I know how this one is going to play, dear readers. It’s just going to be another evil, spiteful, bitchy, undermining, white-anting hysterical rant from a no-name bitch who no one likes who just hates Labour because she’s evil, and is just too picky, etc etc, and you know what? Go for your life. At this point I’m treating the whole thing as an historical exercise, writing down my thoughts now so in years ahead I can look back and say “fuck I was smart back then”.
And I do also understand that this is how politics works: find something that vaguely aligns to this week’s hot topic, and use it to try to turn the conversation back to yourself.
And I’ve previously said that it cannot be difficult for the left to put child poverty firmly on the agenda this election.
So when the Child Poverty Action Group’s report, Left Further Behind, got released last week, it was inevitable that as many parties as possible (the Nats and ACT excluded for fairly obvious reasons) would jump up with their hands in the air to cry “teacher, teacher, I have important thoughts on this!” like that beardy bastard in first-year philosophy/pols classes who thinks wasting half the class musing on the topic of “but is it not perhaps natural for man to seek a leader?” will really impress the professor.
Of course they were going to make this report about themselves. Of course you were going to get press releases with titles like “More evidence shows need for a plan to end child poverty” with the ever-so-subtle implication, “AND WE HAVE THAT PLAN”.
But I’m sorry, Labourites, yours in particular? Just a bit too far.
Here’s the context. Labour introduced Working for Families. CPAG made a complaint about Working for Families discriminating on the basis of family status. Labour, in government, fought damned hard against CPAG, with Crown Law even demanding a judicial review on the basis that CPAG, not being itself a starving beneficiary child, could not make such a complaint.
Now, CPAG’s report covers the introduction of WFF, noting it wasn’t as generous as a similar scheme in Australia (p51), and didn’t make allowance for big events like the recession or Pike River putting people involuntarily out of work (something the current Government kinda dealt with.) (p58) They agree that yes, things have got worse under NACT, and yes, they note that many many more children would have been in poverty today without WFF.
On p51, CPAG further notes that Labour is rethinking its attitude to WFF, and quotes Annette King on the subject. But a bit of a newsflash here: this is not CPAG jumping on some awesome Labour bandwagon, this is CPAG saying thanks for finally fucking listening to us on this, peeps.
Labour is also mentioned in other sections on removing GST from fruit and veg, the repeal of s59, early childhood education etc etc.
But no, sorry, Annette, sorry, Labour media team, sorry, Labour supporters; Left Further Behind contains not a single hint that CPAG “supports” Labour’s policies. Which is not really surprising, since CPAG is going for that whole “not politically affiliated” vibe.*
The Labour fans out there, no doubt already marshalling the usual “but John Key is Satan”, “but Labour is our last best hope for peace” lines, will not doubt point out that the press release doesn’t specifically say that CPAG are specifically explicitly and deliberately advocating in favour of Labour’s policies.
Not good enough, my friends.
Because the headline of the press release is
Labour welcomes Child Poverty Action Group support
Not even “Labour welcomes CPAG report” or “Labour endorses CPAG report” or “Labour’s policies in line with CPAG report”.
If the only thing you read (and please, stop for a moment to consider the standards of our mainstream media) was the headline, you would certainly come away with the impression that CPAG had endorsed Labour in some way.
Sorry, but they didn’t.
Then consider nice weaselly statements like
The … report released today confirms Labour’s policies
… when it doesn’t say anything about Labour’s policies …
I am pleased that so many organisations are coming together with the shared view that we must all do better for our children.
… as though CPAG were a new kid on the block in this area and just happened to have a really appropriate name …
and absolutely most fucking egregiously:
The Child Poverty Action Group has mirrored much of the policy that has already been announced by Labour
Mirrored. MIRRORED. Y’all may want to accuse me of being petty and pedantic, but you know what mirrors do? Reflect things that are already there. Obvious implication of this statement? Labour already thought of this first and CPAG are just joining in.
I’d hate to think that this is actually part of some official Labour key messages document: “Always speak as though all good things are inspired by us”, “always act as though we had every good idea first”. But it’s becoming a bit of a theme, and it’s far too closely related to “always act as though we are the one true leftwing god”, “the Greens are filthy traitors stealing our rightful votes” attitudes.
Child poverty is a serious fucking deal in NZ, and God knows I’m happy to see any party taking it seriously. But Labour has a pretty shit track record on this one, and it’s not one they’re keen to talk about (another recurring meme). So frankly, peeps, I am not looking in that direction for any actual answers.
I’m going to look to groups like CPAG. Here’s what they have to say about the future of eliminating child poverty (p73):
There are very good arguments for a universal payment, but in 2011 we have very wide income disparities and we do not have progressive taxation to fund redistribution. In addition, the poorest children miss out on payments in the current system because payments are tied to their parents’ paid work activity, not solely to income.
A universal payment alone is incapable of addressing child poverty with the current restrictions: fiscally it would mean that in order to make a payment to children that alleviated poverty, the payment level would have to be so high that we could not do it without either raising the top tax rates considerably to pay for it, or sacrificing some other worthy spending. Eliminating poverty has to be the first priority and this requires targeting assistance to the lowest income families. It would be possible (and desirable) to have a universal dimension, comparatively small initially, but the most significant assistance in the immediate future will need to be targeted at the poorest children. This could be the first step towards a universal payment for all children.
