Tuesday, March 20, 2018

On The Greens' Transition From Voice In The Wilderness To Ventriloquism Through Handing Their Questions To National

Unquestionably the biggest news in politics of the past week - despite several somewhat sensationalized stories that've been in circulation recently - was the Green Party announcing a bold move to give the National Party their Primary Questions in Parliament on occasions when the former are not using them.

Now, this might seem like a triflingly arcane thing to get all worked up about - mere minutiae of Parliamentary procedure in lieu of actual substantial action.

And yes, that's pretty much how Parliamentary Questions seem to have been treated by Governments and their allies since time immemorial; as little more than a cursory formality wherein 'patsie' questions designed to provide positive PR for the parties in power jostled with occasional Oppositional lancing in an effective contest of questionable "questioning" and ever-starved-for-space interrogation from those presently deprived of power.

Which is precisely why the Green Party sought to inject added relevancy to them by giving the Opposition a greater go at holding the Government to account through them by giving them additional questions when they're not themselves using them - rather than simply proffering 'patsies' off their own bat to questionable discernible effect.

The obvious question from the skeptical (or, indeed, outright - and perhaps justifiably - cynical) perspectives of politicos across the spectrum and country, is if the Greens are so hell-bent on keeping their Labour Party and New Zealand First associates "honest" ... why not just simply ask better and more probing questions of them themselves, instead of 'farming out' this sacred responsibility to the Nats.

And it is a fair line of inquiry.

Yet when one considers the overall 'optics' of 'tough questioning' in the House, an answer almost immediately reveals itself.

Namely, that were the Greens to *actually* put serious heat and/or screws upon the Labour-NZF Government they nominally support, then either the Media would start blowing it out of all proportion into some sort of over-hyped "collapse of the Government imminent" campaign [i.e. they'd quite likely start working over-time to attempt to make such a thing ensue], replete with any array of quoting from the sad annals of Parliamentary History viz. the Alliance Party's often-rocky relationship with its Labour Party partners, to try and prove their point.

Meanwhile, it would seem very plausible indeed that Labour and its apparatchiks would seek behind closed doors [as well as with more measured spite & venom in public] to castigate the Greens in no uncertain terms for their temerity in DARING to ask actual, probing questions of the Government instead of simply propping up the more usual and customary "window dressing".

It would, in short, provoke yet another bout of "THE GREENS ARE TOO IMMATURE/'PRINCIPLED' TO BE ALLOWED NEAR GOVERNMENT" from all the usual voices. Despite the fact that actually getting to the heart of matters and being straight-up about concerns is arguably one of the most mature things one can do - whether in or out of politics.

And while one might be forgiven for presuming that the "Agree to DIsagree"  provisions in the agreements Labour signed with its support partners late last year *should* mean that the latter are more easily able to vent their displeasure with the decisions and undertakings of the former (or, for that matter, with each other for the two support partners) - as we have perhaps seen when it came to New Zealand First backtracking on the TPPA earlier this year, these appear to provide no sure guarantee of outcomes nor 'safe space' for discourse in public when the chips are down on important issues.

But with this particular chartered course the Greens are undertaking - wherein it's National rather than the Greens who'll do many of the hard-attack interrogatives .. as is the constitutional role of Her Majesty's *Loyal* Opposition in the first place - they really do seem to get the best of multiple worlds.

On the one hand, the Government gets held to account more and more frequently than would otherwise be the case; whilst simultaneously enabling a greater 'easing' of relations between the Labour and Greens parties than would likely be possible in a clime of actual and overt Parliamentary back-and-forth between the two.

The Green's proposal also may manage to avoid the sort of Constitutional not-crises that accompanied New Zealand First in 2005-2008 seeking to ask searching questions of or even actively oppose the Government on certain matters, despite Winston holding a Ministerial Warrant with them at the time.

And, not to put too fine a point on it (although it's doubtless been the single loudest refrain yet issued on this whole matter), the deal with National *also* allows the Greens to put vital distance between themselves and Labour in the run-up to the 2020 General Election - although I do think that much of the sentiment attempting to treat this as a pre-Coalition Engagement Party with the Nats is rather alarmist and overblown.

For the moment, at any rate.

(Also, if you're wondering why it's so vitally necessary for the Greens to manage to distinguish themselves, even *detach* themselves somewhat from Labour, while still managing to represent their values, you can consult some of the rather detailed analyses I wrote up on the arguable necessity of NZ First doing much the same thing, last year. Or, to phrase it more bluntly & succinctly: Government, and Near-Government are places where small parties go to Die. With the sole exception of the Green Party in each of 2002 and 2008, I cannot think of ANY 'small' party in MMP History here in New Zealand that has actually managed to increase its share of the Vote following its supporting a Government, of either stripe and whether on Confidence & Supply or outright Coalition. Instead, it invariably goes the other way - with eventual slipping below the 5% threshold or command of an electorate seat seeming inevitable as the 'gravitational forces' around such a concentration of power and media attention inexorably pull the smaller vessel apart.)

In any case, it has been interesting to take in the broad spectrum of responses to this announcement from the various sorts of people who take some measure of interest in the ongoing churnings of our political firmament.

For example - I am presently rather amused by some New Zealand First people who were OK with said party siding with the Nats a few months ago being rather visibly annoyed at the vaguest appearance of the Greens co-operating with same.

I am also rather amused by the sorts of people who spent the last eight or so years telling me that a vote for NZF was a vote for National, either having to defend/justify this deal or turn a most distinct shade of purple in the face with quiet infuriation at the situation.

And, eminently predictably, almost everybody involved is somehow attempting to blame James Shaw for the whole scenario at hand (because three years on from his elevation to the Co-Leadership, the "JAMES SHAW IS A RIGHT-WINGER WHO QUOTED MARGARET THATCHER IN PARLIAMENT" meme steadfastly refuses to die).

