Saturday, November 27, 2021

The worst of all possible worlds

The following column was first published on The BFD. It has since had a small amount of new material added.

We’re all familiar with the phrase “the worst of all possible worlds”. Well, I think we now know what that world looks like.

We have an all-powerful, increasingly authoritarian government that combines ideological zealotry with ineptitude, profligacy, laziness and contempt for democratic process – surely the most lethal confluence of malignant political forces in living memory.

We have an opposition that should be presenting itself as an alternative to Labour but instead has been busy disembowelling itself. Both Judith Collins and Simon Bridges placed their egos and ambitions ahead of the interests of the country. The primary blame lies with Collins for her clumsy and desperate last-resort survival ploy but Bridges cannot entirely escape culpability, having done little to hose down media speculation about a change of leadership – indeed, appearing at times to revel in it. The voters are likely to punish them, but tragically New Zealand will also pay for their hubris. As long as the National caucus remains fractured by leadership squabbles, Labour has a good chance of squeaking back into power in 2023 and completing its transformational, neo-Marxist agenda.

The smart money is on Christopher Luxon to take over the leadership of the National Party, but it will be a hospital pass. People who know Luxon speak highly of him, but running an international airline is no preparation for the brutal business of top-level politics – and especially not for dealing with destructive and mischievous elements in the media, who will set out to destabilise him from day one.

Speaking of the media, we have a new breed of political journalists whom no one can trust, who regard themselves as players rather than observers, and who treat politics as some sort of entertaining blood sport – one in which all participants risk being maimed with the exception of … the media, who are accountable to no one and are in the uniquely privileged position of ensuring they always come out as winners. I’m reminded of a British journalist’s memorable line about newspaper editorial writers: “They watch from the hills as the fighting rages, then come down and bayonet the wounded.”

That pretty much describes some of today’s Press Gallery journalists, such as Newshub’s political editor Tova O’Brien and her understudy Jenna Lynch, who have no skin in the game and can walk away unscathed from the carnage they helped to orchestrate. Newshub played a key role in National’s leadership crisis, constantly contriving opportunities to undermine the floundering opposition leader while leaving the prime minister – the person actually running the country – untouched within her media-enabled force field. Dirty politics? You have it right there – but don’t expect another book from Nicky Hager. 

We have a rising political star in the person of David Seymour, whom voters clearly see as the most effective alternative to Jacinda Ardern, but who has no experience in government – in fact remains largely an unknown quantity – and who leads a party of absolute greenhorns. Theoretically there’s scope for an electoral arrangement between Act and National, on the assumption that they share at least some political values and might achieve together what they cannot do individually. But my guess is the same petty egos that have torn National apart would sabotage any such proposal. Sharing power and relinquishing control just isn’t in their DNA.

So there it is. Good luck trying to find something optimistic to latch onto in that lot.

Who’s to blame, then, if anyone? Mike Hosking this week fingered John Key as being responsible for the mess we’re in, and I don’t think he was being entirely flippant. If only Key hadn’t stood down, Hosking implied, New Zealand would still be basking in the sunlit uplands.

But I suspect Key regarded the prime ministership as just another box to be ticked off on the career path he had mapped out for himself, and once he tired of the job he could hardly be expected to stick around just for the sake of the country. After all, a bloke like Key likes to quit while he’s ahead.

No, if you want to trace New Zealand’s parlous situation back to its origin, the trail leads inexorably to Winston Raymond Peters. Remember the 2017 election? With just 7 percent of the vote, Peters held the balance of power and exercised it by anointing Ardern as prime minister when, morally, National had earned the right to govern with 44 per cent of the vote to Labour’s 38 per cent.

Had the New Zealand First leader done the honourable thing in 2017, Bill English would have remained prime minister and might have turned out to be a good one. Not only had he done much of the heavy lifting behind the scenes in the Key government, but he had a social conscience that marked him as a politician in the mould of National Party liberals from the Holyoake era – National’s golden age, when it won four consecutive terms.

But Peters gifted Labour with a glittering prize that they didn’t expect and hadn’t earned, and the rest is history. Ardern’s initially assured handling of the Christchurch mosque massacres, the Whakaari-White Island eruption and the Covid-19 crisis won her a cult-like following both at home and abroad – so much so that voters rewarded her with a decisive majority that conferred virtually absolute power, something never envisaged by the architects of the voting system.

