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.

Friday, August 15, 2014

Winston's Liver? How about Minto's Spleen.

I really do want to use my Daily Blog guest-blogger status to do more to amuse, enthuse, entertain and inflame the political classes of this country than just writing endless responses to InternetMANA affiliated personalities who seem to think it's their sacred duty to try and hammer nails into the electoral coffin of New Zealand First.

But, as the saying goes ... they keep sticking 'em up; so I keep knocking 'em down.

Most recently, this featured John Minto (whom I ordinarily have considerable time for, because teachers in politics are awesome - Winston's also one, as it happens :P ) penning a turgid piece that basically boiled down to "accuse Winston of suffering from liver disease", while also making polemical guesses about NZF's future leadership transition and Winston's future career prospects post-2017.

I hardly need to state that regardless of whether or not any or all of Winston's internal organs are up to 100% functionality (and seriously, from where I'm sitting, the man's constitution is damn near superhuman) ... by engaging in baseless speculation that there *is* something wrong with his physique, for political gain, Minto veers dangerously into territory more usually occupied by a certain greasy cetacean. It's not simply the use of an ailment for point-scoring, but the way that Minto uses the allegation of said ailment to try and set a time-limit on Winston's role in politics that makes this pretty unprincipled reading :(

But, to the substance of the allegations themselves. (Either of alcohol, or cheese, apparently)

Leaving aside Minto's singularly impressive ability to engage in complex hepatology from the other end of his internet connection; Minto's contention is simply this - that you should vote for him and his party rather than New Zealand First, on grounds that Minto wants you to believe Winston will side with whichever of Labour or National will give him a nice easy exit from politics.

Minto's welcome to make that contention (although preferably without the digs about the functionality of one of Winston's vital organs) ... but all it does for me is prove what I've been saying all along - that InternetMANA and New Zealand First actually share overlapping segments of voters, the electorate, and activist-base (coz protest vote and awesome left-wing economic policy).

And that some MANA affiliated people are prepared to say some quite surprising things in pursuit of those voters and activists. If they're not accusing our Leader of having a liver affliction, they're running about madly trying to claim that a vote for a party which WILL NOT work with any government that refuses to #Renationalize, or which continues to allow our farmland and heritage to be hoicked off to rich foreign buyers ... is somehow a vote for National. Does National look like a party that intends on renationalizing the assets it's stolen, or blocking the sale of farmland to its rich foreign mates to you?

More to the point, this idea that Winston can somehow be bought off with an ambassadorship in a manner reminiscent of Shane Jones just fundamentally misunderstands the man and what he's about.

The Nats *already tried* doing that in the run-up to the 2011 election. Murray McCully apparently arranged several approaches to Winston with a goal of getting him out of New Zealand and out of our politics through the plum red carpet of a diplomatic posting. Winston didn't do the deal, on either occasion - because he's about putting the national interest rather than National's interests first - so I'm not entirely sure why Minto thinks Winston would be mad keen on a bigger and more public deal secured as part of the obvious cost of propping up an unpopular and fading right-wing government.

More to the point, it's widely thought that Winston is an inveterate politician (being in possession of somewhere in the vicinity of forty years' hard campaign experience) in search of a legacy to bequeath the nation and cement his place as one of our most enduring politicians. The Gold Card was an admirable start on this project, and there's something seriously honourable in policy designed to ease and improve the lives of our elderly.

But there is *always* room to do more, particularly when one is intending to leave one's enduring mark on the nation. I remember going through high-school and taking Economics, there was much buzz about The Cullen Fund. Winston's proposal for a nationalist #KiwiFund equivalent, replete with Norwegian State Pension Fund-style requirement that the fund be used to invest in Kiwi business, #Renationalize Kiwi assets, and buy up Kiwi farmland and forestry preserve so that it doesn't fall into overseas hands ... well, just personally from where I'm sitting, a Winston-Fund that simultaneously and singlehandedly helps to ensure the affordability of *my* generation retiring at 65 *and* bringing assets and farmland back into Kiwi and state hands ... that sounds like a helluva better legacy than being remembered as "the man who sold his party down the river for a fancy apartment in London".

If Minto is genuinely serious about his "pick" that Winston will be attempting to negotiate an "exit from politics" with David Cunliffe; then all I can suggest is that this "exit", should it occur, will be accompanied by serious efforts at embedding a long-term nationalist ethos into parts of our public economy.

You know, to do the man's work after he's no longer directly in the fray to do so.

