Holding the Centre

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THE PROBLEM WITH CENTRISTS is that, practically by definition, they shy away from extremes. It’s the quality that most encourages voters to trust them. The quality that makes people feel safe. Unfortunately, it is also the quality most likely to bore people rigid. If a politician wishes to promote safe policies, then it is absolutely vital that he does so in an interesting and engaging way. If your brand of politics is boring, then you have to be anything but. So far, Todd Muller has come across as every bit as uninspiring as his politics. Not a good start.

In fact, compared to Jacinda Ardern’s first few days as leader of the Labour Opposition, Muller’s gaffe-prone performances have constituted an excruciating tutorial in how not to play the game of politics.

Who could forget the day Jacinda emerged from the Opposition caucus-room as Labour’s new leader to greet the assembled media. Hers was a performance so faultless, so accomplished, so crackling with energy and sheer, draw-dropping competence that seasoned professionals were reduced to stunned silence. Not, however, before offering brief, two-word responses to her performance like: “holy shit!”, “fucking hell!”, and “bloody unbelievable!” That some political commentators have uttered exactly the same words in response to Muller’s performances should not be considered a good thing. In Jacinda’s case the journalists were responding to how astonishingly good she was; in Todd’s they were registering precisely the opposite!

Muller’s problem is that he lacks Jacinda’s ability to make moderation come alive. Ardern understands that most people are drawn to traditional values and common sense ideas. Far from seeing this as a sign of their intellectual weakness, however, she treats it as proof of their ethical strength. It’s an insight which allows her to infuse the great rounded hump of the bell-curve with heroic purpose. By characterising people’s conventional reactions as the only serious, morally-defensible options available, Jacinda makes the ordinary extraordinary.

Just think of her inspired “They are Us” comment following the dreadful events in Christchurch. It resonated so powerfully because it expressed to perfection the instant identification with the unjustly attacked that is hard-wired into the human animal. Ardern understands the enormous power of common human emotions. Her ability to unleash them; to in effect mobilise the ordinary; is what makes her such a formidable politician. Ardern’s description of herself as a “pragmatic idealist”, and her commitment to being “relentlessly positive”, encapsulate perfectly her determination to not only make Labour’s middle-of-the-road brand of social-democratic politics interesting and exciting, but also to make it honourable.

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If Muller is to have the slightest hope of becoming competitive in this election, then he has to get his head around all this – and quickly. Conservatism, in its proper sense of reflecting the organic social bonds linking the past (our parents) the present (ourselves) and the future (our children) will always enjoy a pronounced advantage over those political movements dedicated to altering the status quo. In politics, no less than in physics, inertia is a difficult state to overcome. And when, for whatever reason, it is overcome; when things are changing way faster than most people like; then promising to make them stop will, almost always, be the winning offer.

What does that mean in practical political terms? That Muller doesn’t appear to know should be scaring the bejesus out of his promoters. That he didn’t immediately reassure voters, calmly and with fatherly conviction, that he understood fully the need – without in any way endangering New Zealanders’ extraordinary victory over the Covid-19 virus – to do everything required to bring New Zealand’s perilous economic situation under control, is problematic – to say the least. Above all else, Muller’s approach to the electorate needs to be relaxed and informal – intimate even. As an avid reader of American political history, he should have no difficulty recalling the way Franklin Roosevelt communicated with the American people during the Great Depression. What could be more relaxed, informal and intimate than a “fireside chat”?

Muller doesn’t need to attack Jacinda or her government directly, he merely has to present the electorate with a credible plan for economic recovery. He doesn’t have to point to Phil Twyford’s, David Clark’s and Kelvin Davis’s failures, he simply has to draw people’s attention to how much still remains to be done. And all the time, in the finest small-c conservative tradition, he has to subtly remind voters of how well the country has fared under past National governments; of the expertise he and his colleagues can bring to bear immediately; of the historically reliable instincts of practical and successful businessmen and women and how vital these will be in securing a prosperous future for New Zealand’s children.

None of those objectives will be achieved by standing in an empty Legislative Chamber, booming out trite phrases to Q+A’s Jack Tame, and gesticulating wildly to thousands of startled New Zealanders sipping tea in their living-rooms.

It is debateable whether Muller and his advisers understand the danger they and the National Party are in. Yes, this is a moment for the quiet and reassuring counsel of a small-c conservative political centrist. The critical question, however, is which politician is currently playing that role? Who has mastered the art of relaxed, informal and intimate political communication? Who will soon announce her intention to mobilise the expertise of New Zealand’s most practical and successful businessmen and women? Who, like so many “ordinary” people has a toddler with a future to protect?

