Stephen Joyce – “Yes minister, your F grade IS well-deserved.”

March 10, 2010

There’s a not-so-subtle form of political agitation that Government ministers employ when they want to stir the pot and push through some ill-conceived short-term policy change that will save them money and make them look good to some sections of the electorate.

It’s called “dog whistle” politics and the simple technique is to make an emotionally-charged announcement in a speech or other forum that gets the media’s attention and then gets the hounds racing.

Tertiary Education minister Stephen Joyce made a dog whistle announcement yesterday in a speech to the Wellington Chamber of Commerce.

The language of dog whistling has to be carefully constructed. There are two methods – scare mongering and aspirational – and both are usually employed.

Here’s a sample of Joyce’s aspirational language. The language of “improving outcomes”:

  • Increasing the number of young people achieving degrees
  • Increasing the success rate of Maori and Pasifika students
  • Increasing the number of young people successfully moving from schools to tertiary
  • Improving the outcomes of level one to three study
  • Improving the educational and financial strength of providers, and strengthening the research outcomes.

Who could disagree with these sentiments. Of course we want to improve and increase the outcomes of tertiary education. But, as always, the devil is in the details.

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National whistles up support for benefit bashing

August 12, 2008

So the National Party, under millionaire leader John Key, has discovered the underclass. No, they’ve discovered (or rediscovered) the art of the dog whistle.

The policy released this week that would ‘encourage’ single parents on benefits to work for up to 15 hours a week is, on the surface, about getting the country ‘back to work’.

But, as the NZ Herald editorial put it so nicely:

National’s efforts will be felt mainly by those with few skills and poor earning capacity and, frankly, Mr Key ought to have more important things to do. This policy does more to stroke the shibboleths of party supporters than meet any pressing social need. He should return to topics that count. [Inflicting pain for little gain]

The Nat’s ‘policy’  is classic dog whistling.

Think about it. Beneficiaries can earn up to $100 a week under this policy and will have to work around 15 hours. Do the math! It works out at $6.67 an hour. That’s not helping the disadvantaged or getting the economy working, it’s just about slave labour.

But it plays well in Orewa and that’s John Key’s real message.

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What is dog whistling?

July 29, 2008

“Dog whistling”, or “dog whistle politics” is a relatively new term that’s emerged in politics over the past decade or so. It refers to the art of calling up your supporters and getting them riled up by using subtly coded language that appeals to their baser instincts.

I’ve used it recently and it’s riled up some readers who are not sympathetic to EM.

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