Friday 29 September 2023

The Greater Of Two Evils.

Not Labour: If you’re out to punish the government you once loved, then the last thing you need is to be shown evidence that the opposition parties are much, much worse.

THE GREATEST VIRTUE of being the Opposition is not being the Government. Only very rarely is an opposition party elected on the strength of its manifesto. In the usual course of events, most voters don’t pay all that much attention to what the opposition parties are offering. Providing they present policies which convey at least the appearance of coherence, the electorate generally refrains from asking too many questions. After all, what they’re seeking is the defeat and humiliation of the party/parties which have so recklessly squandered their trust – and their faith. If you’re out to punish the government you once loved, then the last thing you need is to be shown evidence that the opposition parties are much, much worse.

One of the odd aspects of the 2023 General Election campaign is how little real effort the governing Labour Party has put into convincing voters that the National and Act parties are actually planning to hurt them. Labour knows this because it is also planning to hurt the voters. Not as much, admittedly, as the Right, but pretty badly nonetheless.

The Finance Minister, Grant Robertson, alerted by his Treasury advisers, has already announced a multi-billion-dollar reduction in state spending over the next three years. In this he has little choice – not after his leader unilaterally ruled-out any new or significantly increased taxes. Robertson is, thus, acutely aware that even minimal reductions in taxes must be answered by savage cuts in spending. He knows that National’s promised tax-cuts can only be paid for by imposing an austerity programme even more ruthless than his own.

That being the case, Labour’s supporters are entirely justified in expecting both Robertson, and the Prime Minister, Chris Hipkins, to go for National’s jugular – and rip it right out.

In the first Leaders’ Debate, for example, as Luxon was trotting out his usual platitudes and slogans extolling – but not verifying with even the most rudimentary computations – National’s tax-cuts, why didn’t Hipkins just interrupt him, in a voice of cold command:

“Stop lying to the New Zealand people, Mr Luxon! If there was even a shred of truth attached to these nonsensical figures, you wouldn’t hesitate to prove it by releasing the evidential basis for your claims. Your refusal to do so proves that you are lying about the affordability of your tax-cuts. New Zealanders deserve better than a liar for their prime minister, Mr Luxon!”

Luxon would have expostulated that he was not lying, and demanded a retraction and an apology. At which point, Hipkins could have responded by saying:

“You say you are not lying, Mr Luxon, and you demand an apology. Well, you shall have it, Mr Luxon, and gladly, if, by the time of the next Leaders’ Debate, you have released your party’s computations for the nation’s economists to peruse, and if, having perused them, the consensus view of the experts is that your tax policy is both sound and affordable. Let us have the numbers, Mr Luxon. Let us have the proof. And if your claims are vindicated, then, most certainly, I will withdraw and apologise. And yet, something tells me that you won’t be presenting us with the truth, and I will not be apologising.”

Can you imagine how utterly confounded poor Jessica Much McKay would have been by such an answer? How effortlessly, it would have handed the advantage to Hipkins? How humiliated Luxon would have felt – and how impossible it would have been for him to hide his humiliation? It would have been Hipkins’ “Show me the money!” moment, and with it he would have won the debate – and, quite possibly, the election.

Except, of course, that is not what we saw, was it? What we saw was two politicians who seemed to agree, more than they disagreed, with each other, and who called each other by their first names, like old mates. What we saw was living proof of the old saying: “Why bother voting? Politicians always win.”

Effective rebuttal of the Opposition isn’t limited to the set-piece debates. Every day of the campaign, the Opposition is releasing material with which Hipkins and Robertson could have a field day.

The release of the GDP figures, for example, offered Labour the opportunity to spring a trap for the National Party’s finance spokeswoman, Nicola Willis.

The better-than-expected numbers were rightfully trumpeted by Robertson as evidence of the soundness of the Labour Government’s economic management. Predictably, Willis responded with a scathing media release:

“Labour has mismanaged and vandalised the economy on a scale unlike anything we have seen in recent history.” Thundered Willis. “Government spending is up 80 per cent - $1 billion a day more than 2017. The current account deficit is the largest in the OECD. The economy has been anything but well-managed by Labour.”

Knowing he would later be facing the cameras, Robertson could have prepared a reply for the woman who would be Finance Minister:

“Nicola Willis clearly regards the Labour Government’s management of the Covid-19 Pandemic as an economic disaster. That can only mean that she would not have taken the measures adopted by our own, and practically every other government in the Western World, to keep New Zealanders safe; to keep their jobs and businesses safe; to keep their children safe.

“If Nicola Willis had been in charge, New Zealand would not now be experiencing an inflationary surge, because she would not have authorised the Reserve Bank to create the credit needed to keep our economy from crashing in the face of the worst global pandemic for a hundred years. So, no cost-of-living crisis.

