Posts tagged ‘Labour’


All I really know is who I won’t vote for

29.08.2017

One thing I love about New Zealand is that we’re not mired in an election cycle years before the event. We’re three weeks or so out from our General Election, and only now am I feeling things are heating up.
   It’s not that we haven’t had drama. Weeks ago, Metiria Turei was co-leader of the Greens, Andrew Little led Labour, and Peter Dunne was aiming for another term as MP for Ōhāriu and leader of United Future. None of these hold true in late August.
   What is unusual is that I’m undecided because of all these late changes, and we’re still learning about policies in some cases—I remember getting my manifesto out six months before an election, and the uncertainty here isn’t helping. The billboards have done nothing to sway me one way or another. Policy-wise, I have some things in common with each of the parties, excepting ACT, though probably like most New Zealanders, I haven’t had a chance to visit all the parties’ websites yet, though I will in the next few weeks. Various websites helping people decide based on stated policy actually give very different answers: On the Fence suggests I am both a National and Labour supporter (I often kid and say the parties are the same, just plus or minus 10 per cent); yet taken earlier, it said United Future and Māori Party were the top two with the most in common with me. Vote Compass gives Green and Mana. The websites, then, are no help, because they base their answers on selected issues, and apparently I’m both right- and left-wing.
   Twitter is comparatively quiet in 2017, giving fewer clues about how candidates are thinking, and I hardly look at my Facebook (for obvious reasons). I have spied some of the TVCs, where Labour has done an excellent job, and (last I looked) National has uploaded only one to its YouTube channel, so I can’t even see the first one that has been on telly. A lack of coordination between online and traditional media worries me.
   It’s an odd mix, none of whom really stand out.
   The incumbent National Party currently has an unimaginative TVC that is an adaptation of the rowers of 2014, and it only serves to highlight that, after three terms, they are out of touch. Say what you will about the former PM, the Rt Hon John Key, he had a pretty keen sense of the electorate. Not so this National Party, where the Deputy PM gave this quote:

   I see my friend Andy Boreham suggests ‘Minster’ is a misspelling of ‘Monster’, but such a point makes a mockery of New Zealanders’ belief (even if it does not hold true with growing inequality) that being Deputy PM is no greater a duty or more important a job than being a union leader. Some might have voted for National before on the premise that John Key is rich (I’m sure that worked for Trump, too), but, as we know, they aren’t going to return the favour of a vote by giving up a share of their wealth with you. PM Bill English, whom I first met while he was Treasurer in 1999, is an intelligent man with a sense of humour that doesn’t come across on television, and that won’t hold him in good stead this time out. Pity: there are many National MPs I like (e.g. Paul Foster-Bell, Simon O’Connor). The Nats’ 2002 campaign with Bill as leader was a disaster: I saw no outdoor advertising when I came back from Europe. This time there’s a lot of outdoor, but none of it says anything to me, other than National has spent some money licensing new fonts. I should note that no one has won an election for a long, long time in this country using a typeface that has a single-storey lowercase a.
   Labour has staged a turnaround like no other, one where leader Jacinda Ardern is neck in neck with the PM on one preferred prime minister poll. I had dismissed Labour earlier on as a party with unhealable divisions, but the speed at which Ardern and her party have pulled together an overhauled campaign is to be commended. I’ve never voted Labour before, and I’m still not convinced that the divisions are gone, but I will say this of Ardern, just as I once did of myself when I stood for office in my 30s: if we screw it up, we have a lot, lot longer to live with the consequences. She will take this seriously. She has had more parliamentary experience at this point than Key when he first got to the PM’s office, and former PM Helen Clark has endorsed her. Rose-coloured glasses about the Clark administration will help, even if I was critical of certain aspects of it back then. Post-Little, Labour could get more Chinese New Zealanders voting for them, too, after an earlier screw-up with a real estate agent’s list that was handled horribly. Chinese NZers have long memories, and some labelled the gaffe racist. Ardern is a departure from Little and the message here is ‘Don’t hinder Jacinda.’
   Peter Dunne’s decision not to stand in Ōhāriu means that the United Future party is at an end. It’s a shame, because I have always got on with Peter, and he has been generous to me with his time, more so than my own MP. Similarly, the Greens’ James Shaw I count as a friend of over seven years, but the Turei scandal has left the party hurt, even if its policies remain on track. The signage has been appallingly dull, bereft of imagination, even if James’s performance in a recent Nation debate clearly marks him out as the intellectual, aware of global trends. If we want a globalist (or at least a globally aware MP) in Parliament, then we could do far worse than ensuring the Greens get in above the 5 per cent threshold. Strategically, a party that has its origins in the environment (even if that message hasn’t been hammered home of late) makes sense, as I believe we need to protect ours desperately. Vote Compass says I’ve most in common with the Greens this time out, and Toby Morris makes a good point with his latest cartoon.
   The Opportunities Party has some good points—I’m in favour of closing tax loopholes for foreign companies operating on our shores—and its leader, Gareth Morgan, who normally comes across as lacking the common touch, did well in the debate, at least when he had something to say. I’ve followed Morgan on Twitter for some time, long before this political foray, and often liked what he had to say. However, at either website TOP and I don’t have that much in common.
   The Māori Party, as my supposed second choice based on On the Fence (at least the first time out a few weeks ago), could have received my vote after Peter decided not to stand, but Marama Fox’s performance in the above debate didn’t impress me, even if she impressed all the talking heads in the studio. It goes to show how different things are in person. Fox has passion and fire, but didn’t have the figures to back up her policies—and I know from having been on the podium with my opponents that you should have them, and your researchers should have at least come up with an estimate. I don’t know where Mana sits; I had a far better idea when Kim Dotcom was involved.
   New Zealand First, helmed by the Rt Hon Winston Peters, the most establishment of all the politicians who successfully carries on an antiestablishment message, has signage up with Peters’ face and the words ‘Had enough?’ On that note I find accord with New Zealand First’s message. I have had enough of Winston Peters, and I answer their advertisement in the affirmative. But I shan’t be voting for them.

