Monday, November 10, 2008

Electile Dysfunction: Numb Notes On A Long Weekend

Well there you have it.

The moment all filthy pinko lefties had been denial about for the last couple of years has come to fruition, and the wonderful world of democracy has delivered our country, in the midst of the turbulent economic situation worldwide, into the hands - as David Slack has noted - of a champion gambler, who celebrates his victory in a gambling emporium. The victory was more emphatic than most dared conjure, but from the perspective of any potential social conscience over the next six years, and that's rather optimistic, it would have been good if they got the numbers on their own. For all his rhetoric about Helen Clark pulling together a "five-headed beast" to run the country, it looks like John is set this week to cobble together a centre-right Frankenstein of his own.

Speaking of which, they didn't thaw out Sir Roger long enough before his televised address on Saturday night, and his eyes took on a glow that burned the colour of Chicago. Perhaps a little less freezer time, and a little more time in Rodner's tanning booth might be in order. Structural changes must be made. Their only real policy seemed to be Sir Rog as Minister of Finance, but have backed down as a potential coalition partner, and will instead offer support on confidence and supply. Hide and maybe Heather Roy will get Ministerial portfolios, but won't be sitting around the Cabinet table. Don't think you're safe, yet. Douglas would make a fine head of the so-called Razor Gang Key has pledged to hack through the civil service. Or chairing a Select Committee or two, if he can stay awake that long. He really makes John McCain seem quite spritely. They get five MPs in total, including the terrifying Sensible Sentencing Trust advocate David Garrett, and Rodney Hide is drumming up a storm, taking their 3.72% support as a serious mandate for reform. This from a party that couldn't even get more votes than Winston Peters. The Nats get 59 seats, and Act's support takes that to 64, which is enough to govern, but not enough for Key. He has openly courted Peter Dunne, and the Maori Party, which could eventually make it 70 on their side to 52 against. Decisive indeed.

Drawing is as many of the minor parties as he can gives Key frightening leverage, and a fantastic way of evading responsibility for the more unpopular reforms that could be on the way. They have the mandate to move in more of a neo-liberal economic direction than they would dare institute themselves, and blame it on Act, and then push the moral conservative angle if it suits them and dump the blame on the doorstep of Peter Dunne. If they wanted to start locking up prostitutes again, or give us our right to bash our kids, there's nothing stopping them. They can call them policy concessions, rather than party policy. Not that National's justice programme isn't worrying enough on it's own. It plans to give judges discretion to sentence a violent offender to life in prison without parole, for a first offence, if the crime is "heinous" enough. Further, second offenders for violent crime (which includes theft in Key's initial proposal but as with most policy was a bit vague and non-committal), will also be no longer eligible for parole. Anyone who is arrested for a crime that could carry a maximum penalty of jail time will also be forced to submit DNA to a crime register. That includes the crime of being in possession of spotting knives, of all things. Whether or not it is destroyed when and if you are cleared is unclear. Having been screened for DNA myself in the past, for 'elimination purposes', they aren't that good at keeping you informed about what's going on. Hell, they didn't even tell me when they no longer considered me a rapist.

So, have we formed a coalition police state wrapped in the robes of the religious right? I am preparing for the worst, but it doesn't seem necessary to get angry for it's own sake. But we have to be careful and make sure we actively resist the New Right regime should the worst eventuate. Active Opposition to the Government has to start now. This is day one of the 2011 campaign.

Under Clark and Cullen's management, this country has seen nine years of economic stability, until very recently, and they can hardly be held responsible for that. On top of that, it has been a great season of progressive reform: the success of KiwiSaver, the establishment of a centrally owned bank in KiwiBank, the right for same-sex and secular couples to recognised Civil Unions, the legalisation and regulation of prostitution, the removal of the excuse of reasonable force in child abuse cases, the 'clean slate bill' wiping your criminal record for ancient minor offences, the banning of smoking cigarettes in bars/clubs/restaurants/schools/offices, the reacquisition of the national rail system, the unbundling of Telecom's monopolistic practices, finally establishing a systemic working solution to the national climate change responsibility, the Working For Families scheme offering necessary relief to stay-at-home parents, nationalising the compensation industry and removing the interest charged on student loans for active students and graduates living in New Zealand make up a short but breathless list.

