Wednesday, June 23, 2021

An early prediction for 2023

We’re more than two years out from the next general election, but already I’m prepared to make a bold (or perhaps foolhardy – take your pick) forecast.

My prediction is that Labour will lose most, if not all, of the provincial seats it picked up last year. Many of those electorates broke with precedent by voting Labour, giving New Zealand its first decisive majority-led government of the MMP era, but on present trends they are likely to revert to the historical norm in 2023.

The 2020 election result was anomalous because of the exceptional circumstances.  Not only had Jacinda Ardern made a powerful impact with her handling of the Christchurch mosque massacres and the Covid-19 crisis (at least initially), but National was in turmoil.

Faced with having to choose between a personable young politician in charge of a government that seemed to know what it was doing and a rival party that couldn’t agree even on a leader, voters logically opted for the former.

But here we are, just eight months down the track, and already the picture looks very different. National is still fragmented, ineffectual and apparently demoralised, but in the meantime Labour's wheels have started to fall off and could roll right over the re-election chances of MPs who benefited from the provincial switch to Labour in 2020. 

There’s a pattern here. The third Labour government of 1972-75 fell apart after just one term. The fourth managed two before it collapsed in an inglorious heap. On both occasions, Labour tried to do too much too soon and with too little ministerial ability.

Helen Clark ran a much steadier ship, largely because she imposed tight discipline, but the present Labour government is looking more reminiscent of Norman Kirk’s. It’s over-ambitious, under-endowed with talent and too impatient to re-invent the wheel. The bureaucracy is struggling to keep up, and it’s showing. A popular leader isn’t enough to compensate for (or disguise) incompetence, fatigue and hubris.

On top of that, Labour, with no coalition partner to keep it in check, is pursuing a radical ideological agenda that’s alien to middle New Zealand. Voters have shown time after time that they prefer dull, stable and predictable (for which, read National) over mercurial and idealistic.

Here’s another strange thing about Labour governments. Often it’s minor, almost petty, irritants that turn voters against them. In a column this week, Heather du Plessis-Allan recalled the Clark government’s attempts to ban incandescent light bulbs and require the installation of water-conserving showerheads. Both became emblematic of an interfering nanny state and were partly blamed for Labour’s defeat in 2008.

Du Plessis-Allen could have gone back further – to the bizarre furore over Labour’s proposal to introduce health regulations banning cats from dairies, which triggered a backlash against an already floundering government in 1975. 

What’s it likely to be this time? Well, HDPA identified one obvious possibility: the punitive tax on diesel utes. This is especially potent because it plays into the old urban-rural divide, which was temporarily neutralised on election day last year.

Farmers will obviously be penalised by this supposedly climate-friendly move, but so will urban tradies. It won’t be lost on the public that the new tax will hit two crucial productive sectors in an economy that’s struggling to recover from the massive loss of international tourism revenue.

Ardern didn’t do herself any favours with her subsequent clumsy protestations that Toyota was planning to market an electric ute anyway (it isn’t), and that lots of ute owners have no legitimate reason to use them. That might chime with electric bike-owning Labour and Green voters in Grey Lynn and Mt Victoria, but it smacks of judgmental elitism of a type that Ardern normally seems careful to avoid. (Declaration: I assume I’m one of those ute drivers with no “legitimate” reason to own one. I bought mine because I tow a caravan and load the ute up with bikes and camping gear. Apparently Clarke Gayford has one too, presumably for towing a boat. And my local Labour MP, Kieran McAnulty, famously uses his ancient Mazda ute – painted socialist red, of course – as a political prop, presumably to emphasise that he’s just one of the blokes. Ardern was happy to be photographed in it with him during her election campaign last year. I wonder, did she quietly chide him for driving a thirsty, polluting clunker that he has no “legitimate” use for?)

The timing has been unusually inept too, considering this is a government that’s obsessive about orchestrating its PR spin. If you accept that in politics, optics is everything, it didn’t look good that the announcement of the unfriendly-to-farmers ute tax roughly coincided with the green light for a cycling and pedestrian bridge over Auckland Harbour. Committing $785 million to humour a tiny minority of the affluent urban middle-class – and this on top of generous taxpayer subsidies for EV buyers that will favour the same privileged group – sent a powerful signal about whose interests the government prioritises. To put it another way, it was a double dose of harsh medicine for the "old" New Zealand that Labour seems impatient to consign to the scrapheap.