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Posted in marketing, New Zealand, politics | 2 Comments »


The political caricatures of old have taken human form, but they’re still nothing like us

09.05.2015

That’s another British General Election done and dusted. I haven’t followed one this closely since the 1997 campaign, where I was backing John Major.
   Shock, horror! Hang on, Jack. Haven’t the media all said you are a leftie? Didn’t you stand for a left-wing party?
   Therein lies a fallacy about left- and right wings. I’ve 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 caricatures—there has been a “rightward” 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 day—this holds more true than ever. We know what subscribing to certain parties’ 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 aren’t 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 Miliband’s insistence on the ‘budget responsibility lock’, to demonstrate that he had a handle on the economy, when Economics 101 told us that austerity isn’t 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 didn’t practise austerity, but he did practise conventional economics with the government going more into deficit through increasing spending during the early 1990s’ 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 John’s own goal while campaigning for the Tories in this General Election, when he said at the Tory Reform Group annual dinner, ‘We 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.
   ‘How 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.’
   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 ‘classless society’ 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 they’re 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 Blair’s and Gordon Brown’s 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 ‘Change’ and ‘It’s about New Labour, new Britain.’ It hid, to those of us watching the General Election and the year before it, New Labour’s 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 didn’t matter. (Or, as I had told many of my design classes at the time when I was teaching, the Conservatives’ Arial was no match for Labour’s 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 Labour’s 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 party—which I imagine we will see reemerge in the next few days—indicate 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 ‘Labour isn’t working’ (the Wilson–Callaghan 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 aren’t getting their shot at the ‘classless society’, then is the place any good? If the class divide has grown, contrary to Sir John’s own views, and weakened Britain as a result of the contraction of economic players in it, then even the “right” can’t support that. To me, I thought conservatism was letting everyone have a shot, and about solid, national enterprise, and this century hasn’t 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.

