A Green Riposte

After Green Party co-leader Russel Norman posted a qualification of his comparison of John Key and Robert Muldoon on his blog, I thought I would briefly offer some rebuttal. You can access Norman’s blog here.
The way Russel Norman argues in favor of the broader comparison is by applying three categories: concentration and abuse of power, rigidity against change, and overall divisiveness. I will try to be terse, here we go:

Concentration and abuse of power.
The essence of Norman’s criticism is that John Key is sidelining Parliamentary process by putting it into urgency numerous times to pass legislation that negatively impacts the rights of citizens. I cannot and do not argue with this point and I think that the Prime Minister has relied on this particular lever of power far too often.

I concur with Dr Norman’s criticism that the temporary shutdown of local democracy in Canterbury and empowerment of the Minister in charge to effectively change local law in isolation, while the people continue to pay rates without representation.  The GCSB tightening has also taken a nibble at the proverbial pie of liberty, as has the pernicious outlawing of protest on the high seas. This raises my hackles, as it should others.

But John Key and the government have also taken the devolutionary measure of establishing the Auckland Super City, and are currently clashing with Len Brown over transport/infrastructure policy. If we view power as being zero-sum, John Key has certainly lost some power. This is not what Muldoonism is made of. So while I agree that the PM has abused his power, I cannot let the assertion be uncontested that there has been an unusual concentration of power.

Rigidity against Change.
Despite the problems found in asset sales, John Key is refusing to budge. I find this a puzzling accusation, because it requires acceptance of the proposition that campaign pledges of the victorious party in an election, should be abandoned because of a few bumps in the road, or a petition so far insufficient to trigger a referendum. It is my view that the opposition parties have been whipping a horse so long dead, that not even the knackers would take it.

On the environment John Key and his cohort are definitely rigid, even backward in their policies. But again the charge of rigidity as a broad definition of the government is misapplied if it is to be wholly regarded (as I believe Russel Norman intends) as a negative attribute.     

On the point of John Key’s divisiveness, Russel Norman is most feeble. He argues that National began in 2008 on a stance of greater unity, with deals with the Maori Party, and the Greens (an understanding, not a confidence agreement). The charge that a government past the median of their second term is unusually divisive is to take a blindfolded reading of recent history. It is the nature of governments that they become less cooperative as time goes on. Helen Clark’s labour-progressive coalition government in 2005 was a far cry from the labour-alliance coalition in 1999.  The longer the Bolger/Shipley ministry stayed in office the more fractured and discordant it became. This pattern is the norm.

The Prime Minister and the right wing commentators who have disgustingly suggested that Russel Norman shut up because he is a migrant is, as he quite rightly puts, worthy of Muldoon. But that is the only thing that is. 

Tedious Smearing, the Greens appear Yellow

Last week the co-leader of the New Zealand Parliamentary Green Party Dr Russel Norman, struck out at Prime Minister John Key and the National-led Government. I don’t want to unintentionally misrepresent myself when I say that his attack was overwhelmingly dull and predictable. Political attacks of this sort and at this point in the electoral cycle are the bread and butter of opposition politics; the proverbial sword is unsheathed from now until the election. It was annoying to wait so long. But here after all the anticipation the attack by Dr Norman was uncharacteristically primitive, and such a disappointment.

The most soporific part was his invocation of the worn cliche that is comparing the current Prime Minister to the notoriously obstinate Sir Robert Muldoon. A similar comparison was drawn between Key’s predecessor Helen Clark and Muldoon at about this time in her tenure (and continuing with increasing frequency until her defeat). This has become the cliche that stupid people can draw and respond to. Rather like comparing Margaret Thatcher to Caligula, or arguing in favour of the ‘Presidentialisation’ of Tony Blair. It is unlikely that Norman was after the National voter with his attack, nor was he going for any more of Labour’s tepid support. His saccharine praises for David Shearer tell that much. He was merely appealing to his base and I argue that the fuel he used is cheap; his base easily satiated, and the Greens less formidable than they appeared earlier this year.

The reason the comparison with Sir Robert Muldoon is an unhelpful cliche, is that he was a Prime Minister with a vast array of buttons and leavers, to control the political system and the country. New Zealand had a statist face completely unrecognizable next to the face it wears today. Quite a few of the buttons and leavers Muldoon had at his disposal just don’t work any more, many are absent altogether. Reliance on the picture of government thirty years ago is to critically misread the present narrative of politics. If a misapplication of the narrative informs the attack designated to appeal to the base, then both the attacker and the base are walking in the sunny transience of their own fantasy.