An Ineffectual Opposition Is Bad News

Written By: - Date published: 6:00 am, October 28th, 2018 - 42 comments
Categories: broadcasting, clickbait, Deep stuff, democracy under attack, democratic participation, elections, internet, jacinda ardern, journalism, leadership, making shit up, Media, news, newspapers, Parliament, politicans, Politics, radio, spin, tv - Tags: , ,

Hinemihi meeting house at Te Wairoa, after the Mt Tarawera eruption of 10 June 1886. The name of the house in full is Hinemihi o te Ao Tawhito (Hinemihi of the ancient world).

It is often said that the role of the Opposition in the House of Representatives is to hold the Government to account. One of the other important roles of the Opposition is to represent the people and this does not mean only their supporters (i.e. the ones who voted for them).

About once every three years the fickle beast of Public Opinion emerges from the wilderness. In between, it rarely comes into full view with only brief & hazy glimpses under the cover of darkness and surreal howling & hissing sounds in the distance. Around that time, the Opposition changes its spots and goes into full peacock mode to wow the fickle beast and present an alternative government in waiting.

What happens when there is (an) ineffectual Opposition? It might give the Government of the day an easy ride so that it can get on with its business relatively unencumbered. The Government is well-resourced compared to the Opposition. It may also mean poor representation of the people.

Politics is also a contest of ideas; NZ politics currently appears to be a contest of sleaze & dirt against kindness. The irony is that the best way to combat the message of Jacinda Ardern (bringing people together, kindness, hope, being positive, compassion) is to be an ineffectual opposition. I will try and build the argument.

The MSM help to shrink the Overton window. The people are in a mental prison cell with a tiny dirty window high up and they are staring at shadowy projections on the wall, which they take as connected to reality (in fact, as reality). They euphorically cry out “nailed it!” when one of those projections resembles an archetypical symbol buried in their deep sub-conscious and when they seem to recognise it. The thing is though that this mental prison is self-imposed, through conditioning and indoctrination; the door is not locked and ‘prisoners’ can walk out any time they want. But it never occurs to them to even try the door; it is locked, this is as good as it gets, there is no alternative (reality or world), you will be blinded (oh, the irony), you will die …

People generally have no suitable forum to discuss politics other than on Social Media, which in turn, by and large, get their cues (and headlines) from the MSM. People need to be part of the conversation, or at least feel included and listened to. But so-called opinion leaders and (political) commentators have a reputation to uphold and they want to own the narrative, they want to set it (i.e. determine the talking points, what is of interest and what is not – possibly guided by the Editors of the MSM whom they work for and who pay their salaries) and dominate & control it; no room for the plebs to join the elitist (arrogant & patronising) Fourth Estate and their inner sanctum, the Parliamentary Press Gallery. The perverse outcome of this is that it narrows public political ‘discourse’ to a reflexive rant fest, at best.

To satisfy the advertisers, from a narrow range of topics the most important ones are carefully selected and annotated with luring headlines to increase the number of readers and encourage them to stay on the site and click away (click bait). Never forget that MSM are struggling for existence and fighting for their (commercial) lives. This is not and never has been a contest of ideas and it certainly is not politics, not even reporting on politics; it is often just making up shit in the absence of a real contest of ideas in the house and without leadership and model examples from real politicians that could and should be used as a starting point for the MSM to report on and kickstart and encourage public debate. And it shows. The result: the people are switching off from politics.

In and by the MSM issues are presented and ‘dealt’ with as simplistic binaries; politics is about winners & losers, the Left vs. the Right. Of course, this fuels the perception of politics as a pugilistic partisanship and it polarises opinions, which puts off people even more.

This does not just apply to the written word. Live shows with panels made up of the usual experts suspects that regurgitate the same stuff over and over and each and every time surely must bore the hell out of people. Those panel members have become caricatures of themselves like Statler and Waldorf on the Muppet Show, blurring the boundary between politicians and commentators – unsurprising when many of those are ex-politicians or former wannabies. To stay with this analogy for a moment, Statler when watching the show opined “no one would watch junk like that”.

No one would watch junk like that.

These shows and their audiences do not tolerate cliff hangers; they demand clear conclusive answers , decisive actions, and absolute promises from politicians featuring on the show. They will certainly not leave you pondering “what if” or contemplating the complexities of politics and (life in) our society. And an absolute taboo is to encourage viewers to start doing some critical thinking themselves; leave it to the professional experts.

