Iâve had a phone call and a lot of comments on this in the last couple of days: my Dad, who is 81 with early-stage Alzheimerâs, called the US presidential election for Donald Trump months ago. I posted it on my social networks the day he made his definitive call, and friends remembered it. Thank you for all your compliments.
Go back to 2015, he had called the Republican primary for Trump.
I wasnât as confident but I had Tweeted the week before the election that polls were understating Trumpâs actual support by at least 6 per cent.
In 2008, when everyone had dismissed Gov. Sarah Palin, he said that she wasnât going to go away, and that sheâd command an even greater influence in the first Obama term. While he predicted an Obama win, again quite early on, he wasnât optimistic and didnât think there would be great change in the US. You may or may not agree with that.
Going right back to the 1980s, when I was at college, and before China showed any signs of opening up, he made the call about its economic rise, and that I would be assured, by the time I was in my 30s and 40s, that many would want to deal with the country. It would be, I remember him telling me, a career advantage to being Chineseâin contrast to the racism we encountered far more frequently back then.
During the height of the Muldoon era, Dad, who counted himself as part of Robâs Mob, made the call that Sir Robert Muldoon would not be able to hold on to his power or reputation in his old age. When a documentary aired condemning Sir Robert after his death, so that he wouldnât be around to file a defamation suit, he said, âI told you so.â
Even in the elections I contested (and he encouraged me to run), while he refused to be drawn on what he thought my chances were, he was unequivocally clear that my rival, John Morrison, wouldnât win, in 2013. Dad certainly did better than some so-called political experts I can name.
And if you want to get really spooky, during the Martin Bashir interview of Princess Diana, he said that by the time she was 37, sheâd have a âreally bad yearâ. He didnât say sheâd die.
No, heâs not a Mystic Meg of any sort. Heâs a guy whoâs been around for a while and kept his eyes open.
If you want to know his secret, I can tell you that his political projections are based in part around reading. Not mainstream media, but websites that heâs discovered over the years himself. Heâs a keen web surfer and loves his news. He doesnât put that much stock in political âexpertsâ, and after having run myself, I can fully understand why.
Heâd even take in the viewpoints on Russia Today, which gives you an idea of how varied his reading was. Just today I caught him watching an address from Edward Snowden.
With Palin, it was probably the sudden rise of her fan sites set up by US conservatives. He hadnât seen such a rapid rise of sites that soon galvanized their support around the former Alaskan governor before. While mainstream media dismissed her and gave the impression that post-2008, she wouldnât matter, Dad had entirely the opposite reading. Politically centrist, and, like me, a swing voter, he kept following the sites out of interest, and saw how they morphed into the Tea Party movement. He also knew they wouldnât go away any time soon, and observed that there was a Palin effect, as the likes of Ted Cruz soon found out when contesting their Senate seats.
And, despite my own criticisms of this practice, Dad would read the comments. Sometimes he would wade through hundreds of them, to get a sense of what people were thinking.
It was his reading of media from left and right during the latest US presidential election that saw him made his calls very assertively.
Rather than dismiss certain conservatives as ill-educated, as some media might, Dad treated them as human beings. He knew they would galvanize and get behind Trump.
When youâve lived through a world war (including an occupation) and then a civil war, and saw your family start from the bottom again after 1949, you get to be good at knowing what people go through.
Heâs always been politically switched on, and had a keen interest in history and economics, the latter of which he studied at a tertiary level. But heâd always explain to me that it came down to people and their behaviour, and never rational decision-making. I might have only lived just over half his lifetime so far, but I find little fault in that statement. All new movements have plenty of power, till they become the establishment.
His thoughts on China in the 1980s could well have stemmed from that: I never asked him, and aphasia means heâd now find difficulty telling me anyway.
Sadly for the US, he finds appeal in the theory that the nation will break up, though he hasnât quite yet made the call in the same way he made the one for the Trump presidency. But as with his Trump prediction, Iâm publishing this one online.
