Tuesday, October 24, 2006

NZ left and the passion for power (part two)

Labour’s belief it was entitled to power had been shaken by National. A combination of major PR disasters had weakened Labour’s popularity. Clark’s arrogance as Prime Minister was seen in the “speeding convoy” incident, where many voters saw it was “ok” for the PM to be in a police convoy speeding to get to a rugby match, or that the PM “did not notice” the speeds she was going at. For voters who were only too aware of what speed cameras mean to them, it seemed the “popular and competent” PM thought she was above them and as someone who never drove and got speed camera ticket or needed to even care, it showed that she didn’t understand the point.

The belief in their inheritance to power was waivering. However, by far Labour’s biggest blunder was to underestimate the momentum of a number of messages about government waste, government surpluses and too much taxation. Every year, Dr Cullen got accolades for doing nothing and generating massive surpluses. Now every year he spent those on a combination of debt repayment, the super fund and capex on government owned infrastructure – and every year the demands of Ministers to pour more into their portfolios increased. However, as incomes rose so did people’s marginal tax rate. It became increasingly clear to the 35% plus of voters who were in the 33% tax rate that they were not rich, but paying a great deal for a system that had a lot of slack in it. Ongoing publicity about government waste, coupled with concern that core government activities, like police and roads were being neglected. Now the truth was that the police and roads were doing better than ever before in terms of funding, but what the public saw were blunders and ever growing traffic congestion.

With six years in government, Labour found it hard to respond to concerns about publicly funded services – blaming the past government doesn’t wash with a public that gave you two chances before. Moreso, saying tax cuts were for the rich didn’t wash with many either – especially when National, instead of weasel words, actually came out with a policy and a website, that enabled voters to check what they would get. Meanwhile, Dr Cullen’s budget, hyped up as being Labour’s chance to cut taxes did nothing of the sort. The “Working for Families” package which had already been announced was seen by many as a complicated bureaucrat system of getting tax refunds and an extension of welfare – whereas tax cuts meant government got less of your money. Labour added in abolishing interest on student loans while students study, to secure student votes from the Greens (and it largely worked), but now this smacked of electioneering. The budget did include tax cuts, a paltry increase in the thresholds for each income tax rate that would mean little in the pocket. The public were not impressed – and National’s poll ratings increased again.

Labour’s jibes about tax cuts being mainly for the rich only washed with beneficiaries and its core supporters, not the floating middle class who were evenly divided between those who supported Labour for pumping money into health and education, and those who saw Labour as wasteful and wanting some of the surplus back in their pockets.

So facing an electorate that believed in “one law for all” and tax cuts, it might have been all over had it not been for National’s own goals which Labour exploited extensively. For the slick campaigning billboards and clear messages, talking about “mainstream” New Zealanders made more voters uncomfortable than comfortable. It appealed to conservative country folk, but not sophisticated liberal urban New Zealand. However, Labour’s disgusting witchhunt of a minority religious group because of its political views would be the turning point.

The Exclusive Brethren informed the National Party that it sought its victory and while its members did not vote, they would fund a leaflet campaign slamming a government that included the Greens, with appropriate colours indicating a National victory was preferred.

While the CTU and its affiliated unions used extensive resources to distribute Labour electioneering propaganda, Labour smelt a rat and a target in the Exclusive Brethren. Ignoring any liberal tradition of defending the rights of religious minorities to do as they wish with their own money, it was time to declare war and the Exclusive Brethren were to be public enemy number one. Had it been Muslims or Hindus Labour might have felt less comfortable, but a very small religion that shuts itself off from the rest of the community was sufficiently “weird” for floating voters that Labour could get mileage raising doubts about National-Brethren links, although it was never clear what the effect on the public would be. Meanwhile, Labour had no hesitation in using the trade union movement to campaign on its behalf.

Nevertheless, Brash’s initial denial and confession about knowing of the Brethren’s interest in supporting National’s election cost National. It was a flip flop and sufficient voters were unimpressed and less willing to back a party supported by, as Labour put it, a weird group, that it probably cost National the election.

After essentially calling National voters racist, rich and greedy, now it had a perfect scapegoat “how much influence do the exclusive Brethren REALLY have?”, implying some dodgy weird group controlling the strings of the National Party. Labour knew how much this was nonsense, and at best the Brethren campaigning was seen as a positive additional contribution, but no more. A group that doesn’t vote or join the party has little sway. However, Labour milked it for its “weird” factor and succeeded.

Labour meanwhile worked hard, behind the scenes, to target votes of those who were its core. The message was clear – “you don’t want National do you?”. In South and West Auckland fear was spread, in Porirua, in Christchurch, Maori and Pacific Island voters were being told that National, the rich white man’s party, might win if they don’t vote.

