Second Term Confusion: After a first term of effortless government, followed by a resounding electoral victory, John Key has foolishly succumbed to the blandishments of a noisy minority of right-wing social sadists. If he really wants to carry the National Party into a third term, he needs to re-acquaint himself with that old right-wing adage about the government that governs best being the government that governs least. Or, as they used to call it: Laissez-faire Capitalism.
IT’S WEIRD, a government which seemed to have discovered the secret of political longevity is now trying to kill itself. Honestly, I feel like grabbing the Prime Minister by his lapels and demanding to know:
“What is it about winning nearly 48 percent of the Party Vote that you don’t understand, John? For Pity’s sake! You were doing your job brilliantly! People really liked you. Or, if they didn’t really like you, they definitely liked your opponents less. That old saying about the government that governs best being the government that governs least was borne out before your very eyes: first in the polls; then at the ballot box. So, seriously, John, what was not to like about the way you governed New Zealand between 2008 and 2011?”
It really is a mystery. With the rest of the world slowly, painfully, yet unmistakably, hauling itself out of the worst global recession in eighty years, and the reconstruction of Christchurch about to inject a massive dose of economic adrenalin into the stalled heart of the New Zealand labour market, the political prognosis was looking pretty good.
The numbers on the dole and the DPB were ready to fall, just as they had under Helen Clark when the economy started growing. More people in work would have lifted the tax take and reduced the deficit. Big dividends from the State’s energy assets would also have contributed to reducing the nation’s debt. To make matters even better, commodity prices were holding firm and the cockies were (at long last) reaching for their cheque-books.
The indications are strong that if Mr Key and his government were to do nothing at all, by the middle of their second term they’d be more popular than ever.
But, “nothing at all” is not something Mr Key and his government are permitted to offer. All around them, people who call themselves ‘supporters’ are clamouring for action.
“Where is the economic plan?” “Why hasn’t something been done about the unions?” “Where are the welfare reforms recommended by Paula Rebstock?” “Why are so many state-owned assets still sitting around unsold?” “What are Mr Key and his government waiting for?” “You’ve won the damn election – get on with it, Man!”
Not that the people making all this racket represent a majority of the population – far from it. The clamour for neoliberal “reforms” has always come from a tiny minority of New Zealanders – about the same number of people as vote for the Act Party. The National Party’s problem is that they’re the sort of people to which it’s always felt obliged to pay attention: CEO’s of powerful corporations; Rich Listers; right-wing media commentators. The “One Percenters” who can usually be relied upon to make generous donations to the party’s campaign coffers.
What Mr Key fails to understand is that such people are in the grip of a peculiar and very dangerous social pathology. Where a normal person would happily sit back and enjoy their superfluity of wealth and power, these folk cannot rest easy until they are satisfied that their “More” is the product of someone else’s “Less”. Their comfort is made from our misery; their pride from our humiliation; their strength from our weakness.
Why Mr Key has decided to serve this bunch of social sadists is a question only he can answer. But he should know that, if he persists, then his ranking as New Zealand’s preferred prime-minister, and his party’s electoral support, will sink lower and lower.
If you would save yourself and the National Party from certain defeat in 2014, Mr Key, then you must renew your faith in the benign indifference of your government’s first term. Abjure the sadistic interventionism of the neoliberal ideologues, Prime Minister. Embrace instead the oldest principle of effective Capitalism: laissez-faire.
The best thing you can do for this country right now, Mr Key, is nothing. Take your hands off New Zealand's economic machinery and, please, just leave the rest of us the hell alone.
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post, The Otago Daily Times, The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 2 March 2012.