(Or, “It’s only ‘hypocrisy’ when the Left do it!“)
The Labour-Green New Deal
On 14 February, the Left finally woke up to the realities of MMP. A deal was brokered and the only possible, logical outcome arrived at;
The Radio NZ story is correct; Dunne retained the Ōhāriu electorate by only 710 votes.
Had Green voters given their electorate vote to the Labour candidate, Virginia Andersen would have won Ōhāriu by 2,054 votes and National would have lost one of their coalition partners.
With the subsequent loss of Northland to Winston Peters in March 2015, National would have lost their majority in Parliament and would have had to either rely on NZ First for Confidence and Supply – or call an early election.
A major victory for the Left (and all low-income people in our community) would have been the abandonment of National’s state house sell-of. (Current state housing stock has dropped from 69,000 rental properties in 2008 to 61,600 (plus a further 2,700 leased) by 2016.)
National has sold off 7,400 properties. Meanwhile, as of December last year, there were 4,771 people on the state house waiting list;
Had Dunne been ousted from Ōhāriu in 2014 our recent history would have been completely altered. Anyone who believes that the Labour-Green accomodation was a “dirty” deal might ponder the ‘rights’ and ‘wrongs’ whilst spending the night in a car or under a tarpaulin. Preferably in winter.
Green Party co-leader, James Shaw, rightly pointed out the obvious;
“I think New Zealanders will understand that, in an MMP environment, it makes perfect sense for us to not stand a candidate in Ōhāriu. Ōhāriu has a significant impact on the makeup of Parliament.
Not standing in Ōhāriu increases the chances that we will be in a position to change the government in September – it’s as simple as that.
I would actually argue that we’re being more transparent here by actually simply saying we’re not going to and it’s within the structure of the memorandum of understanding with the Labour Party that we signed last year, where we actually held a press conference saying that we were going to work together to change the government.”
Shaw has rejected any suggestion that this is a “dirty deal”. Again, he is correct. the Greens and Labour are simply working by the rules of MMP as National determined in 2012/13, when then-Dear Leader Key refused to eliminate the “coat-tailing” provision.
Shaw should have thrown the description of a “deal” right back at critics such as right-wing blogger and National Party apparatchik, David Farrar, and TV3’s faux-moralistic Patrick Gower. Shaw’s response should have been hard-hitting and ‘in-your-face’,
“Damn right it’s a deal. Those are the rules set by National and we play by them. If people don’t like it, take it up with the Tories.”
In 2012, National followed through on an earlier government committment to conduct a review into the MMP electoral process. The Commission called for submissions from the public, and over 4,600 submissions were duly made on the issue. (This blogger made a submission as well.)
As a result, the Commission made these findings;
The Commission presented its final report to the Minister of Justice on 29 October 2012 with the following recommendations:
The one electorate seat threshold [aka “coat-tailing”] should be abolished (and if it is, the provision for overhang seats should also be abolished);
The party vote threshold should be lowered from 5% to 4% (with the Commission required by law to review how the 4% threshold is working);
Consideration be given to fixing the ratio of electorate seats to list seats at 60:40 to address concerns about declining proportionality and diversity of representation;
Political parties should continue to have responsibility for selecting and ranking candidates on their party lists but they must make a statutory declaration that they have done so in accordance with their party rules;
MPs should continue to be allowed to be dual candidates and list MPs to stand in by-elections.
The first two recommendations were a direct threat to National’s dominance in Parliament, and then-Minister of Justice, Judith Collins rejected them outright;
Key offered a mealy-mouthed excuse for not accepting the Electoral Commission’s report;
“If you’re really, really going to have major change to MMP you’d want to have either consensus or to put it to the people. It’s not a matter of blame – it’s just a range of views out there.”
Yet, submitters had been fairly clear in their views and failure to obtain “concensus” from the smaller parties in Parliament said more about their own self-interests than public-interest.
A NZ Herald editorial pointed out;
All of National’s present allies, Act, United Future and the Maori Party, take the same view of the single electorate entitlement and all but the Maori Party have benefited from it at some time. Self-interest may be their underlying motive…
National seems not to want to disturb the status quo because it discounts its chances of finding stable coalition partners under the simplified system proposed.
So the hundreds of thousands of taxpayers’ dollars spent on the MMP Review; seeking submissions; listening to submitters; and providing the Report to Parliament was all an utter waste of money.
The “coat-tailing” provision would be set to remain because without it National would find it harder to find potential coalition allies, and therefore govern.
It also meant that all political parties now have to play by the same rules, or else be disadvantaged.
Patrick Gower (with Jenna Lynch sharing the byline) writing for TV3 News was obviously having a bad coffee-day with this vitriolic comment, condemning the Labour-Green accomodation;
Labour and the Greens have just done the dirtiest electorate deal in New Zealand political history – and it is all about destroying Peter Dunne.
The tree-hugging Greens will not stand in Ōhāriu to help the gun-toting former cop Greg O’Connor win the seat for Labour.
