Tuesday, January 30, 2007



Key's "compassionate conservatism" isn't

John Key's speech today was full of ironies. Like for example the fact that here was a man talking about New Zealand's "underclass" to an audience who had paid $65 a head to chow down on Thai chicken salad and sip wine while making polite dinner conversation about their BMWs and stock portfolios and their latest housing market windfall to their rich friends. Or the fact that it was his own party which created that underclass with its savage spending cuts to welfare and state services in the early 90's, and that the current government has made enormous progress in shrinking it. Or indeed that the reason that his "poor boy made good" story was possible was because welfare levels were much higher in the 70's, and the state services which provide the opportunity vital to upward social mobility much more accessible to the poor than they are today.

Meanwhile, some are welcoming the speech as a sign that National has shifted to the centre. IMHO, this is a mistake. Because when you strip away the warm fuzzies and "compassionate conservative" talk of "opportunity" and "a fair go", Key is advocating exactly the same tired policies National was pushing in the 90's - and indeed the same policies Don Brash was pushing this time last year. Work for Dole, whose only effect is to stop people moving off benefits into real jobs. Privatising welfare, which led to underfunding and stretched social services. Demonising the poor, so that the rich don't have to feel guilty about the resulting mess, because "it's all their own fault". Any minute now, he'll be bringing back Jenny Shipley's Code of Family and Social Responsibility as well.

Key's "compassionate conservatism" isn't. Instead its the same old National beneficiary-bashing, sugar-coated in the hope that middle class voters will swallow it this time. Which suggests immediately the left's slogan for the next election: "don't get fooled again".

31 comments:

I/S I didn't welcome the speech as a shift to the left - my blog post points out that only on a superficial language level has politics shifted to the left. On the substance there has been no shift. So I agree with you that to welcome this speech as a shift to the left would be incorrect.

Posted by Tony Milne : 1/30/2007 07:58:00 PM

IS: You say "here was a man talking about New Zealand's 'underclass' to an audience who had paid $65 a head to chow down on Thai chicken salad and sip wine while making polite dinner conversation about their BMWs and stock portfolios and their latest housing market windfall to their rich friends."

Are you sure this is what the audience spent their afternoon doing? Where should he have given his speech? To whom? And where do other politicians give their speeches?

You're being a bit silly and nasty here aren't you?

Posted by Anonymous : 1/30/2007 07:59:00 PM

Yet again, John Key misses yet another chance to put some decent ideas across....

Posted by millsy : 1/30/2007 11:15:00 PM

I thought it was significant that Roger Kerr spoke approvingly about the welfare policy ideas in the speech, saying that they worked in the US. Looking past the rhetoric of Kiwi Fair Go, Key's ideas were no different from National's policy in the 1990s, which was being pushed by the BRT. Kerr and his ilk are like rust: they never give up, and now they have a new frontman.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/30/2007 11:32:00 PM

Anon: I'm pointing out that any poor person looking at this scene is more likely to view it as yet another case of the rich sipping champagne (or in this case, sav blanc) while the poor starved than as a show of genuine concern.

It should also be pointed out that this was a National Party fundraiser; the poor were just a rhetorical prop in Key's efforts to squeeze his rich pals for cash (though $65 a head is cheap by National party standards. Must have been hoping to get the local party, not the big donors). If they really cared, they'd be giving the money to the city mission, or books in homes, or some worthwhile charity - not using it to try and ensure that they get Ministerial salaries.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/31/2007 12:10:00 AM

Is that what Labour are doing with their "big whip around" money?

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 03:25:00 AM

IS: I think that is all a bit, well, uncharitable of you. How do you know that they don't also donate money to the city mission, or books in homes, or some worthwhile charity? Is donating money to the National Party or attending a nice lunch to hear from a politician such a crime in your book? Looking forward to your criticism of the Labour Party's next fundraising event. (Is this why the left think stealing from the taxpayer for election campaigns is OK?)

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 06:19:00 AM

To be honest, and looking at this from the US, anyone that thinks work for the dole schemes work in the US is guilty of wilful ignorance.

