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Some policy coverage, too much to ask?

Written By: - Date published: 11:16 am, July 15th, 2008 - 63 comments
Categories: Media - Tags:

Yesterday, Tracy Watkins wrote something I found a little confusing – “National is winning the war over wages and the price of cheese”. I’m wondering in what way National is winning on wages and food prices.

It’s not in terms of policy. National doesn’t have a policy on raising wages or lowering food prices. Indeed, its only labour policy is the 90 day no rights policy which will, at best, help some bad employers keep down the cost of hiring vulnerable workers.

Probably, Watkins means National is winning in public perception on wages and the price of cheese. I would be fascinated to see the evidence, the survey question or whatever. I suspect, actually, that this is a case of a journalist deciding what the public perception is based on their own feelings and then telling the public ‘this is what everyone thinks’.

Journos have a lot of power, they decide what stories get covered and what angles are taken. They need to be conscious of the fact that they are the public debate on issues – when a journo on Sunrise recently exclaimed ‘nobody’s interested in policy anymore!’ she was really saying ‘very little political coverage deals in policy’. Journos need to be careful that they don’t slip from explaining politics to people into telling people how they feel about politics and leaving the substantive information out. Not only does it not help people understand the major issues of the day but people are turned off by this ‘politics of politics’ coverage where journalists’ assumptions of public perception are all that matters.

We’ve had two really important policy announcements in the last couple of weeks – the privatisation of ACC and the 90 day no rights policy. Both would affect hundreds of thousands of Kiwis each year if they became reality. Perhaps we could see some real analysis of what they would mean for Kiwis so we can make an informed decision on whether to support them or not.

63 comments on “Some policy coverage, too much to ask? ”

  1. Cue righties (and Lew) running “perception is all that matters” lines…

  2. Steve: Just did a comparison of the last time education policy was updated by Labour & National via their respective websites. ( see policy.net.nz for relevant links). Labours policy was last updated in 2005, Nationals was last updated April 10, 2008.

    So it looks like National is really winning the policy war not Labour.

  3. I see you are already linkwhoring for Bernard’s policy site. Given his track record as a partisan hack do you really think anyone will bother clicking through?

  4. Pascal's bookie 4

    Heh.

    I was gonna click through ‘sod, but I thought to myself:

    “Self, Bryan posted the link. It will be to Bernard”

    And thus saved my forehead from a slap.

  5. James Kearney 5

    Thanks for the link Spondre but Hickey’s policy.net.nz doesn’t seem to live up to its claims of non-partisanship. From the front page-

    Democracy under attack: The new Electoral Finance Act has now been passed into law. Its effect is to seriously advantage the incumbent governing party and disadvantage challengers. You can read all about this issue here >>>

    Cue link to Herald fearmongering…

  6. J 6

    “Cue righties (and Lew) running “perception is all that matters’ lines ”

    Isn’t that why no one at the standard is covering the Peters-Glenn Issue. If it’s not on the radar then it doesn’t exist and therefore is not a problem.

    [Tane: SP wrote about it here, the day the story broke. How about you do some bloody research for a change instead of coming on here and making a spectacle of your ignorance?]

  7. Lew 7

    Sod: You know me so well. Thanks for not explicitly bracketing me with the righties, though.

    Steve’s right, there’s a feedback loop in place here. I think he overestimates its importance, though. If people want it why wouldn’t the media provide it? And if people don’t, why would they?

    Key’s continued popularity demonstrates people don’t. Until they do, expect nothing to change.

    L

  8. Robinsod: So now that you have vented, can we get back to the topic. Are you disputing that Nationals policy (according to their respective website) is far more recent than Labours ?

  9. Bryan. The Government releases education and other policy all the time. When you’re in power, you announce policy via government and put it into action, not via your party website.

  10. Steve: Thanks, so that means those government websites need authorisation statements by the Labour party financial agent under the EFA and their cost should be included the Labour Party spending cap. I appreciate you pointing this out to me, I’ll let DPF know.

  11. mike 11

    perception is all that matters.

    Cheers for that link Bryan

  12. T-rex 12

    Are you taking pills to suppress your chronic stupidity Bryan? It might help.

    Dear Helper Monkey,

    If you smack Bryan in the head with the keyboard I’ll give you 4 bananas.

