The Dim-Post

March 20, 2012

Yes, more on Shearer, with bonus Brian Edwards

Filed under: media,Politics — danylmc @ 10:09 am

Via the Herald:

Labour stalwart Brian Edwards says the party’s move to the political centre, which was further hinted at in new leader David Shearer’s speech last week, is driving him away from the party and into the arms of the Greens.

Writing on his blogsite, Dr Edwards, who was former Labour Prime Minister Helen Clark’s media trainer, biographer and friend, said Labour’s philosophical and moral values “are now so ill-defined as to be beyond definition”.

“I find myself wondering whether I want to be bothered with the Labour Party any more. Increasingly, it seems to me, the Greens reflect the philosophical and moral values to which I subscribe more accurately than the Labour Party.”

Dr Edwards said Rogernomics and the influence of former British Labour Prime Minister Tony Blair’s “third way” on Ms Clark’s Government had moved Labour from its socialist roots.

In one of his first interviews, Shearer told Vernon Small that he was reading Phillip Gould’s The Unfinished Revolution, the unintentionally hilarious autobiography of Blair’s pollster and strategist.

(Unintentionally hilarious because it’s written in the language of high drama: the heroes – Gould, Mandelson, Blair – are resolute, bold, decisive, always taking courageous, principled stands against weak, ashen-faced leaders like Kinnock, over grave ethical and strategic issues like – and I’m not kidding here – how long to make the stem on the rose on the logo of the binders that delegates will carry around at the party conference. And it contains sentences like ‘We (Gould and Mandy) ran the best campaign ever by any political party in any modern election. But we still lost to the Conservatives by a huge margin.’)

Anyway, whenever UK Labour moved to the center on an issue like defense, taking a stand against the Soviet Union, say – the militant Communist organisations would denounce the Labour Party, and Gould et al would (rightly) see this as a victory, because the majority of the population hated communism. And I think that’s what Shearer and his advisors want to happen with some of these speeches: if the left denounce them it will give Shearer more attention and send a signal to the center that he’s been rejected by people they don’t like. So when he talks about welfare the idea will be to get Sue Bradford to kick up a huge fuss.

But I have a notion that people like Brian Edwards rather more than they liked the Soviet Union. It’s hard to know if he’s a signifier: does he represent a cohort of older traditional Labour voters moving towards the Greens, or is he an individual motivated by his personal relationship with the party?

There’s another sense in which this is ‘bad for Labour’. Gould, Blair and Mandelson were huge believers in using the mass media to influence the electorate. I’ve written before about how NZ Labour don’t have many champions in the media. National have a small army of political commentators out there who will advocate for the cause and endorse any inanity uttered by English and Key. The only commentator Labour had of any substance was Brian Edwards. (Tapu Misa – the Herald’s leading (only?) left-wing columnist – also seems cool towards Shearer.)


  1. Colin james has a slightly different take on the broader positioning of leaders, looking at them from the perspective of baby boomers and post baby boomers. Edwards is the baby boomer generation which are now (warning generalisation) the conservative group within any political party with teh perspective of “things in my day…” Key is a post baby boomer and to an extent so is Shearer (although Shearer is a little older than key I’d say his experiences and outlook differ more than enough from the boomers). As a result there is effectively a battle of generational change slowly playing out within both national and labour. The greens have larely gone through the generation change process, National is part way through it, Labour is just starting. The effect is that for people like Edwards and others this change is unsettling and not something that matches their experiences and world view (hence my use of the term conservative – being someone resistant to change, rather than conservative as in small government).

    How will this play out/ Depends on electoral demographics and how political party preferences. It could be that the baby boomers will have an extended influence on the Labour party due to there composition of the party base but this could come at the detriment of the voting public who may assign there preferences to teh National party because post baby boomers prefer Key over conservative Labour and Baby boomers prefer conservative National over conservative Labour. Theres probably soem good overlapping venn diagrams in all this.

    Comment by WH — March 20, 2012 @ 10:25 am

  2. Oh come now, Edwards is fussy old dinasour who has little if any relevance to anything. Full stop.

    Comment by merv — March 20, 2012 @ 11:20 am

  3. Shearer’s desire to reinvent Labour in a more centrist party has alienated Dr Edwards who feels that Labours “philosophical and moral values are now so ill-defined as to be beyond definition”.