But you know what? Even leaving aside my technical arguments above, I actually happen to think that the Greens, and Shaw in particular, are on to something with this unfolding course of action.

There's three ways to play politics, in my [oft-ineluctable] experience.

There's the "MY PARTY RIGHT OR WRONG" way; the "my party right or wrong - when right to be kept right, and when wrong to be *set* right" approach; and somewhere out on a limb reserved for extremists and the rare diamonds of genuinity ... the "principles uber alles" kind.

Attempting to insist that a party that is *not* party to Cabinet, and whose relationship with the present Government is one of the provision of Confidence & Supply with a few [again, extra-Cabinet] Ministerials ought to be one of slavish adherence rather than reasoned criticism is very much in that *first* camp instead of the second one.

Meanwhile, putting greater scrutiny on the Government of the day, even (indeed - especially) if it's one which you in principle support, is definitely in the second grouping. It may even veer into the third, from time to time.

Now don't get me wrong.

I understand why some people are feeling hurt, shocked, betrayed, and viscerally annoyed about all of this.

In some cases, it is because the notion of assisting an Opposition is seen as giving an inch of ground to "The Enemy".

In others, it is because they long ago decided that being in politics to *achieve* something is a very much *secondary* priority to the sort of loyalty expected of a "team player".

In yet still more, it is perhaps they don't like the idea of their own 'tribe' being held to account by perceived 'lessers'; and for a different sort again, the ongoing concern about whether all of this might help contribute to this Labour-NZF-[Greens] Government being merely a one-term one.

There are valid concerns and kernels of truth in each of these perspectives.

Yet casting my mind back over the past few decades of New Zealand Politics [something that yes, does tend to entail remembering events from some years or even decades before my own birth], I can think of no greater 'door' for the infiltration of untrammelled Evil into our Parliament and thus our public life than that most pernicious of foes - uncritical support for one's own side "just because".

I will not sully this post with the implicit specter of the Nuremberg Defence.

But if we consider what happened in 1984-7, and again from 1990 through to 1996 [dis-honourable mention, arguably, for 1996-1999, and most assuredly for mid-'97 to 99] ... we find that notionally otherwise 'principled' people in each of those Governments, who'd signed up to support and advance *one* set of things [and yes, there is much commonality between, say, Labour in its pre-Rogernomics days of advocating for the working man and National's 1990 'rollback' manifesto - hence also NZ First six years later, as a 'union' of both forces] found themselves press-ganged in repugnant service of almost the complete opposite.

And how did it happen? Well, simple.

They decided to just "do what we're told" [with, to be fair and sure, oft-explicit threats of Expulsion if you should happen to (externally) object or try and put a stop to the whole thing].

They decided that shutting up and just blithely supporting the people 'above' them was the supremest virtue to which they could affix some modicum of their political action & capital.

They, in short, made their seemingly-inevitable "peace" with adhering to group-think and what we would perhaps today refer to as "tribalism" [a word, in this sense and context, that diminishes & demeans *actual* tribes as a system of human organization, but I digress].

And you know where "they" are now?

Almost to a man, cast upon the ash-heap of history. Forgotten about, running far-from-the-headlines quisling efforts with foreign banks or attempting to potter away in other private sector roles.

Emerging every so often to reflect upon what they did and why - and, if Jim Bolger's statements in recent years are anything to go by, sadly concluding that they got it wrong and helped to play their part in (further) unleashing terrible forces upon our Nation.

All made possible by this most INSIDIOUS "conspiracy of silence" with regard to (externally visible - and from thence, even *internal* "if you know what's good for you") criticism of "their own side".

So if something good comes from Shaw's stance of disavowing such slavish adulation of his nominal partners in next-to-Government, that will more than likely be it.

I am *not* saying that Labour circa 2018 is *actually* going to be Labour circa 1984 all over again.

But as we've seen with the #CPTPP or whatever the #TPPA is being called these days, as an example, there remains a clear and present reason for certain parties and other political actors to take upon themselves the mantle akin to that of Old Testament Prophets - "voices in the wilderness" who abjectly warn "IF THIS GOES ON..." and maybe perhaps eventually find themselves leading angry armies of the politically dispossessed to the 'clearing and cleaning of house' should events take a turn for the irrecoverably decrepit & depraved.

Once upon a time, I would have pointed a finger in a particular direction with that above paragraph, if you get my drift.

But I now realize that the responsibility - nay, the right - of holding Government (and, indeed, the entire present socio-politico-economic paradigm we labour under and within) to account is far broader than that deserving of a mere 'partisan' champion.

So kudos to the Green party for this move.

Let us hope it functions as intended.

[My thanks to my former NZ Politics lecturer, Patrick Hine, for his insightful comments around the projected rationale for the Greens' decision - which played a strong role in helping to clarify my thoughts on this matter between 07 a.m yesterday morning and the present time of setting finger to keyboard in explication.] 

Friday, March 16, 2018

National's Anti-Aircraft Fire At Ron Mark Proves To Be Blanks

Good grief. The National Party's attempted attack on Ron Mark would be farcical if it weren't so downright facile. They're claiming Defence Force aircraft were illegitimately used to transport Ron to official commitments in his capacity as Defence Minister from "Mark's hometown, Masterton".

That's ridiculous for a start. I thought *everybody* knew that Ron hails from Carterton (where he was the incredibly popular local mayor before his re-entry into national politics). Although given that National only seems to discover the Regions - and the Wairarapa in particular - once they're relegated to Opposition, we can perhaps forgive them for confusing two different towns in their breathless rush to seem relevant due to a lack of familiarity.

