- There’s a Herald summary here.
- I’ve been saying for a while that ‘neoliberalism’ – ie a belief in the efficacy of free markets, the distortionary evil of taxes and benefits and the minimalisation of the state – is dead. There are still a few adherents drifting around the fringes of politics that truly believe, but this budget seems like a good time to mark that in National the doctrine is obsolete. National believes in massive intervention in the economy, mostly in favor of their political donors but also in response to signals from their polling and market research, and English has raised or introduced so many taxes I’ve lost count. I don’t know what we’re supposed to call this mode of government, exactly, but it ain’t ‘neoliberal’.
- So, on one hand the opposition can put this budget down as a victory. They’ve made a big deal about the housing crisis and child poverty, and the government’s main policy changes have been the introduction of a capital gains tax and an increase in benefits to beneficiaries with families. Forcing your enemies to adopt your rhetoric and policies is a huge win.
- On the other hand, the opposition looked like clueless losers yesterday. What kind of left-wing politician opposes the gutting of the KiwiSaver kickstarter – pretty much the definition of middle-class welfare – to tackle child poverty?
- And I hate that Labour’s bought into National’s rhetoric about the cosmic importance of getting back to surplus. I get that they see it as a chance to damage Key and English on their economic credibility – but it totally buys into National’s framing of government as a small business where the critical thing is to balance the books. We just saw an election in the UK in which Labour became deficit hawks, because they thought the public would like it, and they still got utterly slaughtered.
- And Little’s speech was just awful. ‘Gene Simmons’? ‘Fiscal gender reassignment’? Why did he think it was a good idea to reference a source of internal division within his own party? What a mess.
- The kids on the social media like to use the phrase ‘hot take’ to describe commentary that is hysterical and uninformed, and that’s what we got from the opposition parties yesterday, gouging their own eyes out with horror at a budget filled with ideas they’ve been demanding for years. Ridiculous.
May 22, 2015
May 18, 2015
Louis XIVths Finance Minister once said, ‘the art of taxation consists in so plucking the goose as to obtain the largest possible amount of feathers with the smallest possible amount of hissing.’
What strikes me about the government’s new tax – which is totally not a capital gains tax – is that (a) it will probably not deliver any feathers, because property speculators can just defer their sales to avoid the tax, but (b) there is now a ‘brightline’ tax on capital gains instead of a huge nebulous loophole, and this is a big deal on a psychological and political level. It means that subsequent governments – or maybe even this one – can incrementally increase the two year limit out to five years, ten years, then no limit, and New Zealand will have a realised capital gains tax on secondary property.
Yes, the way it came about is absurd. Labour campaigned on a Capital Gains Tax. National opposed it. More than opposed – they tore Labour apart over it. So Labour abandoned it and now National’s introduced a dummy one. Someone else will give it teeth. But it will, eventually, mean our tax system is a little bit fairer.
May 11, 2015
There’s loads of analysis about on the outcome of the election in the UK; most of it is focused on Labour. What went wrong? Did they choose the wrong Miliband brother? Should they return to Blairism? And so on.
Seems to me that one of Labour’s biggest problems – both here and in the UK – is that they’re faced with an opponent that is (a) better resourced than them and (b) uses those resources to make themselves far, far better at politics than their left-wing opponents.
Just after his election victory David Cameron announced that the UK was ‘on the brink of something special’. Key has been promising New Zealand we’re on ‘The cusp of something special’. The messaging is consistently similar. The Conservative Party’s strategy in the UK election was pretty much the same as National’s strategy last year. It’s because they have the same strategic advisers of course – the infamous Crosby/Textor, who are also very active in Australian Federal and state elections.
Which gives their clients a huge advantage. Not only can they deliver data and market-research driven advice, they can trial-run lines and strategies across multiple separate-but-similar electorates, hone the techniques and sell successful ideas on to their other clients – who are all right-wing parties that want to see each other succeed.
Often when something goes wrong for John Key and the media goes ballistic, Key will often ‘talk past’ the media and deliver lines directly to the voters. And it always works. He gets to do that because of a huge wealth of empirical data about how voters react to different issues, gleaned from years of study across these multiple electorates.
Labour and the other opposition parties in these other electorates can’t do that. And it shows. They’re forced to experiment, releasing policies or taking positions on issues on a trial basis. Will the public like it? Do they respond? And if the media reaction is critical then they reverse position. They’re playing a complex game in which they know the desired outcome, but not the actual rules, against opponents who know the rulebook back-to-front as well as all the loopholes.
