Tuesday, 12 December 2017

Bringing Down Labour’s Warrior Queen.

Magnificent Loser: Boudica may have raised the Ancient British tribes against their Roman rulers, but she proved to be no match for the discipline and experience of Suetonius's XIV Legion. If Jacinda Ardern is to successfully overthrow the Neoliberal political and economic consensus and establish a genuinely "transformational" government, then she will have to weld her disputatious political tribes into a fighting machine every bit as formidable as Bill English's disciplined and experienced National Opposition.

ANYONE WHO VISITS the British Houses of Parliament cannot fail to notice her. Upright in her war-chariot, the Ancient Britons’ warrior queen, Boadicea, and her daughters, burst out of history like a trio of avenging angels. The bronze statuary does not, however, celebrate a victory. In the bloody revolt against Roman rule of 60AD, Boadicea (or Boudica, as she is properly called) was the loser. It was Suetonius, commander of Rome’s XIV Legion, who won.

Jacinda Ardern’s sudden emergence as New Zealand’s warrior queen, though nowhere near as bloody as Boudica’s, certainly bears comparison in terms of its sheer drama. Like Boudica, Jacinda was able to draw together all the political tribes determined to end the incumbent government’s rule. Also like Boudica, she has enjoyed considerable initial success.

What lies ahead of Jacinda, however, is an enemy who, though outmanoeuvred, has yet to be decisively defeated. Like Suetonius’s XIV legion, the National Party is well-equipped, highly-experienced, and, most importantly, formidably-disciplined. Jacinda’s ragged tribes may outnumber them – but can they outfight them?

The Colmar-Brunton opinion poll, released by TVNZ’s Q+A show on Sunday, brings that latter question into sharp focus. National’s level of support, measured at 46 percent, has not only held up, it has actually improved slightly over the 44.4 percent it won at the General Election.

For the governing parties, the news is not so good. When translated into seats in the House, the Government’s numbers (Labour: 39 percent; Greens: 7 percent; NZ First: 5 percent) deliver no advance on its current tally of sixty-three. If Jacinda was anticipating a “post-election bounce” in the polls, then she and her colleagues will find it hard to avoid feeling ever-so-slightly jumpy.

It’s not only the fact that National continues to enjoy a substantial lead over Labour that must be vexing the Government, but also the sheer size of its opponent’s electoral base. Unlike the Centre-Left, the Centre-Right in New Zealand is not required to continually marshal political parties as diverse as they are disputatious. Instead, they can range themselves against the Left’s warrior queen as a formidable unitary force commanded by a single leader. If Jacinda is Boudica, then Bill English is Suetonius. And if the Government represents the fractious war-horde of the revolting British tribes, then the National Opposition represents the XIV Legion.

Historical metaphors aside, the disposition of political forces revealed in the latest Colmar-Brunton Poll reflects a dangerously divided society. National’s voters clearly remain unconvinced by the new government’s arguments for change. Certainly, this poll has registered nothing like the decisive 10 percentage-point shift in voter allegiance that followed the election of Helen Clark in 1999, and John Key in 2008. Branded by its enemies as a “coalition of the losers”, the Labour-NZ First-Green Government is beset by legitimacy issues entirely absent from previous MMP configurations.

These legitimacy issues are unlikely to be ameliorated by the Government’s apparent determination to keep its spending within the narrow bounds of its “Budget Responsibility Rules”.

The strategic thinking behind this self-imposed restraint is unclear – to say the least! For parties and candidates pitching themselves against the status-quo, boosting electoral turnout is everything. Donald Trump and the Brexiteers did not win by offering their angry constituencies careful and measured policies! For Labour’s share of the popular vote to overtake National’s, its leaders need to roll-out policies of sufficient boldness to mobilise the tens-of-thousands of New Zealanders who have, hitherto, seen little or no point in voting. Proud reiterations of your government’s “fiscal and economic responsibility” will likely strike many of these potential voters as a pretty odd way to bid for their support. Very much a case of “meet the new boss, same as the old boss.”

National’s strategy, by contrast, is clear and simple: take confidence in our strength; remain united and disciplined; and seize every opportunity to inflict maximum damage upon the Government. The Centre-Right seldom requires special policy carrots to lure its voters to the polling-booths. Conservatives know who their friends are.

