The economy is the electoral battleground but society is its casualty

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I ended the week feeling sorry for Simon Bridges. By all accounts he is a decent person but being leader of the Opposition was always going to be tough. Against Jacinda Ardern whose communication skills are legion, and whose confidence in front of the media gives her a strong lead on any competition, Bridges looked fumbling and inadequate. The polled public, his party and the media apparently thought so too.

As news of the National Party leadership coup broke this week, we saw photos of Nikki Kaye and Todd Muller besieged by the press. The media had a new set of targets. Here’s Nikki Kaye getting into a taxi, here’s Todd Muller walking down a hallway with his wife. Here are a dozen cameras in Muller’s path. Here’s Simon Bridges walking into judgement, and subsequently, Paula Bennett and Simon trying to hold face in front of that same ruthless media lens.

In modern day politics, media confidence is everything. You can be a great guy, with huge principles and a proven compassionate track record, like David Shearer or Andrew Little, but if you can’t hold your own in the press, you’re toast. Poor Simon even bumbled his way through his final press conference yesterday as he conceded public defeat to an almost complete unknown contender.

Muller’s first speech as National Party leader, in contrast, was confident and measured, he barely fumbled. He touched off all the segments of the constituency who might have been economically affected by Covid-19 –that’s everybody- and in doing so kept the focus on Labour’s portrayed weakness, the economy.  “This election will be about the economy. The economy in your community” he said, “your job, your main street, your marae, your tourism business, your local rugby league club, your local butcher, your kura, your netball courts, your farms, your shops and your families.” There was a nice bit of appeal to local loyalties, the iconic sports communities of interest, the local butcher (suicidal, possibly bankrupt, destroyed by lockdown and supermarket competition?), some tokenism to Maori votes (“your marae and kura”), your farms (National’s core constituency). But these are real people and real issues so ticking them off will push buttons for voters. Muller seems to have a better speech writer than Simon Bridges, even if he’s just out of the same old privileged white male mould.

The appointment of this new National Party leader hasn’t had the same dignity and dynamism as when Andrew Little resigned to allow Jacinda’s ascension. But it has taken the spotlight off Jacinda and Covid-19, so already – even if as a distraction- is having a positive effect for National.

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National Party voters who give credit to Jacinda’s Covid-19 management will see their conservative social and economic views reflected in Muller’s opposition to abortion, cannabis and euthanasia, even though Simon Bridges was conservative too. And after Simon Bridges’ bumbling through Covid-19, for some voters leaning toward Labour in recent polls, having a leader who isn’t Bridges, may be enough to pull them back. Strategically, Muller is smart enough also to know that oftentimes the election is so close that it’s Winston Peters, not the voters who determines who forms a Government, and so has not yet ruled him out as a future Coalition ally. Indeed, Tracey Martin today warned that Labour shouldn’t take New Zealand First support for granted.

West Coast MP Maureen Pugh who Simon Bridges famously dismissed in a taped phone call to Jamie-Lee Ross as “fxxken useless”, said she’s pleased to see Todd Muller as leader. She thinks it will be good for the West Coast, with mining and hydro-schemes likely to gain his support unlike under Labour and the Greens. The National Party’s conservative, economy-first policy platform -and workers and environment second- is likely to be consolidated in response to Covid-19, so we should expect renewed positioning in favour of big business and extractive industries from Muller. It may also result in Labour’s conservative guard doubling down on their own positions, and see Damian O’Connor continuing to court rural and remote voters. It’s a constituency that New Zealand First also curries favour with (especially with the Provincial Growth Fund) so there may well be a tight contest for the rural-centre ground.

Meanwhile, on the left, commentators have been dissatisfied with the Budget’s failure to deal with a list of pre-Covid-19 problems made worse by its economic effects. The perceived failures include welfare reform; an absence of a universal basic income and a universal basic services safety net; for dealing with business relief not people; for feeding hungry kids, but doing little for their hungry parents; for abandoning migrant workers; and for failing to have a vision for sustainable post-Covid-19 tourism. There was no empowerment of Maori to foster tino rangatiratanga or kawanatanga, and no prison or welfare reform. The consensus is that while the Budget was sound public administration for the times, in which New Zealand has been fiscally well placed to withstand and respond, it’s a management Budget, not one of leadership, despite the leadership we know Jacinda can show in a crisis.