They _do not_ acheive the aims they are claimed to. Sure, they shift the numbers from one accounting column to another, but they do little to address the problem of there simply being too many people for the number of jobs to go around. But hey, it's cheaper than bothering to come up with a better long term solution - after all, that might involve spending some money and leave no one around to do those otherwise unfilled jobs! Of course, Kerr and the like will point to the numbers alone and call it a success, a model worth emulating, while also affording them the creation of an underclass that can and is demonized for what "oh-so-obviously must be the unemployed's failure". The reality is the increases in homelessness, the numbers living is situations of full time working poverty, etc., and Administration officials at state and federal levels manipulating numbers and information to fit their ideologically-driven agenda.

(For some reason I'm reminded of the US Parks Service and their Administration-inspired info sheets claiming the Grand Canyon was less than 7000 years old because that's more Biblical!)

cheers
E.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 08:26:00 AM

The "underclass" theme comes from Charles Murray (Losing Ground, 1984; The Emerging British Underclass (Choice in Welfare), 2001). Murray is a conservative American author promoted by neoliberal UK think tank Civitas (formerly the Institute for Economic Affairs), whose patrons include wealthy New Zealanders Alan Gibbs and Doug Myers, two key figures in the Rogernomics and Ruthenasia era. Murray will likely be brought out for another visit in the run up to the election.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 08:58:00 AM

I thought Key acquitted himself quite well on Morning Report this morning, against some fairly harsh questioning from Plunkett (well harsh compared to the pink fluffy cloud approach Plunkett used to use on the Don).

That said, Key hasn't offered any actual substance, which is just a continuation of the Brash era promise to "do something vaguely good if you ever elect me"

I agree with what most commenters on our side of the fence will say about this speech - a big bunch of nothing dressed up as "vision". Compassionate conservatism my arse. This is just window dressing.

Posted by Pablo : 1/31/2007 09:36:00 AM

The whole "grew up in a state house" thing used as a pejorative pisses me off - state housing was (and should be again) about providing decent, affordable accomdation to those who had been held ranson by the parasite rentier class. It was not (and shouldn't be) about branding an entire section of the community as some sort of underclass. The parasites are not dwellers in state houses - the true parasites are those who think supporting parties who eliminate state housing to allow the return of rack-renting landlordism isn't a form of sociopathic behaviour.

John Key grew up in a state house. Big deal. National loves to trade in slogans designed to hide the wolf in sheeps clothing. Hiding your racism behind "My wife is from Singapore" has simply morphed to hiding your war on the working class behind "I grew up in a state house." Different tories, same shit. It always strikes me as ironic that the right, so quick to pounce in racist judgement at any cent of public money inappropriately spent by "non-accountable" Iwi agencies, leaps up on its hind legs and brays for government social seciruty money to be distributed to private charities. Government money should be spent by government agencies. Private organisations have agendas, political, reigious or both, that mean it is inappropriate for the state to rely on their infrastructure for the provision of social security.

The Tory charity myth is based on the Victorian judgmentalism of dividing the poor into the deserving and undeserving poor. The message that doesn't seem to get through those thick right wing skulls is the days of the rich being arbiters of who gets the crumbs from their table in the form of charity are over. Working people no longer accept that random charity based on the whim of the ruling class is the basis of a just and fair society. John Key is just yet another messenger from the nineteenth century. Progressive socialism has laregely killed them off, but they persist like a bad smell on the body politic.

Posted by Sanctuary : 1/31/2007 10:17:00 AM

Empty words with no substance behind them? Certainly cant argue with that...

Proof that its the same old policies from before? How can you possibly assume that? No meaningful content is just that... no proof of anything.

Sure, it MIGHT be the same old policies, and it MIGHT be some visionary concept with bold solutions that all sides can agree on.... :)

Until we see some actual policy, calling it the same-old same-old is making as rash an assumption as hailing him as a visionary....

Of course, your assumption is far more likely than the other... but an empty speech doesnt prove it.

Just trying to be fair and balanced, etc.

Posted by FletcherB : 1/31/2007 10:43:00 AM

I understand it John Key lived in a state house from age 7 to about 15. Teetering on the brink of not being "raised" in one, I'd have thought, but it's probably sufficient.