This won't make too much of a difference to guys like Minto - they're hungry to be in Parliament, and quite prepared to play up the alleged physical frailties of an older gentleman (try as I might, I just *can't* bring myself to describe him as an "old man", particularly given he's about the same age as my father - by the way, Happy Birthday Rev. Rolinson) to try and make that happen.

But to you characters out there in the comment's section and further afield across the political internet ... I won't bore you with why I believe NZ First would find it untenably difficult to work with National, or why the Cross-Benches represent a sensible and principled position for us to take post-September 20th.

You've heard me make those cases and sing those songs many, many times before.

Instead, all I'll say is this.

Minto can write what he likes about Winston being "all about Winston"; but the facts are that New Zealand First has restored to New Zealand ownership more assets, more public utilities, and more vital national infrastructure during our career than InternetMANA has. We have raised the minimum wage more often and by larger amounts. We have secured free doctor's visits for under-6's, excoriated Peter Dunne, exerted such a compelling influence on this election that *both* major parties are altering their policy agendas accordingly ... and we are really only just getting started.

As the man himself says about NZ First after Winston - "Of course there is life after Winston Peters. The Party will grow into a tower of strength and will help you and your children to live the New Zealand dream".

And with policies like #KiwiFund and asset #Renationalization, we'll be working to help build a more prosperous and self-determined New Zealand for years to come.

Like it says on the walls of Scotland's Parliament and in the hearts of NZF whanau everywhere ... "Work as if you lived, in the early days of a better Nation".

Friday, August 8, 2014

Words. They've got power. Use them well.

Every now and then, the Prime Minister does or says something that's recognizably a bit stupid .. a bit offensive .. but which for some ineluctable reason, gets perceived by some out in the electorate as only adding to his charms.

The most prominent incidence of this I can think of was the "Gay Red Shirt" incident. Now, while I appreciate that for many out there in the electorate, "gay" has a dual meaning; and that the Prime Minister has a semi-official obligation to be a bit of a dick about the main opposition party and its colour scheme ... none of this justifies one of the highest figures in the land lending the legitimacy of his position to the use of the word "gay" as a pejorative.

If you're having trouble grasping this concept (and going off the surge of annoyance from WhiteManistan on social media in the wake of reaction to the "Sugar Daddy" comment, there's quite a few out there who will) ... think of it this way. A core and intrinsic element of your being has just been used as an insult - to mark out something that is inferior, or wrong, or aberrant, or defective. You're demeaning somebody and marking them out as a lesser actor incapable of engaging on the regular playing field with the rest of us due to an aspect of who they are that probably isn't even directly relevant to the discourse in question. Hear that enough times, and cognizant of the fact that it's many of the other 'normal' people saying and thinking it about you ... and you've got yourself a highly intrusive and reified example of a power imbalance that personally victimizes you through careless (or malicious) use of language. If you're still experiencing difficulty understanding why words like these ought not form part of our political discourse because they turn somebody from a marginalized group into an insult, then that much-vaunted phrase "check your privilege" is assumedly winging its way toward you. Mine's in perfect working order :)

Now this really is my core point. We already implicitly recognize within our political culture that some slurs are unacceptable. Just look at the (justified) uproar over the Prime Minister's "gay red shirt" comment. There's even an entire list of "Unparliamentary Language", for instance; which exists in part because the spectacle of our elected representatives flinging absolutely playground-level invective at one another is considered demeaning not only to the reps being flung at, but also to the nature and substance of our democracy, itself. I respectfully contend that some of the insults and barbs we've seen over the course of this campaign thus far fall into exactly same category.

Unfortunately, Exhibits A, B, and C, don't all come to us from the National Party. While theirs is indeed a political culture that implicitly prioritizes style over substance, and cheap rhetorical barbs over actual policy battle ... the first instance that actually sprang to mind of MPs behaving badly and using lazy/offensive rhetoric they really shouldn't be, actually comes to us from the Labour Party. In 2009, both Trevor Mallard and Clayton Cosgrove deigned to refer to National MP Chris Finlayson as "Tinkerbell".

I hardly need to overtly state that it's a pretty sad day for the Labour Party and its values when nominally progressive politicians decide the most productive use of their time and intellect is to try and score a rise out of a non-hetero opponent by calling them a "fairy"; although I would like to register my perplexity as to what either of Mallard or Cosgrove sought to gain from the barb.

In any case, the line that sparked this particular blog was John Key earlier this week referring to Lailla Harre's political aspirations as being driven by the ambitions of a "Sugar Daddy", in the person of Kim DotCom.