Heâs never stated it as succinctly but he has, in passing in the 1980s and 1990s, said that the British Empire wouldnât last much longer beyond our current monarchâs reign.
You never know, we might be coming back to this post in a few yearsâ time. These are gloomy scenarios but Iâd rather put Dadâs ideas out there now, as I did with the Trump presidency, rather than tell you ex post facto how clever he was. The lesson: treat people as people, and itâs amazing how much that will reveal.
The trouble with the graphic is that the only thing it got right was that two women were killed. Sweden wasnât having a referendum on whether to leave the EU, it was about whether it should adopt the euro. The closest British parallel would have been when then-PM John Major negotiated the Maastricht opt-out in 1991. It also claimed that the polls were for leaving; notwithstanding that that wasnât what the Swedes were voting for, the polls for and against adopting the euro were roughly neck in neck, though the wisdom was that the pro-euro camp would win. By the weekend, the result was that Sweden would keep the krona.
When I argued with some pro-Brexiters about this, they, like most pecksniffians, demanded I check my facts. I didnât have to: I have a memory that goes back further than one month, and unlike them, I know what went on in their own backyard because, in 2003, I kept my eyes open.
I should point out that I am not summarizing all Brexiters as dimwitted Britons who wanted Johnny Foreigner to go home. I count among my closest friends someone who voted leave, and for very substantial, well thought-out reasons. He felt that the European Union had become an unwieldy bureaucracy which benefited Britain little, and while I felt the benefits outweighed the detriments, I respect his opinion and his vote. At least it was considered, and at least it wasnât one that was based on the ramblings and rants of Farage, Johnson, Gove et al.
Appealing to nationalism, as the likes of Farage did, is a cheap trick in politics: it stirs a wave of nostalgia, and people might love chanting at how great their nation is, but it doesnât address the core issues that put them into the poo to begin with. Of course the UK has a great deal to be proud of; but like many countries (including ours) the globalist technocratic agenda are what have made things untenable for a growing part of the population. Itâs why real wages havenât risen yet certain corporations profit aplenty; itâs why we work more hours today than we ever did, despite futurists of a generation ago predicting all this leisure time that we would all have thanks to automation.
But is retreat the right thing to do? The remain camp believes that it wasnât: to influence Europe you must be in Europe. It wasnât that long ago that not being in Europe was fatal to British exportsâthe failure of the British motor industry, for instance, was in part due to its late recognition that the UK needed to be part of the EEC or, at least, produce vehicles there. Globalizationâs positives should be the free movement of people and of capital; and economic union to permit that greater freedom seems a sensible thing to pursue, not to run away from. The trick is how to make this work for everyday people, the growing number who are impacted by globalist forces; once there were few, now few escape them. It is, then, the role of government to either protect those who are most vulnerable, to champion (either through private enterprise or on its own accord) real innovation and industry that can create jobs, and to cut through the BS where both public and private enterprise simply reinvent the wheel from time to time, putting lipstick on the bulldog.
I am ambivalent about it because Iâve seen our own governments, National and Labour, be particularly weak when it comes to dealing with globalization, succumbing to foreign takeovers and allowing the little guy to be run over. The deals havenât been good for New Zealand in many respects, a small country that believes in its place in the first world but which can be deluded about this very fact. Our economy just isnât that solid to take it on the chin. Look at our banks, mostly foreign-owned and more unreliable than ever: remember how 40 years ago cheques would take 24 hours to clear? Yet now our computerized systems take three to five working days? Insiders tell me this is the consequence of less reliable Australian systems being foisted upon us; so much so that we have a wire transfer that has been taking weeks, and no one knows where the money has gone. Just how do you misplace tens of thousands of dollars? Why do we assume Australian bankers are smart enough to answer? And those who question such agenda donât get much truck in a media landscape also dominated by foreigners: Iâm looking at one newspaper publishing group at the least. The ways of the big countries are not always the bestâyet somehow the powers-that-be in this country have been hoodwinked by this consistently since 1984. I can’t understand it, and my initial reaction when there is such a lack of logic is to follow the money.