The overall feeling on the side of the left was that, while non-Maori provincial New Zealand had abandoned Labour in large numbers, Labour would pull through with Maori (excluding the Maori seats themselves which were a tough race), Pacific Island and the low income beneficiacy/working class mobilised in the main centres, plus Wellington bureaucrats. Teachers, nurses, students and the unionised workforce could be taken for granted as largely not voting National, but the key was not how they voted but whether they voted – getting turnout up was what won Labour the election. National, on the other hand had rural and provincial non-Maori New Zealand, businesspeople and middle class families tired of the status quo.


To bolster its message, Labour used its pledge card – a key plank of its election campaign literature, promising what the next three years would bring. However this would be funded from the Prime Minister’s office. Whether this was simply accepted practice and nobody thought about it, or whether Labour thought that it was moral for taxpayers to fund Labour’s manifesto distribution is unclear, what is clear is that it was not seen as strange that the government should pay for its own electioneering.

So when the issue was raised in the Bernard Darnton court case and increasingly the media, Labour went through denial that there was a problem, to denial that it would pay it back to ultimately accepting that the whole affair had damaged it. There is little point going over that saga, because there are few better examples of the attitude and arrogance the left has towards democracy than seen by Chris Trotter and his patronising attitude towards those who voted National in the 1970s and early 1980s. In polar opposite to Labour, which assumes it is entitled to the votes of everyone who isn’t rich,

As with all conservative parties, National divides the community into those who "own" and those who "work". The "political nation" - people whose opinions and actions actually influence the National Party - is made up exclusively of "owners" or in McCormick's splendid shorthand, "farmers and businessmen".
Those who "work" - the rest of us, who must hire out our skills and muscle-power in order to pay the rent - simply don't count.“
Trotter, with his Das Kapital in one hand, thinks he knows how National Party members work. He thinks they divide the community like Marx, Lenin and, in fact, the Labour Party does. This is sheer nonsense. In fact, while from a libertarian view it would be desirable to consider producers separate from parasites (those who steal, defraud and seek the state to steal and defraud on their half), National doesn’t aspire to this.
However, remember that Trotter thinks that those who “work” are not farmers or businessmen (he uses the word “businessmen” deliberately, Trotter sees National as sexist) – farmers and businesspeople in his world sit on the chair with feet up on the desk smoking cigars while the “workers” grind away. There is no work in management, marketing, seeking investment, taking risks with your own property or establishing a new business – Trotter and his ilk despise the wealth creators with a vengeance, worshipping instead the institutions of state which are not tainted with “profit” – as if “workers” don’t receive wages that represent a profit over the time and effort they dedicate to their jobs.
Take it one step further. Remember that “workers” in the Labour Party sense are unionised – a non-unionised worker is, at best, someone to feel sorry for, at worst a “scab”. A “scab” is that repulsive term for a worker who values a job more than a unionised worker – someone who would rather work than strike, someone who is exercising his free will. The amount of unreported union based bullying is difficult to quantify, but the anecdotal reports of those who dared “rock the boat” is frightening.
Trotter’s view of those who have other opinions about the role of politics and sport is telling as well:

“The real scandal, of course, is so many New Zealanders keep forgetting to remember their rights and responsibilities as democratically empowered citizens. Like those hundreds of thousands of Kiwis who saw nothing wrong with welcoming apartheid to New Zealand in 1976 and 1981. “
You see Trotter and the left saw the Springbok tours as an official endorsement of apartheid – you know, like sports teams going to events in the communist bloc (oops remember that imprisoning and executing political prisoners in the eastern bloc wasn’t as bad as apartheid – you see, Chris turned a blind eye to the atrocities of Marxism-Leninism). So if you supported the state not intervening, then you were clearly a racist who happily supported apartheid. More disturbingly though, is that Trotter thinks so many of you “forget to remember your rights and responsibilities”. Your responsibilities!! You owe the left something – your vote.

Furthermore, you see, the right doesn’t like democracy. Ah this explains the times National wins elections:

“Conservatives detest democracy, because it establishes a new "political nation" based not on ownership, but citizenship; a nation which can, by acting through its sovereign parliament, impose restrictions on the rights of "farmers and businessmen".”
Ahh so you see, restrictions on the rights of farmers and businessmen are ok, but clearly not on the rights of “workers”.

Funny how the party of “farmers and businessmen” can command 39% of the vote in 2005 and over 40% in 1990 and before.

So you see, there is, deep down in the psyche of many on the left a dislike for democracy – when it goes against them. It is not because they actually represent a majority of citizens. They don’t. It is because they believe (with a smidgeon of good reason) that they are the “progressive” force for social change. The reason Maori, women, gay people and others have equal rights is because of the left. The left believes it is liberal, and inclusive of all views. However it is far from that, but neither is National. You see the problem with the National Party is that while Labour believes it is the majority, National believes it is born to rule.

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