Sunday 31 May 2015

Bearing Honest Witness

An Honourable Dick: In the week of Campbell Live’s demise, Richard Harman’s (above) career-long refusal to “have” the politicians [by becoming a spin-doctor] should, surely, be taken as a vote of confidence in honest witnesses (i.e. good journalists) everywhere.
ANDREW DEAN, the twenty-something author of Roger, Ruth and Me, offered a particularly acute response to the TVNZ reporter who asked him if he intended to go into politics. Dean, who subtitled his book about growing up under the influence of Rogernomics and Ruthanasia, “Debts and Legacies”, thought about the question for a few moments and then replied: “I don’t think politics would have me.”
How right he was – and is. There are some people whose approach to the great issues of the day is so heterodox, so untethered to the usual ideological suspects, that in the unlikely event of them ever finding their way into “mainstream” politics, they would very quickly be chewed up and spat out. Sometimes the best you can hope to be is an honest witness.
Author of Roger, Ruth and Me, Andrew Dean: "I don't think politics would have me." 
In a week when memories of the events in Dean’s book (like Ruth Richardson’s “Mother of All Budgets”) have been at the top of many aging journalists’ minds, it was astonishing how little of substance the Leader of the Opposition had to say in response to Bill English’s effort.
Much of the blame for Labour’s woeful performance belongs to Andrew Little himself, but it is also true to say that he was not well served by his advisers. The people in the Leader of the Opposition’s Office should not have been taken by surprise by English’s token gestures towards child poverty. The parliamentary complex is a veritable vortex of rumour and gossip, and the capital city outside rustles with secrets like a hedgehog among autumn leaves. Opposition staffers should never be surprised by anything a government does – not if they (and their spies) are doing their job!
It’s difficult to imagine Helen Clark and her Chief-of-Staff, Heather Simpson, being surprised by the contents of a National Party Budget. Both women boasted extensive networks of friends, allies and informants, and seldom found themselves without a number to call. And, if the worst happened, and their networks couldn’t supply the needed information, they could always rely upon Clark’s excellent Press Secretary, the highly-experienced Press Gallery journalist, Mike Munro, to fill in the gaps.
About three weeks ago, another highly-experienced journalist, Richard Harman, was delivering a speech to the NZ Fabian Society on the importance of effective political communication to electoral success. Like Mike Munro, Richard Harman was one of the Parliamentary Press Gallery’s “bigfeet”, a now dwindling breed of journalists who knew everyone and could find out just about anything. Indeed, the Labour Prime Minister, David Lange, included Harman among the “Three Dicks” (Richard Griffin of Radio New Zealand, Richard Long of The Dominion and Richard Harman of TVNZ) without whose cooperation no political message could be guaranteed to make it through to the voters. It would be interesting to know how many staff from the Leader of the Opposition’s Office turned out to hear Harman speak.
Harman, you can be sure, would never have left Andrew Little flicking over blank pages as he struggled to find anything remotely sensible to say in response to the Budget speech with which Bill English had just ambushed him. Interestingly, Harman, now back in the Gallery for his “Politik” blog, was one of the very few journalists to flag the possibility of English doing something interesting with social assistance in the Budget.
All of which raises the rather obvious question: “Why didn’t Little invite Harman to be Labour’s Communications Director?” After all, with his production company “Front Page” no longer producing The Nation, Harman was at something of a loose end.
The answer, probably, is that Labour knew Harman wouldn’t accept the position. The former TVNZ Political Editor is very much “old school” when it comes to crossing the line from journalism to spin-doctoring; arguing that by agreeing to spin for a political party, a journalist instantly devalues everything he or she has ever written on the subject of politics.
Which is, in its way, reassuring (even if Harman would easily have equalled Munro in terms of effectiveness!) It also takes us right back to the beginning of this discussion; to Andrew Dean’s shrewd observation that “I don't think politics would have me”.
In the week of Campbell Live’s demise, Richard Harman’s career-long refusal to “have” the politicians should, surely, be taken as a vote of confidence in honest witnesses (i.e. good journalists) everywhere.
A version of this essay was originally posted on The Daily Blog of Wednesday, 27 May 2015.


