Apologies to those who hate rugby metaphors

datePosted on 09:36, April 13th, 2010 by Lew

… but they’re really useful. Here’s another one.

After the election, I ruminated upon the future of the Labour party, employing a fairly hackneyed rugby analogy to describe the crossroads at which they stood. I’ve been meaning to follow it up and write about the fact that they’re very much playing the Crusaders game, rather than the Hurricanes game, but I’ve struggled to find the motivation to do so because it’s just so bleeding obvious that that’s what they’re doing.

But yesterday’s comment by Trevor Mallard on the “Mr Key goes to Washington” story is pretty revealing — especially from such a die-hard Hurricanes fan:

In Super 14 terms this is like a loss with a bonus point.
And what are the odds of the President putting his head into the meeting to give John another chance to smile and wave to the cameras.
Will almost certainly happen but will still be a loss with two bonus points.
Sort of like the Hurricanes rather than the Crusaders –- may be a bit of feel good but no one believes they are really going to be there when the real business is done.

And he has a good point: who wants to back the Hurricanes if they can’t actually do the business, win the matches and bring home the silverware? All the razzle-dazzle in the world is hollow if it doesn’t yield results.

But Trevor could just as well be describing Labour’s performance in opposition. He characterises National and its government as playing the Hurricanes game, while it’s clear that Labour are playing the Crusaders game — but the problem is that Labour are playing the Crusaders game badly. They’re trying to be defensively strong, but they’re not really; the consensus is just that their opponents lack strike power out wide. They’re struggling to win even their own set-piece ball. Despite plenty of opportunities they’ve been almost singularly unable to punish mistakes — and the mistakes they’ve taken aim at have often been the wrong ones. They’ve tried various tactics which are analogous to infringing at the ruck, but have been caught out by the ref, making them look desperate rather than enterprising.

So what’s the half-time talk? I don’t know. It would probably be worse to try to change the gameplan at this stage than to persist, but absent a stunning second-half rally, it’ll be a long and humiliating off-season. Good thing relegation isn’t a possibility.

Update: Naly D reckons I’ve described the Chiefs game, rather than a poor version of the Crusaders game. So if that suits you, imagine it thus. But it sort of ruins the symmetry. Too much accuracy in an analogy isn’t always a good thing.

L

11 Responses to “Apologies to those who hate rugby metaphors”

  1. Chris Trotter on April 13th, 2010 at 10:13

    I’m no Rugby afficianado, Lew, but I’m assuming Labour’s “infringing at the ruck” is a reference to Phil Goff’s Palmerston North speech – where he allegedly played “the race card”.

    But playing the race card is, as any afficianado of the NZ game of politics knows, very far from being an infringement of the rules.

    As Rob Muldoon, Winston Peters and Don Brash have all demonstrated over the years, its the political equivalent of one of those superb Rugby moments when the ball is flung out wide to the right wing, who catches it, tucks it under his arm, and runs the length of the field to score in the corner.

    Just keep your eyes on Labour’s right winger, Shane Jones. I’m confident he’s about to put points on the scoreboard. (And I think you’ll find he deals with liberal tackles a great deal more effectively than dear old Captain Phil.)

  2. What would Hayek say on April 13th, 2010 at 10:48

    The analogy is good, what I would say is that the labour team is short of two inches.

  3. Lew on April 13th, 2010 at 11:07

    I’m no Rugby afficianado, Lew, but I’m assuming Labour’s “infringing at the ruck” is a reference to Phil Goff’s Palmerston North speech – where he allegedly played “the race card”.

    Chris, no — that I would classify under “trying to punish the wrong mistakes”. It’s legitimate but foolhardy. What I mean by “infringing at the ruck” is sneakier stuff — being seen to be taking undue political advantage by personalising genuine scandals (such as the Richard Worth affair) rather than letting them stand on their merits; taking largely opportunistic ex-parte pot shots at former or potential allies (both the Greens and māori party); and their occasional unwillingness to accept (or even recognise) their previous intransigence on topics such as the Foreshore and Seabed Act and the Electoral Finance Act (though there has been a softening on both, it has been grudging and equivocal). I recognise, however, that in many cases the gap between being seen as desperate and being seen as enterprising is a narrow one, so this isn’t a particularly harsh criticism of Labour.

    I agree that “the race card” is well within the rules, and it can be played well and to good effect. Key is playing it thus at the very moment, so you can add him to your list. The trouble is that Labour are playing it poorly — in such a way as to alienate many of their supporters, both white and brown, not to mention their potential allies. But we already understand each other on that point.

    I agree about Jones, too. But I suspect his positions on these issues might be more nuanced than the economic left expects. Interesting that you term him their right winger — but he’s certainly not their left-winger, so I suppose the boot fits.

    L

  4. SPC on April 13th, 2010 at 21:35

    Opposition politics is about playing the traditional South African game, brutal (negative game) defence and playing for time (field position) and only attacking (releasing policy) late in the game if necessary.

  5. Pablo on April 13th, 2010 at 21:48

    Argh.