  13. T-rex 13

    5 Bananas if you leave ‘qwerty’ imprinted in his cheek and make crazy monkey noises.

  14. Just checked the Min of Edu website: http://www.minedu.govt.nz/ and it doesn’t have an authorisation statement from the financial agent of the NZ Labour Party. The plot thickens!!!

  15. T-rex 15

    Ok people, we really need to band together to bring a few more bananas to bear on this problem…

  16. Felix 16

    Thickens.

    ‘Nuff said.

  17. Matthew Pilott 17

    Bryan, if the policy is current government policy I somehow doubt that it requires authorisation (you know, Government versus Party, connect a few dots). I honestly don’t know whether you’re trying to be stupid or not. I’ll be charitable and guess you’re just having a bit of fun (but I will retain a sneaking sense you actually think you’re being clever).

  18. Bryan. Please try to write something intelligent for once.

    Mike. shallow world you must live in.

  19. T Rex: “5 Bananas if you leave ‘qwerty’ imprinted in his cheek and make crazy monkey noises.”

    I see you have been to the same workshop at the Auckland University Owen Glenn Business School where Helen Clark developed the “Diddums’ debate response.

  20. Ari 20

    Tracy Watkins has long been giving National a free ride, and numerous letters to the editor about her were apparently “noted”. She also has a tendency to completely ignore anything productive done by minor parties- probably because she thinks of them as annoying distractions.

    It’s part of the reason I’ve largely stopped reading the Dom Post.

  21. Bryan. You make no effort to engage in intelligent debate, don’t be surprised if commentators respond by simply making fun of your apparent stupidity.

    But if you keep on threadjacking and bringing down the tone of threads with silly, attention-seeking comments, you’ll be asked to leave.

  22. T Rex – I’ll see your 5 bananas and raise you a bag of peanuts…

  23. Matthew: “Bryan, if the policy is current government policy I somehow doubt that it requires authorisation (you know, Government versus Party, connect a few dots).”

    You mean the same dots that Michael Cullen & Treasury connected below and determined that the distinction is not clear:

    “All references to a “Labour-led Government” were deleted from the Government’s press releases on the Budget for fear of breaching the Electoral Finance Act.

    Finance Minister Michael Cullen confirmed yesterday that on the basis of legal advice the term which has peppered Budget press statements in previous years was dropped.”

    http://www.nzherald.co.nz

  24. Steve:”You make no effort to engage in intelligent debate,”

    So this from DR is the standard of debate you expect :

    “T Rex – I’ll see your 5 bananas and raise you a bag of peanuts ” ?

  25. Anita 25

    National is winning the war over wages and the price of cheese.

    They are doing an extraordinarily good job of hearing and amplifying the feelings of New Zealanders – I listen to Key et al and I know that they think it would be nice if I was paid more (just like me!) and that they’re sad that cheese is expensive (just like me!). See, they’re lovely people who really understand where I’m coming from.

    There are two strands of this approach that are worth examining in a little more detail

    1) To what extent are they creating and/or overamplifying these feelings (a la Crosby/Textor – note the obligatory reference 🙂 )? While everyone always would like to be paid more, have they made the issue bigger than it would otherwise be (politics of envy anyone?)?

    It seems to me that the “Nanny State” issue is clearly both created and then amplified by the right, it’s a transplant from right-wing campaigns all over the world and fits neatly into the script about “capture by special interests”.

    2) Why are people willing to vote for people who, while lovely empathetic people-like-me, don’t actually have a solution for the complaints they’re echoing?

    (The guy behind me on the bus this morning thought that it would be nice if everyone was paid more and if cheese was less expensive, but I’m not gonna vote for him as he didn’t have a plan to make it better.)

    So, if these are the tactics – creating and amplifying anxieties, and being empathetic but content-free – why are they working?

  26. Tracy Watkins rarely says anything I find useful or interesting. I find reality more engaging and verifiable facts more useful.

    The same applies to much of the editorial content of the DomPost. I suppose I should still read them so that I know what the latest National party spin-drift and talking points are. Not much use otherwise if you actually want to know what is going on.

  27. mike 27

    “T Rex – I’ll see your 5 bananas and raise you a bag of peanuts ‘

    Bryan, the currency of the left has it’s roots in Stalinist Russia – things were pretty tight then..

