Friday, 1 September 2017

Grumbles

Over on the Standard, the generally level headed Anthony Robins has rather let the most recent Colmar Brunton go to his head, bravely declaring that we're in a "new political world" (see what I did there?).

At risk of sounding like the perennially Grinchy culturally dislocated Scotsman I am, I have to disagree. It’s the same vacuous, image driven world that it was before. If anything, it’s worse than before.

It’s a sad testament to how shallow our political culture is that replacing a few dour blokes with a sparklier younger leader(1) gives you an almost overnight 20 point boost. It shows us how facile most of people's political decision making is. There isn't much to distinguish Ardern's Labour party, politically and policy wise, from Little's, or Cunliffe's, or Shearer's, of Goff's. They are all run of the mill social-democratic parties offering a fairly insipid bunch of policies so as not to frighten the horses.

The implications of the 'Ardern effect' are a bit troubling to anyone who takes politics too seriously and doesn't want to see it descend into a vapid popularity contest where YOUTH and ENERGY and so on are all that matters. The dramatic improvement in Labour's position under Ardern suggests that policy and ideology and even any sort of strategy beyond having an attractive front of shop is pointless.

Now, it is likely at this moment someone, somewhere is thinking, "Ah, but Jeremy Corbyn ...".  I don't think the comparison to Jeremy Corbyn really holds up.  First of all, Corbyn had been in position much longer and had, effectively, his own campaigning organisation, the much maligned but frighteningly effective Momentum.

Second (or is it third) he had a clear set of policies in his equally derided manifesto - policies which turned out to be as effective in engaging voters as Momentum.  The most dangerous words in leftwing election campaigns are 'poorly defined tax and spending plans'; Ardern and her deputy can't even articulate a consistent message on tax.  What policy Labour has announced is characterised by timidity, not courage.

Also, Corbyn probably benefited from his outsider and underdog status.  He didn't look or behave like a member of the political elite, and his status as a hate-object to Labour and the tabloids probably benefited him as much as it harmed him.  Ardern lacks thirty years of recalitrance and rebellion before she can hope to attain Corbyn's slightly barmy appeal.  She probably also needs to be in Britain for it to really work, as well.

Finally, a word of warning.  The media are not and never will be our friends.  What comes up must come down. The media will have hatchets ready. Expect “Has Ardern’s Bubble Burst?” and “Polls Drop As Voters Face Choice” headlines at the first dip in the polls. The media are more interested in a good knifing than they are in soothing the agitated sensibilities of leftwingers, so the moment they sense it might be worthwhile turning on Ardern, they will. Right now it suits the narrative to talk her up, but that will not last. The story is the story.

1 - My original post on The Standard read "a sparkly young thing," which lead to an entertaining diversion about my patronising, toad-like qualities. I like toads, for what it is worth.

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