Contrasting the Tories this time with the party I knew a bit better through observation—the two terms of John Major—I feel they are very different. And, sadly, I draw parallels with the National Party here at home, where people attempt to compare incumbent John Key with Sir Robert Muldoon (1975–84), and I simply cannot see the parallels other than the colour of the branding.
   Sir Robert resolutely believed in full employment, the rights of the unemployed, the state ownership of assets, energy independence, and his ability to fight his own battles. Had attack blogs been around then, he wouldn’t have needed them. I do not agree with everything about his premiership, and his miscalculation of public opinion over the Gleneagles Agreement and the environment is now part of history. However, his terms are still being misjudged today, with an entire generation happily brainwashed by both the monetarist orthodoxy of the 1980s and a prime-time documentary (The Grim Face of Power) aired after his death (probably to avoid a defamation suit) to belittle his legacy. (The contrasting documentary made many years later, Someone Else’s Country, was buried on a weekend afternoon.) We did not have to wait months for a telephone, nor did we not have cars to buy; yet the belief that the electorate has a collective memory of only five years means we haven’t a hope of comprehending fully what happened thirty years ago. But to those of us who pride ourselves on a decent memory, and I believe if we seek public office we must have one, then things were never as bleak as people believe. He was sexist, yet I do not believe him to want to preside over a divided New Zealand, and his own books reveal a desire for unity. Unfortunately, looking at a man born in 1921 through the prism of 2015, plenty of his sayings look anachronistic and passé, but once context is added, the New Zealand we look at today looks more divided.
   We, too, have an underclass that has emerged (those begging for change weren’t there two decades ago, nor were so many food banks), through economic policies that have weakened our businesses. Both major parties deserve criticism over this. For a country where experts have said we must head toward technology to end our reliance on primary products, other than software patents, we have had a strange record over intellectual property with a prime minister who was against certain copyright amendments before he was for them (and voted accordingly). A New Zealand resident who adopted the same rules over copyrighted materials as Google and Dropbox has been indicted by the US Government—that’s right, I am talking about Kim Dotcom. It’s a reminder that we haven’t done enough for our tech sector, the one which governments have said we should aid, which can help our overall economy.
   We are hopelessly behind in how much technology contributes to our economy, and we have done little to support the small- to medium-sized businesses that form the backbone of our economy. Instead, we have been selling them short, welcoming ever-larger multinationals (who usually pay tax in their home country, not ours) and giving them more advantages than our own. Since when has allegiance to these foreign players ever been part of politics on the left or on the right? If we are to support businesses, for instance, we should be negotiating for our own milliard-dollar enterprises to make headway into new markets. Xero et al will thank us for it. Globalization is as much about getting our lot out there so they can pay tax back here. Politicians should be patriotic, but toward our own interests, not someone else’s.

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 “left”, 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, ‘All 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.
   ‘… [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? I’d 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. It’s wise investing, and it’s progress.
   ‘There 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.
   ‘Another example is with software patents, which our country has voted to do away with. It’s been shown that that would spur innovation.
   ‘The 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.
   ‘… 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. I’m 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.’
   One argument in favour is: if we are not party to this, then does this mean we will get shut out of it? I’m 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 it’s so easy, even under WTO, to erect non-tariff barriers? And why should corporations’ rights trump citizens’, as opponents are quick to point out?
   ‘At the end of the day,’ 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 don’t 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 “left” and “right” and work out for ourselves where we’d like our country and our world to head, we will start working together without these false divisions. I might add that “being Asian” in this country is yet another false division. No wonder most people are sick of politics, politicians and “politics as usual”, because most of us cannot be bothered pigeonholing ourselves. We just want to do what’s decent and honourable and have the chance to get on with it.

