Winning isn’t everything

Whether it’s our love for fiction, sport, or even idle gossip, we love conflict. And politics are no exception to this rule. We don’t want to see a frank, reasonable exchange of ideas, after which we can choose the argument and speaker we think is most logical.  We want a battle. We want blood to be spilt. And, most importantly, we want our guy (or gal) to win. 

And while loyalty is a positive quality, it shouldn’t usurp logic or rationality. But it does.

Take The Standard, an unashamedly left-wing blog whose writers occasionally let their exuberance get in the way of their rationality. Today was a great example, when a writer bearing the psuedonym Anthony R0bins tried to poke holes in the National government’s healthcare policy.

He (I assume Anthony is a he) does so by examining excerpts from two stories. One was a Government press release from August  (emphasis is mine in both cases):

More patients are getting the operations they need and they’re getting them faster, according to the latest information from district health boards.

An extra 7,500 patients received elective surgery in the last 12 months, meaning 153,000 people got the operations they needed. This is the fourth year of record increases under National,” said Health Minister Tony Ryall.

“Since the change of government in 2008, thirty per cent more patients are getting elective surgery.

And the other was a 3 News story from last night:

Children are dropping off treatment lists as hospitals focus on the Government’s elective surgery targets, Labour says. …

Outside Parliament, Ms Street said clinicians and parents had told her about “some truly sad cases” of complex operations and appointments which had been cancelled. “In one case a solo mum couldn’t even get her four-year-old on a waiting list for a first specialist assessment because the district health board (DHB) has to keep waiting times low to look good for the minister of health,” she said. …

Ms Street says clinicians have told her the situation is demoralising. “They are compelled to make decisions for the wrong reasons – health is always about competing priorities but what we are seeing here are people being asked to make decisions they feel uncomfortable about.”

The Government sets targets for hospitals and 35,000 more elective operations are being carried out each year since National came to power in 2008. Ms Street says they are focusing on simple procedures so they can meet the targets.

The conclusion, of course, is that the Government is massaging statistics, micromanaging doctors or worse.

And maybe that’s true. And maybe it isn’t. I certainly can’t tell from this comparison, and nor can anyone else. The former story gave numbers- an extra 7,500 elective surgeries. The  latter, on the other hand, only cited “some truly sad cases.” The only number given was “one.”

By trying to politically win today, R0bins has done himself and his party no favours. People who are on the fence can now (rightly) wonder why they should support a party that has to make such weak arguments to support its views. And those who disagreed with R0bins in the first place are now armed with this attempt to mislead when they push their opposing agenda.

The Standard’s post was an opportunity to drill into National’s August numbers and really examine whether 7,500 more elective surgeries is actually a good thing, or if it is, as Ms Street suggests, just a product of surgeons choosing easier surgeries. Or if it’s something else altogether. But instead R0bins took the easy way out..

It happened in the name of cheap, easy, hyper-partisan win. And the result was that nobody won on The Standard today.

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