The Dim-Post

October 31, 2009

Applauding the vacuum

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:00 am

This morning’s New Zealand Herald falls to it’s knees and frantically bobs it’s head up and down to praise the government on it’s one year anniversary – because after all, lavishing praise on politicians is what good journalism is all about, right? It’s ironic that it was the Herald that lead the campaign against Labour’s EFA on the grounds that it would have a chilling effect on free speech: now it reads like an edition of the People’s Daily under Mao. Check out this column by John Armstrong. It’s only a matter of time before Armstrong is reporting that Key’s blessing ends droughts and increases crop yields.

And here’s Jon Johannsson:

To Key’s leadership performance then. I believe we are watching an unusual prime ministership take shape. Key’s skillset is vastly different from what we’ve seen before. We’d possibly have to go all the way back to the entrepreneurial Julius Vogel in the 1870s to find an apt comparison. Vogel put in vital and much-needed infrastructure to connect New Zealanders with each other and then with the rest of the world.

The thing is, Key hasn’t actually done anything! That’s why he’s popular – he’s spent the year accumulating political capital but with the arguable exception of cancelling the tax cuts he promised in the election he hasn’t actually achieved anything significant. The most profound decisions made by this government so far have been:

  • Roll back the ETS
  • Cancel contributions to the Cullen fund

Emissions and superannuation are both really hard areas of government that need tough, unpopular decisions to be made. And Key and English have been reasonably upfront in saying that they are not the people who will make them – they’ve kicked for touch, left it up for some other government further down the line to solve. In terms of political and media strategy I guess that’s that’s very clever and everything, but it’s not transformational and it’s not changing New Zealand politics. Clark was also wildly popular at this stage in her first term, before she banned smoking in bars and legalised civil unions – like Key she had no effective opposition to worry about and the media adored her; I suspect the media honeymoon is lasting longer with Key because journalists aren’t afraid of him, while with Clark there was always a degree of intellectual intimidation so it’s a huge relief to spend the post-cab press conference confronting cuddly John Key.

Key might turn out to be a great New Zealand politician – he had the political coverage to introduce pretty much anything he wanted at the start of the year and could have used the recession as an excuse to relaunch the revolution. He didn’t and that indicates a degree of responsibility and good faith that New Zealander’s haven’t seen from right-wing politicians for a long time. But he might just drift along for another six years, avoiding the tough calls because he doesn’t want to drop in the polls, tinkering with various areas of the state sector and fiscal policy before drifting off into a happy and comfortable retirement while the next government raises taxes and slashes spending to solve all of the problems that he didn’t feel like fixing.

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24 Comments »

  1. I think you miss a singular big point in Key’s favour..

    He has resisted the urge to do “something”; moreover he’s had the courage to be seen as not doing something. That counts for a lot in my book.

    There’s bugger all he can do about a recession except tinker and do as little damage to a natural process.. so he’s doing bugger all there.

    He’s not doing stuff about superannuation because he promised not to and so on.

    Really, he’s leaving it up to us to do the “something”.. about all he’s doing is clearing away some obstacles.

    For now, thats good enough.. next year.. who knows.

    JC

    Comment by JC — October 31, 2009 @ 11:40 am

  2. Every vote counts in MMP and everything is about a presidential style, nation-wide campaign for the party vote. At the same time, MMP means the battle is for the middle ground, a middle ground where the political discourse is dominated by the values of the Pakeha middle class. Since both parties have a certain convergence on policy, they must differentiate on brand. Party strategists don’t want you to be able to identify their party policies, they want their target market to identify a party with branding attributes like “trustworthy” and “down to earth” and “honest”. Absolutely central to this branding is the leader, and Key’s marketing team has sold him as the perfect tube of toothpaste. There is absolutely no doubt that almost to a man New Zealand’s Pakeha, middle class political reporters are absolutely besotted with John Key the brand. They are from the target market for the branding and they’ve responded by displaying how unsophisticated and credulous they are with a credulous love-in with the idea of Key’s branding as the aspirational guy next door done good.