    Labour has tried the Rogernomics philosophy, as well as Blair’s “Third Way” and has not delivered. Under Clark Labour experimented with post feminist economics but only succeeded in loading the Government with unsustainable debt. So in the final analysis the idea’s promulgated during Dr Edwards tenure as advisor to Labour were ineffectual and did not succeed into a vibrant dynamic economy. Therefore Shearer has to look for something else and has already headed off in the wromg direction by reading Gould.

    Comment by Kevin — March 20, 2012 @ 11:23 am

  4. Kevin, what does “post feminist economics” consist of?

    As a feminist and someone who has studied economics at graduate level, I’m most interested in filling in this gap in my knowledge.

    Comment by Me Too — March 20, 2012 @ 11:52 am

  5. Labour under Clark loaded the govt with unsustainable debt? Which parallel universe was that in?

    Comment by Psycho Milt — March 20, 2012 @ 12:03 pm

  6. Post-feminist economics? That’s a new one

    Comment by Hobbes — March 20, 2012 @ 12:33 pm

  7. The loading with debt bit isn’t strictly accurate however the concept of loading the government with future debt by vastly increasing government spend is I suggest.

    Comment by merv — March 20, 2012 @ 1:07 pm

  8. The irony is that David Shearer needs Brian Edwards or someone like him. He is weak, weak, weak.

    Comment by Maureen — March 20, 2012 @ 1:17 pm

  9. @Merv. perhaps in the Third term, yes. But in the first two I seem to remember them being castigated by the right for paying off debt and having large surpluses…

    Comment by max — March 20, 2012 @ 1:20 pm

  10. The loading with debt bit isn’t strictly accurate however the concept of loading the government with future debt by vastly increasing government spend is I suggest.

    Not to derail the conversation, but this cannot stand. UTTER RUBBISH. While it’s not the government I would have run, they kept costs commensurate with revenues, to the extent that they were able to run substantial surpluses sequentially. They would of course run some deficits in recessions, but you can do that if you also raise surpluses and keep the cost of borrowing low.

    The only reason we’re having the largest deficits in NZ history right now is because National quite willingly chose to cut revenue, with full knowledge of the consequences.

    Comment by George D — March 20, 2012 @ 1:35 pm

  11. merv is just another boring ACToid. A party led by a hardline social conservative lunatic and polling less than 1% still somehow contrives to have a small army of aging fanatics with computers.

    Comment by Sanctuary — March 20, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

  12. Merv, there is absolutely no way in which a government is “forced” to run a deficit. Either they cut taxes and cut spending, or they keep taxes at moderate levels and keep spending that revenue. New Zealanders were sold a pup when they were told they could have their cake and eat it too, a line fed and propagated by the predictably moronic press gallery. The result is more government debt (although not particularly high by world standards) which is now being used as an excuse to gut the state. It’s something that is both entirely ideological, unsupported by democracy (insomuch as little of National’s legilative track has been or is explicitly enunciated to the public during campaigns), and in no way inevitable.

    And yet, it’s almost inevitable, because Shearer and his minders are mumbling away our brighter future.

    Comment by George D — March 20, 2012 @ 1:41 pm

  13. “New Zealanders were sold a pup when they were told they could have their cake and eat it too”
    I happen to think most intellegent NZers were in on it: “once the tax cuts take effect, then the beast will just HAVE to be tamed”.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 20, 2012 @ 1:57 pm

  14. @George D. Yep, surpluses were run, to the point that when a budget was released with a surplus the Nats would jump up and down screaming for a tax cut on the basis that the surplus meant that the government was collecting too much money. Now we have the tax cuts and a huge deficit. Nice one National.

    Comment by alex — March 20, 2012 @ 2:26 pm

  15. To be fair, in their last term Labour booked in some big ticket items that were not going to be fiscally sustainable without big tax rises – interest free student loans and the extension of WFF. So yes, Labour ran a counter-cyclical fiscal policy for most of their term, doing the good Keynesian thing (and earning the scorn of journalists who demanded tax cuts for them and their income group) but blew it at the end with bribes for the middle classes.

