Friday, October 13, 2023

On NZ First's Impending Return To Parliament - Both In The Mirror & Through The Looking-Glass

There's a quip often (and probably erroneously) attributed to Mark Twain which goes something like "History doesn't repeat itself - but it often rhymes." 

It's something I've occasionally had in my head as concerns NZ political history and various then-current events ... but rarely so pointedly than the present situation concerning my old party, New Zealand First.

Which, for those assumedly living under a rock or up a river somewhere in the South Island trout-fishing and trying to hide away from the media ... 

... is that having been turfed out of Parliament three years prior following their not-terrible term as part of a Labour-led Government, they're now polling somewhere in the 5-6% range and looking like they'll return. 

You know - rather like 2011. 

Except it isn't.

And before we go any further upon all of that score, I'd like to take a moment to do that most 21st century of things and ... clarify my pronouns going forward.

You'll hear me say "We" a fair bit in the course of this piece. That's in reference to the Party I was part of, joined up in 2009, served on its Board of Directors for nearly half a decade (including through the 2011 Campaign), and was finally sent into exile from circa 2017 following my public statements of dissatisfaction as to how certain elements therein were conspiring for a long-term 'drift to the right'. 

I say "We" there - and I think, as applies commenting upon the 2011 Campaign, that I've earned that right.

At other times, you'll hear me say "They". That, of course, refers to the Party ... after I was out of it (oddly enough, only in one sense to the term - very much clean-and-sober otherwise), and most especially as applies its present 'heel-turn' phase from late 2020 onward. 

I still voted for them in 2017 - and do believe that I made the right call going hard for them in the years prior to that, because we got a pretty decent Government from 2017-2020 thanks to NZF's coalition decision; but I would be highly, highly unlikely to do so again. 

And with that heaped helping of DISCLAIMER out of the way ... on with the show!

Partially, this article has been motivated via the ... peculiar pronouncement made by NZ First to its membership over the weekend that it isn't "backed by big business", but instead "relies on our grassroots supporters for financial support"

Because yeah - once upon a time, that was absolutely true. And it makes it all the more remarkable how we (as we were at that point) managed to pull off what we did circa 2011 - amidst a condition of media virtual blackout, no less! 

And that's why I must confess that I find this current chicanery to be so ... bad taste, because it almost feels like the 'Spirit of 2011' is being worn like a most macabre puppet. It's got all the overt signaling of an 'out-group' political insurgency against some unrepresentative 'elite' ... as funded by and working for the interests of some of New Zealand's wealthiest men. 

But let's go back to the (first) campaign in question, and take a look at some facts therein.

In 2011, we campaigned off the smell of an oily rag (a dangerous thing to do with that many cigarettes smoldering at once!)

The total spend for election expenses (advertising etc.) was $144,570.61, with a broadcasting allocation from the Electoral Commission of $102,000. As you can see, the $48,534 from 551 donors which the Party recorded in 2011 (as well as for the periods 2010 & 2009) was pretty sorely needed and actively utilized. 

To put this in context - David Farrar's analysis (which uses the ~$155k figure which NZF had earlier submitted for its 2011 return - this was later amended downward by over ten thousand dollars in an amended filing) had NZF spending $1.06 per vote.

Getting 6.59% as a result

For further context, here's Farrar's full table for 2011:

Which, as you can see, has NZF being incredibly 'efficient' when it comes to dollars-into-votes.

You know how that happens? When you're actually campaigning hard because you can't afford to do it the rich way.

Going into 2023, meanwhile, we find quite a different story. Namely - 398,597.83 of donations & loans [from 122 donors; mostly in the 5k to 15k range] for 2022; 307,125 [from 63 donors] for 2021; and $600,000 from 11 donors declared for 2023 thus far [plus a very large estate bequest from former candidate, Hugh Barr].

So, I'll rephrase that - they've gone from getting around less than $50,000 in donations over 3 years total and fighting an election on that [and much more than that - but by this I mean manpower & enthusiasm not dollars] ... through to hauling in 6x, 8x, 12x that [26x all up?] from an evidently much smaller donor pool. 