I’m sure they’d be happy for political parties to push these ideas, free of charge. But acting like this report actively supports any specific party, particularly Labour? Acting like this is some kind of “me, too!” to Labour’s awesome godlike child poverty policies which date back to the dawn of Westminster? Get your fucking hand off it, mate.
*Just to make it crystal clear: this is what it looks like when CPAG “supports” a Labour policy. Just so y’all know in future.
PS. Seriously, Labour. All this would have taken to be a good-news story from me (because it’s all about me) was to can the entitlement complex and say “This report is good, we’re happy we can see we’re going in the right direction, we did make mistakes last time and we’re not going to do it again.” How hard is that? Once you’ve taught your leadership team to say “sorry”, that is.
There isn’t just one hard truth to NZ politics at the moment. The second is equally unpopular with people, but if it doesn’t offer a clear way forward it at least suggests a fixable problem. At the same time, it’s not the kind of thing Labour/the Left want to have bandied about too publicly in an election year.
Everything Labour does is waffle.
No, seriously, everything.
Where my previous post argued that NACT are motivated by a clear and demonstrated drive to financially benefit themselves and their class and keep the true “middle New Zealand” distracted by shiny, often illusory toys (beneficiary bashing, north-of-$50 tax cuts), this one poses more of a question I wish I didn’t suspect the answer to:
What the fuck is Labour doing except waffling?
Waffling, swaying, flip-flopping, whatever today’s pop-propaganda term is, from one statement to the next, one lukewarm denunciation to the next, since the 2008 defeat Labour has basically been a yacht captained by people who figured hey, it was their turn so they might as well have a go, desperately seeking the right current to sail them into Getting Elected Harbour and getting caught on the treacherous reefs of No1curr and Fuck You’re Uninspiring every single time.
Everything is waffle. Waffle doesn’t win elections.
A first pre-emptive rebuttal: Key/National did not waffle their way into victory in 2008. They made explicit, just-qualified-enough statements which set them firmly and believably (to the middle-voting public) in the role of Just Like Labour Only Without The Sense You’re Being Put On The Naughty Spot.
But what the fuck does Labour stand for at this point?
Waffle. Whatever the headless chickens and soccer-fan octopi in the strategy team think is a winner this week.
What month is it? Are we panicking about the loss of the “centre” vote and rehashing really obviously-going-to-backfire Brash/Orewa dogwhistles? Hmm, fuck, that didn’t go so well (hint for Labour strategists: when Idiot/Savant is telling you you’re fucking hypocrites, be worried). Best throw some “I can’t believe it’s not a real leftwing policy” bones to the fanbase! A fanbase who, possibly in serious need of some reassurance that the Apocalypse had not in fact left them in a better-treed version of Transmetropolitan, thought “fuck yes! A real turnaround!”
‘Cause you see, “the many, not the few” involves such fantastically leftwing setpieces as “listen to the stories about gang members ripping off WINZ, those fucking bludgers!” and “young offenders need intervention and literacy skills AND a kick in the pants, am I right, holla at your boy Garth McVicar!”
But some celebrated nevertheless, right until the rightwing research unit bots said “Oy, bitches, how’s 1985 treatin’ ya?” and silence descended, because not all the pretty speeches in the world from Goff count for shit until he utterly disowns that Rogernomics crap. Prediction: never going to happen.*
January 2011. Election year, baby. And someone gets it through HQ’s hivemind that maybe being a bit fucking bold could be a good idea! Let’s do it! Let’s face down those NACT bastards with their relentless “the left doesn’t understand how the economy works” meme and release completely uncosted tax policy! How could this go wrong???
Oops, even one of the staunchest left bloggers in the country came to the conclusion: waffle.
Which is not to mention that whole not condemning Paul Henry’s vile fucking racism thing – can’t upset the white underclass since we’ve thrown those nasty identity politics types under the bus (oh wait, but the Big Gay Out’s on this weekend!). Or the neverending quest to try to turn a stern, serious, career politician into his affable, smarmy, shallow opponent (because of course the only way to defeat an opponent is to become him … wait, what?). And let’s not forget that this isn’t just a Goff problem when suddenly Annette King tooooootally wants to help out those poor people who incidentally Labour royally fucked by defending a discriminatory policy tooth and nail.
Not just waffle. PowerWaffle.
To put it bluntly, fellow lefties: we are in an election year with a main-left-party leader who thinks the appropriate response to “I told my mate Tony Veitch that Liz Hurley’s a hottie” is “I think she’s hot too butIlovemywifebecauseI’mabetterfamilymanthanyou.”
You thought we were fucked before?
We are so fucking fucked.
*I’m like Ken Ring, only I admit I make shit up off the top of my head and act smug when I’m correct anyway.
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.)
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?
Obvious answer is obvious, and YOU FUCKING KNOW WHAT IT IS GIVEN YOUR FUCKING PARTY DEFENDED USING BENEFICIARIES’ KIDS TO BULLY THEIR PARENTS.
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.