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.


Kat said...

That the editorial team at The herald were happy to allow Rodney Hides blatant right wing partisan put down of the political Left today to go out under their name says a great deal about the abomination of a newspaper the Herald has become.

Time there was a representative from the left to afford some balance.

jh said...

Ralston thinks Auckland will be better off when Aucklanders are a minority - because There will be Rice

The future of Auckland is the focus of a panel discussion chaired by Bill Ralston at the Auckland Museum. It features Marina Matthews from the law firm Chen Palmer; and Waikare Komene, a young architect from Otara, along with Professor Damon Salesa from the University of Auckland, and business commentator Rod Oram, well-known to RNZ listeners.

Bill Ralston: I mean Marina picking up on the Herald thing and based on your massive study. Going back (I think it was 2001) 67%of our island city was pakeha. Now it is down to 54% and falling rapidlyIt wont be long before Pakeha Aucklanders are a minority. Is that necessarliy a good thing or could it be a bad thing?

Marina Mathews: I think it could be a good thing. I'll just draw on my experiences working 10 years in the public sector in Wellington. I mean when you look at Wellington it has it's own ethnoburbs as well. Um the population and ethnicity of folk in Eastbourne (across the water) is a bit different to that of Cannons Creek by Porirua . So it is slightly systematic. It 's starting to grow across NZ. Asia NZ did a survey (a 2015 report)on the population of house buyers in Auckland. It was just a little more scientific than Phil Twyford may have ventured about people who had surnames that might have sounded like some foreign word who were house owners. What they did say is that 25% of the population of Pine Hill in NZ are Chinese. Um 10% of the population of house owners in Glenn Innes are Indian and so what is happening as a result is that businesses are having to alter what they are doing, how they are delivering and how they are coping. The number one seller at Pac nSave in Albany is white rice (not white potatoes). Another big seller is chicken feet. And so you are seeng the market (I love the French market in Parrnell) It's a lot different to if I went down to Otara on a saturday.

Ralston: It's a lot different to if you went down Sandringham Road where there's a whole pile of medium spice shopsand Restuarants, um and down the back of Dominion Road there is the biggest Chinese Supermarket I've ever seen (bout 2 or 3 football fields in size) and you can buy whatever you want. That's the gift, I suppose, that diversity brings.

Rod Oram: Absolutely! That makes Auckland a fabulously interesting city. And obviously the key thing we need to care a lot about about are that people are moving around and are appreciating and taking more interest year round rather ratjher than just turning up at Albert Park for a lantern show or Diwhali festival. And of course there are people who just hunker downin their neighbourhood or their community. But I'd like to thinkthere are people particularily amongst the younger generation who are strong in their own identity but are keen to appreciate other identities too.

jh said...

I saw Shamubeel Eaqub (generation Zero) met at Queenstown Airport. He wasn't there to speak for hotel cleaners of course; he is an immigration booster-rooster.

jh said...

In the same smart-talking piece:
"Questioner: Green belt. With the price of land and the value of what we are putting on our properties here, um I just am feeling more and more beautiful land is being mowed down in housing. I know I behave better when I have something beautiful around me and um if we are going to be impoverished with our environment we need to plan for it.

Rod Oram: when we get a much better build environment here in terms of form and quality of build and all the rest we can do that and in addition this is such an amazing climate we can do it in such a way that buildings become largely self sufficient for energy and water too. So and that's the whole living building challenge which is a very demanding discipline but we can do all these things and make this a very exceptional and beautiful place to um live."

There's the meme of the future better more productive city. It assumes the best of all possible outcomes. If people of 40 years ago were to look at Auckland now while Auckland is still in the making (apparently) what would they think? [Ans: They wouldn't be allowed to express an opinion, it would be down to Money, Media and Glossy Web sites]

Dennis Frank said...

Hey Chris, it must be discouraging to have commentators totally ignore what you wrote & head off on some irrelevant rant. Staying on topic requires more mental discipline than such folk are capable of.

