Jonathan Freeland in the Guardian recently offered an opinion on why Labour lost the UK election earlier this year. He said this:
Long before Labour lost the election, it lost the war of metaphor. The origins of the defeat go back at least to the long summer of 2010, when the Conservatives returned to power and promptly took control of the national conversation. Instantly they unleashed a series of simple metaphors to explain what had just happened, and the roles they and the Labour party had played in the story. The simplest and most important, repeated for years to come, was: “We’re clearing up the mess we inherited.”
Sound familiar? How many times have you heard the phrase “decade of deficits” which blamed Labour for the worst excesses that the merchant banking class inflicted on the world’s financial system? It worked for a while but we really are hitting peak cynicism and even the media is now realising what is happening.
Andrea Vance described a local example of this phenomenon in this way:
Transparency in real life and political transparency are two very different things. National is adept in proliferating information that displaces the facts or obfuscates. The truth often comes out in the wash – as it did with the official papers on the Saudi deal – but by then it is too late.
It doesn’t matter that many of National’s claims about the Saudi deal are disproved by the documents, because the Government’s version has taken root and most people have moved on.
Yesterday we had an example of this occurring in Parliament where John Key kept saying that Phil Goff was responsible and that “it all started with Labour”. This is a change to “it is all Labour’s fault” and reflects the shifting nature of National’s defence.
Because let’s be clear here. If this was all Labour’s fault the detail would have been trumpeted to the high heavens as soon as the “problem” had been solved.
Instead of this the deal was hidden. It was never intended to see the light of day. McCully’s desire is clearly shown by his statement that he did “not want any (financial) contributions to be treated as compensation as this would involve a plethora of lawyers and bureaucrats”. Official oversight was the last thing he wanted. And instead of signing an agreement he says was to resolve a legal dispute he signed this agreement which did not address the resolution of any legal issues. How negligent is that? He makes a payment of our money to allegedly solve the threat of legal action but leaves open the prospect of legal action.
National’s response has changed. It is now no longer all Labour’s fault, National has moved on to Labour started it and National inherited a problem.
In the very broadest sense I guess the problem started with Labour in that the decision to suspend the export of live sheep clearly started a diplomatic issue although it did not give rise to a valid claim for compensation. But the death of many sheep in the process of being exported had to be addressed.
One document released yesterday by Labour clearly shows that the Saudi sheep farmer’s frustration was caused primarily by National’s actions, not Labour’s. It is the speech notes for a speech given by the Saudi sheep farmer in the presence of McCully on April 21, 2010.
Clearly he was disturbed by the decision of the fifth Labour Government to stop the live export of sheep. But he said this:
Last August, the New Zealand Minister of Agriculture [David Carter] stated on the Government television channel in New Zealand (TVNZ1) that “As a Minister I don’t like this trade to come back, and it will not come back”. Furthermore the CEO of the Ministry of Agriculture in New Zealand has confirmed to us many times that the statement of the Minister put an end to any deliberation or discussion of this subject.
Since your honourable government has put an end to this subject through the honourable Minister of Agriculture, so why do you proceed with discussions with the Saudi Government? Is this the way to begin a free trade agreement with the Saudi Government?
Is that clear enough? The blockage to the trade deal was caused by [David] Carter publicly ruling out the resumption of trade at the same time that behind the scenes discussions to resume free trade were occurring. No wonder the Saudi sheep farmer was so upset. But it was with National, not Labour. And no wonder National Ministers thought the behaviour was duplicitous.
The speech notes are incendiary. It makes you wonder what is said in the letter from the Saudi Sheep farmer the text of which National has refused to release.
John Key was interviewed on Raido New Zealand this morning. He said that lawyers were not brought in because the payment was never about compensation. If not then it is hard to understand how it could be Labour’s fault or why the payment needed to be paid at all unless it was a bribe. And he should be asked to explain McCully’s statement to Parliament that the Government should be praised for “resolving the issue for one-third of [the potential claim for $30 million]”.
Key was at his metaphorical best. He continuously robotically trotted out the line that the Government inherited a significant issue from the previous Labour Government. He said this six times in slightly different forms.
He was dancing on a pinhead. A legal problem was allegedly solved by a payment that was not compensation. I call bullsh$t on that.
Murray McCully’s statements to Parliament on May 27 cannot be reconciled with the reality. And Key’s insistence of high standards from his Ministers seems to be nothing more than a metaphorical utterance devoid of any substance.
Update: The audio from Suzy Ferguson’s interview with John Key is here. Well done Suzy for insisting on asking Key the relevant questions and refusing to be diverted.