Rather, these shows feed (on) people’s biased opinions and provide a mix of low blows and gotcha moments that separates and alienates people from each other. They are an extension (and often a copy) of the written columns in the MSM – funnily enough they often involve the same key players from a small ‘incestuous talent pool’. No wonder that politics gets a bad rap!

I know the above generalisations are unfair to some outstanding work in the media but my point stands: Mainstream Media are for mainstream audiences who want mainstream ‘solutions’, etc., and you can read into this anything you like 😉 Politics is for all people or at least it should be.

Please do not get me wrong, all this o.k. as long as it is not the only game in town. When we have an ineffectual Opposition, however, it easily does become the only game in town with its own set of rules and its own (commercial) interests (i.e. of the MSM). This is bad news.

42 comments on “An Ineffectual Opposition Is Bad News”

  1. Ed 1

    Reform the media.

  2. marty mars 2

    The media is just the media. Take it, leave it – it really doesn’t matter because they have their own agenda and that is to generate revenue. That’s it. There is no conspiracy, there is no dumbing down – there is revenue generation and anything that will drive that. It is lazy and t.rumpish to blame the media as many do. Yes they can generate stories, spin stories, put slants on stories – to generate revenue.

    The opposition is weak, disorganized and losing support – it is cyclic and doesn’t really follow logic – it just goes around and around. I say lets take advantage of this part of the cycle and make some real changes for the people that need it. Soon enough it will change.

    • Ed 2.1

      If you think this, j highly recommend you watch this film.
      Shadows of Liberty.

      https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=_SAUborWbPw

      • marty mars 2.1.1

        What’s the synopsis?

        • Ed 2.1.1.1

          That’s a trailer.

          Synopsis
          “Shadows of Liberty is a documentary indictment of America’s media echo chamber. The film’s title is inspired by a quote from American revolutionary journalist Thomas Paine, “When men yield up the privilege of thinking, the last shadow of liberty quits the horizon.

          Canadian Director Jean Philippe Tremblay’s film has methodically analyzed the crisis of democracy that is the dearth of actual news reporting in the American corporate media.

          Shadows of Liberty begins by telling cautionary tales of three journalists whose careers were destroyed when they refused to let go of stories their corporate masters wanted spiked. “

          • marty mars 2.1.1.1.1

            Sounds true to type.

            This review…

            “None of these stories are new, but it helps to be reminded that news organizations (and the people who run them) are capable of errors of judgment, laziness or, as one interview subject puts it, “following the lead of silence.”

            February 21, 2013″

  3. JanM 3

    Good stuff, Incognito – thank you.

  4. Rosemary McDonald 4

    “What happens when there is (an) ineffectual Opposition?”

    The answer to that question is all around us.

    How many years now have we had an Opposition which is barely distinguishable from the Government in actual policy and culture?

    An Opposition which it appears has the primary responsibility to set the stage and the script for the shameful displays in the House.

    To provide entertainment for the masses.

    I’m not going to trot out the statistics that prove how ineffectual (or is it?) successive Oppositions have been in the past three decades….we all know them.

    The unique environment we have at the moment, with the Opposition effectively out of commission, presents a real opportunity for Government to simply get on with the job.

    Now the Government could, while the plebs are distracted watching individuals scrabbling and clawing each other to extract themselves from the shit-wallow of their own making, choose to be bold and address some of the less sexy issues that they and their predecessors have willfully ignored to the point where some in the most disadvantaged groups have simply given up hope…..

    https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-26-10-2018/#comment-1542494

    https://thestandard.org.nz/beneficiary-for-life-the-joys-of-permanent-disability-in-present-day-nz/

    https://thestandard.org.nz/poverty-and-disability/

    …or they could just run true to form of typical governments of recent decades and focus on the positive…https://thestandard.org.nz/open-mike-27-10-2018/#comment-1543049

    https://www.stuff.co.nz/national/108157197/first-kiwibuild-families-welcomed-to-new-homes-by-prime-minister

    • Carolyn_Nth 4.1

      It’s usually said the time for any government to make its most radical policies and legislation is at the beginning of its first term. It gets harder after that.

      Of course, NZF is acting as a brake, but to me it always looked like the preferred partner in government for team Ardern-Robertson, was NZF. They welcome the having the brakes on.

      • Rosemary McDonald 4.1.1

        “It’s usually said the time for any government to make its most radical policies and legislation is at the beginning of its first term. It gets harder after that.”

        Yes.

        And I think they’ve missed the tide.