  28. Matthew Pilott 28

    How is that not clear Bryan? It said Labour led government so they decided to remove those references.

    Last I checked, it didn’t say “Labour Led Government” on that Ministry of Education website you mentioned in any document published after the FEA.

    And you wonder why people want your monkey to hit you. All I can say is it’s a shame that other people are condecending to reduce the debate to your level.

    Let me put it this way – we all know you’re being an idiot here, but if you need to prove it for yourself please feel free to make a submission to the Electoral Commission, and stop wasting our time.

  29. Matthew Pilott 29

    mike – you’re right, Soviet Russia was a paradise where bananas grew by the roadside, and peanuts could be fed to Capitalist-Roaders because the good protein sources were reserved for true Party people.

  30. Hey mike – the only one here getting paid peanuts is you. And rightly so – stop stealing your employer’s time and get back to work.

  31. insider 31

    Reminds me of a scene from “Whoops Apocalypse’ in the 1980s where the leader of Russia welcomes a Westerner with (something along the lines of)

    “Here have some ‘prime Russian steak. In Russia we have dozens of such steaks. But Russian people prefer to eat salt.’

  32. Scribe 32

    Anita,

    Thanks for actually addressing the topic. I thought I was going to read the 30 advertised comments and leave much dumber than when I arrived. (I know, most thought that nigh impossible.)

    Watkins said “National is winning the war over wages and the price of cheese’ and Steve said she said that because “Probably, Watkins means National is winning in public perception on wages and the price of cheese”.

    Correct. The economy is the biggest issue facing the country, and because of international factors, Labour is being punished for being the government in power during the downturn. Them’s the breaks.

    And as far as surveys or questions, the polls are the indication that National is winning in public perception. And, at the end of the day, that looks like it will decide who wins in NZ — and quite possibly in the US — this year.

  33. I though Tax Cuts were the biggest issue facing the country? I’m certain it was Tax Cuts. Are you sure it’s not Tax Cuts???

    If National plays up the economy they are going to have to start talking what they would do to help it at some stage. Very dangerous indeed…

  34. Anita 34

    Scribe,

    I agree re Labour being punished for being in charge during the downturn, but… 🙂

    Firstly, this is very clearly an external downturn over which Labour has no control. People, that I talk to anyway, don’t attribute high international oil, dairy or grain prices to Labour, and don’t think that Labour could actually do anything to change them. So why think that National would/could make a difference to them?

    Secondly, is the downturn really that bad? I totally get that peak oil hurts, and that it will keep hurting because it’s forcing us to change how we live, but inflation at 4% is not actually a screaming disaster, wages are at least close to keeping up (particularly in unionised workplaces many of whom are, on aggregrate, ahead of inflation over the last nine years).

    High interest rates suck (oh how very much they suck!), but they’re also not a screaming disaster and there are clear signals they’ll come down soon (in fact haven’t some of the longer term fixed rates already started?). My house isn’t going to keep being worth ~$30k more every year, but how realistic would I have been to think that would continue?

    So… is the downturn as bad as National says it is? Have they actually created some of this panic? Last election we were talking about National creating a strategic deficit, this time around should be be talking about a strategic downturn in confidence?

  35. Daveski 35

    Elections 30 years ago were a lot simpler and more direct. Policies and personalities.

    I have some sympathy with Labour/left and agree that there isn’t a lot of substantial policies to critique.

    However, this is not the first time that SP has played “where’s the beef?” and the answer is the same.

    Once Helen tells us when the election will be, it will then force National to show its hand.

    Until then, National would be crazy to do anything else.

    That’s smart politics – something Labour used to do better than National.

    Right now, the bleating about how National’s strategies is like NZers previous aversion to winning rugby via a drop goal when the rest of the world simply says look at the scoreboard.

    And p-lease – this is NOT anti-democratic.

    So the answer is simple. Set a date for the election and then demand policy.

  36. Anita 36

    ‘sod

    They’re going to help the economy with tax cuts – dummy! 🙂

  37. Quoth the Raven 37

    National is winning the war over wages just like when John Key said “We would love to see wages drop.”

