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Voters see Nats’ feet of clay

Written By: - Date published: 12:20 pm, October 31st, 2009 - 25 comments
Categories: labour, leadership, national/act government - Tags:

feet of clay 2Amongst all the puffery from the right-wing commentators in the Herald today, a very interesting piece – interviews with ordinary people from New Zealand’s most marginal electorate, New Plymouth.

she voted National because it was “time for a change”. “I’m quite impressed with John Key. He’s coped with a lot of situations. Compared to the last Government, he’s quite up-front and I like that about him,”

Those are the reasons he is Prime Minister. Labour can’t assume Key’s strengths will fade, they must strategise how to turn them into weaknesses (eg: Clark = strong leader became Helengrad, Nanny State). And think about what values Phil Goff needs to encapsulate in response.

The “up-front” point is important. Labour and Goff are too often not up front – the disastrous handling of that Barker polling thing is case in point. Contrast that with the way Trevor Mallard has handled this ‘road rage’ thing. By front-footing it, he has shaped the story to the best way it could and,just as importantly, the journalists are impressed by his attitude towards them. That’s a far better strategy than hunkering down and hoping things will work out, which looks either shifty or aloof. It’s a lesson Key has been teaching Labour – Trev gets it, the others need to.

Having said that, the article also shows how brittle support for National is. This government hasn’t been what people expected. It has done nothing for anyone except its mates and it has been plagued by scandal. Nearly all the interviewees complain about what National has actually done:

  • “For people like my husband and I, a middle class working family, we use KiwiSaver because we haven’t got a lot of money to save for our retirement – so that’s our savings. My husband put quite a bit into it and it was quite a big cut when they did drop the level,”
  • “I honestly think nothing of [the Government]. They’ve done nothing for me,”
  • “Why can’t some of the money go to the backbone of New Zealand? That’s where I’m very doubtful of this Government, they don’t seem to have their priorities right
  • “[The Nats’ housing rorts are] one of the biggest rip offs around and they’ve been found out,”
  • “He’s getting paid good money, and OK, he’s made the choice to rectify it and heaps of them are doing it but why should we pay? Where’s my perks? Where’s my free travel?”
  • “Have they done anything? You tell me. What has the Government actually done? They’ve done a lot of talking, as usual.”
  • “He just doesn’t seem to have his finger on the pulse. He’s vague and floaty.”

This is Labour’s opening. Already, after a year, there are rumblings about the actual governing of Key’s government. You’ve probably heard them from your National-voting acquaintances too.

Yeah, the polls suck but voters do not love this government because it does not love (or even care about) them. They see it has feet of clay. It’s just they think Key is alright and what reason is Labour providing for them to switch their support?

That is Labour’s project for the coming year: paint, in broad brush strokes, a different vision of New Zealand. MPs have to stop spending all their time ‘ghettoising’ their arguments, criticising the minutiae of National’s policies. They need a strategy, a vision, a reason to vote Labour. Once they have that, they can start fighting the battle on the grounds of their choosing, not the ones dedicated by National.

25 comments on “Voters see Nats’ feet of clay ”

  1. RedLogix 1

    Great post Eddie.

    Labour and Goff are too often not up front the disastrous handling of that Barker polling thing is case in point.

    I get the impression that too many Labour people are gun-shy of the media after too many years of being on the receiving end. Barker’s situation was a classic, a few moments analysis made it obvious that he had nothing to apologise for and all he had to do was come out say that clearly. It’s a powerful tactic that often works, look at how Hide is trying it on with his hypocritical use of travel allowances… coming out unrepentent this morning telling us how he’s not going to ‘martyr’ himself (note the clever choice of language) and will brazenly keep on doing it.

    Labour got crucified while in power because they fundamentally stand for social justice, equity and fair play. The right turned that strength against them using Textor Crosby meme’s like ‘arrogant’, ‘corrupt’ and ‘nanny state’.

    As I said in the previous thread, people admire Key because they imagine that his perceived ‘success’ will somehow rub of on the rest of the country. It’s magical thinking really… and it tells us where his weak spot really is. Labour will make no headway criticising policy details on the grounds that they are unfair or regressive…

    • sk 1.1

      Eddie / Redlogix, your comments cut to core of the issue. Goff comes across as afraid of the media, whereas Key deals with the media at a very personable level, and they are clear taken with that. It comes across in all of their writings, Espiner, Young and Armstrong. They are taken with John Key personally, and with the way he deals with them one-to-one.

      For instance, the new approach to Tokyo,. It is obvious Hatoyama has no interest at all (other the Japanese press would have covered it), but it being spun in NZ as a “new begining’ in NZ-Japanese relations. Just nutty, but Key pulls this stuff off continously.

      It is clear was is going on, but Labour has to work out what angles to run – and stop running from / being intimidated by the press.

  2. Blue 2

    I don’t think we Lefties have to worry so much. The polls look bad and it’s natural to get frustrated and want to see some movement, but I think we need to be patient.

    In my view, a popular Government is one that’s not doing anything. Once you start making big changes you start pissing people off.

