Monday, September 05, 2005

Venting Their Spleen

At the height of the 1993 election campaign, I found myself in a Wellington shopping mall when Mike Moore’s entourage splashed through. Various would-be luminaries were with him: they cheered and clapped loudly as a hysterical Moore preached doom and gloom, vitriol and fury, and rage and ire, in a scene that was until then, as a young right-wing activist, the most negative display of mud-slinging campaigning that I had ever seen.

Moore was a mercurial figure. He had the amusing habit of starting a sentence that seemed to go on for ever, covering all ranges of homilies and subjects, and somehow ending each statement with personal abuse directed at Jim Bolger, Ruth Richardson, and Jenny Shipley. The Labour Party’s 1993 slogan, “Jobs. Health. Growth,” didn’t seem to bear any relation whatsoever to the message that Moore was pushing—that the National Party were a group of very nasty people who were hell-bent on destroying the country. It was not a coherent campaign.

Among Moore’s private coterie were such figures as Clayton “Mini-Me” Cosgrove, and Ron Mark. Also present that day were Paul Swain and the local Labour candidate: they were, in short, a group of diminutive, angry young men who believed that they deserved to be in Government, apparently for no other reason than that they had bigger tempers than anybody else. Policy barely featured.

Instead of heckling Moore, which was my natural inclination, I went to chat to some of Labour’s activists. I made a few smart remarks, and what sticks with me even now was the reaction of the supporters: their hackles up, they sneered and attempted to jostle me. I jostled back. It took a then level-headed Ron Mark to calm his colleagues down; the realisation that a group of Moore’s inner circle starting a rumble with a member of the public in front of the cameras was not the image that Moore wanted to portray.

What also struck me, apart from Labour’s then mob mentality, like some bunch of Mafia thugs demanding an extortionate payment of electoral support, was the lack of social skills in Moore’s team. They had no means of engaging with members of the public: they didn’t like the public. They were hostile and militant. They believed they had a right to govern, for no other reason than that they had an innate belief in their leader. I suspect that this was the reason behind Moore’s extraordinary election-night boast of a “long, cold night” for Jim Bolger; he had surrounded himself with people just like him—angry, vengeful thugs who had told him precisely what he wanted to hear.

Half a generation on, I can now understand the rage from Labour supporters this election.

For the last six years, Labour has danced in the moonlight of economic prosperity. That prosperity has come about through the very major sacrifices that both Labour and National Governments imposed on New Zealand from the mid-80s onwards. Those gains—the longest sustained period of economic growth since the second world war—have delivered an unprecedented winfall to the Government. Those gains have not come about through the fiscal discipline of the last six years by Labour—because the fiscal discipline has been non-existent. Rather, it has come about through the hard-won toil and efforts of New Zealand taxpayers.

The question this election, therefore, is who deserves to reap the benefits? That question—a luxurious position given the hardship and slog of the past twenty years—presents for the first time in several generations, the most stark difference that voters have had in modern history. What voters decide to do on September 17 will dictate the path that New Zealand takes over the next twenty years.

That probably explains why minority parties are taking such a flogging this year. No longer can voters state that there is little difference between National and Labour. The key choices are between the two parties.

Labour’s solution is one that ignores the key thrust of the reforms of the last twenty years. Despite the sea-change of Rogernomics that started getting New Zealanders to realise that they are primarily responsible for their own economic destiny, and that the Government is merely a buffer in times of last resort—Labour wants to turn the clock back. They claim that it is politicians who should decide how individuals behave: dictating to them how their money is spent.

Suddenly, state support for very low-income earners is extended to middle-income New Zealanders. Education expenditure, originally intended to provide people with the minimum tools of basic learning, is extended to provide twilight golf courses. Health expenditure is no longer just directed at hip, cararact, and glue-ear operations, but to cover sex changes as well.

That might be acceptable in an ideal world. Perhaps in the perfect society, a vastly enriched state sector does help the masses.

But the perfect society doesn’t operate in New Zealand. Nor did it operate in the Soviet Union or Albania. It is certainly not operating in North Korea or Cuba now.

