Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Themes of the Campaign

There's one area of a political campaign that just about everyone, at some point, falls afoul of. The campaign song. I'm not sure quite why it is, but it seems to be almost impossible for political parties to come up with a musical oeuvre that's simultaneously accessible to a broad swathe of the population, resonates with key demographics, embodies the narrative themes of your campaign, AND won't create some sort of bizarre blowback later.

I was therefore pretty surprised when National went with what was pretty clearly a slightly orchestrally elevator music version of Eminem's "Lose Yourself". It was broadly accessible (just about everyone's heard it in the decade or so since 8Mile came out); it resonated with key demographics (youth; the sort of upper-middle-class person who thinks Eminem is "edgy"); embodied the narrative theme of National's campaign (tough times, but a way forward out of them thanks to a visionary genius) ... and then it created some sort of bizarre blowback.

See, when viewing the Opening Night broadcasts, I thought that this election could be summed up as Eminem vs Coldplay (as Labour's ad featured a similarly elevator music'd Viva La Vida ... which quite possibly makes elevator music squared); although when researching this piece, it turned out that National vs Coldplay has, in fact, happened before... (they've also previously been sued by Warner Brothers, in 1984, for using the theme to Chariots of Fire.)

I'm not quite sure why there's such a pattern of right-wing parties using music they're not entitled to and which contains polemical points they don't understand; but it's not like National's the only offender.

Previous examples of this include the Republican Party borrowing the Foo Fighters' "Times Like These" to herald George W Bush, then doing the same thing four years later with "My Hero" for John McCain; although for the truly absolutely bizarre, look no further than the elected quasi-fascists of the British National Party using The Manic Street Preachers' If You Tolerate This Your Children Will Be Next.

Yes, that's right, an actual quasi-fascist party used a song written in tribute to the International Brigades which fought in the Spanish Civil War ... and EVEN INCLUDES THE LITERAL LINE "So if I can shoot rabbits/ then I can shoot fascists!" ... as their electoral anthem. Really, really logical there, people.

But let's take a step back for a moment and consider the associations and themes of the song National's actually chosen to herald the #BrighterFuture this time around. What's Lose Yourself really about? (Apart from Mum's Spaghetti)

From where I'm sitting, the entire ethos and vibe of both the song, and the accompanying movie/vehicle it's drawn from is about a man and his community that's suffering from some considerable economic marginalization. That's why he's living in a "mobile home". That's why he "can't get by with my 9 to 5 [to] provide the right type of life for my family / Coz man these food stamps don't buy diapers" ... seriously, let's just pause for a minute and consider the fact that National's official campaign theme contains lines about how state welfare/assistance recipients can't access items they need because we refuse to trust them with money - food stamps not buying diapers is eerily similar to WINZ deciding tampons were a "luxury item" that couldn't be bought with a food grant... and then we wind up with "and these times are so hard - and its' getting even harder".

Now just remind yourself, for a moment, which political party it is which has taken the song about the man struggling to be able to provide for his child because wages aren't enough to sustain a family, and state assistance has been pared back too much to help him. For some strange reason, it's the party that *opposes* a Living Wage and which has done more than any government since Ruthanasia to slash state assistance to beneficiaries. And then, to add insult to injury, the ads featuring Lose Yourself in the background have a team of rowers - a sport more usually associated with Cambridge and Oxford or our best boys' schools down the Maadi Cup, rather than "Struggle Street" (or, if you prefer, McGehan Close)

Mad, yet?

Thursday, September 11, 2014

They're tryna build a prison system - for you and me to live in

Well, at least we now know how National intends to deliver that extra hundred and fifty thousand jobs they've promised us. Although on sixty cents an hour, it's not *quite* the reasonable pay packet - or, hell, living wage that National never seems to promise to match.

Yes, that's right - National is intent on bringing back the work-house; with proposals announced this week for all of New Zealand's prisons (assumedly including the privately owned ones) to be turned into "working prisons".

Now for some stupid reason, the Green Party decided the best way to front-foot this issue was to announce "support in principle" for working prisons, provided the slave-labour wage rates prisoners will earning don't have a negative impact on private sector workers more generally.

I usually expect more from the Greens in terms of their being the sensible, sane arm of our nation's politics ... so I was inordinately surprised that Clendon's reported list of objections to the policy didn't include some of the following:

New Zealand is unlucky enough to have a prison system already part-privatized. A nuclear weapons (and other awesome, humanitarian things) company called SERCO owns and operates facilities like Mt Eden. If you do a *teensy* bit of googling about this company and its record, then you're left with the distinct impression it's a bit of a dodgy operator.

Matters only get *worse* when you start to look at how they do prisoner labour over in the United States (which, let's not forget, has a bit of a history with involuntary servitude that runs right back through Confederate cotton-fields and Framers' plantations and on into indentured white labourers being shipped over en-masse in the 1600s).

Check how Alternet puts it: "Rarely can you find workers so pliable, easy to control, stripped of political rights, and subject to martial discipline at the first sign of recalcitrance -- unless, that is, you traveled back to the nineteenth century when convict labor was commonplace nationwide

Starting to see why private prison operators are licking their lips in anticipation about being gifted their own cut-rate slave-labour workforces?

It gets worse.

Privatized prisons are most profitable when they're at as close to maximum capacity as they can be. This way the prison operator is taking the most possible money from the state and taxpayer (variable revenue) to cover both the costs per prisoner (variable costs) and the fixed costs associated with running the prison. There's therefore straight from the get-go a perverse incentive for prison operators
to frustrate attempts at parole, rehabilitation, or anything else which dents their prison population, and the concordant profitability of said operation. Ways in which this may manifest run all the way from the culture perpetuated by prison staff within the institution itself on up to lobbying the government for more punitive and incarceration-oriented sentencing legislation.

You know, like the Three Strikes You're Out (And Some Prison Operator's Latest "Investment") law which we got thanks to ACT last time around.

Turning our prisons - and particularly those which are already privatized - into workhouses (particularly when some prisoners *already* have the ability to work, and especially as part of rehabilitation efforts) just adds yet another layer of perverse disincentive for the state - or the private operators it's kicking for touch by handing responsibility on to - to actually do something about our spiraling prison population.

All National has in fact done by announcing its intent bring us "working prisons" ... is they've managed to evolve SERCO's view of its charges from "thing that gets put in hole for a few months or years and passively generates us a return" to "thing we can drag out of the hole and extract an actively generated return through mandatory labour".

So to sum up:

Privatized prisons are prisons run at a profit. Activities which generate profit are the ones which private sector operators will engage in more of. Holding as many prisoners as possible generates as much profit as possible. Making all those prisoners work for slave-wages while you pocket the revenues both from keeping them AND what they produce ... is even MORE profitable.

Letting those prisoners out on parole, or otherwise facing a declining prisoner population is *not* profitable. In fact, it actively hurts profit margins. A humane and successful rehabilitation program, therefore, would be /incredibly/ bad for business, as it would hugely reduce the recidivist inmate-pool whom SERCO's New Zealand arm is directly building its fortunes upon.

This is why I don't trust any but the state - and even then, not them all that much - with the ability to incarcerate and take away the rights of its citizenry. Because at least the state doesn't have profit margins (although it can be argued that the vote-seeking proclivities of politicans can, if anything, be worse).

The trouble is, even when you divorce the apparatii designed for arbitrating criminal cases and allocating custodial sentences from the organ charged with meting out them custodial sentences ... while on paper this makes it somewhat more difficult for private operators to demand "profitability-at-sentencing", you still wind up the people who have actual authority over prisoners day-to-day - and who can therefore make the greatest possible contribution or otherwise to prisoner rehabilitation (or, if they prefer, dehumanization) - drawing a profit from their ongoing incarceration.

And then we make it even MORE profitable to own and run a prison by letting the custodians extract productive labour out of said prisoners.

Leaving aside for a moment the /certainty/ that this WILL affect the Kiwi labour market ... I cannot wait for somebody attempting to take on a Judge who's got shares in SERCO for presumptive bias in sentencing :P 

Friday, September 5, 2014

We're on the Greenest Greens: Call us Vegetarian

Yesterday, The Internet Party and MANA issued a joint press statement setting out their respective stances on cannabis.

