Belated fisk: Putting Labour’s vote recovery programme first

This is something that’s been bugging me for a while.  Frequently in online conversations (usually over at The Standard) people have been pointing to the speech made by Annette King at the Labour Party’s 2010 conference* – usually to indicate a change of direction by Labour, a solid differentiation from National, a clear plan to change things for the better and focus on Kiwi kids’ lives.

But … I just didn’t get it.  There wasn’t a concrete, specific thing I disagreed with, just a niggling little feeling that we had not in fact entered some Brave New Age of Labour finally remembering to be the party of giving a fuck about poverty instead of clawing for “centre” “middle” “mainstream” “average” New Zealand (also known as pretty-fucking-well-off middle-class heterosexual white families who like to think that getting their daughter to stop texting during dinner is The Worker’s Struggle.)

Working For Families With Ipods And Cellphones

I did have to ask myself if this was just prejudice.  If I just had real trouble accepting For Our Children rhetoric from a Labour Deputy Leader who said in 1996 that the child tax credit isolated “beneficiaries from other families, treats them like lepers and worst of all it treats their children differently. What is different about a beneficiary child?“, then sat by as a member of a Government that fought against the Child Poverty Action Group’s complaint against Working For Families treating beneficiaries’ children differently,** and now (following an election when the left decided to stay home because they might have felt a bit fucking disillusioned) wants to say “Oh sorry, I guess that obviously unjust thing was obviously unjust*** but we totes care about the kiddies, honest!  Social justice, what what?”

… Yeah, I’m obviously having a bit of trouble buying that.

But was that affecting my reading of Annette’s conference speech?

Obviously the only way to check was to rip the shit out of it and see how many points make me go all capslocky and sweary.

Don’t pretend you’re not turned on right now.

Part One:  Attack of the Waffle

As New Zealanders we like to think our country is the best place in the world to bring up children; we call it “God’s own”.  We say things like the future of New Zealand is with our children; our children are our greatest asset; every child deserves a decent standard of living; every child should have the ability to reach their full potential.  We value our children.  Children matter.

Absolutely nothing in the intro tells you that this is a Labour Party speech.  Paula Bennett could happily begin a speech with this.  Sir Roger Not Dead Yet Douglas could say this.  Why not just fucking say “I love coming to … ROTORUA!  *pause for cheap pop* You guys are great!  Not like those guys in … TAUPO! *pause for boos*”?  Why not “As a New Zealander, a lifetime fan of Barry Crump and a regular eater of Watties Tomato Sauce, I think puppies are cute” if we’re just going for fucking empty suck-up platitudes?

Part Two:  There Is No Permanent Record

All those statements are true, but are they true for every child in New Zealand?


For the past 18 months, we in Labour have been thinking and re-examining all our policies.  A time in Opposition allows for that!

Apparently Labour didn’t think “thinking” was something they had time for in government.  Suddenly the 2008 defeat makes a lot more sense.  But seriously, what kind of excuse is this?  Is Annette, and by extension Labour, trying to pretend that they honestly couldn’t have done anything different in their last term in government, or even their first term?  I’m on record as being very critical of the classic “you had nine years” rhetoric, but seriously, Labour did have nine years and it was so pathetically obvious a bribe attempt to announce six months out from an election “oh yeah and we’ll totally get around to that universal student loan thing, which we have coincidentally remembered just when polls have shown we’ve fucked our student support base!”

Then some genius decided to bring up the statistics:

New Zealand is not doing as well for children as are other comparable countries.  We sit in the bottom third in OECD rankings for most child indicators.

And yes, obviously, social change isn’t an overnight thing.  It takes a while.  So the party who’ve recently been in charge for a solid decade might not want to raise the question of what the fuck they did, especially when the answer is “defend to the death our right to starve beneficiaries’ children”.

Part Three:  The Tells

It seems picky, but language is so important.  Especially when a speech is being sold as a step-change (whoops, there I go) and a new direction and a turnaround from nasty neoliberal politics … and contains phrases like:

looked at where our emphasis should be for future investment

It is this period, the report states, that needs to be given the highest priority for investment.

tilting public expenditure towards the early years of life.

The tilting one is particularly awful.  God forbid we invest more into children, apparently it’s all about putting them at the top of the list (who gets bumped down?) and shifting the scales in their favour (and whose side of the see-saw has to go down for theirs to go up?)