    It is as much in omission as the commission. Look at Colin Espiner’s latest two blog entries. In the first he was egotistically revelling in being part of the whole blokey Key circus, with a clear sneer to the whole Clark motorcade thing. In the second he is begging for an aeroplane for his hero, funded by us grateful taxpayers. Maybe we should have a discussion about a prime ministerial aeroplane, but surely there are other things more pressing for a press gallery journalist to be researching and talking about?

    Now, of course Espiner can write about what he likes. But he is a member of the parliamentary press gallery, and I find it amazing that he hasn’t even found fit to mention the obvious pattern of abuse of urgency by this government. It amazes me that Espiner, a well paid member of the parliamentary press gallery, has not bothered – or doesn’t care enough to be bothered – to do the research Idiot/Savant has done on this and to even mention it as an issue. Instead, he wants to tell us how important, how great it is to be part of John Key’s annointed ones, and how we should buy John Key his own aeroplane.

    But the thing is, when people fall out of love with a brand they do so with a vengeance. Just ask Cadbury’s. Maybe Labour are boxing more clever than we think, and reason Goff is keeping a low profile is so they can completely rebrand him eighteen months out. I wish I could I believe that, but I don’t. If I were Labour, I would be down at the Whittaker’s office hiring their marketing team & advertising creatives because they’ve got to get voters seeing THEM as reliable, trustworthy, and all those other brand buzz words.

    Comment by Tom Semmens — October 31, 2009 @ 11:42 am

  3. Danyl: The thing is, Key hasn’t actually done anything!

    For once you’re right.

    Comment by Berend de Boer — October 31, 2009 @ 11:51 am

  4. I suspect that the first year was about delivering on the election promises (apart from tax cuts I suppose). It was a period about consolidation from a political perspective. The first year they also set off a number of taskforces to look at particular areas of importance (think productivity, super city, tax). I suspect that we’ll see these laying the foundation for the rest of the term. I suspect that the population is quite happy with a steady-as-she-goes approach during the recession, and is ready for some changes as we come out.

    Comment by MarkS — October 31, 2009 @ 12:20 pm

  5. Huge Irony Alert: National are doing in politics exactly what they accused Michael Cullen of doing in economics – storing up a surplus and not using it.

    Unless the laws of electoral gravity have been rewritten, they’ll live to regret that.

    Comment by sammy — October 31, 2009 @ 12:22 pm

  6. I really think the honeymoon analogy is wearing thin one year on. How about the old beans in the jar one.

    For the first year of one’s marriage, you put one bean in the jar every time you and your partner have sex. After the first year, take one bean out every time you and your partner have sex. The jar will never be emptied.

    Comment by Will de Cleene — October 31, 2009 @ 12:54 pm

  7. * Roll back the ETS
    * Cancel contributions to the Cullen fund

    Those are indeed the big two. The other one in my opinion would be beginning the breakup of ACC.

    The quite radical restructure of MFAT and NZAID will have significant long-term effects on foreign policy, and this is also a change with implications, but I wouldn’t quite put it in the same category as the above three.

    Comment by George Darroch — October 31, 2009 @ 1:51 pm


  8. If I were Labour, I would be down at the Whittaker’s office hiring their marketing team & advertising creatives because they’ve got to get voters seeing THEM as reliable, trustworthy, and all those other brand buzz words.

    Unfortunately, Labour have decided that they’d rather try and be Cadbury (an overly sweet mix of sugar and milk-powder that isn’t actually chocolate), because a certain percentage of the voters have decided that they don’t like peanuts.

    Comment by George Darroch — October 31, 2009 @ 1:55 pm

  9. Good post. Key is a lot like Holyoake, I think, and will go down in history as a much loved PM. A pragmatic centrist, he annoys the far right and left alike – but no matter, ACT is on 0.9%.

    He didn’t bow to pressure from the pro-smackers and that is a big thing for me. I admire him for that, and for doing nothing terribly much. Long may he continue.

    Comment by Ruth — October 31, 2009 @ 2:12 pm

  10. the next government raises taxes and slashes spending to solve all of the problems that he didn’t feel like fixing

    The next government is likely to be a Labour one.A Labour government slashing spending is rather like Hailey’s Comet. I’ve seen each once in my lifetime and don’t expect a repeat of either.