When Suetonius set the XIV Legion across Watling Street and waited for Boudica to come at him, he was supremely confident that, providing his men remembered their training and followed their orders, the Britons would be unable to translate their numerical advantage into victory. On the contrary, he anticipated that the massive casualties inflicted by his legionaries would soon break the British tribesmen’s fighting spirit and send them into headlong retreat.

If Bill English and his National Opposition are similarly able to hold the line, and drive back every government advance, then he, too, will be rewarded with a loss of confidence in his enemies’ ranks. Moreover, if he takes advantage of Labour’s ridiculous determination to limit the Coalition Government’s room for fiscal and economic manoeuvre, then Bill English, like Suetonius, will bring down his warrior queen.


This essay was originally published in The Press and The Dominion Post of Tuesday, 12 December 2017.

29 comments:

tonybridge said...

I agree eith what you say, Chris. However I have seen you speaking of bold ideas. I have yet to see you elucidate examples. Or have I missed some important posts.
What would you have the current government enact?

greywarbler said...

Having a phalanx of National panting bulls and cows ready to rush the Labour coalition strangers in Government, wa referred to in one of your earlier essays Chris.

...[for]the National Party, the past nine years of Labour-led government had been the purest torture. To be ruled by the likes of Helen Clark, Michael Cullen, Margaret Wilson and Steve Maharey represented an inexplicable upending of the natural order of things. For a few agonising years, it really did seem as though government of farmers and businessmen, by farmers and businessmen, for farmers and businessmen – was about to perish from the earth.

So Labour will have unrelenting pressure like this. It was hard to get thoughtful and NZ-dedicated pollies into government and they only have one shot to save us by setting up good basic systems to help us cope with change and be resilient as things turn to custard. I am expecting something different than time-serving and basic charity to the needy from Labour and their Finance Minister. Something creative and daring, and wise, and co-ordinated with people perhaps like Varoufakis, not constipated by being performers propping up the business of the Western Circus and its Big Wheel.

Diane Percy said...

I was born in Boudica's neck of the woods, and always admired her, but her weapons were fierce. Our Jacnda will fight with kindness and understanding, and, I hope will carry the people with her as her policies move into reality. Best wishes for 2018.

Olwyn said...

Many of your recent postings have the much same themes: (1) Real change means an end to the 30 year war against the working class. (2) For this to happen, the fiscal responsibility commitment must at least be seriously modified, if not abandoned.

Sticking with your Roman theme, here are a lovely couple of sentences by Anthony Blond, about Octavian/Augustus, and the shift from republic to empire: "Octavian was careful to preserve the physical appearance of the Republic. Like a taxidermist, he extracted the vital organs from the dead beast, replacing them with stuffing without damaging the skin." Neo-liberal capitalism has performed much the same trick with social democracy.

The thing is, social democracy is broadly inclusive, while neoliberal capitalism is not, as your reference to class war points out. Where there is social democracy, the appeal to the centre means an appeal to an area of shared interests that extends one way or the other according to whether you represent a constituency of the left or the right. But as neoliberal capitalism extends its stay and inequality increases, the shared interests between the middle class and working class incrementally disappear, so that an appeal to the centre ends up largely excluding the working class. The social-democratic "skin" conceals much of this from almost everyone except for those who are hurt by it. It is particularly invisible to those who have been elevated to see themselves as some sort of cafe society, who can denounce as "authoritarian"anything that might thwart them, while remaining virtually blind to severe impositions on those further down the pecking order.

One can only hope that Labour and its coalition partners can be made to see the amount of water that has gone under the bridge since 2008, and realise that appealing to the centre is no longer enough.

greywarbler said...

There is no way that we can achieve political advancement using kindness and understanding, against the National Party. We have to be serious about these people who are either not particularly kind to definitely unkind and who are not interested in understanding anything but their materialistic goals, which they may or may not achieve with ethical standards and respect for others on the way.

Kindness and understanding plus a helping hand, and a place in the community, is most needed by those on the bottom of the ladder. So here is a Christmas wish for all and that is a better time in 2018 with many large and small initiatives making their successful start throughout the year.