There are other structural factors at work, of course. But the triumph of empirically based political strategy and messaging is a very big deal that’s getting missed alongside all the chatter about Labour ‘moving to the left, or the center’ etc.
May 3, 2015
Fran O’Sullivan writes:
Bill English is a no-nonsense and well-grounded politician. He has built a strong reputation for prudent fiscal management since he became Finance Minister
I don’t think English’s failure to reach surplus means much, because the goal was always just a meaningless PR gimmick. But imagine what O’Sullivan would say about a Labour Finance Minister who borrowed $100 billion dollars, ran seven deficits in a row and failed to achieve their primary economic ambition after running an election campaign around it. She’d be on the streets throwing molotov cocktails at riot police, trying to save the nation from the lunatic wrecking the economy, not openly fantasising about them becoming Prime Minister.
Meanwhile, Matthew Hooton, David Farrar, and whatever National Party spin-doctor wrote Rodney Hide’s HoS column this week have convinced themselves – or, at least, are trying to convince everyone else – that National’s humiliating defeat in the Northland by-election was a disaster for . . . the Labour Party. The logic here is that the two polls subsequent to the election have Labour down, slightly, and Winston Peters is just below Andrew Little as preferred Prime Minister. Northland was a tactical victory, Farrar explains, but a strategic failure.
I still think the big tactical and strategic failure here is the National government giving up its parliamentary majority only a few months into its term by losing one of the safest seats in the country. Spectacular failure, in the face of which Labour’s dip in the polls two-and-a-half years out from an election is as meaningless as, well, English’s budget surplus. We saw this stuff from Hooton, Farrar et al during the Goff and Shearer leaderships. Next it’ll be ‘Trading on iPredict shows a coup is underway in Labour!’
I don’t think Labour minds Peters’ current ascendancy. Their thinking is (I think) that Labour needs to win votes off National, but that those swing voters are very wary of the Greens without whom Labour can’t form a government. So a robust New Zealand First as a potential coalition partner might be good for Labour.
Update: Matthew Hooton is bewildered by my scepticism. Isn’t Little’s blunder really obvious? Wouldn’t it have been smarter of him to tour Northland in a big red bus getting great exposure talking about poverty and economic development?
The answer is no. If Little spent the Northland by-election campaigning in an electorate he wasn’t standing in and split the vote handing the seat back to National, every commentator in the country – including Hooton and David Farrar – would have called him a moron. And if the polls dipped afterwards, for whatever reason – economic data, statistical noise – then there would be very loud questions about his leadership in the aftermath of such a catrastrophic blunder, instead of a bunch of National Party activists making trouble.
April 29, 2015
Our political leaders are constantly assuring us they’re ‘raising human rights’ with places like Saudi Arabia, or China, or wherever, and I today I find myself wondering how this plays out in reality.
Does the PM actually say to someone like the King of Saudi Arabia, ‘Saudia Arabia should stop torturing and beheading gay people?’ Or do our diplomatic officials tell their officials ‘Prime Minister Key will make a brief statement to your leader about the importance of democracy and equality. He is required to make this for domestic political purposes. No response is necessary.’ And then Key or Clark or whoever reads a bit of rhetoric off a card. ‘Although you have made great progress in this area there is work to be done . . .’
Or is it looser than that? Does our PM just say, ‘Your Ambassador assures me that you are committed to democratic reforms and human rights and we congratulate your Majesty on this and fully support your endeavors,’ and turn around and assure the press that they’ve ‘raised human rights’.
I feel like it’s the last, isn’t it?
April 24, 2015
The other interesting (to me) thing about ponytailgate, or whatever we’re supposed to call it, is how the story broke. Normally when someone has a scandal like this (I know – there is no other scandal like this) they take it to someone in the mainstream media. But if Amanda Bailey did that, then whatever journalist she gave her story to would, routinely, call the Prime Minister and ask for comment – at which point the National Party communications machine would roar to life and devote all of its energy and power into shutting the story down, or litigating it down to nothing. They may have succeeded. They’re very good at that stuff.