Is it Todd Muller – or Jacinda Ardern?

19 COMMENTS

  1. It’s been satisfying watching the architects of so much pain finally get their just desserts.
    But here’s their problem.
    They want to sell something to NZ. But they don’t want to reveal exactly what it is they’re selling.
    They know that a quiet fireside chat, calmly explaining their economic plan, would let the cat out of the bag.
    Because (and both Bridges and Muppet have alluded to this) the plan is more of the same failed neoliberal ideological rubbish that got us into this mess in the first place.
    More upward transfer of wealth to a select few.
    More exploitation of finite resources.
    More reliance and subservience to China.
    And that’s brought us Climate Change, a Pandemic and regular Economic collapses.

    National seem unable/unwilling to accept it’s the 21st Century.
    Rogernomics/Ruthanasia is dead. It was never going to work. It hasn’t worked. It never will work.
    Finally, after 7 weeks stuck at home ruminating on all this, the voters get this.
    So all the Opposition have left to them is the theatrics. They can/won’t talk truthfully about their “plan”, because the voters don’t want any part of it.
    Hence, all that’s left to them, are the theatrics and empty gestures and personal attacks.

      • They are merely the names we coined in this country for Neoliberal exonomics, as applied by the 2 Finance ministers for which they’re named.
        Of the current political parties, National & ACT are the strongest advocates for this crap. Labour has recognised it is no longer the direction our country ‘needs’ and have been signaling a move away from this failed model.

        • Rogernomics and Ruthanasia – crafted taking local opportunity to install the dictates of the extreme right Mt Perelin Society of which they were both members

  2. “Conservatism, in its proper sense of reflecting the organic social bonds linking the past (our parents) the present (ourselves) and the future (our children) will always enjoy a pronounced advantage over those political movements dedicated to altering the status quo.”

    Rewi Alley:
    ” Why should not all fingers design,
    all hands create, to make
    patterns for us to live in, all minds
    love the best of other minds ? And so
    we would love the real beauty of people
    rather than the gawgaws that cover them, the
    smooth manners that cloak minds
    which may have been something
    given some kind of chance.”

    Sandan, August,25th, 1947.

  3. John Campbell’s interview with Muller yesterday was another window into a box full of nothing…but, it’s what wasn’t said that is most telling.

    Muller recently stated NZ should open a bubble with both Australia and China of all places. He clearly received feedback about this as he has since dropped “China” off the end of his wish list. Instead, he now says, Australia and “further afield”. Has Muller ever given a straight answer to a question since becoming National Party leader? NO

    Burning question is, was Todd Muller caught on on a bare faced lie on NZ Breakfast TV?

    Campbell was trying to ascertain if Muller had been plotting against Bridges for months?..in other words, was epic skulduggery involved from the party that bought DIRTY POLITICS into the NZ vernacular?

    Campbell asked him about his expenses. Muller was down the Nats pecking order but his expenses in recent months was equal to then leader Simon Bridges. Muller stated he’d had meetings in Christchurch related to his portfolio. When quizzed about the timing of these meetings, Muller became uncomfortable and admitted they were meetings from the previous year and couldn’t give details of any Christchurch meetings this year and was keen for a subject change. John Campbell let it go and moved on as he had other important questions but the fact remains, Muller was unable to give any details of any Christchurch meetings this year. VERY telling indeed when considering other factors.

    Muller was then asked if he’d met up with Gerry Brownlee the architect of last weeks leadership coup while in Christchurch. There was a 5 second delay in Muller’s answer before he finally said “no”. I thought it may have been a poor internet connection causing the delayed answer but when asked a similar question there was also another delay before the “no” answer was delivered. Muller stated “I know where you’re going with this John”.

    Fact is, in my world, a straight simple question requiring a straight yes or no never has a 5 second delay. What it “appeared” to me was that Muller recognizing the significance of the question and the consequences of being exposed, was trying to figure out if there was a way he could be caught out if he lied and gave a “no” answer.

    This raises two huge questions.

    1) If Muller had been involved in skulduggery over several months to remove Bridges, is he fit to be the leader of any NZ Political party?

    and more importantly,

    2) If Muller was asked two important questions on live breakfast TV and told bare faced lies, is he fit to look after a pet Hamster let alone a country.

    Is there any way an investigation can be conducted regarding these matters as NZ’s needs and deserves to know the truth.

