Someone on the internet says I’m a “post-modernist twit”. How would you text that insult? “U po mo”? I’ve also become an “ism”; Pagani-ism. I’d rather be a “nomics”. Do I have to destroy an economy to be known for Pagani-nomics? Those insults appeared on left-wing blogs after I defended Labour leader David Shearer when he said, and I paraphrase: “Someone who shouldn’t be on the dole shouldn’t be on the dole.” The political left needs to argue a principled case for welfare reform. People have a right to be looked after when they can’t provide for themselves, yet today if you are on a benefit, you live in poverty. You get stuck.
I’ve lived in a family where joining a gang was a way to make something of yourself. But by equating any reform with beneficiary bashing, the left has allowed the expression “welfare reform” to be owned by people who neither believe in welfare nor want to see it last another century. Postmodern Pagani-nomics stresses respect for responsibilities as well as rights.
There's no excuse for some of the personal stuff being directed towards Pagani or her husband. But some of that commentary was provoked by ill-advised comments by the Paganis about The Standard, the left's most widely-read blog (hint to Labour: don't go out of your way to alienate and offend your political allies, even if you think they're behaving like douchebags. If you can't think of anything nice to say about your allies, say nothing).
It seems that Pagani doesn't see a problem with anything Shearer said. But the problem is not so much what Shearer was trying to say, as the manner in which he said it, and the attention he drew to his words by starting a speech with them. If as part of a speech Shearer had said words like "we believe a welfare safety net is critical to help those in need, but at the same time we should not tolerate those who abuse the system," he would have been fine. Provided that wasn't the main message of his speech.
Another lesson Pagani might like to take heed of is the one about damage control. David Shearer has been forced to defend his "man on the roof" anecdote, and his attempts at defence have sounded unconvincing, which is hardly surprising since not even David Shearer sounds convinced. So from a political point of view the smartest thing Shearer can do is bury the "man on the roof" anecdote and pretend it never happened. I'm sure a lot of people would like Shearer to go further and apologise, but he's a politician and that won't be happening. Rather than continue to defend Shearer's speech, his supporters should probably just keep quiet and wait for the fuss to die down. I suspect most activists will be willing to forgive Shearer's cock-up, provided they can see some evidence that Labour is moving away from this clumsy and ham-fisted form of beneficiary-bashing.
Pagani's analysis of why the right owns the welfare debate is troubling. Surely going on about people who cheat the system, in the absence of evidence of a widespread benefit-abuse problem, is reinforcing the victory of the right. Also troubling is her insistence on responsibility, an over-used word among conservatives. Is she sure she's in the right political party?