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Be grateful the week of loathing has not worked

  • November 25th, 2011

Two weeks ago I predicted a simple, nasty last week in the election campaign. I expected Labour to lead it, with Mana and New Zealand First joining in like dogs at a tethered goat. I thought it might prove irresistible to the Turei/Delahunty red strand of green even if it did not fit Russel Norman’s new-model constructive Green strategy.

I expected the campaign to exploit one of the oldest themes in politics, probably the most persistently successful tactic for gaining power, but one of the least successful as measured by the prosperity and happiness of the countries where it is the dominant strategy.

The most powerful political strategies align with universal fears and temptations. All would-be leaders must offer certain protections. They must be thought capable of defending us from outsiders. They must be thought loyal, without allegiances or interests that could lead them to sell us out, and they must be able to enforce our consensus rules, particulalry those defining fairness and what is cheating or criminal.

Inciting an "inequality" pogrom taps into all those needs. Targetting the "filthy rich" has played well for would be demagogues throughout history. Zero sum economics seems to be deeply intutitive – so for the masses there is simple commonsense in blaming wide poverty on the greed of a few. The rich are not perhaps quite as good as a genuine external enemy to unite your followers in overlooking your failings, but they are always around. And if, like Labour, you've been responsible for some of the worst policy wrong turns a country can make (socialist control of production, welfare without regard to virtue, the criminal justice theory that if we are just nice enough for long enough to criminals they will give up preying on people who don't hit back) you need some distracting scapegoats. That need is becoming more acute as voters fear that the Left's instincts could be degrading our civilisation. So Labour need to foster an enemy within to stay in the game.  If the masses can be stirred into believing that poverty is because the rich are greedy, a soak-the-rich party gets a free pass through property rights, equality before law and so many other of the institutions which protect the long hard route to prosperity.

 John Key should have been a perfect target. A rich  former money market trader who holidays in Hawai, is Jewish, and naturally has friends who are rich, seems god-given to the Left's strategists.  

 Labour's campaign video set the scene, with Damian O'Connor's characterisation of trickle down economics as piss down. Labour candidates felt their way round the theme for weeks, trying out the words. Grant Robertson played well here in Wellington describing himself as in spirit an Occupy protester.   Labour's polite billboard "make sure that not just the better off are better off" was accompanied by platform speech references to fat cats, bankers, greed, speculators, and the rich. Labour's capital gains tax policy, and GST relief fitted envy as the principal theme.

But in the end class warfare did not fire.  It played well to the party faithful, an important audience for Labour apparatchiks preparing for the inevitable post-election power struggle, but they found it was not working well enough with the critical swing voters. Instead they had to fall back on the primitive (but necessary) patriotism theme that fuels our apprehension about asset sales.

The decision to focus on asset sales, leaving inequality as a subordinate theme, reportedly disappointed some Labour warriors. Goff was helped by the Green's shift to the middle. Sue Bradford has not been there to suck up Labour loyalists. Voting for a racist Mana party to get Sue is a much bigger stretch. And there has been plenty of warning to Labour that class war still has limited appeal in New Zealand. John Key has withstood pressure from within his own party defending policies designed to neutralise the class war weapon. It has worked. Attacks on the fat cat PM have bombed with the target voters, the ordinary punters the Left believe should be theirs but secretly despise because they are not much interested in politics. The inequality campaign has not damaged John Key any more than the "H Fee" that was supposed to be Helen Clark's ' neutron bomb' at the last election and Labour's pitiful attacks on philanthropist Americans' alleged connections with National in the 2005 election.

It will be interesting to see if Labour turns perversely hard left in the next few weeks.  Envy or inequality rhetoric will work for hopefuls in party blood-letting.  It  pays to have shown that you have no heretical tendencies in civil war. The party could even promote the people who are most closely identified with the attitudes and dogma that have lost them the election.

Party insiders learn slowly from voter thumpings. I know this from experience. The hardline ACT faithful were absolutely determined to stick state asset sales down the gullet of the gagging voters, and judged potential leaders according to their willingness to say that is what they would do.  



The hardline ACT faithful were absolutely determined to stick Stephen says :
"state asset sales down the gullet of the gagging voters, and judged potential leaders according to their willingness to say that is what they would do."
he's right you know , and now that there will be no asset sales, who will take the credit, names here Winston Peters  

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