  4. I’m not sure it’s accurate to describe Ardern’s government as “centrist”. In her famous address in late 2017, Ardern announced the three priorities as “climate, inequality and women”. The first two are totally understandable, though it looks like this government isn’t up to the task of tackling inequality in any meaningful way. But the billing of women as one of her top three priorities is quite astonishing in a country where most indicators show women to be doing better than men, and where suicide rates of young men are at record-breaking levels. It’s the position of a radical feminist – nothing “centrist” about it.

    Similarly, there’s nothing centrist about the “hate speech” legislation being championed by Andrew Little. Enacting this insidious piece of legislation would mean a victory for radical identitarians.

    Meanwhile, the neoliberal structure of our tax system and many of our institutions remains intact. “Centrist” is an inadequate description of this government. Neoliberalism and identity politics are the twin pillars of this government.

    • Just because John Key lost the flag debate doesn’t mean that centrists “don’t stand for anything.” It’s just the argument was teetz.

  5. Muller needs to subtly remind that homeless person sleeping in a shop entrance how well this country has fared under National. Muller himself could bend down and whisper softly into the unfortunate’s ear: “You are safe now my child”.

  6. Christ! ……….. and all the while, politicians wonder why people don’t vote while pundits seek reasons – picking apart every word and phrase (such as “relentless positivity” – which for many has to be chemically induced ).

    We’ll get what we deserve pretty much.

  7. Chris, you really are a good sport!!! There you are, practically schooling Todd Mueller on how to win the election. Make Yourself Likeable 101. Gee, I hope Todd reads this blog! More so, I hope he takes on board your tricks and tips. I would if I was him.
    I doubt he will, after all politicians never listen anyway. They always know best. Who the fuck are we anyway, us learned bloggers and voters…

  8. It was once a theme that Labour governments in NZ go voted in in times of flux or crisis , dis radicle things at times of change, brought about a change , and then quickly got voted out for the conservative Nats to manage the steady continuance of the structure that Labour had put in place, and foe much longer periods. That was perhaps a pattern broken by the Clarke government which was a more typical conservative administration managing the status quo rather than doing anything radical or courageous.
    It might well be a time for National to again take a back seat and watch while Labour deals with the financial crisis looming over the world and cultivate the image of a steady hand while an episode of history passes by during which a steady hand is a hopelessly inadequate response.
    To quote Ron Klinger, an expert on the game of contract bridge, “when the contract looks like being a disaster , let partner play the hand”.( ie the bidding has taken the contract too high and no suit fit has been found so you return the call into a suit partner has bid).
    If the world changes labour will be ripe for criticism however bravely and astutely they deal with it, there will be damage they can do nothing about, but they can still be criticised for it. And then when everything has changed and settled down to a different normality they can present again as the steady hand to take over and competently run the now completely altered show.
    Just a hint in some of what Todd has said makes me think that this is how he intends to run things. I don’t think he expects to win in September or wants to. And that goes for party as a whole. Todd can establish himself as a manager in waiting ; waiting for the dust to settle and the air to clear.

    D J S

  9. ‘THE PROBLEM WITH CENTRISTS is that, practically by definition, they shy away from extremes.’

    Actually it can easily be argued that those who advocate continuation of status quo are actually the extremists.

    I had the very same argument with Harry Duynhoven around 13 years ago, when I proposed -phasing out the use of fossil fuels and promotion of permaculture. He described me and the policies I promoted as extremist. I said, \”What could be more extreme than destroying your own children’s future via abrupt climate change, Harry? There is only one thing to be done with coal -leave it in the ground.”

    My comment fell on deaf ears. After all, Harry was [at the time] Associate Minister for looting and polluting -oops Associate Minister for signing away portions of the NZ commons to overseas corporations for them to exploit – oops, Associate Minister for Crown Resources.

    And so it goes….rapid destabilization or outright destruction of the systems that make life-as-we-know-it possible is accepted as being perfectly normal, whereas attempts to break free from the use of fossil fuels and escape from the clutches of corporations is regarded as extremism.

    ‘Conservatism, in its proper sense of reflecting the organic social bonds linking the past (our parents) the present (ourselves) and the future (our children) will always enjoy a pronounced advantage over those political movements dedicated to altering the status quo. In politics, no less than in physics, inertia is a difficult state to overcome. And when, for whatever reason, it is overcome; when things are changing way faster than most people like; then promising to make them stop will, almost always, be the winning offer.’