This is dirtier than most electorate deals because for the first time in recent history a party is totally giving up on a seat and not running rather than standing but giving a ‘cup of tea’ signal for its voters to go for a minor party candidate.
The degree of hypocrisy to Gower’s comment is breath-taking.
Note that he suggests that it is preferable to “giving a ‘cup of tea’ signal for its voters to go for a minor party candidate” rather than withdrawing a candidate and openly declaring an accomodation.
In effect, a journalist has advocated for “open deception” rather than transparency. Think about that for a moment.
Gower antipathy to left-wing parties using current MMP rules is not new. Three years ago, Gower made a scathing attack on Hone Harawira and Laila Harré over the alliance between the Internet Party and Mana Movement;
By attacking parties on the Left who choose to work together (but not parties on the Right), Gower is either displaying crass ignorance over how MMP works – or undisguised political bias.
I will not be surprised if Gower eventually ends up as Press Secretary for a National minister.
Postscript: Re Gower’s comment that “for the first time in recent history a party is totally giving up on a seat and not running“.
This is yet more ignorance from a man who is supposedly TV3’s “political editor”. Political parties often do not yield a full slate of candidates in every electorate.
In the 2014 General election there were 71 electorates; 64 general and seven Māori electorates;
The Green party had only 57 candidates out of 71 electorates. Notice that even National did not offer candidates in every electorate.
Only Labour fielded a candidate in all 71 electorates.
So as usual, Gower’s political knowledge is disturbingly lacking. Or partisan. Take your pick.
Soon after the Greens announced their accomodation deal, National Party apparatchik, pollster, and right-wing blogger – David Farrar – was predictable in his criticism. Cheering for Patrick Gower, Farrar wrote;
…Labour and Greens have spent years condemning deals where National stands but tells supporters they only want the party vote, and now they’ve done a deal where they don’t even stand. I don’t have a huge issue with them doing that – the issue is their blatant hypocrisy.
They’re so desperate to be in Government they’ll put up with that, but the irony is that if Winston does hold the balance of power and pick Labour, he’ll insist the Greens are shut out of Government.
This is sensible and not unusual. Off memory most elections there have been some seats where ACT doesn’t stand a candidate to avoid splitting the centre-right electorate vote. One of the nice things about MMP is that you can still contest the party vote, without needing to stand in an electorate.
I think Epsom voters will vote tactically, as they did previously. But the choice is up to them. National may say we are only seeking the party vote in an electorate – but they still stand a candidate, giving voters the choice. Epsom voters are not controlled by National. If they don’t want to tactically vote, then they won’t. All National will be doing is saying we’re happy for people to vote for the ACT candidate, as having ACT in Parliament means you get a National-led Government.
So, according to Farrar, it’s ok that “ ACT doesn’t stand a candidate to avoid splitting the centre-right electorate vote“. He describes it as “one of the nice things about MMP“.
So as long as a deal is presented dishonestly – “All National will be doing is saying we’re happy for people to vote for the ACT candidate, as having ACT in Parliament means you get a National-led Government” – then that’s ok?
Both Labour/Greens and National/ACT have presented electoral accomodations – but in different ways.
One was transparent.
The other was doing it with a “wink, wink, nudge, nudge”.
It is unreasonable and hypocritical to support one side to exploit current MMP provisions to their benefit – whilst expecting others to work to a different set of rules. Perhaps Mr Farrar should look at how National/ACT presents their accomodations to the public – or else do away with the coat-tailing provision altogether.
Ōhāriu Green Voters
Following the 2011 General Election, I noted that Green voters had failed to make full use of strategic voting under MMP;
Dunne’s election gave National an extra coalition partner and his win therefore assumes a greater relevance than a “mere” electorate MP. In effect, 1,775 Green voters sent John Key a second Coalition partner, after John Banks.
And again, post-2014;
Some Green supporters are either woefully ignorant of MMP – or have been smoking to much of a certain herb. Or, gods forbid, they are so desperate to remain ideologically pure in their principles, that they are willing to allow a right wing candidate to be elected, rather than supporting a candidate from another party on the Left.
In Ōhāriu (as well as other electorates) Peter Dunne was returned to office because Green Party supporters cast their electorate votes for Green candidate Tane Woodley, instead of the Labour candidate. Preliminary election results for Ohariu yield the following;
ANDERSEN, Virginia: (Labour)11,349*
DUNNE, Peter: (United Future) 12,279*
WOODLEY, Tane: (Greens) 2,266*
Had supporters of the Green Party given their electorate votes to Viriginia Andersen, Peter Dunne would have been defeated by 1,336* votes.
The Greens need to get it through to their supporter’s heads that giving their electorate votes to their own candidates is a waste of effort and an indulgence we cannot afford.
When elections are close-fought and majorities slim, such indulgences cannot be tolerated, and the Greens need to educate their supporters quick-smart, if we are to win in 2017.