    Comment by Me Too — March 20, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

  16. Oh yeah, WTF is “post-feminist economics”? Is it what came after Marilyn Waring?

    Comment by Me Too — March 20, 2012 @ 2:40 pm

  17. Something like “Kenyan economics”?

    Comment by Rhinocrates — March 20, 2012 @ 3:06 pm

  18. An illustration there, Danyl, of the paranoid style referred to in the previous post with your comment about National’s army of supporting commentators and Labour’s paucity of supporters. Most of those who now look on National positively did the same for Labour when they were in power and only changed when the tide of public support had well and truly turned. Most were also Helen Clark idolators and extremely sceptical of John Key’s abilities and prospects. The truth is most commentators follow track records and polls – with a lag. Some are rusted on and it will be a cold day in hell when, for example, the Rev Rod Oram says something positive about National or Vernon Small admits the National honeymoon did not end in the first year of last term. Brian Fallow the Herald’s business writer is another long term National sceptic. The majority, like John Armstrong, go with the flow. There is also the special class of journalist commentator who will prey on any animal that looks like it is not keeping up with its political herd or show some sign of weakness. The naughty boys of TV3 – Duncan and Paddy – are the best examples here. And, the Dean of commentators, Colin James, is a sucker for politicians of any political stripe with intellectual pretensions. Left and right are interesting possible classifications for journalists but they do not capture the full variety in the trade. One oddity is the greater propensity of the right to praise opponents. Long or Coddington or Farrar will offer unbarbed praise for those with positions different to their own. It is extremely unusual for those on the left to do the same, feeling, perhaps, that political opponents and their ideas are infectious unless handled very carefully, like the sealed trailed in which Lenin was placed during his journey home from exile.

    Comment by tinakori — March 20, 2012 @ 3:08 pm

  19. “…sealed train.”

    Comment by tinakori — March 20, 2012 @ 3:10 pm

  20. I wasn’t thinking about journalists so much as commentators. DPF, Hooton, Long et al. At one point I listed them out and there are about fourteen ‘National affiliated’ pundits out on the circuit. (Ralston, Plunkett . . .) Labour has Mike Williams, sort of, occasionally. And they just lost Brian Edwards.

    Comment by danylmc — March 20, 2012 @ 3:47 pm

  21. Trained seal?

    Comment by merv — March 20, 2012 @ 4:08 pm

  22. Brian Edwards is not alone. I feel similarly. The Labour party is no longer a Labour party, and I do not feel it articulates any principles I should choose to vote for.

    As a rule I would in the past vote Labour, though I voted National once against Roger Douglas. Last year I voted Greens. I suspect I shall be doing so again even though I think the Greens are often silly their silliness I can overlook when it walks beside principles I support.

    None of the Greens policies that make me face palm offend me as greatly as Nationals destructive attitudes, and do not give me sufficient pause for thought to contemplate the unprincipled and untethered career politics of Labour.

    Comment by Fentex — March 20, 2012 @ 4:18 pm

  23. Yep, I think you are right on that one Danyl. The SST had a Labour one whose name now escapes me but he didn’t make the cut. David Slack could always be relied on and Russell at Public Address is pretty supportive too but the list is shorter than it once was. Maybe Labour are like National between 84 and the late 80s and are ignored because they don’t have much to add to the debate and what they do add is not seen as credible.

    Comment by tinakori — March 20, 2012 @ 4:37 pm

  24. Media training by means of a committed Marxist..!!

    In NZ…..!!!!!

    Who wudda thunk it???

    Comment by Redbaiter — March 20, 2012 @ 4:54 pm

  25. While not a Labour supporter, I would say McCarten too. Finlay McDonald used to be at the SST but they axed him (while somehow retaining Micheal Laws). Plus there is Trotter, but no one takes him seriously anymore.