        Tough shit for Kay and Tui.

        • Bill 4.1.1.1

          “Missed the tide” would only be a thing if they ever wanted to catch it. Paint me cynical, but I have visions of NZ Labour running back up the beach as fast as they can, stopping only to throw up hasty barriers of sand before setting off again screaming something about ‘wet feet’ and getting ‘swept away’.

          On the positive front, the tides coming in everywhere, and sand doesn’t make for much in the way of a barrier 🙂

      • Kahu 4.1.2

        Yeah so they get best of both worlds …see capitalists we’re not such a threat, see party base/activists we tried but… see people on struggle street we’ll talk the talk (but not walk the walk)

  5. AB 5

    Not sure I can agree with this.

    Chomsky and Herman anatomised decades ago how the power of private media ownership operates and how the range of opinion is constrained. It’s not a conspiracy, just an inherent property of that sort of media ecosystem. Rather than constantly getting frustrated by it, some ideas for alternative media structures and funding might be more interesting.

    Our local media have pretty much forgotten that politics is (or should be) a practical manifestation of an underlying moral purpose. They lack the inclination and the vocabulary to ask questions about what the ‘good’ should look like – and that is what ‘holding governments to account’ is really about, enquiring as to whether they are advancing the ‘good’, or causing harm.
    Instead they get obsessed with the operational and the salacious – is Winston pushing Jacinda around, is the coalition unravelling, did Meka leave bruises, did Phil ‘own’ Judith on the radio or the other way round, will Simon be axed, what do the polls mean, etc. This sort of tripe is not holding anyone to account.

    The strength or weakness of Oppositions is pretty much unimportant – it varies naturally as part of the political cycle and eventually looks after itself. And Oppositions never hold governments to account – the whole reason we have different political parties is because they have different ‘accounting’ principles. The role of oppositions is to provide an alternative narrative, so that the public can hold both government and opposition to account.

  6. Ad 6

    This government have achieved many of the promises it set out without an effective opposition. Long may it continue.

    Many of New Zealand’s big policy problems like housing, health, transport, and incarceration are so large it’s easier for a Labour-led government to stay the course with as little interruption as possible. Three terms while National sorts itself is ideal. Or four.

    There will never be radical or very strong policy in New Zealand – with or without the mainstream media or National – because MMP is specifically designed to make governments milder. That’s not the fault of the MSM, and won’t be cured by blogs or Twitter either.

    Don’t worry about political discourse in the media. 95% of New Zealanders pay no attention to it at all unless a Prime Minister dies or gives birth or scores a massive policy victory. Only us nerds care otherwise.

    • Bill 6.1

      I’m not seeing the basis for this assertion that there will never be radical or very strong policy in New Zealand […] because MMP is specifically designed to make governments milder.

      Scotland’s MMP environment has housed a concerted effort to foster more social democratic priorities in government – ie, a break from liberal orthodoxy even though the Scottish Parliament, due to the asymmetries of political power in the UK, remains tethered and limited by Westminster’s liberalism.

      If a break from “accepted political truths” can happen there and in other polities where forms of proportional representation determine the makeup of government (eg Podemos in Spain) , then it can happen here too.

      • Ad 6.1.1

        Our MMP history has done precisely what I say.

        It won’t be the same in other countries – but Scotland isn’t a great example.

        GDP statistics showed economic growth less than half the UK rate, the third consecutive year Scotland has lagged.

        One in 12 under-25s is now on a zero-hours contract.

        The chair of NHS Tayside was forced to resign after the health board dipped into donations to buy a new computer system.

        Labour councillors voted to increase the allocation of Tory seats on Falkirk Council’s executive committee.

        Attempts to quit smoking hit a record low after the SNP slashed cessation budgets.

        Primary classes with 30 or more pupils soared by 44 per cent. School exclusions for assault with a weapon reached a five-year high.

        The economist John McLaren noted last week:

        ‘One of the reasons that the Scottish Government can get away with its facile comment on the state of the economy is that so little scrutiny is brought to bear on its performance. This is a political problem, in the sense of a general lack of interest, as well as a wider one, with few think tanks and media specialists highlighting the economic issues. If the UK economy had grown by less than one percent a year for the last three years there would be uproar and possibly a new Governor at the Bank of England. In Scotland, silence reigns.’

