Sunday, 25 September 2016

From Good Guys To Fall Guys: The Spinoff And Generation Zero Fail To Endorse Mike Lee.

Generation Hero:  Mike Lee’s record of service to the people of Auckland is extraordinary. From the protection of municipal assets (especially the Ports of Auckland) to the creation of regional parks, his contributions to the city are large and tangible. Even his critics acknowledge Mike as a “campaigner” for “good public transport”. It’s one way of describing the guy who secured the electrification of the Auckland rail network - I can think of better ones.
 
UP UNTIL TUESDAY of last week I’d always thought of The Spinoff and Generation Zero as the good guys. A wee bit hipsterish perhaps, in the case of the former; a little hard to distinguish from the Green Party in the latter – but these were minor quibbles. Overall, both organisations came across as fresh, creative, and definitely on the side of the progressive angels.
 
Not anymore.
 
On Tuesday morning The Spinoff, in collaboration with Generation Zero, released their list of endorsed candidates for the Auckland Council elections. Following the embedded links, I read, with a mixture of disbelief and outrage, the following sentences:
 
“At first glance [Mike] Lee seems like a pretty good councillor. He’s in favour of the CRL, [Central Rail Loop] and his bio says he’s a campaigner for good public transport. Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see he’s an ancient Waiheke sea goblin intent on imprisoning Auckland in a 1950s time prison.”
 
It goes without saying that this assessment is as wrong as it is vicious. Mike Lee’s record of service to the people of Auckland is extraordinary. From the protection of municipal assets (especially the Ports of Auckland) to the creation of regional parks, his contributions to the city are large and tangible. Even the author of the above-quoted outpouring of bile, Hayden Donnell, couldn’t avoid acknowledging Mike as a “campaigner” for “good public transport”. It’s one way of describing the guy who secured the electrification of the Auckland rail network - I can think of better ones.
 
None of this matters, however. Not in the “post-truth politics” of our times. Virtually none of the young readers of The Spinoff will have the slightest knowledge of Mike Lee’s life-long dedication to progressive politics. They won’t remember his time as Chair of the Auckland Regional Council, nor his contribution to restoring Tiritiri Matangi. They’ll never have read his doctoral thesis on the islands of the Hauraki Gulf, nor his articles in the New Zealand Political Review. All they’ve been given to work with is Hayden Donnell’s gratuitously insulting and outrageously unjustified censure.
 
That the editorial team at The Spinoff were happy to allow such a journalistic abomination to go out under their name says a great deal – not only about their ethics, but also (and more importantly) about their politics.
 
Because the flip-side of The Spinoff’s trashing of Mike Lee’s reputation is their endorsement of the “charismatic former media boss renowned for his long lunches”, Bill Ralston. There’s no examination of Ralston’s record (apart from his heroic wielding of the company credit-card) no warning that he has never represented his fellow citizens on any elected body, and certainly no heads-up about his being very, very, very good friends with John Key’s National Government.
 
No, the only reason Ralston gets The Spinoff’s appropriately coloured blue circle is because he has pledged his allegiance to the Auckland Council’s Unitary Plan. For Generation Zero this is all that matters. The slightest expression of doubt; the merest suggestion that this property developers’ charter, unmitigated by the democratic intervention of councillors like Mike Lee, will disfigure beyond repair one of the world’s most beautiful cities is enough to get you accused of wanting to lock Auckland up in “a 1950s time prison”.
 
What the whole distasteful incident reveals is that although The Spinoff affects a hipsterish cynicism about all things political, the precise opposite is true.
 
A real hipster would look at Bill Ralston and see a former mainstream media boss impatient to help out his right-wing mates by moving up to the top table. The same hipster would look at Mike Lee and venture a wry smile that although the left-wing tide has been going out for three long decades this ageing baby-boomer has never lost his faith in a better tomorrow – and has solid achievements to prove it. That sort of hipster would know exactly who to endorse.
 
But the boys and girls at The Spinoff are not cynical hipsters, they’re true believers. Members of a generation which, knowing nothing else, have absorbed the ideological assumptions of neoliberalism without conspicuous protest. Now they want their reward. They’re hungry for economic and political power and bitterly resentful that it has not yet been given to them in anything like the quantities they deserve. What Lightbox and The Spinoff’s other sponsors have given them, however, is cultural power – and they are deploying it with ruthless strategic skill.
 
