More feel good, but still waiting for actual good

Voter sentiment is changing from not wanting much change to wanting significant change. Some want revolution.

Perceived personality of politician has become more important than policies and actions – to an increasing number of voters and also to journalists who are increasingly involved in make the narrative rather than reporting.

But the hope of compassionate revolution is not (yet) being realised.

“We have moved into a political era where talk of empathy and compassion rates more highly than taking action, and the extent to which Jacinda Ardern can continue to rewrite the narrative this way will determine the outcome of the next election”

“The Prime Minister’s challenge is to entrench empathy and compassion as the basis of contemporary government, before evidence and achievement reassert themselves.”

Peter Dunne (Newsroom):  Government by worthy sentiment

For the older voters, the broad consensus from 1999 to 2017 was a welcome relief to the upheavals of the 1980s and early 1990s that had led them to opt for MMP in 1993, to place a greater restraint on governments. But for 1999 first time voters, most of whom would have been too young to recall directly the experiences and hardships of the restructurings of the 1980s and early 1990s, the same broad consensus was actually a straightjacket.

No matter the complexion of the government, the policy outcomes had still been broadly the same. While the country was being transformed, quietly and significantly, in those years, to those voters nothing much was actually seeming to change.

So it really did not matter to them which of the major parties was in power – they were all broadly the same anyway, and the succession of leaders each major party put up while in Opposition tended to confirm that.

If anything National under Simon Bridges’ leadership is becoming more old school conservative. His recent “What the Kiwi way of life means to me’ hints more than a little of ‘the good old days’ that we have evolved significantly away from.  There are ,more Kiwi ways of life than there ever was.

What these voters were yearning for, and did not see in contemporary political leaders, were “people like them” becoming more prominent in politics. People who would speak their language, and share their concerns and frustrations.

Bridges is failing at speaking anyone’s language well if at all.

The fortuitous arrival of Jacinda Ardern as leader of the Labour Party in quite dramatic circumstances weeks before the 2017 election was the tonic many of them were seeking to vote for, in the expectation of a real break from the status quo they had known all their voting lives. She was, after all, one of them, fitting their demographic near perfectly, and completely untainted by ever having held any previous significant or substantial political office. So, for her, no problem was insoluble, no challenge insurmountable, and no existing solution sufficient.

Her appeal was (and remains) that she is a break from the past in so many ways.

The contrast between Ardern and the four Labour leaders who preceded her was huge. She made an immediate impact when she stepped up. The media become unusually excited and gave her an enormous amount of favourable coverage, but people, voters, could see for themselves that she was different, she spoke a different language that resonated.

That of itself provides those voters with a confidence that she understands their plight, because she is living it too. Forget the fact that she has changed very few of the policies that Labour took to the 2011 and 2014 elections where they were trashed; or that those they have tried to implement now (like Kiwibuild) are becoming embarrassing failures.

Forget too that her Government now admits that it does not even know how to measure whether or not its policies are working, and the deteriorating relationship with our major trading partner.

It just seems not to matter because the sustaining feature of this Government is not anything it has done or stands for, but rather the effervescent personality of the Prime Minister, that fits the current mood of the group of voters around the median population age.

Indeed, it is highly doubtful whether many of them could articulate beyond the vaguest of platitudes what she actually stands for.

Your NZ commenters probably don’t represent average voters, but as an exercise I asked What does Jacinda Ardern stand for?

We are now in an almost post ‘politics as usual’ phase, where the previous emphasis on policy and delivery has given way to feeling and identifying with the issues of the day, although it is far from clear to where that is leading, or what the new norms will be.

The emerging reality is that, despite some of the rhetoric, we are moving into an era where commitment to aspiration (prioritising empathy and compassion) rates more highly than action (prioritising evidence and achievement).

The Prime Minister’s challenge is to entrench empathy and compassion as the basis of contemporary government, before evidence and achievement reassert themselves.

The extent to which she can rewrite the political narrative this way, and paint National as cold and heartless in the process, and therefore part of the past, rather than anything her Government manages to do, let alone what the opinion polls may say, will determine the outcome of the 2020 election.

I think many on the left would love for Judith Collins to take over the National leadership so they could build on the “cold and heartless” contrast with Ardern. As things stand Bridges playing into National’s opponents hands with his opposition to a compassionate approach to drug law, his opposition a compassionate legalising of euthanasia.

Ardern’s compassion and empathy and wellbeing and fairness – at a superficial level at least – is going to be hard to beat, unless Government failures to match rhetoric with action become too apparent (they are really struggling with housing and health in particular, with poorly performing Ministers Phil Twyford and David Clark).

National have indicated they plan to roll out policies this year, trying to offer substance over nice but empty words. But will voters listen, whether bridges or Collins are leading?

Labour are helped in the compassionate politics stakes by the Greens, but Winston Peters and NZ First are a sharply contrasting blast from the past. This may not matter if NZ First fail to make the threshold next election.

It may be that Ardern successfully manages to fool the masses with more feel good than actual good.