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Posted in business, globalization, media, New Zealand, politics, technology, UK | No Comments »


Little Big Man was antiestablishment, as is big man Little: straight talk is what Labour needs

28.11.2014

The Hon Andrew Little MP has had a good first week as Leader of the Opposition. Some are saying what a breath of fresh air this straight-shooter is.
   He’s been an MP for three years. And in the context of Labour, which has factions within, that’s a good thing. A guy who isn’t tainted by the system, of favouring one lot over another, or of having got into the role by playing games.
   He’s also learned not to pick fights that are a waste of time. While some on the left would have attempted to drag on the PM’s latest gaffes over Inspector General of Intelligence and Security Cheryl Gwyn’s findings, Little is looking like a leader by saying: ‘It’s time to say game over, John. Front up, admit the truth, tell New Zealanders. Say sorry and we’ll all move on.’
   He even acknowledges that once upon a time, the Prime Minister ‘was once a reasonably straight shooter but no longer.’
   That outsider’s perspective that Mr Little has is going to stand Labour well, and already New Zealanders are seeing that it won’t be “politics as usual”.
   Same-again politicians, as both left and right have seen, can be very dangerous to our system, with their tendency to be more and more disconnected from everyday voters.
   Labour might have its first pragmatic leader in years. That début address made good watching, and this is a guy who claims public speaking is his weak suit.

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Posted in leadership, New Zealand, politics, Wellington | No Comments »


About Labour, I was nearly on the money in May

20.09.2014

In May, I wrote (in the wake of the Oravida scandal):

The problem with all of this is: where’s Labour, in the midst of the greatest gift an opposition has been given for years?
   One friend of a friend noted that maybe Labour shouldn’t be attacking, because we Kiwis don’t like whingers. It is the charge I hear from friends on the right. Labour should, instead, be coming up with solid policies and leave the attacks to the Greens (which is doing a marvellous job) and Winston Peters (need I say more? He remains a great political wordsmith).
   For me, I’d like them to do both if they are to stand a chance. The job of the Opposition is to oppose.
   And failure to oppose strongly may suggest to the electorate that the same thing could happen under Labour.
   Six months out from the election I contested, I had my policies published—which one blog noted was unusual but welcome. That meant my policies were out for twice as long as my opponents’.
   We’re talking about a party that has been in opposition for a long time, long enough to know what it wishes to do should it be handed the reins of government.
   And yet, apart from a few policy announcements here and there, it has been silent. You’d think the names of the Shadow Cabinet would be in our consciousness by now. Embarrassingly, I even forgot David Cunliffe’s name recently in a conversation. I could only call him ‘not-Robertson’. (It is better than the PM calling Grant Robertson ‘Perry Mason’ today, I hasten to add.)
   It makes me wonder if Labour isn’t working and whether the anti-National vote will, indeed, head even more to the Greens this year.

My last paragraph was off about where the anti-National votes went, but the old Saatchi & Saatchi headline held true in the 2014 General Election: Labour isn’t working. I don’t think I need to restate what I wrote four months ago—and what I had been saying even before that.

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Posted in New Zealand, politics | 2 Comments »