Despite Hone Harawira's previous and well-known opposition to law reform in this area, alteration of policy in this area was always a pretty predictable move from InternetMANA. It's a natural fit with their target demographic, a cause celebre for protest voters and many within the electorate, and perhaps most importantly, a chance for InternetMANA to once again stake out slightly more radical ground on policy than some of their chief rivals - the Green Party.

Yet it's important to look at what's actually been said by each of the respective parties when it comes to cannabis law reform. It's all too easy to wind up caught up in the smoke and mirrors (ha ...although the mirrors get used for something else) and subject to the misrepresentational vagaries of the media's interpretation and spin of parties' stances otherwise.

This appears to already be the case for InternetMANA, wherein the actual press release issued by Harawira & Harre quite clearly sets out that the Internet Party is in favour of "immediate decriminalization" and moves toward "legalization and proper regulation"; while MANA is not yet in favour of decriminalization (Harawira states this is "still being worked through" by members) and instead quite sensibly places its own stronger emphasis on "support and treatment".

Naturally, one half of InternetMANA stating it believes in decriminalization, while the other half doesn't (yet) has been read by some commentators as full support for full decriminalization and eventual regulation plus market by both parties and thus the whole alliance, as you can see here.

I don't doubt that that's where many if not most MANA supporters' hearts eventually lie; but I'm not entirely sure if it's a service to InternetMANA to remove the nuances from their position and try and make out that they're officially balls-out (buddying up?) for decriminalization. One of the strengths of the IMP alliance is its ability, in a federalized manner, to advocate policy positions that appeal simultaneously to different parts of the electorate, and while Harawira's emphasis upon the continued illegality of cannabis creating an impediment toward dependents seeking assistance and treatment with their health issue is obviously intended to be read in a complimentary way with Harre's statement about the desirability of decriminalization and eventual legalization and regulation ... I also feel that there is a market on the left for Harawira's own personal distaste for cannabis legalization - and that this aids rather than impinges upon InternetMANA's credibility with mainstream New Zealanders.

So here's a brief review of what the various parties think about cannabis:

National, predictably, remains trenchantly opposed to legalization or decriminalization. According to them, they can't see any benefits which outweigh the harms in law reform. I'm sure the presence of a number of former tobacco industry lobbyists on its List and in its post-2014 Caucus had no influence whatsoever on this. File this under "we believe the law is working, and won't be changing it any time soon".

Labour, as a fellow Big Two party and thus consequent slave to the passions of the mythical "center voter", is also cagey. I have had quite some respect for Iain Lees-Galloway on this issue, however, as he's managed to stake out a measured personal position that appears to have slowly encouraged the beginning of the reform of Labour's policy all up. At present, they're not keen on legalization, but are open to a "conversation" in this area. I doubt they'll go much further than this for some years yet, but at least they're not completely ruling out reform out of hand.

The Green Party, meanwhile, puts out some seriously confusing messages about cannabis reform. We all know that many of its members and MPs are strongly supportive of rational and pragmatic drug policy. We also all know that it's a bit of an electoral impediment to have the slightly more well-healed middle-class voters the Greens are now chasing thinking you're all a bunch of dreadlock'd, dope-smoking radicals too stoned to even contemplate an armed uprising to seize the means of production.

So the Greens attempt to strike a middle course of being somewhat all things to all people on this issue. Their official policy, as available on their website (in either summary or full-length), doesn't make mention of the words "decriminalization" or "legalization" once. Instead, they've gone for the subtle approach of signalling their intent for a "review" of laws in order to produce a "rational" drug policy; while also moving closer to de facto decriminalization (without actually advocating such explicitly) by suggesting that police be instructed to prioritize low-level cannabis offending differently in the course of their duties. They've also suggested that they'll "push" for law reform in post-election coalition negotiations with Labour; although I'm not entirely sure how seriously they intend to do so.

Other points to be considered include the fact taht Green Party cannabis policy at present precludes the set-up and operation of Amsterdam-style Cafes (due to their commitment to maintaining and extending the Smokefree Environments Act 1991 so that it applies not just to the tobacco portion of your spliff); and the seriously bizarre prescriptions in Metiria Turei's last attempted Private Member's Bill on the subject ... which, I kid you not, seriously proposed setting up a medicinal decriminalization program featuring the New Zealand Police confiscating cannabis material off "recreational" users, then distributing it to Green Card (sorry .. Medicinal Cannabis Identification Card according to s9B of said bill) holding citizens so they'll be able to grow their own. Or get somebody to grow on their behalf.

It was clearly going to be an interesting system, and for what it's worth ... while I give Metiria a pass (to the left) for enthusiasm ... I rate her bill as being less progressive and less of an actual solution than Nandor Tanczos's previous effort in this area.

Now my own beloved New Zealand First ... is advocating for a #Reeferendum on the subject, with Winston himself seeing "probative value" in medicinal marijuana. There will be some in the audience who insist that a referendum is a cop-out mechanism (and will assumedly start making Equality of Marriage noises) ... but I would point out that first, a referendum is *exactly* how legalization was achieved in both of Colorado and Washington State; and second, that given the manifest divergence of opinion between New Zealanders and their elected representatives on this issue ... I can well imagine a scenario in which New Zealanders would vote en-masse for the legalization measures that their Parliamentarians would never do likewise for :P

Humorously, this effectively means that the only Party above 5% whom you can vote for on September 20th with a drug law reform policy that's proven to have worked overseas (and which consequently can result in legalization if that's something the people of New Zealand feel they can live with) ... is New Zealand First.

However, as with Harawira, we believe that the most important part of any conversation surrounding the state's role in regulating drugs is that of supporting those who develop issues with drugs through treatment and recovery. One of my proudest accomplishments with NZF thus far has been getting the main party to adopt NZ First Youth's recommendation that we seek to *reverse* the funding cuts National has meted out to addiction and substance abuse services. Needless to say, whomever decided to cut state support for substance addiction and abuse treatment at the same time that synthetic cannabinoids were being legalized, was a class A jackarse.

Of the sub-5 Percenters, the two parties everybody's watching when it comes to cannabis reform are United Future and ACT.

United Future's stance on drugs has been somewhat confusing in recent times, with Dunne appearing to zig-zag more than my rolling papers on what he believes about a whole range of substances ranging from whether synthetic cannabinoids should be legal through to pondering how exactly to justify keeping the evidently much less harmful *real* cannabinoids illicit.

What will he think tomorrow? Let's ask his son, the legal highs industry lobbyist and find out :P

ACT, meanwhile, is branding itself as a classical liberaltarian party which is so incredibly philosophically honest with its supporters, that its leader will quite happily comment to the assembled and waiting news media about how he thinks incest should be more broadly legalized ... yet the party's so incredibly paranoid about breaking its base with a divisive question like this (as happened in 2011 when Don Brash briefly came within striking distance of justifying his existence and resurrecting ACT's political fortunes by advocating decriminalization ... before John Banks declared this would be happening over his, or quite possibly the ACT Party's dead body...) that it's specifically taken cannabis law reform off their policy agenda. You won't find a single mention of cannabis anywhere on their policy site; and the closest it comes to talking about drugs or drug users is when it's blaming them for burglaries.

I shall say that again: A "classical liberal/libertarian" party lead by a philosophy lecturer *so incredibly pure* in his libertarian thought that he doesn't see the problem with advocating for legalized incest in an election year, and who was perfectly happy penning screeds in academic publications about the implicit desirability of liberalizing gun laws and other instances of "paternalizing authoritarianism" such as drug prohibition ... yet who balks at actually turning the most reasonable instance of opposition to the "paternalizing authoritarianism" of "prohibition" into actual policy because he knows that his real views scare even his own voter-base!

The Maori Party doesn't seem to have a policy on this issue, but are more interested in decriminalization rather than legalization.

Colin Craig's Conservative Party is, predictably, violently opposed to any movements in this area. I have noted with some interest that this indicates Craig's opposition to drug law reform effectively trumps the Conservative Party's commitment to Direct Democracy in this area. For persons looking for points of difference between the Cons and NZF ... the fact that NZF is open to listening to the Will of the People in this area, while the Cons aren't, is pretty dang telling.

Oh, and I think the Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party *may* possibly want to reform NZ's drug laws surrounding cannabis, but yeah ... these guys are Exactly What It Says On The Tin (ha).

So there you have it. Party Policy on Cannabis, all wrapped up in a tidy zip-lock bag for your easy consumption.