If you take it to a blogger then that check for a balancing comment doesn’t happen. Bloggers don’t play by the rules. But what they do – and I’m thinking of Cameron Slater here, as well as his homologues overseas – is insert themselves into the story. They write it up, in imitation of a mainstream media story and then accompany it with commentary and interviews on the MSM outlets they affect to despise, and attempt to frame the story and promote themselves. In Slater’s case that tends to dilute the story since the attack is so clearly partisan and motivated by malice.
Bomber didn’t do that. Instead he simply published the waitress’s own account as a primary, information-rich source that the mainstream media could base their stories off. Reporters called the PM, but the scandal had already broken and the media were all matching each other’s stories. It couldn’t be shut down. And Bomber kept himself out of it all. That approach – publish a primary source and make it available to all media simultaneously – turned out to be a really awesome way to get the story out there.
And now I find myself feeling sorry for John Key. The pony-tail thing is odd and inappropriate, and it’s gendered in the sense that he doesn’t do it to men, but that doesn’t make it a sexual fetish. Key is also a dad and I really feel like he’s interacting with these girls and women on that level, not as the bizarre fledgling pedophile serial killer he’s now regarded as on twitter and the left-wing blogosphere. It’s wrong of him to run around infantilising adult strangers, and he’s paying a huge humiliating political price for that behavior. Anything beyond that – like McCready’s lawsuits – seems absurd, and likely to win Key sympathy with the wider public.
Update: Lots of comments in the comments, so I thought I’d comment further:
One of the reasons this is such a big story is that Key’s behaviour is mysterious. It creates a negative space for people to try and fill with their own explanations, and then debate them with others who have differing theories. So that’s happening.
A popular explanation is that Key’s harassment is sexual. He’s a man touching a young woman. Case closed. Now, maybe I’m doing it wrong, but approaching someone while singing the Jaws theme music and tugging their hair, while Key’s wife and a cafe filled with people look on just doesn’t seem that sexual to me. Like I said above, it seems like the kind of physical contact fathers have with their daughters. Dad stuff.
That doesn’t excuse Key’s behaviour. And it doesn’t mean it isn’t gendered, or an abuse of power. Treating an adult woman as if she’s a child for him to play with is totally unacceptable, and maybe it reveals something ugly about the way Key perceives women. It’s not trivial, but it is less serious than all the ugly rhetoric about sexual assault that people are throwing around.
April 23, 2015
The lead story on the Herald today is by Rachel Glucina, publicly naming the waitress who complained about John Key pulling her ponytail. And the background to that story is here, published on the Daily Blog, in which the waitress accuses Glucina of gaining access to her via her employers, by representing herself as someone who worked in PR, who was providing confidential advice to the waitress and the cafe-owners. And now the details of this confidential conversation are on the front page of the Herald.
What’s fascinating is that Glucina is someone who works in PR. According to her LinkdIn profile Glucina is Director of ‘Pink PR’, which specialises in ‘Media strategy, product planning, brand development, public relations.’ But Glucina is also someone who writes columns and front page stories in the country’s largest newspaper. How does that work? Can you hire Glucina and pay her to place stories in the Herald for you? If not, how can the Herald assure us they protect the integrity of their paper to prevent this from happening? Glucina is fiercely pro-National, and routinely publishes smear stories against opposition MPs and other enemies of the government – is this because she has a commercial relationship with National or any of its Ministers?
All interesting questions, which I’m confident we will never get any answers to.
What really drives the opposition crazy about John Key is that there are two of him. There’s public John Key – always relaxed – famously so, compassionate but sensible, obviously smart and dignified, but not above making fun of himself a bit. All of these elements combine to make Key a phenomenally popular Prime Minister.
There’s also Parliamentary John Key, who is the opposite of all of these things. He’s a guy who – literally – roars with laughter when confronted with child poverty or sexual abuse statistics. Parliamentary John Key is a ridiculous hateful child, and he’d be un-electable if the general public ever saw him; but because nobody watches Question Time they don’t. (And the PM’s awfulness is diluted by a clutch of moronic Labour MPs screaming homophobic slurs at Chris Finlayson or jeering at Gerry Brownlee about his weight.)
So the opposition has spent the last seven years trying to convince the public that John Key is an awful child, and they’ve failed because Key just doesn’t behave like that in public. Only now – with the revelation that he runs around his local cafe pulling the waitress’s hair – they get a glimpse behind the curtain.
I don’t know what any of that means in terms of ongoing popularity, polls, etc, but it can only be good for the opposition that their narrative of Key as a creepy giggling man-child has some credibility with the public.