I thought political division got you nowhere in New Zealand

23.08.2014

A week and a half ago, I appeared on Back Benches to talk about Winston Peters MP’s “two Wongs” joke, and confined my comments to that.
   My response, ‘There are still people who enjoy watching Rolf Harris, just as there are still people out there who enjoy listening to Winston Peters.’ And, ‘We have a politician here who says he does not believe in race-based laws, and yet everything he utters is race-based … Can’t he walk the talk?’ His is a passé joke, and of course there’s no way Mr Peters would have heard it in Beijing—since the Wong surname does not exist in Mandarin.
   It’s a shame he resorts to this old technique because I find myself agreeing with a number of his statements when it came to the Dirty Politics revelations. And had I more time on Back Benches, I would have explored this further.
   There were three MPs on the show, Annette King (Labour), Scott Simpson (National) and Russel Norman (Greens). Ms King and Dr Norman were up front enough to call the joke racist, while Dr Norman went so far as to call it ‘unacceptable’ and ‘disgraceful’, while Mr Simpson merely passed it off as ‘Winston being Winston.’
   Mr Simpson’s dismissal is in line with his Prime Minister’s, who called it ‘a stunt’. And it brought back the PM’s unflinching reaction to Paul Henry implying back in 2010 that the then-Governor-General, Sir Anand Satyanand, did not ‘look or sound like a New Zealander’.
   That has been covered here before, but I read comments at the time that John Key’s predecessor, Helen Clark, would have taken Henry to task over the comment.
   I plainly don’t notice someone’s colour and I suspect most people do not, but I do notice accents, and Sir Anand sounds exactly like what you would expect from an Auckland Grammar alumnus: if linguists were to pin down just where he was from, I’m fairly confident they would find it was Auckland.
   Once I can forgive. The PM was in the heat of an interview in 2010, he had his points to make, and it’s very, very easy not to answer the question put before you. In the YouTube clip, I didn’t directly answer one of Damian Christie’s questions.
   But twice? This is not ‘a stunt’, this is something that goes to the heart of the casual racism that occasionally gets spouted in this country. It has no place in Aotearoa, and in election year, you would think that the Prime Minister, wanting to capture votes from Kiwis of all stripes, would take a rival to task over it. Politicians in the past aimed to paint an inclusive New Zealand, not one where people are cast out by race or, as we have seen post-Dirty Politics, by whether they are on the left or on the right.
   Author Nicky Hager is now, according to the PM, ‘a screaming left-wing conspiracy theorist’ for writing his book, one where the allegations have been carefully written to avoid legal action, and one where there are no emails to refute what he claims. Watching the fallout has been instructive: the ACT Party has completely defused the allegations over the Rodney Hide “blackmail” stance thanks to early, measured, and direct statements from Mr Hide and from lawyer Jordan Williams, and the burden has been lifted. It didn’t take much. David Farrar, who admittedly is not a central figure in the book, comes across as an intelligent and genuine National Party member and supporter. But National has played a divisive game once again, and that has been disappointing, especially for those quality MPs the party has outside of the Cabinet.
   You can say that its poll numbers are comfortable enough for National not to attempt to get voters on “the left”, but if I were running right now, I honestly wouldn’t care what your political leanings were. I’d want your vote. I’d know there were swing voters out there, and I’d also know that most New Zealanders, who tend toward centrist politics, have policies on the left and the right that they favour. Why isolate them by insulting some of their beliefs, or pigeonholing them as belonging to one group or another?
   Or, why, for that matter, associate with blogger Cameron Slater if he is a ‘force of nature unto himself’ (if I have quoted the PM correctly).
   And he is. I actually have little problem about the man having an opinion and expressing it on the internet. I’ll even go so far as to defend his right to hold an opinion and to express it freely even if I do not agree with it.
   I might not agree with Mr Slater’s venomous ‘I have come to the conclusion that Maori are thick. Dumber than your average bear. Stupid. Dumb and Dumber rolled in one. Dumber than a sack of hammers,’ and ‘My patience with Maori is at an end. They are venal, corrupt, lying, lazy useless fuckers,’ but he has a right to say it.
   It’s like “two Wongs”.
   Those who don’t like it can say so, too.
   The PM’s defence so far of his and his party’s association with Mr Slater (which suddenly has become less tight than it was portrayed earlier this year) is effectively “this is OK, because Labour contacts left-wing bloggers”. Sorry, John. If there is a blog out there that spews this kind of hatred, the normal thing for any right-thinking New Zealander to do is to isolate its writer. To make sure that his brand of venom is as far away from you as possible. You just don’t risk it for the sake of votes. You do not cozy up to him, even minutely—which is now the image you wish to portray. To have your government and your party willingly associate with him is precisely the sort of divisive politics that has no place in this country.
   The tactics have been compared to the Muldoon days. I disagree: if Rob Muldoon thought you were a knob, he would come out and call you a knob.
   I don’t think he would recognize his party.
   As Muldoon himself put it (in Muldoon):

A great deal of New Zealand’s history has in fact been recorded in detail and it as [sic] at least as interesting as that of older countries. To read it is to understand why so much damage is being done by a small group of stirrers who have fomented the hateful cry of “racism” in recent years. New Zealand does not have a colour bar, it has a behaviour bar, and throughout the length and breadth of this country we have always been prepared to accept each other on the basis of behaviour and regardless of colour, creed, origin or wealth. That is the most valuable feature of New Zealand society and the reason why I have time and again stuck my neck out to challenge those who would try to destroy this harmony and set people against people inside our country.