What happens, when the state attempts to extend itself beyond providing the bare minimum of services, is that they lose focus on providing those basic services. Trans-gender operations, a fault-free justice system, and the inflated excesses of the wananga may well excite the Socialist ideologues, who see their dream of an “inclusive” society—in which fringe groups are pandered to at every corner—coming to fruition.

In the meantime, by getting distracted by their pet projects, the compulsory education sector is in disarray. Students emerge from schooling with no reality-based assessment mechanism. Tertiary students emerge from dubious institutions with worthless qualifications. Waiting lists for surgery rises. Violent crime increases, simply because New Zealanders no longer see the point in reporting it to an over-stretched Police.

In the meantime, Labour tells voters that because of the massive proliferation in special pet-projects in the social laboratory that New Zealanders didn’t actually vote to live in, there is no money left for tax relief.

That is the vision that Labour has for New Zealand. That National is exposing that agenda, and that Labour is losing the argument for that agenda, explains why, as in 1993, the Labour Party has resorted to the most negative election tactics in a long, long time. Instead of defending the indefensible—their own skewed view of New Zealand, the Way Labour Wants It—their smears on Don Brash and his party continue.

National’s position on New Zealand is equally clear: that the benefits of economic reform deserve to be returned to New Zealanders. That the returns should be returned in a way that continues to promote prosperity and further gains. That the role of Government is to provide basic services, where individuals have the option of purchasing their social luxuries as they see fit, rather than having imposed on them by the socialist agenda. That if you want the luxury of a sex change operation, a bigger house, or a twilight golf course, then you will have the means to pay for it yourself—but only if you earn it.

So over the next two weeks, New Zealanders can expect more spleen-venting from Helen Clark, Trevor Mallard, Steve Maharey, and Pete Hodgson. Their vision of New Zealand is falling apart, as New Zealanders begin to see for themselves just what havoc the socialist experiment will have on New Zealand society.

And expect them to get very nasty and bitter as they gang up on Don Brash and try to punch him out of the political mall. Just as Mike Moore did twelve years ago, they will increasingly lose any coherence they had before. They’ve already lost the argument; their only resort is fear, rage and thuggery.


Cathy Odgers said...

Quite correct Prick.

When it comes down to it all Labour now has to beat National off with is a broomstick and insults that they are:

racist, sexist, homophobic or liars.

It is all getting desperate.

So in the next 2 weeks I predict Labour will start a fight with National supporters somewhere. Labour have nothing left in the tank.

Can't wait.

unaha-closp said...

Negative tactics can be effective.

The main point they can bring to bear is - where is the money going to come from to finance the tax cuts?

Tane said...

OK, it's a fair point that Labour has fought a fairly negative campaign at times. I say 'at times', because a lot of what they have to say has been about their vision and their policy, so it would not be correct to call it completely negative. But I agree that there has been a fair bit of boot going in from Labour.

I guess my only question is, do you think that National has only fought a positive campaign, with no personal attacks of any kind? No negativity at all? That they have focused solely on their policies, rather than the personalities opposite them?

Psycho Milt said...

Unfortunately mate, a lot of us are old enough to remember the last time National was in govt - a period of incompetence and unpleasantness not merely matching what Labour's come up with these last 6 years, but making that 6 years seem a rather soothing interlude in comparison. Still, it made for an interesting read.

Emmess said...

The main difference between the incompetence of the last National govt and this Labour one is the media. They wouldn't rest until the had hounded ministers out of cabinet when National was in power, nowadays they might report it once or twice and then forget about it.

Regarding Labours negative campaigning tactics. I would hope Labour has gone as low as they can go, but they never cease to amaze me

Tane said...

So, can anyone tell me if they think National has run a negative campaign at all...? Or do you all think it's been purely positive and visionary, attacking Labour solely on it's policies.

Insolent Prick said...

Absolutely, Tane.

It has been a largely positive campaign, aimed at producing a vision for New Zealand that voters want to support.

Note the tone of the statements. National spokespeople talk about their policy and what they want to do. Labour's entire focus this campaign has been on National, rather than on what Labour wants to do. Every policy statement that Labour has come up with has either been a policy rehash of existing moves, or in direct response to what National is offering.

