Posts tagged john key
Posts tagged john key
Every political party in Parliament is responsible for the travesty of ignoring the Electoral Commission’s recommendations on MMP.
As National has revealed, each of them had an opinion on the major recommendations. The result was a patchwork of competing ideas.
The problem was not the differences, but that any of them thought they were entitled to views in the first place.
The views are in themselves a perfect illustration why politicians should have no role in electoral or constitutional matters. The mix of principle, ideological and self-survival is ugly. I feel sorry for the politicians - that they were even obliged to face such a conflict.
It’s ironic, because the political sector is obsessed with conflicts. David Shearer went to town on John Key’s conflicts over appointment of a head of GSCB.
Yet here they were, conflicted to all hell over whether to vote for changes to MMP that could affect their chance to govern, or even be in Parliament at all. Thus, Shearer could not commit to more than a “discussion” on the recommendations, because his Party was against, or at least ambivalent, toward some of the changes.
These are matters are for the people to decide. We decide who gets into Parliament to represent us on day to day national decisions, and we should be deciding how we do the voting.
We can’t let National off the hook by blaming the whole of Parliament for not accepting the Commission’s changes, or not putting the changes before us all to vote on in another referendum.
Judith Collins’ easy dismissal of the recommendations because it was too hard to get “consensus” (her newly invented requirement) makes a mockery of the apparent enthusiasm with which she had earlier urged the public to get involved with the review. John Key himself said the review was a chance for the public to “finally… kick the tyres on MMP”.
John Key’s ‘end of the matter’ attempt to shut down the recommendations was unedifying for a man previously so wedded to principled management to Government and treatment of public attitudes.
We did have some clues that National was not going to like the electoral commission recommendations. For example, in 2011, John Key said he did not think it was necessary to eliminate the “one seat rule”.
I would imagine that Key, in particular, preferred the embarrassment of shutting down the whole thing, to the embarrassment of picking up some of the recommendations and not others.
It’s easier for a turkey to ban all holidays, than ban just Christmas. That’s why politicians shouldn’t be forced into the ignominy of voting on electoral stuff at all.
A Washington Post analysis has shown why Governments find it so hard to cut budgets: they don’t really want to.
The Post examined the detail of spending cuts claimed by the US Government in April 2011 and concluded that the cuts were “an epic kind of Washington illusion”.
It found that about $17.4 billion in cuts were made by stopping activity that had already been canceled.
In the real world, in fact, many of their “cuts” cut nothing at all. The Transportation Department got credit for “cutting” a $280 million tunnel that had been canceled six months earlier. It also “cut” a $375,000 road project that had been created by a legislative typo, on a road that did not exist.
At the Census Bureau, officials got credit for a whopping $6 billion cut, simply for obeying the calendar. They promised not to hold the expensive 2010 census again in 2011.
Today, an examination of 12 of the largest cuts shows that, thanks in part to these gimmicks, federal agencies absorbed $23 billion in reductions without losing a single employee.
“Many of the cuts we put in were smoke and mirrors,” said Rep. Mick Mulvaney (R-S.C.), a hard-line conservative now in his second term. “That’s the lesson from April 2011: that when Washington says it cuts spending, it doesn’t mean the same thing that normal people mean.”
From my experience, there’s two different forces driving this outcome:
1) Governments want to appear to the public bold and decisive, so are prepared to include in their calculations things that aren’t real cuts.
2) Officials want to help the Government reach the target, so look for the easiest things to cut They don’t really want to go through real baseline reviews because they are hard work, cause pain, and hurt stuff that staff, peers and stakeholders don’t like.
These two forces effectively collude to ensure Government attempts to cut spending usually only suspend or temporarily lower, the year on year increase in the cost of government.
There’s humour in ordinary life, but none in politics. That’s got to change.
Politics is about serious matters. But then, so is almost every other field of human activity. Yet humour can be found in every walk of life, but rarely in politics. Why are politicians so damn serious, and what is it costing them?
I was uplifted by the reply of the office of the US President to the petition that America build a Death Star. No matter what you think of the current administration, it can’t be all bad if it has the confidence, wit and goodwill to give a humourous official reply to a light-hearted petition.
It made me realise what politicians lose by failing at humour; they lose their humanity. And their humanity their connection to voters. Part of being “human” is generosity, self-deprecation, and objectivity. Humour says you can do those things. Lack of humour, or sarcastic humour about an opposition, says you can’t do those things.
Why do many politicians lack humour?
In part it’s the environment in which they work: high expectations and demands from the public, high levels of inquisition into their professional and personal lives, high stakes debates, and human issues where there’s little reason for light-heartedness.
This can clearly be beaten.
Take Barack Obama. He regularly displays what feels like genuine good humour. He’s able to get into the zone because he knows it is important to his public support.
NZ Prime Minister John Key makes a habit of good humour. He’s not funny. He’s simply light-hearted. It’s disarming, defusing, and connects him to people. Light-heartedness oils the wheels of everyday conversation.
