“A Giant Beast Called The Government”

By   /   March 2, 2018  /   5 Comments

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SOMETIMES the mask of politics-as-it-is-officially-presented slips and the true face of the political class is revealed. A particularly serious slippage occurred quite recently in a Spinoff feature  about “partisan lobbyists”.

SOMETIMES the mask of politics-as-it-is-officially-presented slips and the true face of the political class is revealed. A particularly serious slippage occurred quite recently in a Spinoff feature  about “partisan lobbyists”. Neale Jones, a senior backroom operative in the dreary days of Andrew Little’s leadership of the Labour Party, but now the go-to lobbyist for people and businesses in need of some face-time with Labour cabinet ministers (or the public servants advising them) did something no member of the political class should ever do – he told us exactly what it thinks of our democracy.

It is a fundamental mistake, he told the feature’s author, Asher Emanuel, to assume that the Labour Party has anything to do with the day-to-day decision-making of cabinet ministers and public servants. Never mind that Labour spin-doctors rattle-on about New Zealand having a “Labour-led Government”, the actual, this-is-really-going-to-affect-you, business of government takes place in an almost entirely non-partisan environment.

“The Labour Party is not the government” says Jones. “The government is the government. I don’t go and try to lobby the Labour Party. The party does have its democratic structures and its policy platforms and manifesto and that is something that the government — the Labour government, the Labour Party-in-government — the government tries to advance. But ultimately there is a giant beast called the government and it’s the public service, it’s MPs, ministers, ministers from various parties.”

It’s the same with policy. Jones is scornful of the whole notion of public policy being, at its core, a democratic process.

“A Labour Party member sitting in a dusty hall in Temuka is not writing the government’s policy”, Jones says. “Eventually there’s an impact. But you’re not dealing with that person in the democratic process. You’re dealing with the government.”

At least Jones was decent enough to throw that “eventually there’s an impact” life-line to all those benighted souls raised on the notion that ordinary citizens, sitting in dusty halls, might be able to change the way their society is run. Although, he makes it pretty darn clear that those party members will find it very hard to recognise their ideas in what finally emerges from the “giant beast called the government”.

As Emanuel observes, there is no way of escaping the need for expertise when it comes to influencing the formation of public policy. An organisation wanting to change things, says Jones, is unlikely to succeed without “a decent communications and government relations capacity.”

And, as Emanuel quips: “it helps to be of the political world.”

“If you’re not in that world,” says Jones, “you don’t know, necessarily, how to engage with legislation and regulation. You don’t know who the people are, you don’t know them personally. You don’t know what makes them tick.”

In other words: “Ordinary citizens wishing to change the world should not attempt to do so without a $200-per-hour guide. Citizens requiring guides should proceed to the nearest lobby.”

Emanuel is gloomily philosophical about the world Jones inhabits.

“A certain kind of realism insists that this is simply the shape modern democracy must take. From this vantage, these trends are an inevitability, principle must yield to practicability, and moral conviction is mere aesthetics.”

Jones, of course, agrees: “I got into politics for economic justice issues and I believe in social justice. But also, I’m a pragmatist and a realist and I focus on how to get things done. The measure of what we do is what we get done, or what we achieve.”

These, then, are the opinions of what passes for a “progressive” member of the political class.

But is Jones right? Do pragmatism and realism require the quest for economic and social justice to remain seated in the waiting-room of history until the political class – those professional servants of the “great beast called government” – are ready to receive them?

The history of social and economic change in New Zealand strongly suggests that Jones is very far from being right.

New Zealand’s social welfare system which, in its essentials, came into existence on 1 April 1939, wasn’t written in a dusty hall in Temuka. It was, however, written 80 miles down the road, in the tiny rural settlement of Kurow.

Its authors were Gervan Macmillan, the local GP; Arnold Nordmeyer, the local Presbyterian minister; and Andrew Davidson, the local schoolteacher. On the doctor’s dining-room table, these three – whose jobs had brought them face-to-face with the worst privations of the Great Depression – mapped out the contours of a system which would, eventually, take care of their fellow citizens “from the cradle to the grave”.