    So far, Key has avoided doing anything really big and controversial because he doesn’t want to damage those sky-high approval ratings.

    But sooner or later, his mates at National Inc. are going to get restless. There’s no point in being in Government if you’re just going to tinker around the edges.

    He either has to start making some major right-wing reforms or he’ll get rolled. Either way, his popularity and with it that of his Government isn’t going to last for very much longer.

    Key is pinning it all on the second term. The question is, can his colleagues wait that long? After nine years of waiting their patience may be wearing thin.

  3. Tom Semmens 3

    These “feet of clay” are also what makes National so popular just now. If the public were (and still are) sick and tired of the neo-liberalism in 1999, then by 2008 they’d had enough of the identity politics that shaped Labour during their decade.

    “Change” now has to be perceived by the public as not encompassing any of the tired battles of the 84-08 era.

    A quick perusal of the aging warriors of the 1990’s over at, say, publicaddress shows many of the Chardonnay socialists of the identity politics era haven’t picked up yet that they are fighting yesterday’s battles with a public that now hasn’t just swiched off but actively dislikes much of what they say. For the time being people are largely satisfied with the social status quo.

    Key is popular precisely because he is perceived as having none the baggage of the defining ideologies that set the agenda in the 80’s, 90’s or 00’s in NZ. National has certain obsessions – for some impossible to fathom reason (not invented here syndrome is my guess) they hate ACC. They have a traditional and ingrained anti-intellectualism that manifests itself in a particularly malignant form in Anne Tolley. They have the New Zealand elite’s traditional reflexive preference for self-serving crony capitalism. But none of these strands yet add up together to a coherent ideological outlook. ACT is trying hard, but ACT is intellectually a spent force, a rag tag home for disgruntled opportunists led by an increasingly erratic Rodney Hide. I’ll bet $20 with anyone Rodney loses the plot before the next election. National would be courting disaster to give to much truck to him.

    At the moment, New Zealanders are happy with the brand John Key, because at the moment brand John Key is anything you want it to be. If Key was a bar of Cadbury’s chocolate, we are in the moment between when Cadbury’s was voted NZ’s most trusted brand and when they changed the ingredients, packaging, price and size and saw their brand and market share collapse overnight.

    The roughly twenty years from the fall of the Berlin Wall in 1989 to the collapse of Lehman Brothers in 2008 will, IMHO, be seen as the era of capitalist triumphalism, a triumphalism that shaped the left’s response in the so-called “third way” politics, which was really a re-branding exercise to make left wing parties electable. The era of capitalist triumphalism is dead, and with it hopefully so is the dead end of “third way” politics. The end of triumphalist capitalism means to my mind that the public are again ready to be attracted to a well articulated, populist, left wing agenda. John Key is a third way politician, and if the left can develop a new ideological narrative then he’ll be left behind in a flash as the public are attracted to something fresh to try.

    • Bill 3.1

      Putting aside that your comment should have been a post…thankyou for that last para in particular.

      For what its worth, I think you are entirely right in claiming that people are or will be prepared embrace vibrant new visions from the left. Indicative examples of promising new left narratives and visions might be said to be found in Venezuela and elsewhere in Latin and South America.

      Meanwhile. The left in NZ (or at least its institutional expressions) is so out of touch and conservative that any worthwhile narrative will, in my opinion, have to be imported rather than developed through any discourse happening here (see the CTU ‘Alternative Strategies’ whose entire vision, being encapsulated in the rear view mirror, are a good example of the desperate nothing that the left has become).

  4. graham 4

    I have to say whatever drugs you guys are on they sure are working.
    A post you did 3 months ago said that all it would take is a rise of 1 each month and you would the next election since then labour is going down
    Do you still think national will lose in 2011?

    • RedLogix 4.1

      I have to say whatever drugs you guys are on they sure are working.

      Well done, really pleasing to see that you managed to start that vapid little cliche with a capital letter. Makes things a whole lot more readable…thanks.

    • sk 4.2

      Graham, take a look at this Richard Prebble analysis. Labour has problems – which Prebble outlines – but Prebble seems to buy the ‘feet of clay’ logic. It is still a long way to 2011, particularly if the global equity sell-off this week is signalling that a double dip is on the way.


    • starboard 4.3

      tee hee !!..but print a bit slower next time so they can keep up…

    • Galeandra 4.4

      Graham, who cares?
      Election winning is the petty point: the core issue is the redevelopment of a narrative of social commitment and a rejection of the consumerist individualism that has provided the ‘philosphical glue’ for politics over the last decades. Very tough and unfamiliar times ahead require arduous analysis now. This thread is one more strand in its beginning.

  5. randal 5

    National lucked in because they bamboozled the electorate with a whole lot of airy fairy nonsense about it being “THEIR TURN” and the right wing media giving them much much more than just a free ride. It was the BOb jobes syndrome. Lets kiss his bum coz he got lotsa munney and then we will bee just like him. yeah right. The end result is that john key aka plastic man is just another bond salesman and when he has duped enough kiwis into buying illiquid securiteis then bye bye johhny.