But leaving aside the Member for Rodney's evident difficulty with toponyms, political history, and basic New Zealand geography ... as soon as we take a look at the facts of the allegation against Ron Mark, it quite rapidly becomes apparent that Ron doesn't appear to have done anything wrong.

The list of flights at-issue which appeared in the NZ Herald's coverage of this tawdry not-scandal confirms this (as does an official statement indicating it's cheaper for the Minister to travel by air rather than car for the sorts of events which have been cited).

I mean, seriously. It is bizarre in the extreme to take issue with a Defence Minister being on board a regularly scheduled flight to Antarctica which departed from and then returned to Christchurch (unless, perhaps, Mitchell's understanding of New Zealand cartography is so ill-fitting that he thinks that too is somewhere near Carterton and Masterton .. on account of its rather famous inhabitant, "Anderton"). And with deference to Mitchell's repeated commentary about how Ron ought apparently to have used Crown cars instead of helicopters - I can only ponder whether Mitchell knows something I don't about the amphibious capacity of the former.

After all, how else to attempt to explain Mark Mitchell seemingly prescribing them as a means to get from the South Island to the HMNZS Canterbury - and thence, yes, to Masterton. Or, for that matter, to and from the Chatham Islands in the company of a number of other Ministers, Media, and Defence Force personnel for a Maori Battalion funeral. Are these Crown cars actually airlift-capable extra-capacity busses or something?
Meanwhile, I do not seem to recall Mr Mitchell raising issue with John Key using a Defence Force Iroquois helicopter to transport himself from a V8 car-racing event to a golf club dinner; or to be ferried from Blenheim to Kaikoura to launch a whale-watching boat, or any of the rest of it.
In fact, I'd perhaps go so far as to speculate that one of the reasons why Defence Force transport aircraft seemed to be breaking down so frequently during the tenure of the previous National-led Government ... was precisely because John Key seemed to be using them curiously often, rather than going with commercial airlines.

Although one of the most peculiar uses of a helicopter here in recent times is unquestionably former National Party President Michelle Boag having the Westpac Rescue Helicopter make a rather expensive trip to Waiheke Island to pick up her passport so she could make an international flight after she left it behind.

But hey ... clearly a Defence Minister flying to Defence Force events using a Defence Force aircraft at the
 Defence Force's recommendationand in the accompaniment of Defence Force personnel is TOTALLY out of bounds!

I rather suspect that Mark Mitchell is still smarting over his failure to win the National Party's leadership contest, and is therefore seeking to take out his ire at Mark in lieu of doing something useful.

In any case, as this is apparently such an extraordinarily pressing issue for Ron's predecessor as Defence Minister, Mark Mitchell, I look forward to the results of Ron's upcoming audit of previous use of Defence Force aircraft by prior Defence Ministers. It will be interesting indeed to see in greater detail how the National Party's highly placed functionaries have been making use of military assets during the past nine years.

Perhaps we shall find out that Mitchell's absurd accusations against Ron are merely what psychiatrists would term "an exercise in projection". 

Monday, March 12, 2018

Get A Grip: Forcing A Handshake Is Not Right

Late last week we were treated to one of those regrettable instances of "THE COMMENTS SECTION HAS INCARNATED IN HUMAN FORM AND NOW APPEARS TO BE AMBLING ABOUT THE PLACE" ... attempting to forcibly shake the hands of people, inter alia, apparently.

I'm not quite sure what was going through the head of the academic at the University of Auckland who sought to coerce a Muslim student into grasping hands with him, although for him to then go to the subsequent effort of attempting to run the poor girl through the University's official complaints process for alleged sexual discrimination presumably suggests that it was quite some level of (faux) outrage.

And were it just a case of a university staffer attempting to mount a soap-box on 'civilizational values' or whatever ...  but instead finding himself shipped off in a packing crate, then hardly more would need to be said.

But I noted with some considerable dismay any number of people leaping to the guy's defence. Not merely quibbling over whether dismissal is the appropriate outcome for somebody making a seriously questionable use of an internal disciplinary process in order to try and push a cultural agenda. Actually taking some considerable offence of the "if you don't like it, deportation!" kind [and, to be fair, various more gradated responses along the general spectrum of same], and engaging in that habitual ritual of greeting so beloved of the talkback radio-caller demographic that is the Jumping Up And Down and the Wild Gesticulations about the much-mythologized "PC GONE MAD" that's allegedly responsible.

Even otherwise reasonable people not of the aforementioned societal grouping seemed pretty clear in their views that not necessarily wanting to press the flesh with your fellow man was some sort of grave infringement of the common decency of the nation which ought be responded to accordingly.

So let's get one thing straight.

If you are trying to force somebody to have physical contact with you, then in all probability ... you are being at least a bit of a dick. In fact, viewed from out of context, one could even go so far as to say that an older male going to such lengths to attempt to *force* a younger female student to touch him (particularly when it appears he's aware she's not down with it), looks a bit creepy.

But having said all that, and assuming it really *was* just about handshakes and such rather than some sort of incipient "WESTERN VALUES UBER ALLES" microaggression ... [and leaving aside the slightly older custom/cultural more that you're not supposed to be grabbing a lady's hand, and instead waiting for her to offer it if she is of the handshaking variety] .. I really don't see why somebody shouldn't be able to turn down a handshake.

One of the things I really like about Hindu culture is that handshaking isn't quite so much a thing. Instead, clasping *your own* hands together as an acknowledgement, or dependent upon relationship and your own station, the deployment of mudra postures, is perfectly satisfactory as a greeting. I'd say it's *downright more meaningful* than replicating the ol "let's shake him by the hand and see if any weapons fall out of his sleeves lest he try any funny business!" that forms the basis for the modern Western handshake ... but then, I'm biased.