Brexit has made me refine my thinking: I might not like a system where New Zealandâs the little player that doesnât benefit from a level playing field, but at the same time I believe we need to find ways to influence the globalist game for the better. We love looking at Scandinavian countries because of their comparable size. They may have higher taxes but at the same time they donât seem to balk at innovation for the greater good; they believe in the freedom of movement of capital and of people, and, despite their general humility, they actually arenât afraid of creating global companies that take on the rest of the world. Look at Vattenfall or Statoil. We might not like Statoil for what it wants to do to our own environment, but we do have to ask what our equivalent is. We lost our lead in hybrid cars, which we held for most of the 1980s, but itâs an example of what we can do when government and private enterprise cooperate on something that is future-oriented. Whatâs the next big thing? Is it renewable energy tech that we can export? There are companies here already doing frictionless exports, and more need to be encouraged. Government shouldnât try to create groups of them or force mergers upon them; that can be left to the market. But there needs to be a vision or a direction that we take to create a new brand for our country where people naturally think: innovation for the greater good = New Zealand. And, maybe, to go with that, a fairer version of globalization can emerge, certainly one that is not coloured by the next quarterly result demanded by Wall Street.
Yes, there is some national fervour involved here, too, but applied correctly, it wonât be false flag-waving thatâs dependent on the past. Iâm all for being proud of your country when the victories are real and measurableâlike on the sporting field. There itâs real, and itâs often about the next game or the next season: itâs future-oriented, too. With Brexit, I canât see the vision; and the most visible foreigner among this, the Turkish-American politician, Boris Johnson, hasnât communicated one that I can discern.
And maybe this confusion is the opportunity we need for New Zealand.
After the UK abandoned the Commonwealth markets in favour of one right next door, our country found new export markets, so much so that the UK accounts for 3 per cent today. Even in 1973, when it was 40 per cent, it had been falling consistently for half a decade, if I recall correctly, and the notion that Britain would reach back out toward the Empah for trade is fanciful at best.
Being someone who has enjoyed looking at world history play out through maps, ever since I discovered a book on the subject as a third former at Rongotai College, it hasnât escaped my thoughts that this is a further retreat for the UK in terms of its global influence.
So whoâs on the rise? It might be us. The centre of the global economy has been shifting eastward in recent times and weâre well placed to take advantage of it. Weâre part of the Anglosphere so we bridge the past, where it was the dominant global culture, with those trading partners who might be on the horizon. But it has to be real. Weâre nimble enough, and I canât see why weâve been so fascinated with apeing the US and the UK for so long. Once again we need to set our own direction: we have a culture thatâs ready for it with a greater sense of identity than weâve ever had. I just wonder if we have a government, local or national, courageous enough to embark on this.
Above: Chris Evans and Rory Reid talk about the McLaren F1 in Extra Gear.
Now that the new new Top Gear has aired in New Zealand, I have to say that it isn’t really there yet. But unlike much of the UK, I’m not going to dis Chris Evans, who is a consummate gearhead. The reason: I have a memory that goes back beyond February 2016.
When Jeremy Clarkson and Andy Wilman brought Top Gear back in its current form in 2002, it was actually disappointing. People seem to forget James May, who originally replaced Clarkson in the original Top Gear, wasn’t even on the show. My memory of the studio audience was that there were about four people hanging around Clarkson as he introduced âŠ wait for it âŠ the CitroĂ«n Berlingo. Which he took to France (insert Clarkson pause) to buy cheese.
The idea of a show with a perfect complement of three hosts who got on well with each other, each playing a caricature of himself, did not exist for the first year, and even after May replaced Jason Dawe, it took a while for those personalities to emerge. It’s rare to get three hosts to play those roles as well from the get-goâTop Gear France (which is actually made by the BBC) is an exception, and every other foreign edition of Top Gear that I’ve seen doesn’t quite have it.