Posted by Lyndon : 1/31/2007 11:00:00 AM

The purpose of the speech was to raise discussion of an issue that Labour wants silenced. Despite throwing massive amounts of public money at the problem to make other pinko liberals "feel better", after seven years of Government Labour hasn't actually improved the outcomes of the most vulnerable New Zealanders.

Of course, I/S, it sends shivers down your spine--the very thought that you have to engage the people in the ghettoes, rather than leaving them in a state of semi-human welfare dependency. Labour's policies don't work. Despite a booming economy, and massive skills shortage due to macroeconomic conditions that Labour hasn't changed in seven years, the number of long-term unemployed hasn't moved. The numbers of welfare-dependent children--about a quarter of the child population--haven't decreased. Violent crime and domestic abuse, perpetrated almost exclusively by the underclass, most often against themselves, is not a satisfactory outcome.

John Key did not list off every measure that the National Government will take to reduce long-term welfare dependency. That wasn't the purpose of the speech. But it defies any logic to say that if you provide welfare to people incapable of functioning in normal society, without any expectation that they will make use of the state resources to lift themselves out of welfare or incentives for them to do just that, then that is a recipe for social disaster.

Lyndon, could you possibly have a more silly argument? "John Key only spent eight years in a state house! He doesn't know what it's like to be poor!"

He knows a damn sight more about the realities of poverty, and pulling himself out of it, than you do, buddy.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 1/31/2007 12:19:00 PM

Whatever happened to the classless society? *looks innocent*

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 01:02:00 PM

The Revolution. Tax cuts for the rich, benefit and service cuts for the poor, the erosion of opportunity and a shift to more insecure employment. Thanks to that, we have entrenched inequality and less access to opportunity than we did when (e.g.) John Key made the transition from state house to investment banker through a free university education and generous allowance scheme. He may have made that journey, but it is far harder for poor kids to do it today.

National's polices around employment, welfare, and government services will not reverse this trend. Instead they will strengthen it, so that we repeat the error of Britain that so many of our ancestors came here to flee: an entrenched class system, with no way up for those on the bottom.

If you want a classless society, then you sure as hell shouldn't vote National.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 1/31/2007 01:11:00 PM

"people incapable of functioning in normal society" -
this from someone who's been given to championing the exclusive brethren. What a hoot.

Posted by woppo : 1/31/2007 01:58:00 PM

Ah, there you are IP. Your new found compassion is touching, really. Must be those talking point emails you get from your MP.

Of course, what National is desperate to avoid talking about is Labour's hugely successful economic record that has defied geniuses like yourself and Don Brash and continued to deliver jobs and higher living standards to society as a whole. Does a hell of a lot more than the standard National approach of picking on the very poor and fundamentally defenseless to build up our feelings of righteous indignation.

You really are a sitting duck and you also obviously missed the post a while back where I/S debated that fact that the very poorest sections of society were getting "relatively" poorer. That may be an important issue for the tiny minority caught in that position but hardly one to be solved by the good old smashing beneficiaries or WFD schemes.

Posted by noddy : 1/31/2007 02:51:00 PM

You really are just an envious prick aren't you?

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 08:05:00 PM

Also how the hell do you know what a "typical" fundraiser for the Nats is?

I'm also willing to bet that a large amount ofpeople there donate to City Missions, Books in Homes, Salvation Army, etc. The rich are pretty good like that. You really are just a sanctimonious envious little socialist who indulges in faux concern for the poor, but really just wants to take pot-shots at those who happen to have done better in life than you have.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 08:10:00 PM

This statement of I/P's is not correct:

"Despite a booming economy, and massive skills shortage due to macroeconomic conditions that Labour hasn't changed in seven years, the number of long-term unemployed hasn't moved."

In fact, "Longterm unemployment fell by 70 percent since 1999".

http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PA0701/S00205.htm

His next claim, that "The numbers of welfare-dependent children--about a quarter of the child population--haven't decreased", also looks wrong, though I can't find the figures. But it stands to reason that if the number of DPBs is falling, the number of children with a parent on benefit has also fallen.

Posted by Anonymous : 1/31/2007 11:24:00 PM

Anon: Also how the hell do you know what a "typical" fundraiser for the Nats is?