(*Note: figures above were preliminary and not final results.)
If there was an element of frustration and anger in my comments above, it was a ‘face-palm’ moment. The poorest families and individuals in New Zealand have paid the price by enduring two terms of National because Green voters chose to indulge themselves by casting both votes for the Green candidate, rather than strategic vote-splitting.
I can understand affluent, propertied Middle Class voting for self-interest.
I find it less palatable that Green voters cast their ballots for some bizarre feeling of political purity. That is selfishness in another form.
Beneficiaries being attacked by a souless government; people living in cars, garages, rough, or crammed three families into one home; people suffering as social services are slashed, will find it hard to understand such selfishness.
In the United States, blue-collar workers voted for a populist demagogue. The workers who voted for Trump believed that the Left had abandoned them.
We dare not allow the same despair to flourish in our own country.
If politics is a contest of ideas; a battle of ideology; then strategy counts.
The Greens have woken up to this simple reality.
Radio NZ: Green Party will not stand in Ōhāriu
Electoral Commission: Official Count Results – Ōhāriu
Radio NZ: Winston Peters takes Northland
Radio NZ: Thousands of state houses up for sale
Housing NZ: Annual Report 2008/09
Housing NZ: Annual Report 2015/16
Ministry of Social Development: The housing register
Radio NZ: Labour-Greens deny deal over Ohariu seat
Electoral Commission: 2012 MMP Review
Electoral Commission: What people said on the MMP Review
Electoral Commission: The Results of the MMP Review
NZ Herald: Editorial – National too timid on MMP review
Electoral Commission: Financial Review
NZ Herald: Editorial – National too timid on MMP review
Electoral Commission: Electoral Commission releases party and candidate lists for 2014 election
Kiwiblog: The double dirty deal in Ohariu
Kiwiblog: Marginal Seat deals
Kiwiblog: National’s potential electoral deals
Electoral Commission: 2017 General Election
The Standard: The coat-tail rule and democracy (2014)
Public Address: Government votes not to improve MMP (2015)
The Standard: Greens stand aside in Ōhāriu
Previous related blogposts
Above image acknowledgment: Francis Owen/Lurch Left Memes
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 17 February 2017.
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The following is the amount spent by Labour, on Vote Education in the 2008 Budget;
Total 2008 Vote Education: $10,775,482,000 (in 2008 dollars)
Total students in 2009: 751,330*
spend per student: $14,341.88
The following is the amount spent by National, on Vote Education in the 2016 Budget;
Total 2016 Vote Education: $11,044,598,000 (in 2016 dollars)
Total students in 2016: 776,948**
spend per student in 2016 dollars: $14,215.36
Total 2016 Vote Education: $9,608,800,000 (re-calculated in 2008 dollars)
spend per student in 2008 dollars: $12,367.37
Calculated in real terms (2008 dollars), National’s spending on Vote Education was $1,166,682,000 less last year than Labour budgetted in 2008.
In dollar terms, in 2016, National spent less per student ($14,215.36) than Labour did in 2008 ($14,341.88). Converting National’s $14,215.36 from 2016 dollars to 2008 dollars, and the sum spent per student is even less: 12,367.37.
In real terms, National has cut the total*** education budget by $1,974.51 per student.
* Not including 9,529 international fee-paying students
** Not including 11,012 international fee-paying students
*** Total spent on Vote Education, not just schools and tertiary education.
Tax-cuts and Service-cuts
Writing in the Daily Blog recently, political commentator Chris Trotter had this to say on the matter of taxation and social services;
“Speaking on behalf of the NewLabour Party, I felt obliged to spell out the realities of tertiary education funding. I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both. If the wealthy refused to pay higher taxes, then students would have to pay higher fees. If the middle class (i.e. their family) was serious about keeping young people (i.e. themselves) out of debt, then they would have to vote for a party that was willing to restore a genuinely progressive taxation system.”
Since 1986, there have been no less than seven tax-cuts;
1 October 1986 – Labour
1 October 1988 – Labour
1 July 1996 – National
1 July 1998 – National
1 October 2008 – Labour
1 April 2009 – National
1 October 2010 – National
The 2010 tax-cuts alone were estimated to cost the State $2 billion in lost revenue.
Taxes were raised in 2000 by the incoming Labour government, to inject much needed funding for a cash-strapped health sector. The previous National government, led by Bolger and later Shipley, had gutted the public health service. Hospital waiting lists grew. People waited for months, if not years, for life-saving operations. Some died – still waiting.
During that time, National cut taxes twice (see above). Funding for public healthcare suffered and predictably, private health insurance capitalised on peoples’ fears;
A decade late, National’s ongoing cuts, or under-funding, of state services such as the Health budget have resulted in wholly predictable – and preventable – negative outcomes;
A critic of National’s under-funding of the health system, Phil Bagshaw, pointed out the covert agenda behind the cuts;
New Zealand’s health budget has been declining for almost a decade and could signal health reforms akin to the sweeping changes of the 1990s, new research claims.
The accumulated “very conservative” shortfall over the five years to 2014-15 was estimated at $800 million, but could be double that, Canterbury Charity Hospital founder and editorial co-author Phil Bagshaw said.
Bagshaw believed the Government was moving away from publicly-funded healthcare, and beginning to favour a model that meant everyone had to pay for their own.
“It’s very dangerous. If this continues we will slide into an American-style healthcare system.”
Funding cuts to the Health sector have been matched with increases to charges;
The critical correlation between tax cuts and consequential reduction of state services was nowhere better highlighted then by US satirist and commentator, Seth Meyer. He was unyielding with his scathing, mocking, examination of the travesty of the Kansas Example of “minimalist government”;
Here in New Zealand, National’s funding cuts have not been restricted to the Health sector and NGOs. Government agencies from the Police , Radio NZ, to the Department of Conservation have had their funding slashed (or frozen – a cut after inflation is factored in).
The exception has been the Prime Minister’s department which, since 2008, has enjoyed a massive increase of $24,476,000 since 2008 and a near-doubling of John Key’s department and Cabinet expenditure since Michael Cullen’s last budget, seven years previously.
Tax cuts, slashed services, and increasing user-pays
By contrast, parents are finding more and more that the notion of a free state education is quietly and gradually slipping away. User-pays has crept into the schools and universities – with harsh penalties for those who fail to pay.
“There probably will be more, we don’t know of course how many are in Australia but that’s a very good start, and I think it’s probably a reasonable proportion of those who are in Australia.”
Joyce, of course, has nothing to fear from being arrested for defaulting on a student loan. His tertiary education was near-free, paid for by the tax-payer.
National had no choice, of course. The entire premise of user-pays was predicated on citizens paying services that until the late ’80s/early ’90s, had been either free or near-free. With student debt now at an astronomical $14.84 billion, National cannot afford to let ‘debtors’ get off scott-free. That would send the entire unjust system crashing to the ground. According to Inland Revenue;
… nearly 80,000 of the 111,000 New Zealanders living overseas were behind on their student loan repayments.
IRD collections manager Stuart Duff said about 22 percent of borrowers living overseas were in Australia.
He said the $840m owed to New Zealand was a substantial amount of debt.
Figures show that student debt has been increasing every year since it’s inception in 1992. At this rate, student debt will achieve Greece-like proportions;
Unsurprisingly, loan ‘defaulters’ have surpassed $1 billion, including $16 million written off through bankruptcy. Some never pay off their “debt” with $19 million lost after death of the borrower.
But it is not only tertiary education that has attracted a user-pay factor. School funding has also been frozen, with operational grants the most recent to suffer National’s budgetary cuts;
Schools are so starved of funds that they are having to rely on outside sources of income to make up shortfalls;
Reliance on foreign students to make up shortfalls in government spending is essentially turning our schools into commercial ventures; touting for “business” and ensuring “clients” achieve good results so as to ensure repeat custom.
When did we vote for a policy which effectively commercialised our education system?
Schools are also funded more and more by parents – to the tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Fund-raising and ever-increasing school fees are required, lest our schools become financially too cash-strapped to function.
It is estimated that a child born this year will cost his/her parents $38,362 for thirteen years of a “free” state education. In 2007, that cost was 33,274. Our supposedly “free” state education is being gradually whittled away, and replaced with surreptitious user-pays. According to Radio NZ;
Some school principals say many schools are considering a hike in parent donations next year and cutting teacher aide hours, as they respond to a freeze on core school funding.
More than 300 school principals responded to a survey by teacher unions.
About 40 percent of school principals said they were considering cutting back on the hours of teacher aides and other support staff next year.
Thirteen percent said they were looking to increase parent donations.
The president of the teacher union NZEI, Louise Green, said the survey showed it was students who miss out when school funding was frozen.
The neo-liberal princiciple of user-pays is being covertly implemented throughout the public sector and nowhere is this more apparent than in education. Parents and guardians are expected to pay more for education and this is “off-set” by cuts to taxes. This is core to the concept of user-pays.
User-pays is hard to pay
The problem is that this is not an overt policy by National. The public have not been given a clear choice in the matter and instead increasing user-pays has crept in, barely noticed by the voting public. Even when challenged, a National Minister will use mis-information to attempt to use Trump-like “alternative facts” to hide what is happening;
But Education Minister Hekia Parata said parents contributed just $1.80 for every $100 spent by the taxpayer on education.
The Government was set to invest $10.8 billion in early childhood, primary and secondary education, more than the combined budget for police, defence, roads and foreign affairs.
New Zealanders have been lulled into a false sense of security that, even after seven tax cuts, we still have “free” education. But as Chris Trotter pointed out with cool logic;
I told them that they could have free education or low taxes – but they could not have both.