Tuesday, September 2, 2014

New Zealand First: Coalition of the Willing and a few Bottom Lines

There is, right now, an absolute metric truck-tonne of misinformation, lies, and willful distortion flying about on social media, in the blogosphere and even in the media and corridors of power about New Zealand First's coalition position. Some of this is the natural result of a semi-competent media underreporting (deliberately or otherwise) what we've actually said on this matter. Unfortunately, a large chunk of the rest can be more easily explained by well-meaning but factually challenged left-wing persons frantically running about engaging in the willful misrepresentation of our coalition stance so as to feather their own nests and bolster the party vote of their own organizations by raiding our constituency and protest-vote.

Such is politics.

But because NZF may very well require your vote in order to hold the balance of political responsibility after the election (and, not coincidentally, implement an economic agenda widely agreed to be to the left of the modern-day Labour Party), you deserve better than spin and distortion.

So here are the facts about NZF's coalition position.

We have set out, at this point in time, SIX bottom lines that any party wishing to form a government with us needs to meet before we'll consider them.

They are:

#Renationalization of those assets just privatized by National.
#KeepIt65 on the retirement age.
#KiwiFund to ensure superannuation is sustainable and to bolster investment in our economy

As you can see, it's a pretty solid list of bottom lines, and has something to represent most flavours of the NZ First ethos. It's also quite probably deliberately designed to offend both Labour *and* National (as there's stuff on there that each side doesn't like), as well as challenging each party to think very seriously about how they can align with our vision for New Zealand, and work with us to improve the country.

To move through them in order, #Renationalization is at the very core of what NZF is about as a Party. We religiously believe in a large and expansive role for the state in the economy - particularly when it comes to essential, strategic and vital services like the generation and distribution of electricity. We are also furiously opposed to asset sales; and unlike virtually every other party in Parliament, we are prepared to stick our Manifesto where our mouth is and actually do something to reacquire these for the benefit of future generations of Kiwis. The state of play on this bottom line is that National is obviously not keen; while Labour's most recent position is that they're torn between saying it's unaffordable given their quixotic commitment to delivering neoliberal surplus (due to a lack of "fiscal headroom") ... and suggesting they'll somehow find the money to make it happen if they need us. (The Greens were running a similar "fiscal responsibility" line some months back, but appear to be increasingly keen on this front)

Next, we have #KeepIt65. Now the close linkage between the GreyPower demographic and NZF obviously needs no introduction here, and I started crowing for joy when Labour announced their idiotic policy of raising the retirement age to 67 for Kiwi workers on grounds that it *would* spook some older voters our way ... but the real impetus of this bottom line is not to safeguard superannuation for the current (or even immediately proximate) generation of Gold Card holders. No, due to Labour's policy tactics, the first generation that will be affected by Labour's policy of raising the retirement age to 67 is actually my own. NZF is therefore attempting to secure exactly the same right to dignity in old age and retirement for *my* generation as it has successfully fought for and protected for those of our parents' and grandparents' generations. Bizarrely, on this score, National is completely cool with keeping the pension age 65, while Labour insists on cleaving to its right-wing and anti-worker policy of raising the age of entitlement. (The Greens, of course, are down with 65)

#KiwiFund is a sovereign wealth fund along the lines of the Singaporean CPF or Norwegian SPF mechanisms, and would seek to simultaneously keep state superannuation payments sustainable by providing additional revenue-streams through better investment and fewer private-sector ticket-clippers; while also remedying the huge economic problem that is an ongoing shortfall of investment monies to help Kiwi business grow, and also providing a coin-reserve for #Renationalization. The state of play on this at present is that National's not particularly keen on the idea, but Labour is open to its further exploration. It would also dovetail quite nicely with the Universal Kiwisaver policy being bandied about. (The Greens have praised this policy as a "move in the right direction", and there are some obvious similarities with the Green Party's proposed Green Development Bank policy)

Meanwhile, the #EndRaceBasedPolicy point is a philosophical stand of opposition to, exactly as it says on the tin, race-based policy. Given National's role in undoing NZF's visionary 2004 action to vest the entire Foreshore & Seabed in the hands of *all* New Zealanders, as well as its enthusiastic endorsement of Whanau Ora, it would seem fair to say that National is not a fan. Labour, by contrast, when they heard about this bottom line was keen to signal a review of Whanau Ora. So Labour is, at least, putting in a bit of effort to grab our attention on this front, even if full coterminity appears unlikely. (The Greens, predictably, are going in completely the opposite direction)

#StopSellingFarmlandOffshore is, again, at the very heart of what New Zealand First is about as a Party. We resolutely believe in New Zealanders owning their own economic destiny and being citizens rather than serfs in our own land. We have opposed consistently and without ethnic fear nor favour the ongoing transfer of our productive wealth - whether farmland, forestry, or fisheries - to offshore interests for 21 years now. Without getting into detail about alternatives to foreign ownership (Winston did moot a sort of nationalization of the Crafar Farms by Landcorp, for instance), this is a stand that is very, very important to us. It's also a policy that Labour and the Greens appear to be mostly down with (albiet with the Labour version, predictably, being weaker and watered down); and one that National (despite the wishes of its farming constituency, one assumes) will NEVER agree to.

Now, the #RoyalCommissionOnDirtyPolitics bottom line, announced just this week, is the one that's caused the most recent controversy over on my Wall. What's happened here is Winston has demanded that a full-scale Royal Commission of Inquiry be convened to look into the #DirtyPolitics imbroglio. We have made this an absolutely "rock solid" bottom line (as befits the importance of this issue to both the election and the New Zealand People), and have requested that the appointment of personnel be done by somebody other than the Prime Minister. It would also seem logical to demand a rather broader question than the tightly defined and highly focused (away from the main target) set of parameters Key's Inquiry will be operating under.

This looks like something *calculated* to annoy National (and, not coincidentally, serve the national interest by taking on National's interests), yet I've seen people who really ought to know better spend a goodly portion of their afternoons trying to seriously advance the idea that "Winston declares necessity for Royal Commission to expose National's corrupt and dodgy actions" is axiomatically the same as "Winston announces marriage proposal to National Party".

That's actually why I was motivated to write this piece in the first place - because there is now so much misinformation, and such a toxic narrative of teleology surrounding our coalition position and negotiations, that people are *actually reading* the announcement of things National *clearly and obviously doesn't want* as NZF attempting to extend an olive branch in their direction.

All I can say about that is ... if you think this is an olive branch we're extending, then prepare to witness somebody being thrashed across the back repeatedly with an olive-branch.

So let's score them up, shall we?

> On #Renationalization, National will not co-operate; but Labour *might*. (The Greens also)
> On #KeepIt65, National *will* co-operate, but Labour won't. (The Greens are being sensible)
> On #KiwiFund, neither National nor Labour seems especially interested, although Labour's "happy to look at the policy". (The Greens are advancing a not entirely dissimilar in objective Green Development Bank, and there are obvious opportunities for cross-polination here; #BlackGreen2014)
> On #EndRaceBasedPolicy, neither side will likely measure up to our specifications; but Labour has, at least, signalled a review of Whanau Ora. (The Greens have their own values on this one, and this is about as far diverged as the Black and the Green get)
> On #StopSellingFarmlandOffshore, Labour and the Greens have already signalled their willingness to consider our bottom line policy; and it is a genuine pleasure, from the NZF perspective, to actually have other parties assisting us in beating the drum about this issue. National, by contrast, continues to sell farmland, forestry and fishing-quota to its rich foreign mates.
> On the #RoyalCommissionOnDirtyPolitics bottom line, National refuses to say whether it's ruling our demand in or out. I haven't yet seen how Labour or the Greens have reacted to Winston's call, but I imagine they would see the utility in *properly* Inquiring into the most turgid political imbroglio of the last five years.

How does that add up?

Labour's down with one of our Bottom Lines straight-up - that of ceasing farmland sales to foreigners. I imagine, given their recent police complaint, that they're also potentially keen for a full Royal Commission on Dirty Politics. They're also open to considering another two, in the form of #Renationalization and #KiwiFund; while signalling a partial amenability to ending race-based policy by initiating a review of Whanau Ora. Unfortunately, there's no sign of them backing away from their decision to raise the retirement age for my generation first. So that's one in favour, one against, and a whole lot of partials that are still somewhat up in the air.