    Comment by max — March 20, 2012 @ 4:55 pm

  26. I kind of worry that Shearer is playing to the pundits rather than the under-employed, over-indebted public. I mean, I don’t know that Shearer is trying to address the DPFs of the world, but it would explain a lot if he was, and it’s a mug’s game — DPF might have kind words for Shearer’s rhetoric, but the only way he’ll ever endorse Shearer for PM is if our David jumps wakas.

    Comment by bradluen — March 20, 2012 @ 5:00 pm

  27. “I kind of worry that Shearer is playing to the pundits rather than the under-employed, over-indebted public.”

    Don Corleone. “Have you got the judges?”

    Michael Corleone. “Yes, and the legislators”

    Don. “Remember, the families think you are weak and will send one of your most trusted men to ask you to a meeting”

    Michael. “That has just happened. It was Trevor..”


    Comment by JC — March 20, 2012 @ 5:28 pm

  28. Your timeline is a bit wonk.

    The Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, three years before Blair became leader (and the influence of the ‘communist threat’ in UK policy was completely recast once the Berlin wall fell in 1989).

    Most progressives (apart from a few tiny sects) were willing to give Blair the benefit of the doubt right up until the late 90’s. It was really his post-2001 alignment with the US hard right that led to pretty much all the thinking left deserting him.

    Comment by Rich d'Rich (@rich_d_rich) — March 20, 2012 @ 7:26 pm

  29. The Soviet Union finally collapsed in 1991, three years before Blair became leader (and the influence of the ‘communist threat’ in UK policy was completely recast once the Berlin wall fell in 1989).

    Gould and Mandy were advising Kinnock during the 1980s.

    Comment by danylmc — March 20, 2012 @ 7:28 pm

  30. I think to an extent, it was a move borne out of realism and pragmatism. The most viable coalition partner they have is the Greens, who made huge strides between 2008 and 2011. Labour lost large numbers of votes due to a variety of reasons, including, somewhat, competing for the same people as the Greens when push came to shove last year. Why not shift to the centre and let the Greens have the left?

    Comment by Vagabundo — March 20, 2012 @ 10:11 pm

  31. Tinakori your insights are are wonderful.

    I am surprised anyone has the temerity to express an opinion after your pronouncement.

    “Helen Clark idolators”? Name one.

    Comment by peterlepaysan — March 20, 2012 @ 10:12 pm

  32. “But I have a notion that people like Brian Edwards rather more than they liked the Soviet Union. ”

    Speak for yourself.

    I think the amusing part here is Brian Edwards’ attempt to recast himself as some kind of red-blooded socialist revolutionary. His advice to Clark was always about moderating the message and pushing her towards the centre. He was an enthusiastic believer in the “Third Way”. This attempt to criticise Shearer for doing what he advised Clark to do is at best a criticism of style masquerading as one of substance and instead just a desperate attempt to stay relevant.

    Comment by Hugh — March 20, 2012 @ 11:41 pm

  33. “As a feminist and someone who has studied economics at graduate level, I’m most interested in filling in this gap in my knowledge.”

    Should any gaps really exist after such an educational path?

    Here’s something to reflect on. Search deep within your clearly well educated self, and tell me-

    Why is it that in NZ most petrol stations are now on pre-pay, when they existed for decades without this constraint?

    I’ll bet the relevance completely escapes you.

    Comment by Redbaiter — March 21, 2012 @ 8:07 am

  34. Peter – Tracy Watkins, the Dom Post’s political editor, her deputy Vernon Small. Plus Guyon Espiner TV1’s political editor and, of course, John Armstrong the Herald’s main journalist commentator.

    Comment by tinakori — March 21, 2012 @ 10:37 am

  35. Knowledge speaks, but wisdom listens, eh, Redbaiter?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 21, 2012 @ 2:37 pm

  36. Education is a progressive discovery of our own ignorance, eh, Redbaiter?

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 21, 2012 @ 2:38 pm

  37. To repeat what others have said, requires education; to challenge it, requires brains, eh, Redbaiter?

    Most petrol stations in NZ are now on prepay because the poofer liberals won’t let us shoot the feckers who steal our petrol. Of course, over there, they’d chop your hand off for stealing petrol.

    Comment by Clunking Fist — March 21, 2012 @ 2:42 pm

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