Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

Gordon Campbell on Labour’s recent bout of mid-flight turbulence

August 9th, 2012

It has been quite a week for Labour, on three counts at least. First came the signs in the polls that the recent slide in support for the Key government – which had raised Labour hopes that the second term blues would become an avalanche leading to election victory for the centre left in 2014 – had in fact, ground to a halt, for now at least. Perhaps not co-incidentally, Duncan Garner then published a blog entry slagging David Shearer‘s potential rival David Cunliffe , with the article claiming to have relied on (anonymously supplied) information from “two very senior MPs” on the general theme of “ Why Does Labour Hate David Cunliffe So Much?.” Finally David Shearer himself gave the latest in the deadly round of speeches meant to communicate just who Shearer The Man is, and What He Stands For. This latest speech was to Grey Power, and it included this anecdote:

I was chatting to a guy in my electorate who had just got home from work. In the middle of the conversation, he stopped and pointed across the road to his neighbour. He said: “see that guy over there, he’s on a sickness benefit, yet he’s up there painting the roof of his house. That’s not bloody fair. Do you guys support him?”

From what he told me, he was right, it wasn’t bloody fair, and I said so. I have little tolerance for people who don’t pull their weight.

That ‘guy in my electorate’ must be quite some guy. Because when I interviewed him back in March, Shearer told me the exact same anecdote. As others have noted, this is almost the same as the story about the “alarm clock Britons” praised a couple of years ago by Lib-Dem leader Nick Clegg. You know, the people who get roused from bed by their alarm clocks to go to work, while those lazy good-for-nothing beneficiaries across the road stay sleeping on in bed, with their curtains closed. It wasn’t bloody fair, Shearer told The Guy in My Electorate and by extension, the guys in all the electorates right across New Zealand.

What are we meant to take from this? That the leader of the Labour Party will stand shoulder to shoulder with them pointing an accusatory finger at those slackers on sickness benefits? This isn’t an encouraging glimpse of how Labour is planning to express its opposition to the next round of welfare reform, assuming that it will be opposing it. Perhaps this is why Labour hates David Cunliffe so much. Didn’t he say earlier this year that one reason Labour why lost the last election was that on important issues, it sounded too much like the National Party?

Just think for a moment what Shearer could have said if he wanted to talk about fairness. Something like this, maybe?:

I know a woman in my electorate. She’s on the DPB because she gave up her career when she got married. Like all of us, she hoped and believed the marriage would last, and that she’d be able to build a future with the man she loved, for their kids. But it didn’t work out. Her husband went off with a woman he works with, and her income has taken a real hit. She tries hard to budget, but there’s just not enough to put food on the table, pay the bills and the school fees – but she’s always there when the kids get sick or have problems with their friends, or struggle with their homework. She does all that, alone. It feels lonely at times sitting in the kitchen at night, thinking how life has worked out.

And who does this government blame? Whose life does Paula Bennett want to make even harder? That woman in my electorate. It isn’t bloody fair. And I have little tolerance for men who don’t pull their weight, and a society that lacks compassion.

But that of course, is not the speech that Shearer gave. He just piled onto the people on sickness benefits. It’s not that Cunliffe would necessarily be much better if he was in the leader’s chair, listening to Grant Robertson and Trevor Mallard. Although in his speeches this year, he has wiped the floor with Shearer, in articulating positions that are recognisably centre left in tone and content, and consistent with the party’s traditions. Personally, I have some doubts whether Garner interviewed anyone but his own keyboard for his piece – there was nothing new in the blog entry, and the unpopularity of Cunliffe (expressed in those tee hee jokes about the silent ”T”) has been a recurring theme in Labour Party gossip for about ten years or more.

Sure, Cunliffe can be a pompous prat. But then, so could David Lange, and no one in Labour minded Lange’s intellectual arrogance and general obnoxiousness so long as he was winning for them. The charge that Garner makes of Cunliffe being lazy rings particularly false, and not simply because of the statistical evidence to the contrary.

I mean, if Cunliffe is lazy what are to we to make of the virtually invisible David Parker? Face it, one of the main reasons why some in Labour have always disliked Cunliffe is because he regularly commits the sin of being smarter than they are, and he doesn’t try hard enough to compensate for it.

What the wider poll trend indicates about Labour is that the public is saying ‘Yes we still hate asset sales and a few other things this government is doing but uh oh….is the opposition really a credible alternative?’ And the public has concluded that it is not yet convinced. There’s a lesson for Labour in that slowdown in the rate of voter disenchantment. Shearer needs to realize he can’t fly under the radar into government. And when he does stand up for something, it needs to be something other than Tory Lite.

