Alright For Some: Bill English delivers a profoundly political budget

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AS NEW ZEALAND CHOWS DOWN on Bill English’s “Cheese-on-Toast Budget” – relishing the sharp, melted-cheddar flavours of free doctors’ visits for the under-13s and an additional month of paid parental leave – Labour must be wondering just what they did to piss-off the political gods so badly. (As it happens, I can give them a hint or two on that score, but it’ll keep for another day.) Contrariwise, the near universal positivity pouring out of the “vox-pops” (those random interviews journalists conduct with people in the street) left little room for doubt that, when it comes to capturing the affections of the voting public, National and the political gods have still got a good thing going on.

And that’s the crazy thing about budgets, they’re all about the three or four hours immediately following their delivery. It is in this ridiculously short period of time that the character of the Government’s economic plan – for good or ill – will be decided.

There’s quite a troop of people who play a part in this. Obviously, the Finance Minister’s performance is important. A lack of confidence and clarity on the part of the document’s author is seldom considered helpful. Then there’s the Leader of the Opposition’s speech in reply. If it’s any good, the Budget will be passed on to the news media roasted, stuffed and with an apple in its mouth.

The media’s characterisation is, of course, crucial. If the Opposition’s on its game editors and journalists will already have been given the target or targets to attack. Economists and major league NGOs are then asked to pass judgement on the issues raised. Inevitably, one of these players will come up with the moniker by which the budget will forever after be known. (This year that honour went to the NZ Herald’s Business Editor, Liam Dann. He christened Bill English’s sixth “child” the “Cheese-on-Toast Budget”. Nothing fancy, but wholesome, tasty and always a firm family favourite.)

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Sadly, David Cunliffe and his finance spokesperson, David Parker, failed to land a single solid blow on English’s creation. Cunliffe described it as the “Fudge-it Budget” (only to have the Prime Minister gleefully remind him that Rodney Hide had already given that name to Michael Cullen’s 2002 Budget). Parker’s response was typically wonkish: a perverse mixture of praise (for the $372 million “surplus”) and impenetrable – at least for the average punter – fiscal detail.

Not that we should be too hard on poor old Labour. What are they supposed to do when their enemies so shamelessly steal their policies? For the “true believers” at both ends of the political spectrum such behaviour is unconscionable. Whatever happened to principle!

But, like “Kiwi Keith” Holyoake before him, John Key is by no means averse to appropriating his opponent’s ideas – if that is what it takes to hold National’s vote together. That’s because Key remembers what the ideological hard-liners of his caucus (and Act) appear to have forgotten. That the purpose of the National Party is to bar the door to the House of Power and prevent the Labour Party from entering. Or, should Labour somehow manage to gain entry, to do whatever it takes to evict them. National’s first – and last – principle has always been: “Hold on to power at all costs, and don’t, under any circumstances, let Labour win!”

It’s what makes good National Party opposition leaders so ruthless and good National Party prime ministers so accommodating. It is also why it takes a special kind of Labour leader to summon the tremendous force required to make it through the door.

The House of Power cannot be entered without struggle. So, if there are still some in Labour’s caucus who secretly subscribe to the theory that all they have to do is wait until it is their “turn” to be in government, then they should abandon it immediately. They need to understand that, as far as National (and the interests it represents) is concerned it will never be Labour’s turn.

Think about it. It took the full weight of “Big Norm” Kirk and the unstoppable momentum of the 1960s social revolution to oust the National Party from office in 1972. And it was only Rob Muldoon’s refusal to be guided by his party’s “New Right” backers – plus the extraordinary subversion of the parliamentary Labour Party itself – that brought about the change of government in 1984. Labour takes power only in extraordinary circumstances, and it seldom makes those by itself.

A Labour leader more attuned to the animal spirits of the New Zealand electorate would have described English’s effort as the “Looking Through The Window Budget”.

He would have described National’s world in terms of a comfortable home with its lights blazing and the dining table loaded with good things to eat. The inhabitants can be seen through the window raising their glasses in a toast to their own good fortune. Things had been tough, but they have come through. They are back in the black!