The Labour Government has had to respond to huge challenges with the coronavirus crisis – but there’s a failure to implement their own plans, and a failure to articulate a ‘big post-Covid-19’ vision. There was no vision for tourism, sustainable transport or regenerative agriculture in face of Covid-19 and climate change.

It’s not a reform Budget. It’s not a transformation or a revolution despite the potential and the promises. Chris Trotter and others say that would be too much to expect – real reform would raise the ire of right wing commentators, and middle ground voters and destroy Labour’s support. But Labour’s election was built on the promise of better, of transformation, of courage – and despite the mandate for change in both popular support and the crisis at hand, it’s an opportunity squandered. This was a budget that deals with economics more than socio-economics. A budget that deals with economics as usual more than political-economic reform. Sadly, it’s not even a well-being budget. In fact well-being is likely to have declined due to Covid-19, and a focus on its equitable attainment is more important than ever. That, seems like a dream of more innocent times.

Todd Muller’s criticism of a lack of skill and depth in Labour’s Cabinet, “Labour’s 17 empty chairs” will resonate with many on the right, and some on the left. And while Jacinda’s visit to empty tourism venues in Rotorua at the end of the week in some ways addresses Kelvin Davis’ weakness and tourism calls for her to become the sector’s Minister, despite her superpowers, she can’t be Minister of Everything.

Grant Robertson delivered his Budget speech with observations on experiencing the economic carnage during the 1980s and ‘90s. A period of economic suffering and ruthless government that many of us recall. However, those who don’t learn from history are doomed to repeat it. Without a big plan to deal with the destabilising effects of existing and increasing inequality and poverty, and the unsustainable impacts of environmental destruction – including biodiversity loss and climate change, whether it’s a Labour or National led Government elected in September, it seems we’re doomed to more of the same. Those who don’t change where they’re heading, end up where they going. Both Labour and National will be concentrating on the economy. But there’s not enough evidence of the investment and the change we need to avoid more poverty, suicide, inequality and social and economic pain.

21 COMMENTS

  1. At some stage the general populace will recognize that the BIGGEST THREAT TO THEIR WELFARE IS THE ECONOMY [as it operated prior to the Covid-19 lockdown]. But that won’t happen for a while.

    As long as the general public is fed misinformation by the corporate media (and National Radio) the ridiculous narrative -of infinite growth on a finite planet- churned out by both parties will continue. And everything that matters (especially things that will matter a lot from 2020 on) will be made worse.

    And those of us who say: “Stop! Enough! will be drowned out by those clamouring for their own destruction via overconsumption of fossil fuels and everything that results from the overconsumption of fossil fuels.

  2. Very good depiction f the current situation Christine Rose. The older folks never are considered now;

    I our family and as a disabled 75 yr old person we (my partner and I) find the MSD/WINZ a callous cold hearted hurtful agency now that strips us retirees folk of any dignity.

    During Helen Clark’s tme the elders had special warm caring ‘elder case managers’ take care of us and ‘understood our issues’ but that is gone now.

    These social agencies need to be totally overhauled ASAP before many more elders take their own lives either by desperation or lack of care and compassion.

    My loss of my own dignity is solely due to the gross mishandling of MSD/WINZ agencies by Hon’ MP Carmel Sepiloni we feel totally ignored by her entirely.

    She (minister Sepiloni) has never showed any compassion towards the elders and disabled even during during her press releases as Minister of Disabilities/MSD/WINZ and seems to be nothing but a ‘hard cold uncaring person for the ellders’ and Tacy Marti is a good person who should be running the social agencies not Carmel Sepiloni.