        Former Labour Minister Brian Wilson suggests an explanation:

        ‘Most of “civic Scotland” has shown a resolute lack of interest in being awoken. Organisations which once existed to stand up for Scottish workers and public services now operate as if wholly owned subsidiaries of the Scottish Government, acutely aware – and regularly reminded – of where their funding comes from. The tentacles of dependency run deep.’

        Scotland’s democratic infrastructure does not match the scope of devolution.

        MMP didn’t cure anything in Scotland. And the hope for any stronger politics is always that receding mirage – that one where in an “independence” vote it swaps one form of dependence with England, for another with the EU.

        • Bill 6.1.1.1

          Just because NZ has shuffled along since ’96, doesn’t mean it always will, and given that countries with first past the post systems have also been sleep walking/shuffling/doing “by the numbers”, suggests the problem isn’t MMP but ideological capture.

          And it was on that ideological political shift (from liberal to social democratic) that I was commenting. Why you respond with comments on economic performance, when I already noted that the Scottish Parliament is constrained by Westminster – well, it’s a bit beyond me.

          • Ad 6.1.1.1.1

            22 years and four 9-year governments give you the sense of things. MMP tends to generate coalitions and hence tends toward very strong compromise in order to achieve government.

            That’s not ideological capture; that’s the structural capture of MMP itself.

            You mentioned Scotland as a break from something. I showed that it’s really not a break from anything.

            • Bill 6.1.1.1.1.1

              MMP and FPP have produced the same moribund politics “the world over”, so you can’t sensibly pin it all on MMP. Granted, MMP tends towards the “lowest common denominator”….so bring in a Fixed Parliaments Act and be done with coalitions and all the horse trading and compromising they entail.

              I mentioned Scotland as a break from liberalism – not some nebulous “something” 🙂 Under Corbyn, UK Labour is making the same break. It’s simply a matter of priorities. “For the many, not the few” as it were – social outcomes taking precedence over economic outcomes – people before profit – making the economy serve society instead of, as under liberalism, society serving the economy (and waiting for that trickle).

              As an example – period poverty. Sturgeon and the Scottish government decided to eradicate it. That’s unthinkable by liberal ways of thinking, where people are offered so-called equal opportunity, and if they blow it, then hey….with some charity for those “lesser fortunates” and all round “lesser” types thrown in on the side 😉

              • Ad

                MMP isn’t the sole cause of any one policy and it’s foolish to suggest that.

                Nor is MMP the killer causal app for or against radical policy frameworks – just a dampener.

                Not sure about the period poverty thing. Australia – not a paragon of radical political thought in this century – have just taken GST off those items. Plenty of states already give away tonnes of stuff for free, at least as liberating as your example. Your example is not the revolution.

                Any government that managed to eradicate actual wholesale poverty I would count as a break from the usual status quo. But there are plenty of social democrat countries who’ve worked on that irrespective of their system – like Denmark and Sweden – not because they do or do not have MMP, but because their social democrat compact has held for many generations.

                And all of that would never persuade me to change the system that we have. It’s not perfect. It’s the best we’ve had so far.

              • Bill

                MMP isn’t the sole cause of any one policy and it’s foolish to suggest that.

                Who was the fool who suggested such a thing?

                Period Poverty (if you want to come up to speed).

                Do you even perceive difference between liberal settings and social democratic ones by the way? I’m asking because none of your comments have actually managed to engage on that footing.

                Social democracy will never eradicate poverty because it’s still wedded to the same economic order as liberalism (ie, capitalism). But at least it tries to rein capital in and make it work for the betterment of society – in lieu of assuming that what’s good for capital will be good for society – by and by.

                • Ad

                  The labels you point to are so fluid as to be pretty meaningless so I don’t bother with them as much as you do.

                  I’ve never seen anything stronger than social democratic governments sustain meaningful democracy and ameliorate capitalism at the same time for any useful length of time. I don’t bother imagining something “beyond” capitalism any more – there are some great theories, some marches in history, and stuff that works for a generation or two on a city scale, but otherwise the world is what it is an there are limited bounds for change. The rest is just a binge-purge cycle of romanticism and heartache.

                  • Bill

                    Well, if you can’t see any meaning in talking about social democracy, and can’t see the basic difference between social democracy and liberalism, then why the hell did you bother entering into this exchange Ad?

                    And whether you imagine something or anything “beyond” capitalism is irrelevant to this exchange where I merely attempted to point out the reality of an ideological break (a meaningless one in your book) that’s wholly contained within a capitalist framework. But hey…

            • Wayne 6.1.1.1.1.2

              The fact that NZ has had three, nine year governments in succession actually says a lot about how stable our system is. Each of these governments (except perhaps 1996 to 1999) governed NZ in predictable and basically acceptable ways. Neither was any of them radical.