Something which, looking forward from our perspective back there in 2011, would have seemed rather surprising, I have to say - considering all the rich-listers usually better-known for backing ACT who appear to have suddenly experienced manic bursts of patriotism over the past twelve months and thus opened their wallets for Winston et co.

Although then again we also distinctly recall Shane Jones bringing long-time backers, Talleys, to the party from 2017 onward [$26,950 from 2017-2019 via the NZ First Foundation; $10,000 to Jones' own Whangarei campaign in 2017] - which appears to have netted the fisheries company a decent return as applies the long-running advocacy (and/or policy road-blocking) from the self-described "industry apostle"

And, for that matter, one Troy Bowker who'd bestowed (via property company Caniwi Capital Partners) some $24,150 for 2019 - and who would probably have been rather pleased when NZ First performed an abrupt volte-face on supporting the Government's Covid rent-relief proposal mid-2020 following what had appeared to be their earlier support. 

But let's get back to our core theme here.

That being NZ First's 2023 efforts as ironic echo of 2011's insurgent gains.

It's now a 'big money' campaign. In multiple senses to the term.

Why do I mention that?

Because if we run back to 2011, that Farrar figure of $1.06 per vote ... and 6.59% as an eventual result (with a pervasive clime of media blackout, I might add!) ; this contrasts rather heavily with NZF circa 2023 having spent most of the past year at between 2% and 4.5% - only in the last few weeks cracking the 5% threshold.

This is in spite of:

i) the fact that they've managed to have a significant run of advertisements in the likes of the NZ Herald (seriously, for weeks upon weeks now, literally every day I open my newspaper - physical newspaper, because I'm an old man like that - I am confronted with advertising for NZ First therein; I am sure it's much the same across other parts of the country);

ii) what I anticipate to be a similarly ... pervasive / expansive suite of other advertising expenditure via other mediums (a family member had related seeing a full-on billboard in prime position out there somewhere, for instance - not a hoarding, a billboard; although I accept that that's anecdotal evidence);

iii) the party (and Winston specifically) has been in receipt of a much more favourable media environment - by which, I should hasten to clarify, I don't mean that media outlets and journalists are giving him an easy time when talking about him or the party. They're often not. But more that they're talking about him and the party at all - and have been doing so for some time. 

And as applies that last point - in politics, that maxim of Oscar Wilde's (aptly enough, given our subject, from 'The Picture of Dorian Grey') that "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about", is very much cross-applicable to politics. 

Now, of course, I don't know how much money NZF has spent on its campaign this year thus far (or, for that matter, its efforts in the past two years falling outside the count period) - but as I say, I don't think they're putting all them hundreds of thousands they're getting per year into playing the Auckland property market.

And while, admittedly, it's certainly possible that they'll wind up with an Election Night result which is notably above where they're currently polling - say, in the 7% range; on the basis of where they're at now, it looks like they've spent a metric trucktonne (that's a technical unit of measurement) more cash (in a more amenable media environment) now to get not as far as we did 12 years ago.

There are, of course, a few likely reasons for this (not-quite-yet-a-) result.

One of which, somebody will say, is under-polling. Yet I don't know how apt that might actually be. After all - the last poll before the 2020 Election (a Reid Research) actually overpolled NZ First (3.5% in the poll - versus 2.6% as the actual result), whilst the two previous Colmar-Bruntons, at 2.4% and 2.6% (the latter closest to the Election) were pretty much bang-on. 

Instead, I suspect there's a substantive reasoning to it: 

I don't think they've really recovered from their losses / alienation of support from the 2017 campaign onward. 

And I should, perhaps, clarify that by explaining what I'm referring to there. 

The 2017 campaign saw a marked tac 'rightwards' and loud noises about Maori issues ... a risky move considering i) the Party'd gotten back in in 2011 and then built its support further in 2014, through left-wing or Labour-protest-/tactical-vote support; ii) had strong Maori support (seriously - as a brief illustrative exemplar, up until 2017 some of the strongest-performing electorates for party-vote for NZ First percentage-wise have tended to be the Maori Seats ... even despite the Party not standing candidates therein).

I gather that the objective with all of this was to actively court National / right-wing support; on the presumption that National was at its high-water mark, and that National sloughing off support would either lead to a bolstering for ACT / the New Conservatives (the latter .. at a much more microscopic scale), or could lead to NZ First's gain. 

