The Dim-Post

April 30, 2009

Quote of the Day, Lest we Forget Cullen Edition

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 1:39 pm


We know, and National members know from reading the front page of the newspaper, that I have not merely stolen their fox but eviscerated it, strangled it, and thrown it back into their back garden, and they do not know what to do about it at that particular point.

Michael Cullen, Post-Budget Debate. Thursday 22 May 2008.

I still have no idea what this means.


  1. That’s easy. Cullen is gloating that he has “spent the lot”. The 8 years of plenty are over. Labour have managed to waste all of it, penalise the hard workers even more, ignore all calls for tax cuts, enlarge the bureaucracy without improving outcomes, nationalise the airlines and railways at criminal expense of taxpayer dollars and leave nothing for the incoming government (who he knew wouldn’t be Labour).

    This is the Cullen “scorched earth” legacy.

    Comment by David White — April 30, 2009 @ 2:32 pm

  2. Cullen was hinting to Greenstone Pictures he wanted to star in the next series of “Neighbours at War”

    Comment by cctrfred — April 30, 2009 @ 3:19 pm

  3. Yeah, this is a weird one. The obvious reference is to the story of the Spartan youth who steals a fox, hides it up his jumper, and then when he’s caught stands impassive while it eats his guts (rather than admit his guilt). But that’s not really a great metaphor for the his budget, no matter what you think of it.

    Comment by will — April 30, 2009 @ 3:27 pm

  4. It means he won, they lost, suck it up…even when he had lost.

    Comment by Don — April 30, 2009 @ 3:29 pm

  5. “Shooting a fox” is adopting a large part of the other parties policies, thus rendering their strategy moot.

    It’s a well known political term.

    Comment by Rich — April 30, 2009 @ 4:07 pm

  6. “Shooting a fox”? He didn’t shoot it, he stole it, and it’s not like Cullen to mix metaphors.

    Comment by will — April 30, 2009 @ 4:57 pm

  7. I think the fox is a metaphor for tax cuts. The point is that he introduced his own tax cuts, which were smaller and differently-distributed than the ones National were proposing, but he did it in a way that destroyed the electoral appeal of National’s tax cuts. Their big cuts would now be small cuts on top of his cuts, and to make them add up as they did before, National would have to actually reverse the tax cuts for lower-income people who they were not planning to give tax cuts to.

    I don’t buy the calim that Labour have ruled out what National wanted to do by ‘spending the lot’. What he introduced is planned spending items for the future, which National could go back on if they wanted to. But it seems they don’t. They can’t go back on the tax cuts, or increased spending on the health system, prisons or roads, because these are things they promised themselves. The other big-ticket items are Working For Families, Kiwisaver and Interest-Free Student Loans, which they could go back on, but have apparenbtly decided not to.

    Cullen didn’t actually spend the surpluses, unless you count paying off debt as spending.

    Comment by kahikatea — April 30, 2009 @ 5:56 pm

  8. We all pretty much know what he meant. The puzzle is why he said it that way. Is he making an indecipherable literary allusion, or did he just trip over his tounge?

    Comment by Will — April 30, 2009 @ 6:15 pm

  9. Dr Cullen was the first to admit sometimes he was too clever for his own good. I have seen rolling stand-ups with the media stopped dead by his turn of phrase or quick wit, but then he would suffer later as the 20 different people there came up with 10 different interpretations of what he meant.
    I remember one budget build up (I think 2005) when everything he said I interpreted as saying there was bugger all in the budget, others took his comments as saying there was something big coming. There was massive pressure on me to match the stories, but I said no. Then when the budget came out with nothing, some ran with the story that it was a disappointment because he had u-turned and delivered nothing. I then came under pressure to write there had been a u-turn, but of course as far as I was concerned there had been none.
    Most of this problem was caused by Dr Cullen being way more intelligent and quick than the vast majority of the Gallery (including me), and throwing away one liners, which he could not be bothered explaining later.

    I remember the fox line. At the time I thought he meant he had come up with a tax package that so stripped the budget bare that there was no room left for National to move on this or anything else. For all I know it could have been some literary allusion way beyond me.

    Comment by Ian Llewellyn — April 30, 2009 @ 8:40 pm

  10. The Nat’s wanted to put their fox in a henhouse.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — April 30, 2009 @ 11:27 pm

  11. The ‘shot our fox’ thing has been bugging me because I knew it was some allusion to some incident in British political history – I thought either about Lloyd George outflanking the Conservatives on something or Disraeli outflanking the Liberals.

    But the only incident I can find, scratching around my bookshelves last night, was when Labour Chancellor of the Exchequer Hugh Dalton was forced to resign over a Budget leak. One of the Conservatives – Nigel Birch, who later became the equivalent of an associate finance minister – complained ‘they’ve shot our fox!’ Dalton was unpopular and the Conservatives would rather he had stayed.

    As can be seen, if this is what Cullen was referring to, the allusion doesn’t really work, but I’d interpret it the way Ian does.

    Incidentally, the “I’ve spent the lot” comment David alludes to was from Muldoon, when he was finance minister in 1972, not long before the Marshall National govt lost to Norman Kirk’s Labour Party.

    On the 2005 thing Ian refers to – there were a lot of grizzles after the Budget that journalists had been interviewing their typewriters. I suggested in a column Labour Party president Mike Williams should be nicknamed Olivetti….I know at least two journalists who were given the impression by Williams there would be tax cuts.

    Comment by Rob Hosking — May 1, 2009 @ 6:23 am

  12. I know at least two journalists who were given the impression by Williams there would be tax cuts.

    I remember that. I think Williams even hinted to it on Agenda. Suspect there was a shit fight behind the scenes.

    I was interested to see Cullen talk about WFF as wealth redistribution to the poor, when it’s more notable as a massive election bribe to a swing demographic in the middle class which makes me wonder if there was also a shit fight over that, with Cullen losing to Clark, Williams, Hodgeson etc.

    Comment by Danyl Mclauchlan — May 1, 2009 @ 6:36 am

  13. And I wonder if ‘stolen their fox’ was some sort of in-house Labour jargon, a bit like ‘swallowing dead rats’. Still a weird thing to blurt out in the house.

    Comment by Danyl Mclauchlan — May 1, 2009 @ 6:51 am

  14. It means he is a tedious bore in love with teh sound of his own overblown persiflage.

    Comment by Lee C — May 1, 2009 @ 7:21 am

  15. Nothing to do with Katherine Rich then?

    Comment by llew — May 1, 2009 @ 10:40 am

  16. I just hope he strangled the fox *before* he eviscerated it…

    Comment by Suzie — May 1, 2009 @ 5:29 pm

  17. Ah Katherine… she was in the galleries for his final speech… so maybe it was Llew.
    Lee C… the last thing I would call Dr Cullen is a “tedious bore etc”. Even those who despised his politics and actually spent some time with him or even read or listened to him would never say that.
    He was probably one of the most interesting, entertaining and intelligent people in NZ politics, which would probably explain why he never liked me much.
    Danyl… I first heard the nats talking about swallowing dead rats in the 90s… no idea of the origin of it though… loved Cullen’s line about becoming a dead rat that the Nats had to swallow

    Comment by Ian Llewellyn — May 1, 2009 @ 8:03 pm

  18. I’m with Ian on this one. I recall the quote from the post budget debate (in fact I think we still have it in our audio archive) and at the time I took him to mean he’d structured the budget and future spending in such a way that there was no way National could proceed with a significant tax cut policy at the election.

    As it turned out by the time the election rolled around the significance of tax policy ended up being overwhelmed by other issues.

    Comment by felix marwick — May 2, 2009 @ 10:10 pm

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