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.