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State Of It: Williams & Manning on Iconic Moments-One-Liners

Article – STATE OF IT by Selwyn Manning

Glenn Williams hosts State Of It, a weekly look at politics with Scoop’s Selwyn Manning as New Zealand enters an election campaign before Polls on November 26. This week: One-Liners and Iconic Moments – can Labour recapture what it has lost?

Radio Wammo: Glenn Williams & Selwyn Manning’s State Of It – Iconic Moments & One-Liners

Glenn Williams hosts State Of It, a weekly look at politics with Scoop’s Selwyn Manning as New Zealand enters an election campaign before Polls on November 26. This week: One-Liners and Iconic Moments – can Labour recapture what it has lost?

State of It Run-Sheet – November 9 2011

We are into week two of the New Zealand general election and the initial sudden grab of public respect by Labour leader Phil Goff was short-lived.

This election was always going to be about the ecomony. All it took was a one-liner, a clever jab from the National Party leader, John Key, to arrest Goff’s confidence and Labour’s rise in the polls.

The one-liner of course was Key’s “Show Me The Money” debating slogan. It was classic comedy tactics: get the majority of the crowd on side, and turn the joke on the opponent.

Let’s take a look at John Key, on form, last week:

Goff’s biggest mistake was to hesitate, to not have the answer at his fingertips, to think, to consider a proper reply. By the time he had digested all the angles and calculated his best reply… the moment … the momentum was lost. Goff had lost the crowd.

Of course, right from the first jab, Goff should have turned to Key, pointed his finger as he did in the first debate, and say: “Oh, we will show you and everyone else the money mate… Those cards will be on the table tomorrow morning. But I say this to you tonight, show me the jobs!”


Looking back, every election campaign has an iconic moment, a decisive moment. Take the 1984 election, it was lost by National for many reasons.

But it is probably best remembered for the moment when, during a leaders’ debate, the then Labour Party leader David Lange pitched to his opponent – then prime minister and leader of the National Party, Rob Muldoon – that he too had a part to play in rebuilding New Zealand.

Muldoon replied with a sarcastic “I love you, Mr Lange”. He looked defeated thereafter.

Let’s look at that, courtesy of NZ On Screen’s archive:

Of course, iconic moments in election campaigns are created.

They emerge from the leader’s deftness, his or her confidence in the player’s candidates, MPs, and policy, and a knowing that the party machine is well organised, a knowing of what the party really stands for – or at least an ability of giving an impression of political brand.

Some political commentators over the last week have suggested Goff’s Labour Party is merely a party backed by South Auckland, pockets of West Auckland, Wellington-central, and those who live east of Christchurch City

They say it is a party with an urban base, but that it no longer holds the provinces, that National is more representative of the needs of those living outside the cities and more understanding of the needs of those who drive the commodities that keep New Zealand in the OECD.

It is a fair argument. A party needs support from the provinces to win an election in New Zealand.

We noted prior to the 2005 election that it was turning blue in the provinces. We were proven right.

We noted again that the National Party was solidifying its hold on the provincial cities in the 2008 election. We were proven right again.

Labour’s challenge has always been to win back what it lost in 2005 and 2008’s provincial landslide loss to National. It has not been able to do that yet – but by 2014 that will be achievable.

History shows us Labour did just that between 1981 and 1984.


Perhaps again it is proper to go back to 1984 to get an idea of where these two parties came from, to understand what they both represent today, and to get a grip on why it is important for a party to represent all of New Zealand, not just a party’s primary stakeholder groups and party faithful.

Here is broadcaster Ian Johnstone asking David Lange to respond to this and his broad-based claim:

And perhaps as a lesson to our two main party leaders, there is that old adage that goes something like: if you explain, you lose. Here’s Robert Muldoon responding to David Lange’s statistical claims:

In the last three years, we know Labour has positioned on a more centrist, centre-left social policy than has National. National is inching its way back to its true centre-right, right, position – especially as the demise of the ACT party takes hold.

While centre-left, we know Labour remains supportive of free trade and in large-part it remains attached to the neo-liberal economic theory that it revolutionised in the 1980s – albeit with a touch of Keynesian economics that gives it some heart.

The struggle between Labour’s social heart and its heartless neo-libertarianism remains today – just as it did in 1987. National’s internal struggles to present as moderate while satisfying the right neo-liberal ideologues is also in evidence during this election campaign.

But to proper define the differences between Labour and National, perhaps it is best to again return to that crucial leaders’ debate back in 1984 where Rob Muldoon summed up the National Party as this:

And David Lange defined the Labour Party as this:

Clearly, history shows us that both parties did not always deliver what the definition suggested by these two men. But it was always there within the respective parties as a guide upon which their policy boffins would consult.

In some respects, party leaders come and go but in some cases the parties remain. Either they remain true to being vehicles for their stated politicies, as a brand of their defined political brand – or they don’t.

In my mind, this election comes down to this:

While neither party can profess to being entirely pragmatic, one party is a mainstream centre-left party with core socially progressive intentions, the other is a centre-right proponent of free market ideology.

But that means little to voters when a leader is off-form. Perhaps a values based election is for another time.


Will there be another chance for Labour in this election? Will it be able to create one more opportunity to arrest the rise of the National Party? Will there be another iconic moment that future analysis will suggest was the defining moment in the 2011 General Election? Or will this election be definied by a showy staged comedy routine that delivered a cheap one-liner – remembered as the “Show Me The Money” election?

There are a lot of question marks there. That’s the State of It for this week. And to end it… here’s the iconic defining moment so far:


State Of It broadcasts on KiwiFM and Radio Wammo at 7:40am on Tuesdays. Video on demand episodes also webcast on


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