On the “About” page of Generation Zero’s website, the group describes its mission as:  “providing solutions for New Zealand to cut carbon pollution through smarter transport, liveable cities & independence from fossil fuels”. It’s failure to endorse a candidate with Mike Lee’s record of protecting the environment, promoting public transport, and standing up for an Auckland built to a human scale, makes a mockery of the organisation’s stated aims and objectives.
 
Mayoral candidate, Penny Bright, said it best when she described Generation Zero as “the youth wing of the Property Council”. That the not-so-hipsters at The Spinoff have provided these fake defenders of the planet with such a powerful amplifier is something genuine progressives should bear in mind as they fill out their voting papers.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Sunday, 25 September 2016.

Friday, 23 September 2016

Treaty Rights vs Conservation Values

Who Speaks For The Earth And Its Creatures? Breaking free from the romantic spell in which they have ensnared themselves will not be easy for progressive New Zealanders. Treaty fetishism has blinded them to the reality that human survival can now only be guaranteed by abandoning the manufactured distinctions of ethnicity and embracing the universal obligations of planetary rescue.
 
EARLIER THIS WEEK the Greens said “bon voyage” to their colleague, Marama Davidson. An international Women’s Peace Flotilla is planning to relieve the beleaguered Palestinian enclave of Gaza in early October, and Ms Davidson is determined to be on board.
 
All previous attempts to break the Israeli blockade of Gaza have been intercepted and halted by the Israeli Defence Force (IDF) and it is highly probable that the Women’s Peace Flotilla will suffer the same fate.
 
Being forcibly detained by the IDF may, however, present itself as a less daunting prospect for Ms Davidson than defending her party’s position on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary back home.
 
Her anguish is understandable. Reconciling the Sanctuary’s creation with the 1992 Maori Fisheries Settlement is an exercise akin to squaring the circle. The National Party, strongly supported by the Greens, wishes to protect the unique environment of the Kermadecs. Te Ohu Kaimoana (the Maori Fisheries Commission) has proclaimed its right to fish these waters “non-negotiable”.
 
Impasse?
 
Not according to Ms Davidson’s colleague, the Green Party’s co-leader, Metiria Turei. In a media release dated 20 September, Ms Turei assures New Zealanders that: “It is entirely possible to achieve environmental protection and uphold Treaty rights, and there are plenty of good examples where this has been achieved.” Unfortunately, she failed to supply a list. Nor did she explain how an ocean sanctuary, in which it was still possible to catch fish, could possibly be accepted as genuine.
 
Perhaps Ms Turei is anticipating that Te Ohu Kaimoana (TOKM) will surrender its property rights in return for some form of compensation. After all, that’s what usually happens in the Pakeha world whenever the state decides to appropriate private property for the public good.
 
Unfortunately, the willingness of TOKM to accept such compensation is doubtful. As a strategy for the tangata whenua’s long-term cultural and economic survival, exchanging Maori property rights for Pakeha money has not proved to be a conspicuous historical success. Redress, in the form of Treaty settlements, has been a long time coming for Maori. TOKM may not relish being the indigenous institution responsible for restarting the historically disastrous rights-for-cash exchange.
 
Alternatively, the Greens’ co-leader may be contemplating the imposition of a rahui (a form of sacred prohibition restricting access to, or use of, an area or resource by unauthorised persons) as the most acceptable resolution to the current impasse.
 
Once again, however, there are problems. In order to secure the protected status of an ocean sanctuary any rahui would have to be permanent. But, how would this option be distinguishable, in any practical sense, from the raupatu (confiscation) of which the National Government stands accused? Indeed, many Maori would argue that masking the extinguishing of Treaty rights with Maori words and concepts merely adds insult to injury!
 
Bringing about the reconciliation of Jew and Arab begins to sound quite straightforward compared to extricating Marama Davidson’s Green Party colleagues from their current predicament!
 
An Unacknowledged Consensus? World Wildlife Fund-commissioned poll data from Colmar-Brunton.
 
At the heart of the Greens dilemma lie two contradictory aspirations: defending the planet; and, upholding the Treaty of Waitangi. That the two objectives have been considered compatible for so long reflects the Greens’ deeply romantic and utterly ahistorical understanding of Maori culture.
 
