The Dim-Post

December 21, 2015

Kathryn Ryan sums up 2015 in NZ politics

Filed under: Uncategorized — danylmc @ 1:06 pm

I transcribed this from her 9 to Noon politics segment. She said:

This is aligned with what’s happening in the media world as well. Politically there’s a complete policy vacuum. Some of the stuff we’re going to talk about today – pony-tail pulling, Colin Craig – frankly it’s just barely worthy of the public’s time. And yet what we’re seeing is a very effective management by the incumbent government of a new media environment. John Key rightly copped a fair bit of criticism for the embarrassing ridiculous situation he walked into on radio stations but if you look at it from a perfectly cynical point of view many of the listeners would be people who are completely disinterested in politics. And what they heard was something that made them laugh and a good guy who showed up and played along with the joke. So the loss of the centralised media and the scandal of the day means that being able to occupy a place in all different parts of the spectrum whatever it takes is not only necessary but very effective and that is very hard for an opposition to counter.

45 Comments »

  1. Impossible to disagree with that assessment. And for Ryan and other journalists on Radio NZ it must be doubly frustrating that when something does go awry it’s almost impossible to get a minister on the air.

    Comment by TerryB — December 21, 2015 @ 1:24 pm

  2. Yep, and the other political parties playing the man not the ball just makes the strategy even more successful.

    Comment by rsmsingers — December 21, 2015 @ 1:28 pm

  3. They play the ball all the time. Endless press releases and remits and worthy documents and questions to Ministers about major policy failures. But the ball-playing doesn’t get reported, the man does.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — December 21, 2015 @ 1:33 pm

  4. With all due respect sammy, listening to question time doesn’t bear out your statement. Annette King is almost totally alone in asking issue-based questions, and she’s increasingly being outclassed by a minister actually training in his portfolio.

    Comment by rsmsingers — December 21, 2015 @ 1:39 pm

  5. “and the other political parties playing the man not the ball”

    Labour, in particular, was doing this even when in government. (“Can you trust John Key???” Followed by a heap of people responding “yeah”.) Kim Dotcom, for all his weirdness and what people might think of him, was probably correct in noting that John Key could be photographed shooting little kittens in his garden with a shotgun and still be popular. Trying to compete with National by attacking the PM directly is a road to nowhere.

    I think Labour and other opposition parties have been trying plenty to draw conversations towards actual policy, but somehow nobody’s figured out an effective way to counter an apparent government tactic to repeatedly create distracting reasons for questioning the PM’s character… and then championing that few voters care.

    Comment by izogi — December 21, 2015 @ 1:44 pm

  6. Shouting “you back the rapists” at Key, that’s the kind of “playing the man” the opposition should really stop doing.

    And for a list of questions to Ministers, see Hansard. You’re wrong.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — December 21, 2015 @ 1:44 pm

  7. To RMsingers, obv.

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — December 21, 2015 @ 1:45 pm

  8. Apart from, off the top of my head, Serco, housing, climate change, tpp, Sheeps of the saudi sea, aussie deportations, child poverty, the RMA, charter school performance, then sure.

    Comment by Pascal's bookie — December 21, 2015 @ 1:47 pm

  9. The answer to pure personality driven politics is to come up with a bigger, better personality of your own. Labour worked that out when it got Lange in as leader purely to destroy Muldoon in the media. Perhaps we need to get to grips with the idea that in our modern political-media environment the job of PM is increasingly a PR one, with a significant chief operations officer doing the heavy lifting.

    Comment by Sanctuary — December 21, 2015 @ 2:01 pm

  10. It’s difficult to improve Kathryn Ryan’s analysis. The problems she identified double as arguments for why we need public broadcasters like RNZ.

    I’m still waiting for Labour’s broadcasting policies … it’s shaping up to be a damn long wait.

    Comment by Alex — December 21, 2015 @ 2:17 pm

  11. It seems to me that it’s a wider phenomenon than just NZ. Look at the Twitter storms in the USA. How many times has Obama been on the cover of GQ or The View. Their management of the soft media is legendary and it’s being copied.

    Look at the way a buffoon like Trump has been able to twist the MSM around his little finger: they hate his guts but are compelled to report him because it’s “new” and “fresh” and what else have they got to combat declining ratings, newspaper sales and even internet clicks?

    Of course the Trump case may turn out to be yet another example of the limits of this approach: a soft-media and Twitter frenzy that does not turn into actual votes on the day. But if you’re already in government that lack of impact works to your advantage in nullifying your opposition.