But Clarkson was a ratings’ winner. When he first quit Top Gear (or ‘old Top Gearâ), the series which started with Angela Rippon as its host in the 1970s, ratings fell from six million to three million. The TV environment was different a decade and a half ago. And the BBC persevered because at that time he hadn’t offended Mexicans or Argentinians, or assaulted an Irishman, or Piers Morgan.
However, importantly, the public was quite happy letting things develop. They could have gone and watched Fifth Gear with its familiar line-up of ex-Top Gear presenters, but they stuck with Clarkson, Hammond, and whomever the third man was.
Twenty sixteen. Enter Chris Evans and Matt Le Blanc (somewhere between the ending of Friends and today, the space seems to have disappeared in his surname), both personalities who love cars. They are disadvantaged by not having been motoring journalists, but they are entertaining. The show doesn’t flow well with the studio segments, the stars introducing each other doesn’t work, and I’m nostalgic for the reasonably priced carâalthough at least the French have continued la tradition. However, because everyone expects the show to remain on a high, the internet jury has been nasty. No one demanded an overnight success before, but they’re out for blood now. It’s an unfair position to put Evans in.
The absence of motoring journalism experience could have been filled quite easily. We were originally told of a huge line-up of Top Gear presenters, to which I thought: great, the BBC is going to give a big roster a go again, something that we hadn’t seen since the 1990s. In there we saw names such as Chris Harris. Yet Chris Harris and Rory Reid have been relegated to an internet-only show called Extra Gear, which is meant to serve Top Gear in the way Doctor Who Confidential served Doctor Who, with a bit of behind-the-scenes stuff, deleted footage, and some sensible road testing around the test track of models not covered in the main show.
Here’s the thing, and this has been said in the British press: these two guys have great rapport, and come across better than Evans and Le Blanc. I vote for them to be on the main Top Gear. They are more personable, humorous, and relatable. I wouldnât be surprised if they found a way to work them both in next season, and why not four hosts?
One thing Harris and Reid have is that they know their stuff after serving in motoring journalism. They arenât rich guys who happen to love cars, but guys who have worked that passion into careers. Harris, in particular, put integrity ahead of kissing up to Ferrari and Lamborghini. I have tremendous respect for these two guys, and thereâs simply more heart in Extra Gear than Top Gear, which at present feels a bit empty and by-the-numbers.
I donât blame Evans at allâthe man had a herculean task. The producers probably tried to reduce Top Gear into formulaic chunks and believed that by cooking with those ingredients, they’d have a winner. This is a reminder that you cannot create heart from a formula: you canât predict where it surfaces. Now that we know itâs there with Reid and Harris, the BBC would be wise to capture it. Let Top Gear evolveâafter all, it did between 2002 and 2015âbut also let these personalities do their thing.
Iâve done this a few times now: looked through my yearâs Tumblr posts to get an alternative feel for the Zeitgeist. Tumblr is where I put the less relevant junk that comes by my digital meanderings. But as I scrolled down to January 2015 in the archive, Iâm not that certain the posts really reflected the world as we knew it. Nor was there much to laugh at, which was the original reason I started doing these at the close of 2009.
January, of course, was the month of the Charlie Hebdo massacre, which saw 11 murdered, including the famed cartoonist Wolinski, whose work I enjoyed over the years. Facebook was still going through a massive bot (first-world) problem, being overrun by fake accounts that had to be reported constantly. The anti-vax movement was large enough to prompt a cartoonist to do an idiotâs guide to how vaccines work. In other words, it was a pretty depressing way to end the lunar year and start the solar one.
February: Hannah Davis made it on to the cover of the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Edition by pulling her knickers down as far as socially acceptable (or unacceptable, depending on your point of view), while 50 Shades of Grey hit the cinemas, with one person commenting, âSeriously, this book raises every red flag warning signal I learned during my Military Police training. Grey is a ****ing psycho.â Mission: Impossibleâs second man with the rubber mask, Leonard Nimoy, he of the TV movie Baffled, passed away. Apparently he did some science fiction series, too.
