The Dim-Post

August 20, 2009

Lange and Penance

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:02 am

PenanceVia The Standard, Brian Edwards suggests a parallel between David Lange and John Key:

Key’s role isn’t unlike what David Lange’s role was – to be the palatable face of the government’s free-market agenda. His role is to be nice, just as Lange’s role was to be the lovable raconteur, the engaging comic, the avuncular Methodist defender of the welfare state. Nice, warm, not scary.

Key is and Lange was the frontman. Whether Lange knew it when he was first chosen as leader is open to question. I doubt that Key is so naïve.

I doubt that Key is either as naïve or as easily bullied as Lange, but there are some uncanny similarities between the Lange/Douglas show and the Key/English show. And that will eventually spell trouble for Key and the National government. Trouble with a capital T.

I’m not convinced. For his first term as Prime Minister Lange was (weirdly) also the Foreign Minister; he was out of the country for most of the time and appears to have played little significant role in the financial and economic decisions made by his Finance Minister or the rest of his cabinet. I also doubt that he understood he was effectively leading a radical neo-liberal revolution until his second term (legend has it he began to have reservations when he saw that Labour almost won Remuera).

Key controls and leads his party to a much greater extent than Lange ever did, even if he hasn’t risen to the standards of micro-management set by Clark.He might be an effective frontman but he’s also a lot more.

Edwards also writes:

If I were Phil Goff, I wouldn’t be too worried about this. I’d be biding my time. After a while, people really start to take notice of the U-turns, to weary of the distractions, to see past the frontman to the real show that’s going on behind the scenes.

This is a recurring theme on Red Alert and The Standard as well. Just the other day Clare Curran wrote:

At some point, the rainbow coloured glasses will slip and people will wake up to the fact that the National Government doesn’t practice what it preaches.

Sooner or later the people will ‘wake up’ and realise that National are intrinsically evil and beg for Labour to rescue them! This prediction might even come true in 9-12 years, but opposition parties need to be a little more proactive than that. The other day Steve Benen at Washington Monthly published an email from Republican Party strategist Bruce Bartlett, who wrote:

I believe that political parties should do penance for their mistakes and just losing power is not enough. Part of that involves understanding why those mistakes were made and how to prevent them from happening again. Republicans, however, have done no penance. They just pretend that they did nothing wrong. But until they do penance they don’t deserve any credibility and should be ignored until they do. That’s what my attacks on Bush are all about. I want Republicans to admit they were wrong about him, accept blame for his mistakes, and take some meaningful action to keep them from happening again

Key understood this: his first year as leader was all about ‘swallowing dead rats’, inoculating his party against all the traditional attacks Labour employed against him, removing all the negative impressions that people had about the National Party. Goff needs to inoculate his party against the ‘Nanny State’ label they’ve been smeared with. That’s his penance – but it’s also a great way for a new leader to raise their profile. I don’t understand why he hasn’t done this.

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26 Comments »

  1. You have to accept that you made a mistake before you can do penance, I’m not sure that Labour, or Phil Goff, really understand what they did to lose support yet.

    Comment by homepaddock — August 20, 2009 @ 9:28 am

  2. Key is way smarter than Lange. I’ve never really underestood the adulation Lange recieves (I was out of the country for most of his era) except that he wasn’t Muldoon. I don’t even think his Oxford Union debate was that funny or clever.

    But anyhow, even though I’m a natural Labour supporter, I’d say Key is way smarter than Labour gives him credit for, and until they get over this “One day they’ll realise they really love us and come back” attitude to the electorate, they’re going nowhere.

    Comment by Michael Stevens — August 20, 2009 @ 9:32 am

  3. This government has a free-market agenda?

    Really?

    Can someone please point me to it?

    Comment by Peter Cresswell — August 20, 2009 @ 9:34 am

  4. Goff probably buys the whole Nanny State smear BS, and believes that it’s a Helen thing, nothing to do with him. What he hasn’t done penance for is the 80s. Though as opportunistic a Rogernome as any, alongside such figures as the ridiculous Bob Tizard, Goff was able to cultivate the image of a largely untried boy wonder destined for better things. Decades later, same old schtick.

    As a right-wing infiltrator whose instincts have always been to undermine the principles of social justice that supposedly differentiate Labour from National, Goff doesn’t oppose Key, he envies him. And the electorate knows it.