Now, quite apart from the blindingly obvious fact that if "Sugar Daddy" means "wealthy person attempting to buy politics", as the Prime Minister seems to think it does, this makes National a party so amazingly sugar-daddied up that it'd piss diabetes-cola if asked to undertake a paternity test ... there's the highly problematic nature of what the term actually represents.

Urban Dictionary (because really, who uses the Oxford one any more?) defines a "Sugar Daddy" as "like a genie - he may be a little old, but if a girl rubs his lamp, he'll grant her wishes", and lists an example of "She uses her sugar daddy for his money, but he sure gets some service in return!"

The dripping innuendo here ought to make fairly plainly apparent why this was *not* an appropriate term of reference to describe the political relationship between The Internet Party's Leader, and The Internet Party's Party Visionary, purely for that reason alone. Harre's right on the money when she points out that this is Key attempting to make her "integrity look compromised".

But there's actually a more insidious meaning coiled within the Prime Minister's words.

Look at how the agency in this situation is being construed. What Key has fairly explicitly said is that Harre is nothing more than an adjunct and a vehicle for DotCom's political desires. That she's only in it for the money. Hell, if we really want to push the outrage points, that she's a certain sort of woman who will perform a certain sort of services for a certain sort of very wealthy man for a certain level of financial recompense - bearing in mind that to those not in acoustic range of the dog-whistle, "certain sort of" is swapped out for "political".

I hope I'm not alone in thinking that this is a pretty horrendous charge to level at a fellow party leader, regardless of how much "abjuration of agency", "agent of an insidious foreign power", and "sexualized connotation" the Prime Minister meant to inject into his remark.

(as an aside, this is one of the many reasons I've traditionally had a problem with paying persons seeking political office to seek political office. You wind up with exactly these sorts of questions about whose motivations are really prime and how much of a given candidate's publicly announced beliefs and persona is actually theirs, versus the donor's)

Regardless of the relative merits of paying political candidates, I can only agree incredibly strongly with Harre's subsequent reaction to Key's barb - pointing out that this sort of tired canard has been a feature of our politics for far too long (although with Collins and Tolley on Turei foremost in mind, it ain't just the menfolk in politics who set out to police female political action); that calling it out demands no apology; and suggesting that it's pretty important, if we wish to foster more young women into politics, that this kind of conduct not be allowed to continue within it.

Which brings us back to the Prime Minister and his questionable use of language. A cynical watcher of politics (such as those guys over at CrosbyTextor) might very well conclude that the Prime Minister has devoted quite some considerable time, energy, and effort into transforming the PM's image from a pretty dorky-looking (up until he flashes his chequebook) financial trader with a head full of numbers and a trouser-leg full of urine-tube ... into a blokey-jokey (there's another name for him - JoKey) figure the average Kiwi male would stereotypically enjoy having a beer and a barbie with.

The fact they've managed to make a palatable-to-working-class-male figure out of what genuinely appears to be one of the slickest political operations in New Zealand political history is nothing short of remarkable; and it's my belief that this impression and image is sustained in large measure through semi-strategic (albiet not necessarily deliberate) gaffes and slip-ups. If you're interested in a deeper exploration as to why this might be the case than I have the space to go into in this blog, I'd strongly recommend that you check out a book called The Political Brain - and in specia, the bits talking about why George W Bush was perceived as more relatable to the average American voter than either of Al Gore or John Kerry. It was therefore in large measure precisely because of things like these gaffes and Bush's "aw shucks" eschew-the-big-words presentation that he was able to resonate so successfully with middle American voters. Key does exactly the same thing, right down to having a hammy accent that's made "akshully" a household word.

The problem with this, then, is every time ivory tower'd quasi-intellectual leftish types such as myself decide to publicly castigate Key for his latest inane outburst ... a small (but important) segment of the electorate listens and agrees with us, a rather larger part of the electorate shrugs its shoulders and isn't fussed either way; while a third group actively takes it as a sign that the Prime Minister is correct and legitimate in all his dealings and utterances by the very fact that persons like me are calling him out for it, assumedly because insisting on not being a dick with language directly infringes upon their values. You might otherwise know these guys as the "PC gone mad!" brigade.

I've basically given up attempting to directly engage with these types (after banging my head against a brick wall for six months straight with a gentleman who was adamantly convinced NZ First was "the new Maori Party", full of "bone-wearing Treatyist fellow travellers"), and watching persons like fellow The Daily Blog contributor Chloe Ann King continually dialoging with people like Aaron James Goodwin of that idiotic page about the Labour Party's alleged "war on women" is an exercise in excruciation.

