"Hoopla"

Why why WHY do political parties have to engage in what is sometimes known as “hoopla” at their campaign launches?

Does anyone at all enjoy these? Is there anyone who does not find them toe-curlingly embarrassing?

Labour, I gather, has appropriated a number of Flying Nun band tunes for its launch. It’s a bid to make the party seem funky and fashionable.

COME ON. This is a room full of people who have devoted most of their lives to backroom scheming and COMMITTEES, for crying out loud.

THEY ARE NOT FUN PEOPLE.

National, at its recent launch, seemed to pledge itself to a New Zealand tolerant of diversity, where Neil Diamond fans can express their preferences without fear of mockery.

They may be ahead of the rest of the country in this. (not that I’m being anti-Neilist here – ‘Solitary Man’ was my personal theme song between 1993 and 1997).

And at least it wasn’t someone truly evil like Phil Collins or Michael Bolton.

In either the 1987 or 1990 campaigns National had the Yandall Sisters singing, to the tune of ‘Walking on Sunshine’,  ‘Voting for Bolger’.

it was fingernails down a blackboard stuff. Not the quality of the singing itself: just the fact that someone’s brain was so badly wired they thought this thought of thing was worthwhile – that it might actually HELP.

I mean, how? and WHY???

Is there one person on the planet who genuinely finds this sort of thing fun?

It’s awful, hideous, abominable.

it makes you feel tainted even watching it on the teev.

It doesn’t gain votes. It doesn’t really rev up the party faithful, who play along dutifully but though clenched smiles.

IT DOESN’T FOOL ANYONE.

Lax Sexual Practices

The nation is indebted to Graeme and Annabel Woodfield, who, in a letter to the editor of the Herald today, outline the big issue facing New Zealand.

Lax sexual practices.

“But what political party is prepared to advocate a tightening of our lax sexual practices?” they write. “We urgently need enlightened leadership and less publicity for immorality. But how?”

New Zealand owes the Woodfields a great debt of gratitude for this cry from the heart. Unfortunately though, they do not specify what these lax sexual practices might be.

I have a few ideas, but I am reluctant to engage in idle speculation. In any case, I am always willing to learn more.

New Zealand is crying out for leadership in this area. We desperately need to know more about these lax sexual practices.

The Woodfields need to finish what they have begun. Perhaps a good starting point – and because the best leadership is by example – the Woodfields need to demonstrate to the rest of us what non-lax sexual practices might be.

This is no time to be squeamish.

This is a time for leadership.

Don Brash: sexist pig

I’ve been intrigued by the response to Don Brash’s comment that he went easy on Helen Clark in the TV1 debate because she is a woman.

Labour’s response on the night was to say it was pure “spin” because he hadn’t done so well in the debate. then, whoop,s they got feedback that maybe he did win. (I can’t comment on that myself as I missed the debate).

So it then got turned into classic high road/low road stuff – Clark called him “quaint” and the Labour-supporting women’s groups called him a sexist pig.

I think the comment will help Brash because it’s probably genuine and it has the ring of truth to it. Brash is out of that strand of old fashioned Presbyterianism which implicitly believes that politeness is next to godliness.

You might disagree violently with someone but you don’t get rude. I know it well – I was brought up that way myself and at times its a real handicap.

In Brash’s case though it is beyond Clark being a women – he’s polite to Cullen in the House as well, even when Cullen is being at his most catty.

He’s a polite bloke. It’s a bugger.

Winston answers the call

I see Winston Peters has responded to Sir Bob Jones’s call for a bit more Mongrel in the election.

But its pathetic.

He didn’t thump one of the other politicos, as Sir Bob urged.

He thumped a student.

That doesn’t count. Even Max Bradford did that – remember the vulcan death grip incident in 1999 when Bradford appeared at Canterbury Uni?

Winston was responding to a student heckling him about whatever it is students heckle politicians about these days.

I suppose of all the poliitical leaders Winston or Rodney are the most likely to thump someone. But this is milktoast stuff.

Over to you Rodders. Wipe the smile of Richard Worth’s face.

One thing Sir Bob got very wrong

Jones used to reckon there was one unbeatable rule of thumb about political leaders: if you could imagine them in a Scout uniform they were doomed.

I think he first ventured this theory in the days of the Muldoon/Rowling contests: you couldn’t possibly imagine Muldoon in a Scoutmaster uniform, Jones reckoned, whereas Rowling had “dib dib dib/dob dob dob” written all over him.

