...

'Governing for all of us' makes us who know fall over. You aren't willing to point out their shit. Down south.

sumsuch said...

Don't want to go on your (further) travels?

Sorry for the cruelty but ... truth is more than a virtue now, it's everything. Excusing them doesn't help.

John Hurley said...

Meng Foon
The Chinese miners were invited. True the Pakeha miners had cold fingers. False (left Otago for Westland).
Maori (and Chinese are intergenerational (here forever). Says never sell "own the land it is about mana!" Whereas "Mark Sainsbury said if the Chinese were buying land he could have a full switchboard all afternoon" (racist) & "foreigners don't take it with them" (Helen Clark).
"The name New Zealand will be gone in a few decades" and "the Maori economy will be the biggest in NZ". Don't employ old people (I shouldn't say that because I work for HRC). Praises Confucius Institutes.There are tangata whenua: in China, Taiwan, India. Not so much in "classics migration receiving countries - funny that. Diversity for some.

John Hurley said...

You need to watch this Chris.


The lion in the grass is human ethnocentrism.

sumsuch said...

Ardern just repeated 'governing for all of us' at her announcement of the Green arrangement. Child poverty as the main goal, 'be kind', now repeating that target of 'governing for all of us' on their front chest which we on the Left see clearly as a self-indictment.

She doesn't. Or ... Difficult to know where Ardern is coming from intellectually, morally. Is she just dim? Or scared shitless. Her only real principle?

sumsuch said...

BLM had an imprint here. But it wasn't used to confront the racially based poverty that was the price of the freemarket coup of 1984. You didn't write anything. Sure, we need to push Labour but that involves attacking them.

You know if you were my religious close relatives with no allegiance to reason this criticism would just slide through your hair without disturbing you at all. Being a moron is the way to go, til their sudden end of course.