So here's a new plan. Instead of just engaging with linguistic bigots, and attempting to convince them of the error of their ways, we work around them by borrowing a leaf from 1984 slash the gay community, and we reclaim ourselves some terminology.

Consider this: when a close mate of mine found out about Key's "sugar daddy" controversy, his instantaneous reaction was to suggest that this was bloody hypocritical coming from "the same guy who's been whoring out the whole bloody country for the last five years".

While my associate is not, technically, wrong in his application of the strict connotations of the word "whoring" (even to the point that the supposed "Nationalism" of National is very, very much a negotiable and put on virtue), it does also occur that i) sex workers are people (and workers) too; while ii) prostitution has been decriminalized for about a decade now here in NZ. So if we are to criticize the Prime Minister for turning "gay" into a verbal missile, there seems no real justification for attempting to lob "whore" as an RPG.

Instead, let us make use of a word that already exists within the Kiwi vernacular, and which already definitely and discernibly means "person who shamelessly offers up something precious to the highest bidder, motivated by money and apparently heedless of public decency", with a side order of "works to satisfy the desires of rich men". That word is, of course, "Nat"; and the act is one of "privatization" and "selling off offshore".

Please adjust your invective-directories accordingly :D

Thursday, August 7, 2014

NZ First over 5%? Yes We Can!

There exists in Kiwi politics one Really Important Rule. This rule is so incredibly important (more so than even Aaron Gilmore) that every political party in the land finds themselves having to work around it at least once every three years.

The nature of that rule? "Don't Count Winston Out."

It's the local equivalent of Field Marshal Montgomery's famous dictum that "Rule One, on Page One of the Book of War is 'Do not march on Moscow!'", and for much the same reason. Those that disobey the rule about Not Counting Winston Out have an unfortunate tendency to come up looking very silly the day after polling day, for starters. Never mind the occasionally quite interesting ways in which Winston takes his revenge - I'll bet that back in 2005, then-Greens co-leader the late Rod Donald *probably didn't think* that there'd be any serious consequences for his referring to Winston as Hitler or NZF's policy orientation as being "Nazi". Nek minnit, Rod Donald's party gets ruled out of the Labour-led government in consequence :P

Still, every election for some ineluctable and inscrutable reason, the pundits queue up to try and sound the pre-emptive death-knell for NZ First. Pretty much every time since 1999, the commentariat has tied itself up in knots attempting to proffer a singularly impressive array of prognostications as to why this might be the case. The trouble with this, of course, is that when it inevitably doesn't come true (with the possible exception of 2008 - which was temporary!), the pundits wind up getting rather annoyed ... which leads to an even more irascible set of vitriolic projections and predictions the next year. Sean Plunkett talking in visceral terms about nailing shut the coffin of a political vampire named Winston falls squarely into these terms, while I'm sure that I detect rather more than a hint of triumphalism in the latest offering from Gordon Campbell on Winston Peters as an endangered species. (Seriously. Man thinks it's "rewarding" to "speculate [...] that [NZF] won't be back in Parliament at all")

This isn't *quite* the case with Bomber, who's managed to go inside three years from describing my party as being "a cavalcade of deformed personalities masquerading as a party list" made up of "Andrew Williams, the singing weather man Brendan Horan, Andrew Williams, the South Island Independence militia man, Andrew Williams, a faceless time-server, and Andrew Williams", while predicting an NZF "meltdown before Christmas" ... through to penning pieces like that he scribed earlier this week which, while they're still consigning us to the ash-heap of electoral history ... nevertheless manage to sound almost amiable (on occasion) toward our eclectic band of rednecks and redsquares. We've even heard an "I love Winston" escape from his ink-blotted fingers, on occasion.

Nevertheless, the only thing truly surprising in the title of his last piece in our direction - "Will NZ First get over 5%? I'm saying maybe no" ... is that he's left himself so very much wiggle room with the "maybe" to avoid embarrassment on Election Night. Must have heard about my efforts with fellow TDBer Frank Macskasy to establish a Daily Blog staff pool on whether NZF gets back :P

The evidence presented is again not particularly compelling.