  38. Scribe 38

    Anita,

    You’re right — mostly. Labour couldn’t do anything to stop the economy going in the tank. Part of the problem is that people have ADHD in this country (and many others).

    Things have been going relatively well economically for several years (and on a large scale, maybe 20 years), and they don’t know about the cyclical nature of economies. [And climate, but that’s another story 😉 ]

    Your points are valid on “how bad is it really?” But the simple fact is most people still need to fill their car (much more expensive), pay their mortgage (much higher repayments), pay more power etc (much more expensive) and buy groceries (much more expensive).

    Sure, New Zealand is a well-off country by world standards, and we don’t need those extra packets of Tim Tams and tubs of Movenpick, but we used to be able to buy them and now we can’t.

    Couple that will enough wailing and gnashing of teeth from National and Labour is 20+ points behind in basically every poll.

    I’m not saying it’s fair or justified, but it’s the reality right now, four months or so from an election.

    Oh, and I second Daveski’s call for the announcement of an election date. Then the jousting will really begin.

  39. Pascal's bookie 39

    I’m picking that all these well meaning folk that are predicitng an avalanche of policy from the Nat’s when an election date is announced will:

    1)be disappointed
    2)find another excuse
    3)claim that soundbites are policy. (honest, that’s a policy is got aspiration in it, why do you hate aspiration!?)

    I’m also guessing that journo’s will fall for 2) and 3).

    I will love to be wrong.

  40. Anita 40

    daveski,

    So the answer is simple. Set a date for the election and then demand policy.

    So, if Clark came out today and announced the election date was to be the 15th November National would start releasing lots of policies next week?

    What I reckon is that National would still trickle out one or two every now and then for the next couple of months, then open the flood gates in October, withholding a couple of beauties for the first week of November.

    Their game plan would change if Clark brought the date forward, but National are currently playing their 8/15 November game, which doesn’t have many serious policy releases in July.

    BTW I’m in bad-internet-connection-land today – can someone remind me the rules for PreFU – when can we expect that? I think that’s the real trigger for most of the National policy announcements.

  41. Anita 41

    PrEFU – from the Public Finance Act

    26T Pre-election economic and fiscal update

    (1) The Minister must, not earlier than 30 working days, nor later than 20 working days, before the day appointed as polling day in relation to any general election of members of the House of Representatives, arrange to be published a pre-election economic and fiscal update prepared by the Treasury.

    (4) If the day of the dissolution of Parliament is less than 30 working days before the day appointed as polling day in relation to the general election of members of the House of Representatives, the Minister must arrange for the pre-election economic and fiscal update required under this section to be published not later than 10 working days after the day of the dissolution of Parliament.

    So if National uses PrEFU as a reason to not release major policies we’ve got a long wait.

  42. Lew 42

    PB: Wouldn’t the question of whether a policy has aspiration be a matter of how it was pronounced?

    Suffering succotash!

    L

  43. Pascal's bookie 43

    Lew: heh. Full marks.

  44. Anita 44

    Scribe,

    Sure, New Zealand is a well-off country by world standards, and we don’t need those extra packets of Tim Tams and tubs of Movenpick, but we used to be able to buy them and now we can’t.

    Did we used to be able to? Seriously, even if the golden days of um… 2007? … we couldn’t buy everything we wanted, and we can’t now.

    I totally agree that for the poorest the gap between what they need and what they can buy is bigger than it was before oil, dairy and grain all went up across the world. That is a critical problem which needs addressing right now.

    But for the upper working class and middle class (the Aussie battler Key is targetting) is it actually harder? Perhaps we have as much as we always did, we just want more, or are being told that we’re entitled to more, or are being told we’re not getting all we deserve

    Is the gap National keep talking about real, or an illusion created in a cynical echo chamber which exploits the politics of envy?

  45. J 45

    “Tane: SP wrote about it here, the day the story broke. How about you do some bloody research for a change instead of coming on here and making a spectacle of your ignorance?]”

    Must of hit a nerve there.

    Given that Peters-Glenn saga has been the subject of editorials while the writers here want to avoid the subject it does suggest that labour will suffer embarassment over the issue. Thats going to be the real spectacle tane

    [Tane: Na, I just get sick of ignorant righties coming on here demanding we cover something that we’ve already covered. We may blog on it again in future as the story develops, but as with anything it’ll be up to whether individual writers have the time or can be bothered.]