And it’s really heartening to see a rejection of that whole “social engineering nanny state” bollocks from the last election:

Labour has developed a new, fresh family and whānau policy narrative, not based on the government bringing up children

Oops.  I realise I’m not a politician, much less one with Annette’s level of experience, but I can’t help but think it’s a bit fucking stupid to buy into your enemy’s narrative, especially a narrative which is a barely-disguised attack on all social funding and all government support for families.  Ditto for the “our early childhood education is underfunded” and “our social services aren’t well integrated” bits.

Part Four:  Oh, Right, You’re Not Saying Anything

But here’s the clincher, the bit my brain kept skipping, the core of what’s so not-actually-A-New-Hope about this.

Today I want to give a broad outline of our policy – “Putting Children First”.  Detailed announcements, including costings will be made in due course.

I don’t expect detailed costings and a shadow Budget a year out from an election.  But I do want more than a long hand-wavey Wouldn’t It Be Nice If Everyone Was Nice chat-ette from the Deputy Leader of a party who wants to be leading the next government.

Labour has developed a new, fresh family and whānau policy narrative

We just, um, don’t know what it says yet.  Except it’ll take 6 years!  Because 6 makes us seem serious and committed without reeking too much of “you can’t criticise us unless you elect us to a second term.”

Part Five:  Except for the Fucking Obvious

Annette does share some very important facts, though.  Like, poverty is bad!  And poverty is cyclical!  And kids raised in poverty are a lot more likely to have shit lives than kids who got iPods with their parents’ tax credits!  And the early years are totes important!  It’s like somebody left a Sir Robert Winston DVD in the Labour caucus room.

Part Six:  And Some Really Non-Specific Specifics!

Under the heading “Legislative and Structural Change” (ooh, so beguiling) you’d hope to get some solid information on what Labour wants to do.

And you do, if your definition of “solid information” includes a lot of “commitments”, and “reporting”, and “new policy”.  Not new policy on anything, in particular.  And as with the intro, there is absolutely nothing to separate this “policy” from anything National would say to describe their position either.  It’s all “kids are important, and we’re going to make government departments focus on kids, and we’ll change the way things are done, and we’ll totally make it work.”

Basically, if you were hoping for specific teacher-pupil ratios or a commitment to not fuck over Plunket or specific funding to train more ECE teachers … well, the closest you’ll get is

Labour also proposes … all babies at birth would be enrolled with a Well-Child provider

Labour’s going to make a currently-available service compulsory!  Woo-hoo.  That’ll definitely help with the “governments not raising children” sell.

Conclusion:  Go-Home Sequence

Come on, Annette!  Show us some fire, make us proud, keep it original and fresh and … oh.

To quote Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel –

…Labour proposes an Agenda for Change for Children.  The full details will be there for all New Zealanders to see before the 2011 Election.  There will be a clear choice – tinker and talk or bold action that will finally put our children first and makes New Zealand the best place in the world to bring up all our children.

A Nelson Mandela quote and “stay tuned for more details of this amazing offer”.  Yeah.  That’s a speech to keep me warm on the cold 2011 campaign nights, when I find myself wondering “but has Labour changed?”

The warmth will be coming from my righteous fucking fury.


*Incidentally, Labour, your website’s search function blows big floppy donkey dick.

**CPAG lost on the discrimination front, in a decision praised by Paula Bennett (nice philosophical company you’re keeping, Labour) because hey, starving these kids now might force their parents to take minimum-wage jobs in the future!  And hey, we have to make sure work pays better than benefits, which would totally be a concern if benefits weren’t already set at below-survival-requirements levels!

**Not that any senior Labour MPs, as far as I’m aware, have ever directly addressed the discriminatory nature of their bribe to the middle class Working for Families.  Happy to be corrected but may pass out from shock.


  1. just saying

    Excellent work QoT.
    I really wanted to see some sign that Labour’s reputed swing to the left was genuine and have read its press releases and speeches including this one, looking for hope. I’ve been such a staunch critic not because the change hasn’t been as radical as I’d like it to be, but because I’ve found absolutely no sign of any change in attitude at all, on the contrary, there is abundant evidence that Labour has not moved one jot to the left. They are still trumpeting rogernomics and standing behind every part of their most recent nine year neolib stint in government.
    Frankly I think the purported change was nothing more than a bare bone thrown to its activists to keep them onside.
    I’m certainly angry, but mostly it makes me really sad. The representatives of the ‘party of the people’ no longer care about, or even know those who struggle. They have become representatives of and apologists for priviliege and ordinary people aren’t even in their orbit. The poor are just dispensible, pawns and Labour MPs have become the very thing many of them entered politics to fight against. If they had any actual principles to begin with that is.
    How long will they be able to maintain this charade I wonder?