Now, part of my reasoning for having a preference in that direction is I'm not wild about touching other people's hands. They tend to be greasy, oily, and according to quite the array of scientific studies, often covered in various bacteria, faecal matter, etc. etc. etc.

So something as simple, yet obviously intentional and direct as what you think of when one says "Namaste", is pretty legit as an alternative.

Yet I've noticed that when I defer on a proffered handshake to instead do the above (with non-Hindus), as is my own preference, the reaction i get tends to be pretty nonplussed. Even a little offended.

For somebody who looks rather more different to the average, ordinary New Zealander than I do, such as the Muslim student in question, no doubt this would have felt magnified.

And apparently we've moved on from 'merely' Frantz Fanon's dictum about the act of speaking being to "uphold the weight of a civilization" through to a "clash of civilizations" mindset being encapsulated in a dispute about a handshake.

But to turn the situation around a bit - one custom of the indigenous people of this fine land of ours is the Hongi. Which in terms of its symbolism goes rather further and deeper towards bringing people together than the humble handshake.

Yet I somewhat suspect that despite the fact it's a gesture which, thanks to its provenance, is about as intrinsically Kiwi as it's possible to get without foraging for insects in the undergrowth using one's nose at night time - that many of the same people so outraged about somebody daring to turn down a handshake would nevertheless kick up a huge degree of fuss if somebody Hongi'd them without permission.

Perhaps, for some of them, offence would be taken even if they were ASKED first.

And this is without getting into the speculation as to whether these umbrageous types would be quite so keen to extend their "WHEN IN ROME" dictums to encompass, say, men kissing each other as a customary form of greeting in much of Eastern and South-Eastern Europe.

In any case, some of the defenders of the iron grip of the handshake custom upon us in EVERY conceivable meeting situation, have sought to make this all an issue about "Values".

Claiming, as yon academic presumably had in mind at the time, that Western Values and/or Western Civilization At Large are somehow imperilled, marginalized, and eroded via somebody choosing not to reciprocate with one frankly quite incidental custom drawn from same.

I cannot help but ponder just how weak a civilization or an ethos must be if something as incredibly minor and passe as the lack of a handshake can apparently seriously imperil it, but I digress.

Among the general corpus of "Western Values" are customarily included things like a certain degree of individual sovereignty [often part and parcel with particular understandings around the idea of 'personal space' , a 'private sphere', and 'liberty']; as well as, these days at least, a general acceptance that women aren't property, objects, or otherwise the mere chattels of the nearest manfolk in a position of authority.

An attempt to *force* a woman to violate *her own* chosen and ascribed to value-set [in this case, religious ones of a particular flavouring], suborn her will to that of hte local man with a title, and meticulously brow-beat her via quasi-legalistic bureaucratic processes when she STILL refuses to submit to him... well ... you CAN argue those're some Western Values in practice.

It's just that you'd be about a century or two out of date.

Monday, February 26, 2018

On Trudeau's Indian Posturing

A brief word on this whole Trudeau thing. The recent one, I mean.

Now, I suppose the conventional wisdom of Western politics in this age is that to engage upon the surface in some modicum of the religious mores of another culture, another community of faith represents "tolerance", acceptance, and understanding.

Perhaps it does. And certainly, it is a positive thing for our elected leaders and other representatives to be more broadly 'culturally literate' than their forebears, with an ability to engage with people of different backgrounds and theologies especially relevant considering the much less homogenous or monolithic nature of our contemporary societies.

But I must confess myself somewhat uneasy to see someone 'going through the motions' [literally, in terms of the hand-gestures and donning of certain garmentry, as it happens] of an expression of faith that is not their own, either as part of a general "do as those around me are doing" [and subject to changing dependent upon who's "around" at the time], or part and parcel of a specific "outreach" programmme.

It is something oft-forgotten these days, that Religion is not simply a bunch of disparate 'funny traditions' of half-understood and much-misremembered vague and quasi-import attached to some Cool Stories from the relevant Mythology [Mythos, but I digress].

Instead, it represents - to both the individual and the community - some of the most deeply held and important beliefs (presuming you choose to subscribe to it, of course, rather than having some secular creed(s) in its place) about values, the world, and our place both within and in relation to both.

It is, in a word, quite literally "Sacred".

So the idea that one can, without breaking a sweat or pausing for consideration, simply don and discard the outward forms of religious adherence in a manner akin to a corsage at a dance or something, is arguably anathema to it. In fact, at the more extreme end, the "a-word" for it would be "apostasy". Although I'm not seeking to levie that particular charge in Trudeau's direction, as it would require actual religious adherence in the first instance which is then abandoned to do so.

To be clear about this - there is nothing wrong with Trudeau seeking greater engagement with Canada's various Indian communities. [Although the potential risk of providing some tacit support for Khalistan movement is something that must be taken into consideration here, given some of the vectors chosen]

But I am not so wild about religious mores being trotted out for photoshoots by those who do not earnestly believe in them; and I am still less eager when it comes to picking and choosing just *which* religious tropes one is keen to display from one corpus or another on a day-to-day basis in-line with the changing vicissitudes of the polls or whatever.

I can understand - and, indeed, in point of fact, empathize rather strongly - with the notion of taking an active interest in 'comparative theology', comparative mythology, and all the rest of it. It's something I do myself, and it is a point of genuine pleasure and value to be able to discuss these things with a certain degree of aptitude and competency with, say, the Rev. Rolinson with some degree of fluency. [We're *slowly* working on upskilling him with *our* theology, at the same time]

Yet I do not 'trust' a politician, or a celebrity [insofar as the two are distinguishable today] or anyone else for that matter who appears to flit between the barest reaches of 'Traditions', on a day to day basis.

To me, it does not seem to show someone who is "more engaged" with more people.