Phil Goff's weakness as Labour leader has been mirrored by David Cunliffe's ongoing poor showings in the polls - he's actually doing *worse* than Goff at the same point in the electoral cycle by this rubric. We didn't need the Tea Tapes to get into Parliament, as we were already at or around 5% on the very day the Cup of Tea happened. We've got a veteran and widely/well respected Leader to take us through this campaign; and given recent events, it would even appear that NZ First has options for future Leadership that go some ways beyond myself and Tracey Martin circling each other in a pit armed with sticks while the Spock-Kirk fight theme plays. Oh, and the Conservatives have been cast down and cast out by National; while I still maintain that our respective slices of the electorate are far more different than people might think looking at things from far away and outside our Party.

Anyway, we've already dealt with those elements of Bomber's analysis before, when he first published them.

It's the Gordon Campbell analysis that's annoying me at the moment!

Now I generally and genuinely really, really like Gordon Campbell. The man's columns are pretty much the gold standard in political opinion pieces from where I'm sitting, and I can remember many a night spent down the dark and dingy (ok, well silver-finish'd and fluoro-lighty) computer labs at UoA pouring over his analysis and that excellent publication Werewolf, featuring Lyndon Hood. Because us political uber-hacks really have no lives. His objectivity seems to depart him, however, whenever he pens something about Winston, leaving a number of points to be corrected.

First up, his assumption that National's torpedoing of Albatross Neck-Ornament Extraordinaire Colin Craig's run in East Coast Bays indicates a National desire to "keep Peters on life support" as a potential coalition partner. National's stance on a coalition with NZF has not really changed in the last few months - we're officially on the books as an "option", but given the list of non-negotiable bottom lines which we're proffering (including asset #Renationalization and more recently a ban on farmland being sold to National's rich Chinese mates) ... nobody seriously thinks this is going to happen.

A National-Conservative (ConNat, pronounced "Canard") government, by contrast, looked scarily plausible. So scarily plausible, in fact, that the Nats *had* to do something to prevent it from looking likely enough to spook Middle New Zealand voters. Thus, Craig got ruled out in East Coast Bays, tacitly placing him in the "Also-Ran, Won't Be In Parliament" category.

This didn't signal an end to his usefulness to National, however; and it is my avowed belief that Colin Craig is still presently working for his deep-blue paymasters on a mission to do everything in his power to directly hobble New Zealand First and make damn sure we come in under the 5%. Phrased simply: National (and quite possibly pliant elements in the media) are actively working to try and make their two problems cancel each other out. They're doing this by first ensuring the Cons won't get into Parliament by ruling out a Cup of Milo deal for them, then using the Cons to take out their greatest bane: NZ First.

Bomber adds fuel to this argument by pointing out that the Cons have millions of dollars to waste on trying to sway our voters. Funny thing is, they had more than a million dollars to try and do exactly the same thing last time around back in 2011, to no discernible avail. And I maintain in any case that if NZ First should be worried about the political aspirations of *any* millionaire ... it's actually Kim DotCom and the InternetMANA outfit that actually stands to gain the most out of NZF's downfall. They're the protest vote party of 2014, they edge in around exactly the same territory we do when it comes to national sovereignty or an interventionist state securing our future; and they've got an exciting, well resourced campaign to bring it all together. An NZF associate hit up an Internet Party meeting the other night, and summed it up succinctly: "Being at that meeting gave a sense of what it must have been like to be at a New Zealand First meeting in 1996".

In any case, while we could argue until the farmland ownership comes home from China about whether the Cons and NZF are dissimilar parties with divergent support bases and ethoi (I think they *are*) ... the more incontrovertible part of Campbell's analysis is the polling figures themselves.

Pundits and poll-watchers far too frequently talk about "cracking the 5% threshold" without then *also* mentioning that this 5% isn't a fixed number of votes every election - but rather a steady one twentieth of the total number of votes cast. The big game for NZ First, therefore, is to wonder at what rate we'll be able to convert the one third of eligible voters who didn't vote in 2011 into Black and Silver supporters. In specia, whether we're able to do it faster or at the same pace as other parties, and what this means for our overall share of the vote.

I believe that we'll definitely be able to build on our 2011 support at an impressive rate.

Further, while both Campbell and Bomber talk in glowing and effusive terms about NZ First's status as the protest vote party in 2011 (and therefore, implicitly, about how we've drawn a whole truck-tonne of votes that perhaps aren't naturally captivated by our charms) ... the part they neglect to mention is how so very, very many people and voters were quite prepared to write off NZ First as a bunch of has-beens and Winston as yesterday's man. We genuinely had a very difficult task convincing some voters that a vote for NZ First wasn't just a vote that would be wasted as it dissipated off into the electoral ether if we came in under 5%.

Fortunately, in 2014, we don't have to contend with that. Everybody knows that New Zealand First is ready, willing and able to defy political gravity at a moment's notice.