    • Simply introduce a UBI at abut $300 pw per adult. WINZ/MSD disappear over night. Nett savings PLUS you don’t have to try (and we KNOW they’ll fail !) to amend/improve such a sadistic Govt agency.
      If not now, then when Jacinda?
      How come you’re deaf to so many peoples hurt/pain? Is the control file on you so significant?

  3. If “neoliberalism” identifies the economic system the world operated under from 1984 to 2008 , then the system operated under since then , and especially from here on ,needs another name. I suggest “corporate welfare -ism”.
    I don’t see how a regime dependent on governments all over the world issuing ever larger quantities of currency as QE and infusing it into the major corporations and banks, can be compared with a market driven economy that assumes entities that are not profitable will fail. It doesn’t matter whether an incoming government still believes in “Rogernomics” or has a plan to deliberately alter the modus operandi , it is going to change, either in a managed transformation or catastrophically if the same approach is taken as was in vogue between 1984 and 2008. QE has to continue indefinitely to maintain the pretence of the market controlled system of that era. If Todd Muller continues with the latter the change will be accordingly. There’s some hope that the present administration has a plan that recognises the need for a managed transition to a more managed economy with the sort of balance between state and private enterprise, and a framework that keeps private enterprise from monopolistic natural tendencies that existed before 1984. Winston would be my assumption as the main advocate of this strategy . It will involve more local enterprise and less dependence on import/export which will be better for the planet.
    I don’t think understanding what has happened to the world economy under neoliberalism is hard to understand . It seems quite logical that when the countries wealth was fairly evenly distributed throughout the
    population , demand as felt by the market is for the things that everybody needs and wants. When a very small proportion of the population owns most of the wealth , as is the natural tendency of an unregulated economy, the demand that directs resources and capital is naturally for the luxury goods that those people can afford and the goods and services that the majority need are neglected as is the opportunity for paid employment in producing them.
    Let’s hope for some common sense.
    D J S

    • Well summed up David
      Breaking the pattern must happen but which way a new economic and social structure will operate and for how long will be beyond guessing as there are so many variables.

      Sharing to many is not common sense although that is really what society is about.

      Families share food even when it is scarce as protection from within a family depends on the relationships developed.
      We have a parasitic relationship present in our society exacerbated from within the society and from off shore capitalists seeking more of our wealth.

      They deserve no protection and it is not in our long term interests to give them protection or we are reinforcing their parasitism on us.

      • Hi John
        I think they have a plan. Winston has been saying that our economy will be better after this crisis not worse. That we will make more of what we use here and not be so dependent on imports, and as a result have full employment. It fits with Grant’s rhetoric at the budget announcement . They are being cagy about exactly what they are going to do but you can’t blame them for that. If they said they were going to return to controlling the banks and the issue of currency , and the transfer of currency we might well be sanctioned into oblivion by Trump’s US overnight. Just like every other country in the world that has sought to control their own natural wealth over the last 30 years with the exception of Russia (which has proved self sufficient enough in resources and expertise to be better off for the sanctions as they have forced greater self sufficiency,) and China which has also proved too large and too dynamic for the US to push around. The actions will have to be taken a bit at a time and the opportunity presents as the world slides into depression and every country has to start looking out for itself. I think it’s possible that China could turn out to be a friend in that she does really want the stuff we produce , and as the US becomes more and more impossible for everyone to deal with both economically and diplomatically the rest of the world is going to be thrown together by what is proving to be a common de stabilizeing threat.
        D J S

        • David your projection has many elements that could work well but an iron fist of Govt will have to be in a velvet glove or repercussions from US or its lapdog Australia will bite using first MSM then direct threats to scare the public.

          If NZ made land purchases available only to its citizens with proven permanent residency here, then that would be a simple start to sorting out some of our commercial and social infrastucture.
          Similarly business ownership needs to be scrutinised for sovereignty issues about who runs the show basically.

          The banking role of the Govt can be extended in a piecemeal fashion but a platform for this will have to be acted upon swiftly after elections and sold to the public repeatedly on many fronts. Kiwisaver must have an option for accounts in a Government owned investment facility.

