Metiria Turei’s state of the nation

It’s state of the nation season, which as far as I can tell is a really recent development in NZ politics. It certainly doesn’t have a patch on the utterly theatrical production which takes place in the US every time this year.

The Greens were first off the block with Metiria Turei delivering the Green state of the nation yesterday. The full text of her speech is here, and the heart of it I think is this piece:

Imagine if the Government stopped seeing state homes, and the people who live in them as a burden, a problem better shifted out of sight so out of mind. Imagine if we had a Government instead that worked with the people that lived in those communities to design beautiful new homes and neighbourhoods that people actually want to live in. Michael Joseph Savage made that real once before. We see a future where all New Zealanders live in warm, dry affordable homes. Where children are no longer at risk of dying simply because of the home they live in.

The repeated nods to Michael Joseph Savage – especially right there in the very first English sentence – are always going to inspire a lefty like me.

What concerns me is the policy announcement which played the central role in the speech. I tweeted thus:

I want to like the idea of a policy costing unit. But we have to let go of the myth Treasury is an independent, non-ideological body. Look at the endless arguments about how we measure unemployment, poverty, economic growth. “Objective truth” doesn’t exist in politics.

I worry about the framing. Does this mean accepting that cost and “fiscal responsibility” are the most important measures of policy?

And ultimately does it matter? I know us pols nerds love our deep detailed analyses but do those ~average voters~ give a toss?

Or am I overthinking it? Is it a canny play to show the Greens are a party of integrity & thoughtfulness, as National would never go for it?

I really gotta finish reading [Anat Shenker-Osorio’s] “Don’t Buy It” and then review it for y’all. One of her key points when she was out here talking to the CTU is that “evidence” is incredibly useless in shifting political debates.

So that’s where my scepticism about a policy costings unit arises: I don’t see one more “independent” voice making a difference. We have all the evidence we could ask for about National’s economic mismanagement, over decades. But we still have a National government. People *just believe* National are better governers. They *just believe* Labour are useless, the Greens are hippies, & Winston is sensible. We cannot shake those beliefs by yelling “but have you looked at our spreadsheets???” at people.

We CAN provide counter-beliefs. And that’s why the Greens are going “look at our sensible, rational, fiscally-responsible approach.” It ain’t costed, it ain’t detailed, but every headline is going to say: the Greens care about independent cost-checking. That’s the win.

It’s hard to get into all this detail on Twitter, but we have a real problem in the progressive movement. We know our beliefs are objective and correct, and we’re convinced (just like everyone on the right) that we’ve formed these beliefs on the basis of evidence and rational consideration. Logically, presenting the evidence to other people will bring them to our side.

Unfortunately this is rubbish. Yet we insist on hammering people over the head with facts and evidence and write them off as “sleepy hobbits” or similar when they don’t react well to being lectured.

What this means – even if you could get half-a-dozen economists in a room who could actually agree on a simple numerical breakdown of policy cost, even if money were the only thing that matters in policy – is that a central policy costings unit would have zero real effect on political debate. And as long as we’re bringing “my facts are the best facts” to a “my leader is the coolest leader you’d have a beer with” fight, we’re going to lose.

Key’s state of the nation is today. I don’t expect much.

Andrew Little’s is on Sunday. What’s in it? Ideas I’ve heard (on Twitter/comments at The Standard) include a definitive statement about the TPPA, or a centrepiece policy for 2017 to inspire the troops. But I’ve no inkling myself!

I’m sure I’ll have a lot more to say once all is revealed.

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