Since then, other events have served only to consolidate Ardern’s power. Covid-19 provided a handy distraction from Labour’s agenda, pre-occupying the public and the media while Labour got on with the job of pursuing a programme of radical change that was mostly kept from the voters during the pandemic-dominated 2020 election campaign.

The media have been complicit in this process, for months on end treating the pandemic as if it was the only story of any consequence and ignoring, or at the very least playing down, elements of the government’s agenda that might cause public disquiet. Covid-19 has forced almost everything else off the news pages and the evening bulletins, allowing Labour’s activists to get on with their project virtually unhindered.

Peters, ironically, found himself ousted from Parliament, the voters finally having had enough of his decades of chicanery, so perhaps there’s some justice after all. But with the NZ First leader again hovering balefully around the periphery of politics, no one should forget his ignoble role in all this.



Ricardo said...

Forget the male, pale and stale choices for the next National Party leader. There is a whiff of privilege, expectation and entitlement about Luxon. Simon Bridges is a pure politician with ambition and hubris not so much naked as broadcast through a bullhorn. He is a smirking white anter while piously reading token verses.

Why not be bold! Erica Stanford. She presents well, can communicate pithily, is clearly intelligent and will attract country wide curiosity in great volume. Surround her with top advisers and counsellors. Take the best of the rest as a shadow cabinet. She is not a sex pest, genital photo transmitter/blackmailer or straight out lying and duplicitous Aucklander. She clearly somehow slipped through National's screening process.

Go Erica!

Odysseus said...

What more can be said? This article sums up New Zealand's perilous situation very well. MMP has brought us low, particularly by allowing a self-serving snake-oil salesman to overturn the electorate's popular choice and thereby open the door for a neo-Marxist coup by a cabal of ideologues and race-baiters. Labour's only saving grace is their incompetence. National's performance has been a disgrace. Their focus on petty personality politics shows only contempt for the electorate. Let us hope they use the present spill to banish both Collins and Bridges, but I doubt it.

Our only possible salvation is the major shock that is imminent for the economy. Inflation has been stoked by reckless, low quality spending. Interest rates are set for take-off to levels unseen since the 1980s. By this time next year mortgagee sales will be an epidemic, especially in Auckland. Labour will have no answers and Ardern will be desperately looking around for that high paying UN job. I wouldn't put it past them to call an early election in the first half of 2022 before the full force of the storm hits so Robertson can have his turn at playing PM. Hopefully the public, despite the best efforts of the venal media, will see any such move for the crock it is.

Unknown said...

The media have been complicit in this process, for months on end treating the pandemic as if it was the only story of any consequence and ignoring, or at the very least playing down, elements of the government’s agenda that might cause public disquiet.

Now it seems that they're taking notice, but not in a good way. Daily doses explaining why Groundswell is racist and that Three waters is a necessity (and isn't racist and anyone who says it is racist is a racist).

It's that activist journalism again.

Unknown said...

Hear! Hear! And consign Bridges to the dumpster along with Collins.

Phil said...

I have no doubt that Erica could pull support from Labour and perhaps knock Labour out of Government. However she does appear to lean left so would she just keep the seat warm for the next Labour Government. Jacinda has opened a pandoras box of racial problems which the next Government is going to have to somehow address.

Richard said...

I doubt English would have enjoyed another term, had he gained it.
The media was increasingly feral. Housing crisis, homelessness, poverty, starving children, begging etc etc dominated the media. Nigel Latta was on our screens 24/7.
Often the stories would be traced to Labour Party officials but only by Kiwiblog.
Having a Labour Government seemed to solve all that immediately.

Simon Cohen said...

-But I suspect Key regarded the prime ministership as just another box to be ticked off on the career path he had mapped out for himself, and once he tired of the job he could hardly be expected to stick around just for the sake of the country. After all, a bloke like Key likes to quit while he’s ahead.-
This is an interesting comment.
One of the great criticisms of politician is that they are there for the power and they won't give it up voluntarily.
Key won 3 elections and then decided as he put it he was worn out. He remains one of the only NZ politicians to decide it was time for him to relinquish power.
Perhaps there are others who can correct me but what he did was a rarity in politics. Some might say that Harold Wilson was another but it has now been established he was told that he had Alzheimer's disease and that hastened his decision to retire. I can only applaud a politician who decides their time is over and retires voluntarily. The only other example of a Prime Minister I can think of in NZ since WWII is Keith Holyoake.