National, by contrast, is *also* in immediate agreement with one of our Bottom Lines - in this case, opposing Labour's right-wing move to increase the age of retirement. Politics, as they say, occasionally makes for strange bedfellows; but given the NZF position of supporting good policy and opposing bad policy - no matter WHERE it comes from, we are fortunate to have support from a large swathe of the rest of the House in opposing the pension age increasing. On literally EVERY SINGLE OTHER bottom line apart from potentially the Royal Commission on Dirty Politics, National is either actively opposed or severely unlikely to be in favour. I'm sure by the end of the month they'll have discounted a proper Royal Commission, too. So that's one in favour, and a whole lot against.

Meanwhile, the Green Party supports at least two of our bottom lines already (#KeepIt65 and #StopSellingFarmlandOffshore); with open praise and support for a third in the form of #KiwiFund. And again, would assumedly be easily able to support a full #RoyalCommissionOnDirtyPolitics. They haven't ruled out #Renationalization, leaving the only serious stumbling block to my glorious #BlackGreen2014 aspirations as each party's rather different and highly differentiated stances on unitary nationalism.

So really, any sane consideration of NZF's bottom lines that actually takes them, and Winston, at his word and at face value ... seemingly inevitably results in the conclusion that a National-NZF government is non-viable at this stage, without National basically transforming into a fundamentally different (#Muldoonist?) party and performing backflips upon command on most of its big-ticket policy agenda.

NZF and Labour are obviously vaguely compatible, and I would additionally point to the litany of NZF policy that mysteriously appears in Labour Party press releases and policy statements as evidence that this is tacitly acknowledged and acted upon by the Redshirts. (Check, for instance, the rather amusing story of NZ First Youth proposing a state-run insurer called KiwiSure to our Party's 2013 Convention Policy Process ... which Winston then liked enough as an idea it made its way straight from being unanimously passed by our Convention into his Closing Address as fully fledged policy. David Cunliffe then got up a week later at his *own* party's Convention and announced a state-run insurer called KiwiAssure. We are given to understand there was some annoyance within Labour that we'd managed to beat them to both the punch, the policy and the more rolls-off-the-tongue name :P)

Meanwhile, out of the parties in Parliament under their own steam (i.e. who've cracked 5%), the party that *actually* seems to be closest and most coterminous to NZF, particularly on the matter of our actually-announced coalition bottom lines ... is the Green Party. I'm sure there are some Greenies and some Blacks out there in the audience who are utterly appalled even by the suggestion :P

In any case, you might be wondering why, if we already appear to be so much closer (i.e. within striking distance, rather than striking at one another) of an alignment with Labour rather than National; why we'd even bother to persist with holding parallel negotiations or not, y'know, just straight-up ruling out the Nats. They are, as I have argued above, furiously unlikely to *ever* accede to more than one or two of our bottom lines.

Well, it's quite simple. We gain more bargaining power with the left-wing option if there are other options (particularly other than Cross-Benches) sitting on the table. From a left-wing perspective, it's therefore perfectly possible to endorse Winston not ruling out Key *just yet* on the basis of perfectly clear bottom lines that Key is perfectly free to accept or reject - purely because when you get right down to it, Winston keeping Key not-ruled-out will be used to force Labour to adopt an economic agenda well to the left of what its present constituency and not-especially-post-Neoliberal Caucus would be prepared to support on their own terms :P (Thanks, Chet)

I shall say that again: Winston *not ruling Key out just yet* is actually a tactic that will enable the forcing of Labour's economic agenda *well to the left*. Hopefully, all going to plan, it'll necessitate Labour dropping its plan to increase the retirement age, and engaging in the #Nationalization of a large swathe of the produtive economy :D And people wonder why I'm a socialist in this Party :P

With all this talk of coalitions, the other salient point to be considered is who's ruled whom out. As it stands at the moment, NZF and the Greens have both ruled each other *in* (so it doesn't look like the 2005 situation of Rod Donald calling Winston Hitler and NZF Nazi, followed up by Winston ruling him out of government in consequence will be re-eventuating), for starters. Beyond that, NZF has ruled out working with both the Maori Party and MANA Party on grounds that neither would be able to abide by our #EndRaceBasedPolicy line (as the Maori Party is, as the name implies, a racially based party; while I can see how the same claim could be levelled at MANA, while also disagreeing that this is actually the case - they've just got a really strong focus in this area); and the ACT Party for being generally economically and socially extremist and having an agenda which, while not putting them *quite* in the "race-based party" camp, does certainly seem devoted almost exclusively to appeasing Whyte people. United Future went out on principle (or, rather, lack thereof); and Hell will acquire an emissions trading scheme before Winston will work with the Conservatives. (Who won't be in Parliament anyway, odds on) In the mean-time, I'm also rather hopeful that Winston not yet explicitly mentioning the Internet Party when talking about who's ruled out means that they're in a different boat to MANA in his eyes. (As opposed to just being a different boat in Georgina Beyer's eyes)

So the other factor for hyperbolic left-wingers paranoid about the possibility of Nat-NZF coalition need to consider is the availability of other support partners. As a wise commentator once said, the first rule of politics is learning how to count; and given we have effectively ruled out working with anybody (including Hone) who's lent Confidence & Supply to the Nats at any point over the previous six years; anybody proposing a Nat-NZF coalition needs to be well mindful of the fact they are proposing *just* a Nat-NZF coalition, without any ACT, UF or Maori Party involvement. While National and NZF *might* have the numbers to govern by themselves, I additionally feel that NZF ruling out all of National's support partners does not exactly make a National-lead government at the end of the year more likely, but rather less.

Finally, we are a party of long (some would say elephantine, or perhaps more accurately, draconic) memory and capacious grudge-bearing capacity. We *remember* just as the Electorate does how we managed to negotiate a coalition deal with the National Party in 1996 which specifically mandated an *end* to Privatization. We also *remember* how the Nats went back on their word on that one, and were even prepared to *roll their Leader* rather than continue to abide by the terms of our agreement. (Wonder if the spectacle of National's Caucus rolling the PM because yon PM wasn't "correctly" managing the relationship with Winston is something that motivated Key to get rid of Collins :P ) Winston even wound up having to publicly *apologize to the nation* for the 1996 National-NZF coalition.

Taking the broader view, we here in NZF are acutely aware that the way National tends to relate to its support parties is a pretty abusive relationship. Admittedly, this isn't always intentional; and it's perfectly possible to lay at least *some* of the blame for each of the Maori Party, ACT and United Future's votes collapsing (by this stage, assuredly into some form of singularity) on each of the Maori Party, ACT and United Future ... but National's actions in getting the Maori Party to vote against its declared "principles" when it came to things like raising GST; or securing United Future's vote for asset sales; or even directly launching a hostile takeover bid of the ACT Party that did even more damage to ACT's brand than even ACT was capable of (a truly heroic feat) all point toward a worrying pattern of smaller parties getting caught up in the mighty gravity well of Planet Key, then shaking themselves (and their constituencies) asunder over the course of their term in office until by next election there's just rag-tag scraps and crumbs trying desperately in vain to justify their "seat at the table" and wholesale enthusiasm for maintaining their "baubles of office".

Why, exactly, do all you ardent rumour-mongers insistent upon the inevitability of NZF-National post-2014 seriously think we'd want a bar of that?

In any case, for us, this frank understanding of the potential dangers of working with National is not exactly vicarious. As quite a few slightly over-egged MANA candidates mad keen on sucking up all the protest votes will tell you, we've also had direct experience with the fallout same here in NZF. Fully three quarters of our members back in 1996 preferred us to work with Labour; and two thirds of our voters expected exactly this to happen. Our share of the vote collapsed from 13% to 2% in a matter of months, and it's a frank miracle that NZF managed to re-enter Parliament in 1999. I don't have to point to poll figures, either, to tell you that the aftermath of that disastrous coalition basically gutted the Party's membership, talent-pool, credibility with voters, and future prospects. We are literally, here in 2014, still labouring to recover the lost ground that we forsook almost twenty years ago! (As sadly proven by the number of voters who *still* refuse to trust Winston because of what happened in 1996, yet mysteriously suffer a John Key-esque brainfade when prodded about NZF working with Labour from 2005-8)

The really sad thing is it wasn't even entirely our fault - the possible governing combinations in 1996 were Labour-NZF-Alliance, National-NZF, or Labour-National (yes, somebody *seriously* proposed a National-Labour Grand Coalition, because the Big Two parties weren't exactly wild about MMP in general and having to work with Winston in particular). The alternative was a Hung Parliament and going back to the polls for another election. As it was, Jim Anderton and the Alliance refused point-blank to work with Labour if their government featured a Winston in it, therefore leaving NZF with the choice of working with National or forcing the country back to the polls.