I bet, too, that plenty of nurses were scratching their heads in dismay and wondering why a supposedly worker-friendly Labour government could find money for pet projects when it supposedly couldn’t afford to meet their reasonable pay demands.

Missteps such as these eat away at a government’s credibility – and popularity – by inches and degrees. It’s not always big issues (extremist climate change policies, for example) that damage governments; these often seem too remote, too complex and too abstract for people to grasp, still less bother about. Rather, it’s the things that hit them at a direct, human level. A tax on diesel utes is something people can easily relate to.

For another example, consider the shambolic Covid-19 vaccination programme. The government spin is that it’s meeting its vaccination targets, but that’s no indication of success when the targets have been set conveniently low. People will judge the government’s performance on how New Zealand measures up internationally, and in that regard our record is dire: 120th in the world, according to figures this week, and the poorest-performing of all the OECD countries with which we like to compare ourselves. Talkback lines are buzzing with calls from people frustrated at being unable to book their shots, despite supposedly being in a priority group, and angry at feeling misled by the smarmy Covid-19 propaganda blitz.

Even the media, whose natural instinct is to protect Ardern and Labour, are finding it hard to disguise the government’s failings, though they still do their best. Health Minister Andrew Little has been put on the spot this week over the embarrassing disclosure that only 0.2 percent of the money allocated to mental health has actually been spent – and this on top of mental health campaigner Mike King’s protest march to Parliament over the same issue.

This is a government that spends like a drunken sailor on follies such as the $98 million Hamilton-Auckland commuter train (which reportedly averages 30 passengers a day), but seems paralysed when confronted with areas of urgent and acknowledged need. A Labour government so inept that it can’t even spend money? That’s surely an historic first.

Even more embarrassing to Labour was Little’s anguished admission that he was frustrated by the lack of action from his ministry. In fact it was beyond embarrassing; it was pathetic. He’s the minister, for Heaven’s sake. He’s supposed to know what’s going on and to make things happen; it’s called ministerial accountability. Implying it's the fault of his bureaucratic underlings makes him look weak (and worse, cowardly).

Ardern and Grant Robertson were equally eager to disown the problem. T J Perenara would have admired the alacrity with which Ardern offloaded the ball when confronted at her Monday press conference about the measly five extra beds provided for acute mental health patients. For someone so unused to being asked awkward questions, the prime minister proved lightning-fast in switching her attention to a more agreeable subject. For the first time since she came to power four years ago, we are seeing what Ardern looks like when she’s rattled.

But back to that urban-rural split (and I mean split as in differentiation, not conflict). This week we heard about the NZTA’s harsh cuts to spending on rural roads, presumably so that money can be redirected to favoured projects such as the Auckland Harbour cycleway. Roads that keep farms supplied and enable crops and livestock to be transported for processing will be neglected so that affluent Aucklanders can cycle over the harbour on a summer’s day for a leisurely Saturday morning latte.

We also learned of a University of Otago report highlighting the long-term damage, human as well as economic, caused by the bungled response to the mycoplasma bovis crisis, which resulted in the culling of 171,000 cattle.

According to the report, a “badly planned and poorly executed” process led to farming families feeling bewildered, isolated and powerless. Local knowledge, expertise and pragmatism were ignored in favour of inefficient and insensitive bureaucratic processes.

Now here’s the thing: the majority of New Zealanders live in cities, and the close links that once existed between town and country have become attenuated over time. But people who are well-informed still realise that the country’s prosperity depends heavily on the rural sector, and there remains a high level of respect and empathy for farmers – particularly at times of crisis, such as flooding, drought and livestock diseases.

When New Zealanders hear of normally stoical farmers breaking down in tears over the needlessly brutal and heartless way their herds were slaughtered and the arrogant sidelining of their own knowledge and experience, they’re likely to be on the farmers’ side. This is especially true of people who live in the provinces and are exposed to the rural sector. 

On its own, this isn’t necessarily the type of issue that will determine how people vote in 2023, other than for those directly affected. But cumulatively, little peeves and resentments - over taxes on diesel utes, favouritism toward urban elites, neglect of provincial interests, incompetent and dishonest management of the vaccination rollout - build up over time. A government that was rewarded only last year for its empathy and sensitivity is rapidly turning into one that looks arrogant, incompetent and defensive.

I’m not predicting a Labour defeat at the next election; that’s too much of a leap (though I wouldn’t rule it out, either). But I do think there will be a backlash, and it will be most pronounced in the provinces. The crucial question is which of Labour’s rivals will be best positioned to take advantage of it - and at this stage, that’s an open contest.


Trev1 said...

All very good points Karl. This is a government for the urban elites, which is no surprise because that's where its Middle Class, university "educated" leadership comes from. This government's promotion of racial division is also alarming many. But I think it will be the Climate Change Commission's quackery that will sink it. Their recommendations are a prescription for the needless destruction of our main export earner and the impoverishment of much of the population. At the same time power prices will shortly start going through the roof while we keep the lights on with Indonesian coal. The government's allies in the media will double down on their climate catastrophism propaganda - only this morning Stuff published a tarted up version of Michael Mann's discredited "hockey stick" diagram that even the IPCC has walked away from - but pocket-book issues and this government's incompetence and arrogance will drown that out.

Ricardo said...

For me, it was the gas barbecue ban. That was a T Bone (medium rare, bearnaise sauce, with a lamb sausage) too far.

Depends on a credible alternative being available I suggest. National needs to start looking like an effective machine. Please, no Winston.

Phil said...

Looking at the news tonight there will be no let up in the media pressure on the National Party for the next 2 years. I hope next election, voters judge electoral candidates on merit rather than reject hard working candidates as happended last year based purely on the Jacinda factor.

transpress nz said...

Although the present regime has badly underestimated the backlash to the Ute tax and the Auckland bike bridge, it will be mild compared to what happens when the the full nature of the Apartheid planned under He Puapua will have when the plans are made clear -- even the tele-evangelists that Jacinda has on TV1, TV3 and Radio NZ won't deflect it.

Doug Longmire said...

Thanks Karl,
That is an excellent article. All very good points, and you are right on target.
As a worker (pharmacist) of many years, it makes me shake my head that I voted Labour many years ago, because Labour was the "workers party."
Now, Labour is the urban woke elite's progressive playground.

I agree with Trev above, especially because I saw, on Stuff's site, a brightly coloured chart of "world temperatures for the last 20,000 years"
Well - of course it shows no temperature variation until the last 40 years or so, where the temp shoots up. (where the evil humans have cooked the planet). This graph has erased the Medieval warming period, and the Little Ice Age

But - hello !! We have seen this graph before.

It is just Michael Mann's "hockey stick" graph turned on it's side.
The hockey stick graph, which by the way, was actually published by the IPCC, to their embarrassment. This graph has now been totally discredited as being false.

Doug Longmire said...

And we have not even mentioned the Labour Govt plans to destroy democracy in our country, and replace it with a racist dictatorship.
In this plan, 15% of the population who have some Pacific/Maori ethnicity will be the controlling dictatorship.
Also - the compulsory teaching of te reo in schools, and the intention to have a majority of the population speaking Maori. Clearly speaking English will suffer in this process.
New Zealand becoming New North Korea.

hughvane said...

Brave predictions Karl, I salute you. I happen also to agree with you. From a Southerners p-o-v, in addition I believe the achilles heel of this present government is and will continue to be:
1. its headlong rush into racial favouritism and separatism,
2. what appears to be its wilful abandonment (in some cases) of the rural sector,
3. its bulldozing of Leftist/Green ideology and dogma in the face of realism,
4. show pony performance, eg. the Covid vaccine rollout, where solid, unspectacular achievements are essential,
5. its pushing of non-mandated agendas (nothing or no-one to stop them)
6. its cosiness with the media, whose trustworthiness must rank somewhere alongside that of used car dealers and insurance companies.

Odysseus said...

@ hughvane: is secession being considered by South Islanders? Given the way South Canterbury has been treated by these wokeists who clearly have a deep hatred of farmers, it can't be too far off the radar. You would have your pick of refugees from the North.

hughvane said...

@ Odysseus - secession has been a regular feature ("cut the Cook Str cable!") for decades, but it's never gone far because of the regular reintroduction of the Nats into government. Cf. the UK and Scotland, ie. it would never work.

You're right - the half $M 'donation' for flood relief to the middle Sth Is was a calculated insult. Why - when agriculture in its broadest sense is the backbone of this country's economy - ANY government would deliberately downplay or denigrate that sector is beyond my understanding. Madness.

All that said, farmers need to demonstrate that they too are aware of ecological issues that are besetting our nation, and, in basic terms, 'do something about it!'

Incidentally - and flippantly - what's the name of the present Min of Ag? Do not pass Go.

Odysseus said...

An excellent column in today's Australian Spectator Karl, will you republish it here?

Karl du Fresne said...

Thanks Odysseus. I didn't realise it was online already.
I don't usually republish my Spectator pieces here - and if I was going to, I think it would be only fair to the magazine to allow a reasonable interval before reproducing it.

Unknown said...

Well spoken Karl.
The main prolem is how and how quickly the problem is able to be fixed.
I do not place too much hope on Labour being able to adapt and make the tough decisions for fear of being defeated at the next election.
Brian W

Andy Espersen said...

Your Australian Spectator article (referred to by Odysseus), “Smiling Zombies”, was published for an Australian readership – but is, of course, far more relevant for reading in New Zealand. As it happens, its subject (The Maorification of New Zealand) is also hugely relevant to this present post - being one more (possibly deciding) factor to be reckoned with in the 2023 election. So, please allow me this comment :

It is democratically and ethically wrong for a government to force or cajole (or allow for) any individual human being to submit to, to use or practice any religion, language, behaviour – in short, any cultural aspect whatsoever. In any society, be it tribal stone-age or sophisticated industrial, maximum personal freedom within the law will result in maximum productivity from, and maximum happiness among, its residents.

Yet, the Labour-Green government is doing just that. As it happens, in New Zealand we now have numerous cultures, numerous languages, numerous customs, numerous skin colours. These must not be interfered with by government – but must be left to develop unhindered any which crazy way they do - only provided, of course, they do not harm other citizens or impinge on their freedoms.

I believe our human rights legislation ostensibly sets out to preserve those freedoms for all New Zealand citizens – and I am all in favour of that. For example, it can be argued that a child must not be deprived the right to grow up, learning and speaking a living language - and that it is therefore is illegal (and demonstrably cruel) to force a child to grow up in what is called “full te reo immersion” environment. A living language can only be taught by native speakers of the language – and such Maori speakers no longer exist (and cannot ever be recreated, as all linguist experts will confirm). Parents do not own their children – these are free NZ citizens, whose personal human rights are sacrosanct.

Labour’s idealistic commitment to influence and shape our NZ culture runs counter to the very implied intentions of our human rights legislation. I believe Labour could and should be challenged in court on their policies. And I believe our 5 million smiling zombies are waking up!!

Doug Longmire said...

You have summed the situation up very clearly Karl in your Speccie article.

However, I am not sure that public apathy is the total story. Seems to me that many people simply do not realise that these events are occurring, because these events are not being reported in the main stream media ( i.e. - the propaganda wing of the Comrade Ardern Party)

Quite a few of my friends seem to unaware of the extent of the planned destruction of democracy in New Zealand, and it seems to be simply that they have not heard about it. It is only by following blog sites such as this, that one can get the true story.

And it seems to me that these radical, racist changes being pushed through at great pace, are, in fact nothing to do with Maori rights at all. The majority of New Zealanders will object to these changes and in fighting them, start a revolution.
Then the plan is that the destruction of our Western democracy will take place, and the Great Reset, communist style, can take place.

Eamon Sloan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Andy Espersen said...

Eamon Sloan - Taxpayers are now paying for journalists to come out with priceless drivel like your footnote from Timaru Herald. Yes, te reo Maori has been declared an official NZ language – and so has sign language. That does not justify
our media to use it without translation into English – a translation needed for 98% New Zealanders. The “normalisation and revitalisation” of a dead language is an impossibility – fact is that only Israel has been able to revive a dead language (Hebrew). And this necessitated banning all other languages in official usage – and slowly letting a suitable grammar develop. None of the many thousands of indigenous languages and dialects that have disappeared during the 500 years European onslaught of the world have survived – neither will te reo Maori. And it is outright ludicrous to invent, to manufacture, Maori words for concepts that never even existed before colonisation (the “brands and mastheads”). All normal, living languages somehow will arrive at new words automatically – or simply borrow the original word from the other living language (e.g. mana and tabu from te reo Maori which are now found in all English dictionaries).

And we ruin both English and te reo (which was originally such powerful and effective oratory, by mindlessly mixing them in daily usage.

Unknown said...

Brilliant articles Karl. It's not a coincidence that Ardern and her mom have introduced hate speech legislation at the same time as her socialist ideology push for Maori separatism..... She's can now stop the masses from comment strongly about the racist change she wants to implement for her comrades