Andy Espersen said...

Interesting political happenings - and as usual, Karl’s musings and observations are great reading. However, I cannot quite follow Karl’s take that Christopher Luxon’s “running an international airline is no preparation for the brutal business of top-level politics”. If your intellect is big enough (and Luxon’s long, successful business career proves that his is) - and if you have no “skeletons in your cupboard” (which mainly amounts to having lived one’s whole personal life with serene, ethical integrity), I do not believe top-level politics can be hard to cope with. David Lange, for example, was thrust into it suddenly – and very obviously enjoyed it all hugely. Jacinda Ardern is now about to find out the hard way that her intellect simply isn’t up to it. She is now in for what Karl calls the “brutal business of top-level politics”. Tough.

You have to be cognisant of one more aspect of your personality when offering yourself for the top-job at a particular time, namely whether your personality is basically conservative or progressive. Thomas Sowell in his seminal book, “A Conflict of Visions” points to two political personality trends, “The constrained” or “The unconstrained”. This is not a question of either/or in an individual – so where on the scale is Luxon?? With this government, in this particular political situation, there can be no doubt that for Luxon to have any chance to prevail at the next election he must revive and invigorate National’s naturally conservative soul. Until now National seems rather to try to out-woke the woke’ists (plain silly for this opposition, of course). Our woke government represents Sowell’s unconstrained vision – with bells on.

Ian P said...

Agree completely Ricardo, well said. Ardern's (wish I could say Labour's) voter base is predominately female. National have to recover this vote. Erica Stanford has already displayed passion and guts, and believe me, that is what will be needed to claw NZ back again from the corrupt cesspit we have become in just 12 months. Media funding needs a radical review and overhaul, as a starter. Our great country (that we ALL created) must be returned to the people. We are not some bloody Lego set for radical ideologies, diametrically opposed to our very essence.

Tom Hunter said...

After all, a bloke like Key likes to quit while he’s ahead.

Meh, here's what I said in September 2008 as Key approached the throne...:

I don’t want to drag this thread too far off topic but what is National going to do should it win this November beyond babysitting the institutions of Labour and the Left. Nursing those things along, tiring all the time and steadily losing votes simply by being in Government and getting blamed for the insanities of those self-same institutions. Until the day comes, one or two election cycles down the road, when a revitalised Labour gets back into power and gets to push forward some more. Ratchet Socialism at its best.

And here we are.

Andy Espersen said...

But you were completely and utterly wrong, Tom Hunter. It did not work out like that. John Key's 6 years were very successful : New Zealand progressed quite satisfactorily - in as much that nothing happened!!!

Thanks to his skills as an economist and conservative realist we got through the only real crisis on our path, namely the 2008 recession, without even noticing it. And if he had only stayed on I believe New Zealand would have been in a far better position than now, both politically and economically.

swordfish said...

I'd really like to see you write on the emerging Kainga Ora scandal, Karl ... here's my elderly Parents' experience:

Tom Hunter said...

I think you're completely missing the point Andy Espersen. I would agree that Key and company managed things very well, unlike this useless shower we have in government now. I voted for them in 2017 in the hope that they might get one more term to implement some fundamental changes such as the ones English had underway for welfare reform, although they were so timid I felt they'd be strangled at birth.

The point I'm making, that I made back then, was that Key and National left all the institutions in place ready for Labour to screw up and weaponise. There's no point managing things well if that means you have to stay in power forever. There's especially no point if your "right-wing" successors find themselves governing with institutions that have been shunted even further left during your time out of power.

Milton Friedman once said that the trick was not to elect the right people to do the right things, but to change things so that even the wrong people would do the right things. The Fourth labour government did a lot to make that so, which is why we have an economy able to cope with downturns like the GFC and (hopefully) the Covid-19 shit show.

Your response reminds me of those Labour folk who wanted Bill Rowling to be PM because he'd manage things better than Muldoon - vs the National folk who thought Muldoon would manage the whole system better than Rowling.

Both were wrong. It was the system that was the problem; nobody could manage it better. The only solution was to cut the Gordian Knot. Even post-Muldoon National was not capable of doing that, but had to wait for a "revolutionary" Labour Party to do so. Perhaps history will have to repeat itself before we see major changes in things like education and healthcare.