The question is, what kind of society do New Zealanders want: a free education system or tax cuts and more user-pays?
Because we can’t have both.
At the moment, politicians are making this choice for us.
From a Dominion Post article on 24 January;
Student loans are getting bigger and graduates are taking longer to pay back the money they owe.
Figures from last year’s Student Loan Scheme Annual Report show the median loan balance in this country grew from $10,833 in 2008 to $14,904 in 2016.
The median repayment time for someone with a bachelor’s degree also lifted from just over six years, to eight and a half.
Since a peak in 2005, the numbers of people taking up tertiary education have declined.
Labour education spokesman Chris Hipkins said there was a variety of factors that lead to higher student loans and longer repayment times. Tuition fees continued to rise, as did living costs.
“The long term impact for people is quite significant, basically they have a large debt for longer,” Hipkins said.
“If they’re weighed down with student loan debt it will be difficult to get on the property ladder, it’s already a burden, and this is making it even harder for the next generation.”
Universities New Zealand executive director Chris Whelan said that when it came to universities fees increasing, one need only look at published annual accounts of the country’s eight universities to see they were not “raking in” a lot of money.
Currently two-thirds of the cost of tuition was covered by subsidies, and one-third was covered by the student.
LOANS ON THE RISE
Median loan balances
2010 – $11,399
2012 – $12,849
2014 – $13,882
2016 – $14,904
Median repayment times for a bachelors/graduate certificates or diplomas
2010 – 6.9 years
2012 – 7.8 years
2014 – 8.5 years
Reserve Bank NZ: Inflation calculator
Treasury: Vote Education 2008
Treasury: Vote Education 2016
The Daily Blog: Don’t Riot For A Better Society: Vote For One!
The Press: Four forced off waiting list die
Otago Daily Times: Heartwatch Insurance Cover
Fairfax media: Prescription price rise hits vulnerable
Fairfax media: Police shut 30 stations in effort to combat budget cuts
Youtube: Kansas Tax Cuts – A Closer Look
Fairfax media: Student loan defaulters to face border arrest
Radio NZ: Govt tightens education purse strings
NZ Herald: Parents fundraise $357m for ‘free’ schooling
Radio NZ: Schools consider parent donation hike
Motherjones: Trickle-Down Economics Has Ruined the Kansas Economy
The New Yorker: Covert Operations
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 26 January 2017.
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Which prompted me to send this response to the Herald’s editor;
from: Frank Macskasy <firstname.lastname@example.org>
to: NZ Herald <email@example.com>
date: Sun, Jan 15, 2017
subject: Letter to the editor
Letter to the editor
Regarding Juliet Moses’ comment in the New Zealand Herald article, that UN Resolution 2334 “was an affront to all New Zealanders” (6 Jan) – I will thank her and her fellow travellers not to assume they speak for me and others.
Last I looked, Israel has not added Aotearoa to it’s list of illegally annexed territory.
As for Moses’ assertion;
“…Israel’s Arab neighbours mounted a second unsuccessful attempt to exterminate her in 1967”
– is either woeful ignorance or wilful misrepresentation of historical fact.
Israel launched the so-called Six Day War on 5 June 1967 against it’s neighbours;
“In response to the *apparent* mobilization of its Arab neighbours, early on the morning of June 5, Israel staged a sudden preemptive air assault that destroyed more than 90 percent Egypt’s air force on the tarmac. A similar air assault incapacitated the Syrian air force.” – Encyclopedia Britannica
Arrogant and mis-informed. She most certainly does not speak on my behalf.
Encyclopedia Britannica: Six-Day War – Middle East – 1967
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Following his unexpected announcement to resign as New Zealand’s Prime Minister on 5 December last year, much has been said of Key’s “legacy”. Pundits have been scratching their heads, trying to figure out what “legacy” can be attributed to eight years of a Key-led administration.
Despite screeds being devoted on the subject, it appears that little can actually be attributed to any form of Key “legacy”.
On 29 December, Radio NZ’s “ “, Brent Edwards, wrote;
“At the time of his departure, his own personal rating remained high…”
Whilst Key’s Preferred Prime Ministership rating remained higher than his rivals, Key’s public support had plummeted since 2009. In October 2009, Key rated a phenomenal 55.8% in a TV3/Reid Research poll.
By May last year, TV3/Reid Research reported Key’s support to have fallen by 19.1 percentage points to 36.7%. The same poll reported;
National though is steady on 47 percent on the poll — a rise of 0.3 percent — and similar to the Election night result.
So something was clearly happening with the public’s perception of Key. Whilst National’s overall support remained unchanged from election night on 2014, Key’s favourability was in slow-mo free-fall.
Edwards’ analysis of Key’s “legacy” appeared mostly to consist of this observation;
Within the political commentariat Mr Key has been highly regarded, mainly on the basis of his political style.