Rather than regarding Maori as being no better or worse than any other human culture, the Greens insist that the tangata whenua enjoy a special relationship with the land. Left to themselves, say the Greens, Maori will never over-exploit a resource or despoil an environment. Unlike the soulless Pakeha, they understand the sacred character of mountain, river and ocean. To put it bluntly: Aotearoa’s indigenous browns are natural greens.
 
Except that they are nothing of the kind. The Maori fisheries settlement of 1992 did not see the participating tribal authorities institute an environmentally light-handed and culturally distinctive regime of harvesting the creatures of the sea. On the contrary, Maori fishing interests proved to be no less rapacious in their exploitation of New Zealand’s Exclusive Economic Zone than the very worst of their competitors – with whom they were soon in partnership.
 
Breaking free from the romantic spell in which they have ensnared themselves will not be easy for the Greens. Treaty fetishism has blinded them to the reality that human survival can only now be guaranteed by abandoning the manufactured distinctions of ethnicity and embracing the universal obligations of planetary rescue.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 23 September 2016.

Thursday, 22 September 2016

“Better Now Than Later!” – Nato Deploys 4,000 Additional Troops To Eastern Europe.

A Demonstration Of Strength? Is Nato's decision to deploy an additional four battalions (approximately 4,000 troops) to Poland and the Baltic States a demonstration of strength: a firm “don’t mess with even the smallest of our member states”, directed at the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin; or yet further evidence of the West’s rising levels of anti-Russian paranoia?
 
THE MOMENTS OF MAXIMUM PERIL, diplomatically-speaking, are seldom the consequence of excessive strength. Strong states have little reason to fear their neighbours. It is, rather, perceptions of national decline and diminishing military strength that spur national elites towards diplomatic recklessness – and war.
 
How, then, should we interpret the news that in May 2017 the Nato alliance will be deploying an additional four battalions (approximately 4,000 troops) to Poland and the Baltic States? Is it a demonstration of strength: a firm “don’t mess with even the smallest of our member states”, directed at the President of the Russian Federation, Vladimir Putin; or yet further evidence of the West’s rising levels of anti-Russian paranoia?
 
On the face of it, Nato remains a very strong alliance – especially in relation to the military capability of the Russian Federation. According to an article authored by Ian Shields of Anglia Ruskin University and published in The Independent of 28 May 2016: “NATO is significantly larger than Russia in simple numbers: NATO has a total of 3.6m personnel in uniform, Russia 800,000; NATO 7,500 tanks, Russia 2,750; NATO 5,900 combat aircraft, Russia 1,571.”
 
But numbers aren’t everything, it’s what you do with them that counts. At the 1805 Battle of Austerlitz, the French Emperor’s, Napoleon Bonaparte’s, Grande Armée of 67,000 men outmanoeuvred and decisively defeated a combined Austrian and Russian force of 85,000. Imagination, daring and superior strategic thinking continue to play a vital role in diplomatic and military encounters.
 
In this respect the Russian leader has proved himself more than match for his European rivals. His willingness to use military force, both to advance and defend his country’s strategic interests, has reduced Nato to playing repeated games of catch-up and bluster. For the West’s political leadership Putin’s successes have been galling enough. For Nato’s generals, however, Russia’s strategic application of force has been a personal and professional humiliation. They are hungry for revenge.
 
The decision to deploy an additional 4,000 troops to Russia’s western borders has been undertaken in an attempt to both intimidate and deter Putin from contemplating a lightning-fast repossession of the former Soviet republics of Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania. Nato knows that Russia’s massive army could roll over the Baltic states in a matter of hours. Its purpose in stationing troops there is not to halt any Russian advance, but to require Russia’s soldiers to engage American, British and Canadian troops on their way to the Baltic shore.
 
Applying the same process of cold deliberation that he used in relation to Georgia, the Crimea and eastern Ukraine, Putin must decide whether this “Cross the Latvian border and start World War III” threat is real, or just another example of Nato bluster. The generals may be willing to incinerate the world for Latvian independence, but what about the peoples of Western Europe? And, how willing would a President Trump, or Clinton, be to invite their own people’s annihilation by authorising a nuclear strike against Russia?
 