CitroĂ«n celebrated the 60th anniversary of the DS, generally regarded as one of the greatest car designs of the 20th century, while Alarm fĂŒr Cobra 11 returned for another half-season in March. In April, one Tweeter refused to do any Bruce Jenner jokes: âthere are kids & adults confused/bullied/dying over their gender identity,’ said an American photographer called Spike. The devastating Nepalese earthquakes were also in April, again nothing to be joked about. There was this moment of levity:
And the Fairfax Press published a photograph of President Xi of China, although the caption reads âSouth Koreaâs President Park Geun Hyeâ. Wrong country, wrong gender. When reposted on Weibo, this was my most viral post of the year.
In May, we published a first-hand account of the Nepal âquakes in Lucire, by Kayla Newhouse. It was a month for motorheads with For the Love of Cars back on Channel 4. Facebook hackers, meanwhile, started targeting Japanese, and later Korean, accounts, taking them over and turning them into bots.
In June, rumours swirled over the death of Channel 4 newsreader Jon Snow, whereupon I made this image:
Microsoft rolled out the bug-filled Windows 10, which worked differently every day.
In December, it wasnât quite âStar Wars, nothing but Star Warsâ. There was, after all, Trump, Trump and more Trump, the only potential presidential candidate getting air time outside the US. Observing the primaries, 9Gag noted that the movie Idiocracy âstarted out as a comedy and is turning into a documentaryâ. Michael Welton wrote, meanwhile, in Counterpunch, âThe only way we might fathom the post 9/11 American world of governmental deceit and a raw market approach to political problem solving is to assume that moral principle has been banished because the only criteria for action is whether the ends of success and profitability have been achieved. Thatâs all. Thatâs it. And since morality is the foundation of legal systems, adhering to law is abandoned as well.â The New Zealand flag referendum didnât make it into my Tumblr; but if it had, I wonder if we would be arguing whether the first-placed alternative by Kyle Lockwood is black and blue, or gold and whiteâa reference to another argument that had internauts wasting bandwidth back in February.
Itâs not an inaccurate snapshot of 2015, but itâs also a pretty depressing one. France tasted terror attacks much like other cities, but the west noticed for a change; there were serious natural disasters; and bonkers politicians got more air time than credible ones. Those moments of levityâmy humorous Jon Snow image and feigned ignorance, for instanceâwere few and far between. It was that much harder to laugh at the year, which stresses just how much we need to do now and in 2016 to get things on a more sensible path. Can we educate and communicate sufficiently to do it, through every channel we have? Or are social media so fragmented now that youâll only really talk into an echo chamber? And if so, how do we unite behind a set of common values and get around this?
When I ran for office in 2010 and 2013, I tried to mount campaigns that were the most effective per dollar spent. If you can’t practise it in your own campaign, you sure as heck can’t practise it when in office. J. E. Bush’s massive spend is exactly what you don’t want to see for the numbers he’s getting.
And unlike the “polls” here in those two local body elections, which had no resemblance to the voters’ reality (got to love sextupling your poll numbers), I trust the Vox one is more accurate, being an aggregate of many US polls with large samples.
The sad thing we can take from the numbers above is that celebrity seems to trump (pun unintended) all else. For those complaining about where all the moderate Muslim voices are when extremists speak out, have a look at this. Where are the moderate Republican voices? Outside the US, we don’t hear any in the mainstream media: the US political coverage has been Trump, Trump and more Trump. Extremism gets sensationalist headlines, and sensationalism sells in a headline culture, whether you’re Stateside or here. Similarly, peaceful Muslims just don’t fit the narrative, as this article in The Independent highlights. American legal experts who say that Trump’s proposal to bar Muslims from entering the country is unconstitutional because it violates their First and Fifth Amendments have parallels with Muslim leaders who say their faith is one of peace, practised peacefully by thousands of millions. They reflect the majority view, but rationality doesn’t sell the nightly news.
No wonder some have called for the media not to give terrorists coverage, and their argument must similarly apply to all forms of extremism.
