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August 21, 2008 | by  | in Online Only |
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Spin

In almost sixty years the discourse of New Zealand politics has not changed.This was bought to my attention tonight when I went down to the Film Archive to watch a collection of clips from New Zealand’s political history called Spin.

The film started in 1911 with a silent reel of Mr. D. Mclaren standing on his soap box in Wellington, talking to a crowd who seemed to be more interested in the presence of the film camera than the talk of the politician.

But the part that really got me was the footage of the 1949 election advertisements of the Labour and National parties. Labour was campaigning for a continuation of the stable government they had provided since 1935. Meanwhile National was pushing for change, and the freedom, and playing on peoples fears of Socialism. Sound familiar anyone?

A Tribute to Fourteen Years of Labour Government” was an interesting piece of propaganda. It highlighted the major achievements of the First Labour Government, guaranteed prices for farmers, workers rights, industrial growth, the need for better health care and housing. It played up the fact that we were a primary produce country and that we were building up our secondary industries to buffer us against a time where we would be isolated from the rest of the world because of conflict.

The National advertisement was done in the form of an old farmer lecturing his son (and a token Maori friend) about the dangers of being a socialist, Labour supporter. The clip called “You Must Decide” equated the socialist policies to communism and therefore they must be limiting the freedom of individuals. My favourite part was the awesome special effects using cardboard cut outs to symbolise the plethora of layers of bureaucracy that a Labour win in 1949 would ensue.

They talked about the price of butter (1949s equivalent to 2008s cheese), nationalisation of the Airways (2008s equivalent of the railways), massive inflation due to government control of the Reserve Bank and the barriers to trade (2008s tax cuts).

The general feeling behind the collection – for me at least – was that New Zealand has not come far in the last 100 years. The same arguments are happening, and instead of Savage, Fraser and Holyoake we have watered down versions in Clark and Key. Grinding the same (pick) axes that their predecessors were grinding.

On one hand I was confused. Sixty years later we’re still arguing about the same things, we’re still using the same tactics and we’re still going nowhere. Oh what a perplexing place New Zealand is. But there there were the famous moments: Michael Joseph Savage addressing the country, Peter Fraser returning from the United Nations conference in San Francisco, Muldoon’s interview with Simon Walker about Russian submarines, Bob Jones being cocky about his chances of the New Zealand Party getting into parliament in the ’84 election.

So where too from here? If in sixty years time from now I sit back and watch these clips, and the clips from the intervening years, will I see any difference in the way which politics is carried out? I hope so. But part of me knows that unless we reform the nature of the beast and unless we start holding our politicans accountable for their bad behaviour and their ruthless tactics, all we will ever see are brief glimpses of politics the way it should be.

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About the Author ()

The editor of this fine rag for 2009.

Comments (2)

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  1. Jackson Wood says:

    I also forgot one major parallel between 1949 ad campaigns was the production of electricity. National were getting their facts wrong about power production and Labour weren’t taking responsibility for the decrepit system.

  2. Nick Archer says:

    I love the flyer from back in the 40s National put out with a red hand grabbing towards a house with the slogan ‘NEVER THIS…’

    My favourite political ad of all time definitely has to be LBJs creepy Nuclear ad from 64 that was only shown once, with the girl pulling the petals off a daisy then a mechanical voice counts down to a nuclear explosion with LBJ intoning “These are the stakes, to make a world in which all God’s children can live, or go into the darkness. Either we must love each other or die.” Single handedly sunk Barry Goldwater http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=OKs-bTL-pRg
    Labour’s 1987 nuclear ad was lame in comparrison (but controversial too).

    The crassest ads have to be ones like Swift Boat Veterans for Justice and of course anything put out by the Exclusive Brethrens. And of course the official political broadcasts here that show in that 30 minute time slot back to back…

    As for interviews, yeah Simon Walker was infamous, but John Campbells Corngate interview with Helen Clark was a good watch…

    Nixon was of course the best at giving loaded political speeches i.e. the Checkers speech, Kitchen debate, “You’re not going to have Nixon to push around anymore.”, “The silent majority…”, “I am not a crook!”… Muldoon came close a few times though but was soft in comprarison because he had no B-52s to back them up…

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