It simply shows someone who appears keen to display 'quick and easy' attempts at LOOKING "engaged" without necessarily seeking to put in the actual work to either integrate into a community or demonstrate genuine solidarity/empathy from without.

Now perhaps I have been too swift to judge in Mr Trudeau's case, and upon further reading it shall turn out that he's actually an avid student of the Dharmic religions who's long had a grasp of India and Indian cultures.

If this is the case, and I have unfairly lumped him in with a number of other Anglosphere politicians who *don't* have these sorts of things ... then I truly and unreservedly apologize to him.

But even if it does not apply to Trudeau specifically, I still feel my point stands.

Religion is not a costume (although dependent upon your confessional sympathies, it may well feature one).

They are deeply held, essence-ial elements of who and what we are. Not to be taken lightly or insincerely in pursuit of temporal advantages in the psephological or corporate realms.

And from my perspective at least, it is difficult indeed to find myself more "trusting" of an individual who would appear to display otherwise via their conduct - treating those deep and oft-eternal elements as light and fleeting photographical fancies.

It is one thing to show respect.

It is quite another to pantomime.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

On English's Billexit And Why This Means National Is In Trouble For 2020

I'm frankly a bit puzzled when it comes to yesterday's shock political news, and for one simple reason:

Contrary to what a number of people are saying (particularly the "SECOND ELECTION LOST IN A ROW" style of comments) - Bill English leaving the National Party Leadership and Parliament may not actually help contribute to a National-led government in 2020.


First up, it's hard to see National actually improving its performance from Election Night. Their failures in the weeks after were those of negotiation [and, arguably, the fruit of 'dirty tricks' played *during* the campaign - the architects of which are all still around] rather than vote-garnering [they actually *increased* their number of votes over 2014].

As applies 2020, this therefore illuminates two prospective pathways to victory. The first of which, being somehow managing to lure one or the other of Labour's C&S partners away through honeyed words and Ministerial portfolios, thus denying Labour the numbers to form a Government - because National's doing so instead.

And already, we have a bit of an issue here. Insofar as it is difficult to see who National would be able to elevate from its Caucus to the top job who would be better equipped to negotiate with New Zealand First than English. Although a potential counter-argument would be if National somehow managed to find both a figure and sufficient motivation for attempting to negotiate with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand instead. Which is, for any number of reasons, pretty seriously unlikely - but given English himself was prepared to extend the relative olive-branch of not smashing the Greens in the face with a stick after Election Night 2017 by leaving the door open to a call from James Shaw ... perhaps in two and a half years' time things might be different on one or both sides.

The second pathway is built around National increasing its share of the vote to the point at which a Labour-led Government becomes non-viable - either through something like NZF exiting Parliament altogether, and/or through National gaining votes, and/or through National somehow winding up in the same position they were in on Election Night 2014 [i.e. before the Specials and such came in] of being able to govern alone if they so chose.

This is, if anything, an arguably *more* difficult scenario now that Bill's gone.

Because while English definitely seemed to lack a bit of lustre during his head-on engagements with Jacinda on the campaign trail last year, there is no denying that he quite successfully reached out to a reasonably broad portion of New Zealand. Not as a "charismatic" frontman [as people for some inexplicable reason seem to brand his predecessor, Key]; but as a "safe pair of hands" to the older demographics of potential swing-voters who've got mortgages and are anemic about the notion of financial shocks to their (credit) system.

National can either seek to find someone to replace that kind of cred - which will likely be something of an exercise in futility, as nobody else in their Caucus can actually front up and point to a record [however fudged and airbrushed and PR, SPIN, and DISTORT-ed] as Finance Minister that seemingly screams "steady as she goes" in the way that English could - or they can attempt to do something different.

Which quite likely means attempting to find an "Anti-Jacinda" to try and hew into Labour's recently bolstered vote. Which is ... not likely to be their most successful plan, if indeed they do attempt it. Many of Labour's 'new' votes at the last Election came from people who didn't vote in 2014. These people [and I don't mean people who were under 18 at the time] are rather unlikely to wind up supporting National, for any number of obvious reasons. And many more of those aforementioned 'new' voters were either Greens or NZF supporters at previous Elections who'd decided to back Labour this time instead - so once again, a very tough prospect to drag over to the Right.

Meanwhile, for those 'swing voters' who DID previously support National, yet went over to Labour this time around - much of their decision-making appears to have been predicated upon the idea that National over the previous 9 years had become stale and wrongheaded in its governance. I'm not sure how a mere 3 years on, with a substantively similar Caucus and Front Bench, National will be able to meaningfully dispel that impression and convince people that putting them *back* in won't ultimately result in a slightly rebranded "more of the same".

But hey, maybe somebody'll decide that Nikki Kaye vs Jacinda Ardern had one outcome [repeatedly] in Auckland Central over elections previous and hope against hope that it'll work out similarly on the national stage.

It's also worth noting that English's elevation to Leader of National may very well have been responsible for some of New Zealand First's flagging fortunes - "conservatives" suddenly having a reason to go back to the darker shade of Blue with a Capital C Catholic on a lot of social policy at the helm of the party and nation. English in Exile may therefore give New Zealand First a bit of a boost and help ensure it makes it over the 5%  threshold as the "only" "conservative" voice left in Parliament [notwithstanding an older generation of National MPs who may see their own spate of retirements later in the Term]; thus further frustrating any National plans of denying Labour a support-partner or attempting to govern alone [something that will be much easier with the redistribution of seats that would take place if NZF had a large 'wasted vote'].

In any case, with the singular exception of the New Zealand Labour Party in the past year ... voters don't like the appearance of instability generated by changing leaders in swift succession. The National Party isn't *quite* at Labour-from-2008-2018 [more especially, 2011-2014] territory *just* yet, but it is worth noting that they'll have had three leaders within the relatively short space of a year and a half.