He was quick to dump any political unpopular policies before they did terminal damage to his government and he had an uncanny knack of skating through the most embarrassing political gaffes with little damage, if any, to his political reputation
What other Prime Minister, for example, would have escaped with their political credibility intact after revelations they had repeatedly pulled the ponytail of a waitress at their local cafe?
In effect, Key’s ‘qualities’ appeared to consist of constant damage-control and “an uncanny knack” to avoid being charged with assault.
Edwards contrasted Key’s administration with that of Jim Bolger and pointed out the latter’s legacies, which have had a lasting impact of New Zealand’s social and political landscape. The first was the advent of MMP which forever changed politics as it is done in this country. The second was Bolger’s courage to stand up to his party’s redneck conservatism and engage with Maori to address Treaty of Waitangi grievances.
Key’s “legacies”, according to Edwards, was a failed flag referendum costing the taxpayer $29 million and this;
He did help manage the country through the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch earthquake. But National was left a legacy by the previous Labour Government – a healthy set of government books – which gave it the financial buffer it needed to deal with both crises.
Irony of ironies – Key’s one claim to a “legacy” was the product of a prudent Labour finance minister whose own legacy was a cash-gift to Key. Yet, even that cash-gift to Key could have been squandered had then-Finance Minister, Michael Cullen listened to Key’s wheedling demands for tax-cuts;
“Mr Key can’t have it both ways. One moment he says there is a recession looming then he thinks there are still surpluses to spend on tax cuts.”
… he is almost the kinder, gentler Kiwi Donald Trump. He is a populist who has been able to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling than some kind of semi-supernatural intuition.
Matthews’ reference to Key’s ability “to read and respond to a national mood in ways that few other politicians have, although that has more to do with a reliance on opinion polling” was pointed out by Radio NZ’s John Campbell, in his own assessment of the former Prime Minister’s tenure;
Key entered Parliament in 2002. His maiden speech was a pre-Textor, pre-dorky, pre-casual, pre-everyman piece of rhetoric, ripe to the point of jam with admonishments and exhortation.
And the key passage, in this respect, was: “We mustn’t be scared to do things because they might offend small groups, or seem unconventional. Good government is more than doing what’s popular. Good government is more than blindly following the latest opinion poll.”
On election night 12 years later, having just been made prime minister for a third term, Key triumphantly thanked his pollster, David Farrar, by name: the country’s “best”, he declared, admitting, as the New Zealand Herald reported, that he had rung Farrar “night after night, even though he wasn’t supposed to”.
The man who’d entered Parliament declaring a belief in something better than poll-driven politics had subverted himself. Gamekeeper turned pollster.
Matthews summed up with this conclusion;
He was somehow politically untouchable, even when New Zealand was laughing at or with him, or just cringing. Future historians will provide a clearer picture of his failures: A flag change that was supposed to be a personal legacy became an expensive embarrassment; the Trans-Pacific Partnership deal is dead in the water; he could have used his political capital to do something meaningful about inequality and poverty.
But over on the West Coast, the government’s failures to satisfy the grieving Pike River families remain entirely embodied in Key.
Again, Key’s abilities appear to lie with being “politically untouchable”. His “legacies” amounted to a list of dismal failures.
The unknown author of an editorial for the Otago Daily Times was kinder, as if it had been written by one of National’s small army of taxpayer-funded Beehive spin-doctors;
The legacy Mr Key will leave is one of financial stability, a unified government, a record of strong economic management and a commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible. A shortage of suitable housing has been laid at the door of Mr Key but his efforts in trying to sort out that particularly difficult area have been assiduous.
One of the issues he received the most criticism for is failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion. While Mr Key would have meant what he said at the time, the pragmatism which ruled his career meant he made a tough call to allow the mine to be sealed. Then there was the failed flag referendum.
But, his leadership during the Christchurch, and latterly Kaikoura, earthquakes was seen as outstanding by most New Zealanders. New Zealand secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council in no small part due to the work carried out by Mr Key.
Curiously, the un-named author glosses over the “commitment to lift as many New Zealanders out of poverty as possible”, “a shortage of suitable housing … laid at the door of Mr Key”, “criticism for … failing to bring home the bodies of the Pike River miners who died in the explosion”, and “the failed flag referendum”. Because at least – the author crows – we “secured a seat on the United Nations Security Council”.
The ODT’s mystery cheerleader for our former Dear Leader may be one of the few attempts to put a positive ‘spin’ to Key’s administration. It was, however, glaringly light on specifics.
In direct stark contrast to the ODT’s lame attempt to canonise Key, Audrey Young was more caustic in her piece, Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem. Her conclusions were;
… two other areas I consider to be legacies for the Key Government although he has not claimed them as such: the Ross Sea sanctuary and the modernization of New Zealand’s spy agencies.
Unfortunately for Young, the original proposals for a MPA (Marine Protected Area) for the Ross Sea began as far back as 2005, and was first mooted by the US delegation to the Commission for the Conservation of Antarctic Living Marine Resources (CCAMLR).