And always the message that the Labour coalition is for people trying to do things effectively, and will help and advance initiatives of value, and it is not a National Party bunfest lazily sitting back and saying 'Let the market do it all'. Which is similar to saying about peasants 'Let them eat cake'.

Polly said...

Taxinda is not doing herself, nor her government any good by attempting to bring Manus Island illegals to this Country.
Taxcinda walk around our major cities, not Mt Albert, and talk to the unemployed and homeless.
Don't guess what they want.
Don't guess what NZ wants. I'll give you a hint it aint illegal refugees,
Stop acting gormless, stop the glamour photo's,
Get real FFS.

Kat said...

Imagine if the likes of Soper, Hoskings, Garner, Gower, Watkins et al continually reminded the electorate through their opinion pieces published on the usual daily basis in the MSM about how Bill English and his National party borrowed millions of dollars when in govt, cos it was ok, and that Jacinda Ardern and her coalition is going to do the same, cos its ok, and more so because it will be used to benefit the many not just the few.

Imagine that.

Victor said...

A couple of months ago, you were comparing poor Jacinda to Joan of Arc.

So now she's Boudica:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=poJXSZZ-bmE

Chris, I always enjoy your extended historical analogies. But maybe, just maybe, you should give the Daughter of the Nation a brief break, so that she can decide for herself whether or not to place scythes on her chariot wheels.

bob said...

First she's like Joan of Arc, now Boadicea. Who's nexty Chris? How about Cleopatra? Mother Theresa? Reminds me of the way they gave Obama the Nobel Peace Prize before he'd done much, of course he went on to preside over the rise of ISIS. Jacinda ain't done much either, and who knows what unintended consequences she will yet preside over.

greywarbler said...

I picked up a booklet about Boudicca's last battles around her home territory which I think was about Colchester. The historian noted that details of the plans and defences were leaked to the enemy by a disaffected person from the tribe. Working with people who are committed to the same cause and practices and being able to trust them not to drift off track is gold - the Three Muskteteers thing. I hope that the Labour clique will be able to work in step.

Wayne Mapp said...

Well, you can already see some of National's determination coming through in their various press releases and their energy in Parliament. They are holding the government to account at every possible turn. Listen to Judith Collins versus Phil Twyford last Friday on Radio Live; lambs to the slaughter and done with seductive charm.

And Jacinda's allies in battle are already wilting if the polls are to be believed. NZF could go under 5%, just as they did in 1999 and 2008. In that case it is a battle of the two big battalions, as Labours flanks collapse in disarray. Except Jacinda's big battalion is weaker than Bill's.

There is every incentive for National to use every opportunity in 2018 to discredit the government. The 2020 contest could easily be won or lost next year. To use a 20th century analogy, will Labour have extended itself beyond sustainability and suffer a Stalingrad next year? That was the turning point in WW2. After that for Germany, every step was a step backward.

jh said...

Speaking of legitimacy issues
http://www.quarterly-review.org/will-kymlicka-and-the-disappearing-dominion/
We have a group who hover above the rest protected from any form of scrutiny, yet their ideas are whacky.

Charles E said...

You lot realty believe your side is morally superior. This is hubris, a Greek word, well known to the ancients. And its consequences.

The other side cares equally as much, but believes that advancing the collective welfare should be done differently.

Your failure to realise this makes you as blind as some of the people you despise, and as morally vain.

countryboy said...

@ polly. Are you ok? The sun has been quite hot of late.

Anonymous said...

I now invite you Chris to revisit the Battle of Cannae where the Carthaginian leader Hannibal defeated the 85,000 strong Roman army with a force of 45,000 that included the Spanish, the Gauls and Africans. Brilliant tactics overcame the the huge weight of numbers. To have such an inferior (in numbers) and disparate force believe in him must have taken time.

Our new Prime Minister is still an unknown quantity and perhaps we need to be a little more patient and perhaps quietly optimistic that she can capitalise on her impressive skills that she showed in the election and convincing the 'old dog' to go with Labour and the Greens post election.

Jens Meder said...