More to the point, check out how Bomber's chosen to end his latest piece :P

"If the Labour vote was collapsing as much as satanic jester Matthew Hooton whispers, then NZ First would be hitting 8%, they aren't, they are barely over 5%"

So right there, from the horse's mouth, you have it.

We're over 5%, and still rising. This Phoenix Party's got a helluvalot of life left in her yet. And campaign ain't even begun!

Sunday, August 3, 2014

How National Intends To Use Colin Craig To Destroy NZ First - "To the last I grapple with thee; from Hell's Heart I stab at thee; for Hate's sake, I spit my last breath at thee!"

There's something weird going on with Colin.

(Yeah, I know, understatement of the campaign... but hear me out).

Back when he first flounced onto the national political stage some ways back in 2011, he was touted as a putative potential right-wing coalition partner, in the unlikely event of his little-party-that-could ever cracking the 5% threshold under its own steam. Come early 2014, this had been turned into an almost-anointment of the Cons as a viable coalition partner for the Nats; a situation National then so heavily over-invested itself in (while attempting to remain aloof) that we found ourselves collectively, as a commentariat, thinking one of the vital veteran campaign warhorses of National's caucus like Murray McCully was going to be dropped and turned into an electoral gelding so as to ensure 50 Shades of Colin actually wound up in the House.

Fortunately for just about everybody, while the Nats are stupid enough and sufficiently lacking in principle to carry out things like wildly unpopular and economically flawed asset sales ... they aren't usually thought of as being totally stir crazy, so one assumes that internal polling centered around the question "would you like us to go into coalition with Mr Moonlanding...?" has disabused them of the notion that a Con-Nat (pronounced Canard?) coalition would be electorally viable.

So what to do with the Cons now, then?

Why, recycle them, of course!

Everybody knows that the biggest single threat to National's governing prospects post-2014 is New Zealand First. We're generally their greatest headache, and it's why they went all out to try and destroy us in 2008; as well as why they specifically and explicitly ruled out working with us in 2011 to further try and constrain our support. (We noted at the time with some amusement that it was us alone who'd been singled out for this privilege - John Key didn't, for instance, say he wasn't prepared to work with or form a coalition with the Greens or the Labour Party, for instance :P )

In 2014, National's tried three things to destroy NZF's viability: they've explicitly and specifically ruled us in for coalition after the election (therefore targeting our left-wing and protest vote supporters and telling them to go somewhere else); the governing bloc's signaled preference for Colin over Winston (so telling our right-wing and pro-National supporters (yes, we have some) not to bother because there's a new horse in town); ... but most insidiously of all ... they've also tried to set up the Conservative Party as some sort of seriously viable alternative to New Zealand First in the minds of our centrist support demographic as well.

That's why I was so incredibly, absolutely, incandescently furious on Friday night watching TV3's 6 pm news.

Their lead story, framed in explicitly "ooh, look! Colin's replacing Winston!" terms, was that Colin Craig was giving a speech to a Grey Power meeting castigating the government for allowing an iconic piece of Kiwi farmland to be sold off to the Chinese. They even explicitly and repeatedly *said* that this was Craig muscling in on NZF territory. TVNZ ran exactly the same thing over on One (albiet not as a lead).

What they didn't tell you was first - that the media were directly complicit in *facilitating* said attempted takeover ("privatization" of our ethos, if you will) ... and second, that they've got powerful backers ensuring this kind of carry-on goes forward. Wonder what role the Nats played in getting Colin that information about that "secret" and not-yet-approved deal, never mind the prime time TV coverage!

For you see, National has worked out how to take its two electoral "problems" this campaign season (a Conservative party that it instinctively wants to use, but which is too dangerous to *actually* use; and an NZ First that it instinctively absolutely recoils in horror at using), smoosh them together, and come out with a greater share of the vote.

The plan is simple. Implicitly acknowledge that the Conservative Party isn't going to get more than 5% of the vote (thus protecting National's vote from allegations of letting the more-crazy-than-Jamie-Whyte into the tent), then use them to take AS MUCH OF NZF'S VOTE AS POSSIBLE via superficially or genuinely similar political positioning; then hope this takes NZF under the 5% mark ... and profit from not having to deal with either Chem-Trail Craig *or* Winston in Parliament (either as friend or foe respectively) while also reaping the benefit of a greater share of the valid vote by "wasting" all the votes of Con and NZF supporters. [as representation in the House is done on percentage of votes won, not absolute numbers of votes - so by "wasting" Con votes and NZF votes, the National Party cynically increases its share of the "valid" vote, and thus gets more seats by reducing the total number of popular votes]

It's diabolical. It's GENIUS! It's Key.