    Of course the journalist class have not helped themselves here either. In treating news as less a reporting of facts than a story to be told – with an emphasis on whatever story “progresses” an activist viewpoint, almost always a left-wing viewpoint, the journalists have reduced their stock to the point where even the truth can be waved away as meaningless and “a big nothing”. It’s been heard a hundred thousand times before.

    Comment by Tom Hunter — December 21, 2015 @ 2:23 pm

  12. @izogi it’s really simple. Don’t ask questions that start with “Given that” or “Does the Minister stand by”. Winston Peters can dig up random issues in Northland to push the government on, with actual facts and figures behind his questions so why can’t the other parties?

    Farrar has two posts in the last couple of days where the media and Labour have repeated statements without verifying the veracity of the information. These are all organisations that employ researchers. They need to perform better for us to have a healthy political environment.

    Comment by rsmsingers — December 21, 2015 @ 2:35 pm

  13. @ rmsingers – you mean Farrar has decided a random person who emailed him about the charter school in question is telling the truth and a political party he opposes must be wrong. That’s not how verification works.

    Comment by Sacha — December 21, 2015 @ 3:28 pm

  14. “Farrar has two posts in the last couple of days where the media and Labour have repeated statements without verifying the veracity of the information. These are all organisations that employ researchers. They need to perform better for us to have a healthy political environment.”

    Given the current lot in the Beehive largely manage to get away with calling black white, maybe the lies have to be big ones instead of small ones in order to be believable.

    Comment by Kumara Republic (@kumararepublic) — December 21, 2015 @ 3:37 pm

  15. I find it ironic that a discussion about how the PM operates in a policy vacuum by manipulating the media in a cynical fashion should end up citing evidence from Kiwiblog as proof that the PM does not cynically employ media to his advantage.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — December 21, 2015 @ 3:52 pm

  16. And really, who knows which offices that email came via?

    Comment by Sacha — December 21, 2015 @ 4:02 pm

  17. There was a really good long form on this subject recently. I’m not sure if Ryan is riffing on Rosen, but the ideas are exemplified by Trump’s dismissal and bypass of the gatekeepers.

    It really is worth your time:

    http://www.theawl.com/2015/12/access-denied

    And yes, this is why Ardern should be Little’s deputy. She can get into the supermarket-aisle magazines like nobody in their team – only Clark had that much ability, and that was as experienced leader and then as fresh PM.

    Comment by Wurble — December 21, 2015 @ 4:07 pm

  18. But the ball-playing doesn’t get reported, the man does.

    I noticed this when the large majority of NZ’s commenterati named Peters as their Man of the Year. Can anyone name a single policy achievement of Peters this term? Or the last one? Something put into the mainstream that changed the debate or how things operate? I can’t. His team is an absolute failure, a collection of quiet losers, and he has demoted his strongest player (Martin) to the wilderness.

    But that doesn’t matter. He won an election against a hopeless candidate hobbled by a poisonous predecessor, and in doing so weakened the government’s balance of power. And he displayed that persistent affable shtick that he is so practiced at. That was enough.

    Comment by Wurble — December 21, 2015 @ 4:18 pm

  19. At least the left enjoys full=spectrum dominance of twitter. When the day that pitching hysterical tantrums on social media becomes the key to political power, no one will stop us.

    Comment by danylmc — December 21, 2015 @ 4:30 pm

  20. @Sacha I’m not sure what random email you are talking about. I’m talking about this http://www.nzherald.co.nz/opinion/news/article.cfm?c_id=466&objectid=11557785 . @leeharmanclark – see comment two. Possibly the word “Yep”, is too hard for you. It was a highly secret code for “yes I agree”.

    Comment by rsmsingers — December 21, 2015 @ 4:34 pm

  21. “So the loss of the centralised media and the scandal of the day means that being able to occupy a place in all different parts of the spectrum whatever it takes is not only necessary but very effective and that is very hard for an opposition to counter.”

    The absence or presence of “centralised media and the scandal of the day” is irrelevant and meaningless to the effectiveness of the strategy. Politicians reaching out to a large audience is what they are supposed to do. There is no counter and the strategy has a long history of usage.

    There is an equally long history of highly informed individuals viewing the strategy as being cynical and manipulative.

    Comment by unaha-closp — December 21, 2015 @ 4:40 pm

  22. If Labor came up with resuming the $1000.- Kiwi Saver kick-start as an investment deposit within the NZ Super Fund – by auto-enrolment of all who have not received it yet , including new-born babies and those over age 565 – thus not costing the budget a cent extra – the political/economical debate will be “on the ball” pretty soon – unless someone can show it to be “impossible” or “undesirable”.