    Comment by joew — August 20, 2009 @ 9:54 am

  5. Yes, John Key is cleverly hiding the fact that he is mortal, and will one day grow old and die. As soon as the public switches on to that fact, Labour will be saved ! After all, where else can people turn?

    Comment by vibenna — August 20, 2009 @ 9:59 am

  6. Do you really think there’s anything Labour can do to regain support at this point, though? I mean its (just) less than a year since they were thrown out after 9 years in government. I don’t think there’s any point in trying a major rebranding or change in direction while no one is paying any attention. Maybe next year. God knows there’s no instant fix.

    And really, unless National utterly screws up for the next 18 months (which they could if they push through Tony Ryall’s back to the 90s health reforms, or make too many noises about ACC), whatever labour does they’re not going to win the next election. Obviously they need to get themselves in a strong enough position to take advantage of possible screwups, but is anything Phil Goff could have done in the last 9 months going to be determinative in 2011?

    Comment by Eddie Clark — August 20, 2009 @ 9:59 am

  7. Edwards raises an interesting parallel between Lange and Key, but the better one is between the two leaders who lost power. There are uncanny parallels between Clark and Muldoon.. two dominating and domineering characters who deliberately polarized the country, who were absurdly loyal to non performers, became more vengeful and less flexible the further they went and left power vacuums behind them.. both continued to destabilise their parties in the aftermath.

    JC

    Comment by JC — August 20, 2009 @ 9:59 am

  8. Totally concur with you about Key. No way is he like Lange.

    Comment by gingercrush — August 20, 2009 @ 10:14 am

  9. “There are uncanny parallels between Clark and Muldoon…”

    Maybe in your head.

    Comment by Tom Semmens — August 20, 2009 @ 10:33 am

  10. Oh dear, for once I agree with JC

    Goff is an analogue of McLay (remember him, anyone?)

    Comment by Leopold — August 20, 2009 @ 10:34 am

  11. JC very true. Its all very well being revisionist but bear in mind the country was bankrupt and the IMF were being called in to help. It was also a time worldwide of massive change and transformation.
    John Key hasnt turned out to be the rabid right winger we were told to fear so its plan B, Bill English.
    Lange preferred a bit of humour and he used Douglas as his backbone so it was clear where that relationship would go. Mr Key may be a nice guy but you dont end up career wise where he did without skills and attributes that English can only dream about.

    Comment by David — August 20, 2009 @ 10:53 am

  12. Goff is an analogue of McLay

    According to the Herald hagiography of Key, McClay was Key’s rabbi in the National Party and is still a close advisor.

    Comment by danylmc — August 20, 2009 @ 11:00 am

  13. Tom even Brian Edwards compares Clark to Muldoon.

    Comment by gingercrush — August 20, 2009 @ 11:02 am

  14. Jordan Carter was saying all this about Key / National 1 year before the last election. Time to update.

    Comment about Key and “government” etc needs to into account the MMP system.

    Key done deals with ACT, Greens, & the Maori Party so before English can gut the welfare state and bring in slave labor laws for the uranium mine owners / industrial military complex, what not, National’s partners may have something to say.

    Going along with Edward’s Lange theory at very least Nationals / Key’s MMP partners whatever provide a safety valve on Bill “Pinohet” English.

    Comment by Simon — August 20, 2009 @ 11:24 am

  15. if key fails to win the next election i will be very, very surprised. by then the low-hanging policy fruit are gone, and they’ll be in exactly the same boat as labour.

    stuck with hard decisions to try and deliver on party policies that make no-one happy.

    at which point the lange analogy will really kick in.

    Comment by Che Tibby — August 20, 2009 @ 11:46 am

  16. Simon says:

    “Key done deals with ACT, Greens, & the Maori Party so before English can gut the welfare state and bring in slave labor laws for the uranium mine owners / industrial military complex, what not, National’s partners may have something to say”

    The deal with the Greens is easy to break, because it doesn’t involve confidence and supply.

    Comment by kahikatea — August 20, 2009 @ 12:29 pm

  17. I’m not sure that Labour, or Phil Goff, really understand what they did to lose support yet.

    Me too.