Trotsky said...

I hate to let the truth get in the way of a great story and Chris you tell great stories. However as a stressed part time IT worker and full time house husband I don't have the luxury of feeding my daughters great stories, unlike the metro urban liberal elites who mock the recent budgets "token gestures towards child poverty" while gorging themselves with soy Latte's and gluten free morsels, for them $25 is chicken shit worthy of they're well fed spittle.

I'm not so sure Chris how about instead of gluten free soundbites and soy flavored slogans lets actually do the maths.
according to countdowns website:

6L homebrand milk $9.60 ($3.19 per 2 litres)
1.5 kg homebrand quick oates $4 ($2 per 750 grams)
5 kg homebrand flour $6 (enough for 30 loaves of home made bread)
500 grams homebrand margarine$1.50
220 gm Vegemite 3.99

As someone who makes almost all our breads and who's family eats porridge for breakfast I can assure you that $25 will pay for a family of fours breakfasts and a big chunk of its lunches, sure it doesn't cover meat, fruit and cheese, but it adds a big hit to family nutrition and eliminates entirely the potential for a kid to go to school without breakfast or something for lunch.

Good work National, this combined with your lunches in schools has - provided the parents have any sense completely eliminated the chance of real hunger and nutritional deprivation amongst our poorest family's.

I'm surprised I need to explain the facts of life Chris, I guess your either to tribal to praise National where its surely due, or all those soy latte's and trendy gluten free morsels are addling your brains.

manfred said...

Forcing mothers of three year old into work is not a family-friendly policy and the budget leaves poverty (present and future) largely untouched. Never mind the economic policy which leaves the regions underdeveloped and stubbornly refuses to do anything towards diversifying the economy.

These facts remain regardless of your odd obsession with soy and gluten free comestibles.

manfred said...

And don't get me started on the fact that you righties would have spat out your single malt whisky at the mere mention of raising benefits in older, less spin doctored times.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Am I missing something here? Quite possibly – but I don't see any National party school lunches program. In fact two bills have been rejected?
I also thought that at least some of this $25 would be clawed back by increases in rents. Obviously Alastair you own your own house? Because up to 20% of this could be clawed back. Not to mention that the $25 does not take into account how many children you have.
I tend not to give national much credit for this, because firstly they were the ones that have reduced benefits – in 1991 and 2005, and secondly because they're only doing this because of increasing publicity and pressure about child poverty. Still, you have to give them credit for doing something.

Trotsky said...

Great to see no one contested what $25 will buy, 30 loaves of home made bread, 6 litres of full cream milk, 1.5kg of oats and vegemite with margarine, excellent to see you doff your cap to Nationals achievements GS, you must detest labour after Rogers radicalism and Helens 9 years of cold contempt for beneficiaries. Babble about rents is however irrelevant, if national didn't increase benefits (following labours 9 year lead) rents would still have gone up.

Manfred encouraging mothers to work without giving them and extra 30 loaves, 6 litres of milk, 1.5 kg of oats etc would have left material hardship untouched, with the bounty of glutenous metro-trendy-leftist unfriendly tucker we now have a government deeply committed to eliminating material hardship among our children for perhaps the most cynical motives - it matters not, praise to JK for his good work.

All in all this is the best attempt to attack material hardship in the last 40 years, Im sure much of the moolah will be wasted by airheads buying ciggies and booze, but some will hit the right spot, lets add to the bounty with some really radical policy like offering free lessons for any one on a benefit on how to bake bread and cook basic nutritious and cheap food and grow veggies, no politician will ever suggest this its to practical and would if combined with a little more cash eliminate material hardship overnight.