Given it would quite possibly have been a bit of a body-blow to MMP had NZ's first-ever MMP election produced a Hung Parliament and consequent new election, I can perhaps see (but not agree with) the logic in how things played out.

In any case, the million dollar question (or, if you prefer, four million citizen question) this Election is shaping up to be "Who will Winston go with". Personally, I am noting with approval The Chief's noises, growing slowly louder in volume, about casting a "plague on both your houses" and making for the Cross-Benches rather than work with either side. This is a principled position, particularly given the fact that neither main party looks likely to accede to *all* our bottom lines; and would also afford us the freedom to vote "issue-by-issue". Considering NZF is supposed to be all about "supporting good policy and opposing bad policy *no matter where it comes from*", the cross-benches thus make sense as a home for us.

If you've by some Herculean (or, if you prefer, Winstonian) feat of political endurance managed to make it to the end of this tract; I hope it's been informative. It's occasionally a really tough feeling in politics, having to swim against a seemingly overwhelming tide of willful misinformation and speculation; but making sure that voters are informed about what parties *have actually said* and *are actually likely to do* is vitally important to the functioning of any democracy.

Unfortunately, I cannot rule out, on behalf of my party, *any* form of co-operation with National after this election. I'm not empowered to do that, and in any case, it's not how NZF's ethos and vibe works. But what I can do, and what I hopefully have done here is to set out for you under exactly what terms NZF will countenance working with *any* party after the election - blue, red, or even Green; and also the state of play at present about how close each of the Big Two is to being in a position to be able to form a government with us. In case you missed it ... only the Green Party seems to be even remotely in contention at the moment; with Labour a distant second depending upon how they decide to jump on some of our bottom lines that they're presently unsure about but potentially "open" to. National just genuinely doesn't seem to be making any but the most cosmetic of efforts to meet our demands. And why would they - if they went with us ... crazy, renationalizing, nationalist, spendthrift, calling-Key-a-liar-and-scalping-at-least-one-Nat-Minister-a-year us ... they'd implode as a party and as a government within a year. The only people likely to be *less* enthused about a Nat-NZF coalition than ardent left-wingers are the neoliberal rightists who form the very upper echelons of National that we'd have to work with in the first place!

Personally, I just can't wait until we no longer have to form coalitions around the axial of the neoliberal "major" parties so that I can get my #BlackGreen2014 on and get down to the serious task of ending Neoliberalism in New Zealand with support partners who *actually understand that's what needs to happen* ... but that's a task for the future.

In the mean-time, I'm running a series of continuous Ask Me Anythings about NZF pretty much from now until September 20th. If you've got a question about NZF - our policy, coalition stances, history, ethos, Winston's favourite brand of cigarettes ... anything at all ... don't hesitate to hit me up on social media via facebook (Curwen Ares Rolinson) or twitter (@huntersrolinson).

I am committed to getting an accurate picture of NZF out there into the electorate.

Saturday, August 30, 2014

Spies, Lies and When Campaigns Are Fried

Like most of the rest of the nation's political classes, I was eagerly affixed to TV One from 12:30 on Saturday afternoon to witness the downfall of Judith Collins.

Whenever we witness the crumbling of a titan of the political landscape who's seemingly stood astride the entire nation's politics like a taser-wielding colossus, I'm always put in the mind of watching US troops toppling statues of Saddam Hussein after the Fall of Iraq nearly a decade ago. Older readers may remember graven idols of Lenin or Stalin being chiseled off their plinths and pulled down by trucks after the collapse of Communism in Eastern Europe.

But as with Red Tsars being ceremonially dethroned across the former USSR, it's very, very easy for the symbolic change being enacted in front of us (a tyrant rolled) to distract utterly from the also highly symbolic *lack of change* that's actually occurring behind the scenes. In the case of Eastern Europe, getting rid of red banners and gold stars bellied a slide back toward autocracy, a KGB President, and revanchism unseen since the dark days of 1956's Hungarian Uprising. As applies Collins, we have a situation of a Minister being forced to resign specifically to avoid some very hard and searching questions being asked of the regime which exists behind and around her.

We can tell that we are not being given the full story simply by watching Key's press conference. The whole thing seems vaguely unreal - particularly to him.

Not three weeks ago, we had Key decrying #DirtyPolitics, and bemoaning the perfidy of using hacked emails as evidence to demand accountability from National's front bench and Collins in particular.

Then, earlier this week and last, we had Key putting Collins on a "last last chance", so sure was he that she'd remain lilly-white until at least after the Election.

The penultimate nail in the coffin came late last week when Winston Peters boldly proclaimed that Collins had made a surreptitious approach to the NZF camp asking if we'd be more keen to work with a Collins-led National Party than a Key-led one after the election.

Key said that he disbelieved Winston's assertion, and backed Collins ... but he *also* noted that if the allegation turned out to be true, Collins would be gone by lunchtime.

Watch what happens next.

Yesterday, Winston stated his preparedness to sign a sworn affidavit, and perhaps more importantly, to start conjuring witnesses to prove his allegation. He even challenged Collins to *sue him* if he was lying.

This morning, Key called Collins.

This afternoon, Key went live on national television to tell us that Collins was resigning as a Minister.

The strength of the "official" evidence against her cited in this afternoon's press conference by Key was a single, solitary email. Which, given the way emails involving Cameron Slater appear to have become the reified embodiment of the pen being mightier than the sword this campaign, is perhaps not entirely surprising.

However, what was more interesting was Key's series of answers to journalists inquiring about the provenance of the email. Who'd passed it to his Office? Where did it come from? Are they able to prove its veracity? Is it a *hacked* email? Given his earlier disparagement of the use of hacked emails to evince allegations, isn't it a little hypocritical for the PM to be relying upon a quite probably hacked email of unproven sourcing or even veracity to casually ditch a Minister of the Crown?

The answers we got to these, and other questions, were not exactly compelling.

All of this leads me to believe that the email Key cites - the single, solitary email that may or may not be a hack, a fabrication, or just simply something they can't to any reasonable standard of proof actually state a case for acting in reliance upon ...

... so the email is a cover story. A screen.

Because the only thing in a power-hungry rule-of-the-mighty organization like the National Caucus that *actually* constitutes a hanging offence, isn't this kind of fendable allegation (it'd be all too easy for Key to simply ignore an email that's turned up anonymously in his office). Oh no, it's the strong and realistic threat of a coup from Collins that has finally spooked Key into action. Particularly as he'd look ineffably weak if he hadn't done *anything* in response to the recent rumblings and rumour that Winston pointed to.

Let us be clear about this. Winston Peters has *finally* succeeded in his year-long quest to claim the Ministerial Scalp of Judith Collins. There's a very limited array of potential plausible alternative explanations for why Key would have ordered teh resignation of his Justice Minister. It's possible that there's something even *more* explosive than a coup plot; but at the very least, there *has* to be more to this story than just one email anonymously passed to John Key's office.

The only other possibility is that National's campaign team has finally become absolutely convinced that it *has* to staunch the bleeding Collins' ongoing imbroglios are causing, so much that cauterizing the wound by axing Collins is necessary and vital; indicating an inside job. But even then, the causal event which would have triggered this consideration would have to have been Winston yesterday claiming he was prepared to produce an affidavit and witnesses to substantiate his allegation of Collins on a coup-path.

In other news, going off his statements this afternoon about "if you go through the book", it now also appears that John Key's office has read Dirty Politics :D

Wonder if anything in there surprised them ;)

Monday, August 25, 2014

That Awkward Feeling When Your Campaign Goes Over A Cliff

Urgh. It's a thankless and nearly impossible task politically firefighting some days. Somebody (who isn't you, but who's in your care, or whom you've got a close professional relationship with) does or says something stupid; somebody from the Media's there and on-hand to record whatever it is that happened, then broadcast it with editorializing to make it look about as bad as possible ... and nekminnit, there's half a hundred "concerned citizens" all over facebook, twitter, and the internet generally all jumping up and down demanding that your candidate apologize, resign, or possibly spontaneously self-combust through sheer force of projected embarrassment.