  46. j – it’s “must have hit a nerve there”. Points for trying though…

  47. Robinsod: Dylan, I see your inner teacher still shines through. How generous of you.

  48. Tane 48

    Bryan, stop being a creep. Robinsod has chosen to use a pseudonym and that’s his own business. Keep this up and I’ll ban you.

  49. Scribe 49

    Anita,

    But for the upper working class and middle class (the Aussie battler Key is targetting) is it actually harder?

    I’d consider myself middle class and I’d say things are substantially tougher for me now that it was one or two or three years ago.

    Is the gap National keep talking about real, or an illusion created in a cynical echo chamber which exploits the politics of envy?

    The gap is real, though exaggerated for political gain, I suspect.

    But if any party is exploiting the politics of envy, it certainly isn’t National. “Rich prick”. Omaha bach. Hawaii. All attempts to gain political points because John Key happens to have made a lot of money in the private sector (after growing up in a lower- to lower-middle-class home).

  50. Tane: point taken.

    Anita:”Is the gap National keep talking about real, or an illusion created in a cynical echo chamber which exploits the politics of envy?”

    I think the real practitioners of the “politics of envy” were outed when Michael Cullen used those immortal words : “rich prick”. Now while John Key really is rich, those unfortunate words disenfranchised all of those caught up by the “rich prick” tax rate who aren’t by any definition rich.

    Labours income transfer policies (like WFOPF) don’t really hurt John Key and his cohorts, they do however cause considerable pain and annoyance to those who are merely “rich pricks” in the eyes of the treasurer.

  51. Anita 51

    Scribe,

    I’d consider myself middle class and I’d say things are substantially tougher for me now that it was one or two or three years ago.

    Do you think that’s petrol prices or something else?

    I don’t drive, so I’m an odd case, but I’m definitely middle class :). It doesn’t feel so much harder than it did 3 years ago. Sure some things are more expensive, but I earn more than I did back then.

    My general sense is that people who don’t drive much or at all, or people who have kept their transport costs constant by changing from cars to public transport/bikes/feet/scooters/smaller-cars are not feeling the pinch.

    Oh, while I remember – Key came from a very middle class family (business owners), they did fall on hard times for a while, so for some of his childhood it was a low income middle class family.

  52. Anita 52

    Scribe & Bryan,

    The Politics of Envy

    Two cases:

    1) That man over there is rich – you shouldn’t trust/like/vote-for him!

    2) Those people on the telly have more than you do, you shouldn’t trust/like/vote-for the people stopping you having as much as the people on the telly!

  53. J 53

    Tane, since you obviously don’t think that the possible corruption and the blatant lying of a minister of the crown or sleazy money politics is an issue where financial backers and politican in question are labour allies then it certainly puts into doubt your claim about writing on it when you have the time. Lame.

    PS No posts on the Labour leak of Derek Fox violence against women. As several writers here proclaim to be supporters of minor left parties the lack of posts seems to suggest a toeing of the labour party line.

    I didn’t take seriously all that talk from kiwiblog about the standard being run from the 9th floor but the standard is silent when they should be addressing these issues instead of blogging about train manufacture, which leads one to suspect….

    [Tane: J, we simply don’t see any point in wasting our time on each mini-scandal of the week. We do criticise government policy on a regular basis. Off the top of my head, we’ve posted twice in recent days criticising the Immigration Bill. Last week, and many other times, I’ve criticised the ERA. There have been repeated posts on the government’s refusal to face up to peak oil, and numerous criticisms of Helen Clark’s speeches and public comments. We’ve criticised them on tax. The one time any of us told people how to vote it was an exhortation ot “vote Green” over Labour’s failure to do enough for shift workers. Your point about the Derek Fox leak also proved my point about your lack of research – I condemned the leak in a comment here. In short, you’re full of shit, and if you carry on smearing us and wasting our time like this I’ll ban you.]

  54. Daveski 54

    Anita:

    So, if Clark came out today and announced the election date was to be the 15th November National would start releasing lots of policies next week?

    I wasn’t arguing that as such more than any criticism of lack of policy at this stage is not fully justified. It would certainly call National’s bluff and I would agree that on the basis of what I’ve seen, National would be definitely challenged to present a coherent set of policies.