Which is why so these politicians are so successful, and most others are not.
They take themselves, their opinions and their goals too seriously. They raise them above the needs of others, including their voters. They spend so much time fighting to win an attrition battle of opinion they forget how to lighten up.
Democratic politics is ultimately about popularity. And that is not determined by being right. It’s determined first by being liked. And we all like those with a smile on their dial.
What’s most important in a politician: seriousness or knowing pop songs?
This lovely piece of on-ground reporting from the 2012 Presidential race got me thinking about what voters value most in a politician.
Republican voters at a rally worried that people would vote for Obama because he was “hip, cool, and sympathetic.” They wondered out loud whether they were electing a President or “someone to know the top hip hop songs”.
It’s a fair question. The reality is that voters appear to want both: they want someone who can govern with the gravitas and smarts required of a serious job, but who is simultaneously aware of ordinary things.
Voters want politicians to be like them, but much better versions.
This is why populist politicians fail (they’re too much like us) and why serious politicians fail (they’re not enough like us). The strategic magic of politics in carried out between those extremes.
This also explains why too much popularity can be a bad thing. New Zealand Prime Minister John Key spent his first term on a prolonged honeymoon with voters. His affable, easy-going, style was a hit. He could be your neighbour. A comparison video on the respective “blokiness” of Key and his 2011 Opposite, Phil Goff, made the point. Key was the guy you’d want at your BBQ. He wouldn’t talk politics and be right-on and on-message all the time.
John Key has become too conscious of his success. His recent description of himself as someone who makes jokes and “entertains” many people each week, was unsettling to see stated out loud. He now prefers and seeks out these sorts of informal and non-political interactions with the public. Self-belief may have led to recent injudicious comments denigrating Beckham as “thick as batshit” and another describing a radio host’s red jersey as “gay”.
Flippancy is acceptable in the context of informal light-hearted engagement. But John Key is crossing the line so far into populism that he’s at risk of losing the gravitas we want even of our most popular politicians.
By delaying partial asset sales to deal with Maori interests, National is burning off core voters.
When the issue of Maori claims on water arose, I mused that this may be the angle National needed to regain support from mainstream voters. I thought National could gain support from middle-New Zealanders peeved to see Maori interests dictating the matter.
To gain that support, National needed to be strident about its plan. By delaying for further negotiation and perhaps legal challenges, National now appears to core National voters, and some swinging voters, as having weakly given in to Maori interests.
This is politically dangerous because these voters were among the few people supportive, or at least agnostic, on partial asset sales.
National has now managed to annoy two very sizable chunks of voters: “nationalists” who are bothered by the idea of selling profitable assets to foreigners, and conservative white voters who don’t like giving in to ‘unjustified’ Maori claims.
Maybe National is making the only choice it can in the circumstances. Maybe it is the right choice. Key says the delay will provide certainty that should shore up the share price.
Either way, the announcement makes the asset sale programme look very tatty. At best it is a delay forced by not planning well. At worst it is a delay forced by lack of willpower.
It has been pointed out that the issue could be the crippling of National as the Foreshore and Seabed issue was for the Labour administration in 2003. The pundits forget that despite antagonising Maori, Labour saw out two more terms in power!
This delay is more reminiscent of a particular moment in Labour’s foreshore saga. In Christmas 2004 (I think) Helen Clark delayed a decision on the issue until the following year, hoping that the summer recess would defuse the heat. She was wrong, Labour came back to increased controversy.
Politicians love delay, but it only stalls the inevitable. The partial float delay is likely to give the public even more reasons to wish National had never thought of asset sales at all.
A logarithmic graph of mentions of NZ political party leaders over the month until August 24th. It appears that the smaller the Party representation in Parliament, the more volatile are the number of mentions. It’s an interesting indicator of the value of incumbency - the almost permanent presence in the public agenda of the Prime Minister.
Note: The NZ First label is a measure of mentions of Winston Peters
Social Media Popularity Chart: John Key. Discussion about John Key has been tailing off over the past week. Sentiments for and against have swapped over depending on issues of the day. But broadly, expressions of support for John Key are lower this week than any time previously measured.
Labour’s “heartland” tour was an artless, and now dead, act of sloganeering.
One of the most profound mistakes in modern politics is what I call ‘sloganising the strategy’. This is when politicians openly describe their political strategy - believing that by announcing it, they make the strategy happen. Nope. Strategies are internal. They guide what you say and do to bring them about. If you publicise the strategy, you’re revealing, and reveling in, the artifice.
Labour this year had a strategy of reaching out to “heartland New Zealand”; the people who voted against the Party in 2008 and 2011, the people who like the style of John Key, the people who came to dislike the nannying and social-value setting of the Clark Government more than they liked its middle-class economics.
The wisdom of this approach is not only that it aims to make Labour electable as this group of swinging voters tire of National, but that it sets the expectations of Labour’s core voters, and its own MPs.