“We would, however, now be in the grip of a much greater crisis: a devastating recession, with unemployment levels not seen since the 1930s. And that wouldn’t be all. No, that wouldn’t even be half. In addition to economic devastation, New Zealanders would be facing the moral and emotional devastation of 10,000 to 15,000 Covid fatalities – a death toll greater than New Zealand’s losses in the Second World War.

“Still, New Zealand would not now be facing a record current account deficit – just a deficit of human potential, talent and wisdom. Just the aching absence of beloved family members at ten thousand Kiwi Christmas tables.

“Am I being too harsh? Are you telling me that Nicola and National would, in all probability, have done exactly what we did? Then, perhaps, you should ask her what she means, precisely, when she accuses us of mismanaging and vandalising the New Zealand economy. Is she accusing us of saving more lives than was reasonable? Is she saying that National would have allowed more people to die – for the sake of the economy?

“Perhaps you should ask Ms Willis how she can leave something as huge as the Covid-19 Pandemic out of her economic narrative? Because, frankly, the people of New Zealand have a right to know how many people saved were too many people saved?

Sadly, Labour doesn’t talk like that anymore. Somewhere, back along the track, the party lost its sense of responsibility for the people who were bound to suffer if its MPs and candidates lost interest in the contest and gave up. Somehow, they forgot that winning and holding political power is not a game of bloody beach cricket! For true democratic socialists, it is never time to give the other team a turn. Not if the other team is itching to employ body-line bowling against the weak and vulnerable in their own.

Labour’s job is to win – and keep on winning. And if, every once in a while, it loses, then its right-wing opponents should damn well know they’ve been in a fight.

POSTSCRIPT: It seems that I wasn't the only person decrying the lack of aggression in Labour's election campaign. In the second leaders' debate, broadcast on TV3 on Wednesday, 27 September 2023, Hipkins came out swinging and landed several heavy blows on a stunned Christopher Luxon. Took you long enough, Chippy! - C.T.

This essay (minus the postscript) was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Friday, 22 September 2023.


Guerilla Surgeon said...

When was the last time a Labour Party leader stood on the picket line with striking workers as Joe Biden did the other day. Maybe just symbolic, but symbols count. I'll probably be dead in about 10 years – 10 years with a bit of luck actually – and I doubt if I'll ever vote for Labour again. I notice somebody said the other day on another site – a vote for Winston might just temper the cruelty of the Libertarian party. They might be some sense in that.

David George said...

Thanks Chris, the "better-than-expected" GDP were not per capita; we're still getting poorer. The National party are releasing their full costings today so we'll see how things stack up there.

In 2017, government spending was $76 billion. By 2023, it surged to $139 billion – a $1 billion increase every week. NZ's debt? $112 billion in 2017, now a whopping $224 billion or $115,000 per household.

Some inflation and covid costs involved for sure but what the hell have we got to show for all of this spending? Flash new highways? A few hydro dams? A functional health system? Completely ignore the worst current account deficit in the developed world, and second worst in the entire world?

I've just sent a few weeks in Australia (NSW mostly), I can certainly understand why so many of our young engineers, builders, nurses and anyone with any ability and ambition is upping sticks for there.

Oliver Hartwich on the real problem - our abysmal productivity "Consider Lithuania: in 1990, we were more than three times as wealthy as they were. But by now, the former Soviet republic has overtaken us.

If this were rugby, it would be a scandal. But because it is productivity, it barely makes headlines.

New Zealand’s poor productivity performance also limits our options. Instead of seeking a higher-paying job or a promotion, it is as if the family is arguing endlessly about whether to cancel Netflix to save money.

Just as a family not getting raises will struggle to keep up with rising costs, a country with low productivity will find it difficult to maintain, let alone improve, public services.

It is high time to shift the election conversation from how we distribute our existing ‘income’ to how we can increase it."

Gary Peters said...

Sorry Chris but again you prove the point made by many that those on the left have no idea about finance.

A billion dollars on consultants when they actually made massive increases in the public service. Rather than contract out planning @ $1,000 per hour why not get those employed to do the job or did "diversity" hirig only fill one category on the job sheet?

Hundreds of millions of dollars spent on projects that would never pass the sniff test. Entire government departments created as a virtue signal whose achievements would not fill the back of a postage stamp.

A three fold increase in admin staff in the health sector whi facing a reduction in frontline staff and services.

Come on, just eliminating the waste will reduce expenditure by billions per year and tax cuts will provide an increase in the tax take faster than any other measure.