If Key’s sole legacy was to increase the spying powers of the SIS, GCSB, and uncle Tom Cobbly – that may not be something his descendants bring up at polite dinner parties;
“Yeah, it was grand-dad Key who helped turn New Zealand in the virtual police state we have now. Sure we have spy cameras in every home, workplace, and cafe, but crime is almost non-existent!”
– is not something Max or Steph’s own kids will be heard crowing about.
Young suggested that Key’s “legacy” was more akin to a ‘state of mind’;
When I’ve asked people this week what they thought Key’s legacy was, many have said he gave New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world.
That is true but it is a state of mind. It could just as easily disappear through circumstances well beyond our control.
Giving “New Zealanders a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world” were the legacies of former Labour Prime Ministers – notably Norman Kirk and David Lange. Their leadership against the war in Vietnam; atomic bomb testing in the South Pacific; opposing apartheid in South Africa; advancing gay rights, and turning the entire country into a nuclear-free zone are legacies that are with us today.
Going back even further, and the legacies of Labour’s Michael Savage are still discussed today.
Cringing whilst Key recited his “Top Ten Reasons for Visiting New Zealand” on the David Letterman Show would hardly have given Kiwis “a greater sense of confidence, especially about New Zealand’s place in the world“;
[Warning: Cringe Level: Extreme]
Most who saw that episode would have hidden their heads beneath a pillow or blanket. Hardly the stuff of legacies, except of the Silvio Berlusconi variety.
She then concluded;
The fact that Key doesn’t really have a legacy is of no matter.
Well, that’s alright then. According to Young, Key’s “legacy” would be in the same vein as the manner in which he handled his own and ministers’ scandals and stuff-ups; nothing to see here, folks, no legacy, move along please.
Comedian, Jeremy Elwood, offered;
We may never have another Prime Minister who provides as much fodder for as many late night comedy shows around the world, as well as right here, again, but that’s all been part of his “popular appeal”.
Another ‘comedian’ – albeit unintentional – was Roger Partridge, writing on behalf of the so-called NZ Initiative (formerly the now largely discredited Business Roundtable). Partridge offered a lengthy list of neo-liberal “reforms” from Key’s tenure as PM;
Key’s was also a reforming government. After the Fourth Labour government, it was perhaps New Zealand’s most radical in the post-war era. The GST for income tax swap, welfare reforms (the likes of which might have brought down another government), the investment approach to social services; labour market reform, partial-privatisation, reforms in education, including national standards and charter schools: these may have occurred incrementally, but together they comprise a prodigious package of reform.
None of Partridge’s listed “reforms” will stand. In an era marking the rise of nationalistic political movements (Brexit, Trump, et al), Key’s “package of reforms” will be rolled back and many, like Charter Schools, swept away entirely.
These legacies of a failed economic ideology – neo-liberalism – may rate a mention in the footnotes of future history books, but not much more. In fifty years time, no one will point to Key’s supposed “reforms” as people still do to Michael Savage’s achievements.
The Herald’s pointed to; Liam Dann
…ongoing GDP growth at about 3 per cent, unemployment at around 5 per cent and the crown accounts are solid with the Government booking surpluses that are forecast to top $8 billion within five years.
– but had to concede that much of this “growth” was illusory, based mostly on high immigration and unsustainable ballooning house prices in Auckland;
The housing boom has been a global phenomenon driven by the unusually low interest rate environment in the wake of the GFC. Investors have been looking for somewhere to put their money outside of the bank and assets prices have soared – both sharemarkets and property.
And far from National’s books being in surplus, Key has managed to rack up a debt of $95 billion according to a recent Treasury document. Dann must have missed that salient bit in his rush-to-gush. He did, however, acknowledge the nature of the “ongoing GDP growth” further into his piece;
Overall population growth and record net migration is widely cited as a factor taking the gloss off New Zealand’s strong growth story.
Per capita GDP isn’t nearly so strong and the extra population is adding to the housing bubble and highlighting some deficiencies in infrastructure spending.
Almost reluctantly, Dann concludes;
He has not been a reformer but he has created a stable platform, in unstable times, for growth.
He exuded confidence and it rubbed off on the economy. Whether he has done enough to set the nation up for long-term prosperity, as outlined in those rosy Treasury forecasts, remains to be seen.
He also repeats Brent Edwards’ observation;
…Key made the most of the market conditions he had to work with. He has benefited from some ground work done by the previous Labour Government, particularly in booking the gains from the China free trade agreement.
Writing for Radio NZ, John Campbell asks;
So, in the end, how will history judge John Key?
In his earnest, boy-scout, way, Campbell is charitable about one possible legacy left by Key;
In the age of Trump and Brexit and Manus Island, and having succeeded Don Brash and his divisive Orewa rhetoric, part of what may endure is a sense that, under him, New Zealand did not embrace xenophobia and paranoia and the vilification of Māori, Muslims, Mexicans, blue-collar immigrants and almost anyone who wasn’t Tribe White.