If Jacinda's socialism means being socially concerned and not the social ownership of the means of production, there is a good chance Labour could achieve long time leadership from the center of the political spectrum -

which can be initiated by the bold policy of re-introducing the $1000.- Kiwi Saver kick-starts - unconditionally to all those who did not qualify or have not received it yet - "from cradle to grave".
This has been suggested before, but not this nor any other innovative policy has been discussed on this blog so far.

Does the centrist socio-economic vision of a have-not poverty-less "Ownership Society" not appeal to anyone on this blog ?

sumsuch said...

These innocents fight violently knowing their right. Remember '35.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Does the centrist socio-economic vision of a have-not poverty-less "Ownership Society" not appeal to anyone on this blog ?"

No. It's a fake vision of the future put out by Blairites, and even then honoured more in the breach than the observance.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"You lot realty believe your side is morally superior. This is hubris, a Greek word, well known to the ancients. And its consequences."

And your lot doesn't Charles? One only has to read your posts to realise that you at least do. With more than a touch of patronisation.
TBH, I think it's pretty well proven that conservatives don't care too much about the wider society. They reserve their caring for immediate family and friends. Whether this is a moral failing or a psychological quirk I don't know, but I would say that Margaret Thatcher put it in a nutshell, and damned millions to generational poverty. I think though there might be a certain amount of self-delusion in there. Trickle-down economics, which we all know by now doesn't work, is a sort of religion amongst the right. After all, even Roger Douglas must admit surely that it's been given enough of a trial by now. But no. Now THAT'S hubris Chas.

Bushbaptist said...

Sweden increased taxes and their economy is growing at a considerable rate.

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=WlAR1I1sVCg&pbjreload=10

greywarbler said...

There are some old saws that can be applied to Jacinda and the Coalition government and its doings.

One is that bit about the growing twig.
'As the twig is bent, so grows the tree'. Good gardeners know that there is science in that. You get more fruit from a tree if a branch grows at a certain angle. So right from the beginning you do the necessary to get the shape right.

Another is about relationships. Behave from the first in the way you wish the relationship to continue and start off in a direction you have chosen that will lead to the desired end. So what is the desired end of NZ after a term of being Finance Minister Robertson?

If thinking of following in the footsteps of people with a lot of experience, Robertson could consider:
“Some people say they have 20 years experience, when in reality, they have 1 year's experience repeated 20 times.
(Stephen M R Covey to Richie Norton when Norton asked if he was too young to train older executives for Covey.)”
― Richie Norton from Goodreads


A great film that drew the world into its story must have one that resonates, and perhaps George Lucas put it succinctly.
The story being told in 'Star Wars' is a classic one. Every few hundred years, the story is retold because we have a tendency to do the same things over and over again. Power corrupts, and when you're in charge, you start doing things that you think are right, but they're actually not. George Lucas
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/george_lucas_578048?src=t_start

Franz Kafka wrote thoughtfully, and with his writing in mind I think we need to go through another human society metamorphosis. At present the vandals have clipped and torn our wings, they are tattered if not absent.
Start with what is right rather than what is acceptable. Franz Kafka
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/franz_kafka_119538?src=t_start

The problem is that comfortably-off NZs have turned into a lot of Neros. They watch from behind their glass walls and gates the majority of NZs scrambling and some falling away from the body politic. The difficulty is that bringing balance and health back into NZ economy will mean loss to them of some of their wealth.

Our society is ratcheted up, leveraged, and though we got through previous financial shocks, if we aimed to be resilient to climate and other shocks and concentrated on moving towards self-sufficiency, the options for easy wealth creation and playing in the financial market would drop. To live according to our national means would mean a loss of some pleasures for a significant minority and also the large group of aspirational social climbers.

Have we got the guts to pick up the ball and run for touch? I think that we are a lot of high-rolling spectators at heart, and without much of a heart. But then sometimes I'm really wrong. But at present I remain unimpressed and cynical about NZ whose get-up-and-go seems to have left some time ago.

But the laconic question recurs for a hopeful person:
This is Sunday [put today] and the question arises, what'll I start tomorrow? Kurt Vonnegut
Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/kurt_vonnegut_701608?src=t_start

Nick J said...

Love your Stalingrad analogy Waynne, of course that was the hubristic position of over extension by National, "austerity" for 9 years finally caught up. Ultimately National lost the popular vote in minor bites over years.