Tom Hunter said...

Oh - and it was 9 years, not 6.

Ian P said...

Why don't National simply elect two co-leaders for now? There's no great urgency. Have at least one young, capable younger female in the mix. Let the public have time to gauge who would be the best National leader, and probably next PM. The building of a new team would get off to a better start, with less focus on an individual for the media dogs to attack, and create more public interest in what National stands for and are doing. It would also counter the monotonous media 'National shambles' articles that dominate in our biased media. Labour's day in the sun may end abruptly soon as well, and if you think National are a shambles, MSM, 'you ain't seen nothing yet'.

Tom Hunter said...


I see that Chris Trotter, while acknowledging your story that you must have placed in a comment on his blog, would not publish it and said you should go to a journalist.

Since your blog is public I hope you won't mind if I link to it from my blog at No Minister blog and quote chunks of it.

swordfish said...

Yep ... absolutely, Tom. I'd really appreciate it.

Eamon Sloan said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Simon Cohen said...

For God's sake Eamon he resigned because as he put it he was burnt out. Do you not applaud people voluntarily giving up power. Do you have any idea of the stress being prime minister would be. So he decided he no longer could make a useful contribution and resigned. Its people like you who contribute to politicians outliving their usefulness.

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

Following Christopher Luxon being elected unopposed to the leadership of the National Party this afternoon I look forward to comments on this blog. I personally approve - and have great hope of an invigorated (and conservative) National Party. I did not know that Luxon was a committed Christian until now. This makes me particular happy and confident. It shows that his whole personality is based on serenity and ethics - the most important qualities in a person in authority.

swordfish said...

Cheers, Tom ... read your post ... really appreciate it.

Simon Cohen said...

For Eamon Sloan
Key said that he felt he was burnt out so he resigned. I would imagine he would have had a reasonable idea of when he should retire after all he was a pretty intelligent person.
And as for staying on so that National could win the 2017 election. Was he supposed to campaign with the voters presuming he would stay on as PM and then resign shortly after the election. That is the sort of behaviour that brings politics into disrepute.
But your whole premise seems based on inaccuracies. The polling figures for National before Key resigned were 44% to 45%. National under English got 44% of the vote at the 2017 election.
So what difference did Key resigning make to the result.

Quintessential New Zealand said...

This is the often repeated fallacy that Ardern’s appearance on the scene at Whakatāne was a show of strong, but compassionate, leadership. It was nothing of the sort. Victims of the eruption remained on the island, covered in horrendous burns, while baking in the afternoon sun. A fixed wing pilot circling above could see people moving and alive. He radioed for support and ordinary locals with some experience of the island rallied to their aid. When they landed on the island to mount a rescue the first two helicopters flew back filled with injured passengers. But they left behind one of their crew, a local builder and part time guide at the helicopter operation. He remained, alone on the island arranging the dead in preparation for helicopters return (which was aborted by authorities) for approximately half an hour until a third chopper arrived. Imagine what was going through his mind during that time. True bravery by all involved, and how was that officially recognised by the Prime Minister of New Zealand? Well, it wasn’t! Instead, media gave Ardern all the kudos for giving hugs to responders who never set foot on White Island that day, covering over the official’s decision not to attempt a rescue because of the perceived dangers, which shamefully meant the victims would have been left on the island to perish in agony. If the media believes that was an example of her exceptional leadership by the PM that day, then they have a truly distorted understanding of what courageous leadership means.

Unknown said...

Quintessential New Zealand's comments are extraordinarily accurate. This Prime Minister is always taking the credit for great leadership and making good things happen?!?! QNZ comments show this is not the case and many other unnamed heroes are the ones that deserve the credit and spotlight. But no, the venal media, having been handsomely paid off, pander to her every whim and fancy. Jessica Much-McKay and others of her leaning should get out and interview all those unsung heroes of the White Island tragedy and give them the kudos they so richly deserve, but NO, let's charge them with spurious offences under stupid health and safety regulations!! Regrettably we are being governed by an incompetent group of socialist morons who have no experience of earning an honest living. The sooner this lot is despatched the better. He Puapua, Three Waters, Kaianga Ora, 'Be Kind' policing and other platforms are simply destroying our wonderful country New Zealand. Let's unite as ONE people and get rid of this scourge.
Alastair Irving