          China shows no designs to expand but businessmen world wide will take opportunity where it shows. NZ needs to close doors on opportunity that is liable to effect home grown ownership and business operation.

          The Overseas Investment Office will have to change both personnel and its mandate before it can protect NZ owned businesses and our effective sovereignty. Too much money leaves NZ annually as well as the offshore owned companies increasing their asset base and political influence in NZ.

          Media should never be monopolizsd or controlled by offshore ownership whether that be direct or indirect ownership or control.

          The SIS may well be reorganised to sort out financial and political activity which conspires to campaign or support campaigning against core control of NZ by NZ govt or its agencies.

          NZ being in 5 eyes is a poorly thought policy that was never agreed to by the NZ public and is counter to our growing relationship with Asia.

  4. Its pretty obvious to me, that Capitalism is in its final death throw. The economic shocks have become more frequent and deeper everytime they hit as well it sucks the life out of Sovereign Accounts and public and private debt rises.
    It barely gives any respite from the last one before its triggered off again. Then Governments Sovereign Debt levels extend and grow. Its an unsustainable model and these cycles will come to an end this decade. Its inevitably. Recession, followed by a depression.

    The environment will be the beneficiary and people will have to adapt.

    • Thomas Jefferson once said, though I forget his exact words, something to the effect that, once banks gained control of the money supply, then by manipulating it, they would end up owning everything. This seems to have been happening in Western capitalism under the yoke of “fractional reserve” banking, which grew out of the fraudulent practice of goldsmiths lending money which they didn’t own, for the last 300 years, with nobody having the guts to do anything about it, till we now have the likes of Wall St running amok and causing all sorts of havoc.
      I’m inclined to think that the practice of capitalism would be greatly improved if we deprived the private bankng sector of the right to create money from nothing, andplaced that right squarely within state ownership.

      • That has happened in many places which often become the target of attack.

        State ownership of banking is a fundamental function but frittered away by incremental changes.
        NZ had a State Advances Corporation which loaned money for housing and businesses.

        https://teara.govt.nz/en/housing-and-government/page-2
        By 1954 state home loans accounted for 34% of all new-home mortgages.
        In 1984 a reforming Labour government deregulated the banking sector, significantly increasing the number of players in the mortgage market. It also stopped the family-benefit capitalisation scheme and introduced market rents

        The law supporting State Advances Corporation this was repealed in 1965.
        http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1965/0047/latest/whole.html

        While bankers run the country, govts can still legislate banking laws.

        • In China most nearly all banks are owned by the state and can therefor operate to benefit the overall economy rather than aim at making profits. Could this be a factor in China’s more recent economic success?

  5. David Shearer with a proven compassionate record. Hmmm. I don’t know his background but didn’t like what I saw – anti-beneficiary bias it seemed – sort of Tony Blair stuff. And working for the UN in disaster situations, it’s just resources management so I don’t think he is Mother Teresa material. But that is modern Labour for you, still following the Third Way, make sure there’s a safety net, and let business blossom and boom. Hurrah, we’ll all get pissed and trickle down.

    I dislike Milton Friedman for his twisted philosophy. And also Anthony Giddens name should be remembered. See how he hammered out his ideas, book after book a year.
    Third Way politics is visible in Anthony Giddens’ works such as Consequences of Modernity (1990), Modernity and Self-Identity (1991), The Transformation of Intimacy (1992), Beyond Left and Right (1994) and The Third Way: The Renewal of Social Democracy (1998).
    Third Way – Wikipedia

    and a brief summary
    https://www.theguardian.com/politics/2003/feb/10/labour.uk1

    https://www.jacobinmag.com/2020/01/third-way-democratic-socialism-tony-blair-bill-clinton-uk
    Jan.19/20 The Third Way Is the Past. Socialism Is the Future. By Paul Heideman
    (This seems to have some real meat in it – sorry vegetarians – I should say a good balanced mix of
    protein and carbohydrates. It is something to chew on for sure.)

    • Both of your links tend to attribute virtue to two recognised criminals and war mongering murderers.
      The second link is full of memes for Blairite / Clinton frameworks for more of the same as we have had.

