While the Left has been fiddling about with much gnashing of teeth and tears of concern over the right of two Canadian neo-fascists to speak at an Auckland City council venue – National’s focus has been laser-like at regaining power in 2020.
Like rust, the Right doesn’t sleep. Their failure to install a fourth-term National government came about only because of a fatal mis-step by (most likely) someone in the National Party/Government in a clumsy, ham-fisted ploy to undermine Winston Peters and cripple NZ First in last year’s general election.
Whoever released Peters’ superannuation over-payments to the media did so with political malice-aforethought. It was an agenda to neuter Peters and his party, and it was executed with callous precision.
It failed because Peters was canny enough to counter with a parry that revealed the ploy for the ruthless strategy that it was.
The black-ops plan succeeded in only alienating Peters and reminding him that National was not to be trusted. With thirtythree years political experience, Peters had no intention to be anyone’s “useful idiot”.
With no potential coalition partner on the horizon (unless one is manufactured by a National MP splintering from his party), National’s only remaining options are;
- Coalition with the Greens. Chances: worse than winning Powerball Lotto.
- Winning 50%-plus of the Party Vote. Chances: somewhat better than Option One.
National opened it’s 2020 election campaign with three salvos of highly publicised policy released with much fanfare at it’s recent conference.
For most middle and upper-middle class voters Charter Schools are a non-issue. Their children either attend State schools, Integrated Schools, or Private Schools. The common thread between all three is that they are established; staffed with qualified professionals; and the curriculum is bog-standard (with minor variations-on-a-theme.)
Charter Schools would appear to further ghettoise education for lower socio-economic families – a fact already well-known as “white flight” from low-decile State schools.
National’s hard-line stance to increase Charter School numbers should it be re-elected to power is curious because it would not appear to be much of a drawcard for propertied middleclass voters who tend to vote along self-interest lines.
Which indicates that the policy has other intentions; a toxic “witches’ brew” of ideological (further) commercialisation of education and a subtle, well-camouflaged attack on teacher’s unions.
So: not specifically designed to be a vote-winning policy. More of an weaponised attack-policy on State education and unions.
Perhaps the most eyebrow-raising policy to be released was classroom size reduction. Made by current National Party leader, Simon Bridges on the day of the Conference opening on 29 July, he committed National to this radical (for Tories) social policy in clear english;
“All our kids should get the individual attention they deserve. That’s why I want more teachers in our primary schools, to ensure smaller class sizes for our children.
Schools currently get one teacher for every 29 nine and ten year olds. It’s lower than that for younger children.
Those ratios should be reduced.”
Mr Bridges’ newfound concern for classroom sizes harks back to several speeches made by former PM, John Key, in 2007 and 2008, where he lamented growing social problems in New Zealand.
“As New Zealanders, we have grown up to believe in and cherish an egalitarian society. We like to think that our children’s futures will be determined by their abilities, their motivation and their hard work. They will not be dictated by the size of their parent’s bank balance or the suburb they were born in.”
And again in 2007;
“During his State of the Nation speech on Tuesday, Mr Key indicated National would seek to introduce a food in schools programme at our poorest schools in partnership with the business community.
“I approached Wesley Primary School yesterday, a decile 1 school near McGehan Close, a street that has had more than its fair share of problems in recent times. I am told Wesley Primary, like so many schools in New Zealand, has too many kids turning up hungry.
“We all instinctively know that hungry kids aren’t happy and healthy kids.”
“This time a year ago, I talked about the underclass that has been allowed to develop in New Zealand. Labour said the problem didn’t exist. They said there was no underclass in New Zealand.”
Once elected into power, National quiety dropped it’s concern for social problems. Social Development Minister, Paula Bennett, did not even want to countenance measuring growing child poverty in this country. It suddenly became the fault of the poor.
Now Simon Bridges has dusted off National’s Manual for Crying Crocodile Tears.
Ironically, in tapping into parental fears of over-burdened schools and their children suffering because of over-worked teachers, Mr Bridges’ policy commitment stands diametrically opposed to National’s doomed policy announced on 16 May 2012 to increase classroom sizes;
The policy was announced by gaff-prone former education minister, Hekia Parata, who clumsily (if honestly) admitted that the move was purely for fiscal reasons;
”The reality is that we are in a tight economic environment. In order to make new investment in quality teaching and leading, we have to make some trade-offs… ”
Teachers – and more importantly, voting middle-class parents were having none of it. National’s cost-cutting of welfare, health, and state housing was one thing. But interfering with their Little Johnny and Janey’s education? Like hell.
Especially when it was revealed that then-Prime Minister, John Key’s own children attended private schools with… smaller class sizes!
The over-powering stench of hypocrisy further infuriated the voting public. The policy lasted twentyone days before it was hastily dumped;
Simon Bridges was unequivocal: a National government would spend more on education;
“National will invest more to make sure our kids get the best quality start to their education, but we will also demand nothing but the highest standards.”
However, National has not explained how they will pay for the cost of additional teachers. Especially as National continues to advocate for a billion dollar mega-prison to be built; promised to dump the Coalition’s fuel taxes, and has not ruled out offering election tax-cut bribes.
