Sunday, July 06, 2008

The Hongi and the Headbutt

"No. 1 was surly, 2 was mean, 3 was vicious and 4 was brutal - although Mean Machine, as he became to he known, was to prove most dangerous on those rare occasions when his dial setting got stuck on 4½."
Thank you frog for curing my writer's block on how I was going to start this post. Because the last week has shown that Labour has got its dial stuck on 4½ and is caught up in a headbutting frenzy.

Helen Clark's been headbutting John Key in Question Time. Michael Cullen's been using his head to drive in the last spike at KiwiRail. Annette King's been bonking Mack trucks. Phil Goff might find a few heads to smack in the NZDF (that's NZ Defence Force, not Drug Foundation). But Labour is hitting its head against a brick wall. The only damage it is doing is to itself, self-mutilation by scalping.

The masses do not not give a flying truck which PR company political parties use, whether it's Crosby Trextor or Crosby, Stills and Nash. Brian Edwards was on cruise control on this morning's Agenda, easily monopolising the segment and carpet-bombing the panel with praise for Labour. Helen Clark isn't a helpless damsel in this department.

The attacks on the ACC/Merrill Lynch connection was likewise self-defeating. The last National government in the late '90s privatised ACC, albeit too late in the play and with abysmal delivery (Many doctors I spoke with at the time complained about the added paperwork). The Merill Lynch report was only stating the patently obvious.

John Key has gone on record stating that no privatisation will occur in National's first term, and he would be a mug to renege on that promise. It's entirely sensible for National to spend the first term in government opening the books, assessing the damage caused by nine years of ineptitude and cronyism, and applying triage to the SOEs.

For example, it will take years for National to recover all the value wiped from TVNZ by Clark's administration. Bill English made a sound case on Agenda, foreshadowing an adjustment to electricity SOE accounts to enable some reinvestment in future generation capacity, as opposed to Labour's wholesale revenue-stripping to pay for pet projects.

Labour's attack on John Key's commercial history not only backfired, it portrayed Labour in the haughtiest light possible. How dare a politician have a previous life in the private sector. Philosopher Kings (and Queens) can only be ordained in the ivory towers of academia, on the slippery pole of union advocacy, the know-it-all egotism of teaching, the long and faithful service as a public sector wonk. Thank you Labour, for tarring intellectual thought in your quest for eternal governance.

These tactics, which I have seen coming for about a year, risk alienating Labour's voting base to the point where it remains an ineffective opposition for a generation or more. I keep telling Labour strategists whenever I bump into them, but it's just not sinking in.

The only saving grace for Labour at present is Russel Norman's inauspicious beginnings as co-leader for the Greens (As Jane Clifton said in Political Animals this week, nobody loves a goody two shoes). I maintain that Nandor Tanczos should have been made Greens co-leader, which would have seen the Greens come out as a serious contender to Labour at the election. Longer term, you might have seen an amalgamation of Labour and the Greens as an environmental and social democratic coalition. But coulda woulda shoulda, it's not going to be. The Greens will be lucky to get eight percent come polling day. It's all over, Rover.

The Nats, on the other hand, are an intriguing beast. Imagination is on their side. While Labour is going headbutt crazy, the Nats are demonstrating cautious humility. John Key's hongi with Tame Iti is emblematic of an openess to new ideas and inclusive consultation that eludes the Labour party.

National's team are a government in waiting. It is not a stretch to imagine John Key as prime minister and doing a better job of it than Helen Clark. Bill English as finance minister trumping Michael Cullen, Chris Finlayson as Attorney General and Treaty Settlements minister, Tim Groser as trade minister, Jonathan Coleman Associate Minister of Health in charge of drug policy. It is not a stretch to imagine that they will listen to reason, unlike their compromised predecessors.

Although my heart belongs to the Labour party long term, I'm sick to death of fisking Labour. There's no sport in it any more. It's like shooting fat, slow moving fish in a claustrophobic barrel. With an Uzi. If National can fulfil my expectations for a Labour government better than a Labour government can, so be it. Warning to the Nats though, if you're found lacking, you'll get both barrels from me ;-)