   And I can’t see decent National Party people like Paul Foster-Bell or Simon O’Connor ever engaging in these sorts of tactics. At the local level, Kerry Prendergast never did when I ran against her in 2010.
   Despite these efforts from our politicians, I still believe in inclusiveness, and that when you stand for public office, you are prepared to represent everyone in your constituency, even those you might not like or hold different beliefs to you. I said of a racist who wrote on my wall in 2013, ‘If elected, I’m happy to represent you, too.’ I don’t think that’s an idealism found in the Coca-Cola Hilltop commercial, but the reality of someone who wants the job of public office. Maybe it’s naïveté, but I can’t see what division and negative campaigning get you in New Zealand.

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The 2014 General Election: the impressions the parties have left, so far

05.08.2014

A Kiwi friend, based in Australia, and I were discussing the General Election yesterday on the phone.
   First, I told her, you wouldn’t know one was on. It’s like Christmas when the global financial crisis hit: people weren’t in the mood.
   Secondly, minor parties like Internet Mana are probably doing better than the polls say: as with the mayoral election last year, those on cellphones are being missed in telephone polls, and, unlike local body elections, more young people come out for these.
   In Rongotai—historically a Labour electorate other than a brief period under National when Graeme Reeves was our local MP—there are plenty of Labour hoardings. In my postbox, surprisingly, Conservatives and Greens have delivered more, while two Labour loyalists did some door-knocking. National’s activity, that I found out about ex post facto, was a visit by Paul Foster-Bell. Interestingly, it has also bought a lot of ads on the Lucire website via an ad network that we work with, and it got to the point where I wondered if people thought our publication was sponsored by National.
   I’m exactly the sort of swing voter who these folks would target because I don’t go to the polls on autopilot. Paul does well with interacting with us on Facebook, and, as I told the two Labour people, I haven’t physically seen Annette King in this area in 21 years. (I’ve seen her at parties though, and to be fair, I saw her at one official function in Newtown, which is part of this electorate.) I also saw Graeme a lot, and Peter Neilson before that.
   But Labour’s poor showing in the polls, in my opinion, has less to do with the invisibility of its members in the community and more to do with the perception of division. It’s what got John Major in the UK in 1997—you just can’t fight an election alone.
   Chris Hipkins and I did chat briefly about the fact certain media seem to enquire with National first about a few Labour announcements, which is a curious journalistic approach, and that certainly weakens their case.
   But I have just watched a TV3 Nation “debate” (I use the term advisedly—Steven Joyce does himself a disservice by shouting down his opponent and the host, when I actually wanted to listen to his side of the story), where I can now say I have seen, and heard, more of Grant Robertson than his leader, David Cunliffe. I even saw Grant at the weekend with Maryan Street. I thought: good, Labour is campaigning. I want to see an election battle.
   Labour’s image of division isn’t new. It started after the resignation of David Shearer and the long drawn-out process of selecting a new leader. Why Labour wanted this to be so public I have no idea. It might have thought it a good opportunity to get some air time but all it did was show that there were two camps: the caucus, who favoured Grant, and the membership, who favoured David Cunliffe.
   My Australian-based friend was under the impression that Grant only lost out because of his sexuality, that that was wholly inappropriate in 2014 given that he is the better speaker, thinker and leader. If his sexuality played a part in his loss then I agree that it should not have been a consideration. I’ve a feeling she’s disappointed with Labour and won’t be voting for them.
   While David Cunliffe moved quickly to give his rivals high positions in the Shadow Cabinet, the damage had been done.
   I think occidental voters want to see unity, because, in the General Elections I have watched, that plays a greater role than the policies themselves. The reality is that every party has factions, and it’s a matter of first, how deep they are, and secondly, how one stage-manages them to the public. No matter what Labour does, it found itself on the back foot.
   It may be time to look beyond the stage management and ask ourselves what we want in terms of our aspirations for our country.
   I want to see a high-tech base along with our traditional primary sectors, because we have an advantage in innovation that doesn’t get talked up anywhere nearly enough. That’s one of my biggies, along with a government that is prepared to foster the growth of New Zealand businesses, not those of foreign technocrats in the hope that trickle-down might start working one of these days. Foreign ownership of enterprises doesn’t put that much back into our economy. I’ll go for a party that will work to narrow the income gap, and has a workable plan to do so.
   In the materials I have been delivered, and in the media that I have been served, I haven’t seen anyone hit all of these.
   The rest—sensibly investing in education, health and our poor, go without saying—but every party says they care about this trifecta. They are nevertheless worth investigating.
   This means I’ll continue digging to see who matches up with my wish list the best. It’s worth the effort if we are to get past the smoke-and-mirrors games of the spin doctors.