In Trump’s case, Putin is reasonably confident that the nuclear codes will not be activated for the Baltic States. He cannot be so sure about the hawkish Hillary Clinton. That being the case, it is not difficult to understand why Putin is deploying his cyber warriors against the Democratic Party’s candidate. It is just one more demonstration of Putin’s strategic daring – and yet another example of the West’s inability to come up with an effective response.
 
It is often argued (by the winners of World War I) that Germany was only willing to risk war with Russia in 1914 because its generals knew that given a few more years, and a few more French loans, the Russian “steamroller” would be utterly unstoppable. “If war is going to come in any case”, they are said to have reasoned, “better now than later.”
 
There are alarming echoes of these grim calculations in Nato’s most recent deployment. Faced with economic stagnation, diminishing military budgets, and increasingly restive populations, have the generals of Europe – and Britain in particular – come to the same doom-laden conclusion as the German General Staff of 1914.
 
“If we wait, then in a few years Nato will be both militarily and politically incapable of stopping Putin and the Russians from reconstituting their lost empire. Better now than later!”
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 21 September 2016.

Tuesday, 20 September 2016

John Key's Kermadec Options.

Choices, Choices, Choices: Abandoning the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary would inflame the already raw feelings of National Party’s more conservative supporters. Not because they are the world’s most strident environmentalists, but because they would interpret Key’s “surrender” as proof that the Treaty of Waitangi now constituted “superior law” – i.e. capable of preventing the Crown from over-riding its provisions.
 
JOHN KEY’S OPTIONS in relation to the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary are many and varied. He could step away from the enabling legislation, postponing its final resolution until he’s safely re-elected. He could drive the legislation through Parliament with the support of the Greens and NZ First. He could waft a cheque in front of the noses of Te Ohu Kaimoana (TOKM) and watch their “non-negotiable” position melt into air. Or, he could simply abandon the Sanctuary altogether.
 
The latter option would be a gift to the Greens, NZ First and (to a lesser degree) Labour. James Shaw and Metiria Turei would characterise Key’s decision as a betrayal of New Zealand’s international commitment to protect at least 10 percent of its Exclusive Economic Zone from commercial exploitation. Winston Peters would condemn Key for surrendering in the most abject fashion to the Iwi interests behind TOKM. Labour, sensitive to its exposed position in the Maori seats, would attempt to persuade voters that National lacked both the will and the skill to negotiate a fair settlement of the Sanctuary dispute.
 
Abandoning the Sanctuary would also inflame the already raw feelings of National Party’s more conservative supporters. Not because they are the world’s most strident environmentalists, but because they would interpret Key’s “surrender” as proof that the Treaty of Waitangi now constituted “superior law” – i.e. capable of preventing the Crown from over-riding its provisions.
 
Quite rightly, this would be viewed as a radical recasting of New Zealand’s unwritten constitution. Rather than ultimate sovereignty being vested in the “Crown in Parliament”, as is presently the case, Key’s back down would be taken as proof that ultimate sovereignty now resided in the Treaty of Waitangi – as interpreted by the unelected judges of the New Zealand Judiciary.
 
Right-wing intellectuals, including such outspoken critics of the Treaty as Don Brash, Hugh Barr and David Round, would go further. Their question would be: What persuaded John Key to undertake such a radical recasting of New Zealand’s constitutional arrangements? Their answer, in all probability, would be that the Prime Minister was convinced that anything less was bound to provoke an unquellable Maori backlash.
 
Were this to become generally understood by the Pakeha electorate, an unquellable Maori backlash would instantly be relegated to the second biggest problem Key had to face. The extraordinary response to the then National Party leader, Don Brash’s, speech to the Orewa Rotary Club in January 2004 (National’s poll-rating surged 17 percentage points) still stands as the most telling evidence of latent Pakeha hostility towards the Treaty-based “Maori Renaissance”. Indeed, it is arguable that National’s easy dominance of twenty-first century New Zealand politics is traceable to Brash’s in/famous “Orewa Speech”.
 