(well actually, it's most likely some ungodly combination of Nat campaign brains-trust Murray McCully and Steven Joyce, but that doesn't quite work with the triptych thing I was going for)

Saturday, August 2, 2014

"That most delicious of political pleasures - spending other peoples' money"

Something that I feel has really dominated the previous half-decade of this National-led debacle-masquerading-as-a-government is the ongoing issue of MPs behaving badly with taxpayer money.

This time, however, I'm not simply talking about things like the government's breathtaking decision to spend $80 million to restyle the literal money of the taxpayer rather than finding a mere $30,000 to fund Christchurch Rape Crisis (although that's pretty bad).

No, on this occasion, the perfidy of our elected representatives is far more open, overt and direct.

I'm talking, of course, about MPs and Ministers' expenses, credit and charge-cards.

Now the first thing that *absolutely must be* acknowledged here is that there are some furiously and ferociously hard working MPs in the House who genuinely believe in and are absolutely committed to ensuring that the taxpayer gets excellent value for money from their service. I can't speak for other parties or MPs, but for my money I have personally witnessed Tracey Martin of NZ First putting in superhuman hours away from family, home, and company other than towering mounds of paperwork week in and week out for much of the last three years. The reason why I specifically cite the existence of MPs who do in fact work incredibly hard for their salaries and travel-perks is because it's very easy as soon as the topic of some MPs behaving badly with taxpayer funds for discussion to degenerate into shouted allegations of "TROUGHERS!" or "PUT THEM ALL ON THE DOLE/MINIMUM WAGE!" and "A career sitting on one's backside indoors with no heavy lifting and continual state banquets. Where do I sign up?" ... but that's only a really, really small part of the story; and hopefully these sentiments only accurately apply to a minuscule proportion of MPs outside of the Nat and ACT caucuses.

Having said all that, there is definitely another kind of MP. The popular consciousness tends to assume you find them down in the dregs amidst the bottom of a party's list - making up the numbers, and not even really supposed to be in Parliament barring some unfortunate and unforseable calamity that single-handedly wipes out a half-dozen sitting MPs or something. A National Party Cabinet Club fundraiser on a Malaysian Airlines flight, for instance. Particularly given Claudette Hauiti's recent keel-hauling (Key'll-hauling?) for a litany of such offences including a grand on petrol, hiring her spouse to work Out Of Parliament Support for her, a trip to Australia, and a whopping $30,824 worth of domestic travel, I can certainly see why this might be the case. Fellow Nat low-down seat-warmer Paul Foster-Bell's rather astonishing $35,000 of domestic travel (including a doubling of his travel expenditure from $7459 to $14224 which just so happened to coincide with when he'd presumably be using a helluvalot more domestic travel than usual to try and contest the Whangarei selection) is also arguably in this category.

But from where I'm sitting, we've got bigger problems.

There exists a class of MP charged with maintaining even higher standards of conduct and behavior than those we customarily expect of our mere elected representatives. They're given a Warrant by the Crown, they head departments as the local equivalent of Demon Lords of the Layers of the Abyss; they're called Ministers ... and they pretty much all have (or, for many of the worst offenders, *had*) ministerial credit cards and seemingly unfettered access to junkets upon which the temptation to further their own or their partner's business interests seems virtually irresistible for some.

Who could forget (or, in the case of the perpetrator, remember) the unseemly spectacle of Judith Collins taking time out from her taxpayer funded trip to Shanghai for the purposes of furthering her Justice portfolio to dive across town so as to drop in at her husband's business for a promotional event? Or the shadowy and insidious dinner with a Chinese border control official that accompanied it, wherein Oravida sought to use its personal connection to the Crown via a Minister to try and ensure favourable treatment by a foreign power.

It's bad enough that Collins decided to effectively use taxpayer money to directly further her husband's business interests ... it's worse that she then attempted to use her status as a Minister of the Crown to do likewise. We entrust Ministers with their special, sacrosanct status precisely because we theoretically believe that they're more capable than others of looking past their own personal foibles and proclivities to perceive, then act upon, the common good. Or whatever it is Hekia Parata does.

Of course it's not like this is an especially recent problem. During National's previous term in office, Minister of Internal Affairs Richard Worth (a man and MP whom we may possibly ascribe the single noteworthy characteristic of "being less charismatic and/or likeable than Rodney Hide") was pinged for similar behavior over his conduct on a Ministerial trip to India, in which he apparently attempted to further his own personal business interests off the back of said Ministerial position.

