Is David Cunliffe a National Party plant? You’d think so!

Our leading politicians are morons or so arrogant that they don’t expect journalists to follow up a lead with a Official Information Act request. First National and now Labour have been caught out with cash for access deals with the same dubious character, Chinese “businessman” Donghua Lui. These latest revelations will only confirm once and for all that there is no fundamental difference between the two parties. They feed from the same trough of swill. Last year comedian Russell Brand went viral with his criticism of the charade that is British politics. His critique would be just as valid here. This quote from his article sums it up.

The reason these coalitions are so easily achieved is that the distinctions between the parties are insignificant. My friend went to a posh “do” in the country where David Cameron, a man whose face resembles a little painted egg, was in attendance. Also present were members of the opposition and former prime minister Tony Blair. Whatever party they claim to represent in the day, at night they show their true colours and all go to the same party.

What does this mean for the upcoming election? Cunliffe should resign. He is fatally compromised and has shown himself to be as subjective with recent history (sorry I mean forgetful) as the Prime Minister, Maurice Williamson, Judith Collins and a whole cast of other politicians and party apparatchiks from both sides of the house. He has almost certainly doomed any chance Labour had at this election, for he does not have the same Teflon coating that graces the Prime Minister as far as so many of the public are concerned.

It has severely dented Matt McCarten’s credibility as a campaign manager, though in Cunliffe and Labour he had poor material to start with. Quite why he threw his effort behind Labour and not Mana or the Greens is a mystery – perhaps it was remuneration, ego, or maybe he just thought boosting Labour was the best way to get rid of National. As it turns out, his friend Laila Harre has made a far better choice.

But the most disturbing medium/long term effect of this will be the further disenchantment and disengagement of citizens from the electoral process. Those non voters that Labour hoped to entice have absolutely no reason to trust Labour any more than National. Unless Labour can pull something really radical out of the hat, they will be lucky to get 20% of the vote. They need a new social and economic platform that repudiates the last 30 years of neo liberalism and returns to a balanced mixed economy with full employment as its prime objective. It’s like the GFC never happened.

George Monbiot in the Guardian has written a very thoughtful piece titled Unchallenged by craven Labour, Britain slides towards ever more selfishness. Its basic premise, just as valid here as for Labour in the UK, is that because the last 30 years have seen values ratchet towards conservative individualism and selfishness, and because both Labour parties have either been complicit or unwilling to challenge this shifting baseline, they appear virtually identical to their supposed foes, fighting over the “centre”, which as time goes on entrenches further towards the right of the political spectrum. There are now two generations that have no solid knowledge of pre-Rogernomics politics. There Is No Alternative (TINA) is their reality.

Any political movement that fails to understand two basic psychological traits will, before long, fizzle out. The first is shifting baseline syndrome…..We perceive the circumstances of our youth as normal and unexceptional, however sparse or cruel they may be. By this means, over generations we adjust to almost any degree of deprivation or oppression, imagining it to be natural and immutable.

The second is the values ratchet (also known as policy feedback). If, for example, your country has a public health system that ensures that everyone who needs treatment receives it, without payment, it helps instil the belief that it is normal to care for strangers, and abnormal and wrong to neglect them. If you live in a country where people are left to die, this embeds the idea that you have no responsibility towards the poor and weak. The existence of these traits is supported by a vast body of experimental and observational research, of which Labour and the US Democrats appear determined to know nothing.

We are not born with our core values: they are strongly shaped by our social environment. These values can be placed on a spectrum between extrinsic and intrinsic…..

Margaret Thatcher’s political genius arose from her instinctive understanding of these traits, long before they were described by psychologists and cognitive linguists: “Economics are the method:  the object is to change the heart and soul”.  But Labour ….seem to believe that if they simply fall into line with prevailing values, people will vote for them by default. But those values and baselines keep shifting, and what seemed intolerable before becomes unremarkable today. Instead of challenging the new values, these parties keep adjusting….

….not a word about plugging the gap with innovative measures such as a Robin Hood tax on financial transactions, a land value tax, a progressively banded council tax or a windfall tax on extreme wealth. Nor does it mention tax avoidance and evasion….

They appear to believe that success depends on becoming indistinguishable from their opponents….

When a party reinforces conservative values and conservative ideas, when it fails clearly to expound any countervailing values, when it refuses to reverse the direction of the values ratchet, what outcome does it expect, other than a shift towards conservatism?

Labour here does not seem inclined to dig in and fight for core values and hasn’t done so since the Kirk government (leaving aside Lange’s johnny-come-lately promotion of the anti-nuclear legislation). This means it is not clear if Labour is National-lite or National is Labour-lite as has been suggested by some. With the Greens desperation for a coalition and desire to appear more mainstream, they are condemning themselves to the same fate. More and more New Zealanders are noticing and rather than voting for minor parties, are deciding not to participate in this charade. It is conceivable before long that New Zealand will end up like the US, with governments being elected with only 50% of eligible voters participating. Hardly a robust democracy.



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