Then he would have described the scene outside the house. The people standing there in the late Autumn darkness. The ones who haven’t made it through. The ones who are still doing it tough. Struggling to feed their families. Despairing of ever owning their own home. Overworked. Underpaid. Their unions under siege. Wanting a future. Angry that they’ve been denied one. Waiting, with growing impatience, for someone to break down the door to the House of Power – and lead them in.

23 COMMENTS

  1. Quote: “Sadly, David Cunliffe and his finance spokesperson, David Parker, failed to land a single solid blow on English’s creation. Cunliffe described it as the “Fudge-it Budget” (only to have the Prime Minister gleefully remind him that Rodney Hide had already given that name to Michael Cullen’s 2002 Budget). Parker’s response was typically wonkish: a perverse mixture of praise (for the $372 million “surplus”) and impenetrable – at least for the average punter – fiscal detail.”

    Yes, I took all night to “stomach” this budget.

    A major problem the opposition MPs have in Parliament is, that when the budget is presented, they have only just been informed, and had insufficient time to analyse and assess it in detail. That always gives the government the upper hand in the following debate. I was disappointed by David Cunliffe’s speech though, as it was just the usual phrases and slogans he threw across the house, and only referred to some figures just received. He had enough time to do a bit better and to change the likely pre drafted speech.

    And as Chris points out, the media pick the bits they see as important within a short time span, and spread that to the public.

    So we are now told the budget is all good, and that it is offering more support and benefits to families, with more tax credits, free medical care for up to 13 year olds, and extended parental leave entitlements. Talk about stealing policy, it is a prime example of it, where the Nats have done this, to also “steal” potential votes of the middle class, that may have tended to vote Labour or Greens this year.

    Also – quote: “The House of Power cannot be entered without struggle. So, if there are still some in Labour’s caucus who secretly subscribe to the theory that all they have to do is wait until it is their “turn” to be in government, then they should abandon it immediately. They need to understand that, as far as National (and the interests it represents) is concerned it will never be Labour’s turn.”

    So yes, there is Labour’s dilemma, it has decided to win the middle class voters, has sidelined and mostly ignored the beneficiaries and working poor, and now it has been caught out by Cunning Key and his Nat Party brigades, making it less likely that Labour will be seen as an option for middle class voters to vote for them.

    That middle class is mostly made up of such minded persons, that think only of their short to medium term benefits, which may be monetary and entitlement based, and we have that dilemma, that principles are no longer a priority to most voters.

    Throw in a carrot and a bit of cake, and the voters will come and vote for you. Here we have National just do that. Sadly the media, and the public also, fail to look further than the tip of their noses, to assess things more comprehensively, by looking at the small print, other important factors and by the grander picture of affairs.

    Is it not perhaps so, that with the increased commercialisation and individualisation of society, that most people have become more “corrupt”, the follow the one who pays the bread and butter, but they do not care who the provider is.

    Too few look ahead further, fail to realise the real challenges to New Zealand and the world re climate change and consequences, fail to see that National will also come with additional policies, like more privatisation, more squeezing of the public service, with cutting back more for those working, in their rights and pay prospects, in also cutting back the rights and protections for those on benefits (for no fault of their own), in continuing wide spread surveillance and privacy breaches by SIS, GCSB and other agencies, by allowing unrestricted immigration, putting immense pressures on housing and other resources, by applying top to bottom arrogant policies, that mean less participation and less rights to all of us.

    Do voters out there realise, what it means, to accept the Nat breed carrot, that comes with conditions? I fear too many are not thinking enough, and are not critical enough, to realise what the bigger picture will be, if they vote National and Key into a third term.

    Please, sit down, stop watching dumb down TV, and stop listening to self pleasing messages, scrutinise, examine, assess and decide wisely, you will be damned bloody fools to hand another election victory to parties that will sell your country out even more, and make housing, employment and economic policy a crisis environment. Stop National, and vote for parties that do offer a better program over all.

    WINZ beneficiaries for instance are trampled over by this government, think what will happen if you lose your jobs, and may end up there, just for a moment. They will send you to look for work even when you are sick and disabled now.

    I am horrified at what is going on in this country, yes, the Nazis in Germany were quite popular too with much of the middle class, who did rather well, until their leader started to unleash chaos.

    Do not rely on endless economic “growth” based on milk powder and raw logs and fish, or on a major rebuild in the 2nd largest city, that is NOT a recipe for the future, it is insanity.