    Although Lew phrases it well, this brings back memories of the goofy analogies made between US politics and American football (Gridiron). I really have nothing to add other than to 1) note that both rugby and gridiron are of the most unstylized type of war substitutes (although my preference is more the more fluid, maneuver-based style of rugby as opposed to the more static, positional and frictional aspect of gridiron), which is why I have always thought the political analogies were a bit of stretch (since democratic politics is a little less brutish in its competitive expression–at least in NZ–so would be more akin to cricket or baseball if analogies are to be made); and 2) both lend themselves nicely to “yo mama” jokes, none of which I would repeat here.

  6. Neil on April 13th, 2010 at 22:35

    what springs to my mind is yet again how poorly Labour play the hand delt to them.

    I’d agree that Labour have good reason to feel aggrieved over the anti-nuclear issue at the moment. That could have been capitalised on.

    But how they’ve reacted is just stupid. Mallard is incoherent and bullying once again.

  7. Lew on April 14th, 2010 at 09:09

    Pablo, you were among those to whom I was apologising.

    The thing about provincial-national sport which makes it more politics than war for me, and more apt to such analogies as this, is that off the field — outside the arena, as it were — the participants are required to be cordial and pull together in a “common good”. I think that in NZ rugby the game/non-game contrast is particularly sharp because of the physicality of the game and the general “ordinary bloke” celebrity status of players off the field — unlike in the bigger professional codes as in North America and Europe.

    Anyway, a digression.

    SPC, I agree — but again, I don’t see much field position being gained. I’m not advocating for the release of detailed policy by labour — I’m advocating for the establishment of a platform which will permit policy releases to set a strong agenda at the sharp end.

    L

  8. fred on April 14th, 2010 at 20:30

    so who gets to be the Phoenix or the All Whites?

    or would that be a game changer?

    After all political commentators it’s World Cup Year!

  9. bob on April 16th, 2010 at 04:48

    Nice analogy. Problem for Labour is – they have the same game plan (liberal capitalism) as National, and both sides know it. So they counter each others plays effectively, and little ground is gained unless external circumstances intervene (swirling wind takes ball into touch, ref sees non-existent offside, etc).

    The only way Labour can win with a 2nd half rally, is if they adopt a new game plan (say socialism), and push the key policy points (plays) of this new game plan hard.

    Incidentally, SPC’s analysis is only true in the situation I have described above – where both major parties are playing the same game plan of liberal capitalism. If Labour adopted a genuinely distinct ideological basis, then they can release policy now and hammer it home in the public mind over the next 2 years. You only need to hide policy if its so similar to what your opponenets prefer that there is real danger they may adopt it! Says it all about the wafer thin distinction between Labour and National.

    Sadly, Labour are also weakened by having the under-13 Thames Valley girls as their squad. Renewal should be by firing squad of the front and back row. Phil Twyford is the only one to show moxy – and he seems more hated by his own side than the opposition.

    Labour seem to be playing the long game, expecting to bounce back when National do bad things because ….TINA. But there are times when you never bounce back – anyone remember the Reform party? Or Social Credit, or the Alliance, or NZ First?

  10. Lew on April 16th, 2010 at 07:24

    Bob, thanks. A couple of things — first, a second-half rally will only be achieved by maintaining a steady course. What you’re referring to might result in a second-term rally, but that’s a different matter. One of the scenarios I posed in the initial rugby analogy post was that adopting a novel political and ideological strategy might doom them to three or six additional years on the opposition benches. This would be unfortunate, but if it resulted in a sort of renaissance for the party it could be worth it. At present they look like achieving the worst of both worlds: failing to take back the Beehive and delaying the necessary and inevitable renewal.

    Second, whatever renewed game plan they come up with can’t be something as simple as “ditch liberal capitalism and adopt a socialist policy platform”. I’ve written before about how socialism as ideological dogma and symbolic appeal is essentially poison for the Anglo liberal left, and that using the liberal capitalist framework is more effective than fighting it. I think this has been proven most adequately by the various proto or pseudo-socialist parties of recent NZ history, some of which you mention.

    L

  11. Keir on April 16th, 2010 at 17:53

    Second, whatever renewed game plan they come up with can’t be something as simple as “ditch liberal capitalism and adopt a socialist policy platform”. I’ve written before about how socialism as ideological dogma and symbolic appeal is essentially poison for the Anglo liberal left, and that using the liberal capitalist framework is more effective than fighting it. I think this has been proven most adequately by the various proto or pseudo-socialist parties of recent NZ history, some of which you mention.

    The reason socialism never prospers is very much the same as treason: for nothing that prospers could be socialism. The NHS is currently Cameron’s favourite thing ever, and it is also one of the most socialist things ever done in Britain. Symbolically the NHS’ ideals (socialist ideals) are untouchable.

    The left wins when we point out the contradictions between liberalism — proper liberalism, which ends up talking like socialism a lot anyway — and capitalism, and manage to exploit them. One problem the Labour Party currently has is exploiting those contradictions.

    Socialist talk also fails to exploit those contradictions, because no one cares about socialism. They care about material facts (yes I am a bit of a Marxist here) and far too many socialists (& non-socialists) confuse socialist talk with socialism.

    * Liberalism isn’t the right word at all. Liberalism is a nice way of saying apple pie & is pretty much contentless in these discussions, also annoys me because in fact the liberals got trounced by the Labour parties pretty much everywhere but North America in a very convincing way.

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