I don’t know in which media the million-dollar club is spending in, but these numbers might also show that conventional above-the-line advertising can’t work without complementary below-the-line activity. Trump engagementâfor and againstâmust be pretty good on Twitter, if my own Tweetstream is anything to go by, and that gets his name out more. The man has five million followers on Twitter and, for all the predictions about doom and gloom for the social network, it seems there’s life in it yet. At least it stays up an awful lot more than Facebook.
At this point in 2007, Clinton had a 20-point lead over Obama, and four years before that, when his campaign was trying to buy advertising on our sites, the likely Democratic candidate was a pre-âI have a scream’ Howard Dean. We really don’t know how this is all going to pan out, because on the other hand, Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush were leading at this point in 1979 and 1999 respectively. MSNBC has done the only poll I’ve seen where they’ve put the likely Democratic candidate this timeâwhich appears to be Clinton, who has spent largeâagainst potential Republican ones. Interestingly, only Carson comes closest to her if he became the Republican nominee; but the question among moderate conservatives and liberals must be how Trump still manages 41 against her 52 (below). Either these numbers will not be borne out at the polls should these two face off against each other, or the answer is simpler than we think: the US political media will talk up a creation of the US political media. They don’t want to be proven wrong, because otherwise they risk losing their perceived authority.
What we do know, unless Sanders gets up there through his populist campaign, is that regardless of the outcome, the United States will swear in another right-wing president on January 20, 2017.
The Dongfeng Fengshen AX7, or a Renault with a Peugeot engine (and I don’t mean the PRV V6 or the old Douvrin), entered into Autocade this week.
With Autocade hitting 6,000,000 page views earlier this week, hereâs a quick anorakâs run-down on the rate of growth. In short: itâs about the same in terms of page views, one million every eight months.
March 2008: launch
July 2008: 500 encyclopĂŠdia entries (four months for first 500)
December 2009: 1,000 (17 months for second 500)
May 2011: 1,500 (17 months for third 500)
December 2012: 2,000 (19 months for fourth 500)
June 2014: 2,500 (18 months for fifth 500)
December 2014: 3,000 (six months for sixth 500)
March 2008: launch
April 2011: 1,000,000 page views (three years for first million)
March 2012: 2,000,000 page views (11 months for second million)
May 2013: 3,000,000 page views (14 months for third million)
January 2014: 4,000,000 page views (eight months for fourth million)
September 2014: 5,000,000 page views (eight months for fifth million)
May 2015: 6,000,000 page views (eight months for sixth million)
Iâm happy that itâs become a useful resource for so many people. Another blog update when we hit another milestone, but if cars are your thing, pop by to the website or the Facebook page (where there are more auto-trivia).
The latest entries are from the Dongfeng range (the Fengshen AX7 SUV has just gone up as the 3,170th model lineâor, as I cheekily put it, a Renault with a Peugeot engine): one model line short of having all the current ones up. With the growth of the Chinese market, it is important for one site, at least, to chronicle the changes there. We’ve steadily been filling some of the gaps at the old US Oldsmobile brand, too, with all the Toronados now in Autocade.
Thatâs another British General Election done and dusted. I havenât followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Havenât the media all said you are a leftie? Didnât you stand for a left-wing party?
Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. Iâve never completely understood the need to pigeonhole someone into a particular camp, when I would say most people on this planet hold a mix of views from both sides. Now that politicians are not unlike caricaturesâthere has been a ârightwardâ shift where the policies being adopted by some are so outside economic orthodoxy that they look like what their Spitting Image counterparts would have uttered back in the dayâthis holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain partiesâ views fully and completely is like: we risk looking loony, and, if taken too far, we risk becoming loony.
But the spin doctors and advisers arenât in to transparency. They are into their talking heads conveying what they feel the public responds to, hence Mitt Romney, once an advocate of universal health care in his own state, becoming an opponent of it when he ran for president; or, for that matter, Ed Milibandâs insistence on the âbudget responsibility lockâ, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isnât a good way to help the economy along and Miliband began sounding like Cameron lite.