The logical next step of the strategy is to go out and meet these voters. Hear their stories. Learn their politics. Reflect their concerns.
The artless next step was to turn that tactic into a branded campaign; the heartland tour. Energy has been put into branding and imagery. The campaign identifies regions, lists what is wrong with them, proposes broad happy talk solutions, and then has a little form for people to give their “ideas”. Underwhelming.
As bloggers have pointed out, it is reminiscent of many other tours by Labour MPs to see the ‘real people’.
In fact I was responsible for perhaps the first MP regional tour back in 1991. That tour was the model of substance. It was conducted without fanfare by Labour MPs who would later become main members of the Clark Cabinet It was about shutting the hell up and listening. It gave us all an appreciation of the views of our prospective voters, and gave us real-life ammunition against the National government and for policy formation.
The crux of what was effectively a three month tour was meeting real people in real life situations. Meeting them where they lived, worked and played. I can’t recall any speeches.
Modern politicians dislike the risk of random interactions with the public. They prefer arranged meetings where they can talk. But can you imagine how hard it is to set up presentations from MPs few people have heard of, from a Party currently irrelevant?
Thus, the Heartland tour does not have a lot of substance. They aren’t doing walk-abouts, and they’re giving speeches to small groups of people.
National’s spin phrase from the conference is: ‘determined’.
The word is out, National will no longer be a shrinking violet. National ‘knows’ its plan for the economy is good, so it will now be more determined to carry it out.
Over the past four years, National’s annual conference has tended to reinforce the theme of the year. These have varied from driving public service to hit targets and public private partnerships (PPPs), to the mixed ownership model for state assets.
This year there is no new economic theme or plan. This year National has decided to say that it really, really means all the stuff it’s previously announced.
It especially means it with asset sales, so will incentivise share purchases, and is especially keen on oil and gas exploration.
So the word ‘determined’ was spun between Ministers, MPs, delegates and media.
This is revealing in a number of ways:
1) National is trying to talk itself into a determined mindset. Which means it isn’t quite sure, or at least that it needs to jump start itself into this mindset.
2) National is acknowledging that it’s been too careful in the past about following through with plans. What the heck ever happened to PPPs?
3) After four years of strong polling, National is finally confident that it has public support, so is less bothered about upsetting its usual opponents.
Strategically, this is the best route. You either cringe your way to the next election, or do the things you think are right, and/or popular.
Two words of warning though;
The dispute over Maori water rights could be the best opportunity the NZ National Government has of winning over the public to asset sales.
Issues on the public agenda morph subtly over time. People start them and twist them to suit their arguments and objectives.
A skill of PR is to understand why this happens and what they could change into - and use that to political advantage.
A recent NZ example is the Bronwen Saunders ACC issue, in which a beneficiary of state accident welfare was mistakenly sent private details of other ACC clients. The issue shifted all over the place, and ended up twisted by Government opponents into being an example of ACC’s philosophy of ‘forcing’ people off welfare.
The sale of shares in state assets has just done the same thing. The dispute has been over the principle of whether State should sell assets, whether people supported it, and variations on whether the sale would work.
The sale is now being challenged through the Waitangi Tribunal, by Maori interest in water rights - as some of the assets are companies that own hydro dams.
Based on the false assumption that any controversy is bad, most pundits in the political class quickly fell into thinking the Maori dispute is a bad thing for National.
Opportunist political strategists might say the development couldn’t have been better.
Firstly, it’s a distraction.
National has failed to convince the public that the mixed ownership model is a good idea. Doubts have also been raised about whether there is enough discretionary investment money available among consumers to buy shares. Moving onto a deeper nationally divisive issue is a god-send.
Secondly, Mighty River Power could be turned into the biggest political “dog whistle” for forty years.
The Maori dimension gives National a chance to use the asset sales as a bold expression of the majority belief that the State owns and controls the nations assets.
The previous Prime Minister, Helen Clark, showed the popularity power of facing down Maori rights to Foreshore and Seabed. The vast majority of public believe water should not be owned, and is best overseen by the State.
Key is far more tentative than Helen Clark, because he doesn’t like getting offside with people, and because National still thinks it needs the Maori Party.
So he has taken it gently - saying it will consider the Tribunal conclusion, but is not bound by it.
Knowing its own constituency, the Maori Party is indignant and stroppy.
It’s hard to be sure that Key fully appreciates his core constituency. Until now he has operated on the basis that his constituency is every New Zealand citizen. Admirable, but hard to please.
An awkward stick in the spokes is that National gave Clark a hard time over her approach to the Foreshore issue, even though every National MP we knew then philosophically supported it. Never mind, the political past can be easily shrugged off.
National has the option of turning the sale of Might River Power into a vote-winning symbolic nose-thumbing at Maori interests. But it’s not John Key’s style. In which case, he may well lose public confidence over water rights and asset sales together.