    Comment by Jens Meder — December 21, 2015 @ 5:49 pm

  23. “…Politicians reaching out to a large audience is what they are supposed to do. …”

    This. As i said above, the counter to a popular politician who works the low end of town is to get your own popular politician who works the low end of town.

    Comment by Sanctuary — December 21, 2015 @ 8:04 pm

  24. @wurble – that is a really interesting piece. the “access panic” fear and this quote, worth repeating here, applies to all anti-politician outsiders. For example, the British press reaction to Jeremy Corbyn would fall under the same category. The press now sees itself as a legitimate player in establishment politics; All outsiders are hated.

    “…Their trepidation has less to do with the fact of Trump lying than with the way he lies. They don’t mind being properly lied to; it’s all part of the game. What they cannot countenance is being rendered irrelevant. Trump is not kissing the ring. He barely bothers to spin the media. He does not need them, or give two shits what centrist pundits think. Their disapproval only strengthens him. Media gatekeepers are in danger of being exposed as impotent bystanders…”

    Comment by Sanctuary — December 21, 2015 @ 8:12 pm

  25. “Their trepidation has less to do with the fact of Trump lying than with the way he lies.”

    Which ties in to what I wrote about the Big Lie theory upthread.

    Comment by Kumara Republic — December 21, 2015 @ 10:28 pm

  26. While the changing nature of the media is important, I also read this piece by Claire “endorsed by Whaleoil” Trevett and wondered if there also isn’t also a significant strain of just plain old pro-government propaganda from right wing journalists. http://www.nzherald.co.nz/politics/news/article.cfm?c_id=280&objectid=11564464

    Trevett insults my intelligence with lines like this:

    “…It has since emerged that the reason Key did not do this was that he had not realised the “joke” was a reference to prison rape…” For fucks sake – Trevett do you think we are all idiots? Of course he knew. Key isn’t a moron and makes a big play of being down with popular cultural iconography.

    The thing is, her piece is one long rambling excuse for John Key. It reads like it was written by Key’s PR spin team as part of damage control after Farrar’s polling came back negative.

    Comment by Sanctuary — December 22, 2015 @ 8:00 am

  27. Comment by Simon — December 22, 2015 @ 8:26 am

  28. The thing is, her piece is one long rambling excuse for John Key.

    To be fair, not all journalists suck up to the PM.

    http://www.stuff.co.nz/taranaki-daily-news/opinion/75262220/You-can-t-unknow-what-you-know-John-Key

    Comment by Ross — December 22, 2015 @ 9:24 am

  29. A lot of people like Key and when they read articles like the one linked to by Ross above, they can’t even get past the first patronisation. The piece, however much I the liberal socialist might agree with her, is never going to convince anyone who currently likes John Key of anything – it’s just going to make people like me nod my head in agreement, happy in the knowledge that I am right and smart and PC, unlike those normal people in voter land.

    The Access Denied piece, linked by Wurble above, is well worth the read. I don’t think all is lost, but the left (not to mention the media) needs to come to grips with technological change and start using platforms better and providing better platforms.

    Key speaks past the media to the public, who are largely disengaged with politics and want a PM they can relate to. The one thing better than that, is a PM they can trust and believe in. That is much harder to achieve, because it requires a genuine leader with moral vision and the ability to communicate it.

    Comment by RHT — December 22, 2015 @ 10:58 am

  30. “At least the left enjoys full=spectrum dominance of twitter. When the day that pitching hysterical tantrums on social media becomes the key to political power, no one will stop us”

    Quote of the Year, Danyl. No competition.

    Thanks for the posting and enjoy your Xmas.

    Comment by Tinakori — December 22, 2015 @ 12:52 pm

  31. “It has since emerged that the reason Key did not do this was that he had not realised the “joke” was…”

    This is the usual circumlocutions used when “she talked to Key about it”. THATS whats really bizarre, Key goes on the record for everybit of fluff but goes deep background for the press gallery.

    Comment by dukeofurl — December 22, 2015 @ 1:04 pm

  32. “At least the left enjoys full=spectrum dominance of twitter. When the day that pitching hysterical tantrums on social media becomes the key to political power, no one will stop us”

    Nah.

    The problem is not the goddamn twitterers. It never has been. The several hundred self-appointed noise-makers who put out huge volumes are mostly irrelevant to the process. They don’t talk to voters, and they don’t put up billboards. Their sole contribution to politics is talking to themselves in public.

    What is actively harmful is the repetition of the myth that their words are taken as representative of the political parties they purport to support, or represent the investment of those parties into communications and political activity. Propagation of that myth is ongoing, and is usually from people like Gower or Danyl who are butthurt about some silly criticism.