As I see it, the younger generation you describe are simply coming from their own limited world-view, and mutually-identifying that generational perspective. Identity politics drives behaviour on that basis of group identification, so it's just human nature modified by cultural ecosystems, eh? Can't really blame them for the failure of intergenerational transmission of knowledge or wisdom. Media niche-marketing has shaped their learning about the world since childhood.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Hmmm.... Is media niche marketing necessarily worse than the situation we had in the 1960s, when we simply had one view in the MSM. It seems to me, that the only difference is that there are now a variety of sources, but people just stick to the one they like. Whereas we – well I – was not given much of a choice. Apart from maybe student newspapers, and the occasional extreme left-wing/fragmentary/churned out on a Gestetner stuff that really wasn't worth reading. Or were there sources that I missed? I wouldn't be at all surprised, I was drunk a lot of the time.

Dennis Frank said...

Just a different kind of bad, GS. I was a teenage rebel then and the monolithic normalcy of mainstream culture was fracturing but too slowly to be tolerable. Conformity to an unhealthy set of conventions warped the basic good nature of most folk badly, but the diversity that we sought to create seems to have its own warp factor, unfortunately damaging younger generations in ways they believe are normal. Which is about where christians would comment that god works in mysterious ways...

greywarbler said...

Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see he’s an ancient Waiheke sea goblin intent on imprisoning Auckland in a 1950s time prison.”
This from a blurb by ignorant, puffed-up children from the land of plenty (an offshoot of the main supershitty).

To toss such comments at Mike Lee is insulting as Chris has explained and illustrated.

Another comment from the superior guys and gals Dig a little deeper, and you’ll see he’s an ancient Waiheke sea goblin intent on imprisoning Auckland in a 1950s time prison.”

I think that such people know little about the 1950s except what they have heard through gossip. Rather, their juvenile comment shows their thinking is more akin to modern myths and legends of Auckland. It shows a resemblance to Maurice Gee's story Under the Mountain where alien monsters plan to overcome Auckland, rising from deep inside the earth. Only a few dedicated fighters can save the people from their devastation!
( (trailer)

Gemma said...

It's a bit unfair to characterise young people's dislike of Mike Lee as being based on a lack of experience when in fact we're pissed at him because we are specifically the ones he voted to screw over. As a recently married young woman I take his lack of concern for whether we get to have a home of our own personally.

Mind you, I couldn't bring myself to vote for Ralston, either. He's not even pretending not to be an asshole.

I voted Rob Thomas. Sure, people think he can't win, but he's clearly the best candidate in the race and that's good enough for me.

greywarbler said...

Gemma - you are so interesting. You appear to be a model for the young modern consumer sitting watching the political scene and criticising it as if it was an art installation distanced from people's reality. Politics as the sport du jour in the Colosseum. So NZ!

Don't get down and dirty participating and getting thoroughly informed with the facts and power plays that have led to the present debacle, just damn those involved for not supplying you with suitable product at an acceptable price. Mike Lee as Superman, or Spiderman, or the saviour of Gotham City is about where your mind is. Grow up and think like an informed adult.

Gemma said...

It boggles my mind that anyone could think that young people in Auckland are not intensely aware of how local politics affects our reality.

greywarbler said...

It boggles my mind that young adults can make such definite sweeping incorrect statements denying something that every informed person knows.
And that is that young adults are not fronting up at local body elections, and they find it hard to concentrate on policy if there is a juicy scandal handy to distract them. Most are just reactionary ie only when personally affected by some measure do they bother to be involved.

Gemma said...

Well, at least you're willing to acknowledge that we are affected! I will count that as a small win for communication.

I have, in fact, voted in local body elections before, though, even when I didn't have a specific issue affecting me that I was deeply worried about, so if you're aiming that characterisation at me, specifically, then it doesn't land. Voting is a duty that I take seriously.

Was it a statement of mine that was incorrect, or some other young adult? If so, feel free to give me details, and I shall do my best to consider them with due diligence.

Guerilla Surgeon said...

Okay, not an Aucklander – not for years, don't really care, but now you've got me curious about someone I've never heard of, who's obviously done something and I don't know about. Would someone stop making vague statements and please explain exactly what the guy has done that makes (some) people so angry? It seems to me that if he had made it impossible for young people to get houses, the news might have made its way south? Or are we just talking about his NIMBYism, which is the best I could do a quick Google search.

Gemma said...