    • In summary the National government policy is: gamble and hope for the best. It is doesn’t work out then blame everyone else for your mistakes.

      • Yep, nothing has changed nor will it, while a gambler like john key sits in the top job. Its way past time he got toppled. The greatest mistake this country could have ever made, was to give the PM’s job to a corrupt, self serving currency trader like john key, who is morally bankrupt and who has no loyalty whatsoever to his own country.

    • So the first draft of the budget – you know, the one where our last born gets mulched and salmonella goes intro the drinking water – was put aside for something a little more palatable. Big deal! That was hardly a surprise. The main message from Labour to the country should be that the the budget is largely irrelevant. It isn’t the micro-goodies that will help to transform the country into something that can benefit all its inhabitants, but rather a variety of economic settings and initiatives. Essentially this budget is saying: this is as good as it gets! (All we have to do is toss out the occasional banana to keep the monkeys off the table and all will be well). Two seconds thought will throw up endless serious problems in the country and maybe how they could be addressed. You won’t see either problem or solution if you believe things are just fine.

  2. And one of the sweet children of the house, ‘Mama dear, pray let us give our crumbs to those poor oiks beyond our gates. They look so hungry, Mama. I promise not to touch any of them…”

    Question for now is – can Labour show how mean and stingy National has been? How grey and shallow? How stifling and dragging on the wider economic ecology that could hire in and train up and require supporting services? How they would and could transform the dull and drear to something far more productive for most.

    Was it Campbell who spoke of Key’s managerial abilities, compared with the clear lack in Labour? Whoever. He’s right; and we all need to remember that managers aren’t business starters or builders, or reasoned risk takers. They come later, and hold on. And on. And rig the game in favour of their staying in power.

    We’ll go nowhere while we continue the familiarity of ‘managers’. First Helen Clark, and now John Key. No wonder we’re running on empty.

    PS: Is there any party at all that is a voice for the unmarried and childless? It’s a group that is regularly and reliably consigned to invisibility – yet they claim to want our votes almost as much as our taxes.

    • PS: Is there any party at all that is a voice for the unmarried and childless? It’s a group that is regularly and reliably consigned to invisibility – yet they claim to want our votes almost as much as our taxes.

      Those of us belonging to that category are out of favour because we’re not producing consumers and therefore offer limited profit for the managers of this farm called New Zealand.

  3. Trouble is Chris ,is that the right wing media have allocated you a 10 second sound bite to say all that!

    • Just reading the headlines for John Armstrong in the weekend Herald or Fran O’Sullivan’s admiration of Keys world class dismissal of protesters articles confirms this.

      Key can be the complete misleading arrogant arse but according to her he is the man!

  4. You also omitted to make any mention of the fact that the hapless Bill English(nothing’s changed) and National (just plain unimaginative and useless),were taken out by Helen Clark and co. for 9 years and had to cheat and lie to make their way back into power.
    I guess in some way you have a point.Like the spoilt bully at school who can’t stand to lose,they will cheat,spit,pull hair,shin kick,toe stamp and use every dirty trick in the book to win.
    The best way to beat a bully how ever is by using the element of surprise….
    It’s going to be a fascinating 4 months!

  5. Chris Trotter for Prime Minister! The last paragraph – wow.

    I fear they are about to draw the curtains on us.

  6. Chris Trotter may have had George Orwell’s “Animal Farm” in mind when he wrote his last couple of paragraphs of this excellent article…

    “Years pass, and the pigs start to resemble humans, as they walk upright, carry whips, and wear clothes. The Seven Commandments are abridged to a single phrase: “All animals are equal, but some animals are more equal than others”. Napoleon holds a dinner party for the pigs and local farmers, with whom he celebrates a new alliance. He abolishes the practice of the revolutionary traditions and restores the name “The Manor Farm”. As the animals look from pigs to humans, they realise they can no longer distinguish between the two.”

  7. Stuff had a live text session with David Cunliffe on Friday. It wasn’t very long – about 30 minutes or so. Stuff in their right-wing bias ruled out a few of my relevant questions in favour of rubbish like “Who is your favourite rugby team?” Real informative eh?

  8. I wouldn’t get too despondent. David Cunliffe was on the money when he said this budget would be all smoke and mirrors.