              I would say NZ has done pretty well over the last 30 years. Sure there are problems, but far fewer than in most countries.

  7. Bill 7

    I’d say it’s politicians, not media, that are putting people off politics. They’ve been spouting the same narrowly defined crap for decades and while the political promise has been for “better things to come”, things have gotten generally worse for the bulk of people .

    The media (mainstream liberal) reporting on smash emanating from the political class and building it up to be presented as something important just puts people off liberal mainstream media.

    I know I keep throwing out these examples, but here we go again.

    When the SNP presented a political message that resonated, and even though they had a coconut shy of the entire media railing against them, they won enough support to form the government.

    Likewise, Jeremy Corbyn has almost the entire media establishment set against him, but he’s got a message that people relate to, and UK Labour has become the largest political party in western Europe.

  8. Stuart Munro 8

    So there are two questions that occur to me from your premise of an ineffectual opposition:

    How does a party effectively simulate the critical feedback that would be generated by an ideal Burkean loyal opposition? Might as well eat their lunch since they’re too corrupt to do their job.

    How does it generate sufficient public involvement in decision making to not only get to the root of the real problems afflicting our state, but to involve them sufficiently that the solutions they generate also generate assent through confidence in the validity of the process? A party practicing real democracy enjoys considerable advantages within a democratic polity.

  9. WeTheBleeple 9

    Both politicians and MSM put people off politics.

    It’s easier to not listen.

    What’s JA wearing? Will inexperience hobble the left?

    This is not reporting, it’s horseshit.

    • tc 9.1

      That’s why a non msm is required. Intelligent public broadcasting brings people in on the issues as it holds the bally lot of them to task.

  10. One Two 10

    When was there last, an effective opposition…

    The system has been debased to such a level that effective only applies for those who pull the levers…

    Innefective government, and opposition is the great ‘gift’ and boon for the gatekeepers of ‘westminster’…

    Further decline is the outcome in the same way that a debt problem won’t be solved using debt…

    NZ parliament will not be turned…recent years and indeed recent weeks are the evidence…

    Broken and bent system…Broken and bent politicians…

  11. Philj 11

    Politicians and journalists are currently ’embedded’. ( pun noted) They are co-dependent instead of independent. A strong independent media is essential to a healthy democracy. The public have lost trust in both, unsurprisingly.

  12. gsays 12

    Perhaps to be more effective in opposition would be to find common ground with the ‘others’. Then seek to work on legislation/reform together.

    Child poverty is an issue that both sides of the house want to fix.
    Do it together.

    Affordable housing is not something I trust them to fix properly as most of the pollies are landlords… Turkey for an early christmas anyone?

  13. SPC 13

    Then again the media can simply help National be a more effective opposition …

    Newshub keeps reporting the lies of National MP’s about the cost of a years free tertiary education for example.

    It is in fact under $1B pa for the first year free study.

  14. R.P Mcmurphy 14

    yadda yadda yadda.
    marxist rhetoric and capitalist delusions will be no match for the little surprise mother nature is about to bestow.

  15. Tuppence Shrewsbury 15

    Said the same, but didn’t blame the media, for 9 years and got called a troll. Go figure

    • Difference was, with Key and the ChiNational party , THERE WAS NO criticism , – ever !

      Key and co could have pulled wings off seagulls in front of the media and the voters would have lapped it up. Never mind the fact that Dildo Joyce once owned TV3 and had his mates all through the media industry to slant it.

      The great big list of John Key’s big fat lies (UPDATED) « The Standard
      https://thestandard.org.nz/the-great-big-list-of-john-keys-big-fat-lies-updated/

      By contrast , the media DOES criticize the coalition – even after just one year in power. And much of that is from the same tribalists that the OP is talking about. The fact they cant hang much on them says an awful lot about successful they are.

      • Tuppence Shrewsbury 15.1.1

        Just looking for excuses as to how inefficient the last opposition was there

  16. Morrissey 16

    An Ineffectual Opposition Is Bad News. True. Never has this been shown to be more true than by the non-performance of the so-called Democrats, obsessing like flying-saucer nuts about “Russian meddling” while Trump and his cronies dismantle civil society in front of our eyes.

  17. Michelle 17

    they are an ineffectual opposition( the gnats) and they were also an ineffectual government so what is new

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