The Dim-Post

May 8, 2015

Greens’ co-leadership campaign and pro-James propaganda pitch

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 10:38 am

A few people have asked me what’s happening with the leadership campaign. And the answer is: it’s pretty much happening now. The actual delegate vote takes place at the Green Party AGM at the end of the month, but the branch meetings where members direct their delegates how to vote are already underway. So if you’re a member of the party – or want to be so you can have a say in the contest – get in touch with your local branch.

I’ve been helping James Shaw out with his campaign. Up until now its been impossible to tell how things are going, but now that the branches are voting we have a rough idea and I am cautiously optimistic. It’s going to be close but James could win. My reason for supporting him over Kevin Hague – who I have a huge amount of respect for – is pretty simple. The key role of a leader in a modern political party is to be the public face of that party, to front to the media and the public, and to win new voters. Maybe I’m just blinded by partisan bias, but I think James is going to be a lot better in that core role than the other candidates.

That doesn’t mean he’ll win. Kevin Hague also has a lot of great qualities, and they make him one of the most beloved guys inside the Green Party – which gives him a big advantage in a contest to become leader of it. But being the leader is about connecting with the public, not just the party’s own membership. The best thing for the future of the Green Party is to elect a leader who can grow it.

March 20, 2015

Grim up Northland

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:20 am

It’s already been a hell of a by-election, and it sounds like it might get even fiercer up there but I still think National will win. If you’re watching the TV news then the by-election looks like a train-wreck for National, but – just as in 2014 – the real election is happening off-screen

National will have a database profiling almost every voter in the electorate. In the next eight days every ‘Highly Likely’ National voter in Northland will get a call from a party volunteer or Curia staffer reminding them that the government’s majority is under threat, and advising them of where their closest advance-voting booth is. Scores of volunteers and young Nats will be mini-bused up from Auckland. They’ll door-knock possible soft-New Zealand First voters and repeat scripts that have been focus-grouped to induce anxiety and doubt about Winston Peters and New Zealand First among key demographics. They’ll be staffing booths in malls and canvasing pedestrians in town centers. They’ll mail out personalised leaflets to harder-to-reach rural voters. Peters is a good campaigner but he can’t compete with that. Short of any unforeseen catastrophe, National will win.

What’s interesting is that National has to work this hard to hold one of their safest seats. There’s a mixture of factors in play. The reason for Sabin’s resignation. Winston Peters’ political skills. The poor quality of the National candidate. But one of National’s main problems, I think, is that when they’re fighting against Peters and New Zealand First they’re fighting themselves. Winston Peters is, famously, a protege of Robert Muldoon, and his party is based on Muldoon’s legacy of populist, dirigiste conservatismNational is a big party and thus a ‘broad church’ but it was – for about twenty years – dominated by free market economic liberals, partly as a reaction against the economic disaster that Muldoonism inflicted on the country.

But in the last six years National has undergone a dramatic transformation. They’re no longer ‘economic liberals’ in any meaningful sense. (Although they probably still think they are, much as aging ex-hippies with property portfolios and luxury cars might still consider themselves anti-establishment rebels. People like to cling onto idealistic conceptions of themselves long after any attempt at living up to the ideal has gone.) National is no longer a party of economic or individual freedom – they’re a populist conservative party of economic intervention, mostly indifferent to or openly hostile towards individual freedoms. Their points of difference with New Zealand First are so trivial they’re reduced to running around Northland warning provincial voters that a Peters win might jeopardise a free trade deal with South Korea. That’s the big policy gap between Muldoon’s disciple and the modern National Party.

I don’t know what the long term political consequences of National’s shift means. Muldoonism was very popular even when it bought the country to the brink of economic collapse because it was a form of government exclusively devoted to maintaining its own grip on power. To paraphrase Citizen Kane: It’s no big thing to win elections – if all you want to do in government is win elections.

February 19, 2015

Neologism needed

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:11 am

Fierce debate rages in the comments thread of the previous post over whether the Andrew Little/David Cohen invoice fiasco is, actually a fiasco or just a trivial nothing. A routine clerical error. A beat up. A beltway issue.