Now lets hear the soy latte flavored howls of progressive outrage at such an old self help attitude commence. Bring it on I can take the abuse.

Trotsky said...

GS national rejected the hariwira bills and organised school lunches in union with kellogs etc for 3 free lunches per week if the schools opt in, it costs nothing for the government and gives free feel good advertising for the participating corporates - and makes national look great, was brought in a couple of years ago.

Brendon Harre said...

Labour cannot sleepwalk to victory. You have to stand for something.

I thought Labour had a good first half of 2015 and National were rocked by controversy after controversy. From our PM being on foreign comedy shows for ponytail pulling to the ‘too little too late’ response to the housing crisis.

But latest poll results show there has been no impact.

Progressive campaigners like myself (housing affordability) must also feel Labour's pain, because it reflects the fact that our efforts to "speak truth to power" has not resonated with the general public.

This National government has overseen as big a price increase in housing as Clark/Cullen's Labour government did and Nationals response to the housing crisis has been more cynical than Labour because they know the consequences -GFC etc of allowing property prices to become inflated.

The difficulty the progressives (from the left or right) among us have is we are losing the forums where we can explain our ideas to the public. Further the public is not in a progressive mood. They do not want challenging debate. They want light entertainment, shallow feelgood bumpf. The conservative 'status quo is ok' guys are making damn sure this is what we will get by closing down debate as fast as they can.

One of the most depressing statistics I recently read was the following.

“Ratings from television website show that 484,850 watched the 7pm show, plus another 48,120 an hour later on +1.

That made Campbell Live the most watched show on TV3 not only for that night, but for the year so far.......

Rival Seven Sharp on TV ONE received 411,580 viewers.”

It was great that 1/2 million kiwis gathered to watch John Campbell 'speaking truth to power' for the last time.

But there were almost as many kiwis who didn't give a rats arse and resolutely watched the light weight crap on Seven Sharp.

To me this is the dividing line in NZ society.

What Labour needs is not a new leader but a 'movement', they need a core of thousands of committed members. People who are excited and committed to changing some aspect of society. Helen Clark had these people -feminists, but there time is done. Labour needs to find a new core of progressives with a new clear message (-Generation Rent?). Surely there is possibility of finding a core group and connection among the 1/2 million kiwis who mourned the loss of John Campbell?

Also Labour needs to look at how they and other progressive movements achieved success in different media ages, because this transitioning period we are in is proving difficult to get a connection. How did the first Labour government get elected before TV and the internet? I have previously shown one of their first posters (NZ Labour Party Leaflet No.9) was about housing costs and the rentier economy. Like our rugby teams can Labour find strength and unity by going back to their core identity? What about the Anti-Corn Law campaign -that was pre radio even. How did they manage to change the Anglo economy from a system where the landed gentry got the rump of the economic rewards to an economy where economic opportunity was more widespread? They actually started new media –“The Economist” dates back to those campaigners.

Well that is my thoughts on the first of June 2015. You can take the easy way out, which the current conservative government wants. You can look at our political contest in a lightweight simplistic way that entrenches the current 'status quo'. Or you can take a deeper look.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

As far as I know Alistair, rents for people in state housing and for those getting an accommodation supplement are actually tied to income. So if your income goes up your rent will go up. And yes I do despise those who didn't raise benefits over the years. I also despise National for raising them so little, and for clawing some of it back. There was a time when it looked as if people on a benefit would get enough to take part in society rather than be at its margins. Douglas saw that off. I see you have the typical right-wing high regard for people on a benefit though assuming that many of them will spend it on beer and cigarettes. In my experience, at least 90% of beneficiaries spend very wisely when they can. But if you have no money it's often hard to save money, as saving often involves buying in bulk. The problems often arise when unexpected expenses come into play. If you've got no savings you can't budget for these. If you took time off from your single malt Scotch you would know this :-).

Davo Stevens said...

