Island Life by David Slack


An imperfect use of a newspaper

If you are missing the National Party’s WasteWatch site as much as I am, there are two bits of good news. The first is that The Standard resurrected the service last month with real numbers and, heaven forbid, analysis. The second is that National has outsourced the job to the Herald. Click over to this week’s John Key interview with Wammo and hear it for yourself! Wammo asks him what happened to WasteWatch.

I don’t know why actually, I mean they ran it for a while, it was before I was the leader actually. Not that we don’t think there’s enormous waste out there, we do. But I guess it was just a matter of keeping tabs on things and it’s always hard to run them. We’re now relying on the Herald's Pork-o-Meter as an indicator of expenditure. I see Labour at 16 billion and we’re at 1.6.

I’m transcribing accurately, but the missing context is that there’s a jocular tone as he comes to the Pork-o-Meter, so I’m somewhat twisting his words. To use one of his favoured expressions: In a way that’s strictly not correct really . A Herald beatup, if you will.

But seeing he’s raised the Pork-o-Meter, Wammo has to ask: Don’t you think that thing’s a bit misleading, given that you guys have released hardly any policy to be costed? John is candid:

That’s right. I mean the reality is that it’s a bit of an imperfect science, let’s be honest. We will release our tax cut programme and that will obviously push up things in a pretty large way so it’s a bit of an imperfect science. But I mean it is a useful device, I suppose, just simply at one measure, to say “well look, politicians when they make promises have to be accountable for them” and I think that’s actually going to be a really interesting challenge for Labour, because in theory Michael Cullen has got up and said “I’m going to stick to a very tight new budget spend” which, let’s be honest, his track record has never been keeping to his budget, he’s always spent a lot more. And he’s essentially said that in relation to all of the, you know, deficits and things that are now being run in terms of, not so much the operating balance but the cash deficit and the likes, he’s not comfortable with them being any larger. So by definition he hasn't got a lot to spend on the campaign trail. So if he does come out and start spending large on the campaign trail - and our expectations will be that they will do exactly that if they continue to be a long way behind in the polls - then that is going to be very problematic for explaining how they’re doing that.

These guys seem pretty sure this campaign may become a bidding war. They seem to have concluded that they were outflanked by the student loans pledge last time, and it aint gonna happen again.

Let’s run the tape back a little, though, to the the words Key used to describe the Pork-o-Meter. Imperfect; useful. I wonder how many traders working for him managed to earn themselves a Boxster-sized bonus on the basis that they had been imperfect but useful?

There’s more in the interview, so click over and listen. Later in the piece they traverse the philosophy of wafer-thin policies: does it matter that you're light on detail? No, says candidate Key. You can trust us to honour them because we might get booted out if we don’t.

Interesting, that. Might the force of the question not be: can we please see the detail in order to judge for ourselves whether the policy is as viable as you assume it to be? One certainly hopes he does indeed feel obliged to honour his pledges and one can't help but wonder why he felt the need to say so.

One might characterise his response as imperfect but useful.

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