Mike Moore: Return to Muldoonism?

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In the 1980s, a cruelly funny cartoon appeared of David Lange. It had four panels - the first displayed a smiling picture of David, then slowly, over the next two panels, David's face morphed into a picture of Roger Douglas.

I'm expecting a cartoon of Helen Clark to appear, morphing into an angry Robert Muldoon. He used SIS files on opponents, perfected the nasty technique of personally destroying opponents, intimidating the media (not that you have to muzzle sheep), and used the levers of Government to create stunts, diversions, and buy votes in marginal seats.

Now there's menacing changes to the electoral law to outlaw legitimate funding that could be considered political in an election year. I will publish a book next year, will that be covered? Absent is a necessary rule to disclose who's donating to political parties. Why?

The attacks on possible, probable enemies of the state has even gone overseas to attacks on Australian Foreign Minister Downer for speaking at a National Party conference, when Labour regularly has overseas politicians speak to the troops. The media breathlessly talked of a "secret" meeting.

Downer said he thought it more appropriate to have a private family Tory meeting. He said he advised the New Zealand Government, no big deal, but this was denied.

Who do you believe?

Now Labour, as predicted, has tried to put a blowtorch down National leader John Key's 'Y' fronts. Calling him a "rich guy" coming from people, many of whom went to exclusive schools, enjoyed a comfortable upbringing, and didn't even have to work during university holidays is a bit much.

Even the normally sensible Phil Goff has joined the chorus, hoping to ingratiate himself with left-wing MPs for later. Aspirational politics, an inclusive economy and social mobility was once Labour's strongest economic and social policy credential.

This politics of personal destruction is fearful. Why is Labour so good at it? Because we practise on each other.

Helen Clark is superb at it, she's destroyed more National leaders than any other Labour leader. Come to think about it, she's dispatched more Labour leaders than anyone else too. Now Labour is planning a major re-shuffle. It's needed.

We have the largest Cabinet in the Western world per head of population. Killing the wounded is the hardest job in politics, particularly if they have been loyal subjects.

They are bled slowly, swirling rumours appear, planted from Beehive sources, then, when the victim is anaemic, too exhausted to fight back, someone is dispatched to put the pillow over their head. If Helen can replace half of her Cabinet and keep the show together, it will mark her out as one of the greatest political managers ever.

It's very hard. Muldoon's circle of close mates got smaller and weaker as he got older too. Exactly what does the "consort" Judith Tizard and the legion of Ministers outside Cabinet actually do?

Perhaps it's good they don't do much. They manage the remarkable feat of being self-important, expensive, trivial and irrelevant at the same time.

John Key just has to keep his head down, and is happy to campaign as "Labour with tax cuts", sort of like playing a vacuous political air guitar. As for Winston Peters, our Foreign Minister still seems to hate foreigners.

He can't speak about hospitals without talking of Third World diseases and Third World people, the Central Bank policies are about, he claims, promoting speculation and money-lenders (code word), Dubai investment in New Zealand is naturally bad, but at least the anti-Asian and Muslim stuff has been shelved for a while.

Rodney Hide seems to have rejected capitalism for narcissism and is destined to be a talk-back celebrity. The Greens and the Maori Party have locked up their small market niche and go unquestioned by the media.

The major political parties don't scrutinise them or test them in Parliament because they will decide who forms the Government. Labour could still form the next Government, even if we get fewer votes than National. Under MMP, a silver and a bronze trumps a gold medal.

Meanwhile, New Zealand continues to slip down the OECD ladder of successful economies. World growth is robust at 5 per cent, Australia will grow at 4 per cent. New Zealand half that. Labour productivity was close to zero in the last year, down from 2.7 per cent, 1992-2000. New Zealand's tax ratio is 43 per cent of gross domestic product, Australia's 35 per cent. Australia's spending on a ratio of GDP is 34 per cent, New Zealand's 41 per cent (close to France).

These are huge differences, and getting bigger. That's why an Australian will earn 30 per cent more than a Kiwi, and 500 Kiwis leave each week for better opportunities.

The Government's response? Run a media campaign in Australia telling people to come home!

* Mike Moore is a former Labour Prime Minister

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