You need to face the fact that this current government will go down in history as the most incompetent and divisive we have had the misfortune to elect with a level of ministerial incompetence that would embarrass any supporter with the nous to measure any metric available.

Unfortunately it seems we still have around 39% of the population either unwilling or unable to see through the flim flam but thankfully the other 60% have their eyes wide open.

This government has dug us, as a nation, into a hole, tried desperately to push us into that hole but due to their own incompetence haven't even maaged to do that properly so we have some hope. Slim but there is still hope because if we do not arrest this slide we will becoma the laughing stock of the Western world, much like Venezuala. A riches to rags story like no other.

Kat said...

Chippy isn't a glove puppet with a cassette tape on loop for a voice box. Chippy has been one of the hardest working MP's and most likely has had more than a touch of pandemic fatigue.

Give the man a break for Chris......sake

Guerilla Surgeon said...

" what the hell have we got to show for all of this spending?"
1. People mostly in work throughout the whole of the Covid appear period.
2. Businesses surviving when they would have gone under.
3. A few – probably all National party voters – rorting the system.

Interesting though, national supported all this borrowing – until suddenly at election time they use it as a stick to beat Labour with. Although to be fair, most of them are keeping reasonably quiet about it. Because it could just as easily become a stick to beat them with.

Gary Peters said...

Every portfolio that hipkins has taken on has failed spectacularly.

Kat he may be a hero to you but I doubt you've seriously looked at what his achievements have been so please post a positive achievement so we can all join you in celebrating his hard work!

Cara said...

Here’s an idea. Maybe most of us don’t care about Left/Right ideology anymore. What we do notice is the dearth of pragmatism from this government, e.g. :
- Why continue the economically disastrous Covid isolation strategy long after everyone who wanted to be was vaccinated, & the most virulent variants had mutated to become relatively benign?
- Why restructure our already stretched health system in the middle of a pandemic?
-Why impose a revised racially divisive school curriculum on schools already struggling to cope with greatly increased racial diversity?
-Why persist in imposing Maorification on everything and everyone in the face of increasing confusion, resistance &, now, anger?
Hipkins is doomed because he has a tin ear!

Madame Blavatsky said...

Guerilla Surgeon
"" what the hell have we got to show for all of this spending?"
1. People mostly in work throughout the whole of the Covid appear period.
2. Businesses surviving when they would have gone under.
3. A few – probably all National party voters – rorting the system."

This was a solution looking for a problem. The whole Covid lockdown affair was a deliberate government policy that was completely contingent, it was never a necessary consequence of the appearance of a virus. New Zealand had a perfectly good Pandemic Plan that was produced in 2017 and was based on scientifically established virology principles. Nowhere in this Plan would you find "lockdown" as a valid response. However, this plan was thrown in the rubbish and we instead went down a completely illogical, unnecessary and unscientific path of draconian policies and economically disastrous measures to "keep us safe."

Consider that Covid has not gone anywhere at all, it is still in the community. Yet, for the last year at least, there have been none of the restrictions or mandates that were imposed for a couple of years. But the sky has not fallen, the dead aren't piling up in the street, and nobody gives Covid a second thought.

So what changed? All that change is that we stopped hearing about it 24/7 and the campaign to keep people scared so that they'd accept the policies was stopped because it was becoming politically untenable and the public were getting increasingly restless and suspicious.

Anonymous said...


Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Consider that Covid has not gone anywhere at all, it is still in the community. Yet, for the last year at least, there have been none of the restrictions or mandates that were imposed for a couple of years. But the sky has not fallen, the dead aren't piling up in the street, and nobody gives Covid a second thought."

What changed? Most of the country apart from the idiots got themselves vaccinated.

"Public health lessons from one pandemic become the planning assumptions for the next one. Aotearoa New Zealand’s 2017 pandemic plan was derived from past experience of influenza. When Covid-19 emerged as a major global health threat, it took time for the realisation to crystallise that this infection was so different from influenza that it required a completely new pandemic response strategy."

The full article was out there if you want it, but people who actually know about stuff seem to think that the 2017 plan wasn't fit for purpose, having been designed for a completely different disease. Not that I expect you to change your mind or anything. Evidence seems to have no effect on you at all.

Anonymous said...

Quite right.

Anonymous said...

Good God and I heard it on Bowalley Rd too.

'It is high time to shift the election conversation from how we distribute our existing ‘income’ to how we can increase it'

How many fucken years has it taken you wombats to come up with the obvious.

I have been on this Kiwi grass for nigh on 82 years, never once have I heard such blasphemous capatilistic tripe being taken as a guide to move forward.
Print it... like they do.... but learn how to put it to good use.
Like raising everybody's standard of living in stead of destroying it by feeding it in at the bottom of society.
Dumb fucks for sure