As can hardly have escaped the voting public's notice, New Zealand First seems to be somewhat more prone to these sorts of gaffes than, say, the National Party - but that's just because the Nats can afford a comprehensive army of spin-doctors and media managers to cover their mistakes, whereas NZ First tends to field rather more in the way of "ordinary real New Zealander" candidates with an occasionally refreshing (and, dependent upon the candidate, occasionally cringe-worthy) non-political way of speaking their minds.

On his blog published earlier today, Bomber has posed the question "Who's Cliff Lyon's charm coach? Cameron Slater?" Well, no, it's not WhaleOil; although you may cite me as the NZF equivalent - Dolphin-Gris. For you see, Cliff is the NZF candidate here in Epsom, and as the Chairman of the local NZF Electorate, he therefore falls under my aegis.

I was therefore somewhat surprised to read Cliff's reported comments in the media, as I also chair Cliff's campaign team; and I can tell you right now that the *entire operation*, literally to a man, is gay, unemployed/on a benefit, and/or a "loony intelligent left [educated] at Auckland University". Indeed, I'm in two of these camps right now myself (I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to work out which).

So the idea that Cliff's got a problem with any of the groups cited in the quote, or thinks they axiomatically *have* to be in Labour, immediately flies out the window.

What we're left with instead is the actual substance of what he was saying. Now I'm not going to get embroiled in a quagmire of equivocation over the specific choice of words used. Cliff may be, to use his own words, "just a one-week old politician", and an acknowledged novice in the fine arts of political communication ... but that's no excuse. We demand high standards from those seeking our confidence to ascend to elected office, and that implicitly includes having the due care to think about how a controversial-sounding statement might be run away with by mischievous fingers (the way the Herald wound up reporting the story yesterday evening, it was made to look like Winston had uttered the offending quote, instead of his old friend from law school) - as well as a certain level of thought about the desirability or otherwise of taking a marginalized group in society like the unemployed or LGBT persons (I don't think you can seriously claim left-wing university students are "marginalized", except by their own Uni administrations) and using them as an escutcheon upon which to hang a narrative about a rival political party.

Because seriously, that's exactly what Cliff did. He didn't get up and overtly insult gay people or beneficiaries, and eye-witnesses have Cliff including *himself* in the ambit of "loony intelligent left who sit up at Auckland University". (It is, after all, where he himself was educated; and you can rest assured I wouldn't be working with Cliff if I didn't believe his economic proclivities to be broadly left-wing)

Instead, he made the only barely controversial claim that Labour has, since 1984, decided to cover for its waning focus on improving the lot of the ordinary Kiwi worker by instead massively ramping up its focus on identity politik issues such as those that definitely *do* appeal rather strongly to left-liberal-latte groups like the students of Young Labour (who have this unfortunate habit of bouncing policy remits that'd sail through NZF with ease for being "too socialistic") and which tend to focus on LGBT-relevant issues. We saw this directly evinced in 1986, when Labour attempted to make up for all the heinous things it was doing to our economy through the commission of the Good Thing that was the Homosexuality Reform Act 1986. None of which takes away from the fundamental justice and moral right of homosexuality being decriminalized in that year; and none of which suggests that it's not possible to actually advance *both* an identity-politik/social justice agenda *and* a progressive economic reform/justice agenda simultaneously. Because if it really weren't possible, you wouldn't have The Green Party doing exactly that.

But I do have to wonder about Bomber's charge that what Cliff said was "homophobic". Labour MPs have, nobly, taken the lead on LGBT issues for quite some time. I've already cited the Homosexuality Reform Act 1986, to which we can also add Civil Unions, and Jacinda Ardern's bill on gay adoption (which also forms the basis for one of my favourite polemical points - if voting against a bill to advance the interests of non-straight people is axiomatically homophobic, as it is often alleged NZF voting against equality of marriage was ...what, then, to make of the Green Party voting en-masse against Ardern's bill to legalize gay (partnered) adoption?). All this taken together does certainly evince that Labour ought to have a strong core of support from some of the LGBT portions of the electorate. Something they are justifiably proud of over in Labour. It would be fallacious, unreasonable and patently unrealistic to attempt to read into Cliff's remarks the idea that *all* LGBT voters and activists here in NZ are affiliated with Labour (particularly given i) Cliff's aforementioned campaign team; and ii) the fact that New Zealand First's Parliamentary Caucus has proportionately a greater number of non-straight people in it than The Green Party's does, iirc); but I'm not *quite* sure, unless you consider being associated with the Labour Party to be a grievous and prejudicial insult, how pointing out that LGBT New Zealanders have much reason to support Labour is actually "homophobic". His political stereotypes do require some updating, however; as MANA has taken over the mantle from Labour as the party with the reputation for attracting and looking after beneficiaries (while ACT's got the rep for being the party for those seeking a government hand-out *koff* #SeatOfEpsom *koff*), with Internet/MANA *also* now being a far more viable home for campus lefties than the tired and warmed-over neoliberals of Young Labour.

ANYWAY. While what Cliff said was not, in my estimation, particularly sensitive to the idea of *not* using marginalized groups in society to make a political point with - and therefore not especially helpful to NZF's overall campaign; I do also note that it's a bit of a long bow to draw to go from Cliff's statement that several clades within the electorate support Labour (when at best, it's *some* of the voters from those clades; and the *actual* issue being raised is the perceived misprioritization of an economic agenda, not who supports what party) to the charges of "homophobia" and "beneficiary-bashing" such as Bomber's attempting to make out. Particularly given Cliff's alleged self-inclusion in the "loony left students who sit up at Auckland University" group, I'm not even sure that "anti-intellectualism" can be seriously sustained. Although it's also worthwhile to note that neither myself nor Bomber (to the best of my knowledge) is gay, so we two straight (mostly) white males (one of whom's even drawing a non-state-provided income) may potentially not be the best authorities on what constitutes homophobia in this day and age.

I would also respectfully suggest to *all* sides in this issue (particularly Nicholas Jones of the New Zealand Herald) that it is additionally a pretty tall order to try and make out that Cliff's poorly phrased and off the cuff comment is in any way reflective of a broader New Zealand First attitude toward each of the Labour Party, LGBT New Zealanders, beneficiaries, or "loony intelligent left students who sit up at Auckland University".

We have explicitly ruled in working with the Labour Party, and it looks pretty likely that Labour will accede to *far more* of our bottom lines for coalition negotiation than National will (the main sticking point remains the pension age - we want it kept at 65, Labour's hell-bent on raising it to 67 for *my* generation first). We are also an acknowledged champion of the economically downtrodden here in Kiwi society, and particularly due to the preponderance of pensioners within our party's midst, New Zealand First members often have close experience of the difficulties of living on a fixed income under a right-wing government. And when it comes to New Zealanders of sexual orientations other than straight, I can only cite my ardent belief that the unitary nationalism and "one law for all"ishness that NZF theoretically ascribes to applies to *all* Kiwis, regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation.

Every time I hit up an NZF or New Zealand First Youth event, meeting or Convention, I'm always struck by the huge and gaping duality between the way we're often portrayed and thought of with who we actually are as a party. Despite the cherrypicked impression the media always try and go for, we aren't just a homogenous bloc of pensioners, Polynesians, and pissed off Tangata Whenua; we have by now quite sizable contingents of Youth (and therefore students, frequently drawn from the mighty "loony intelligent" Symonds St NZF branch of NZ First Youth that operates up at Auckland), and as applies the rest of the ambit of Cliff's comments, we've *always* had a strong contingent of people who've been done over economically by the excesses and natural consequences of neoliberal capitalism and who therefore need a state-provided leg-up (i.e. beneficiaries) ... and as applies LGBT NZFers, one of my proudest accomplishments was the day I started receiving hate-mail from some of New Zealand's most prominent neo-nazis (and associates) about how they now could not support NZF due to the fact we'd somehow acquired a "Rainbow Wing" lead by yours truly.

One of the things I'm therefore quite annoyed about with this whole imbroglio, is the fact that certain pundits and politicos will attempt to use Cliff's comments, assuredly out of context and ramped up to eleven, to try and portray NZF as diametrically opposed to how we actually are - a party for *all* New Zealanders, and one which rigorously stands up to discrimination regardless of whether it's carried out on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, or mental health.