It’s ironic, because David Cohen has written extensively about the term ‘beltway’. It comes from Washington DC, he points out, which has a beltway but Wellington doesn’t so we shouldn’t use it (This is the level of analysis Andrew Little paid a thousand dollars for). But this seems like the opposite of a beltway issue. If you’re preoccupied with policy and ‘political issues’ then an MP paying an invoice late is so trivial as to be laughable. What about Sky City? What about Mike Sabin? What about defense procurement? But to contractors and small business owners, clients who don’t pay their bills are a huge deal. It can destroy your business. So how are those people going to view a political leader who claims to champion contractors and small businesses in order to win their votes, while at the same time failing to pay a contractor who is screaming at him to do so? Very poorly, I suspect.

(On top of this is the absurdity of the contractor being a right-wing columnist who gleefully published about it and is now leaking his correspondence with Labour to mainstream media outlets.)

We need a neologism to refer to issues or political stories that baffle (mostly left-wing) political parties and their activists but resonate strongly with hundreds of thousands or millions of actual voters (Cunliffe’s ‘man apology’ is another great example). The term should probably contain the word ‘beltway’ because if it catches on that would irritate David Cohen.

February 17, 2015

Same as it ever was?

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 8:53 pm

If I could distill the Labour Party’s woes over the last six years into just two words, I’d probably choose ‘bewildering stupidity’. The causes are manifold and complex, but the symptom is that Labour and its leaders often do bewildering, obviously stupid things despite the fact the things they are doing are obviously stupid. Think about David Shearer holding up dead fish in Parliament as his poll ratings flat-lined, or Goff dying his hair orange the day before making a major speech, or Cunliffe railing against secret trusts while financing his leadership campaign through secret trusts . . . The list is very, very long. And today:

Labour leader Andrew Little has hurriedly paid an overdue bill but apparently only after the Government used it to embarrass him in Parliament.

Economic Development Minister Steven Joyce attacked Little over his stance on employment law changes after revealing Little had not settled his bill with National Business Review columnist David Cohen.

Writing in the NBR last week Cohen confirmed he did paid work for Little to help him secure the Labour leadership but four months later was still waiting for the cheque.

It seems obvious (to me) that hiring a right-wing columnist to do your PR while you campaign for the leadership of a left-wing political party could go wrong in all sorts of ways. Being a former unionist Little has contrived for it to go wrong in a way that makes him look like a total hypocrite, by not paying Cohen, which gave Cohen ammunition for a column in the NBR and Stephen Joyce a way to mock the new Labour leader in Parliament and embarrass him on the evening news. I mean, doesn’t the former boss of the EPMU have an old and trusted ally to help him with his PR? Apparently not, but why not?

Sure, this isn’t as egregious as National’s Sky City deal, or sending our troops to Iraq so we can stay ‘part of the club’. But Key, Joyce et al have reasons for the questionable stuff they do. They have agendas. It’s deliberate; calculated. They have reasons! Labour just does random bewilderingly stupid shit for no comprehensible reason. All the time. People write columns about how Labour should ‘move to the center’, or the left or whatever, but addressing the bewildering stupidity issue should be their primary goal.

February 13, 2015

On Hooton on Sky City

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 9:07 pm

Matthew Hooton had a column in the NBR today about the Sky City deal that loads of people have already tweeted and linked and Facebooked, but I wanted to make a couple of quick comments about.

Firstly, that is just a really great piece of political commentary and part of the reason for that, I think, is that it pulls back the curtain on a major political news story and tells us why something is happening. Most political punditry focuses on what’s happening, and/or what the pundit thinks of it, or what should happen, or wants to happen, or what the different political parties say about an issue. Hooton is an political insider so he takes us deeper, explaining the history and the personalities and the processes, and how they interact with each other.

Jonathan Lynn, the co-creator of Yes Minister and Yes Prime Minister once said that he wanted his show to explain to people how government worked. How power and influence were wielded. How decisions were really made. And that, he explained, is why he never wrote any scenes in the House of Commons. There is some politics in the House, and much theater, but no government. Nothing that truly mattered. It’s a quote that came back to me this week when Winston Peters questioned the Prime Minister in Question Time about whether he dyed his hair, and ‘why the carpet didn’t match the curtains.’ You could just about hear the columnists in the press gallery sighing with relief. ‘The Prime Minister’s pubes! That’s this week’s piece sorted.’ Hooton’s column is a reminder that political commentary can be very vital. It doesn’t have to be trivial nonsense.

Having said all that, Hooton can write this particular piece because he isn’t a political journalist. He doesn’t have to maintain a good relationship with the Prime Minister’s office. He doesn’t rely on National’s press secretaries to feed him stories and tips. On the contrary, a lot of the people he’s writing about here are his enemies and commercial rivals. But my point is that political columns about government and ‘what’s really going on’ are a lot more important than whatever is happening in the House, or whatever trivial gaffe someone made, and they’re also a lot more compelling. It’d be nice to have more of them, and that’s supposed to be the point of having gallery journalists who are ‘political insiders’.

My other point disagrees with Hooton a bit. He wrote:

Mr Joyce’s botulinum-grade arrogance is making the debacle worse.

Mr Joyce genuinely believes his commercial background consolidating provincial radio stations makes him a match for Mr Morrison’s quarter century of experience in the Asian and Australasian gambling industries.

The SkyCity team is laughing at him the way Kerry Packer laughed at Alan Bond over Channel Nine and Toll Holdings laughed at Michael Cullen over KiwiRail.

Despite having no experience in the procurement and management of half-billion-dollar construction projects, Mr Joyce and the prime minister’s chief of staff, Wayne Eagleson, took it upon themselves to deal directly with SkyCity over the terms of the convention centre contract and the associated regulatory-relief package.

The problem with government Ministers negotiating directly with Sky City goes a bit deeper than individual hubris, or incompetence. Sky City is a profitable regulated private monopoly. The best way for it to make more money is to win concessions from the government, and it can – and probably has – invested many hours and millions of dollars paying lawyers and accountants and lobbyists to try and figure out how to extract value from the state and the taxpayer. But Key and Joyce – who represent the taxpayer – don’t have many hours and millions of dollars to throw away trying to beat Sky City at the negotiating table. They have a country to run. This can only be a very peripheral issue for them. (Even now that the deal has exploded into a public relations fiasco Key is busy committing our troops to Iraq. You like to think he’s paying a bit more attention to that than the convention center.)

So Key and Joyce will never be able to out-negotiate Sky City because of the massive asymmetry in resources between the two negotiating partners. This isn’t a new problem (although this government seems to think it is). The problem of how the state and the private sector interact in free market democracies has been with us for a while now, and solutions to all of these problems of influence-peddling and conflicts of interest and information asymmetry have been solved and implemented in New Zealand for several decades. We have the SOE model and the State Services Commission and laws and processes and the Auditor General and basically a whole fucking public service to avoid this exact situation which Key and his Ministers have blundered into. This disaster stems from the right’s contempt for the public service. They’re just bureaucrats. Glide time. It’s all walk-shorts and red tape. The idea that those hated bureaucrats were actually an apparatus designed to protect Key, Joyce et al and prevent them from making a huge, predictable and easily preventable mistake wouldn’t have occurred to them.

February 5, 2015

Helping Iraq

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 6:05 pm

Via Stuff:

In an unscripted speech on a marae today Prime Minister John Key told Maori leaders that New Zealand are not going to turn the other cheek to the horrors being seen in the Middle East.

Key’s unprepared statement in the meeting house at Te Tii Waitangi Marae came with an attack on the left wing.

After a peaceful welcome on the marae, various Maori leaders addressed him including prominent leader Kingi Taurua who said Maori were suffering because of their service in fighting for “other people’s sovereignty” over the decades.

Key said he agreed in part.

“I am with you, we should not go and fight other people’s wars.”

Diplomacy was what was needed but New Zealand also needed to support other people around the world.

“The day before yesterday a Jordanian pilot was burned to death with petrol and yesterday some gay people were thrown off a building because ISIS don’t like their sexuality,” he said.

“A few weeks ago 10-year-old kids were rolled out to behead soldiers who were part of the Iraqi forces. ”

Key said he heard from the left wing every time he went to countries with different human rights records to New Zealand.

“I am regularly reminded by the left that they have an intimate knowledge of apartheid and the Springbok tour,” he said in reference to the 1981 Springbok rugby tour of New Zealand that divided the country.

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Key has since admitted he does not remember where he stood on the tour.

“These are the very people (the left) who tell me their whole DNA is laced with human rights and standing up for people who cannot protect themselves, then they tell me to look the other way when people are being beheaded by kids, burnt alive and thrown off buildings.

“New Zealand is not going to turn the other way,” he said.

“We may join 60 or so other countries around the world trying to protect people who cannot protect themselves because the do nothing other than live in a country they want to call home.

“I reckon that is doing something for human rights.”

Here’s my problem with sending our troops over to help out in Iraq.

Firstly, ‘Iraq’ doesn’t exist anymore. Iraq as a modern country was invented by the west after WWI and the collapse of the Ottoman Empire. An unrelated group of rival ethnicities, tribes and faiths patched together into a geographical fiction and held together by various tyrants until 2003, when the US invaded and the country disintegrated in the aftermath, flying apart into a chaotic failed state filled with millions of refugees, militias and rival warlords fighting in a massive bloody civil war spilling across the borders into several of Iraq’s neighbors, with most of the regional powers fighting each other via local proxies.  That’s what we’re sending our troops into. We’re only calling this disaster zone ‘Iraq’ because it’s embarrassing to our allies, the US and the UK – who invaded Iraq, botched the post-war occupation and bought about the unimaginable carnage and destruction of the resulting civil war – to acknowledge that the country we’re helping no longer exists.

ISIS seem like evil people. It would be a good thing if they’re weren’t controlling a large section of the-country-formerly-known-as-Iraq. But we’re aware that ISIS are bad guys because there’s a propaganda campaign being waged against them by the west, who intends to go to war with them, so all of their atrocities are heavily publicised. The Shia militia who prop up the government that we’re going to ‘help’ in ‘Iraq’ are easily as brutal as ISIS. They were responsible for the ethnic cleansing in Baghdad, which involved rounding up random civilians in Sunni neighborhoods, torturing them to death with acid and electric drills and then dumping their bodies outside their homes to encourage other Sunnis to flee (which about 1.7 million of them did). So those are our allies. They’re who we’re training, or helping, or whatever we’re doing. We just don’t hear about their atrocities because the media teams in the Ministry of Defense and the Beehive aren’t promoting them to the media.

And maybe if we really were helping ‘the people’ it would be worth it anyway. And maybe it’ll be different this time! Maybe the UK and the US militaries won’t fuck this up, horribly, and cause untold suffering and death but still fail to reach any of their objectives. But realistically, their version of ‘helping’ ‘Iraq’ will be to flood the conflict regions with development money, which will be spent on weapons, and property in London and Dubai. They’re vaporise thousands of ‘suspected terrorists’ with drones. They’ll arm and train ‘a professional army’ who may defeat ISIS and will definitely set about ethnically cleansing any territory they capture, torturing male detainees to death and imprisoning female captors in rape camps (human rights will not improve). These are all just routine outcomes of western interventions in this region of the world, so unless anyone can convince me it’ll be different this time I regard New Zealand intervention in Iraq as a bad idea.

January 30, 2015

On neoliberalism

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 5:59 pm

One thing Catton got really wrong about her critique of the government was calling it ‘neoliberal’ and claiming it didn’t support the arts because they’re profit-obsessed, etc. Like I’ve said before, these guys aren’t neoliberal and aren’t remotely ‘profit obsessed’. They don’t believe in free markets and market forces, and they give eye-glazingly large amounts of taxpayer money away to golf tournaments, yacht races, sports stadiums and other things that make no economic sense whatsoever (we know this because Treasury keeps telling them so.)

If New Zealand’s novelists had banded together, formed a lobby group with an ex-National MP as Director, taken the PM’s Chief of Staff out to dinner somewhere nice and all chipped in a donation to National’s election campaign then Literature would have quickly become part of Joyce’s ‘Business Growth Agenda’. Most of our literati would be in Menton by now, writing by the poolside at the gleaming new taxpayer funded New Zealand pavilion, and none of this unpleasantness would have happened.

Thoughts on Russel Norman’s retirement and Green Party leadership

Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:00 am
  • Green co-leader Russel Norman has announced he’s retiring as Green co-leader in May. My understanding is that he’ll stay on for a while as an MP.
  • It’s a huge loss to the Green Party. To a certain vintage of political pundits – Barry Soper, Jane Clifton – the Greens have always been Morris-Dancing Pot-Smokers and always will be. But everyone else who watches politics has observed a dramatic shift over the years to a more corporate, media-savvy, relentlessly on-message Green Party. A lot of that is Norman’s doing. He’s also turned the Greens into a party of serious policy development. (It isn’t much of an exaggeration to say that for several years Labour’s policy development process consisted of cutting and pasting text from the Green Party web site.)
  • Consequently the Green Party vote has roughly doubled during Norman’s eight years as co-leader.
  • There will be a leadership contest. It will, presumably, be very fair and democratic and insanely complicated, because that’s the Green Party way.
  • If Kevin Hague stands then I expect he’ll win. I hope other MPs stand against him though. It’ll be good for the party to raise the profile of the contenders, and it’s good for the new leader to earn their his position not just have it handed to them.
  • The next MP on the list is Marama Davidson. She’ll come in if/when Norman stands down as an MP. I think she’ll be good. And she’s Auckland based: the Greens need to expand their presence there.
  • This shouldn’t be the last Green Party MP to retire this year. Russel is a big loss but there are a couple of Green MPs who really, obviously aren’t working out and who need to stand down so that the next candidates on the party list can come in and campaign as MPs in 2017. As we’ve seen with Labour, if a party doesn’t rejuvenate itself the electorate will rejuvenate for them by voting for someone else.
  • This is good for Labour! If Annette King stands down and there’s a by-election in Rongotai then Andrew Little – or some other candidate – will almost certainly win, an outcome that wasn’t guaranteed with Norman around.
  • I wish Russel the best of luck in his new role as head of Exploration and Production at Todd Energy.

January 20, 2015

Vague Trotteresque Musings of the Day

Filed under: books,Politics — danylmc @ 2:02 pm

1. The Cult of Business.

Gordon Campbell has a post up about the similarities between John Key and David Cameron, and it touches on the issue of what these people actually believe in.

Robert Muldoon too, used to think that his own political instincts were always somehow mystically in sync with the mood and the tolerance levels of the nation. (In his last interview before his 1984 defeat, Muldoon told me that he had this innate ability to know New Zealanders, even though he hadn’t walked down Lambton Quay for over a decade, nor shopped for clothes in an actual shop for years – “ They bring in some shirts and I choose.”) With Key and Cameron, it is a far more conscious process, aided by focus groups. In both cases, being ever-willing to shift ground in order to perpetuate themselves in power is what passes for a political philosophy :

I was thinking about this very issue a bit over the summer. What does the right believe? I feel like the core beliefs have shifted in the wake of the GFC, but to what?

My theory is that contemporary right-wing thought has moved on from ‘neo-liberalism’ and its attendant belief in the magical power of free markets or the panacea of economic growth. What they believe in now is ‘business’, in much the same way that early Christianity transferred its system of belief from the mysticism of the Gospels and the coming Kingdom of Heaven to the temporal supremacy of the Church, and Communist intellectuals transferred their belief in dialectical materialism to the primacy and infallibility of ‘The Party’. Right-wing intellectual thought, such as it is, is focused on the primacy and infallibility of ‘business’ and the wisdom and needs of the private sector. So we have politicians like John Key and Steven Joyce, who are themselves revered as ‘business’ (ironically, every time they sit down to do a deal with the private sector they get comprehensively beaten at vast expense to the taxpayer) and who have no ideological problem with picking winners or extensive interference in the market, or just giving state money away to private companies. The free market isn’t important. Business is important. The state can intervene in the economy – massively – but at the service of business. Ideally it should be in partnership with business or, failing that, managed by someone from the private sector ideally a membership of the modern post-capitalist priesthood, our versions of the college of Cardinals, or the politburo: a ‘business-leader’.

Here’s a silly but – I think, telling – example: When Grant Robertson was announced as Labour’s Finance Spokesperson, various National-Party and ACT people scoffed at the appointment. Robertson has no private-sector experience. He wouldn’t win the respect of ‘business’. I pointed out on twitter that Bill English doesn’t have private-sector experience either: he was a Treasury analyst and then a politician. A National Party organiser quickly corrected me. English had worked on his parent’s farm in Dipton. Private sector! Which sounds absurd, because Robertson ran the Prime Minister’s Office, which – to me at least – is slightly more impressive and more of a qualification for being a senior Minister. But if the mystical properties of the private sector are at the core of your belief system then obviously English’s experience has blessed him in a way that Robertson’s has not. To an atheist the difference between someone claiming to be a bishop in the Catholic Church, and one who has actually been consecrated via apostolic succession is meaningless. To a believer it is everything.

So here’s a solid prediction based on this hypothesis: Paula Bennett will never be the leader of the National Party. She’s not ‘business’.

2. Nostalgia, mid-point Generation X literature and generational attitudes to climate change. 

A few of the novels I’ve read recently (The Marriage Plot, Wolf in White Van, The Interestings) have been set in the 1980s, or indulged in a little nostalgia for 1980s youth culture. Up until now, whenever I’ve read a novel dealing with childhood nostalgia it’s almost always been a boomer author pining for the 1950s and 60s, but Gen-X authors are now of an age when they’re looking back to their/our own youth.

Nothing wrong with that. But one of the features of growing up in the 80’s I really don’t miss is the Cold War and perennial threat of nuclear apocalypse. I don’t remember how old I was when I learned about the possibility of nuclear war. I do remember that whenever the electricity went out I always checked to see if my digital watch was still working. I knew that the EMP of a nuclear blast would disable my watch, so if I could still tell time then a nuclear war probably hadn’t broken out. Maybe I worried about these things a little more than most kids, but everyone was aware of it.

And then the Cold War just ended. The Warsaw Pact collapsed and the looming threat of global annihilation suddenly wasn’t there anymore. Which was awesome, but I do wonder if it impacts on generational attitudes towards climate change. Do most people of my generation and older sub-consciously equate the slow motion catastrophe of climate change with the threat of nuclear war and just sort of hope that climate change will painlessly vanish as a problem, somehow, the same way thermonuclear war did?

December 4, 2014


Filed under: Politics — danylmc @ 11:44 am

Stuff has a cut’npaste story up on the TransTasman newsletter’s annual rankings of MPs, a yearly ritual in which a bunch of elderly right-wing journalists pour praise on their favorite right-wing politicians and scorn on their most despised left-wing enemies. Whatever.

But what struck me reading through the rankings is that there seemed like a big difference in scores between male and female MPs irrespective of any left-wing/right wing bias. Even female National MPs I rated quite highly were ranked lower than totally undistinguished male Nats. And it’s even worse for Maori, who all seem arbitrarily low regardless of party, or how well they perform.

The data breaks down like this: Average score for a Male Pakeha MP in the Transtasman ranking is 5.4. Males overall have an average ranking of 5.1. Pakeha overall average 5.1. Maori are way lower than Pakeha with average rankings of 4.6. Female MPs are way lower with an average ranking of 4.4. If you compile the rankings for Labour and the Greens, the men get an average ranking of 5.2, but the women are dragging them down with an average ranking of 4.4.

Here’s a list of the TransTasman writers. I’m informed that the sole contributors are the authors listed at the bottom of the report. You might not be shocked to learn that they are all white men. But what that means is that TransTasman’s inequality in their rankings and staggering bias towards Pakeha males has nothing to do with identity politics. See, identity politics is just something the left does to privilege women or Maori. It’s a form of political correctness gone mad in which people value gender or ethnicity over actual merit, but when white guys get privileged, or when we coincidentally overwhelmingly favor other members of our race and gender that’s definitely nothing to do with identity politics. Or racism or misogyny. It’s always just because we all deserve it. Shame on you for doubting the analysis of the impartial, objective white guys at TransTasman!

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