      Marxism is denigrated yet Marx has some very powerful analyses of the economic system but of course rubbished by the neoliberal / Blairite philosophy of dressing up the same old Thatcherite shit with new word gowns and later guns..

      Don’t be taken in. They have nothing to do with Socialism.

      Socialism is the middle way in its many forms and runs on democracy in the workplace rather than democracy run by the power of wealth and who controls the media international and within NZ.

      We have not experienced socialism as an accepted discussion since the rise of the first Labour govt and the from 1935 to 1949, when it established New Zealand’s welfare state. A weekly newspaper stood behind Labour and the socialist understanding.

      But Labour has never pushed for Socialism in the work place beyond earlier supporting strong Trade Unions, support that has now faded away leaving a party that is centralist more than Socialist.
      Helen Clarke introduced Kiwisaver which unlike Kirk’s Superannuation scheme, Helen’s scheme placed the workers money into private institutions and not the state coffers where it would be safe. Many in Kiwisaver have lost money with covid19 uncertainty. The private fund holders still get paid for management of the money amid workers losses.

      Take your pick
      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=w8DPqmQbsdE

      https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ikTZaMhWW1Y

  6. Christine Rose; you are correct here; “But Labour’s election was built on the promise of better, of transformation, of courage – and despite the mandate for change in both popular support and the crisis at hand, it’s an opportunity squandered. This was a budget that deals with economics more than socio-economics. A budget that deals with economics as usual more than political-economic reform. Sadly, it’s not even a well-being budget”.

    It is staring us in the face now; – we definitely need a true “transformational” Government policy ASAP!!!!

    Not just words.

    • Marc we don’t feed 7 billion with starvation being rife in many areas of the globe.
      It can only get worse with soil depletion, pollution, factory and large scale mono-cropping, insect die off with pesticides, climate shift, seal level rise and scams like monsanto /beyer stuffing up traditional proven farming methods.

  7. Catastrophic loss of wilderness on planet earth, as observed by NASA in the 1960s and 1970s. At that time, no significant new habitat existed to house the wild animals that are the future of humanity.

    It’s a common misconception that wilderness is only used as a place to graze cattle. While cattle can graze in the mountains, the wild animals will hunt them and leave the area once the cow finishes grazing and it begins to become too warm. It can happen faster in hotter, drier weather, but when the weather warms up and the cattle begin to move around and hunt, that’s when nature is threatened. The result is the destruction of the ecosystem of the wilderness. It is natural to move the cattle around during times when their population is increasing, as it can help to keep them from roaming far from a suitable den to survive on. As the population increases, it’s natural that they won’t be able to stay with all the same animals that they used to and so can move out of their den to find something suitable to take. The result of this is population decline because you have to add more people to survive. It’s not that you’re losing a natural habitat; it’s that you’re leaving behind something that has evolved to be the best of all possible habitats.

    We now live in a world where the only people in the world that are considered ‘un-wild’ are humans. We’re no longer wild animals, we’re wild people. The first signs of this came from early Europeans around the 11th century when they started making the switch to hunting dogs, not as livestock as they did previously, but hunting dogs. The dogs, like the feral cats and bears we’re in now, would not only eat anything, but also hunt for insects and even small mammals. They were hunting for something, anything, because they were not getting enough food and they didn’t have time to enjoy it. They were not hunting for food; they were killing the food. The only difference was that this time there were people trying to kill them and so they had a good reason to kill them. The wolves were too strong and were unable to deal with the dogs, so they were killed. They were hunted to the ground and all were left with the carcasses they couldn’t eat. Not only had the animals disappeared from their natural environment, but the whole of their environment was gone, which made us even more un-wild. There are now millions of wolves roaming freely in North America, Europe and Asia. Wolves cannot take the place of livestock, they are not animals, and they can’t be used for hunting, so why do we keep killing them?