As National has been fond of demanding: where will the money come from for extra teachers? Is this National’s own multi-billion dollar fiscal hole?
It was left to Labour’s own education minister, Chris Hipkins to point out;
“It’s very expensive to make even a modest change to class sizes and I think that’s something we want to talk to the teaching profession about.”
However, barely a day after his Conference speech, Mr Bridges was already backtracking;
Simon Bridges admits his promise of smaller class sizes may not mean fewer students per classroom.
The National leader announced a new policy to reduce the teacher-student ratio, as a centrepiece of his conference address over the weekend.
However, many primary schools run “modern learning environments” with several classes in the same room.
Bridges told Kerre McIvor National’s policy is about the number of staff per student, not the number of students per room.
” So in those modern learning environments, that may mean more teachers, but that doesn’t necessarily mean smaller classrooms.”
At least Hekia Parata’s plan to increase classroom sizes lasted three weeks. Mr Bridges’ ersatz “commitment” did not last 24 hours.
The Coalition should be making mincemeat out of Mr Bridges’ policy u-turn.
An oldie, but a goodie. Tories understand how to tug the fear-strings of a sizeable chunk of the voting middle-class. National and other conservative parties around the world are (in)famous for manipulating middle-class fears on crime for electoral purposes.
One of their 2011 election hoardings explicitly exploited those fears;
A recent video campaign on National’s Facebook platform has gone a step further into whipping up fear and paranoia;
This is a shameful, naked ploy to play on peoples’ fears.
It was backed up by former mercenary, and current National Party “Justice” Spokesperson, Mark Mitchell, who tried to offer “alternative facts” relating to crime figures;
The Government needs to stop looking for excuses to go soft on crime and come up with a plan to reduce crime, National’s Justice Spokesperson Mark Mitchell says.
“No doubt the report today from the Prime Minister’s Chief Science Advisor saying that being tough on crime is to blame for rising prison costs and inmate numbers is music to Andrew Little and Grant Robertson’s ears.
“They’ve been looking for excuses to loosen up bail and sentencing laws so that the Government doesn’t have to go ahead with building the new Waikeria prison and can boast about reducing prison numbers.
“But the cost of prisons cannot be an excuse not to put people in prison, if that’s where they need to be. The priority must be to ensure that victims are kept safe from violent criminals.
“We know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending.
“Violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011 and this is largely the type of crime that people get sent to prison for. This is also the type of crime that has the most serious and long-lasting impact on victims’ lives.
Which is confusing as not too long ago, National was trumpeting several propaganda infographics on their Twitter account;
Mr Mitchell is at pains to point out that “we know that the overall crime rate has been decreasing, but a lot of that is due to a reduction in lower-level offending” – yet the infographics above make no such distinction. On the contrary, the second “broken bottles” infographic makes clear the figures relate to “Total Recorded Crimes”.
Perhaps they should get their propaganda straight.
In a startling admission, Mr Mitchell confirmed that ““violent crime has actually gone up four per cent since 2011″. It appears that the “Three Strikes Law” – enacted the previous year in 2010 – has failed to reduce criminal offending.
The questions that Coalition government ministers should be putting to their National Party colleagues are;
- Is it not irresponsible to be exploiting fear about crime for electoral purposes? How will knee-jerk rhetoric assist an intelligent debate on imprisonment and rehabilitation?
- If crime, imprisonment, and rehabilitation require cross-party concensus, will National continue to pursue electioneering on “tough on crime”?
- If National pursues a get-tough-on-crime election platform in 2020, and if they are elected to government – how will they pay for hundreds more prisoners jailed? Will National borrow a billion dollars to pay for a new mega-prison? Will health, education, DoC, and social housing budgets be cut? Will National increase GST, as they did in 2010 (despite promising not to)?
- What is the limit that National will tolerate for an increasing prison population?
The Coalition Parties need to formulate a clear strategy to combat fear-mongering by a National party desperate to regain power.
The question that should be put to National is; where will the billions of dollars for new prisons come from?
The prison population has all but doubled in eighteen years, and tripled since 1987, as successive governments have ramped up “tough on crime” rhetoric and pandered to fearful low-information voters;
Tough-on-crime may be National’s default strategy. If addressed correctly, it can also be their weakness.
The Daily Blog: Real reason why National are considering cutting ACT off
Massey University: Education Policy Response Group (p30)
NZ Herald: John Key’s ‘A fair go for all’ speech
Scoop media: National launches its Food in Schools programme
NZ Herald: John Key – State of the Nation speech
NZ Herald: Key admits underclass still growing
Fairfax media: Bigger class sizes announced
NZ Herald: Key called hypocrite over class sizes
Fairfax media: Backlash forces Government class size U-turn
NewstalkZB: Simon Bridges explains smaller class size policy
Fairfax media: Does the Government have any money for this Budget? Yes
National Party: Prison costs cannot be excuse to go soft on crime
Parliament Legislation: Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010
Fairfax media: Key ‘no GST rise’ video emerges
The Daily Blog: What the 2018 National Party Conference tells us
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