Around the same time, then-Minister of Ethnic Affairs Pansy Wong managed a similar trick of "Pulling a Collins"; insofar as she used a taxpayer funded trip to China and her Ministerial status for the purposes of furthering her spouse's business interests. This earns an additional series of outrage points from me for being incurred during the course of her husband's treasonous actions in hobbling Kiwi manufacturers and employers so he could line his pockets. I note with amusement the additional spectacle of an official spokesperson for Prime Minister John Key describing Labour's Pete Hodgson as a "fuckwit" for revealing all of this. They just love transparency, don't they, these Nats.

From the other side of the aisle, we also have the sad spectacle of MPs like Chris Carter and Mita Ririnui; the former of whom indulged in a rather lengthy shopping list including flowers for his partner and various forms of spa, while the latter contented himself with a set of ministerial golf clubs and a bike.

There was also that thing Shane Jones did; but I really don't believe that counts under the same rubric as just about everyone else in this article, on grounds that Jones took steps to repay the misspending *as soon as he became aware of it* and well before there was any hint or suggestion that Ministerial credit card spending would ever see the light of day much less media. Or, in other words ... I buy his story that it was an accident, and that he did everything possible to fix it due to conscience rather than impending political pressure/damnation.

Then again, it's also eminently possible for Ministers to engage in eye-watering wastage and downright objectionable use of the taxpayer's funding on seemingly legitimate business.

Just this week, for instance, we've had shocking revelations that Trade Minister Tim Groser managed to tot up a bill of $300 for a dinner in Singapore featuring the protected Antarctic Toothfish. Now admittedly, in this instance, $300 is arguably not an unreasonable sum for a high powered political banquet, and the problem is the faux-pas inherent in being seen to dine out on something rare and endangered. Or possibly the animal cruelty inherent in the foie gras. In any case, the nationalist in me is at least slightly pleased that $90 of that was spent buying a fine bottle of Otago Pinot Noir. If only the Nats had this kind of economic nationalist approach to *all* their government procurement decisions! (Seriously. New policy built off NZ First's nationalist Government Procurement bill. If you are a Minister of the Crown entertaining foreign dignitaries, you *must* do your bit for the Kiwi economy by buying your table at least one bottle of fine-as Kiwi wine!)

For the truly deplorable, however, there was the ghastly spectacle of Simon Bridges spending an amazing TWO HUNDRED AND FORTY THOUSAND DOLLARS on entertaining oil executives during the Rugby World Cup and with a view to encouraging their dangerous, dirty industry to set up shop here.

Incredibly, Bridges portrays this as being a "modest amount" ... a claim I can't take seriously when we realize that it's somewhere in the region of FOUR TIMES the COMBINED amount of National seatwarmers Claudette Hauiti and Paul Foster-Bell's *entire* annual usage of the domestic travel perk - and these two are already two of the biggest spending MPs in this regard.

You'd think, particularly after National amended the Crown Minerals Act to reduce the share of royalties New Zealand keeps from extractive industries, that these oil barons would be able to pay for their own supper ... but I guess not.

In any case, these woeful misuses of the public purse aren't simply important because they are, ipso facto, a wastage of taxpayer funding by a government that is hell-bent on cutting every item of "waste" it possibly can off its expenditure in a quixotic pursuit of Surplus At Any Cost (ha), and therefore hypocritical in the extreme.

No, the importance of these lapses of judgement and oversight by our elected representatives (including some of the highest and mightiest in the land) is that they betray the humanity and the failability that lurks beneath the well-armoured facade of hyper-competence that many MPs and just about all Ministers strive to project. (including the time Prime Minister John Key's ministerial credit card was used to purchase $390 worth of stuff at a party pill shop and $400 at a tobacconist. One wonders if he then hit Sky City Casino for a little "Fear & Loathing of the National Party" style action subbing in BZP for mescaline)

They also, in some cases, betray a breathtaking sense of entitlement and self-importance that truly gives human form and flesh to Rudyard Kipling's old quote about politicians being "little tin gods on wheels". The wheels bit has always perplexed me, but I guess that's just because we here in the political underworld like moveable feasts.

To #Renationalize me some Margaret Thatcher (a fraught, and dangerous task) ... "the trouble with being part of the National Party is sooner or later you run out of other people's money".

And on September 20th ... that's EXACTLY what's going to happen to some of these big-spending Nats!