    Comment by Carrot-top — December 22, 2015 @ 1:27 pm

  33. “It has since emerged that the reason Key did not do this was that he had not realised the “joke” was…”

    Key’s “thick as batshit” crack indicated that he’s not quite as down with the drongoes as his minders might wish them (us?) to believe. The increasing use of ersatz colloquialisms marked David Lange’s second-term disillusionment with running the country.

    Comment by Joe W — December 22, 2015 @ 2:20 pm

  34. “…. many of the listeners would be people who are completely disinterested in politics.” I’ve long since given up on listening to the politics slot on Nine to Noon, but I do hope that Ryan didn’t actually say “disinterested”.

    “And what they heard was something that made them laugh and a good guy who showed up and played along with the joke. ” Really? How does she know that: somebody’s polled the public on that particular stunt? If not, perhaps she and other commentators are making assumptions about public acceptance of this sort of thing, based on prior polling.

    We spend quite a bit of time in a small provincial town: heartland National voter territory even. We’re yet to hear any rah-rah support for the government, let alone for the PM. People in areas of this sort are hurting economically, dairy farming notwithstanding; they’d greatly prefer that the government put some political – and policy – grunt into making the rural economic environment less dire for folk such as them, than that the PM makes an ass of himself on commercial radio.

    Joe W: “The increasing use of ersatz colloquialisms marked David Lange’s second-term disillusionment with running the country.” Some years ago, I read Lange’s memoir. I was startled by the tone of disengagement with the job of PM, evident right from the beginning of his first term; he was good at oratory and witticisms, but a PM needs to be much more skilled than that, and he wasn’t. I remember him as PM, but that disengagement wasn’t obvious to the electorate in the first term, and if journalists were aware of it, I can’t recall them reporting it. I wouldn’t be surprised if the current incumbent is similarly disillusioned; after all, when somebody (or somebodies) else is doing all the governmental heavy lifting, what’s the point of him?

    Comment by D'Esterre — December 22, 2015 @ 3:34 pm

  35. I read Lange’s memoir. I was startled by the tone of disengagement with the job of PM, evident right from the beginning of his first term; he was good at oratory and witticisms, but a PM needs to be much more skilled than that, and he wasn’t. I remember him as PM, but that disengagement wasn’t obvious to the electorate in the first term, and if journalists were aware of it, I can’t recall them reporting it.

    I wouldn’t suggest too many parallels between Key and Lange, but Bolger as oppostion leader spent an awfully long time in Andrew Little mode, vainly trying to score any kind of hit. Even when Lange had wandered off into motor racing, Bolger’s attempts to expose something darker behind Lange’s “Billy Bunter” (his words) facade failed to resonate.

    Comment by Joe W — December 22, 2015 @ 7:27 pm

  36. The Left need to do what National did when Helen Clark was in her ascendancy: conduct research into what people don’t like about John Key and then attack him via promoting those weaknesses. He has many and instead of talking about whatever dead cat he’s just thrown on the table, it would be better to metagame him and point out (via whatever messages/media that work) that he is basically being disingenuous.

    Comment by Mikaere Curtis — December 22, 2015 @ 9:40 pm

  37. You’ll find that people like Key for his success in leading the National Party, and don’t really care how many common folk he had to lie to or stab in the back to get it, or really much of anything else at all. You might have to be a nice person and care for the (working) poor to lead the Labour party, but you win the National job by blaming beneficiaries for everything and cutting back social services for the needy, close a few women’s shelters, privatise the prisons to known torturers, and make jokes about how that’ll result in more prison rape.

    Tax swaps where you swap taxes from the rich to the poor. That wins you national votes. No one’s confused about that. Cut off single mother’s shot at education? Ha, look how much they get already, if you ignore the taxes and how most of it goes to the doctors and landlord. Shouldn’t they be out begging for scraps?

    Similarly, Labour may well be maximising it’s vote. A bunch of people appreciated that they stood up and spoke against rape jokes. That doesn’t hurt Keys vote, but it may well help keep Labour’s above an even lower number. You can’t really assume they’re doing it wrong unless you have access to data about what would work better here in the real world.

    National kicks the poor, and Labour complains about how mean that is (while promising to kick “the Chinese” instead), while the Greens talk about making a better future for your kids and other big-picture stuff, and Winston talks about … well what Hone and Jim before him were talking about oddly enough, with how the regions don’t get enough. Maybe they’re all just optimising for their own voters and the fact is there’s more votes want to kick the poor some more and put another $20 in my wallet each week than there is for anything else.

    Similarly for John Campbell. Nice important stories he did about helping the poor and not being a shitty country for no reason and he’s gone, because that’s not kicking the poor and tax cuts for the rich like the majority of people actually want.

