Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Learning to Live in Bizarro World

In any reasonable world last week's disruptive protest by truck drivers would have been a great advertisement for rail.

It seems pretty clear though that we are living in a kind of irrational Bizarro world where many people have reacted to it in the way it seems to have been conceived; as a enormous two-fingered salute to the government that has almost nothing to do with the modest increase in road user charges.

In Ruth Laugeson's article in the SST over the weekend a Labour MP speaking anonymously says that people are not listening to the government. Although I agree with the statement, it absolutely misses the point. The reaction to this protest suggests to me that people feel the government is not listening to them.

Everyone is worried about the price of food, the price of oil, the recession, drops in house prices and increases in interest rates.

But all we get from the government is talk about buying rail, setting up an incomprehensible emissions trading scheme, or preparing to ban the light bulb. (Not to mention murders and mayhem or stuff ups in Corrections and Defense, or the running sore of the Electoral Finance Act.)

When you go down to the bus stop to get to work there are government ads asking you to tune the cars you are now avoiding driving. There are other posters telling you to invite your friends over and have a candle-lit dinner to save power. Have you costed a dinner party recently?

If I was in the Cabinet I would now aim to do nothing, that's right nothing until the election except for

a) giving lots of feel your pain speeches that actually address people's real concerns including even the ones that governments of whatever party can do nothing about.

How is it that an economic downturn is turning New Zealanders away from a Labour-led government that has significantly improved their lot with measures like Working for Families. Measures that are sure to be ended or strangled by the coming long-term National government? Is there no populist remaining in Labour ranks?

b) getting my ministry to end all of their dreadful nagging advertising, particularly the ones that ask people to spend money they no longer have.

c) rather than focussing publicly on the achievements of the last three terms (a great exercise for Labour insiders staring down the barrel of defeat and looking to regroup after the election but not an election advertising strategy), I would be developing a message that explains what the government will do in the future. This "but we've been a good government and John Key is untested" line was one of the things that did for the Liberals in Australia. Everyone knew Howard would not be PM in three years regardless and neither he nor his team seemed to have any ideas about what they wanted to do in the future. Everything they said was an advertisement for Rudd.

For six months I have been convinced that National would win the election with enough of the party vote to govern alone. The BBQ chatter over the Christmas season was devastating for the Government and almost no one of my acquaintance is a natural National voter. I am beginning to be concerned though at the scale of disaffection with Labour reflected in the polls. As a rusted-on Labour voter looking for renewal in the party, a bit of creative destruction could be a good thing, outright rout would be very unpleasant.

It seems that some kind of rout is what we will get though. New Zealand politics in 2008 seems to be mirroring Australian politics in 2007. As well as the disease of resting on your laurels mentioned in c), the desparate policy ploys and the serial scandals, there is also the leadership question. Remarkably Helen Clark was saying in yesterdays paper that she will not step down as PM, this is not the sort of headline you want less than six months out from an election. She should have resigned six months ago and cannot do it now. However like John Howard I suspect she will not be able to keep leadership speculation out of the newspapers for the rest of the year.

So anyway I am going to keep trying to live with a Bizzaro world where everyone loves MACK trucks and John Key is a friend of the 'little guy' we kept hearing about from those protesting drivers.

1 comment:

Steve Withers said...

I have spoken to many people and what comes through most clearly to me is a significant knowledge deficit. People don't actually know what is going on. That is because they have studiously ignored the wider world of politics, ideology and economics for years. When you try to explain it to them in simple words, they lack even the vocabulary to understand the explanation.

Why people have dumbed themselves down to the point where they can barely think (not that they understand this to be the case) is open to conjecture. No one MUST be ignorant. They choose to be, either actively or by default. Of course, you can NEVER tell them this is the case because everyone assumes they know everything they need to know.....even when they don't know much at all.

So arguing policy or details or systems with people who have NO idea what is being discussed or how major institutions - public or private actually work....is a waste of time.

As National has been doing, and as the US Right did 15 years ago, you must appeal to emotions related to desires and fears...at least everyone has those, regardless of what they know or don't know.

But why bag the government? They are an easy target. Give'em the fingers. Never mind you borrowed too much money and now you're screwed. Who in their right mind accepts responsibility when there is someone else you can blame?

It's irrational....but often predictable.

When anyone tries to explain why things are the way they are to people who have long since paying attention to more than their own narrow personal circumstances, their audience (as far as I can see) do what they've done since they were kids, fingers in their ears, mocking, "Na na na na na na..."