Thursday, March 05, 2009

Labour's Newspeak

The Standard has linked to a Stuff report about words and phrases circulated around the Health Ministry that Ministers would prefer to be used and not used.

"Among terms now considered "out" were public health, social change, inequalities and advocacy"

All standards for the left. Public health is a collectivist term, social change is social engineering said nicely, inequalities is used as a proxy to claim outcomes are related to being treated differently, and advocacy is what lawyers do, not public servants.

The Standard calls it Newspeak. It may be, but I find it curious that when National does this, public servants leak it to the press and the press takes it. However, when Labour did the very same thing it didn't make news. Either officials were more loyal to Labour, or the media was not interested (or I suspect, the way Labour did it was less formal).

What happened? Well I was told by officials of the Department of Internal Affairs that there was a clear directive from then Local Government Minister Sandra Lee that using words like "accountability, transparency and efficiency" were no longer acceptable in briefings or Cabinet papers because they were "Business Roundtable speak". Obviously, accountability and transparency are hienous plots to bring down the people's government!

The word "efficiency" was dropped in briefings and reports on transport in favour of "value for money", because efficiency sounded like "New Right economics" to some Ministers of the previous government.

Quite clearly Ministers would get very irritated if they thought advice was suggesting policies of the previous government, or that Labour policies were too hard or expensive to implement.

The vetting of all these came through a new level of engagement between departments and Ministers - the Political Advisor. Political advisors are an idea from the Blair administration in the UK, and they are designed to ensure Ministers get official advice politically vetted in advance. Political Advisors would reject briefings or Cabinet papers before they even got to Ministers, to make sure the (truly) politically correct language and the correct advice was being given. Heather Simpson led this, and she became the vetting agent for all Cabinet papers. She was often referred to as the "Associate Prime Minister" and had power that was only rivalled by Cullen at Cabinet. I wrote extensively about H2 (Helen Clark was H1) over two years ago.

H2 would pull Cabinet papers from the agenda and insert new ones. She would edit Cabinet Minutes if they didn't reflect the "correct" view of what was decided.

I'd be very curious to know what our "friends" on the left would think if National adopted exactly the same techniques, and more curious if anyone in the know (e.g. David Farrar) is aware if the current government has Political Advisors for Cabinet Ministers, and is there is a J2.

John Key said before the election that a National led government would listen to the public service and I gave a few idea about what to ask. Is National exercising political control over the advice given to it?


Anonymous said...

Each Minister tends to have a Ministerial or Political Advisor. But AFAIK their jobs are not to instruct Depts in any way - merely to provide independent advice to Ministers on their portfolios.

And there is most definitely no J2.

Libertyscott said...

Interesting David, a reasonable halfway house which I'd fully endorse, especially for new Ministers and those with multiple portfolios.