Olympic Gold, Not So Much

While Britain basks in all the Olympic good cheer that $US15-20 billion can buy, it should be noted that none of this is carrying over to the British economy, which is officially headed for zero growth this year and the bounceback next year will be weaker than anticipated, as deflationary trends continue to stifle activity, regardless of the ongoing bouts of quantitative easing. Hope everyone who paid for that Olympic spree won’t mind the loss of jobs, cuts to public services, library closures etc etc that made it all possible. Arrr, they be poor, but they were ‘appy.


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    1. 16 Responses to “Gordon Campbell on Labour’s recent bout of mid-flight turbulence”

    2. By Sanctuary on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      “…Personally, I have some doubts whether Garner interviewed anyone but his own keyboard for his piece…”

      Wow, are you accusing Garner of making this story up? That is a pretty serious accusation to throw at one of the most influential journalists in country. I don’t doubt you, but Garner’s record when crossed is that of a man with a big ego and even bigger spiteful streak. And why would Garner make up such a story at this juncture? I suppose it could be a portmanteau piece from stuff people have said to him over the last few years but that is clearly not what the piece is meant to convey. If he did just make this shit up to throw a hand grenade, then it calls – again – his political neutrality into serious question. Garner clearly thinks he is untouchable – his appalling (and ultimately successful) vendetta against Chris Carter can only have fuelled his egotistical hubris. But surely such a piece of deliberately calculated mischief making couldn’t go unpunished? It would only take Shearer to get affidavits from all his caucus saying they had not spoken to Garner on this matter then challenge him to reveal his sources and his proof. If Garner can’t or won’t substantiate his story in the face of such a challenge, he would be exposed as a liar and his career would be effectively over.

    3. By Susan St John on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      Shearer says
      “I was chatting to a guy in my electorate who had just got home from work. In the middle of the conversation, he stopped and pointed across the road to his neighbour. He said: “see that guy over there, he’s on a sickness benefit, yet he’s up there painting the roof of his house. That’s not bloody fair. Do you guys support him?”
      From what he told me, he was right, it wasn’t bloody fair, and I said so. I have little tolerance for people who don’t pull their weight.”

      Let’s have another go David- perhaps A true Labour leader might have said:

      “I asked him to refrain from judgement-he does not know the facts. The audit of sickness beneficiaries is already tight- there has to be a reason they cannot hold down a formal job and medical certificates are required. The payment is very minimal and very tightly targeted –We would not expect or want someone on a sickness benefit to stay in bed all day surely. It can be much better for people who are sick including mental illness to be active and that doing tasks such as this if they can—it is a part of full recovery—working around the house does not mean that person is capable of a paid job.
      I also asked him to consider whether a $204 single or $170 married rate a week sickness benefit that made it irrational earn extra over $80 a week because of the 89.5% effective tax rate was actually likely to be the life of choice. This neighbour might get almost nothing anyway if his wife is earning because of the draconian joint income test.
      Would he swap his job for his neighbour -including surveillance by WINZ and the gratuitous judgements of others ?
      Good on him for painting his roof- could be the best therapy.”

    4. By Takahe on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      Would Shearer have a speechwriter?

      Apart from the abominable anecdote I thought the speech was reasonable if a little too pat. Reminded me of his ‘little lamb’ speech at the start of the year.

      I also share your disbelief about Cunliffe. He always seems to know what he’s talking about – a refreshing thing in a politician these days.

    5. By donna on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      I don’t want to diss David Shearer’s speech writers (or maybe I do) but since every neighbourhood has a roof-painting Sickness beneficiary, this personal anecdote does seem rather more in the mode of an urban legend. A sort of localised, down-market version of Ronald Regan’s Cadillac-driving solo mothers.
      Between the total lack of understanding of its leadership and Su’a William Sio going rogue, Labour are in deep doo-doo. Which wouldn’t bother me but for the horror of how much damage this current lot of neo-cons could do given a third term.

    6. By Paul on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      When it is the NZ first party fighting for public education through first timer Trace Martin then you know Labour have a problem. This government are rapidly, against all the advice of educational and assessment experts, buggering our public schools and Shearer has the audacity to comment that they need increased accountability. I’ll take his teacher accountability and raise him housing, health, employment, and equity! All the things that make Labour Labour but which they so rarely exhibit these days.