    Humans are the only species capable of surviving the long term extinction of our planet. We can’t feed them for many year
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    Darwin airport retail expansion set to go ahead dan murphys

    I love to travel, so when I hear rumours of the Perth International Airport (PIA) being expanded, the idea of having all the airport’s ticket desks at once is appealing. In particular, I love seeing that the PIA will include all the shops that will come with a ticket, and that there will be all the same kinds of merchandise that are currently carried by the terminal, and now in its retail area, too.

    I’ve done quite a bit of traveling in Perth since the dawn of the airport, and the thing that has stuck with me since is that many people who come to the airport seem to have a sense of entitlement to everything in their way of getting around. This is something I have observed with people I work with, and I am hopeful that people around here will see this opportunity as one that they will want to take advantage of.

    I understand that people may not be able to come up with the cash to upgrade to the brand new store that will open next year, but I believe that if people do so, they will be able to access the same types of merchandising that people already use, and with a few additional perks, they might even come out on top. And with the amount of people here today who are not already familiar with the new PIA, they might be less likely to change their habits.

    I have yet to come across a single person who would be uncomfortable with their children having access to some of the same items they used to have to buy, or in fact the ones they might even be allowed to keep.

    I encourage anyone who is travelling with my children to attend one of the PIA shop openings, and have a go at visiting that big new retail space, with as little hassle as possible.

    It may be a little tough going as it may look and feel expensive, but with the current restrictions on how much and how long people can go, and the fact that the government has been in agreement with the community on its plans, people in Perth are looking for change.

    If you’re planning to attend one of the opening events, or would like to speak to one of the shop owners to see if they might be interested in selling you anything you need and want, we’d be happy to help.

    How do you plan on travelling to Perth Airport? Let us know in the comments, email abhajeel@news.com.au, or tweet at @Abhajeel_PIO

    Read more from ABH at abhajeel.com.au.

    ABH travel advice

    Read ABH’s travel advice (PDF) for an in-depth look at the many benefits of taking international transport i

  8. Great analysis and most appropriate conclusions, Christine Rose. Thanks.

    The new combination Muller/Kaye has remarkably enhanced political positioning of the National Party, both in better profiling of thematic core subjects and a possible outreach to voters and possible future coalition partners, including Act, NZFirst, NZGreens, Maori Party, even toward a potential Grand Coalition (as unrealistic this may appear right now).

    Emphasizing water management and technological adaptation, cross-referencing to climate change, with focus on small, medium enterprises and rural development is a clever tactical move. It will also attract non-classical national voter groups, if the NP is able to ‘put some meat on the bone’, going beyond the standard environmental rhetoric.

    Contrary to what it is made to look like, and opposite to short-sighted political marketing, the real battlefield for the coming election – and any election in the future – is the extent of exploitation of natural (and human) resources…

    … and its effects on GHG concentration in the atmosphere as a result of the capital accumulation process.

    Most of capitalist economics as presented to the common man and woman is just ideological mumbo-jumbo. Especially, when it comes to economic growth modeling, distribution of wealth across classes of society and capitalization of planetary resources, flora, fauna, human species.

    System Change. Now.

    Joanna Macy – The Shambhala Warrior
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=14dbM93FALE
    Confucianism and Ecology
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=12llI8-j364
    Catholicism and the challenge of ecology
    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4LrIww-06_4

    • If Winston is in the mix after the election he won’t put National into power with the present lineup. He has got a transformational government in his sights as he indicated when he went with jacinda’s labour last time. The cooky has crumbled he way he predicted and his future is with this government if they have any need of him. But most people who vote don’t pay as much attention to the political economy as commenters on TDB. And most voters , all my family ant the people I talk to are mightily impressed by Jacinda. There’s no way national is going to get anywhere near the treasury benches at the next election.

      D J S

    • “Most of capitalist economics as presented to the common man and woman is just ideological mumbo-jumbo. Especially, when it comes to economic growth modeling, distribution of wealth across classes of society and capitalization of planetary resources, flora, fauna, human species.”
      Mumbo jumbo?
      A finite planet has boundaries of space , resources and carrying capacity long term. At present these are all being exceeded.
      Growth really is Mumbo Jumbo.

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