Leave a comment


  1. David

     /  25th February 2019

    It really goes to show that succesive governments have done a pretty good job of running the place that a new PM full of bullshit and fairy dust has changed virtually nothing, delivered nothing and is increasing her popularity.

    • Blazer

       /  25th February 2019

      are we still on the ‘cusp of something special”..or will that resume when the next Nat admin takes office?

    • Gezza

       /  25th February 2019

      If a new PM full of bullshit and fairy dust has changed virtually nothing, delivered nothing and is increasing her popularity it actually goes to show that recent governments have done something wrong in running the place because someone with nothing but msm-manufactured celebrity as an achievement has been elected to govern the place and has turned out to have no idea how to do it, but to make it up as we go. But voters prefer that to what we had.

  2. adamsmith1922

     /  25th February 2019

    I would remind people of the old saying: ‘you can fool some of the people all of the time and all of the people some of the time, but you can’t fool all of the people all of the time as Macron,Trudeau and Trump have all found out. I suspect that in NZ we are still relatively in the first or second stage, but KiwiBuild,Health,and CGT will I suggest move many to the endpoint. As sooner or later we will reach the point where this government will run out of other people’s money to adapt Margaret Thatcher’s quote.

    • Blazer

       /  25th February 2019

      the so called ‘other’ people have an endless supply of ‘money’…they create it out of thin air…its only the hoi polloi who are expected to…work for it.

    • Duker

       /  25th February 2019

      Key and English didnt run out of money either….gross debt quadrupled
      Luckily for them , as they didnt put a brass razoo into it, so did The Cullen Fund from $9 bill to $40 bill.

  3. duperez

     /  25th February 2019

    Is fooling the masses with feel good worse than fooling the masses with what is made out to be actual good but which doesn’t turn out to be actual good?

    • Mother

       /  25th February 2019

      National need a leader like Jacinda, but they are too stubborn and stuck to find a solution.

      Mr Peters might prove himself as more than a self serving politician in his twilight years? He needs to show us that his experiment in going with Labour was a calculated risk he took for the sake of the country and not because of personal vendettas.

      I think it’s possible that National could take us back into fpp by default. But they need a head/heart change. Perhaps the righties should all be kinder re the JLR saga.

      The best solutions are always the simplest. Kindness – like Jacinda, but not like Jacinda.

  4. Finbaar Rustle

     /  25th February 2019

    So you think NZ is still in Labour?
    See what I did there 🙂
    My wit and intelligence knows no bounds.

    • Gezza

       /  25th February 2019

      Certainly doesn’t. Didn’t before, either. There’s your problem.

    • Blazer

       /  25th February 2019

      at least we avoided a National…disaster.

    • Mother

       /  25th February 2019

      Aotearoa is in labour. A man has some chance of understanding that if he is masculine, fair, compassionate, worthy of a good wife, a loving father….a real leader in home and community.

      Harassment of women is rife in churches. To some leaders, abusing women is just one huge joke. There are no bounds to their childishness. Some even take it through their twilight years, despite their grown up children calling them out many times. I wouldn’t want to be in their shoes at the trumpet call.

      Mr Rustle, you’re a clown. You are hurting me, and my children, very much. What do you have to say to me for real, in the presence of YourNZ, under your pseudonym?

      Alright, let’s pretend I’m imagining crazy things –

      Mr Rustle, talk to me sensibly – what do you mean by your comment above please?

  5. The Consultant

     /  25th February 2019

    There’s really nothing new here in the political history of the last century in the West.

    Socialist – read “Democratic Socialist” policies have always won elections on the claims of “caring” and “kindness” and so forth.

    And they’ve always lost elections when those policies failed by their own standards or actually made things worse. Kiwibuild being an example of the latter as the number of people on waiting lists for housing has increased under Green-Labour.

    Since when have the failures of Democratic Socialism policies actually hurt a Democratic Socialist movement long-term? Green-Labour likely won’t lose in 2020, because the stench of failure won’t quite have overcome the televangelist qualities of Jacinda, but the failures will increase and they likely will fall out of office in 2023.

    But so what? They’ll be back in 2029 or 2032 with “caring”, “kindness”, and another new, magical leader that will make Lefty hearts throb – like Clinton in ’92, Blair in ’97, Trudeau, Obama, and Jacinda.

    It never changes.

    • Finbaar Rustle

       /  25th February 2019

      Similarly a Right wing narrow minded National party bigot will come back in
      and look after the rich narrow minded bigots like Key Bolger Muldoon Holyoke
      Trump Bush Reagan Nixon Thatcher Major Cameron.
      Never stops.
      Thank goodness for the fabulous Jacinda and Labour.

  6. NOEL

     /  25th February 2019

    One expects promises when in opposition never to resemble the original when in Government.

    Reduced health care costs for Superannuates translated to only those on CSC is one example. And total silence from Grey Power and the like was deafening.

    Where this Government differs from the previous is the number of “we will listen to all viewpoints via our multitude of costly working groups” and cherry pick the options we like.

    Geez yah paid to Govern, get on with it.

  1. More feel good, but still waiting for actual good — Your NZ – NZ Conservative Coalition

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