    Comment by tussock — December 23, 2015 @ 1:45 am

  38. Ironically perhaps for many ‘left-leaners’ who perceive a favourable media bias which advantages John Key, I think the major victory that John Key has secured is that he has managed to convince the general (swinging) voter that criticism of him are driven by a media with ‘left-leaning’ sympathies. That we focus so much on which journalist votes how, we feed the flames, don’t we?

    However, (and tying in perhaps with Danyl’s ‘Twitterati’ remark) this ‘left-leaning’ perception has been capitalised upon and refined, rather than strategically devised at origin by National HO. The means to do so have been handed to John Key on a plate by certain critics who, (to paraphrase that dreadful Margaret Thatcher) would report John Key seen walking on water as evidence that he’s too thick to learn how to swim, is advocating reduced water-safety standards just to appear ‘popular’ or, has paid a PR company to fake the evidence.

    The public has witnessed this, and National Party strategists have even devised a label for it: (Key Derangement Syndrome). It has happened so often that the public are desensitised to it. Further than that, they are now tending to see any criticism of Key as ‘driven’ by a sectarian dislike of him, personally. When many who should have known better treated Kim Dot Com like St. Paul possibly handed him the election.

    In short, My theory is that the concerted efforts to demonise John Key, rather than the promotion of effective policy alternatives has resulted in such a credibility deficit for his opponents, that to the swinging voter, any criticism of John Key just reads like politically-motivated (to quote Cullen) ‘faux outrage’.

    Ergo – ‘Teflon John’.

    Comment by leeharmanclark — December 23, 2015 @ 7:00 am

  39. Some years ago, I read Lange’s memoir. I was startled by the tone of disengagement with the job of PM, evident right from the beginning of his first term; he was good at oratory and witticisms, but a PM needs to be much more skilled than that, and he wasn’t.

    There’s a section in Geoffrey Palmer’s memoir in which he explains that politics is mostly meetings (I think this is true) and that Lange just didn’t have the temperament for this. That instead of trying to win people around, or hear them out, or negotiate and compromise with them he’d get bored and wander off, so most decisions were made in spite of him.

    Comment by danylmc — December 23, 2015 @ 7:20 am

  40. Ergo – ‘Teflon John’.

    All those teflons.

    Comment by Joe W — December 23, 2015 @ 7:24 am

  41. There’s a section in Geoffrey Palmer’s memoir in which he explains that politics is mostly meetings (I think this is true) and that Lange just didn’t have the temperament for this. That instead of trying to win people around, or hear them out, or negotiate and compromise with them he’d get bored and wander off, so most decisions were made in spite of him.

    In a memorable comic strip from Trace Hodgson’s Listener heyday, when Roger Douglas confesses that he’s an alien agent for an advanced extra-terrestrial civilisation. Lange’s first reaction is “Is that right? How many milk shake flavours do you have up there?”

    Comment by Joe W — December 23, 2015 @ 8:13 am

  42. “Shouting “you back the rapists” at Key, that’s the kind of “playing the man” the opposition should really stop doing.”

    It would be, if the opposition had shouted that at Key. Actually, it was John Key who said that, as a criticism of Labour’s advocacy on the issue of the New Zealand citizens being deported from Australia.

    Comment by Can of Worms, Opened — December 23, 2015 @ 11:51 am

  43. rmsingers wrote: @izogi it’s really simple. Don’t ask questions that start with “Given that” or “Does the Minister stand by”

    actually, they start their questioning with lines like “does the minister stand by…” for a very practical (if somewhat absurd) reason. If they don’t use a line like that in the initial question, the rules allow the minister to get another MP to answer on his or her behalf. and then that other MP may be able to avoid answering a follow-up question by honestly saying they don’t know the answer, when the minister the questions were aimed at does know the answer.

    Comment by Can of Worms, Opened — December 23, 2015 @ 11:59 am

  44. @Can: it was sarcasm, I suppose I should have labelled it. Wider point being: the received wisdom (it’s even surfacing in this thread) is that “ad hominem” stuff is directed at Key the victim, whereas in fact it his own standard behaviour in Parliament (“rapists” was only the latest in a long list of adolescent abuse from him).

    I guess it ties in with Danyl’s/Kathryn’s overall point – Key is the fun goofy guy in the soft media, but not in the day job that most people don’t see (and should matter).

    Comment by sammy 3.0 — December 23, 2015 @ 4:23 pm

  45. Interesting that Joe W’s list at #40 includes Teflon Sepp Blatter and Teflon Tony Blair, which suggests that Teflon doesn’t last forever.

    Comment by McNulty — December 24, 2015 @ 6:56 am


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