Farrar’s honeymoon poll bounce scam

A very detailed analysis by   of how claims of a failure to benefit from a ‘poll bounce’ after the after the election was bad for Labour amounts to a dishonest scam by David Farrar in collaboration with Bill English. And how much of the media and blogosphere got sucked in by the meme put out by Farrar (not me though that didn’t rate a mention).

It’s a long post that has some interesting information about polls both recent and historical, making both reasonable and  questionable points.

Sub-Zero Politics: Farrar’s Honeymoon Scam

Introduction

Over recent weeks, National Party agent provocateur David Farrar has managed to profoundly shape mainstream media analysis of the Post-Election Mood.

In two highly influential Kiwiblog posts, Farrar set out to aggressively heighten expectations of the new Ardern Labour Government’s impending Poll performance (What sort of poll boost should the new Government get? November 6, 2017 – published some 2 weeks before the very first poll was released) and then subsequently went out of his way to ignore the first two Post-Election polls,  instead waiting 5 weeks for the third poll to emerge, before declaring that Labour had conspicuously failed to live up to expectations (No real bounce for Labour in first Colmar Brunton poll December 10, 2017).

  1. Incoming governments traditionally enjoy a huge Honeymoon surge of post-Election support.
  2. This massive Post-Election Poll Bounce comes largely or entirely at the expense of the Opposition Bloc and in particular the Major Opposition Party.
  3. Such a Poll Bounce failed to materialise in the immediate aftermath of the formation of  the 2017 Labour-NZ First-Green Government .
  4. This failure is unprecedented in Modern Political History
  5. The reasons for this alleged failure are two-fold: (a) In 2017, “there was no clear vote for change as happened in 1999 and 2008” and (b) Labour “have had a pretty shambolic start to Government” (Dec 10 post).
  6. None of this augurs well for the survival /  longevity / future electoral prospects of the Ardern Govt.

Media UpTake

As so often over recent years, Farrar’s carefully-contrived narrative quickly gained wide currency among MSM Notables. Despite the central involvement of both Farrar and segments of the Fourth Estate in the murky 2014 Dirty Politics scandal, journalists still seem more than happy to take his claims at face value and to widely disseminate them throughout the media.

I didn’t take much notice of the honeymoon non-bounce theory because every post-election period is quite different, and the 2017 pre-election and post-election certainly was, and it takes time for Governments to settle in and for enough poll results to be done to give an idea of trends. I think it will be several months before polls give us a good picture of party support trends.

Swordfish claims (without evidence) that the ‘scam’ was a Farrar/National Party plot:

Obviously, Farrar had closely co-ordinated this whole strategic campaign with Bill English’s Office.

That isn’t obvious. English could simply have picked up on what Farrar had posted and the media had reported. Swordfish could have used the same reasoning to claim that ‘Farrar had closely co-ordinated this whole strategic campaign with journalists and bloggers’.

I’ll skip the detail and go to the start of a lengthy conclusion.

Conclusion

Prominent National Party operative David Farrar has very successfully managed to sell the MSM a bogus honeymoon meme. This, in turn, has generated a whole series of negative headlines for the Ardern Coalition … reinforcing, in the process, some of National’s key attack lines around the alleged fragility and illegitimacy of the new Government.

It’d probably be going a little too far, I think, to suggest that a Machiavellian Farrar brought to bear all the innumerable dark arts of messaging, comms, social psychology and public relations when devising his various rhetorical strategies. That would be crediting his two Kiwiblog posts with a degree of sophistication that they don’t, quite frankly, possess. But in his own relatively crude way, he was able to successfully weave a dodgy little tale of woe for the Govt using his trademark blend of fact and fiction, as always playing on the ambiguity that lies between.

The nub of Farrar’s Honeymoon Scam is this: Both explicitly (Nov 6) and implicitly (Dec 10), Farrar left visiting journalists with the distinct impression that the two previous incoming governments – 1999 Clark Labour and 2008 Key National – had enjoyed massive double figure spikes of support in the very first post-Election Poll. At a bare minimum, journalists went away from Kiwiblog with the impression that these honeymoon surges emerged in the immediate wake of these elections – that is, the first few weeks.

Yet, as we’ve seen, Farrar’s claims were essentially fraudulent.

I don’t have the time or inclination to carefully check Swordfish’s claims against Farrar’s – it’s only polls, and the Government is setting off into the political year as if the polls didn’t matter anyway.

But here are more detailed poll trends of each oh the post election periods being analysed, in easier to follow pictures – the starting point for each chart is the election result.