It hasn't all been bread and roses, as they say, and seeing as Phil Goff's meddling in the Justice Dept is some of the ugliest, it is ominous that he is being tipped as the replacement for Labour's outgoing leader. Labour seem to be making a push to the centre. It's no small sign that they put forward Clare Curran (from P.R) rather than Don Pryde (EPMU - President - who eventually fought the losing battle against Bill English in Clutha-Southland) in the safety of David Benson-Pope's empty Dunedin South seat. They are looking to the future, and that doesn't seem to include their working class roots as much as many would like, with some consolation coming from the oft-tipped Andrew Little (EPMU - National Secretary) to fill the shoes of Labour Party President Mike Williams. With the advent of a slightly diluted version of Wayne Mapp's notorious 90-Day Probation Policy just around the corner, giving employers of twenty employees or less the right to fire workers without recourse to Personal Grievance claims, the centre-left could use some gnashing Union Teeth.

There is new blood in Labour's ranks, despite the carnage, but the centre-left, inside and outside of politics, needs to be far more active in the next three years. History suggests National will get at least a couple of terms in, but it isn't unachievable for Labour to revive itself in 2011 to the same degree National did in 2005. And the Greens, sadly, learned that fighting a Presidential campaign without a personality to lead it can only get you so far, even if you have the best billboards and t-shirts. The Greens need profilic representatives, or candidates at least, to bring them the attention they will need to push on past being simply the 'best of the rest'. The real challenge is who will step up in the Beehive and challenge the New Right? Clark and Cullen may or not be around the full term, and like his politics or not, you have to admit having Winston Peters around would have been useful for sheer antagonism. I mean, Trevor Mallard can't do it all himself.

So, a sombre and sobering result for the nation, perhaps. Or a call to arms for the socially aware, most optimistically. Disaffected liberals are the centre-left's biggest enemy, and frustratingly, it would seem, some of the most difficult people to mobilise. The lack of voter numbers in Auckland Central, for example, let a 28 year-old middle manager with no political experience waltz into one of the most crucial seats in the country. What will it take to get the cool kids to vote? Bomber Bradbury for Auckland Central in 2011? Perhaps for the Greens? It might well take someone with their own television channel at their disposal to break the conservative grip over the news media. When the media scrum tried to get at Key, who needed a team of SIS thugs at his own party HQ, it seemed to be the first time they were prepared to question their idol. Wait until the King has been crowned, and then it's safe to find out his glaring inadequacies. Their self-made prophecy came true, because nobody doubted them.

Through it all, I suppose, it may be bad news for bureaucrats, but it could be boom times for punditry and satire. The latter of these could prove to be a useful mode of engaging a tough and media savvy demographic the way that Neo-Liberalism seems to make the 20 and 30-something Commerce grads wet. Gateway politics, maybe?

I promise more optimistic distractions next time, but in the meantime, the most retarded band promo, in a hilariously feline way, is right there for you to stare blankly at.


mattatat said...


the band promo was an afterthought, but a genius one, no?

hughmama said...

bureaucrats rise up! we are i mean lions and.... well we cant work anywhere else really. No useful skills you see

Amy said...

At this stage I think we need to wait and see before too much hardcore doomsaying. National campaigned on Labour-lite policy, and in Key's interview with Campbell on Sunday, he was very strongly stressing that they campaigned on a centrist platform and voters should not expect them to swing right. In that sense, we may be safe for the next three years - it's the term after that we need to worry about (many of Nat's campaign promises were tagged with that ominous phrase "not in the first term").

Now Key is looking at forming some kind of relationship with the Maori Party. This is definitely cynical electioneering aimed at retaining power in 2011, and the Nats are in such a strong position with lap dog Rodney throwing himself behind Key that they don't need to concede much at all to the Maori Party - Turia and Sharples have already acknowledged as such. However, some kind of agreement between the Nats and the Maori Party could well be good for the rest of us - it gives the Nats options to pass legislation without depending on satisfying ACT on their right.

Two things we should be worried about are:
a) 2011
b) A leadership change within National. Much of the centrist promises have been in the form of Key saying "I won't do x." The Nats needed the smarmy mug of Key up front to get them in - how else could they possibly go with that sickening "change" rhetoric? - but how much longer will they need him now they've stitched up power?

I opened this comment saying that we need to "wait and see". The most important thing is that we are prepared to act as soon as we see National beginning to behave as we must expect them to. Be prepared to do more than bitch in the blogosphere. Kiwis of my age have had it good in that we've never really experienced what it's like to live under a right-wing government, and we've had a very competent centre-left Government. Our lack of protest spirit has been decried by old lefties, but by-and-large we've been happy with how our society has been treated by our government. Maybe soon will be the time to show 'em what we've got.