My support of Major in the 1997 General Election, which went against the prevailing view at the time, was down to several reasons. Unlike Cameron, Major didnât practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990sâ recession, knowing the stimulus to be affordable, and knowing it had to be paid back once the economy was healthy again. It is interesting to note Sir Johnâs own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, âWe need to acknowledge the fact we have a pretty substantial underclass and there are parts of our country where we have people who have not worked for two generations and whose children do not expect to work.
âHow can it be that in a nation that is the fifth richest nation in the world, that in the United Kingdom we have four of the poorest areas in Europe? I include eastern Europe in that question.â
How indeed. The John Major who was prime minister will have answered that easily, and his own record illustrates just why he avoided such consequences in the 1990s that Cameron was unable to.
The second reason was that I really believed the âclassless societyâ speech, and if you have read his memoirs, or even biographies written about him, then there was a real personal experience woven into that. Critics will point at the fact the speech was written by Antony Jay (Yes, Minister) or the fact that Britain invented To the Manor Born and such sitcoms, but, generally, why should only certain classes have the ability to excel and do their best? Everyone should have that opportunity, and the measures implemented under the Major premiership, while not as far to the left as traditional socialists would have wanted, struck a good balance in my view in an immediate post-Thatcher period. We should always be wary of sudden shifts, whether theyâre swings from the left to the right, or vice versa. A pragmatic approach seemed sensible.
Third, it was precisely that Major was not a Thatcherite, even if Margaret Thatcher might have believed him to be when she made him Chancellor of the Exchequer, a job that he wanted most of his political life. But what we had in his very shrewd opponent in 1997 was Thatcherism, or at least monetarism. As we know from Tony Blairâs and Gordon Brownâs early move in allowing the Bank of England to be free of political control, their belief that this would avoid boom-and-bust cycles was not realized. However, the evidence does show that the freedom has coincided with a period of low interest rates and stable inflation, but equally one can credit the work of the Tories in handing New Labour a booming economy in May of that year. As Major noted at the time, it was rare for a government to lose while the economy was improving, but the Labour campaign, ably assisted by biased media at the time, and the easy pass Blair got from the British establishment despite being very, very vague about his policies, was hard to beat. All he had to do was utter âChangeâ and âItâs about New Labour, new Britain.â It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labourâs Thatcherite aims. I am not even that sure what Blair, Brown and Peter Mandelson were doing in the party to begin with.
This might be contrasted with a Tory party weakened through allegations of sleaze (and we know now that no party is any less sleazy than the other, but it depends on when you are caught out) leading Major to fight a campaign largely alone with the occasional publicity boost from the Spice Girls. No matter how specific the PM got, it didnât matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservativesâ Arial was no match for Labourâs Franklin Gothic, a typeface family that, incidentally, was used by Thatcher in her 1983 election campaign, and by Labour in New Zealand in 1999 and 2002.) It was frustrating to try to discern what Labourâs specific policies were from Down Under, watching the General Election campaign with keen interest. And those lack of specifics worried me from the start, which explains why when I ran for office, I issued a manifesto early in the game. I liked being first, even if the electorate didn’t put me there.
Whether you agreed with Labour or not, and many would argue that the Blair and Brown years were not stellar, the divisions in their partyâwhich I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few daysâindicate that even within there is a great deal of polarization. The Thatcherites are in there, except they are called Blairites. And while Sir John put his weight behind his party out of loyalty, and from his earlier political years witnessing how âLabour isnât workingâ (the WilsonâCallaghan years must have been formative for him given his age), his comments at the dinner are telling on just where modern Conservative economic policies under George Osborne differed to his own and those of Norman Lamont. If people are suffering, if they arenât getting their shot at the âclassless societyâ, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir Johnâs own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the ârightâ canât support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasnât given me much faith that that applies very widely.
Labour might have campaigned on that and on preserving the NHS although having listened to Miliband, I was never totally convinced. Perhaps, I, too, had concerns about Labour vagueness, and until this General Election I had not followed the Shadow Cabinet closely enough to know the thinking and histories behind the players. That area, I will leave to others to comment. In some respects, the caricature comment I made above applies to Labour, too.