Golly Alastair I want some of the stuff you're smokin' mate! I spend a considerable amount of my spare time assisting Beneficiaries and Low Incomers wade their way through the minefield of the Welfare System here.

On the face of it the $25.00 increase looks moderately generous but it comes with conditions. It's just an exercise in PR spin. As GS says Accommodation allowance and State rent are tied to gross income, so they increase with an income increase. Another deduction you fail to notice is that Beneficiaries also pay tax which increases with an income increase.

So let's look at a break-down of these "Generous" increases:

Tax (16%) on $25.00 $4.00
Rent/Acc $4.22
Base Deductions $8.22

Increase $25.00
Minus additives $8.22
Nett $16.78!!!

Not so bloody generous now is it?

Now, Home Brand is Countdown's El Cheapo, HB milk is just dirty water, their bread is all gluten, and so on. Hardly good nutritious food at all. Why should a Beneficiary be deprived of good nutritious food?

The whole exercise was a publicity stunt to make it look like the Nats were doing something when in fact they were doing nothing about poverty.

Trotsky said...

I dont drink single malt scotch, just multiple malted heavily hopped homebrew IPA's and Lagers - I make good beer as well as good breads. Im skeptical part of the additional $25 will be clawed back sounds unlikely, niggles by the outraged left.

A list of Nationals progressive achievements is quite impressive:
$25 increase in benefits (6 litres mild, 1.5 kg oats, 5kg flour, spreads)
food in schools 3 days per week (requiring no public money just corporate sponsors)
free doctors visits for children under 16.

That is a virtual declaration of war on material hardship among children, in addition we are still running structural budget surpluses, have solid economic growth and low inflation - an economic miracle by any realistic measure.

I really cant see how things could get better with a rag tag coalition of the opposition in power - this perhaps is the motivation for these popular and somewhat populist policies, they eliminate pressing middle NZ's concerns about child poverty and eliminate any cause the opposition can form around, effectively eliminating them from the political picture. From political cynicism comes virtuous policy.

Davo Stevens said...

You just don't get it Alistair do you. I have already pointed out how and why a beneficiary doesn't get a $25.00 increase. You also imply that it's across the board when in fact it is targetted at those with children only. Furthermore it doesn't come into effect until next year.

Food in schools is NOT a National perogative at all, it was an offer made by Kellogs (makers of breakfast cereals) which they then claim as a tax deduction. Credit where it is due my friend and criticism too.

Free doctor's visits was a NZ First deal several years ago and extended to 16 years by the National Govt.

The Nats claimed repeatedly that they would not increase tax yet have done so. Remember the GST increase recently? That is called a tax shift Alistair. Shifting the tax burden onto the lower income bracket.

What about the "levies" increases at Airports? A tax is a levy and a levy is a tax. The Airport Levy is supposed to go to supplying the services at the airports but guess where this extra is going? Hint; it ain't the airports!

Guerilla Surgeon said...

"Beneficiary families who pay income-related rents for social housing will pay slightly more in rent than they otherwise would. Their rent is set at 25 per cent of their income, so a benefit increase of $25 a week means their rent will go up by $6.25 a week."
"Beneficiary families who are renting privately, getting the Accommodation Supplement, and receiving less than the maximum subsidy for their area, are expected to get $4 a week less in Accommodation Supplement than they otherwise would."
I'm glad you don't drink single malt Scotch, in fact I don't give a fuck what you drink just let's stop referring to soy latte whatever the fuck that is. I don't drink champagne either :-).

JanM said...

Come on, Chris - I was wandering around the Press Gallery in the days of "The Three Dicks" and I can't help thinking that you must know why David Lange called them that - they all leaned strongly to the right and were not exactly the brightest lights on the tree - honest witness - really?

peterlepaysan said...

If Alastair Young thinks that the $25 difference to his families breakfasts is a healthy one he is in cloud cuckoo land. Presumably none of that $25 needs to be spent on anything but breakfast. A very well off family indeed.