    Hearing Key go on the attack, like a good bully boy would do when someone dares questions the emperors new clothes, only reinforces it.

    Like everything with the Key National government but unlike Keith Holyoake’s National Governments, its a matter of sorting out the reality from behind the wafer thin truth façade that is presented.

    For openers:

    The Salvation Army have reported a drop in the social housing fund from $130 million to $30 million that unsurprisingly is reaching crisis levels with people with children living in cars, all this in a “Rock Star” economy, no less!

    Despite claiming a budget increase in the health sector, Health Boards have to save money to get it and according to Annette King this amounts to a 23% cut.

    The police also have to make further “savings” vis a vis another budget cut on top of 5 years of budget cuts.

    According to Cameron Pitches, spokesman of the Campaign for Better Transport’ “That $90m grant for electric trains (in Auckland) is old news. Part of the original funding package”. Worse its a loan not additional funding.

    And on it goes.

    Constantly deciphering this governments announcements or worse anything John Key says, gives one a headache because you know absolutely nothing is as it seems. Yet its worthwhile because it becomes quickly apparent that if we even have this pathetic surplus, and that’s questionable, its achieved on the back of cuts and other tricky little manoeuvres.

    In 2014 all National, (bereft of ideas but desperate to cling to power), gave us via English was a shifting of the deck chairs on the Titanic but with band leader Key reassuring us passengers that the tilting deck is merely a smarter way of getting to our destination faster.

  9. The “Cheese-on-Toast Budget” or “wealth rarebit”; the half-baked creation of a cheesy Government with the big cheese renowned for his cheesy smile. If re-elected, probably the only half decent diet that can be occasionally offered with the trifle addition of certain seasonings or garnishes – it will quickly become unappetising. It’s as if the public is just some dipstick for a fondue pot.

    Considering the long-established infestation of neoliberal borer that has made a home in the House of Power, anyone courageous enough to break down the door could cause the entire rotten structure to collapse. Perhaps necessary to build a more accommodating home.

    This Budget demonstrates as much originality and vision as the old dried-out mouldy cheese long forgotten about in the fridge. Heat and serve with a little bread to a downtrodden public.

  10. The top 10% are getting ANOTHER tax break at a cost of $1.2 BILLION dollars, that national will still have to borrow for, while those most in need and on low incomes are excluded from national’s parental tax credits and National’s free visits for children is not starting until next year, if it ever does. An “expected” or speculated surplus still doesn’t pay the bills considering that national have racked up an unprecedented $60 BILLION dollar + govt debt so expect this debt to continue to rise as national continue to borrow heavily. Guess Mr Trotter didn’t actually listen to David Cunliffe’s speech on national’s budget, that pointed out in detail national’s failings and as to why the fudget budget really IS a fudget budget. Cunliffe did labour and New Zealand proud, the standing ovation he received, was well deserved indeed. Its one of the best speeches seen in parliament, no wonder the nats all hung their heads, Cunliffe is right, that the nats have to go.

    • This is factually incorrect.

      Because National closed the tax loophole on LAQCs right at the start of their period in office, the tax contribution of the top 1% actually increased under National. It was the middle class wage earner who benefited by the income tax reduction.

      This is a problem I have with Labour. They talk socialism but in reality just look after their rich mates.

      • That is just plain bullshit and should be consigned to the example list in one of Joe Bennetts’ latest books – Double Happiness -How Bullshit Works.
        Keys’ deluded mob sure are full of it!

      • Too true Grant. What a load of rubbish Andrew. And why is it when national supporters, (like Andrew) are having a go at Labour, they actually describe natiional, who are the ones that, “in reality just look after their rich mates.”

        • Because they are just a bunch of self deluded hypocrites with a born to rule mentality;thats why!

  11. That Labour only get to power in exceptional circumstances is true, which is why they need to make the most of the opportunity. Unfortunately Lange’s government did and sadly Clark’s did stuff all. No point for example Labour complaining about asset sales when they had the chance to bowl Bradford’s idiotic electricity “reforms” but did nothing, leaving the first step to privatisation intact. Then there’s everything else that happened on their watch like the housing crisis, the finance company crisis, the immigration overload…
    For gods sake Labour get in, be bold, do something! Then maybe you wouldn’t have to worry about votes next time.

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