Post-1999 election polling:

Not many polls and not much sign of a bounce there.

Post-2008 election polling:

No immediate bounce, it wasn’t until a number of polls in 2009 before the trend of poll support for national became obvious.

Post-2017 election polling:

Too few polls and too soon to tell, in very different circumstances.

Take from this what you like, but remember that they are only polls. They are of interest but can be easily over-analysed and are often misleadingly reported by media and by bloggers and by parties.

Neoliberalism, 1999, and ‘brat pack’ revisited

I don’t remember neoliberalism being a thing until the last few years, but it was talked about last century (when I only had a superficial interest in politics).

In 1999 Colin James wrote about how New Zealand had “energetically espoused neoliberalism” in the 1980s but bu the late nineties was “still far short of neoliberals’ high-wage, high-performing ideal”.

Here are exerts from an address to the University of Maryland in 1999 – The New Zealand economy and politics: the revolution and the future” (edited):


Just as a vigorous flowering of the arts in the 1980s signalled New Zealand’s true emergence as an independent (decolonialised) nation, it energetically espoused neoliberalism, the third radical policy shift in its 160 years of Anglo-Celtic rule.

This third “New Zealand model”, which attracted considerable international interest from economists, businesspeople and such diverse politicians as the government of Mongolia, the Japanese House of Councillors and Vice-President Al Gore, is now embedded in policy.

But, while the economy is undoubtedly more flexible and robust, it is (for various historical and contemporary reasons) still far short of neoliberals’ high-wage, high-performing ideal and it has left most citizens political “outsiders”, at odds with the “insiders” in the business, bureaucratic and political establishments and this has destabilised politics.

Indeed, the story of New Zealand’s century can be written as one of models we think the world might envy and emulate: the social policy innovations of the 1890s, the world’s first comprehensive welfare state in the 1930s and 1940s and the world’s most determined application of the neoliberal economic model in the 1980s and 1990s.

We then embraced neoliberalism. The pre-1984 administration (an awkward marriage of conservatism and populism) had tiptoed into these waters with some minor liberalisations in the late 1970s.

But after the second oil shock in 1979 it retreated into controls on wages, prices, rents, directors’ fees and interest rates in a desperate attempt to plug the gaping holes in the dyke through which the tides of international economic change were by then pouring.

The incoming Labour administration of 1984 did not have an option of more regulation. The limits had been reached and there was a financial crisis. It had no option but to pick up the 1970s deregulatory ideas.

This was clearly evident to any halfway attentive observer of the party’s public pronouncements and internal debates before the 1984 election. But no one guessed beforehand how far and how fast these heirs to welfarism would drive deregulation.

In seven years this administration and the National party government which replaced it in 1990 transformed the economic policy framework from one of the most regulated in the OECD to one of the most deregulated.

The main objectives of this radical economic policy shift were to lay bare price signals and so shift investment and labour from low-yielding to high-yielding, internationally competitive activities, to make economic governance “transparent” and thus reduce transaction costs. The ultimate aim was to enhance consumer choice and welfare.

This became the third “New Zealand model”. It attracted great interest from economists (and the august London Economist magazine), business leaders, bureaucrats and politicians all the way up to the government of Mongolia, the Japanese House of Councillors and Vice-president Al Gore. Special interest was shown in the innovative and largely home-grown state sector management reforms. Former politicians (including two of the main architects of the reform, Sir Roger Douglas and Ruth Richardson) and senior public servants travelled the globe, running seminars and advising governments. We were the showcase of the new neoliberal orthodoxy – and, for two years in the mid-1990s when growth was 5%-6% we were touted as the living proof of the merits of the free market and rational policymaking.

This new orthodoxy is now embedded in policy. The argument in this month’s election is about refining the new policy environment, not rejecting it.

But far more than economic policy was changed. Every other policy area came under radical assault.

• Environment and resources policy was re-based on “sustainability”. New Zealand is still the only country to have done this.

• Foreign policy was shaken free of its client status to the United States. New Zealand adopted a “nuclear-free” policy against nuclear weapons and nuclear power. Applied to warships and warplanes, this effectively ditched the Anzus (Australia, New Zealand and United States) treaty.

• The Treaty of Waitangi, under which sovereignty was ceded to the British Crown in 1840, was rescued from the legal “nullity” to which a colonial court had consigned it in 1877, elevated in rhetoric to “the founding document of the nation” and given some legislative recognition, including the establishment of a process for redress of breaches of the treaty by successive governments. Nearly 800 claims are before the tribunal.

