- Date published:
9:52 am, July 6th, 2020 - 99 comments
Categories: climate change, covid-19, Economy, Environment, jacinda ardern, Politics, science, todd muller - Tags: audrey young, herald
Audrey Young’s take in Granny Herald to Jacinda Arden’s weekend speech was interesting. “No ordinary Labour speech by Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern“.
Centring an election campaign on recent tragedies may seem like a potential problem for Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern.
How far does one go in pitching one’s party brand, Labour, as the best to lead the recovery from the ravages of the global pandemic, Covid-19?
The answer, as evidenced Ardern’s speech to the Labour Congress, is not much.
With the exception of obligatory references to Labour at the start and finish, it was largely so non-political it could have been given in the bluest of blue constituencies.
And she is right, and not in a bad way. The intent of the Labour party is unchanged. It is a center-left party dedicated to making sure that the benefits of our economy are shared far more widely than National would normally prefer.
However these are not normal times. National if it was capable of getting into the treasury benches would have to do virtually the same basic economic policies because at present if any significiant number of us fall badly in the covid-19 world economy, then we will all fall into a deep recession and fall together.
This leaves very little room for the kinds of politics of envy and moralistic blame and spite that are the fundamental bedrock of every National campaign since I started looking at politics in 1975. After all it is bloody hard to blame people for losing their jobs because of a virus hitting the viability of their employers.
It was not a speech usually required of Labour leaders to motivate the foot-soldiers to get out and campaign. With Labour in Government, and polling so high it could govern alone, no extra motivation is needed and big new policies can wait.
Ardern’s was the speech of a Prime Minister, making a few adjustments to Government policy to take effect in three weeks, policy that has been signed up to by New Zealand First and the Greens.
For that reason alone, it would have been wildly inappropriate to have made it too party political. It had to be prime ministerial and that will suit Ardern and Labour this election.
I did like this
That doesn’t mean there wasn’t material in Ardern’s speech worth criticising. Her so-called five-point plan was not a plan.
For instance, point two of the five-point plan is “jobs, jobs, jobs.”
Others are “investing in our people;” “preparing for the future”.
These are slogans, not plans.
In other words, what she is complaining about (there really hasn’t been any doubt of Audrey Youngs’ political leanings) was that it read exactly like statement of a National based government going into a next election and not stating exactly what they will want to change.
As Audrey Young points out…
Ardern has said she will govern right up to election day in September, and this is what she means.
It is going to be an ongoing problem for Muller, but it is not a problem for her.
In other words, Jacinda Ardern is forcing National to declare what they would actually want to change, why, and to convince a *lot* of voters that it is way better than what is happening now. This is going to be extremely hard without their usual fear and envy political toolkit, and when the future is uncertain and fuzzy.
Covid-19 isn’t going to be the last global pandemic or even the last potential one of the next decade. By making ourselves a dominant part of the world ecology and pushing to the ecology of other species so heavily with our population growth, we’re making ourselves a target for every opportunistic bacteria, fungi, prion and virus in the larger microbiotic ecology.
That is before we look at the risks of rapid global climate shifts that we haven’t seen during the entire time that we have been building our civilisation. In geological terms (my first degree was in earth sciences) the last 10,000 odd years has been a magic time of stability. Arguably it is what has allowed us to move from the hunter-gather societies that we see in the anthropological record to the agricultural settlements that show the beginnings of our current most prevalent worldwide cultures.
But the business as usual of the last 10,000 years is increasingly no longer as possible as it was previously. The risks have markedly increased over recent decades.
As someone who has been involved in private business my entire long working life, who has a MBA, and who has been involved in politics – I’m always impressed in a bad way at just how self-deluded business people are about the applicability of their skills to government. Essentially it is a very rare business person or manager who can jump the transition because it requires more far imagination than a simple profit and growth chaser (the essential business skills) can muster.
We currently have the example of Donald Trump in the US displaying just exactly how useless self-professed business people are at running a crisis – compared to here where we have someone who is actually trained and competent in governing and public service. What has been even more noticeable than here is the way that he killed the services dealing with potential risks within a year of inauguration, like pandemics, and gave important areas like the management of wilderness areas like National Parks to reward cronies who wanted to destroy them. This isn’t a aberration. It is just a more extreme version of the standard short-term approach of business people turned politicians.
Skills at looking at the 2-3 year forward viewed cycle common to most business simply isn’t that relevant to an economy that requires 20 year plus investments. Children take decades to train. Sewerage systems last at least fifty years. Making sure that there is housing and infrastructure for migrants and housing is a process that takes a decades. Business people aren’t used to those timescales and they seldom manage to start to think that way.
In New Zealand, we have a prime example of this. Just consider the basic failures of the John Key government looking backwards. There are virtually no changes for the better. We wound up with an economy that was ever more focused on a highly risky industries. Most of the Key government economic initiatives look exactly like robbing parts of the future economy like providing sufficient housing or urban transport in favour of providing highways for tourists (who we no longer have) and more commuters to swell traffic problems in rural and small urban areas with National voters. There was reason that National’s RONS program was known as ‘Roads of significance to National’.
Tourism was a large export growth industry. One that is not only subject to the vagaries of disposable income in other countries, but also the cost of aircraft kerosene, and the ever present risk and well warned about risk of spreading epidemics. That is why it has been running in a nasty boom and bust cycle for decades.
It is also why we have now had to post a guarantee to bail out Air new Zealand for the second time. For the same reason – our real and reliable export / import economy requires a reliable air-freight service. We don’t have capacity to stock everything we need, and we have have perishables and goods that need to be delivered in a more timely fashion than the weeks it takes on sea freight. We can’t rely on offshore businesses to provide that service because they have no need to do so in times of stress – which is when we really need it. Like in the middle of a pandemic with no payloads of tourists.
Financing our schools and tertiary education with overseas students was great for the Key government balance sheet. It means that they could underfund the education that create basic skills required for our future economy so that they could give taxcuts and RONS to current taxpayers. Of course that does just kick the risk down to our now taxpayers now who will have to front up with support to prevent our educational institutions from disintegrating from the chronic underfunding of the sector. It will have been far cheaper in the long run to have not
But basically business people are extremely poor handlers of real risk. Things like epidemics, global recessions, and pandemics are simply concepts that their ever optimistic small focus minds prefer not to deal with. After all that will always be someone else’s problem. This is a direct consequence of the short time horizons of most managers and even business owners these days. They rarely think of where their business will actually be in a decades. They focus on the current plans over the next few years. Professional managers are typically always looking to their next job, and how the current one will look on their CV when they apply for it.
Not of course there are people who are focused on long term governance and decade long policy making in the National party. Bill English comes to mind. But that isn’t where the focus of the National party is. They love the short term fixes of the meaningless ditherers like John Key, and throw out the contingency planners of the future like Bill English.
It is almost a pity that Bill English is really the type of person that the times demand. Todd Muller doesn’t currently have it, and it seems unlikely that he will have time to develop it.
But it is what I have always seen in Jacinda Arden beneath communications skills. It has been fascinating seeing that expose over this current term in parliament as she and her caucus mature in government. My only quibble, which I expressed after Andrew Little stepped down in 2017, was that she may not have had the skills required at the time to express it. I’m really happy to find out that I was wrong.
Poor National – they really don’t know what they’re facing. They still seem to think of politics as being business as usual.