    My wider point which we may agree on is that the marketing of politics means the sizzle is far more important than the sausage – what people look like, what they sound like rather than what they actually say or do.

    The point I’ve consistently been making is that National is playing to a strategy and it seems to be working. Clearly, National’s strong suit is the protest vote which I accept must be frustrating from the left perspective.

  55. J 55

    [Tane: Okay, as you wish. Banned for a month. Email us back when you’ve grown up.]

  56. Oliver 56

    A couple of little bits:

    Tracy’s article was about perceptions so in that frame she was quite correct, Labour is perceived as playing a left v right / personal attacks game whereas National is ‘winning’ by playing a we’re all feeling the pinch and can do better game.

    I believe that it does make a lot of sense for National to play that way as huge numbers of voters such as myself never knew life before Rogernomics and don’t look at the pre-Rogernomics world with rose-tinted glasses. Also most people of my generation are not hugely well schooled in the classical definitions of left versus right so Clark and Cullen’s left v right statements just wash over a lot of them.

    What a lot of this means is that for a lot of my generation Clark and Cullen seem like throwbacks to a time that has passed whereas Key’s team seem like people for and from today.

    Obviously though my whole thesis here doesn’t apply to people who read political blogs everyday.

  57. fiona 57

    Anita, I am interested that you say Key came from a family of business owners. A recent National Party pamphlet delivered in my letter box mentions him being raised by a solo mother in a state house. I have found reference to his father being an alcoholic who left the family in debt, but nothing about what the father actually did.

    I have long suspected the story being peddled that he is a state house kid made good didn’t tell the full story. But that story really resonates with ordinary New Zealanders. More murketing perhaps?

  58. Anita 58

    fiona,

    The profile in The Sunday Star Times on 28 January last year says that his father was an unsuccessful businessman from a wealthy family.

    (Sorry, I’m in a hurry and that was the first reference I could find and there isn’t a free online copy)

    I don’t think anyone is challenging the fact that he some of his childhood was in a state house, or that his family was genuinely low income for some of his childhood. There is, however, a huge difference between a temporarily low income middle class family (with all of the heritage of education, skills, connections, aspirations and values that entails) and a working class family.

  59. Ari 59

    Very interesting, Anita.

    Tracy’s article was about perceptions so in that frame she was quite correct, Labour is perceived as playing a left v right / personal attacks game whereas National is ‘winning’ by playing a we’re all feeling the pinch and can do better game.

    Commenting about perceptions and “the game” is all Tracy Watkins does, and it’s not exciting, it’s boring, frustrating, and damaging to democracy. She should grow up and learn to think about the consequences of what people actually do in Parliament, rather than how badly “the game” works out for Minister X when shock revelations come out about her/his funding/affair/conflict of interest/etc…

  60. Draco TB 60

    Once Helen tells us when the election will be, it will then force National to show its hand.

    I keep seeing this line and keep wondering what National would have done if the election date had been declared on Jan 1 (Which is when, IMO, it should have been declared). I’m pretty sure National would still have kept their policy back as long as possible to prevent people from actually analyzing it.

  61. Draco TB 61

    What a lot of this means is that for a lot of my generation Clark and Cullen seem like throwbacks to a time that has passed whereas Key’s team seem like people for and from today.

    Key’s team stands for a time that’s even further past. Specifically the Belle Epoch ~1870 – 1914 which was a period of free-trade the likes of which the world hasn’t (arguably) seen since. There was also Pax Brittanica which was the height of the British Empire from the early 19th century until the beginning of WW1.

    Basically you’re looking at Imperialism, Laissez Faire and patriarchism.

    (Interestingly enough Google only brings up fashion trends for Belle Epoch so you’ll need to check out an economics textbook to get full info. I would suggest Global Political Economy by John Ravenhill)

  62. Oliver 62

    Draco TB

    Argumentum absurdium is what you were engaging in there; something that is neither informative nor constructive nor relevant. Entirely akin to me claiming that Helen wants to collectivise the farms.

    Your claims about Imperialism, Pax Brittanica, Laissez Faire and patriarchism are no more accurate than the deranged rumblings of Dads4Justice.

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