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This government’s comedy of errors lately—and few to capitalize on them

07.05.2014

Polity has gone through the MFAT OIA documents relating to Judith Collins’s visit to China, where she met with Oravida thrice.
   I’ve been reading them but out of order (the second bunch only) and their summary of what I have read gels with my take on things.
   These matters have been covered better on political blogs, but I can’t but help drawing comparisons between the stubbornness of this government with the days of Neil Hamilton, Jonathan Aitken and others in the UK Conservatives in the 1990s.
   The Minister’s latest, that the Greens were quick to capitalize on (as they did with Simon Bridges—which begs the question of where Her Majesty’s Loyal Opposition is), is this quotation: ‘Does that have anything to do with me? Am I the minister of wetlands? Go and find someone who actually cares about this, because I don’t. It’s not my issue … I don’t like wetlands—they’re swamps.’
   This Cabinet has opened itself up to media attacks because of the relatively large holes in its conduct, of which the above seems typical.
   The odd one, at least to 21st-century eyes, has to be the PM’s defence of Collins, as reported by Radio New Zealand: ‘Meanwhile, the Prime Minister blames Twitter for the stress Ms Collins has faced over her involvement with Oravida … Mr Key said Ms Collins had been under a lot of stress and much of that was driven by comments on Twitter.’
   One of my friends responded, ‘If he’d ever seen the abuse she dished out in her tweets, he’d know she was the instigator of most of it, not the victim.’
   And the PM makes one critical mistake here: he seems to portray social media as some sort of foreign world, where specialist knowledge is required. It’s certainly one that certain members of the old media fraternity love to use.
   The truth is social media aren’t that different: they are merely extensions of what one already knows. If you have been in business or in public service, you should know how to write and communicate. If you’re a reasonably competent writer in your everyday life, then it’s a cinch that you’ll be good at communicating with social media.
   I might get sucked in by the odd troll every now and then, but Twitter stress isn’t a valid enough excuse in my book.
   However, the PM is a smart guy. He knows that most of us will forget in a short space of time and there’ll be another scandal that will surface. So the disappearance of Collins through a time-out might be a good calculated move—at least that’s what he’s counting on.
   But the fourth estate might not be as forgiving this time. Duncan Garner wrote (also noting she needed a Twitter break): ‘The truth is, her story about what she was doing in China with Oravida has completely collapsed. She has lost all credibility. What started as a pop-in cup of milk and a private dinner turns out to be a turbo-blasted official dinner involving both Governments, their officials, a senior Minister (Collins) and a National party donor (Oravida).’
   The problem with all of this is: where’s Labour, in the midst of the greatest gift an opposition has been given for years?
   One friend of a friend noted that maybe Labour shouldn’t be attacking, because we Kiwis don’t like whingers. It is the charge I hear from friends on the right. Labour should, instead, be coming up with solid policies and leave the attacks to the Greens (which is doing a marvellous job) and Winston Peters (need I say more? He remains a great political wordsmith).
   For me, I’d like them to do both if they are to stand a chance. The job of the Opposition is to oppose.
   And failure to oppose strongly may suggest to the electorate that the same thing could happen under Labour.
   Six months out from the election I contested, I had my policies published—which one blog noted was unusual but welcome. That meant my policies were out for twice as long as my opponents’.
   We’re talking about a party that has been in opposition for a long time, long enough to know what it wishes to do should it be handed the reins of government.
   And yet, apart from a few policy announcements here and there, it has been silent. You’d think the names of the Shadow Cabinet would be in our consciousness by now. Embarrassingly, I even forgot David Cunliffe’s name recently in a conversation. I could only call him ‘not-Robertson’. (It is better than the PM calling Grant Robertson ‘Perry Mason’ today, I hasten to add.)
   It makes me wonder if Labour isn’t working and whether the anti-National vote will, indeed, head even more to the Greens this year.