So let me put it this way. If you're mature enough to accept that Trevor Mallard didn't suddenly commit Labour to resurrecting the Moa by 2020 when he made a comment about it off-the-cuff; and if you can see how Kim DotCom tweeting idiotic things about killing sex workers doesn't make Internet Party leader Laila Harre a misogynist by association ...

... then you ought to, without too many leaps of logic and equivalency, be able to see how Cliff stating that there's a strong degree of support for Labour from LGBT New Zealanders, and latte-liberal students (I'm not convinced beneficiaries support Labour that much these days ... but then, according to most polling, it doesn't seem like *anybody* supports Labour that much these days) ought not be taken as a negative reflection on either NZF as a whole, or Winston. (perhaps unless, again, you consider being associated with Labour to be a perjorative) Which doesn't mean you have to agree with the way the comment was phrased, either - I sure don't; and will be endeavoring to ensure that we're on-message and not diverted by side-shows and slip-ups from now until the Election.

Still, some days I wish I just had to counter-spin the nice, easy soft throws the Green MPs occasionally come out with - the worst we've heard from them was Jan Logie making a rather funny crack about the number of Budget's Bill English has delivered versus the number of kids he's fathered ... and then I remember that if it's invective-laden one-liners you're after, Winston is king.

This self-declared "loony intelligent left student who sits up at Auckland University" is still backing NZ First, and still supporting Cliff Lyon's campaign here in Epsom.

We hope you will too.

Sunday, August 24, 2014

Opening Night. It's like an opera!

On Saturday night just gone, we collectively experienced one of the premier panegyrys of political pageantry in our three yearly electoral cycle. For one glorious weekend evening every three years, it's not the All Blacks or some Super 14 team, or even whatever latest "talent" show of dubious veracity-in-the-title the people are thrilling to. Instead, we're watching teams and thinking about votes of an altogether more important nature (in my own estimation, anyway. Everybody's entitled to their preference, and while some sub in sport for religion as their own personal opiate of the masses, for me politics will always remain the amphetamine of the elite - with appropriate precedence of viewing and engagement).

If you didn't catch them on the initial run, most of these are available online. In the case of Focus NZ's, going off the production values, you may *even* be able to request a personal one-on-one re-run with Ken Rintoul over skype. If he moves his pet budgerigar a few rooms over so that it's not *also* adding policy suggestions and/or enthusiastic support to his Leader's Address, then an online repeat might actually be an improvement of the initial televised offering.

In any case, let's start with the Key players. (Sorry.)

National's ad struck me as being five things: overly long, overly boring, overly focused on Key, uninspiring, and flatly tickboxy. Oh, and I am now thoroughly sick of their orchestral version of yon Eminem song. I'd initially, the *first* time I heard it thought "wow, that's clever ... classy due to orchestralness, but will broadly resonate coz just about everybody's heard the original"; followed swiftly by "I wonder if National's actually paid the royalties to *use* this ..." and then "I wonder if I should write a letter to the relevant record label, given Key's strong stance on copyright infringing millionaires, and ask if Key is, in fact, a copyright infringing millionaire" :P.

By about the third time they'd used a short sample from the song to overlay a big white text about whatever cherrypicked statistic they were plugging, it really had started to grate. Almost as much, in fact, as Key's agonizingly awkward rhetoric and delivery throughout the piece ("plucky little country" being the standout cliche); which I found followed an interesting pattern of starting every segment sounding anxious and stage-frighty before slowly getting more relaxed. About the nicest thing I can say on Key's performance is that it appears he'd written much of his own speech, and that he clearly loves his Mum very much.

But seriously - the focus on Key detracted from National's ability to present itself as a strong governing team rather than a cult of vague middle-aged managerial competence that spouts the word "product" every time he's supposed to use inspiring phrases about setting the nation back on its chartered course toward prosperity. The only time we got any sense of "governing team" was watching a bunch of Young Nats engage in the upper-class sport of slow-motion rowing (appropriate for National, I guess; as being directed by cox to go backward is pretty much what this government's all about) and the only bit which really broke the monotony of "statistic/factoid-flash .. music fades out .. Key talks for a few minutes ... music fades in" was the caricature of a Labour-Greens-InternetMANA rowboat, presenting assumedly a spectacle of coalition governance less stable than reliance upon the Maori Party, United Future, and ACT. That bit will definitely resonate with a certain sort of (probably pro-FPP) voter.

Both of these elements - the excessive Key-focus and the frankly flat and uninspiring over-emphasis upon productivity gains rather than, say, reductions in poverty or a genuinely uplifting vision for prosperity - set up an incredibly sharp contrast with Labour's subsequent effort. So much so in fact that the only way Labour (and David Cunliffe in particular) could have done a better, closer job at setting up an actually diametrically opposed (and thus wildly successful) ad to National was if they'd actually had the script of National's effort to hand when filming their own effort, and gone "Yeah, let's do the total opposite of that" at every point.

And I know I've said this several times before by now, but that's *exactly why it was so good*.

Where Key was just sitting in an armchair talking flatly to an offscreen interviewer with a famous voice; Cunliffe actually literally took his viewers on a journey through Labour's vision. Which was amply and compellingly demonstrated through the magic of symbolically uniting Caucus, Young Labour, and what I assume were regular and ordinary Labour Party faithful in working for a community. Which became a *conversation*. Which then became a *series of conversations that actually literally showed Labour MPs engaging with their communities, and responding with solutions to relevant problems*. As befits my NZF alignment, I did find myself swearing at the television every time a Labour MP came out with an NZ First policy or value that Labour's now pushing ... but in a spirit of positivity and left-wing co-operation, I did *also* note that much of Labour's ad was geared up for subtly promulgating the idea it's ready, willing and able to work with both New Zealand First *and* the Green Party in governing coalition post-September 20th. At least, that's how I read the sheer volume of policy coterminity and the fact they had an older woman of the Grey Power demographic all dressed in black talking about the salience of environmental protection coz the New Zealand she'd grown up in had swim-able rivers - the very essence of #BlackGreen2014.

Seriously. Labour's was pitch-perfect; and in my estimation some of the best political advertising I've ever seen in this country. It didn't need to get negative to get its message across, and I don't think it even mentioned the National Party once. I actually felt uplifted and inspired by the whole thing, and even warmed to David Cunliffe's on-screen persona a bit. Seriously well constructed political advertising, even if parts of it did come across as a bit of a political infomercial. Even the shakey-cam was great and well used. The demonstration of traditional values inherent in everybody mucking in, then sharing scones and a cup of tea afterwards was just brilliant - as was the successful portrayal of Labour's MPs as the sort of regular, but inspiring Kiwis whom one would genuinely feel comfortable going to with an issue, or even just hanging with. I also noted with considerable approval that where Key had talked in flat and uninspiring terms about "products" and effectively seemed to reduce New Zealandness down to how we export the occasional value-added item .. David Cunliffe not only managed to hit *far more* points about how a positive economy would work for ordinary New Zealanders (and seriously good use of "although it should" to broaden points) ... but he also set out that there was something more important than economic growth - feeling good.

I just about jumped out of my seat at that point, because as I keep saying, it was just such an awesome direct response to Key's empty rhetoricalizing, and just hit the "vote positive" theme so squarely on the head! Even if it did seem to channel John Kirwan a bit :P

Full marks, ten stars; and I'm not even going to take a point off for the use of Coldplay for the soundtrack (even though this *does* now mean that Decision '14 is effectively the contest of Eminem vs Coldplay ... or, phrased another way, two middle-aged white men going at it). Victory for Labour and Cunliffe has never seemed more ... plausible.

The Greens, by contrast, suffered in their placement just after Labour's. It wasn't a bad ad, and I'm left with a very clear impression that the Greens prioritize Education, Equality, and the Environment ... but coming straight after David Cunliffe's Sermon on the Mount, they just couldn't compete :( and I'm left with an enduring vibe of negative campaigning and poor audio production values - both probably unfair impressions, but the natural result of another direct contrast between the ad styles of The Greens and Labour.

