• No One’s Fault But Ours

    Nothing so clearly demonstrates John Key’s contempt for the New Zealand voter as his confidence that we will believe whatever he tells us. He has had ample experience to back up that confidence.

    The course taken by the dirty politics saga is perhaps the most obvious case in point. If the polls are to be believed, the electorate do not want to believe that we have allowed a Watergate – differing from its more notorious predecessor only in that it is just a little more hi-tech than the crude burglary of the Watergate building – to spread its tentacles throughout our public life. They are happy to accept assurances from John Key, accompanied by facial expressions of concern and sincerity appropriate to the moment, that there is nothing to worry about, rather than face the facts that are virtually incontrovertible.

    By the time the various inquiries have reported and the truth is finally established, Mr Key knows that memories will have faded, interest in politics will have subsided, and most people will happily return to what they see as normality – a normality where it is then regarded as acceptable that our political leaders should lie and cheat, and abuse power in order to keep it. They have, after all, been assured that this is just the nature of modern politics and “everyone does it”. Better not to ask awkward questions.

    The most recent instance of Mr Key’s confidence in his ability to manipulate opinion to his advantage is quite different. It is his indication, against the advice of his own Finance Minister, that a re-elected National government might cut taxes. This was surely the most cynical of all the election “promises” we have heard so far.

    Mr Key, on this occasion, has shown himself to be an adept practitioner of what the Australians call “dog whistle” politics – the conveying of a message that is interpreted by the listener (or voter) as meaning more than what is actually said.

    The calculation on this occasion is that the mere words “tax cuts” will convince the voter that a bonanza is in store and that the way to bring it about is to vote National. But this is not a case where the fine print fails to bear out the supposed meaning; there is no fine print.

    All we have is a thought floated by the National leader. The most cursory examination of what that thought is based on shows how insubstantial it is.

    We are invited to believe that the prospect of tax cuts is a consequence of the “return to surplus”. But that surplus has yet to materialise. It has – after a six-year delay – been celebrated in advance, by virtue of some very clever and somewhat misleading public sector accounting, but looks less and less likely with each passing day.

    The brief consumer boom we have enjoyed off the back of record dairy prices is already dissipating; as that balloon deflates, so too do government tax revenues. The forecast surplus, tiny as it is forecast to be, may well not materialise at all in any immediately foreseeable future.

    That has not dissuaded Mr Key from promising to spend it in advance. But it almost certainly explains why – as Bill English no doubt insisted – we will see nothing of any proposed tax cuts, if at all, until the 2017 budget. It might be thought that, if they do materialise at that point, that should be a matter for the 2017 election three years away rather than for one in 2014.

    Nor can we have any assurance that any cuts would mean much. Raising the minimum wage by $1 an hour would provide four times as much help to a hard-pressed family as the vaguely indicated sum produced by the tax cut apparently contemplated three years hence.

    Mr Key’s much-heralded announcement, in other words, has little substance and no detail – its flakiness compounded by the alacrity with which he upped its supposed value when the initial reaction was less than ecstatic. It is a classic example of smoke and mirrors, a piece of expert legerdemain, a construction deliberately built on shifting sands.

    Can we blame John Key for so blatantly trying to mislead us? Yes, but only up to a point. The real culprits are us; we care so little about our democracy that we simply do not make an effort to sort out the wheat from the chaff. We quite literally do not want to be bothered; we would rather be invited to believe than to think.

    Sadly, there is a price to be paid for our indifference – and we will all pay it. We will have acquiesced in a further and damaging debasement of standards in our public life. We will have exchanged at least the goal of decent government in the interests of the whole community for the standards of the snake-oil salesman.

    Bryan Gould

    9 September 2014


  1. Maggie Hillock says: September 9, 2014 at 9:26 amReply

    The sad truth is that the voting public reacts to this amoral behaviour with a cynicism of its own and stays away from the polls, battens down the hatches and minds it’s own business, all the while slagging off all politicians. This allows John Key and his ilk to get away with this behaviour and think they can continue to push the boundaries even further. As with Watergate, there are those who refuse to believe that their hero could be involved, or excuse it on the shaky moral grounds that “everyone does it”. Where do we go from here, I wonder?

  2. Hugh7 says: September 11, 2014 at 5:24 amReply

    They WANT the 99% to be cynical and disillusioned, and not to vote, because the well-off will go on voting for them. If early voting figures are anything to go by, it’s going to backfire on them.

  3. lynne Renouf says: September 11, 2014 at 6:55 amReply

    Happens when brave people stay silent

  4. John says: September 11, 2014 at 2:28 pmReply

    People such as yourself Bryan care. People such as this commenter care, and obviously some above who’ve commented.

    You have a profile, though I daresay you’ve had your share of trouble. But you get to write this column.

    Only in the last few days people have raised concerns about the State Services Commission standover tactics on those who have a view it would seem. I’ve definitely been “moved on” in my workplace, all rather conveniently after it was known I did not agree with the current regime. Dirty Politics was no surprise to me as far as the National Party is concerned. The trouble is that people think this is the same across the board when the level the National Party have stooped to is quite an entirely new low.

    People do try and make these issues come out front and centre, but we tend to get pilloried in different ways. “It’s just a typical Left Wing Conspiracy” being the slight that is currently in vogue I hear. From people who have never read, and do not even intend to read, the book.

    This “media” have willingly indulged in dirty politics. They know it, and yet even after exposure … they’re still doing it. Jared Savage was very keen to say he felt used, yet we have his statement that even when he knew Slater’s bias he continued to use him. Why? For what good reason? None that he has been willing to own up to even now.

    A constant feed of mainstream distortions are piling into peoples homes, and I for one am not surprised one bit that due to this, most people will remain unaware.

    I think the problem is the “rugby, racing and beer” culture expressing itself these days as “rugby, house reno shows and beer”.

    However, out of the current Leader debates, most should know – even if they haven’t read dirty politics – that John Key has no answers, treats serious issues like a joke and maybe, just maybe sense will see the light of day eventually.

    If he wins again, after all this, I’m leaving. Europe is vastly more interested in politics as a part of every day life than here. Mainly because they realise these people craft the environment we live our every day lives in. So a moral vacuum exists in the politicians, it’ll exist in every day life as well and the world they create in which we operate.

    A mate once said, if you explained this in sporting terms, people would find it unacceptable. The Rugby League controversies, the match fixing, the dirty tactics of that seem to rile people up. They’ve yet to make the connection … the National Party has done exactly the same thing, and yet – no connection.

    I live in an intellectually vacuous land at the moment and it is truly, truly depressing. I can’t seem to make people realise that the results of this are people are losing jobs, our economy is going down the tube, and everyone but the ones who should are paying dearly for it. It’s not hard to figure out – it just takes people to turn off the next idiotic cooking show and spend ten minutes researching this stuff every day. Not much to ask it would seem.

    But I’m sure by the time I make it to the fridge for that next beer, I’ll forget all about it though, after all, I’ve got to get to bed to work my underpaid job in order to pay for my overpriced house …

  5. David Renwick says: September 15, 2014 at 10:19 pmReply

    I’m pretty disgusted by the cynical manipulation of peoples’ apathy by Key and his acolytes, but most of all by his getting away with it. “Bread and circuses” is the preference for a disappointing number of people, and John (above) has amplified it well.

  6. David Renwick says: September 15, 2014 at 10:22 pmReply

    Could you edit my typo please (line 2 “the.”