Hard News by Russell Brown

256

The Mood

There was a lot of reaching for answers in yesterday's Sunday Star Times: what exactly is going on with the public mood, and what does it mean? Perhaps the keenest observation came from Auckland University political studies senior lecturer Jennifer Lees-Marshment, in Ruth Laugesen's diverting bit of guesswork, How National's spin doctors operate.

In truth, we don't know whether, or to what extent, the unusual public mood is a product of anyone's spin, let alone (as Laugesen admits) Crosby/Textor's.

But Lees-Marshment notes that the Crosby/Textor political marketing style "can be so simple, and so powerful, that it can stir up fears without offering any solutions. Do too much of that, she says, and you are well on the way to stirring up political disillusionment and disengagement."

In Laugesen's front-page story, 'End of the road for Clark?' (oddly, not online), Dover Samuels notes that people in his electorate believe "if National gets in the price of petrol is going to drop down, the price of food is going to fall."

In the same story, Laugesen writes that longtime Parliamentary correspondent Ian Templeton sees "a mood for major change of the kind that had been seen in 1960, 1975, 1984 and 1990."

This, says Templeton, comes despite very strong government performance on some of the big jobs: employment, government accounts, public and private savings, major Treaty settlements.

I was talking to David Slack on Friday and he brought up a name: Tania Harris. Her 1984 1981 Kiwis Care march, organised via talkback radio, wrong-footed the commentariat, filled Queen Street, caused a sensation. Exactly what it was about is another matter.

I think that's where we're suddenly at now, with the difference that this time around there may be professionals poking the mood in the desired direction. Chris Trotter can fume that the public support for the truckies' protest was irrational and self-defeating; he's right. But that hardly changes the fact that most New Zealanders seemed to treat it like a Telethon, an opportunity to send a message (even if it was "we'd like to carry on subsidising trucking companies' damaging road use through our taxes please") to the government.

How confused was this phenenomenon? It had the spokesman for the Libertarianz swearing undying resistance to a user-pays scheme, in favour of taxation of the public. Yes, that confused.

But not as confused, oddly, as the march organised by the Asian Anti-Crime Group, whose organiser has been happily issuing warnings that if the government doesn't do something, he and his people will hire in the Triads to provide vigilante security.

The government has, of course, done something: increased sentences, put more people in overcrowded jails and put more policemen into South Auckland. Robberies fell 13% in the district last year; homicides plummeted (there were twice as many killings in Wellington as Counties Manukau last year). There is, per capita, more crime in Central Auckland.

Looking at it rationally, Low and his friends (who include the tireless Garth McVicar) would be better advised to ask the triads to stop selling methamphetamine than to offer them a tasty new protection racket. (Actually, as has been pointed out to me, a Singaporean expat who claims to know triads is probably bullshitting. But he's bullshitting with a megaphone.)

But at any rate, you say, the vast majority of people won't buy into this vigilante craziness, will they? Not so fast. The vicious lunatics who crowd the Herald's Your Views pages are totally up for it. That and execution without trial, shooting taggers, the lot.

National hears the cheering crowd now, but I suspect some within the party will not want this public mood to develop too much further. It's one thing to ride on a wave of unfocused anger at the expense of a tired government -- some of it from people who seem to think the government should be able to protect them from every insult, even the imagined ones -- and another to find the place is ungovernable when it's your turn.

PS: Do you think the Herald will continue its crusade over unfair use of public funds so far as to ask National whether, as Mr Hager alleges, it is paying campaign strategists from Parliamentary funds? Because "trust us" usually isn't regarded as an answer.

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