    Comment by Mark Wright — October 31, 2009 @ 3:48 pm

  11. Condering the CW used to be that John Key was Ruth Richardson in man-drag, and there were so many “secret agendas” New Zealand would be on Trade Me inside a week, “doing nothing” strikes me as quite an achievement.

    As far as I’m concerned, when you’re pissing off both the loony left and the rabid right you’re a giant sugar-coated ball of win.

    Comment by Craig Ranapia — November 1, 2009 @ 12:53 am

  12. @while with Clark there was always a degree of intellectual intimidation@

    Rose tinted glasses, I think you really mean a high degree of sociopathic bullying.

    Comment by expat — November 1, 2009 @ 5:33 am

  13. Oh, and thanks for imagery, John blowing John whilst gazing adoringly into his eyes. Lucky I’ve eaten.

    Comment by expat — November 1, 2009 @ 6:03 am

  14. I think you really mean a high degree of sociopathic bullying.

    I don’t know any journalists who feel they were bullied by Clark (Cullen, yes).

    Comment by danylmc — November 1, 2009 @ 6:20 am

  15. The Granny Herald has form on this, who could forget the Unauthorised Biography of July 2008.

    All that Armstrong has done is put all his other columns since the election in the juicer and come up with a sweet, sweet, sweet concentrate of John Key Amore.

    Comment by andy — November 1, 2009 @ 6:27 am

  16. Clark just had H2 excommunicate you if you asked too many impertinent questions

    Comment by expat — November 1, 2009 @ 8:28 am

  17. Clark just had H2 excommunicate you if you asked too many impertinent questions

    Yeah, see – that never actually happened. Simpson had virtually no contact with the media.

    Comment by danylmc — November 1, 2009 @ 9:21 am

  18. Are we in for for a re-run of 1960-1972? We are at the year 1 (1960) stage?

    Of course with the the then FPP, equivalent entities such as ACT and Greens were subsumed in 2 main parties.

    Key, like Holyoake, too canny to undo the achievements of the previous Labour Govt, preferring masterly inactivity, and playing off right and left factions of Nat Party.

    Labour, with an antique leadership (HC = Walter Nash, yields to ineffectual replacement fom same generation, ie Goff and Arnold Nordmeyer) Too many extinct volcanoes cluttering the safe Labour seats.
    The eventual replacment by that Young Man in a Hurry, Kirk, with his keen Young (Labour) Turks, Roger Douglas and Jonathan Hunt, took time. Their best years were over by the time they took power in 1972.

    So, snuggle down chilluns, its going to be long cold winter….

    Comment by Leopold — November 1, 2009 @ 9:33 am

  19. yuk yuk.

    No, H1 had H2 engage press secretaries do that.

    Comment by expat — November 1, 2009 @ 10:13 am

  20. [...] November 1, 2009 JakeQuinn Leave a comment Go to comments Saturday saw, in these borrowed words, the “New Zealand Herald falls to it’s knees and frantically bobs it’s head up and down [...]

    Pingback by Herald’s knives out for Goff’s team « Life and Politics — November 1, 2009 @ 11:34 am

  21. Just wait till Rodney Hide rolls out TABOR. Then the fun is going to start…

    Comment by millsy — November 1, 2009 @ 1:52 pm

  22. No, H1 had H2 engage press secretaries do that.

    Simpson’s duties were in policy development and political management; I don’t think she had much involvement in comms. Mike Munroe and David Lewis were Clark’s most successful spin doctors, they worked by building relationships with the press not ‘excommunicating’ people. I think you’ve been reading too much kiwiblog.

    Comment by Danyl Mclauchlan — November 1, 2009 @ 4:36 pm

  23. Building relationships – sounds like Yes Minister!

    Comment by dontknowthat — November 1, 2009 @ 8:17 pm

  24. Nice work Danyl. Says it all really.

    Comment by the sprout — November 3, 2009 @ 1:21 pm


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