The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Thursday, October 26, 2006


I'm a little perturbed at politics and political coverage lately. I haven't written about the pledge card and associated election spending shendengle because I've largely agreed with Idiot/Savant and when I've had time I've indulged myself, in the form of a scattering of comments, over on No Right Turn.*

But it seems that National is unable to get out of Attack Attack Attack mode. Russell Brown has written today about two recent beat-ups by Nat MPs, Simon Power and Tony Ryall (aka Secret Smile), and I suspect that these will continue. National has had a great opportunity to score points against Labour in recent months (two actually, if you count the Taito Phillip Field saga as well) and has certainly fulfilled part of the role of the Opposition; to hold the Government accountable. In the last Parliament it often felt that this vital function was left to Act.

But there's another, very important role, that the Opposition should play, and that National needs to remind itself about; putting up an alternative. With many of the issues that National is raising it's unclear to me what a National-led government would change or manage differently.

It's disappointing also that many of the media don't seem to be asking that simple question: What Would National Do?

One of the reasons I like National Radio so much, is that the interviewers (eg Sean Plunkett, Mary Wilson, Kathryn Ryan) do tend to pose this query, and the answer is often very revealing. For example, Plunkett asked Ryall this morning if he would still have chosen to give his child the meningitis vaccine if he had known about the ACC claims beforehand. Ryall said yes he would (although he then went on to say "because the risks outweigh the benefits", which I'm assuming was just a mistake because otherwise he makes no sense!)

So it seems we are still waiting for the National-led policy debate that Don Brash promised over a month ago in the heat of the revelations about his private life. I'm starting to wonder - why don't National want to talk about their ideas?

* To sum up my thoughts:
1. I believe that the parties whose spending was found unlawful genuinely thought it was inside the rules at the time.
2. It seems to me that the Auditor General has changed the established custom and practice, if not the letter of the law.
3. National is using this as an opportunity to foment public opposition to any public funding of political process beyond the actual mechanics of the vote itself. This is a great danger to our democracy.


Pablo said...

Heh, to paraphrase Richard Prebble, that's how National got around the parliamentary funding issue, by not having any policy.

From what I can see, their "policies" consist of reviewing everything up the wazoo and then deciding what to change. My feeling on the other hand, is that they don't want their actual policies (which I suspect will be to the right of Ruth Richardson) to destroy the wonderful lead they have fluked their way into to in the polls.

Or perhaps their policies consist of denying the bollocks they have spent the last three years spouting (like the environment policy the other week)?

Idiot/Savant said...

why don't National want to talk about their ideas?

Seems pretty obvious to me:

a) because they haven't made their mind up yet;
b) where they have made their mind up, those ideas would frighten people.

George said...

Like I/S, I'm of the opinion that National is still committed to policies that are opposed by the majority of the electorate. They know this, and are in no hurry to share their ideas.

I share your frustration Span.Last year National were let off the hook almost unanimously by the major media outlets, despite having no released policies until the very last weeks of the campaign (by which time discussion about policy had been replaced by 'horse race' FPP style discussion). The obvious questions were not asked. I don't believe journalists are on the whole stupid. So are they more interested in having a tight contest, thus showing contempt for their role as the third estate? Perhaps they could explain...

It's come to the point where National Radio is the only consistently in-depth media outlet in the country. I wonder how its budget would fare under a National Government. I hope, for democracy's sake, it gets left alone.

Gerrit said...

Strategy pure and simple.

No need to publish detailed policy two years out from an election. Broad policy is published on the National web site.

National have the foot on Labours throat so why dilute the media message that Labours leadership is in big trouble, with policy statements.

My prediction is a leadership change for both Labour and National.

Dave said...

same here - when Labour makes up its mind who to take Clarks place.

Span said...

I suspect Clark will go when, and only when, she's damn well ready, barring something (personally) disastrous that taints her politically.

But to get back to National, if they don't talk policy because they have none that's appalling - political parties exist to promote and implement their policies (amongst other things). Nothing to say would mean nothing to do.


I suspect that the reason National don't talk policy is just as many commenters above have suggested - their intentions would be unelectable if known. Which is both appalling and anti-democratic. Doesn't the Market need information in order to make an accurate choice?

Of course, even with the mind-sharpening proximity of an election, some National people seem to have trouble with delivering the policy they do have.