If they get the *right* leader, that's one thing. but I would be entirely unsurprised if infighting occurred and started leaching out into the public domain regardless. Particularly once Shadow-Cabinet appointments and suchlike are underway and people start "missing out".

With an additional possibility that we may see something akin to what happened with Labour under Cunliffe - wherein a whole lot of Nats decide to put their focus on self-preservation rather than the previous and arguably quite remarkable interior discipline that National has managed to maintain for much of the last 9 years; motivated in no small part by scorn for the "wrong" figure in their individual eyes now being In Charge.

There's also an interesting rhetorical calculation as to which 'message' would be better for National against the incumbent first-term Labour-NZF-(Greens) Government.

That of "things were better under the previous Government - hence why you voted for us"; or "things WILL be better under our NEXT Government".

Obviously, National's next choice of leader will have a considerable influence on how all of this plays out. I mean, the existence of an #ABC faction as applies Judith Collins means that despite her demonstrable ability at channelling and playing upon "the fears & prejudices of the aspirational lower middle class", if she somehow manages to win the position, there's a very real chance of her tenure not leading back into the Beehive.

Meanwhile, several of the other 'clear contenders' so to speak either run the risk of being perceived as too close to potentially less than optimal parts of the previous Government [Nick Smith on housing and the environment, for instance; or Paua Bennett on welfare [as in, as Minister, not her previous source of income] and 'dirty tricks'], or as questionably relatable to the broader New Zealand electorate - especially in comparison to Ardern [e.g. Simon Bridges, who gives off a compelling impression that he's finding his human suit to be a bit itchy form time to time].

In any case, the arguable strength, discipline, and cohesiveness with which the previous leadership transition from Key to English was carried out, was impressive.

I will be inordinately surprised if National manages to accomplish the same feat for a second time running.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

On National's Recent Leadership Rumblings

I was thinking about the recent rumblings in the National Party towards their 'leadership team', and something didn't quite add up.

The main reasons why you'll see challenges mounted towards a Party's Leader and Deputy is pretty simple - the Party either did poorly at the last Election ... or looks set to do poorly at the next one. There's a subsidiary reason-set concerned with the personalities occupying those positions facing immediate and seemingly insurmountable scandals (perhaps one might say this is what happened to Don Brash during the 2005-2008 Term) - but those tend to tie themselves right back to that second reason.

In National's case, it's doubtful whether either reason is the case.

It's true to state that they did not "win" the 2017 General Election - insofar as they are not, presently, the bedrock of a Governing Coalition.

But the plain fact is that they did not exactly "lose" support themselves last year, except in purely percentage terms. In actuality, their number of votes went *up* on 2014, and only shrank as a proportion of the overall vote due to increased turnout.

So while ordinarily, there would arguably be a prima facie case for a defeated National Party to be looking around for a head to fall upon the chopping-block following an unsuccessful Election campaign ... I'm not quite sure that a reasonable observer would agree that it needs to be the case here. After all, Bill English did *well* better than many people expected; and the "loss", in practical terms took place at the Coalition Negotiation stage rather than at the ballot-box or on Election Night proper.

Certainly, a *certain former Minister* who was doing a lot of campaign managing for National over the last few years, *does* look like a potentially viable target for National internal scorn right now - but he is neither Bill English nor Paula Bennett, and therefore a leadership challenge would not directly put paid to him.

Now this leads me on to the *second* frequent-potential-reason-for-an-attempted Coup - namely, worried MPs freaking out that they're not in a viable position to win the next Election.

And for various reasons, I genuinely don't think that many Nats are in *that* basket either.

The main reason we can tell this, I think, is that if they *were* we'd probably have started to see a few List MPs either resign or begin making noises about doing so. Either because they think there's something better they can be doing now and they want to go out before National slides any further ... or because they don't think that waiting around for three years will actually get them their old jobs and perks back.

Or, from a less 'voluntary'/'altruistic' perspective .. because they've been low-key *forced out* in order to make way for "rejuvenation" by bringing in new Backbenchers and promoting upwards on the List into Shadow Cabinet and the like from the extant crop.

The fact that we *haven't* seen this indicates - to me at least - that there's a fairly high level of confidence in the National Party that they won't do significantly *worse* in 2020 than they did in 2017, and with other changes in the psephological terrain ... may even find themselves back in Pole Position once more.

National's polling in the most recent Reid Research remaining steady [in fact, going *up* by 0.1%] despite Labour's climb would further serve to underpin this.

Although against this, I suppose, you have Bill English [never the most charismatic of operators] sliding back into the mid-twenties for Preferred Prime Minister - but again, this was never a particular strength of his, and would *always* have happened against Ardern.

Anyway, that brings me to the crux of the matter.

The problem for whichever Nats are attempting to spread rumours of discontent about English/Bennett ... is NOT likely to be as retribution for a poor electoral performance last year - because there wasn't one. It's ALSO not likely to be a pre-emptive strike and 'clearing of house' to set up for frantic efforts to improve the party's prospects in 2020 - because that arguably isn't necessary. Bill English connects with the right National voter demographics, and will probably connect with even more if NZF's brief run at the "Center-Right" bloc of support continues to unravel with its present speed.

This leaves the somewhat rare potential reasoning for a coup of personal animosity between one or more of the leadership team and one or more of the factions within National itself.

And here, I think, we have struck paydirt.

I doubt it will be Bill English, either - particularly after some of the stuff that has apparently come out about Paula Bennett [c.f her demand for 'skits' in Caucus meetings etc.]

If Bill is being threatened as well, despite his positive results [relatively speaking] a few months ago, then it suggests that somebody's had a quiet word to him about escalating discontentment about Bennett, and he's made the decision to stand by his Deputy even despite the criticism.