    Although we think of inertia as describing the reluctance to change position, I believe a better word to describe our predicament is momentum. The system has momentum, and like a supertanker, cannot change speed or direction quickly. Indeed, just like the Titanic racing towards the iceberg, the system charges towards catastrophe, with everyone scared to alter the course, and the majority in a great hurry to get to wherever they are going, thereby making collision with the iceberg of reality inevitable.

    ‘Who will soon announce her intention to mobilise the expertise of New Zealand’s most practical and successful businessmen and women?’

    Sadly, so few recognize that ‘successful businessmen and women are the problem and can never be part of the solution. Indeed, since business is synonymous with conversion of fossil fuels and other resources into waste, it stands to reason that business is at the heart of our predicament. Clearly that essential truth will not be acknowledged by the majority until after catastrophe has struck.

    In the meantime we have got where we have been headed: 418 ppm.

    Daily CO2
    May. 26, 2020: 417.70 ppm
    May. 26, 2019: 414.06 ppm

    (420-421 ppm in May 2021)

    ‘of the historically reliable instincts of practical and successful businessmen and women and how vital these will be in securing a prosperous future for New Zealand’s children.’

    Sorry Chris, the game is almost over, and there will be no ‘prosperous future for New Zealand’s children’. Indeed, with the burgeoning energy crisis, with environmental meltdown well underway, and with Ponzi finance unravelling fast, a completely now set of paradigms is required.

    However, I do not see any amongst the current crop of politicians capable of grasping the right paradigms and leading NZ in the right direction through the diabolical period that has commenced.

    ‘Who, like so many “ordinary” people has a toddler with a future to protect?

  10. Apologies for the typing errors.

    Correction:

    Indeed, with the burgeoning energy crisis, with environmental meltdown well underway, and with Ponzi finance unravelling fast, a completely NEW set of paradigms is required.

    Perhaps I should elaborate.

    Since the production of carbon dioxide and other wastes via the use of fossil fuels (annihilation via overheating), and the imminent collapse of industrial agriculture (annihilation via starvation) are the ONLY issues really worth discussing, and since NO political party is prepared to acknowledge the reality of unprecedented planetary meltdown and the rapid depletion of major energy sources, and since NO mainstream ‘news source’ is prepared to even mention imminent collapse -bad for advertising revenue and all that- we are in the diabolical position of having entirely the wrong policies forced on us by our so-called leaders (no thanks, I’d rather lead myself and my family in the right direction).

    Thus, sane responses to our collective predicament are not even considered by our so-called leaders, and instead of a managed transition to sane economic and social arrangements [based on reality] we will be subjected to crash-and-burn [based on ignorance and delusion] -with the associated mayhem and immense suffering that will be the inevitable consequence of slightly tweaked business-as-usual.

    Whether the crash-and-burn phase will be reached in the next couple of months or the system can be held together for another six to twelve months is yet to be seen. That said, there is plenty of evidence the crash-and-burn phase WILL be reached well before the end of 2020, especially when one examines what is happening in the US, Brazil (in fact most of the Americas, including Canada), most of Europe, most of Africa, India, Bangladesh, the Middle East etc.

    Only Ponzi finance and rigged equity markets remain, held up via continuous injections of unprecedented amounts of ‘Quantitative Easing’ and near-zero interest rates that make the overall predicament worse!

    • Fossil records reveal that atmospheric CO2 levels around 600 million years ago were about 7,000 parts per million, compared with 379 ppm in 2005. Then approximately 480 million years ago those levels gradually dropped to 4,000 ppm over about 100 million years, while average temperatures remained at a steady 72 degrees.May 3, 2011

      Breaking News: The Climate Actually Changes! – Forbes
      Sorry AFKTT I couldn’t resist

      D J S

  11. Holding the centre is just an excuse to do absolutely nothing until you have built your capital with the electorate and then unleash something controversial like John Keys selling state assets.
    Your polling numbers are good by doing nothing but holding the status quo , smiling and waving and getting the customary photo with All Black boof heads and bingo you are one of the family and have permission too sell the countries assets.
    If this country and this government is serious when it comes too real meaningful change then doing nothing is not an option.
    A reforming government is long overdue too tackle the destruction that neoliberalism has done too the country and its people and right now is a good time too act and use the current crisis too tackle some serious problems after all that is the exact approach that has been used too implement draconian neoliberal policies.
    As for Muller he was expecting a free run from the MSM and must know be questioning the advice he is getting from the likes of Hooten and others who are part of the problem not the solution in this post covid world.

    • john keys selling state assets.
      Against the national referendum of close to 70% against the sales in spite of english and key telling lies that the buyers would be nuns and dads of Kiwis. The shares are mainly overseas owned.

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