Monday, August 18, 2014

The race for the bottom in politics of New Zealand

I suppose politics will always disappoint the idealist. Politics is, after-all, the business of dressing up the pig of personal advantage with the lipstick of the public good. But it seems to me that election 2014 has become so distracted by the shade of lippy and who applied what that we seem to be losing sight of the fact that the point of the exercise is to decide who gets the pork.
Because, as Labour leader, David Cunliffe, quite rightly observed, aside from a few political pundits who hog the nation's microphones, nobody gives a crap about the way politics is conducted. According to the Readers' Digest New Zealand's politicians are trusted 46th out of 50 professions, behind insurance salespeople and just ahead of sex workers. New Zealanders regard their elected representatives as political sluts, who will say or do anything so long as they get a vote. How dirty they get is, a bit like what sex workers get up to, only of prurient interest to those, that way inclined.
This is why I believe Nicky Hager's book, Dirty Politics, is at best ineffectual. Yes, some of the political sluttery is awful, but what does anyone expect?  Apparently not much. They expect bitchiness and shitty behaviour, and guess what? They're right!
If Nicky stood to make any serious money out of the book, one might accuse him of being cynically self-serving by exploiting the left's deep felt hatred of the Prime Minister John Key's smugness. Nicky has delivered a book which guarantees to stoke the fires of the Left's self-righteousness. It has sold out already. Unfortunately, the reality of publishing in New Zealand is that 4,000 books is a lot and even if he made half the average annual wage for his efforts, he would be doing extraordinary well.
Knowing Nicky distantly I have no doubt that he is an idealist who certainly does not profit much from his success in publishing but does so because he doesn't mind living frugally while delivering journalism the far better resourced news media don't seem capable of delivering. Weirdly the same could also be said of Hager's target in the book, the vile, and well-named, Cameron Slater. Slater too makes no money out of his journalism but he too has broken stories (the Auckland mayor, Len Brown's, affair) which mainstream media were unable or unwilling to break. While both make mainstream media look insipid that is not the point.
The point is the left's hatred of Prime Minister John Key completely fails to comprehend why almost half the electorate seems to be preparing to vote for him and his team anyway. Indeed the more poo is thrown around the less likely, it seems to me, that the left has any chance of winning. Here's my hypothesis as to why.
First, New Zealanders already regard their politicians with very little respect. It's like a couple of sad old slappers drunkenly yelling accusations of more and more degrading activities for money. Nobody wants to know. The more both sides grovel around in in the filth, muck-raking on each other the less the public will regard any of them. This will create a genuine disinterest in politics in any form. In short the less of it people have to put up with hearing about bitchy politis, the happier they will be.
What people want is a vision. The Labour Party is right. They want a positive message. They want, to quote the Obama campaign, "change they can believe in".
Here the biggest problem with the left is the tendency toward policies which are always against doing things rather than being for anything. How is New Zealand meant to thrive when the Greens want to throttle intensive  agriculture, stop manufacturing and have no idea what the are talking about when it comes to developing "smart" new businesses. Most businesses in New Zealand are tiny operations based around one or two families at most. Directors meetings take place around the kitchen table. While Labour has got a policy in favour of protecting sub-contractors when main contractors die, that isn't actually very visionary. Ideally the main contractors don't die, they grow, succeed and make heaps of money so that sub-contractors can expand. That sort of vision isn't coming from the left.
The vision that built the left in the 1930s was based on government expenditure via very large contractors, like Fletchers. The left then built things and employed people. These days the left stops things from being built and arranges unemployment benefits. Its hard to see where prosperity is meant to come from under such a regime. So not surprisingly all those small businesses aren't interested, and neither are the larger ones.
The fact is people don't vote for other people. They vote for themselves. It would be lovely if the electorate voted to end child poverty in New Zealand as the Greens suggest but frankly New Zealand isn't a rich country and the electorate is more concerned about their own poverty first. If you ask Aucklanders what is the most pressing issue in their city, they will say congestion. In fact they are utterly wrong. The most pressing issue is child poverty because the demographics of Auckland shows it is these poor kids who are multiplying, not the rich ones. Fast forward twenty years and we are betting the city, and much of the country's future on young minds who at the moment are mostly concerned with survival. But while the Greens are willing to put three billion into a rail loop (which, even if it doubled to 20 million trips per year won't have any effect on city-wide congestion which numbers in the billions of trips a year) they will only put one billion into child poverty. It should be the other way around. Unfortunately the Greens political thinking is not based on the politics of enlightened self interest, it is based on the same base self-interest as all the other parties, except that it is fundamentally rooted in an attitude of entitlement to other people's money. And sadly the Greens are the thought leaders of the left. By contrast the Labour Party seems to have nothing.
Labour's one policy initiative, now that they are safely in opposition, is a capital gains tax.  Despite nine years in power Labour never tried to implement this during the 00s. Now their capital gains tax proposal however exempts the family home ( drive your truck through legal loophole here) and doesn't seem too much different to the IRDs income tax treatment of those who act as traders in any market. Such people can be taxed on unrealised income, anyway. So while the capital gains tax sounds great it isn't really the magic solution to Auckland's runaway (10% real per annum minimum) property market which is the source of most of New Zealand's inflation and cost of living increases, that it sounds like.
In fact the real solution to this problem is to simply let Auckland sprawl a bit. The simple fact is that the cost of not letting Auckland sprawl is translating into land price increases which if expressed as a relative cost of carbon would be out of all proportion to carbon prices anywhere in the world. While the Green Party may believe that any extra carbon is a sin, for poorer people lower cost housing is a far better way of reducing poverty than forcing them to rely on hopeless public transport (and Auckland public transport can never be efficient except to the CBD), and hand-outs from the government for child care.
Ultimately what "Dirty Politics" is, is a way of distracting the electorate from the incredible policy weakness of the would-be left-wing Government. And that is before we even start talking about reliability.
At the moment the National party seems to be capable of forming a government from mostly its own seats, and a few other usual suspects, such as United Future and the Maori Party. By comparison the Labour party would lead a fractious coalition made up of itself, The Greens, New Zealand First, and Mana-Internet. That means David Cunliffe would have to form a government with Russell Norman and Merira Turei as well as Winston Peters, Hone Harawira, Laile Harre and not forgetting Kim Dotcom chucking things in from the sidelines.  The Greens, who are normally on the extremes, end up looking sane by comparison. A 2015 Labour led Goverment might appeal to anarchists, but not too many others, because it would be a circus.
In my view New Zealand needs a stable, growth oriented, leftist government. Unfortunately what's on offer is an unstable, growth-opposing, leftist government or a stable, growth-oriented, rightest government. My prediction is that many people will hold their noses and kiss the pig because two is better than one out of three.

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