    • QoT

      I completely agree, js. It’s more like rebranding the same old product in the hope they can pull a National/Crosby-Textor-type heist of the centre.

      I see the charade lasting a while though, because many on the left are so desperate for any change that they’ll cling to that bare bone, and of course even we cynics don’t really want to see a secondterm National-led government fucking over our country to profit their mates and donors.

      • Armchair Critic

        Fuck it, you are correct. I’ve been looking for some sign of change from Labour and it’s pretty slow, even for a political party. I’ve seen very little sign that it’s not the same shit in the same toilet from the same asses.
        This National-lite versus Labour-lite crap is so frustrating, pointless and wasteful.
        Good post, BTW, I started reading the speech but it was quite insipid. I wish Labour could (a) have more courage to back its convictions, and (b) more sense and consistency behind its policies.

        • QoT

          Thanks AC. I wish I wasn’t! But what really first got me on this speech (and Goff’s “many not the few” one likewise) is the *fake* fiery-ness of it. There’s no righteous anger, no real burning passion for change and reform, but it pretends that the anger and passion are there.

        • Armchair Critic

          Yeah, I’ve not seen much fake fieryness either, at least not in public. Sometimes Phil goes wild in parliament, but let’s face it, no one notices what happens there. Meanwhile in public it’s all politeness and smiles and platitudes and I’m just dying for someone from Labour to say “John Key and his mob are a bunch of thieving wankers who don’t give a shit for anyone except their mates”. And say it repeatedly. Go to jail for saying it, if required.
          It pisses me right off that I’m asked to vote for the lesser of two evils (though QTR will undoubtedly dispute this, if he reads it) and we don’t get a real, viable opposition offering something more different than a bit of fiddling at the edges.
          I’d not advocate a leadership change until after the election, but irrespective of who wins (I’m picking National, but it’ll be close) Labour needs a new leader before 2014. Because the Goff/King combination has all the fire and passion of a rainy winter morning in Morrinsville.
          On a different subject, nice to see felix and NickS calling Marty G out. You may be having more of an effect than you think.

        • QoT

          I’ll have to check it out – I bowed out of that convo once it was quite clearly an exercise in futility.

  2. Boganette

    Great post QOT – I totally agree. And was nodding so much at Just Sayin’ and Armchair Critic that I almost fell of my chair.

    I was so excited to vote. I was already a staunch Labour supporter. I held a Labour Party party and encouraged friends to vote Labour in 2005. It was really funny because until then I actually believed that if you vote for someone based on policy then they would actually do what they said they would. Pretty pathetic I know! Last election I begrudgingly voted Greens. Labour used to be left. I totally agree with it now being about voting for the lesser of two evils. I really wanted to vote Labour in the last election because I was so worried about National getting in. But it was obvious that Key would get in – with his smug shit-eating grin he is kind of the ‘perfect’ non-leader. I just want Labour back. I doubt that’s going to happen though. And they’re practically handing John Key another term which kills me.

    Also the wrestling references in this post made me so happy. I got a vision in my head of Annette King chopping her crotch and saying to everyone in the audience “And if you’re not down with that, I got two words for yah….”

  3. donna

    Nice post.
    I too was less than enthusiastic about Labour’s apparent contrition, especially given that David Cunliffe came out the same week with that hoary old chestnut about listing some state assets on the sharemarket supposedly to take advantage of the brains in the private sector. I presumed he meant brains like his own, which is slightly scary. Given how badly the brains of the private sector have performed over the last 25 years (Kiwirail, anyone?) Labour would be better off arguing that they are going to revisit the public service aspect of SOEs, not use them to prop up a sharemarket no one trusts. And why don’t people trust the sharemarket? Because despite having plenty of opportunity Labour couldn’t get past light-handed regulation, and the brains of the private sector have pretty much made it the last place anyone would want to invest their money. (Brian Gaynor has written extensively on the non-regulation of New Zealand’s sharemarket, if anyone besides me gives a toss.)
    Gee, i feel better for having gotten that off my chest.

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