Thus implicitly creating a scenario wherein National is effectively presented with the choice of supporting Bill and therefore *also* Bennett ... or potentially seeing how they feel about getting rid of both simultaneously.

Compromise options in the middle are, as ever, a potential medium-grade possibility (you don't get far in National without at least a *certain* facility at going back on previously held positions in pursuit of personal advancement or the maintenance of one's loftily-held position, after all).

But with the possibility of *making things worse* for National both internally and at the next Election by getting rid of English/Bennett no doubt *also* weighing upon the average Nat MP's mind ... perhaps no serious moves will be undertaken just yet, pending any marked scandal or poll deterioration over the coming Term.

And further complicating the issue will be the paucity of potential replacements for Bill that National can conceivably unite around - with Judith Collins predictably having her own iteration of the #ABC political phenomenon, for a start; Simon Bridges perhaps being too unctuous as well as arguably too young [I somehow doubt whether National likes the optics on attempting to get a relatively young leader in as much as Labour did], and Nikki Kaye arguably likewise [and, for that matter, a metropolitan Aucklander].

Still, I have no doubt that Bennett will have gotten both a shock and a sudden rage-spike at what's happened here. Somebody on one of my threads referred to her as a "sociopathic kindergarten teacher"; and I've previously seen memery to the effect of a Dolores Umbridge kinda characterization.

She'll presumably become ever-more-insufferable as a result of somebody attempting a nuking-by-media against her; which may yet further inflame internal tensions within National, and might hopefully contribute more towards her eventual ouster.

As they say ... couldn't have happened to a nastier person.


Also, as a side-note/addendum about this business of Bennett wanting "skits" performed at National Party Caucus meetings ...
I did wonder whether the logical takeaway about this was ...

... that she's actually acutely aware that the average Nat Minister isn't sharp enough to actually *get* anything you present to them, unless it's in a suitably over-dramatic, live-acted-out-in-front-of-you form.

Why do we have a housing crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress them up as bricks-and-mortar and/or overseas investors or something, and demonstrate how "affordability" works with camp dialogue in front of Nick Smith.

Why do we have a river-is-full-of-effluent crisis? Because nobody bothered to get a bunch of junior Nat back-benchers, dress 'em up as a river, and then uh ... well, I'm sure imaginations would have been deployed to demonstrate (again, for Nick Smith) the next part.

Part of me, when I first read about this, was rather aghast that my mental characterization of Paula Bennett as the sort of overbearing INFANTILIZER OF ALL SHE SURVEYS actually *did* seem to be entirely, 100% accurate

But like I say. I'm now wondering whether she was just simply aware of the best method to get results out of some of her even *more* lackluster colleagues.

Saturday, January 20, 2018

On Pregnancy-Induced Irrationality & Mood-Swings In The Nation's Electorate

Remember back on the campaign when retired Cricketer Mark Richardson [who for some reason has a morning slot to opine upon the political happenings of the day, courtesy of The A.M. Show] landed himself in hot water for asking Jacinda Ardern, some seven hours into her position as Labour Leader, whether she'd considered she might need maternity leave if she wound up successfully becoming PM?

Pepperidge Farm remembers - and so too, did a blustering battalion of bloviating brutes all across the talkback, twitter, and other social media spheres today; who seized upon Jacinda Ardern's recent announcement that she'll be a mother by the end of the year, as evidence that Mr Richardson's comments were not, in point of fact, some sort of egregious faux-pas endemic of the sorts of discrimination women can face in the workplace ... and instead merely sensible scrutiny of somebody applying for our country's 'top job'.

Now, as it happens, I don't think many of the people who were talking up this issue on the campaign-trail were doing so in what we might term "good faith". Sure, it's possible that concerns about the PM taking a few weeks or months off *may* have been in the minds of some of them. But if you were a Nat attacking Jacinda and by extension Labour over this issue, I'd almost be prepared to bet that at some point previous in your political pontifications, you'd *also* attacked Jacinda Ardern and/or Helen Clark for being childless. Or, for that matter, that you've put forward vocal protestations about women who're unemployed becoming mothers and such.

Gosh, for that kinda demographic, the specter of a woman having a child out of wedlock whilst drawing tens of thousands of dollars a year from the state in income must cause absolute paroxysms of political pyroclasmis!

Personally, I feel like the underlying motivation for some of these viewpoints has less to do with workplace issues per se, and is more based upon generic opposition to Labour and/or the substantive idea of women in politics. The fact that a number of the "arguments" that have been brought up in reference to Ardern "needing" to "stand down" as a result of this news, are in fact almost 1:1 those historically advanced against women first voting [this is how old they are] and then holding office, may well appear to substantiate this.

But I digress.

What gets me about a lot of the "opposition" to Jacinda continuing as PM following today's announcement is just how utterly bereft of context it is.

Let me explain.

Taking at face value the aforementioned demands for Ardern's resignation or stepping back, it seems like there's two general areas of concern - that she'll wind up having to take time off from official duties due to the pregnancy [a span of about six weeks, according to her own forward planning]; and/or that she'll have impaired performance as PM for a longer period before/during/after alongside this.

If you're really interested in this, there's no doubt a whole boatload of science out there to help you come to the conclusion that these concerns are pretty lacking in merit.

But far be it from me to attempt to mansplain female reproductive biology; so I'll instead stick to what I know - which is political history.

Ready? Here we go!

