Friday, November 28, 2008

Calm down, lefties, and have another chardonnay

(First published in the Curmudgeon column, Dominion Post, November 25)

THE MOST striking thing about the election was not the outcome, which was telegraphed well in advance. Neither was it the unexpected speed and decisiveness with which John Key acted in the following days.

No, the most notable aspect of the election result was the anguished wailing and hand-wringing of the chardonnay socialists, who revealed themselves as sour losers and fair-weather democrats, deeply resentful of a result that didn’t go their way.

Let’s get things in perspective. What happened on November 8 was hardly a tectonic political shift. It’s difficult to recall an election in which the two major parties were more closely aligned.

The electoral cycle followed its normal and predictable course. Far from endorsing a violent ideological lurch, New Zealanders voted for some new faces and a change of tone.

Accordingly, most people reacted to Labour’s defeat with equanimity. I mooched around Wellington the morning after the election and the mood was neither subdued nor excited. People were just getting on with life, as you do.

But among affluent baby-boomer lefties in suburbs like Thorndon and Wadestown, where the liberal puritan class guiltily enjoys the trappings of capitalism while simultaneously condemning them, the mood was one of black despair. Helen Clark was gone; the sky had fallen.

There was irrational fear at the prospect of Rodney Hide being in government and of Sir Roger Douglas, fangs dripping blood, getting back into Parliament. The mass bayoneting of beneficiaries was due to begin at dawn – or so you’d have thought.

The tone was set by a splenetic Sunday Star-Times column in which Chris Trotter bitterly condemned his fellow New Zealanders for daring to elect a party he didn’t approve of.

From Melbourne, a peevish hack named Jill Singer, combining arrogance and ignorance in equal measure, reproached us for behaving liked doped slugs. Of course, being an Australian journalist, she would know what’s best for New Zealanders.

In the face of this hysteria it was tempting to recall the dignified, statesmanlike response of Michael Cullen when Labour was elected in 1999: “We won, you lost, eat that.” But a more appropriate response would have been: calm down, folks. It’s called democracy. Take a mogadon pill and have a lie down; the world isn’t about to end.

And most important of all, show some respect for the right of your informed fellow citizens to elect the government of their choosing.

* * *

A CHARITABLE explanation for the over-reaction of the middle-class Left is that they were in mourning – grieving the passing of a political generation raised on protest marches against apartheid and the Vietnam War.

Miss Clark was almost certainly the last of our leaders to come from that liberal, university-educated, baby-boomer cohort. While there’s a theoretical chance that her fellow baby-boomer Phil Goff will become prime minister, no one’s holding their breath.

The baton has been passed to a new generation. While technically John Key is a baby-boomer (he was born in 1961), in terms of values and outlook he is more representative of Generation X. The greying veterans of the protest movement, who are convinced they have a monopoly on idealism, are inconsolable.

* * *

IT WILL be interesting to see whether the new government makes good on its pledge to curb extravagance in the public sector. It will have its work cut out, since a culture of contempt for taxpayers and ratepayers has become embedded in local as well as central government.

The poor mugs who fund the Gore District Council, for example, are paying for the council’s chief executive to study for a law degree at Otago University. He spends two afternoons a week in Dunedin, travelling back and forth in his council car.

Gore’s mayor defends this by saying it’s all about investing in the future. Well, call me cynical, but I wonder how long the CEO will stick around in Gore once he gets his degree.

Then there’s the Canterbury District Health Board, which – despite being $15 million in the red – paid $10,000 for its retiring chief executive to attend a conference in Paris earlier this year.

That’s right, retiring chief executive. He quit on November 15.

Given that he didn’t have much time to apply whatever knowledge he might have acquired in Paris, in between cocktail parties and visits to the Moulin Rouge, it’s hard to escape the conclusion that the trip was a reward – as was the $7000 farewell party that the board threw in the CEO’s honour.

How easily councils and public boards seem to be persuaded that their employees deserve these special considerations over and above their very generous emoluments (the Canterbury health boss was on $450,000-plus a year). And how odd it is that the conferences they attend invariably take place in Paris, Rome or New York. I wonder whether the CEO would have been itching to go if the event had been held in Kyrgyzstan or Chad.

No comments: