I wrote a long thing about John Key. It’s up at the Spinoff. Also, that Caro book about Lyndon Johnson I reference is The Path to Power. It’s the best book about politics I’ve ever read, and I plan to spend my summer reading the rest of Caro’s books.
December 16, 2016
December 14, 2016
I half-remember the following anecdote about industrial design. The gist was: an old and once mighty but now struggling car company was having its manufacturing processes audited. The consultants, or executives, or auditors, or whoever queried a specific piece of design across all of the makes of the car (something to do with the engine, I think, I know nothing about cars). ‘Why do you do this?’ ‘We have to do this?’ ‘But why?’ No one knew, and after investigation it transpired that the very first hand-cranked cars the company made many decades earlier needed this component of the design, and they’d just kept doing it.
Does anyone know if this story maps to anything that has happened in the real world and, if so, where?
December 12, 2016
Labour leader Andrew Little is questioning whether the National Party’s new leadership will bring any real change to the government’s direction.
“They are saying they represent change, when they’ve been part of every decision of this government for the last eight years.
“They say they represent change – let’s see what that looks like.”
I’m not a fancy media strategist etc but when you’re twenty points behind in the polls and there’s a huge, unpredicted political change, probably not that smart to go around saying ‘nothing has changed.’
Bill English will not be making the same promise to leave the eligibility age for superannuation alone as his predecessor John Key did.
I’ll make a prediction here – which I’ll forget about in a few days so I won’t get to celebrate it if I’m right, but everyone will throw in my face if I’m wrong – which is that in a post-election budget English will make some change to National Super to compromise its universality; probably a form of means testing, which will have basically no immediate impact – like his bright line on Capital Gains Tax – but which can be incrementally increased.
December 7, 2016
I had coffee with Rob Hosking last Friday, and noted down one of his comments in my diary then forgot about it until I went to check something else today:
Coffee w/ Rob Hosking. Asked him about mood at Parliament. He said, ‘Feels like earthquake weather. Something big is coming.’
December 6, 2016
The last media appearance Key made before his resignation was on Radio New Zealand, where he defended Anne Tolley’s decision not to hold an inquiry into historical abuse of children in state care, because it ‘wouldn’t achieve a lot’. He didn’t rule it out though, and if the story persisted over a few days or weeks, we would have seen Key proceed through the now very familiar stations of the National government’s communication strategy cross. (1) Say there’s nothing to be done. (2) Blame Labour. (3) Admit there’s a problem and you’re ‘looking at a range of options’. (4) Hold an inquiry, the findings of which you will probably ignore, but will (5) implement if there’s still heat on the issue when the inquiry reports back a year-or-so down the track.
One of Key’s strengths was an apparent indifference towards his government’s policy agenda. There were no bottom lines, no hills to die on. With the exception of major natural and financial disasters, everything else in the country was pretty much fine as it was but could be changed, preferably slightly, if the public mood seemed to call for it. ‘We think we’ve got the mix about right,’ was Key’s first response to any problem. It gave him enormous flexibility, and he’s leaving his office with popularity and political capital unmatched by any other Prime Minister. It’s an unusual way for a politician to go out, because one of the main reasons they’re in politics is because they have a vision for the country; values they want to translate into deeds; things they want to spend all their political capital on. Key did have some modest policy ambitions – tax cuts and partial asset sales, which he got across the line; in this term it was changing the flag and the TPPA, neither of which he delivered. Key embodied something Rob Hosking calls ‘Kiwi Conservatism’ the central tenet of which seems to be a conviction that National should be in government rather than Labour.
It’s not as if there weren’t problems for a brilliant and popular Prime Minister to solve: housing, child poverty, the broken tax system, carbon emissions, low productivity and long-term fiscal sustainability; these are all issues on which there is a broad consensus among experts that the government needs to address, some of them very urgently, even if no one agrees on how to solve them. Key was always pretty upfront that they were all someone else’s problem. In the immediate short-term the mix was about right, so long as you didn’t listen to any experts that said otherwise, and one of his government’s great achievements is transforming the public service into a giant communications department devoted to saying as little as possible.
Did it all start to seem pointless? Another election campaign. Long days travelling the country, months of retail politics visiting factories and malls, posing for selfies, long nights at fundraising dinners listening to donors and lobbyists, with the spectre of forming a government with Winston Peters at the end of it. And for what? Three more years in Wellington, away from his family, sitting through meetings, hearing people out, listening to advice he probably wasn’t going to take, endlessly assuring journalists that the experts were wrong, or that he hadn’t been briefed, or that he had the mix about right? I played a lot of computer games as a kid, and most of them had a cheat mode in which you couldn’t die; the sense of invulnerability made the game enormously fun for a few minutes and then intensely boring when it became apparent that without challenges the whole exercise was pointless. It feels as if Key found the cheat-mode to New Zealand politics – data-driven, populist flexi-conservatism – but that this is a mode of politics that bored him into ending his career.