As for the view that National shouldn't have detailed policy now because it's two years out from an election. Well phooey to that - shouldn't they have policy left from the last election? Don't their policy processes continue between elections? Political parties should have policies which they put up when they criticise others - regardless of the timing in the election cycle.

Gerrit said...

Think strategically Span.

No National doesn't, nor does Labour, New Zealand First, etc.

Helen Clark is damaged goods like Don Brash, she wont last except perhaps Labour do not have an alternative.

Oliver said...

As someone else has mentioned, broad National policy is on their website. The specifics can wait until closer to the election.

As for this line of argument from you it would be nice if Labour MPs could do government work rather than just attack National in general and Brash in particular.

As for election spending I'll keep it brief:

1) Helen Clark refused to attend a pre-election briefing with the Auditor-General and so if Labour genuinely believed they were inside the rules, it must constitutue wilfill blindness.

2) The Auditor-General made no changes to accepted custom, practice or law. In fact law changes regarding how taxpayer funded political material must be marked made it easier for him to police the law.

3) Labour repeatedly denied that an election pledge card at the centre of their election campaign should be considered electoral material, go figure.

4) Helen Clark and other Labour figures repeatedly claimed that parliamentary service approved the spending. Parliamentary Service denies this and Darnton v Clark uncovered a letter from Heather Simpson confirming that Parliamentary Service did not approve the spending.

5) Labour appears to be attempting a systematic shutdown of dissent:

a) threatening the NZ Herald with a tax bill for unfavourable coverage

b) threatening to punish a religous minority with workplace laws for voicing disssenting opinions.

c) threatening to tax charities that engage in political advocacy

d) legislating a lawsuit out of existence as it threatened to uncover evidence of Labour's lies

e) complaining to National Radio that some people aren't real journalists after they criticise Labour

f) attacking the integrity of independent monitors such as the Auditor-General and the Electricity Comissioner

Span said...

So Gerrit, does thinking strategically also have to mean neglecting to put forward an alternative, which is ultimately a pretty dishonest way to operate?

Gerrit said...

Alternative to?

Labour, plus the other parties dont have detailed policies listed. Neither does National.

Bit like the labour party with tax custs. "Yes we will have some at election time but I cant tell you as we havent worked out the detail"

The policy is tax cuts but the detail of the policy has yet to be set.

No it is not dishonest as policy may change due to circumstances.

The political parties are like a business. You react to changes in circumstances. Whatever is required to get the most votes at the election.

The dishonesty comes when at election time they make policy promises and as soon as they get in power they break them.

Both National and Labour are guilty of this.

Span said...

Ok so when National (or any party really) is criticising Labour on their new benefit proposals, for example, it's ok for National to simply say "look their policy sucks, we don't like it, we wouldn't do that, but we don't have to tell you what we might do because it's two years to the next election." That's credible Opposition in your eyes Gerrit?

Correct me if I'm wrong, please.

I do understand that policies may change. But what usually happens, from my experience of being a member of a political party since 2000, is that the policy you already have stands until you actively change it through the party's internal policy processes. Not that all policy just gets withdrawn the day after a general election and then you release some new stuff a few months out from the next one.

Is it really too much to ask that if parties are going to criticise the policies of others they actually put up alternatives?

bomber said...

well blogged!

Gerrit said...

The benefit proposals just put up by Labour do not need an alternative from National as their position is very similar to the proposal. (ie. active management of clients to get them back into work). What they can comment on is the fact that the unemployable have been moved from the dole to the sickness benefit and thus outside the scope of these initiatives.

Remember you do not need an alternative policy if defending an existing condition. Such as the anti-smaking legislation. Current laws (if properly enforced) are adequate to cover child abuse.

Policy like the recently announced (and strategically important to Labour as it changes the focus for Labour from the past into the future) Labour carbon neutral position are just that, policy without detail. In general National may well agree with the policy and start working on their policy details. When Labour announces policy details National will (or should) release theirs.

As I have said before in my comments on your blog, I'm not here to defend National or attack labour. I want the best out of both camps.

From experience drawn on 40 years of involvement in political activity, a past engineering union delegat and from one who has been been on strike more often then your have had years in a political party, my reality is slightly different to yours.

Yes you can condemn policy without offering an alternative simply to point out the shortcoming that the policy (if legislated, which means that there already is an alternative) will produce.