I think that whoever seizes the zeitgeist will prevail and Nationals "energetic" performance is not that, it is the same tired lazy nonsense that they dished up in office. Labour will fail too if it fails to adopt new ideas. Any votes leaving Labours partners will come the way of whoever has an "answer". The old answer aka Helens version, Joyces version wont pass muster, its full of maggots. And National has not changed one iota.

Jens Meder said...

How can achievable personal assets ownership be a fake vision, Guerilla surgeon, when most of us desire and need it (housing!), and are achieving it through simple saving and investment or capital debt repayment ?

What alternative vision of personal responsibility based welfare and security can there be, and if you are born with nothing, how can you expect to acquire wealth ownership without the austerity of frugal consumption for the sake of building up prosperity and
security?

Did not our liberal welfare society through more consumption than what wealth was created, come close to the Greek state of insolvency through National's generous and popular NZ Super policy from entitlement age 60, even though it was still 5 years higher than what it had been in Greece ?

If you have proposed any measures towards a vision of the future, then please let us know about it again, for open consideration and discussion.

David Stone said...

Charles E and Jens Meder...

You both allude, Charles more directly, to a very good point; That we all would like to see a fair society that leaves no-one in deprivation, and everyone with the opportunity to contribute to society and participate in what society has to offer. That it is just how best to achieve that situation and move toward it's better implementation , and the structure most suited to maintain that situation that is what we argue about. But when couched in terms of derision and insult the excellent point is lost.

Chris once posted his view of what his ideal social democratic structure would look like. I don't think genuine informed public desire would take society quite as far toward a planned economy as he does. But there seems to be a range between a completely centrally planned , no free enterprise Soviet era type system to a completely uncontrolled capitalist structure where markets and capital decide everything. I don't think this will achieve the society we all want either.

Where abouts on that spectrum do you see the ideal? Where does Wayne see the spot?

On the other hand where does everyone else here see their Ideal, and when condemning capitalism, what structure would replace it? how would decisions be made as to "Why What and for Whom" . Who would decide? how would these people be selected?

Cheers D J S

sumsuch said...

The 46 % however are wrong. Misled, however you like to put it.

I work for the 46% (the 10% and their hopeful nitwits), I live with the 54% -- where lies our soul? Mortgage-paying or 'everyone is equal'.

Legitimacy issues for this govt are dismissed by the Right's acceptance of equal coalition discussions prior. I don't want to interpose logic into nonsense. If our Right wants to go down that route, as per other English-speaking countries...

I think a little violence of talk is a vital sign of demo-cratic govt. Without, you have to wonder.

The underdog waits interminably (33 years here). A govt means something when that wait ends. I wait, accordingly, for Labour's policy on 'poor children' -- some shit styling that passes the mortgage-payers' jaws for 'the poor'.

jh said...

Cameron Slater is blogging against the banning of foreign buyers of property . he throws in "chinky sounding names". This demonstrates the dilemma of multicultural society and why Bodacea is not relevant. Society now is too complexhttps://motherboard.vice.com/en_us/article/wnxbm5/society-is-too-complicated-to-have-a-president-complex-mathematics-suggest

Charles E said...

Both sides in NZ are social democrats without the capitals. Whatever you call them, 'the other side', they are much like you, they too are proponents of a highly modified, regulated democratically controlled capitalism.
We just differ on how regulated, how controlled and sometimes on how democratic.
So please grow up some of you, the people next door may differ on who they vote for but you are not better than them because of your political prejudices. That is infantile. And it risks opening dangerous divisions which we would all lose by.

sumsuch said...

Charles E, I don't take kindly to '84 and '90 in the social democratic respect, but I appreciate muchly your sentiment now (if you could just persuade the nostril-snorting National Party to cease with the legitimacy shit I could see the true sincerity of your sentiment).

jh said...

I hope you get time to listen to that Chris, if only to check out the strength of the argument. Remember the Auckland University lot, they weren't confident enough to front up to the media who criticized their Celtic symbolism which has "also been used by Neo Nazis...". On The Project Duncan Grieve said "when the lights come on the rats scurry away". The rats are back (and they are arguing effectively):https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Z6x8q6lBLgw