Geoff Palmer was all woggle and knobbly knees. Jim Mclay only slightly less so.

However…the current PM breaks that rule. It is not difficult at all to imagine Helen Clark in an “Akela” Cub Mistresses’ uniform.

In fact, once you have done so it is difficult to envisage her in anything else.

More biffo says Sir Bob

Like an old All Black calling for a bit more mongrel in the pack, Sir Bob Jones has called for a bit of biffo in the election campaign.

Rodney Hide would do it in a walk, he reckons, if he slugged Peter Dunne.

Helen Clark would leave the others for dust if she cracked Don Brash over the noggin with a handbag.

I’ve never really seen Helen as the handbag type, but I can see what Jones is getting at.

However I can’t remember Jones hanging one on anyone during his one election campaign, in 1984. Had he decked Lange our history might have been much different.

He makes one semi-serious criticism, which is that all the main leaders are being too reasonable, and run arguments which seem aimed at winning over their opponents.

I’ve noticed this is a problem Don Brash has – I hadn’t noticed it about the others though. OK, perhaps Peter Dunne, but his reasons are strategic.

I’ve seen Brash do this on the finance and expenditure select committee, back when he was National’s finance spokesman. I’ve even seen him do it more recently at question time.

One of the first things you get taught when you engage in competitive debating is that you are never going to convince your opponents. That’s not what they’re there for.

It’s a flaw many inherently reasonable people, convinced of the truth of their arguments, fall into though. Its one Brash makes time and time again.

Its even on the otherwise excellent campaign opening piece which ran on Friday night. Brash came over as personable, a bit old-fashioned (nothing wrong with that) and thoroughly reasonable. The overall tone – and it will be tone which wins over swinging voters, not content – will be very effective at neutering Labour’s charges that he is some sort of extremist.

However he spends too much time talking about his history as a peace protester and the like. Who is that aimed at? People who are currently peace protesters?? They’re never going to vote National. National voters? They’re unlikely to be impressed.

It mars what would otherwise have been an excellent broadcast.

Mallard and English on Sky

Saw the tail end of Trevor Mallard and Bill English being interviewed on Larry Williams. A lot about accountability in the education sector, NCEA, and issues such as the Wananga, and how no-one had ever really been held accountable for the cock ups. Also, of course, the interest free student loans, etc.

Mallard was trying very hard to be Mr Reasonable and he did quite well for a time but then lost it when Westpac’s costings of the interest free student loans came up. Did another rant about how cockeyed the costings were but, again, had to admit the only costings he had were done by the Labour Party.

English did much better than the last time I saw him up against Mallard the night the interest free policy was announced. On that occasion he was bloody diabolical: this time he was cogent and reasonable.

The best moment was the end. Sky had run a poll on external exams and the result came in and Mallard made some smart arse comment about the question being badly written and “if you worked for NCEA you’d have lost your job”.

It doesn’t pay to try being a smart arse with Williams, who came back with “No I wouldn’t – you never hold them accountable for anything.”

Reform – where to from here?

There’s an interesting debate raging here about New Zealand, globalisation, the Roger & Ruth reforms and where we go from here.

There’s a fascinating thread on David Farrar’s blog on the same issues.

Funny how we’re still debating the legacy of 1984-93.

So much of what happened, whether it was a good thing and where it should go from here comes down to the age old debate between the role of markets and the role of government.

I’m not one who things the market is god, nor do I think it’s the devil. It is an extraordinarily efficient signals mechanism. And like all signals mechanism it is amoral – that is, indifferent to value judgements. (NOT the same as immoral, please note.)

The market – or capitalism, if you like – has two massive strengths. One, already mentioned, is its efficiency as a signals mechanism.

We need to get those market signals. One of the reasons New Zealand nearly went broke under Muldoon was that there was such an elaborate cats cradle of subsidies and what-have-you that the signals couldn’t’ get through.

That means, from a policy point of view, governments should intervene as little as possible with those signals.

The other great advantage capitalism has is that unlike Marxism or its various offshoots – socialism, social democracy, Frankfurt School Marxism (which is the basis of what we now call ‘political correctness”) or Greenery – no-one thought it up in advance.

It evolved. And it evolved out of humans interacting with each other, buying, selling and trading. It wasn’t dreamt up by some social misfit sitting in the British Museum library.

And because it evolved – and continues to evolve – out of human beings as we actually are it represents all that is best and all that is worst in human beings.