Elite opinion in New Zealand airily dismisses the potential for a devastating Pakeha backlash. On this matter Sir Geoffrey Palmer, the politician most responsible for bringing the Treaty back from the dead in the 1980s, is unequivocal. In a speech to the Māori Law Review symposium on the Treaty of Waitangi and the constitution, held on 12 June 2013, Sir Geoffrey stated bluntly that:
 
“Insulation from the ravages of extreme opinion has been achieved. The settlements have become mainstream. We have travelled a long distance with the Treaty, and much of what was proposed by making the Treaty part of an entrenched Bill of Rights has been achieved. Yet the current position with the Treaty does not seem to me to be sustainable long term. It is half in and half out of the legal system. From a constitutional point of view the developments have been significant, because in many situations the courts are empowered to rule on treaty issues as to whether requirements have been met. The courts are better protectors of “discrete and insular minorities” than the majoritarian legislature, even under MMP.”
 
It is unclear if Sir Geoffrey is linking the democratically elected Parliament of New Zealand with “the ravages of extreme opinion”. What is very clear, however, is that the posture of New Zealand’s political elites has more than a little in common with the posture of the British elites in the run-up to the Brexit referendum. They, too, believed they were defending a “mainstream” position.
 
A failure to appreciate just how deeply Pakeha hostility to “Treaty issues” is imbedded in provincial electorates is what drove the liberal Mayor of New Plymouth from office. Perhaps Key should ponder Andrew Judd’s fate before goading his supporters into a similar electoral rejection.
 
Then again, this Prime Minister is almost certainly also pondering the likely electoral consequences of tapping into, rather than over-riding, anti-Maori prejudice. The likelihood of National emerging the loser from a “Kiwi versus Iwi” themed snap-election is not high.
 
That is the option TOKM should consider most carefully before reiterating its “non-negotiable” stance on the Kermadec Ocean Sanctuary. Some fish are best left uncaught.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 20 September 2016.

Build The Surge For Chloe Swarbrick!

The One To Watch: If Chloe Swarbrick, backed by the votes of young Aucklanders, surges into second place in the Auckland mayoral election, outperforming both Victoria Crone and John Palino, she will identify herself as a political phenomenon. She will be feted by the news media as the voice of her generation – proof of the Millennials’ potential to completely upset the calculations of “politics” and “politicians”.
 
THE SO-CALLED “MILLENNIAL” GENERATION has been harshly criticised for its lack of political engagement. Clear away the red mist of Boomer rage, however, and the under-30s disinclination to participate in electoral politics takes on a very different aspect. Be it inspired by sophisticated political science, or simple gut instinct, the Millennials’ refusal to validate the politics of neoliberalism by joining in its electoral rituals is easily defended.
 
Sometimes, however, casting of a ballot can inflict a serious blow to the neoliberal order. The most obvious recent example is the British electorate’s decision to leave the European Union. A great many young Britons who hadn’t yet voted in a general election (because “politics” and “politicians” always win) voted for Brexit because they sensed that, if they did, politics and politicians would, for once, be the losers.
 
Chloe Swarbrick’s decision to run for Mayor of Auckland has given the city’s young voters a similar opportunity to make a real difference. With virtually no money, and in spite of being excluded (until very recently) from the mainstream news media’s coverage of the election, a recent poll showed Swarbrick in fourth place, after Phil Goff, Vic Crone and John Palino.
 
Essentially, only 15 percentage points separate this 23-year-old political prodigy from second place. A concerted effort by voters under 30 could easily see Swarbrick surging towards runner-up status in the 2016 Mayoral contest.
 
What good is coming in second? The answer is simple and important. By outperforming both Crone and Palino, Swarbrick will identify herself as a political phenomenon. She will be feted by the news media as the voice of her generation – proof of the Millennials’ potential to completely upset the calculations of “politics” and “politicians”.
 
More than a few political commentators have observed that the next centre-left prime-minister has yet to be elected to Parliament. If Swarbrick is propelled into second place in the Auckland Mayoral election, then Labour and the Greens will soon be competing fiercely to get her to accept a winnable position on their Party Lists.
 
I remember meeting Helen Clark for the first time when I was an undergraduate student at Otago. She was just six years older than me, but I could tell, even back then, in the early 1980s, that this junior political studies lecturer from Auckland was going to play a major role in New Zealand’s political history. I defy anyone to watch Swarbrick’s performance on last Sunday’s Q+A and not reach exactly the same conclusion.
 
The Millennial Generation’s progressives have their representative – now all they need to do is vote for her!
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Monday, 19 September 2016.

Monday, 19 September 2016

Corporate Conspiracies.