Nordmeyer and Macmillan took the plan to the 1934 Labour Party Conference, where it was enthusiastically endorsed and included in the party’s 1935 manifesto. By 1938 it was the law of the land.

Not bad for three ordinary citizens, gathered around a dining-room table in Kurow, North Otago.

And not a lobbyist in sight.

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5 Comments

  1. Sam Sam says:

    UBI removes most of the toxic parts of money…

  2. David Stone says:

    Both things are true though aren’t they Chris.
    For 99% of the time nothing interferes with the status quo. But major change when everyone can see the need can overturn the establishment.
    Maybe we will see such a time again before us baby boomers expire.
    D J S

    • CLEANGREEN says:

      Global warming is now a reality; like it or not, it will cause harm to our economy and future lifestyle.

      US government scientists have used new analysis systems proving sceptics wrong, and that a critical part of out atmosphere temperatures are rising at an alarming and unnatural rate.

      Sceptics argued temperatures were rising as a ‘natural variation to a mini ice age.’

      The atmospheric changes occurring rapidly now are what the scientists say they would expect to see if ‘man made gasses were causing it to heat up.’ They claim ‘this latest evidence could convince not just scientists but the public as well.’

      Citizens attended a NIWA seminar in HB on 29/4/04, where senior atmospheric scientist, Jim Salinger, forecasts long term global warming and adverse weather events that will affect our farming and horticulture sectors. We will feel these effects by damage to our economy and lifestyle.

      We must attempt to reduce our spiralling increase of fossil fuels. Transport is our fastest growing source of greenhouse gas emissions, according to government. The ‘more roads for more cars and trucks’ policies must be replaced by increased rail freight and more use of public transport, if we are to limit the future damage to our lives and those of our generations to come. Diesel engine exhaust contains 100-200 times more small particles of pollution than petrol engine exhaust. These particles are responsible for cancer and respiratory disease and, according to scientists, cause an increase in melting of polar and glacial ice fields.

  3. countryboy says:

    Aah, those were the days @ Dear Chris Trotter.

    Now-A-days, it’s more crocodile tears and bullshit.

    And what a great analogy you proffer. Behind the facade of an elected few muppets there is the real dubious choir singing their own tune. And not indefatigable and above it all, but down in there, in the dirt with the other infamous perversions, tirelessly working on their own agenda’s. Are they why God invented gunpowder?

    It really is just a case of where a select few greedy, creepy, psychopaths are getting in the way of us all having a great time.

  4. Marc says:

    Quote:
    “It is a fundamental mistake, he told the feature’s author, Asher Emanuel, to assume that the Labour Party has anything to do with the day-to-day decision-making of cabinet ministers and public servants. Never mind that Labour spin-doctors rattle-on about New Zealand having a “Labour-led Government”, the actual, this-is-really-going-to-affect-you, business of government takes place in an almost entirely non-partisan environment.”

    Thanks, Chris, an excellent post.

    This is exactly how I have seen it, and how it is. We are run by a massive bureaucracy that does merge its interests with the business sectors of the country, so to ensure that they can operate much to their pleasure, as long as some basic rules are followed. The rest is more or less window dressing, and slogan talk to appeal to weak minded or emotional voters, who love to hear politicians talk about them, making them believe they matter.

    When we talk trade policy, you need to know the ins and outs of trade deals NZ Inc has committed itself to. When we talk social policy, you need to know how much business is prepared to pay in taxes, and how much the selfish part of the populations will put up being taxed.

    When we talk defence, bear in mind the alliances, when we talk spying, bear in mind the Five Eyes network and other alliances, when we talk anything, the ‘experts’ will come and remind any government, this is the straight jacket you are allowed to operate in, all else is unrealistic in our view.

    Hence the flip flops, betrayals and so forth. Once MPs are part of a government, they also vow to operate in a framework of a constitutional monarchy, and swear allegiance to the Queen.

    So if we want real change, something of a real revolution is needed, and even then, beware of the turncoats, backstabbers and traitors.