Posts Tagged ‘speeches’

The “I” thing

datePosted on 09:06, February 9th, 2010 by Lew

iAs much as there are great expectations on John Key’s statement to Parliament today, the pressure on Phil Goff is only slightly less. He may not have the responsibility of running a country, but that’s the problem: little or nothing indicates he will have a country to run in the foreseeable future, the optimism of the activist left notwithstanding. Goff’s reply needs to be a game-changer; it needs to reframe the past year, foreshadow the coming “middle year” when the policy engine runs at full noise, and it needs to demonstrate that Goff has got some game and is willing to bring it.

It looks like Labour have just such an event in mind, but I have substantial misgivings about Goff’s planned reply to Key’s throne speech.

If the article in the Sunday Star Times is to be believed, the speech’s greatest asset will also be its greatest weakness: it’s to be delivered in the first person. There’s going to be a lot of “I have failed to” and “I should have” sort of statements coming out of Goff’s mouth which will undoubtedly be taken out of context, and on a more subtle level, it will reiterate the fact that Goff is in a pretty impotent position at present. Labour is disconnected from key constituencies, and there remains a perception that it still doesn’t really get why it lost. People will more naturally associate “failure” and “sorry” and so on with Labour than with National. The task of this speech and the coming months is to turn that around, but it will be hard work to sufficiently remind the audience that these things relate to Key rather than Goff himself, given that they’re coming from Goff’s mouth and because it runs counter to the established narrative about Key and what people want to believe about him.

He’s staking his own personal and political appeal against that of the PM. It’s a big risk, but hey, boldness is what’s needed. It’s not as if Goff has much to lose, and if he can make it work, it has potential to reframe the debate from being about the opportunities of the future to the missed opportunities of the past.

L

Great prospects

datePosted on 21:15, January 29th, 2010 by Lew

Hat tipped to Paul McBeth for this one.

As one side engages in some tentative but hugely premature triumphalism, and the other side points the accusatory finger, a sleeping giant awakes. This man — our Nixon, in whom we apparently see ourselves as we really are — has rekindled the fire which once consumed the hearts and minds of the nation (and the knickers of untold women old enough to know better) and thrown himself with renewed fervour into the task of “getting his old job back”.

Thanks either to wicked humour or outright shamelessness on the part of Auckland University political science staff, Winston Peters has been granted the unlikeliest of springboards to launch his 2010 campaign to return to the Beehive in 2011: a lecture to (presumably first year) political science students on the MMP political system. Of course, if they’d wanted a serious lecture on the topic, any number of graduate (and even some of the more geeky undergraduate) students could have done it, but the choice of Winnie was inspired because, instead of just telling these young things the dry facts and functions of the system — let’s face it, they can learn that from a book or even wikipedia.* But here’s a chance for them to learn how the system works in actual fact, from someone who has used it to screw others and been screwed himself, and to learn all that from someone who, just coincidentally, is in a position to demonstrate that no matter how down and out a politician might seem, under MMP he’s only one voter in twenty away from the marble floors, dark wood and green leather benches which house our democratic institutions.

The speech itself is the saga of the heroic battlers who guided the noble, fragile MMP system through the minefields of bureaucracy, persevering despite the “inner cabal cherishing hidden agendas” intent upon bringing about its premature demise. Those heroic battlers were represented by New Zealand First, epitomising the “traditional values of New Zealand politics”; “capitalism with a kind, responsible face”; the “long established social contract of caring for the young and the old and those who were down on their luck through no fault of their own”; a strong, honest party which was forced into coalition with National, although even then the dirty hacks in the media failed to correctly report these facts.

It’s a wonderful story, a fabulous creation myth, and if you’ve listened to Winston’s speeches over the years, none of it will be foreign to you.

But the speech dwells upon the darker, more recent history of MMP, and particularly its perversion by the forces of separatism. This initially seems odd for a speech which praises MMP, but it makes perfect sense when you consider the wider narrative: you can’t rescue something which isn’t in trouble, and the wider narrative is, naturally enough, that Winston is here to rescue New Zealand from MMP and the separatists — blue and brown — who have overtaken it. This is done, in true Winstonian style, with a masterful play on words:

You’ve all heard or seen the British comedy TV show “the two Ronnies” – well we have our own comedy show starring the “two Hones”. Hone, of course, is Maori for John – and the two “Hones” don’t give a “Heke” about who they insult on Waitangi Day.