    Comment by georgedarroch — August 20, 2009 @ 4:05 pm

  18. “Key done deals with ACT, Greens, & the Maori Party so before English can gut the welfare state and bring in slave labor laws for the uranium mine owners / industrial military complex, what not, National’s partners may have something to say”

    If it involves anything other than insulation or cycleways, the Greens aren’t party to it.

    The Maori Party has decided to sit tight while they wait for National to allow them their mana enhancement – so far they’ve got the right to fly a flag on the Auckland Harbour Bridge, I’m sure they’ll get something else. They better get something good, or they’re going to suffer like the Alliance did after being shafted by Labour on key issues (of course, the Alliance didn’t quite have the same degree of internal unity). They’re playing too friendly at the moment.

    And ACT will agree to everything right wing, while pressuring the Government to introduce a 20% flat tax and privatise everything.

    Comment by georgedarroch — August 20, 2009 @ 4:11 pm

  19. Every time theres an election we are told that voters are actually really smart and make the right decision blah de blah, and now all i hear is how the electorate is in some sort of stupor that they will eventually wake up from…
    could we at least set the alarm?

    Comment by The Gisborne Harold — August 20, 2009 @ 4:32 pm

  20. [...] pointed out before, The Standard are obsessed with John key. But today I saw this via the Dim-Post. Demonising Key hasn’t and isn’t likely to work for Labour. It doesn’t accord at all with the [...]

    Pingback by We get it, No we Don’t « Something should go here, maybe later. — August 21, 2009 @ 10:04 am

  21. IMO, how people feel about Muldoon and Clark mostly depends on 1) whether they broadly agree with the policies of each PM, and 2) whether they feel that a PM should be a team leader who rules by consensus or have a more presidential leadership style involving making most of the decisions and ensuring everyone else will go along with them even if they don’t really like it. Clark and Muldoon were both clearly in the latter mold, although Muldoon tended to show the negative aspects of that style a bit more obviously. However there were major policy differences, so it makes sense for people to love Clark and hate Muldoon, or vice versa. Also, I think this explains why both were able to attract a lot of support from well outside their party’s tradition base – people who didn’t particularly support the policies but really liked strong leaders.

    Comment by Helen — August 21, 2009 @ 1:07 pm

  22. Found the Edwards column amusing for a couple of reasons.

    1. Its not so long ago the line from Labour was that Key was the secret idealogue and English was the moderate pragmatist. There has been a flip over since because people seem to like Key. But one of them has to be a secret, hidden combination of Pinochet, Richardson, Thatcher and Vlad the Impaler. Apparently.

    2. Lange/Douglas parallel? So all Labour has to do is wait until the second term? This is like singing old songs from your childhood to comfort you (no, wait….). If Edwards is offering this sort of advice to Labour, and they’re taking it, they’re (a) paying him far too much and (b) in very big trouble. If English is an ideologue I’m a small patch of flat ground just outside Ngatea. There are only two idealogues sitting in National seats: one is now Speaker and the other one is a minister outside Cabinet in charge of leaky homes.

    Comment by Rob Hosking — August 21, 2009 @ 1:42 pm

  23. Sooner or later the people will ‘wake up’ and realise that National are intrinsically evil and beg for Labour to rescue them!

    Which, to be fair, nine years ago a lot of people in National who should have known better were saying the same thing. I don’t get why people who regard voters as a pack of biddable fuckwits want to be in politics, when they hold the electorate in such obvious contempt.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — August 21, 2009 @ 4:37 pm

  24. “I don’t get why people who regard voters as a pack of biddable fuckwits want to be in politics, when they hold the electorate in such obvious contempt.”

    Craig – In my experience that attitude of cynical contempt is the consistent unifying feature of ALL politicians.

    Comment by Sean Fitzpatrick — August 21, 2009 @ 4:49 pm

  25. Which, to be fair, nine years ago a lot of people in National who should have known better were saying the same thing.

    I’ve been wondering if that was the case; if Kiwiblog were around back in ’99 the comments section would have been full of people confidently predicting that New Zealand would ‘wake up’ to Labours communism and beg for National to come back three years later.

    Comment by danylmc — August 22, 2009 @ 7:37 am

  26. [...] under: Politics — danylmc @ 7:06 am Labour are having their annual conference this weekend. I’ve written before that Goff’s top priority as leader should be to inoculate his party from the dreaded [...]

    Pingback by Funeral Games « The Dim-Post — September 8, 2009 @ 7:06 am


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