National have lead the agenda all the way this election. Labour are adrift, lost, floundering, and their only recourse is smear and mud-flinging.

Anonymous said...

to be technically correct, ACT supplied all the policies of worth about 3 years ago, and National have ghrabbed the ball and has run with it. Hopefully they will be able to score under the posts with full implementation of the policies, and hence receive the bonus points, but even if they can't, we as a nation are still better off.

Insolent Prick said...

If I know Act people at all, Anonymous--and I think I know them pretty well--they don't actually care whether it is Act people who are implementing the policies. One of the finest compliments that could ever be paid to Act is that they have shown, over the past ten years, that they have picked the issues for New Zealand long before anybody else.

But as long as the policies get implemented, I don't think they'll be worried about who implements them. Lets them get back to making New Zealand a more prosperous country to live in.

unaha-closp said...

Every Labour policy is a rehash because they are the government. They are not campaigning to change the status quo or introduce new ideas - they stand for the status quo.

Arguments they make against National have to be fearmongering, have to be negative - have to make people think that change of government would be bad. They cannot push a new agenda, without everybody asking why haven't you been doing this for the past 6 years?

In any election where the opposition is competent they can always lead the agenda by suggesting new ideas, it doesn't mean they will win. National needs to show that the country is in bad shape, needs to be more negative about the status quo IMHO.

Insolent Prick said...

I don't agree, Unaha. That is what is so fascinating about this election. In the past, governments have defended the direction they are taking, and attempt to convince voters that they are on the correct course. Opposition parties, historically, attack that direction.

In short, normally, it is the Government that sets the agenda for the campaign. The framework is based on what the current Government is actually doing.

Not this election. Labour have demonstrated that they have no vision for New Zealand. Or if they do, it is a liberal, socialist agenda that they are concealing from voters. What Labour has subtly attempted to do is create a politically-correct, nanny state in which Labour tells people what they must think, what services they get from Government, and who their chosen few are to receive Government services. But they're not talking about that, because they know that voters don't actually trust Government to moderate itself.

So it's actually National's agenda that is at the heart of this campaign: National is pushing it hard. A country where freedom of thought, freedom to act economically, to save and invest as one sees fit, to reap the rewards of one's own endeavours, and where Government's responsibility is to focus on core public services, rather than superfluous, trendy causes.

Those are stark differences. Labour's no longer talking about itself, because the debate has moved on from that. All they can do is sling mud at National.

And it's not working.

Cathy Odgers said...

From above...

"So in the next 2 weeks I predict Labour will start a fight with National supporters somewhere. Labour have nothing left in the tank".

I never thought though a Labour Minister would allegedly assault a member of the public resulting in a police complaint.

It is like National has had their Christmas come early...

Zenskar said...

"Despite the sea-change of Rogernomics that started getting New Zealanders to realise that they are primarily responsible for their own economic destiny"

A country that sells a bit of beef, butter and wood is always going to be a victim of international circumstance. "Rogernomics" at its heart eschewed any notion of local responsibility for economic matters in favour of the dictates of the market, locally and internationally.

"Nor did it operate in the Soviet Union or Albania. It is certainly not operating in North Korea or Cuba now."

Or the US.

"What happens, when the state attempts to extend itself beyond providing the bare minimum of services, is that they lose focus on providing those basic services."

Again, the US is a pithy example of how a minimal state can also be incapable of providing basic needs, as witnessed in NO recently. Your ideological fixation with the scope of the state seems to blind you to more important matters of responsible exercise of the powers of government, whatever the ideologically and legally prescribed limits of thse powers.

unaha-closp said...

Now the Bretheren are running a dirty trick campaign for the National party. National are running a campaign devoid of dirty tricks. This is an amazing coincidence.

Well I ain't never going to vote Bretheren - so give me a bit of time to figure out just how amazing a coincidence this is.

Insolent Prick said...

That's an absurd suggestion. About as valid as saying that Helen Clark doesn't support George Bush, and Osama Bin Laden doesn't support George Bush; therefore, Osama is campaigning for Helen.