The efforts to constrict markets have mostly been driven two themes – a desire to put some ethical constraints on those market signals, and a desire to fill in the gaps of what markets would not do – the “market failure” argument.

The ethical side is through things such as labour law and welfare. Where this intervention should lie is the main divide between the Marxist and the liberal conservative political traditions. Where you put that divide will almost always come down to where you sit on that spectrum.

The ‘market failure’ area has become ideological and I can’t divine any clearly thought out reason for this. The only reason is pure self interest – some things governments do have been captured by certain groups who don’t want change.

Almost by definition, the ‘market failure’ area of government intervention should be based on what works and what doesn’t. In New Zealand’s early days, no-one else had the wherewithal or the interest in, for example, building the electricity generators and networks.

Or the telephone network.

So the government did it. But times change. What would not work then would work fine now. One might quibble with how Telecom was privatised (and it was a rushed, fiscally driven job) but it was still a positive move. Telecom invested a damn sight more in the network than the government ever would have.

Which is what should drive the privatisation debate. Can the private sector do it better?

Is Contact a better company than, say Meridian? Don’t know actually. Contact is, through the sharemarket, far more accountable than Meridian is as an SOE. You can actually get more information about Contact than you can about Meridian.

We do know though that Meridian has a board which isn’t elected but is appointed by politicians and we also know that Meridian will, from time to time, make decisions based on the politics of the day rather than what is best for the company.

Those decisions might be best for the shareholders but those shareholders are Michael Cullen and Trevor Mallard.

That’s on the acknowledged commercial side of government activity.
The area of this of the privatisation debate which generally drifts from the “market failure’ part of the argument to the “ethical” is health and education.

The assumption might be made that these services fit on the “ethical” side of the ledger but in fact the government’s involvement in them belongs more on the “market failure” side. Historically, much of those services would never have been provided by the private sector. In some parts of those services, that’s no longer true.

People justify the status quo though less on efficiency grounds and more because of a vague feeling no-one should profit from such services (why not?) or that provision of them is a “public good”.

The problem with both these arguments is that the three most basic human needs are all provided by the private sector, at a profit – food, clothing and shelter. If you don’t have any ethical objection to that, there can be no great ethical issue with the private sector providing health, education, electricity, whatever…

It has to come back to what works best. Health, for example, is an acknowledged shambles. Even the health bureaucrats say they are spending an extra billion dollars a year (that’s 1% of GDP folks!) and they don’t know what they are getting for that extra money.

A performance report on DHBs earlier this year pointed out that caseload output was up 2%, but spending was up 7%.
The same report also pointed to problems with what was being measured:
“The current indicators of district health board performance are process based, and do not comprehensively attempt to measure either outcomes or outputs gains.”

In other words, they’re spending a truckload more money and they don’t know if its doing any good or not.

There is scope for a lot more private sector involvement in health. One of the best things Jenny Shipley did – as ACC Minister – was to let ACC use private hospitals.
That is the main reason the numbers of long term ACC claimants has more than halved. (and not,as some will have you beleive, because ACC is too mean) Before then, they had to wait until the public sector could take them. The human benefit of that – we’re talking about 16,000 people a year here – is immeasurale.

There are some areas of health which will never be able to be run privately but the rest can’t possibly be run any less efficiently, and at greater cost to the country, than they are now.

This is a particularly important debate for New Zealand. We have a small, not particularly well paid population base spread out over a comparative large area and some very difficult geography.

That makes the cost of our infrastructure overheads – electricity, roads, schools, hospitals, and so fourth – quite high per capita. this is an expensive country to run.

that means that we need to constantly be focussed on whether there are more efficiient ways of delivering those services to ourselves – and we can’t afford to have a hangup over whether they are delivered by the public or the private sector.

Winston, the Harley, and punctuality…

Winston Peters launched his election campaign last week, and most of you probably read of his erupting on stage amid a swirl of dry ice and astride a Harley Davidson.

What you probably haven’t read – I haven’t seen anything anywhere – is that he was LATE. A family connection was there (look, you can’t choose your rellies, OK? And this is a connection by marriage. Not that I’m defensive about this or anything, no no no…)

Not just a little late but about an hour.

Bad move.

When you get to the age of the average Winston supporter, you get…well, let’s put it delicately here, your bladder gets a bit capacity challenged.

And you’re probably getting a bit sniffy about hoons on Harleys anyway.