• The electoral system was changed and parliamentary processes reformed. Freedom of information legislation passed in the early 1980s was given very liberal interpretation, such that the New Zealand government is now perhaps the most open in the world.

• Targeting to need and user part-charges were introduced into social policy, together with some decentralisation of education administration and part-commercialisation of the publicly-funded health system.

Taken with the economic policy reform, this amounted a policy revolution, almost all of it carried out very rapidly between 1984 and 1992.

Why such an upheaval? To some extent New Zealand was simply doing what everybody else was doing: the neoliberal tide was flowing throughout the Anglo-Celtic world, green values were gaining ground, the cold war was loosening the bloc mentality, indigenous peoples were demanding recognition and redress in many countries and winning it in some, electoral systems were in contempt and/or turmoil and the welfare state everywhere was in review.

Also, in common with other Anglo-Celtic countries, New Zealand had been through a values revolution in the 1960s as young people won moral and social freedoms and these people were moving into positions of influence by the 1980s.

But why so far and so fast in New Zealand?

  • In the economy we started from farther behind, with an economy more tightly controlled than any other in the OECD. Just to match early-1970s orthodoxy, let alone join the move to the emerging neoliberal orthodoxy, required a giant leap. In 1982, for example, the Minister of Finance could and did freeze or set all prices, wages, fees, rents and interest rates by decree.

One of the first points most New Zealanders make is that the economy has failed to live up to the neoliberals’ star billing. We do not have a high-wage, high-energy economy.

We are constantly reminded that Australia has done far better during the 1990s: with the exception of the two New Zealand boom years in the mid-1990s, Australian economic growth was consistently higher than New Zealand’s; notably, while New Zealand reeled from the Asian crisis and drought, Australia sustained 4%-plus growth.

If pain is supposed to lead to gain, most New Zealanders feel they are still waiting.

Even so, New Zealand did not ride through the crisis as comfortably as Australia, which awarded itself the accolade of miracle economy. Even though, according to a widespread consensus among economists, we are now heading into a period of firm growth of between 3% and 4% over the next three years, there are some serious structural issues.

If the pain has not yet led to the gain neoliberal reformers promised, it is at least partly, and arguably mostly, because of these structural issues.

  • New Zealand is still largely a “quarry” economy, living off the land and the sea.
  • The trade and services deficits are contributing to a dangerously high balance of payments deficit, likely to exceed 8% of GDP sometime in 2000 and put us at serious risk of being dumped by foreign portfolio and fixed interest investors.
  • We are becoming a “branch” economy and a “nursery” economy. An increasing number of foreign companies run the operation in New Zealand as a branch from Australia or Singapore.
  • We have not adjusted to our diminished economic status.
  • And there is a political and social fallout from the new economy. As in all countries which have adopted the neoliberal reforms, incomes have become more unequal: a “significant” increase in inequality of after-tax disposable income was confirmed in a Statistics Department report in February on income changes in the 15 years since economic reforms began in 1984.

We may be on the verge of passing political power to this next generation. The National party has promoted four young ministers aged 34-40 to high prominence in its cabinet: the most prominent, Bill English (38), is the Treasurer and the acknowledged heir to the leadership.

These four ministers, known colloquially as the “brat pack”, take the economic policy framework as given, not as something that must constantly be fought for and protected as do longer-lived ministers who went through the revolutionary phase. They have therefore a less doctrinal attitude to policy – an appropriate attitude as the neoliberal intellectual wave breaks and the debate moves on.

For the “brat pack” deregulation and asset sales are deemed desirable but not, as with the revolutionaries, because they conform to the “right” doctrine. The “brat pack” judges policy initiatives case by case by whether they will produce desirable outcomes (lower costs to business and greater international competitiveness).

Social policy reform is deemed necessary not just to hold spending but to improve the quality of delivery of social services to a public that demands the same quality from its public services as from its private sector services.

Moreover, the “brat pack” accepts that substantial cuts in the 25% of GDP that goes on social services and social security are politically impossible and in any case are necessary for social order.


One of those brats is now Prime Minister leading us into the 2017 election.

Bill English delivered the first real increase in benefit payments since before the neo-liberal changes in starting in the 1980s.

And his Government has just agreed to a substantial increase in wages for mainly female rest home workers.

It seems that a neoliberal revolution has never been fully happened, and adjustments tend to be moving further towards social necessities and away from economic ideals.