He's broadly against the new Unitary Plan. He prefers the old plan, which undercuts projected city expansion by a considerable margin. Auckland house prices have ballooned in the past 2-3 years already, by which I mean that back in 2013 you could plausibly get a house for $500,000 if you were willing to live quite far out in Titirangi, and these days, well, good luck getting anything, anywhere for under $600,000. For someone whose life is likely to get put on hold a bit in the next few years because of this, the scariest thing isn't where house prices are so much as where they are going. Sure, we could save up the deposit for a $600,000 house, but by then there probably won't be anything under $700,000.

I'd say we weren't serious about considering that houseboat on TradeMe, but we did look up what the practicalities would be in terms of where we could moor it, so...

Mike Lee's objections do seem to be mostly NIMBYism, yeah. Specifically, he represents the people who live right next to the city centre in massive expensive houses who don't want their neighbourhoods to become more dense. He has made other objections, too, along the lines of "Why aren't we tightening up the building code so these new homes are not built shoddily?" and "We don't have a plan for the extra public transport these people will require." Both of those are sensible concerns and if he was saying them as part of an argument about other things that should happen in addition to the Unitary Plan then I would be right there with him. Sadly, this is not the context in which he is saying them.

Hey, maybe he'll come around, who knows? But in the meantime, while I don't begrudge the NIMBYs of Parnell their right to vote for him, I really don't think he deserves *my* vote, and I find it odd that my (in my view) perfectly understandable objections to the man are being characterised as cynical or not based on real and pressing concerns.

greywarbler said...

This is what you wrote that really pissed me off.
It's a bit unfair to characterise young people's dislike of Mike Lee as being based on a lack of experience when in fact we're pissed at him because we are specifically the ones he voted to screw over. As a recently married young woman I take his lack of concern for whether we get to have a home of our own personally.

Your attitude is shown by your other comment.Well, at least you're willing to acknowledge that we are affected! I will count that as a small win for communication.
In one sentence you are talking about 'we' the younger generation as if you understand and speak for them. Then you revert to what you can talk about, yourself and your patronising response to criticism.

Mike Lee has been a great politician with a long history of fighting a predatory economic system. He has been foremost in trying and often succeeding in holding onto a political system that works for all the Auckland citizens. But your needs for housing as a young married person are not being met and you are pissed off at Mike Lee?

You don't care to know the extent of the fierce battle that has been fought to hold central and local politicians to a modicum of responsibility for running an effective democracy and economy. It has been a losing battle to stop a fair and sensible housing policy being taken off the list for attention.

Mike Lee has been one of a few against an overwhelming force of political economic warriors dedicated to making money wherever possible. He has ensured that areas of high ecological value have become parks. He has also kept up pressure for better transport options like rail and the fact that it is being forced on government by the present disastrous transport state is an example of how determined a good planner and politician must be to achieve any practical projects. I think you may be taken in by the latest excuse for the lack of affordable housing that twisted politicians have produced, that of supply of land being limited by councils. I think GS that this might be the connection to the pissed-off comment about Mike Lee. In fact land banking by greedy speculators who have access to finance to buy and hold for sale when most profitable. A few words from the Bible Mark 6:25-34 about their working lives and income: "Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin:...Are not ye of much more value than they?" The right sort of politicians would think along these lines and value and help young people trying to make a life.

Do some research and find the names of the culprits who enabled this housing boom with its cruel results. They manipulate high housing prices and at the same time manipulate employment through a low wages policy. These cruel politicians have no interest in any citizen in need of housing at an affordable price to live in. Mike Lee is not such a person to be pissed off with.

Gemma said...

If Auckland is expected to gain 400,000 people in the next few decades, and if planning only allows for 200,000 more people, then housing prices are going to go up. This is pretty intuitive, and anyone arguing against it is going to need to come up with something better than "No they won't." Otherwise, I will continue to believe that more homes existing is likely to mean that more homes are available. They can't land-bank all of them.

None of this is to say that I object to measures that reduce land-banking, but it seems to me that a plan that stops demand from escalating out of control is, in itself, a measure that could reduce land-banking by making it less staggeringly profitable than it currently is. Extra taxes on land that isn't being used make sense, too, and it's not like I object to them, but I'm not about to eschew all the other solutions to the housing crisis just because they don't blame some limited set of preferred bogeymen.

Similarly, I'm not about to dislike the Unitary Plan just because some businesspeople also like it. As suspicious as I often am of the power that money can have, the fact remains that, ultimately, this isn't about who we're against. It's about what we're for.