If you listen closely, you might almost be able to hear the sound of undergraduates giggling nervously, and more quietly but present nevertheless, the sound of confused and frustrated battlers who don’t see what they stand to gain out of any of the current political orthodoxy starting to think “you know, Winston wasn’t so bad after all.”

So, Winston is back. For the record, I still don’t think he’s got the winnings of an election in him without the endorsement of an existing player, and I think it’s better than even money that he would drag any endorser down with him. His credibility is shot to hell, and this is a naked attempt to reach out to a Labour party who have just begun to put a little historical distance between themselves and him, but it will be very tempting for a Labour party struggling to connect with the electorate. If we as a nation are very, very unfortunate, Labour’s failure to reinvent themselves and the illusory success among some of the usual suspects of the “blue collars, red necks” experiment last year — notably not repeated in this week’s speech — will cause them to reach out for the one thing they lack: a political leader who understands narrative, who possesses emotional intelligence and political cunning in spades, who knows how to let an audience know who he is and what he stands for, and make them trust him (sometimes despite all the facts), and who has a ready-made constituency of disgruntled battlers who feel (rightly or wrongly) that the system doesn’t work for them.

Please, let it not come to that.

L

* Incidentally, it may come as a surprise to some of you that these dry facts and procedural details were the reason I dropped out of PoliSci in my first year, and studied Film instead (before realising that it all came back to politics anyway).

“The many, not the few”

datePosted on 13:05, January 28th, 2010 by Lew

This is the theme of Phil Goff’s State of the Nation speech today, according to early coverage. And would you look at that: it’s even up on their website.

It’s a sound speech full of bread-and-butter Labour appeals, not too heavy on the wonkish details, and it doesn’t spare anyone who oughtn’t be spared, targeting a range of elites: Finance company sharks, big business shysters, benefit fraudsters, nearsighted property developers, the honours list, public sector CEOs. Also obligatory references to education, justice and community systems failing young people, which ties into a small serve for the māori party (not named) about the Foreshore and Seabed Act and Tino Rangatiratanga flag, although wisely appealing to Kelvin Davis’ mana rather than Phil’s own, which shows that while he still doesn’t really get tino rangatiratanga, he at least realises that it’s a topic to be treated carefully. Also the absence of a direct attack on the māori party or its principals themselves is a good sign for future reconciliation; an indication that Sharples’ hints of recent weeks that the two parties retain much in common have been understood.

It speaks to the continuing narrative that the government is coasting on a gradually improving economy which has turned out to be much less dire than predicted — a good choice given the same chord has been struck by people like Matthew Hooton in the past week, and playing into Key’s “relaxed” persona. This narrative will stick.

It’s a solid speech, but not a great one. I didn’t hear it, perhaps you had to be there, but this is largely pedestrian stuff, and while “the many, not the few” is an excellent platform for any social democratic leader, this needed to be a speech which burned bright, not one which smouldered. The biggest reason it didn’t, for me, was because it wasn’t clear about who its audience was.

The collective noun of choice, something over which important battles have been fought in recent years, was generally “all new Zealanders”; sometimes “(hard)working New Zealanders” or “working families”. I’ve argued before that the first (“all New Zealanders”) is too broad except as a rhetorical device, and this was an opportunity for Labour to drive home it’s “the many, not the few” focus by telling us who it stands for, to clearly frame of who “we” are to Labour, and to oppose it to who is meant by National’s “we”. You can’t win 100% of the electorate, and you shouldn’t try: if your position isn’t pissing a fair chunk of the polity off (your ideological enemies) then it’s probably not doing much for your friends, either. Mealy-mouthedness is the bane of effective political engagement.

If Labour represents “all New Zealanders” then, by definition, it represents the few as well as the many, and you can’t base a political appeal on that. You can’t represent both the interests of the minimum-wage workers and the stuggling middle classes and the disenfranchised urban poor and the sharks and speculators and fat cats you claim are leeching off them: you need to distinguish one from the other and say: “we work for you, not for those guys”.

This is implicit through the speech, but it must be explicit, and must be repeated over and over, forged as a bond of identity with a Labour party from whom the electorate feels disconnected. All the good policy initiatives in the world won’t save Labour unless it reconnects and re-engages its base, and it can’t do that until it sorts out who its base is, and lets them know. This speech could have done that, but it didn’t.

L