I should say at this point that I am usually the predominant proponent of vitriolic, vindictive, and just plain downright *nasty* invective in politics, particularly when it's being used to pummel the Nats for their perfidious previous political failings ... but having come straight after Labour's golden-halo positivity-binge, even though I agreed utterly with Metiria Turei on so much of what she was saying and *actively wanted to like the ad and its featurees* ... they could have done better. Still, a solid effort, and one that will resonate well with its supporters. I believe that was some Moby I heard on the soundtrack?

Now obviously, I'm going to be biased about New Zealand First's. But I've heard from a number of sources, both non-aligned and in other parties, that the NZF effort was pretty good. Winston is a solid performer, and nobody else does *glower power* quite like Winston on a rage about how bad the present government is. Whomever that might be. I found myself, emotively, rediscovering many of the things I like about NZF and many of my reasons for supporting said party, while I was watching that broadcast ... so I suppose that the clear demonstrations of values and the strong and strident rhetoric from Winston will do an admirable job at reaching out to our constituency. Having younger student types talking about the importance of protecting our elderly; while also having more elderly NZF people (Shoutout to Pat Rhodes of NZ First Pakuranga!) talk about how important it is to foster and support our young people really did an awesome job at setting out the unitary nationalism ("one nation" in the Disraelian sense) which my Party ascribes to - all Kiwis advancing together, whatever age or ethnicity you might happen to be. NZF also managed a far more effective implementation of the same basic format National was running of "Leader talks; Stat/Factoid On Screen; Leader Talks", both due to hte far shorter duration, and the fact that Winston has both more to say and more engagingly than Key does.

Only *slight* issue with the advert is that Winston doesn't change gear very well, so in the last 10 seconds when he was supposedly trying to do the smiley happy "give us your party vote bit", his eyes and mannerisms were still very much stuck in the "Cold Fury At Government" mode, meaning that it rang a bit false at the closer.

Still, really solid ad, and I'm happy with it.

Of the minnow parties, Peter Dunne managed to pull off what my chief of staff referred to as being "the politician's politician". I.e. it takes a truly special individual to give a several minutes long speech about the importance of idealism in politics and how you got into politics due to idealism ... as part of a campaign to justify a political career that has been so incredibly bereft of idealism as to see Dunne working with literally every government from any side of the House since MMP began, and apparently regardless of agenda.

Apart from the beautiful backdrop, the nicest thing we can say about United Future's ad is that it put the spotlight squarely on United Future's greatest (and possibly only) asset: Peter Dunne.

The real surprise standout, however, was the ad for Brendan Horan's Independent Coalition. I'm sure that featuring the same island as the NZF one was unintentional, but Brendan managed to put on a really compelling, convincing, and cohesive presentation for why people should vote for an Independent - and, if you're in the Tauranga or Bay of Plenty area, for Brendan specifically. I genuinely felt that out of all the party broadcasts, Brendan's did the most to make me actually go "Hey, these MP creatures ... they're actually quite nice human beings on occasion". Brendan's also went well further than Labour's on the idea of community service - Labour could only rent out a community hall for the purposes of deploying its activists to refurbish it as part of an infomercial ... Brendan could actually roll out footage of him coaching local kids' waterpolo teams, as well as local constituents who *actually seemed like they'd genuinely had a helluvalot of time for him*.

Admittedly, Brendan's had much work in television before, so the fact he was able to put on a competent Opening Night broadcast perhaps ought not be quite so surprising ... but given how minnow parties have historically faired in our politics, Brendan succeeded in his most important objective of making the NZ Independent Coalition look like an actual, viable political party worth voting for. He even managed to succeed where each of National and United Future had failed, and present his Party as being about far more than one man, with a capable and competent team standing beside him and even sharing the speaking bits.

Really impressed with Brendan! No wonder he's polling a very close 2nd in Bay of Plenty right now according to Nat internal polling!

InternetMANA's was um ... that wasn't a party political broadcast like anything we've ever seen before. It was either very, very good; or just a little too left-out-field to be viable. I'm genuinely unsure which, and we won't actually know the answer for some weeks.

They did a really, really, stupidly good job at setting out a long term vision and creating an engaging, humorous ad that was fast-paced, did policy, and set out values. However, I do wonder how much of said ad will either go over the heads of voters or just straight-up not stick in the memory. The trouble with a really flashy and animated ad like that is that it's very possible to wind up focused on and recalling style over substance; so while we're now all probably able to tell you that in the InternetMANA's vision, anthropomorphic talking cats with deep voices are apparently able to raise children who make Back To The Future references ... it's a little difficult to remember specific policy points raised by InternetMANA because we were all too busy being captivated by the "wtfness" of seeing an actually-exciting/entertaining party political broadcast. Oh, and the talking cat. Graceful nod to Kim DotCom and genuinely lol'd at the GCSB reference. If it works, then they've just proven themselves a game-changer, but will await results before decreeing it best campaign opening ad ever. Will definitely induce multilple repeat-viewings on youtube from their target market, so probably a positive.

ACT's by contrast ... was everything that the Internet/MANA party's advert was not. And definitely not in a good way! The two things that stood out for me about ACT's stilted effort were the production values that *literally looked like they'd been done in Microsoft Powerpoint* ... and the fact that Jamie Whyte has evidently decided the best tactic to deflect allegations of racism against Maori, is to trot out the non-white Lady Whyte standing by his side. I could mentally almost hear the repeat and sustained chorus of "My wife is from Singapore!" which this approach is based on - Whyte's predecessor as leader of ACT, Don Brash, famously used exactly this canard to try and dodge exactly the same allegations back during the 2005 campaign. Tokenism didn't work then, either.

But seriously. ACT's ad was 2nd worst out of every one of the contenders on show last night. If we go by expectations for a theoretically serious party (hard to believe, I know), then I'm even more disappointed that one of the theoretically richest political organizations in New Zealand has managed to produce such an incredible piece of dreckh as this. About the nicest thing to be said about it is that it proves Jamie Whyte once had hair.

The Conservative Party's effort was ... middling. Colin Craig manages to do a far better job rehearsed and cut thn he could ever manage in person sans editing (as demonstrated by the woeful footage of him attempting to pontificate to an audience of Grey Powerites over Lochinver not so long ago), and he definitely managed to hit most of the right notes for his small and confusing band of sycophants ... although I'm left wondering what, if anything, in his broadcast there was to actually stand out and latch on to. It definitely won't *hurt* their prospects, however, and actually managed to portray Craig as a semi-sane perso more's the pity; so I suppose the Cons can regard that ad as a partial success.

The Aotearoa Legalize Cannabis Party managed to beat out the Cons for "surprisingly sane" in its electoral broadcast. Gone was the 2008 spectacle of Michael Appleby attempting to promote an economy run off hemp biofuel. Instead, reasonable looking and professional-appearing (or genuinely-medically-impaired-seeming) Kiwis were used to promote a strong message of harm minimization, law reform, and medicine provision. Pointing out that decriminalization or legalization is increasingly normal elsewhere in the world and seems to lead to less teens on drugs was an absolute win; and even though I'm a huge fan of Julian Crawford and the rest of his merry green men, the decision to not feature ALCP candidates but instead put the focus on the people who will actually be affected by their policies - the ill, the undeservedly criminalized, and the youth-who-will-assumedly-not-be-quite-so-drug-inclined-as-a-result - was a very good one.

Really awesome effort from the ALCP, and I hope that ads like this will make their campaign more compelling for more mainstream persons than ever before.

Focus New Zealand's already been covered above .... but suffice to say I like the guy's enthusiasm; and it takes some serious ... not being able to perceive one's own limits to actually put a webcam-recorded leader's address replete with chirping pet budgy and all the production values that entails on national television with a straight face. Points for effort.

Was also surprisingly impressed with the Democrats for Social Credit effort, as well. They actually managed to convey a sense of how important and integral to Kiwi politics the Social Creditors used to be; while also conveying an impression of contemporary viability by pointing out just how many Kiwi voters this election either have voted Social Credit themselves, or had family members who have. Their Party Convention footage even looked almost lively - and presented a clear contrast to Peter Dunne, for obvious reasons. (i.e. they *actually have* a Party Organization - only 30 people rocked up to Peter Dunne's last Convention...)

No Maori Party, and not really missed. Wonder what happened there, then.

So all in all ... not a bad Opening Night. We'll see how the punters and non-beltway types react to the ads as they slowly percolate into places where people actually watch things - like the internet and youtube rather than TV One at 7:30 on a Saturday night.