    7. By Joe Blow on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      Yeah, I don’t see Shearer leading Labour on into the next election… but I don’t see Cunliffe doing it either. I suspect that the voting reform of the party may mean that someone else ends up taking the leadership…

      It’s a pitty beneficiary bashing is so damn popular amongst the general electorate… I think that Labour should pilfer some old National policies like work/training for the dole. Sure beats pointing the finger at people with mental illnesses for managing to paint their own rooves… what when they could likely get a WINZ grant to pay someone else to paint it for them…

    8. By Solly on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      Hurrah for Susan!

    9. By Gareth on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      You don’t know the half of it!
      Not only was he painting his rusty leaky roof but he was also tending a vege garden out the back!

    10. By Kat on Aug 9, 2012 | Reply

      Have you considered that Shearer may have been agreeing with the guy from his electorate on the ‘principle’ of the sickness beneficiary painting his roof. Its similar to the old maxim that if justice is to be done it must be seen to be done.

      labour is being attacked from within, and from the National trolls. A very ‘not’ cunning plan. The first group are feet shooting idiots and the second are sycophantic media commentators such as Duncan Garner and blubbery bloggers. Actual real live National MP’s just don’t have the time, nouse or inclination, to mount these pseudo media attacks on Labours leadership outside of parliament.

      The public of course will decide who they prefer as Labour leader. I suspect Shearer wins hands down. So what then?

    11. By DeepRed on Aug 10, 2012 | Reply

      Helen Clark would never have allowed this sort of Keystone Kops confusion to happen.

      And does Shearer’s beneficiary anecdote have more than just a whiff of Winston Peters’ “Gaoshanzhu” speech to an Asian business audience not all that long ago? I suspect wedge politics has done its handiwork – reject it and risk looking hyper-PC, accept it and look like doing a me-too and endorsing the blue team’s agenda.

      I dread that the bashing arms race won’t stop until something catastrophic happens. Like last year’s fireballs of anger in Tottenham, or Los Angeles in 1992.

    12. By peterlepaysan on Aug 10, 2012 | Reply

      What if the sickness beneficiary had employed someone to paint his roof?
      Would that be fairer?

      Shearer needs to comprehend his speech notes, otherwise he just an Autocue reader.

    13. By HC on Aug 10, 2012 | Reply

      Sickness Benefit: Medical certificate from medical professional or specialist must be provided at least once every 3 months, since a year or so ago an additional, intensive annual review by WINZ is required, a person must be unable to full-time (no more than 15 to 29 hours a week), and is work tested for part time work as of recent.

      So what is all this nonsense talk about, Mr Shearer and his supposed constituent?

      If the person was an invalid’s benefit, some questions may be justified (requirement: unable to work 15 or more hours a week, to be sick or disabled for 2 years or longer, also needing to be proved by medical cert, now usually also by a separate WINZ designated doctor)!

      Maybe the person has a mental health issue or suffered from drug addiction, so a bit of painting may be therapeutic.

      Get real, David Shearer, you do not sound like what Labour should stand for!

    14. By Chris Casey on Aug 10, 2012 | Reply

      Was the aforementioned sickness beneficiary painting a Housing Corp house he lived in because 1.the 0800 HCNZ was engaged,so he showed true Tory-like determination and self-sufficiency,climbed the safety-approved ladder,or abseiled,and showed true meritocratic qualities.
      2. Was the man on a sickness benefit because he was sick of having an unpainted roof?
      Perhaps Mr Shearer’s snitch should be put under surveillance.

    15. By terence on Aug 11, 2012 | Reply

      “Hurrah for Susan!

      Definitely. Great comment.

    16. By Ken Martin on Aug 12, 2012 | Reply

      Considerable food for thought, Gordon. Unfortunately, beneficiary bashing always goes down well with most New Zealanders. There are other vulnerable groups dependent on the state, for instance those who receive NZ Super. I wonder if Mr Shearer will begin to criticise them? If memory serves me correctly, I recall similar tactics just before Labour was turfed out in 1990. Labour appear to be shaping up for another turn to the Right, a la Roger Douglas, figuring this worked before, and is presently the only way back to the treasury benches. Mr Shearer and his cronies have turned me off from voting Labour. I do not want a National-lite Labour government.

      Ken Martin

    17. By onetrack on Aug 16, 2012 | Reply

      so, what most commenters here agree is, labour Should be the party for beneficiaries and screw the workers (the snitches) who start to question where their taxes go.

      Vote labour and pay more taxes, get less take home pay, and support more sickness beneficiaries. because, by definition, a sickness beneficiary cant be rorting the system.

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