    • mike 5.1

      You stay in denial randel with the rest of the pinko’s

      Until labour can offer up something a hell of of a lot better than goff, king mallard and co you will be the opposition.

      Can’t see anyone in labour at present getting within a bulls roar of JKs mana

  6. I’ve always been surprised that anyone votes for the National Party. It’s not their values are wrong, but that they don’t actually practice those values in their politics. The gap can be stark at times, like Max Bradford’s energy reforms. Warned over and over of the flaws that were obvious to many, that government forged on and made all the mistakes they had been warned about. This government is doing the same, in more areas, at a more critical time in history.

    That raises two questions:

    1. They lacked the understanding and insight to see the flaws in their policy.
    2. They weren’t able to actually LISTEN to the many people desperately trying to EXPLAIN to them why their policy was flawed.

    I can see either one of those things happening and the outcome being acceptable anyway…but in tandem they can be HUGELY wasteful of resources, time and – ultimately – people’s life and energy coping with the consequences.

    Labour tends to get it wrong on “moral” issues….enflaming the moral sensibilities of the more ignorant among us (which can actually be most of us).

    National tends to get it wrong socially and economically. Not understanding the link between all of us – especially the weak – and the performance of the country as a whole.

    It’s no surprise to me we are more prosperous under Labour……They practiced something resembling Keynesian economics and the economy bubbled along and we ran huge surpluses. What surprises me is that National don’t understand why that is the case. They always seem to have to cut to grow….which isn’t just counter-intuitive, it’s very often completely wrong. Their need to throw wads of cash to their business (PPP and “infrastructure”) and farming backers gets in the way of common sense.

    Voters need to be reminded every now and again that National doesn’t really “get it”.

    Which brings me back to wondering why anyone votes for them…..but then I suppose there are huge numbers of people who don’t “get it” either…and see a decade of prosperity under Labour as a fluke……while National’s tax cuts and squeezing of the public service staff into redundancy make the economy worse….not better.

    Another go round this merry-go-round.

  7. graham 7

    The problem we face as a country is that in the early 2000s our country sortof won lotto .I will make it simple for my leftie mates
    a bit like you earn 50000 a year you win lotto of 500000 so the next ten years while keeping your job and earning 50 k you also spend 50k ayear of your winings after 10 years you still earn 50k but have used up the pot of gold but are used to the 100k lifestyle
    on what planet would you think that a party of school teachers and public servents would know how to create wealth(not earth)
    what none of you get is that we dont want government in our life daily

    • felix 7.1

      Hey graham, look up there! Steve Withers just wrote a comment about you!

    • The Voice of Reason 7.2

      “what none of you get is that we dont want government in our life daily”

      Yeah, I’m thrilled that John key has reversed the trend. Imagine if we had a Government that was the first to legislate against the use of mobile phones, proposed making motorbike ownership only available to the rich and drastically cut the right to privacy inside of their first twelve months in power.

      Wake up, Graham, your nightmare has a name. And it’s not Labour.

  8. graham 8

    get used to seeing john key
    a question by the way what is the longest term served by a PM?
    i dont know was it seddon or holyoak?

  9. graham 9

    motorbikes are bloody dangerous if you are stupid enough to use them then pay your insuranse cost

  10. graham 10

    on a bike all you have for safety is some cloths and a hat in a car you have a seat belt air bags and some steel
    Work it out
    OSH requires me to either elimate,isolate or minimise all hazzards on my farm thus i dont use a frigging bike because its more dangerious(i know my spellings bad) than a car

  11. George.com 11

    Key has had a lot of luck run his way thus far. Seems 60+ % of kiwis think he did a average or better job of dealing with the recession. Whilst Key bounced from cloud to cloud the truth is that Key and his govt did remarkably little. A bit of tinkering and some crossing of fingers that things would be ok. NZ benefited from action taken overseas by other leaders and Key benefited from actions put in place by Labour.

    His cloud to cloud bouncy nature has certainly helped him message things, I’d stake a bit of money that people warm to him more than Clark or Brash, but thanks to others work he has not had to message too many really tough matters.

    Example, the ‘jobs summt’ was messaging. The cycle way was messaging. That said, if the world plunges back into a cold bath, Key & his govt may have to start doing some work themselves.

    Moreover, his MPs putting their foot in it has not hurt Key. He can look at them and shake his head and say they will try harder. Each MP has faced the flack themselves and Key has largely avoided it.

    Crosby Textor taught Brash and National to turn Clarks strengths against her. She was a strong leader so CT used that as a negative – Helengrad, flinty, childless etc.

    Likewise Labour can start to use what has proven a bonus for Key – his loose
    handling of his cabinet – against him. Key either trusts his MPs to get on with the job or is happy to run things reasonably fast and loose. As each new stuff up, bumble or train wreck emerges Labour can start discussing the loose Key management style. The sweet spot is linking the bumble of stuff up back to Keys lack of management.

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