To this point, writer and trade unionist, Morgan Godfery, not a natural ally of Key, tweeted on the day the prime minister announced his resignation: “I’ll go into bat for Key on this: he rejected the politics of Orewa, avoiding what might have been an ugly decade of tension and conflict.”
Which might be true… except that Key and his Ministers were not above vilifying those who dared criticise National, or when it suited party-politics;
In his usual manner of gentle admonishment, John Campbell chides Key and his Administration for their failing in housing;
“When I was six”, [Key] said in his maiden speech, “my father died; leaving my mother penniless with three children to raise. From a humble start in a state house, she worked as a cleaner and night porter until she earned the deposit for a modest home. She was living testimony that you get out of life what you put into it. There is no substitute for hard work and determination. These are the attitudes she instilled in me.”
Key was six in 1967. Among the many things that have changed since then is housing affordability. The IMF’s latest Global Housing Watch lists New Zealand’s housing market, in relation to household income, as the most expensive in the OECD. Could a penniless solo mother, working as a “cleaner and night porter”, paying market rents, now earn the deposit for a modest home?
Then Campbell issued what may well be Key’s one and only true legacy – if one could call a broken promise to the grieving families and friends of 29 men entombed deep within a mine on the West Coast, a “legacy”;
This is what John Key said, behind closed doors, when he met with Pike families on September 22, 2011.
“The first thing is I’m here to give you an absolute reassurance we’re committed to get the boys out.”
An absolute reassurance. The boys out. When the families heard that, there was spontaneous applause. The human details. The empathy, sincerity and trust. When the clapping stopped, the prime minister continued:
“When people try and tell you we’re not, they’re playing, I hate to say it, but they’re playing with your emotions.”
And then John Key made it personal:
“So, you are the number one group that want to get those men out. And, quite frankly, I’m number two. Because I want to get them out.”
Five years on, the men are still in. It may be that the risk of getting them out is too great. But, when he was alone with them, Key didn’t say that, or qualify his words with that possibility. His was an “absolute reassurance”, and the families believed him and have clung to that belief in the years since.
Of all the many broken promises from Key, that will be the one most remembered. Because as Campbell so astutely pointed out, “John Key made it personal”.
‘Mickey Savage’ writing for The Standard was more brutal and unforgiving in his/her appraisal of Key’s administration;
Key has perfected the aw shucks blokey persona that some clearly like. Although this was only skin deep. His management of dirty politics and the Cameron Slater Jason Ede axis of evil won him the last election but at the cost of his soul.
As to the substance he did not really achieve or create anything. He saw off the Global Financial Crisis and the Christchurch Earthquake rebuilds basically by borrowing money which New Zealand could because Michael Cullen had so assiduously paid off debt.
His economic development policies were crap. Expanding dairying only polluted our rivers and increased our output of greenhouse gasses. The growth of tertiary education for foreign students only caused the mushrooming of marginal providers.
The primary economic growth policy now appears to be ballooning immigration. Auckland’s population grew almost 3% last year. The symptoms are clear, rampant house price increases, homeless caused by ordinary people no longer being able to afford inflated rental amounts and a whole generation shut out of the property market. And services are stretched as budgets are held but demand increases.
And child poverty has ballooned. Key was great with the visuals and the talk of an under class and the trip to Waitangi with Aroha Ireland before he became Prime Minister was a major PR event for him to show that at least superficially he cared about the underclass. But the reality? Over a quarter of a million of children now live in poverty and kids are living in cars even though their parents have jobs. There is something deeply wrong in New Zealand.
Overall Key was great at the spin and the PR but appallingly bad at dealing with the reality. Despite his hopes the country is now in a far worse situation under his stewardship than it was when he took over.
‘Mickey Savage’ has summed up Key’s legacy perfectly and I leave this brief assessment for future historians;
John Key – Master at spin, photo-ops, and PR, but nothing else. When the teflon was stripped away, there was nothing underneath.
And that will be his legacy: nothing. We simply couldn’t think of a single damned one.
Scoop media: 3 News Poll – 2-10 October 2012
Fairfax media: The boy from Bryndwr – John Key’s Christchurch legacy
ODT: The John Key legacy
NZ Herald: Key – No vision, no legacy, no problem
US State Department: A proposal for the establishment of the Ross Sea Region Marine Protected Area
NZ Herald: NZ’s half-trillion-dollar debt bomb
NZ Herald: Bennett gets tough with outspoken solo mums
Dominion Post: Forced sterilisation ‘a step too far’
Against the current: John Key’s Dismal Record on Climate Change
Local Bodies: John Key’s Real Legacy
Sciblogs: Key’s legacy – an economist’s view
The Daily Blog: The true legacy of John Key
The Standard: John Key’s legacy
Your NZ: Key’s legacy
Previous related blogposts
This blogpost was first published on The Daily Blog on 4 January 2017.
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