Gordon Campbell on Seymour acting up, and Labour’s lost cause

ac52d9fc0c9e3ec929c1To use a musical analogy, ACT Party leader David Seymour is to centre-right parties what Lindsay Buckingham was to Fleetwood Mac – a talented guy, insufferable, and born to be fired from the band. Clearly, the man from Epsom believes that hey, he didn’t spend those years hovering at 1% in the polls to let some soft-headed chump like Christopher Luxon swoop in, take over and screw up the landing.

Whatever his motivation, Seymour has been threatening to sit on the cross benches if need be, if he doesn’t get enough policy concessions. In effect, he is claiming a virtual veto over anything a National-led government might contemplate that he, personally, doesn’t like. As Otago University public law expert Andrew Geddis has pointed out, Seymour seems to be threatening to bring down the Luxon administration and trigger fresh elections, if necessary.

To put it mildly this is not a recipe for stable government. (Isn’t it about time for Business NZ to start bleating about how business needs “certainty ?”) At this point, an ACT/National government is shaping up to be more unstable than any New Zealand government in the past 30 years, and that’s even before Winston Peters gets factored into the equation.

Of course, Seymour could merely be acting out a local variant of what Ricard Nixon used to call his Madman Theory of Politics i.e. you better give Nixon what he wants on foreign policy because he’s so crazy that God knows what he might do next. Psychoanalysts may care to note that Seymour has been doubling down on the weirdness of late, by citing Nelson Mandela and Kate Sheppard as ACT Party voters, if only history had given them the chance. Genghis Khan, I’m told, was also quite a believer in small government, so put him down as party vote ACT as well.

Is Christopher Luxon willing and able to call Seymour’s bluff? So far, Luxon has been refusing to answer questions (a) about how he plans to manage Seymour, and (b) about what Act policies, if any, National would rule out on principle. I guess that running away from trouble is one way of dealing with a bully, but Luxon is likely to run out of hiding places well before October 14.

Meanwhile though, the tail is doing its best to wag the dog. In yesterday’s Newshub-Reid Research poll, the ACT Party had fallen to just above 10%, while National had risen at 40.9% i.e. it has four times ACT’s level of support. In a functioning democracy, there is no way David Seymour can credibly threaten National in the way he is trying to do.

Imagine the uproar if – at any of the last three elections- the Green Party had been using the same standover tactics towards Labour as Seymour is trying to pull off by monstering National. If this fiasco was playing out on the centre-left, the editorials would be trumpeting about a threat to democracy and declaring that those responsible have proven themselves unfit to govern. But hey, things are always different for the centre-right.

For whom the poll tolls

Judging by recent political polls, nothing is now likely to stop the National Party juggernaut. Yesterday, Labour slumped to the same levels it was recording six years ago, back when Andrew Little was leader. Meaning: The entire Jacinda Ardern era has now blown away, as if it were just a dream.

Plainly, Labour’s insistence on being a middle of the road, Blair-ite, Third Way version of National has failed dismally to connect with voters, who are choosing the red meat version instead. If Labour had chosen to be a radical and truly left wing government, it could hardly have done worse and – arguably – would have been in a stronger position today.

After all… During Covid, the nation had liked Labour when it led, and was ready for more of the same. Too bad that since the 2020 election handed Labour the power to take the country with it, Labour has seemed terrified by the prospect, and has chosen to fritter away the opportunity. It has ended up offering servings of market orthodoxy, with social Band-Aids on the side.

Even if by replacing Ardern, the Labour caucus had hoped to save their own jobs, the Hipkins interlude has been a failure. There is going to be carnage among Labour’s current roster of electorate MPs, and those elected on the list may go deeper than expected as a consequence. Problem being, many centre-left voters are going to party vote Green. That shift is already evident in the polls. Yesterday, half of Labour’s losses went over to the Greens.

How bad could it get for Labour? If Ilam was the surprise high water mark of the red tide in 2020, there are not many Labour electorates that can be counted as safe from the blue tide this time around. In Ilam, Gerry Brownlee was fatally distracted by his bigger job as campaign manager. In Wigram, Megan Woods will surely be safe – won’t she? – from suffering the same fate. Surely.

National’s Front

Belatedly, National’s credentials as a competent alternative government are now coming under scrutiny. It is not a pretty sight. On the weekend, and with his back to the wall on the foreign buyers levy – which is crucial to funding his tax cuts – Chrisopher Luxon repeatedly refused Q&A presenter Jack Tame’s challenges to release (a) the economic modelling for the tens of millions that National is claiming its levy will annually generate or (b) the legal advice that says such a levy would be consistent with our tax treaty obligations without penalising New Zealand citizens.

As Tame pointed out, John Key had sought legal advice for an almost identical tax a few years ago, but abandoned it after he was told that a carve-out for New Zealand citizens would not be possible. Luxon says it would be possible to square that circle, but is refusing to release the evidence. It seems we just have to trust Luxon on this one… But I have seen some CTU ads that suggest that this would not be wise.

Scalpel Time

All year, National has been promising New Zealand that it would be going “line by line” through government spending to ensure that National could generate the savings required for its tax cuts, without needing to cut front line services.

No such luck. Instead it now transpires that National has done a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the spending within an entirely arbitrary list of government departments and state agencies over the period since National was last in office. National has then plucked a percentage of savings out of thin air and intends (post election) to make the hapless public sector CEOs find the savings required without (cross fingers) slashing front line services. The figures may be wrong. In which case, an anxious nation will be asking Nicola Wilis to please put down that scalpel.

In short, National hasn’t got the foggiest idea about how socially damaging its cuts to public services will prove to be. There is not even an agreement on the difference between “front line” staff” and “back room” staff, let alone which back-roomers are essential to keeping the front line services running effectively.

This exercise is going to be nothing like the careful “line by line” scrutiny that National promised to voters. Given the problems National is already having in making its revenue-gathering measures stick up, those cuts may well be much deeper. Because there really is no Plan B.

Footnote: All year, National and ACT have also been peddling the fiction that all of the extra spending by the Labour-led governments over the past five years has been wasteful and unnecessary, by definition. In reality, everything from public health to the education system to the defence forces had been systematically starved of funds by the last National government.

More of the same starvation rations will do lasting damage, before voters eventually recoil in horror from what they have done. Too late. Right now, a National/ACT government is setting New Zealand up for a Great Leap Backwards.

Quiet Quitting

The phenomenon of “quiet quitting” has had business leaders (and business media) agog of late. “Quiet quitting” is a term for when workers do the least work necessary to keep their jobs short of actually resigning, while passively refusing to go above and beyond. Like most issues to do with labour productivity, these negative trends tend to be blamed entirely on the workers, for allegedly being lazy/tuning out.

There’s a simpler explanation for “quiet quitting” that Business NZ may care to consider. After 30 years of a culture where workers have been treated as disposable units of labour, where their ability to bargain collectively has been demonised, and where workers can be fired at will after 90 day “trials” …Why on earth wouldn’t workers become cynically alienated from their place of work?

That’s the point that appears to elude employers and captains of industry. Basically, they can’t continue to treat their workers like garbage, and then be surprised when these enshrined imbalances of power end up having a negative impact on output, and on workplace culture. If you continue to expect people to work longer and longer hours with less and less job security, don’t expect them to be happy little drones willing to do that extra bit for the firms that systematically treat them like shit.

Human nature will find a way to rebel. And “quiet quitting”is a rational, relatively peaceful way of giving employers what they deserve.

About to go Rambo

This old school hip hop classic by Mr Lif has always been a great showcase for the sentiments behind “quiet quitting””….