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Open the shop and strip away the jargon

05.01.2014

I’ve been reading this Grauniad interview with Rory Stewart, MP, referred by Jordan McCluskey. I’m told that Stewart, and Labour’s Frank Field are the two worth listening to these days in British politics. On Stewart, someone who can speak with a Scots accent and has lived in Hong Kong must be a good bloke.
   Two quotations resonated from this interview, which I posted on Tumblr this morning.

Our entire conceptual framework was mad. All these theories—counterinsurgency warfare, state building—were actually complete abstract madness. They were like very weird religious systems, because they always break down into three principles, 10 functions, seven this or that. So they’re reminiscent of Buddhists who say: ‘These are the four paths,’ or of Christians who say: ‘These are the seven deadly sins.’ They’re sort of theologies, essentially, made by people like Buddhist monks in the eighth century—people who have a fundamental faith, which is probably, in the end, itself completely delusional.

And:

We have to create a thousand little city states, and give the power right down to all the bright, energetic people everywhere who just feel superfluous.

   The second is familiar to anyone who follows this blog: my belief that people are connected to their cities and their communities, probably as a counterpoint to how easily we can reach all corners of the world through the internet. We want that local fix and to make a contribution. Power should be decentralizing in the early 21st century—which is why I thought it odd that the majority of my opponents in the mayoral election took the line of, ‘We should cosy up and further the cause of statism,’ even if they did not express it quite that way. In every speech. Yes, a city should work with central government, but we do different things and, being closer to the action, we can find ways of doing it more effectively and quickly. With statism being an aim, then the regular entrepreneurs—or even as Stewart says, ‘bright, energetic people’—came further down the list. For me, they were always at the top.
   But the first quotation is more interesting. In my work, especially in brand consulting, I’ve harboured a dislike for the manuals that get done but are never referred to. Better that a lot of work goes into a 15 pp. report than scant work going into a 150 pp. one. The former might not look impressive but if every word in there is filled with substance, then it can help get an organization into high gear. And the shorter one is usually harder to write because more preparation goes into it.
   In short: take out the wank.
   Strip out the wank and you can see the truths for what they are. And if they don’t apply, then try to find ones that do.
   Yet to make ourselves look smart—remember, I did law, and that area is filled with a lot of it—we bury things in jargon so that we keep everything a closed shop. Every profession has such a tendency. However, when things are actually revealed in plain language, does it make the specialist look superfluous? On the contrary, it makes them able to connect with an audience who come to appreciate their expertise. (On a side note, in terms of car repair, this is why I go to That Car Place.)
   So when we start dealing in international geopolitics, we want to keep the power among a closed shop. The words that Stewart used served to highlight the gulf of the occident in its dealings in Afghanistan—that is the context of his remark—and it connects with a story I remember about a certain US policy institute when I was studying law. Our lecturer said the failure of the institute in the countries it went to was its expectation that a US solution could be imposed, whereby everything would then be all right. Use enough jargon to make it all sound legitimate to the casual observer. The consequence of this (whether this was his conclusion or mine, I do not recall): blame them when it doesn’t work.
   Without understanding the cultural context of why things are the way they are in a given system—and lacking the knowledge to analyse it and quickly localizing your knowledge and gaining the context—make for a disadvantage. It must be said that even some within a system don’t realize the context! But you can strip away the mystery by simplifying the language, removing the jargon, and understanding things the way they are. Progress comes from understanding, not from creating mysteries—and Stewart is wise to have come to the conclusions he has, thanks in no small part from a global, well travelled context.

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