What happens next? Key will get his knighthood, and get to enjoy his vast wealth, and sit on the board of various international banks and financial companies. National will either enjoy a smooth transition to English, or it won’t – and English has had a few months knowing this was coming to build relationships he’ll need for the very brief struggle that has come upon the rest of his party unawares.
For the past eight years the left has assured itself that National is ‘nothing without John Key’. It always felt like an excuse to me, because Key was obviously aiming at a record-long term as Prime Minister. He obviously wasn’t going anywhere. Now he’s gone and we’ll all get to find out if that’s true.
December 5, 2016
Here’s something I think it’ll be interesting to watch when Key steps down. Successful politicians are often actually a group of people who happen to cohere together and work well as a team. Key had English and Joyce but also his Chief of Staff and a couple of other influential staffers and advisers who were with him for a very long time. Maybe those people stay on and work with the new Prime Minister and everything runs as smoothly as ever. But maybe they decide now is a good time to take up a job doing something like ‘government relations’ for an Aussie bank for three times their public sector salary, and we see a real change in tone and direction. There will be a lot of focus on new PM, new Deputy, new Cabinet etc, but Key’s senior staffers ran the country and it’ll be interesting to see what happens to them.
Also, I’d love to know who is the first left-wing commentator to insist Key’s announcement is a distraction from something, sheeple.
John Key is resigning as Prime Minister of New Zealand.
Assuming we can take Key at his word and this is a voluntary decision that we take at face value, is Key the first Prime Minister to step down at a time of his own choosing like this?
I’m not sure I’ve ever read a column or op-ed about the ‘lost generation’ of Labour politicians, but it is a thing people in left-wing politics sometimes gossip about. The premise is that back in the 2000s there was a group of very promising, aspiring Labour Party politicians who were tipped for great things once they got into caucus . . . who never got into caucus. The party vote kept declining, and once safe seats went to National, and none of the incumbent MPs wanted to leave, and when they did they tended to get replaced by student politicians and/or Parliamentary staffers, few of whom were tipped for great things, and have subsequently failed to achieve them. I won’t embarrass/doom any of the rest of the lost generation by naming them, but Michael Wood was always regarded as one of them. Obviously the result of the by-election has no meaning as an indicator of the outcome of next year’s General Election, but Wood getting into Parliament by the rather symbolic route of Goff finally leaving might mean something.
December 3, 2016
I’m writing a review of a book, and I needed to find a passage in the text to quote it. And, as always, I remembered the exact location of the text on the page: like, I knew it was on a left-hand side of the page near the bottom, and it was. But I can rarely remember at what point it was in the book. The start? The end? No idea.
And I’ve just checked a couple of books I read a very long time ago (Dice Man and The Moon is a Harsh Mistress, which gives you a pretty good fix on my reading habits in my early twenties) and looked for passages I remember from them. Same deal. I remember the spatial location with total accuracy, but not which part of the book its from with any accuracy at all (unless there’s some very obvious clue in the passage). Is this a fairly common human thing, or a weird Danyl thing?
December 2, 2016
In ten years the human race may cease to exist but we can take refuge in the fact Kiwis will be the last ones standing.
At least that’s the prediction of climate change specialist Guy McPherson.
The University of Arizona emeritus professor, who is on a national speaking tour, delivered his prophecy to a room full of followers at the Wintec Campus in Hamilton this week.
Abrupt rises in temperature will wipe out the entire human species by 2026, he said, yet Kiwis are in a better position than anyone else on the planet.
But New Zealand isn’t exempt from McPherson’s initial prediction.
“I can’t imagine there’ll be a human on the planet in 10 years and probably a lot less than that.
“If I die next week I will have only lost nine years and 51 weeks compared to the last person on the planet – tops.”
There’s a great book of literary criticism by Frank Kermode called The Sense of an Ending:
The anxiety reflected by the fin de siècle is perpetual, and people don’t wait for centuries to end before they express it. Any date can be justified on some calculation or other.
And of course we have it now, the sense of an ending. It has not diminished, and is as endemic to what we call modernism as apocalyptic utopianism is to political revolution. When we live in the mood of end-dominated crisis, certain now-familiar patterns of assumption become evident.
We don’t like to think our lives constitute a brief and not important instant in the history of the world, Kermode argues. It’s much more exciting to think we’re at the end of things. The culmination. It’s why so much literature is apocalyptic and why alarmists like McPherson have such traction. People have always thought the world was just about to end.
The most plausible book I’ve read about the near climate-changed future is Paulo Bacigalupi’s The Water Knife. It’s set in the American South-West, which is collapsing under a prolonged drought. Major cities and entire regions have lost their water; there are huge refugee camps, massive migrations, hatred and contempt for the refugees, fundamentalism – it looks exactly like our world does today, in other words, only moreso. The climate has changed. The world goes on. It’s really, really horrible for lots of people, but fine for many more. Sometimes when you look at the complexity and madness of the world it seems impossible to think it can continue like this. But it can.