Check out chapter 14 of Hager's The Hollow Men. You may find it enlightening.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/01/2007 08:14:00 AM

I/S: The Revolution. Tax cuts for the rich, benefit and service cuts for the poor, the erosion of opportunity and a shift to more insecure employment

Is it really all that useful to look at it from this perspective, or do we need to be engaging with the reality of the situation more directly: namely, there has never been a classless society, we've just gotten worse at hiding it?
Seems to me, it's hard enough a problem to address; obfuscation of it is an unnecessary complication of potential solutions.

But then, you know, I'm just another faux socialist envy laden prole.

Posted by Innocent Look : 2/01/2007 09:52:00 AM

IL: Is it really all that useful to look at it from this perspective, or do we need to be engaging with the reality of the situation more directly: namely, there has never been a classless society, we've just gotten worse at hiding it?

Sure - but for a while it seemed we were pretty good at hiding it. Like the US we'd created a very broad middle class, which is now shrinking as a direct result of those policies.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/01/2007 11:16:00 AM

Incidentally, where have they put Judith Collins...?

Craig Y

Posted by Anonymous : 2/01/2007 11:17:00 AM

Like the US we'd created a very broad middle class, which is now shrinking as a direct result of those policies.

Well at least we're winning the war on obesity.

Out of curiousity, how do you tell if its a broad middle class or a confused lower class?

Posted by Innocent Look : 2/01/2007 12:00:00 PM

Out of curiousity, how do you tell if its a broad middle class or a confused lower class?

Generally, I think the best way is asking them. No, that doesn't answer the "real" question - but I'm deeply suspicious of those who peddle ideas like "false consciousness" and use them as an excuse to override people's stated desires in favour of "real" ones they had no idea they had.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/01/2007 12:04:00 PM

those who peddle ideas like "false consciousness" and use them as an excuse to override people's stated desires in favour of "real" ones they had no idea they had.

Can't say I disagree with that. I'm just a little perplexed as to how such abritary divisions as the split between lower and middle class come about. Didn't mean to come across like I was going to move on to a single-perspective based prescription.

Posted by Innocent Look : 2/01/2007 12:38:00 PM

IL: I'm just a little perplexed as to how such abritary divisions as the split between lower and middle class come about.

Ask a Marxist - they're the ones who tend to analyze such things.

But regardless of how it is defined, and whether the people who benefitted "really were" middle class or not, IMHO broadening access to middle class living standards and opportunities was unambiguously a Good Thing, and something we should be striving to repeat. Unfortunately, the National party doesn't seem to think so.

Posted by Idiot/Savant : 2/01/2007 12:46:00 PM

Anon:

The number of people of working-age population on welfare for more than four years has remained static since 1999, at around 100,000. The number of people on the DPB, sickness and invalids' benefits has increased by 50% in the last seven years.

DPB has fallen slightly, but that is only because a new category of benefit--the in-work benefit, has been created. Previously all DPB recipients in part-time work were classified as DPB recipients. Now they are classified as In Work recipients, which completely skews the figures.

The number of children of beneficiaries has remained constantly at a quarter of the population for the last seven years--nearly a quarter million children.

Steve Maharey is particularly good at cherry-picking figures to suit his argument. You might say the same about my figures. That is fair enough.

What is pretty clear on the one hand is that almost every person who can work, and wants to work, is able to access a job in this market. You credit Labour with that situation. I point out that Labour hasn't actually changed the fundamentals of the economy in the last seven years at all.

But we're not talking about those who can and want to access a job out of welfare. We're talking about those who are trapped in welfare dependency. None of the figures suggest that this hard-core of an underclass are accessing any more opportunities than they did seven years ago.

That won't change until the Government enacts policies that require beneficiaries to take responsibility for their actions, rather than continue to subject them to welfare entrenchment.

Posted by Insolent Prick : 2/01/2007 02:52:00 PM

New Order Government Policy No.1

1. Beneficiaries
You will take responsibility for your actions immediately you read this notice. That is, right now. From this point forward, forthwith, mmmmkay.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/01/2007 03:52:00 PM