What's Your Poison? It is only in the last few years that the world has learned of the American sugar industry’s successful battle to suppress the science linking excessive sugar consumption with heart disease. In a tactic borrowed from the tobacco industry, scientists working for the sugar barons heaped doubt upon the emerging evidence and diverted scientific attention towards saturated fats as the primary cause of heart disease.
 
CONSPIRACY THEORIES have long fascinated me: ever since I laid eyes on a document known as “The Gemstone File” nearly 40 years ago. If I quote just the first few sentences from the cover-page, you’ll understand why I found it so hard to put down:
 
Tell me what it is, dear editors, before I get into it.
My dear, it’s heavy.
What is its history?
It’s an anonymous manifestation mailed from Tucson, Arizona, to a fanatical friend of The Fanatic, who insisted it should be published for the good of the North Indies – that radiated land improperly referred to by trivialists as America.
What does it mean?
It’s mean. It names names, and pushes punches right back where they came from.
On whose behalf?
God and the Revolution … If this planet’s a corporation, it’s a corpse.
 
In the age of the Internet this sort of pitch is commonplace: the staple fare of wild-eyed conspiracists the world around. Back in the late 1970s, however, when practically every form of written communication was carried on the surface of pulped trees, a document like “The Gemstone File” rapidly acquired semi-mystical status. It was passed from hand-to-hand; photocopied to the point of illegibility; puzzled over and debated through long nights of drug-fuelled paranoia.
 
The very best kind of undergraduate fun!
 
Whoever wrote “The Gemstone File” was right about one thing though: if this planet is a corporation, then it is a corpse. But even in the fevered brain of The Fanatic and his fanatical friends, it is unlikely that fantasy ever outstripped the true extent of corporate mendacity.
 
It is only in the last few years, for example, that the world has learned about the American sugar industry’s successful battle to suppress the science linking excessive sugar consumption with heart disease. In a tactic borrowed from the tobacco industry, scientists working for the sugar barons heaped doubt upon the emerging evidence and diverted scientific attention towards saturated fats as the primary cause of heart disease.
 
For nearly four decades the deadly impact of sugar on the health of people all over the world was downplayed. Not only was sugar’s major contribution to heart disease minimised, but its crucial role in fuelling the West’s burgeoning levels of obesity was also deliberately obscured. The inevitable outcome of a sugar-laden diet – a global epidemic of Type 2 Diabetes – looks set to burden the health services of the world for many years to come.
 
Calculating the harm done by the American sugar industry is difficult. But the number of people who, since the 1960s, have had their lives cut short by heart attacks, strokes, and the deadly consequences of undiagnosed and untreated Type 2 Diabetes, must run into the tens-of-millions.
 
It is difficult to comprehend the psychological make-up of people who, in the name of selling tobacco and sugar, were willing to suppress and/or denigrate the scientific evidence pointing to these substances catastrophic effects on public health. That they entered into genuine conspiracies to thwart all attempts to mitigate the harm caused by their products is indisputable – as is the conclusion that they have the blood of millions on their hands. And yet, somehow, they still manage to carve their Thanksgiving Turkey and ruffle the curls of their grandchildren. Death on an obscene scale is simply written-off by these corporate killers as the cost of doing business.
 
And it’s still going on. The tried and true tactic of denying and/or debunking “inconvenient” scientific evidence was adopted with undeniable success by the oil industry as it became increasingly clear that anthropogenic global warming was fossil-fuelled. Once again the hired scientific guns of the big corporations were dispatched to undermine every effort to reduce carbon emissions. That a majority of Americans are now convinced that man-made climate-change is a “hoax” bears testimony to the efficacy of the tobacco and sugar barons’ ‘big lies’. That a planet rendered incapable of sustaining human civilisation might be the ultimate outcome of their public relations exercise did not slow them down.
 
The author/s of “The Gemstone File” devoted considerable creative energy to inventing a world ruled by individuals utterly consumed by greed, lust and ambition. Paradoxically, their villains are too charismatic, too grandiloquent, to be believably evil. True evil is nearly always the work of ordinary, or, to use Hannah Arendt’s superbly chosen adjective, “banal”, human-beings whose lack of empathy and atrophied imaginations make them the ideal carriers of the corporate disease.
 
How else could so many of them work so diligently for corporations that have piled up so many corpses.
 
This essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Sunday, 18 September 2016.

Friday, 16 September 2016

A Better Poll.

Bogus? So devastating was the latest One News/Colmar Brunton poll result for Labour that the Opposition leader, Andrew Little, declared it "bogus". In desperation, Labour released its own - vastly more encouraging - internal poll data from UMR Research. Unfortunately, in political terms, this is a bit like presenting an affidavit testifying to your beauty and intelligence, signed by your Mum.
 
ANDREW LITTLE has described the latest One News-Colmar Brunton poll as “bogus”. He insists that “other polls” show the Labour Party doing much better than Colmar Brunton’s figure of 26 percent.
 
It’s a comment that recalls the famous World War I cartoon in which two British soldiers are depicted taking cover in a shell-crater in the middle of No Man’s Land. “If you know of a better hole,” says the first soldier to the second, “then go to it.” Little’s statement merits a similar dose of mordant humour: “If you know of a better poll, Andrew, then show it.” (And, no, that is not an invitation to show us your own!)
 
Regardless of its severity, it was tactically foolish of Little to deny the accuracy of Colmar Brunton’s latest survey. The Labour Leader should have anticipated that National’s chief pollster, David Farrar, would have all the relevant facts and figures at his fingertips. With impish glee, Farrar swiftly posted these on his Kiwiblog website:
 
“At the last election in September 2014 this same poll [Colmar Brunton] had Labour at 25.2%. They got 25.1%. They were very accurate for Labour. In fact it was National they got a bit wrong with a poll of 45.1% vs an actual election result of 47.0%”
 
When presented with terrible news, it is perfectly natural for human-beings to take refuge in denial. The reactions of ordinary human-beings are not, however, available to those who aspire to political leadership. Upon hearing the poll result, it was Little’s duty to thrust aside his disappointment and deliver a response that would help, rather than hinder, his party’s cause.
 
The most obvious rejoinder to a poll showing the Government’s opponents severally commanding 50 percent of the Party Vote would be to emphasise the enormous political cost of disunity. Little should have pointed to the National Party’s consistent success in rallying centre-right voters behind a single banner – its own. He should then have invited centre-left voters to imagine the outcome if, instead of dividing their support between Labour (26 percent) the Greens (13 percent) and NZ First (11 percent), they had followed the example of their right-wing counterparts and swung their support decisively behind the largest opposition party.
 
How differently the story would be presented if, instead of languishing in the mid-20s, Labour was seen to be level-pegging with National. Would David Farrar be responding to that sort of result with impish glee? Probably not.
 
Enter the massive strategic problem created by Labour’s decision to negotiate a “Memorandum of Understanding” (MoU) with the Greens. In signing that MoU, Little and his colleagues were effectively admitting that their party’s former, dominant position on the centre-left was irrecoverable. They were also denying Labour the “Unity is Strength!” rallying cry that National used to such good effect in 2005, and which has served them so well in every election since.
 
It is worth recalling here how tempting it must have been for National to similarly surrender its electoral primacy. It had, after all, sustained a much worse defeat in 2002 than Labour’s 2014 debacle. At just 21 percent, National’s Party Vote could easily have persuaded Bill English and his colleagues to embrace the politics of permanent coalition. This was what the logic of MMP dictated: National and Labour simply had to accept that the days of parties registering support in the high-40s had gone forever.
 
Tell that to John Key! The latest Colmar Brunton poll gives National 48 percent of the Party Vote – exactly the same figure Key’s party was registering on Election Night 2014. For a party approaching the end of its third term in government, that is little short of miraculous!
 
Apart from the strategic blunder of the MoU, what else explains Labour’s failure to recover its electoral primacy? The answer is brutally simple. Unlike Don Brash in 2004-05, neither Andrew Little, nor his predecessors, have been willing to embrace the sort of policies demanded by their party’s electoral base.
 
Since 1984, no Labour leader (with the honourable exception of Jim Anderton) has unreservedly and steadfastly repudiated the ideological underpinnings of Rogernomics. A speech from Andrew Little in which he acknowledges the devastation wrought by Rogernomics, and spelling out how he proposes to right the wrongs it inflicted on working-class Kiwis, would almost certainly produce a similar galvanising effect as Brash’s 2004 speech to the Orewa Rotary Club.
 
And a much better poll.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 16 September 2016.