Saturday, July 12, 2008

Labour's new aristocracy


I HAVE a friend who works part-time in the emergency department of a hospital. She is literally at the front line of the health sector, dealing with patients who stumble in at all hours of the day and night with all manner of injuries and illnesses. She gets them to fill out the necessary paperwork – of which there is never any shortage, this being the health sector – and then refers them to the appropriate clinical staff.

It can be stressful work and the hours are often anti-social. For this her hourly rate is $13.95. Her teenage son gets paid nearly the same amount for his after-school job.

Contrast this with the fat cats of Sparc, the government sports funding agency. National Party leader John Key revealed last week that 47 of Sparc’s 86 fulltime staff were paid (I refuse to say “earned”) more than $100,000 last year. Of those, 14 got more than $150,000. Fourteen!

They must surely be doing work of the utmost importance; work that requires the very highest and rarest of skills. It must also be work of a highly secretive nature, because no one has explained exactly what enormous contribution Sparc’s highly paid employees must be making to the wellbeing of the nation in order to justify such generous emoluments. In the interests of transparent government, I think we should be told.

The gross discrepancy between the extravagant salaries paid to pampered Wellington bureaucrats and the pittances earned by people like my friend, who perform vital but under-valued functions, illustrates how skewed our system of rewards has become. The result is a growing and corrosive cynicism about what the state truly values.

It is ironic that much of this has happened under a Labour-led government supposedly committed to looking after the battlers on Struggle St. The people who have prospered most from eight years of Labour rule are, in fact, the new aristocracy of the public sector, whose numbers have multiplied at the same time as their salaries – which are subject to no market discipline, since it all comes out of the pockets of the obliging taxpayer – have moved inexorably upwards.


I’M PLEASED to see that nice young man John Campbell on TV3 is wearing a tie again. For a while he fell victim to the peculiar fashion of going tieless despite still wearing a suit and business shirt.

Apparently he hoped that by looking less formal he would boost his ratings outside the big cities, but plainly the experiment has been abandoned – and rightly so.

The thing about a business shirt is that it makes sense only when it’s worn with a tie. In turn, the only purpose of a tie is to make a business shirt look good. The tie and the business shirt exist in a state of co-dependency, a sartorial symbiosis.

The prevailing corporate fashion for wearing one without the other, in a misguided attempt to look casually cool, is nonsensical. The collar of the business shirt collapses under the lapel of the jacket and just looks unsightly.

I’m not sure who pioneered this trend, or why. Presumably it was initiated by some rebellious accountant aching to stand out from the crowd. But imitative behaviour is nowhere more rampant than in the corporate world, and soon everyone was doing it. So what may have begun as a subversive gesture of defiance rapidly became a fashion cliché.

Anyway, why stop at throwing away ties? Once the tie is discarded, the rest of the corporate uniform looks even more pointless than it did before. Why not jettison the whole outfit?


COULD there be anything more tedious than going to a dance where the band played the same tune all night?

I get that feeling every time that suave crooner John Key steps up to the microphone in his tuxedo and announces that Johnny and the Keynotes are going to launch into the Tax Cuts Samba – again. You can hear a groan run around the dance floor as the opening chords ring out for the umpteenth time.

Aren’t there any other songs in their repertoire? When are we going to hear the Benefit Cuts Boogie, the Employment Relations Shuffle (well okay, a few bars of that leaked out last Sunday when someone left the rehearsal room door open), the Resource Management Reform Rag, the Privatisation Polka and all those other catchy tunes they’ve supposedly been working on in secret all these months?

And what about Johnny Key’s rumoured signature tune, the U-Turn Blues, with its complicated dance steps (two steps to the left, three to the right, then back again – or is it the other way around?). The crowd is starting to get restive.

Heck, even the tax cuts number isn’t original. It’s a cover version of a song originally recorded by Rodney and the Prebbletones, whose much grungier rendition never cracked the charts. It’s bland Pat Boone ripping off raunchy Little Richard all over again.

1 comment:

Vaughan said...

Let's hope that the end of the tie is nigh.

The battle is also on in Australia but has already been won in Israel, where virtually the only person to wear a tie is the PM.

Meanwhile, let us also encourage women and men to abandon wearing black to work. Apparently that non-colour is used to "look corporate" and sometimes to appear slim. But how depressing and unimaginative. Let's burst out in colour. Keep black clothes for the rugby field.