Therein lie my many posts about the Trans-Pacific Partnership Agreement on my Facebook. It is precisely because I support business that I am against a good part of what has been leaked so far. (I am aware that many trade agreements are negotiated in secret, so there is nothing new there.) It is precisely because I believe in a level playing field for Kiwis that we should be careful at how we liberalize and in what sectors and at what pace we should do it. The curious thing there is that the substantial arguments (obviously against it) have come from the âleftâ, or friends who identify as being left-wing, while some who have identified as being right-wing have bid me an indignant exit from the discussion by attacking the players and not their utterances, and yet somehow the lefties are branded the woolly, emotional wrecks?
As I wrote last year, âAll I want are facts, not emotional, ideological arguments. On the evidence for me, things are leaning toward the anti side. I come from the standpoint of the market being a man-made construct and people are not numbers.
ââŠ [T]here are cases going on with tobacco companies where they are using IP to argue that plain packs are contrary to trade agreements. So where do you draw the line with public health versus a foreign enterprise profiting? Iâd like to see healthy people not taxing the system, and plain packs were a foreseeable development IMO for a tobacco manufacturer. [I know this is an argument that is typically trotted out, but I use it since there is at least one case out there.] A wise tobacco company would have acquired businesses in other fields (as some have done), just as Coca-Cola, seeing the tide turn against sodas, have bought up water, energy drink and juice businesses. Itâs wise investing, and itâs progress.
âThere is nothing wrong with the notion of a trade tribunal but what has been emerging from the leaks are ones where corporations can be compensated for loss of profits based on, say, plain packaging. If a government is democratically elected to implement such a policy, and corporations have always understood investments to be subject to the laws of the land (including the risk of divestment in some), then should their rights trump that of the citizens? This is the danger here, and this is the heart of the sovereignty argument.
âAnother example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. Itâs been shown that that would spur innovation.
âThe tendency is that TPPA is against these moves, although given the secrecy we do not know for sure. But reading other IP provisions it does not take a big leap of the imagination.
ââŠ Do I believe in global free trade? Absolutely. But I also believe in making sure that people have the means the buy the stuff I sell, and to me this treaty (based on what has been leaked) does not ensure that. I also believe in social responsibility and that citizens have their basics looked after so they can participate in commerce. I am pro-innovation, especially in smaller enterprises where some great stuff is taking place, and we have reasonably robust IP laws already and conventions that govern them. Iâm not saying I have a complete alternative that replaces it, but some of the work we have done at the Medinge Group touches on these issues.â
One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? Iâm not entirely sure we will in that we are already one of the freest markets in the world, although I welcome arguments and past examples. In the areas I know well, the absence of a free-trade agreement with the US, for instance, have never hampered our firm exporting there, but I realize for our primary producers there have been obstacles. But do such agreements mean unimpeded access when itâs so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporationsâ rights trump citizensâ, as opponents are quick to point out?
âAt the end of the day,â to borrow a phrase, all human systems are imperfect. And the market is just as human as any other. My belief is that your own citizens, and their welfare, must be placed first, and we should support our own people and our own businesses. The political caricatures that certain parties have now rendered into human form donât necessarily appear to understand this, certainly not by their actions. This is at the crux of the arguments that I saw from Labour supporters in the UK General Election, and to some extent from those who opposed National and ACT in our one last year. Labour’s loss here, too, in my view, can be placed on a leader who himself came across as unsubstantial on TV as his opponents; and his refusal to resign can be contrasted to the behaviour of Miliband and Nick Clegg yesterday. He could have always pulled a Nigel Farage.
The sooner we get away from notions of âleftâ and ârightâ and work out for ourselves where weâd like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that âbeing Asianâ in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and âpolitics as usualâ, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do whatâs decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.
Top Earlier today, attempting to get into Style.com meant a virus warningâthe only trace of this curiosity is in the web history. AboveStyle.com is back, with a note that it will be transforming into an e-tail site.