For most of the previous nine years, we had a Prime Minister who was pretty widely regarded as either i) a "do-nothing", and/or ii) a "do-nothing of any substance/worth". I don't think this is an entirely unfair perception - much of what we can actually look back upon from the previous National  administration appears to have either been the results of Cabinet in a collective, or individual Ministers and Members having ideas. About the only things I can think of off-hand that John Key has personally taken credit for ... were a job-summit a few months into his administration, and making New Zealand an international laughing-stock on at least three occasions with his (personal) antics. [There was also an assurance about resigning if it turned out that New Zealanders were under mass surveillance ... but despite the fact he eventually *did* resign, that didn't appear to have too much to do with said pledge]

Prior to that, we have had some of our *greatest* Prime Ministers carrying out their duties from sick-beds, in hospital, and even upon their death-beds. Names like Michael Joseph Savage and Norman Kirk, for instance.

Arguments that Ardern therefore ought to step down from her post on the basis of an impending future medical/maternal situation, don't really seem to stack up. And for a number of reasons.

We have survived situations wherein the Prime Minister has taken on 'light-duties' for a few weeks or even months at a time beforehand. We have even, as applies the Prime Minister before last, survived situations wherein the office has been held by one of "reduced competency" for entirely less worthwhile reasons than impending motherhood.

We have also managed to survive, potentially against the odds, a bewildering brocade of (male) politicians who were subject to frequent and even occasionally quite (literally) violent mood-swings of a self-inflicted nature due to their alcohol consumption/alcoholism. Now, I do not mean in any way to attempt to equivalize being severely drunk and being pregnant [occasional bouts of vomiting potentially notwithstanding] - just simply to note that many of the people presently upbraiding Ardern over her pregnancy presumably had little to no issue in practice with an older generation of politicians being *ahem* drunk in charge of a country - and thus "emotionally volatile", etc. etc. [again, lest there be any doubt - I am NOT saying that there's serious comparison to be made between a serially drunk person and a pregnant woman in terms of mindset, actions or whatever. Only that the "idea" of the latter being "volatile", "hormonal" or whatever is apparently much more intolerable to some than the *reality* of what was, up until very very recently regarded as entirely normal Parliamentarian behavior].

Many of the concerns about Ardern remaining PM through the term of her pregnancy and beyond are *particularly* unfounded, on grounds that it is not and has never been normal in our country for one single MP to be running the country singlehandedly. That is to say that - despite the occasional pretensions of the media during Campaign Season .. we are not in a Presidential system. Instead, we're privileged enough to have an Executive comprised of *well* more than one person - an entire series of *teams* of Ministers both inside and outside of Cabinet, as well as a rather capable [allegedly] Deputy Prime Minister.

Or perhaps the PM's critics have some dim inkling of this and are experiencing horror flash-backs to the mid-1980s - a period wherein a PM of inarguably "reduced competency" let himself be driven around in the proverbial political golf-cart by a nefarious underling with an agenda.

Which just leads me to wonder whether what's actually happening is the Talkback Brigade expressing their abject panic at the idea of Jacinda Ardern turning into David Lange simply by virtue of an expanding waistline - thus leaving all *actual* decision-making in the hands of her Deputy Prime Minister and his 'hidden agenda'.

Waitaminute ...

Anyway, as applies the period *after* she 'officially' becomes a Mother some time in mid-June, I'm even *more* perplexed. It's apparently not enough for assurances to be issued that her partner will be taking over caregiving duties. The people who've spent much of the last six months wailing and whining about the looming-impending "NANNY STATE" somehow don't seem to realize that even the PM is capable of hiring a "nanny".

Now at this point, I'd customarily reach for International Examples. However the slight issue here is that there's only really two that are being brought up for Heads of Government having kids while in office.

One being former Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto - who was reportedly back on the job the very next day after giving birth; and the other, Britain's Tony Blair. Although I'd hardly hold up the latter as being a positive example for a Labour leader to aspire to, for reasons that ought be both legion and blatantly obvious. [the idea of some NZ right-wingers wanting us to be *less* progressive than a majority-Muslim country that's these days pretty much a failed state is, however, arguably rather amusing. Or at least it *would* be, if they weren't serious...]

Either way, I do think it's somewhat fair to state that we're entering into 'uncharted territory' here; although opponents will no doubt attempt to direct our attention to the commentary of former Greens MP Holly Walker, concerning her decision to resign as an MP precisely because she didn't feel capable of simultaneously being both a Mother and a Member of Parliament.

That's questionable precedent, however - as apart from the fact that every mother's experience of pregnancy and .. well .. being a mother, is going to be different; it actually turns out that New Zealand MPs have been giving birth while serving as Parliamentarians since the 1970s.

Not, of course, that I'm suggesting *any* politician *ever* should be taking inspiration from the career of Ruth Richardson [the second female MP to have a baby in our nation's history] ... but my issues with her being a mother to things while in office are restricted to things like the [perhaps unfortunately named for the purposes of this discussion] Mother of All Budgets - not her *actual* maternity which preceded it.

But to bring it back to both male politicians and the Prime Ministership for a second ... as soon as I started sitting down to run back through the annals of our Heads of Government of yesteryear, something immediately became clear to me.

The "concerns" around Ardern's ability and commitment to the job in the months to come can be considered [and basically dismissed] in isolation.

Yet the moment they're considered in their *historical context*, we see that what's actually going on here, is that some New Zealanders out there are actually afraid that our  third female Prime Minister might become as lackluster and impotent in office as quite an array of the less-impressive tiers of the 37 men who've held the Premiership before her.

I'm something of an optimist, though [possibly in part thanks to personal experience viewing just how deftly my own mother managed to execute simultaneously being both mother and extraordinarily hard-/over-working familial breadwinner].

From where I'm sitting - even if some things *do* go awry in the medium-grade future [and here's hoping they don't] ... it would be difficult indeed for the Ardern Administration to prove anywhere *near* as tawdry or as ineffectual on the Big Issues of the day as the near-Nine Long Years of John Key's egregious misrule.

Instead, I rather suspect that quite the contrary will prove true.