This isn't merely speculation upon my part. I was actually told this quite directly - with a literal illustration being given in the form of the Party's 2017 'branding' and outreach materials. These featuring a new style of logo with chevrons pointing 'to the right', and in many cases with a pointedly 'blue sky' backdrop prominent thereupon. Subtle. 

The trouble being the presumption that the Party's membership and more especially voter-following was effectively 'locked in', despite not inconsiderable chunks of it having come from Labour / (anti-National) protest vote over the two elections previous. Or, at the very least, that they'd be able to 'trade' any 'left-ish' support for the anticipated gains from National (and, of course, the Conservative Party - having imploded - with its 3.97% showing in 2014). 

As for how they went with it ... well, ok, in fairness, I do distinctly recall them picking up a whole gaggle of ex-(New)Cons etc. into the membership. But it was, at best, treading water - and really, their vote went from 8.66% in 2014 through to 7.2% in 2017 [that being, in actual vote terms, 208,300 => 186,706 ... even despite turnout going up], so in reality they lost votes. 

And then proceeded to compound upon this in each of the 2017 coalition negotiations and then subsequently the 2020 campaign itself.

The former, obviously, was where NZ First ultimately sided with Labour (which I do believe to have been the correct move - albeit handled escalatingly poorly as the term wore on) ... thus annoying the hell out of the very same National / (New) Con etc. support they'd just sought to sacrifice their more left-ish saliency for.

The latter, meanwhile, was that curious episode wherein instead of playing the 'Elder Statesman' who'd enabled (and was integral to) probably the most popular government in living memory at the time ... Winston wound up endeavouring to run against the Government he was still serving in - winning over few, and losing further again. 

Personally, I find these recurrent twists and contortions rather eyebrow-raising - although probably not for the overtly obvious reason. 

Rather, it's because I well remember a conversation with Winston in early 2011 when we were headed down from Auckland into the Waikato for a day's campaigning. We'd been talking about - from memory - the newfangled discipline of 'political marketing', and its seeming insistence that parties go out of their way to chop and change (even wholesale reinvent themselves) in order to chase some no-doubt focus-group identified 'key demographic'. 

Winston was (to my mind quite rightly) dismissive of the whole concept. To his mind - at least at the time - that was the opposite of a good idea. And in order to illustrate the essential problem as to the proposition, he invoked that well-known fable of the man, the boy, and the donkey. 

For those unaware - ... you know what, I'll just quote the damn thing

"A man and his son were once going with their donkey to market. As they were walking along by his side a countryman passed them and said, "You fools, what is a donkey for but to ride upon?" So the man put the boy on the donkey, and they went on their way.

But soon they passed a group of men, one of whom said, "See that lazy youngster, he lets his father walk while he rides."

So the man ordered his boy to get off, and got on himself. But they hadn't gone far when they passed two women, one of whom said to the other, "Shame on that lazy lout to let his poor little son trudge along."

Well, the man didn't know what to do, but at last he took his boy up before him on the donkey. By this time they had come to the town, and the passersby began to jeer and point at them. The man stopped and asked what they were scoffing at.

The men said, "Aren't you ashamed of yourself for overloading that poor donkey of yours -- you and your hulking son?"

The man and boy got off and tried to think what to do. They thought and they thought, until at last they cut down a pole, tied the donkey's feet to it, and raised the pole and the donkey to their shoulders. They went along amid the laughter of all who met them until they came to a bridge, when the donkey, getting one of his feet loose, kicked out and caused the boy to drop his end of the pole. In the struggle the donkey fell over the bridge, and his forefeet being tied together, he was drowned.

Try to please everyone, and you will please no one."

As it happens, I was, of course, already in agreement with Winston's point all the way back there in early 2011 - with no need for him to then provide us with a tangible multi-year demonstration running from circa 2017 to near the present in order to really drive the point home. 

Although that said - it's not exactly accurate to say that NZ First has ended up 'pleasing no-one'. It just took awhile to find its 'new crowd'.

Specifically, about four months. That being the approximate temporal distance between this statement from Winston on the 4th of October, 2021, wherein he demands a pretty serious (over-)extension of the vaccine mandate concept ...

... and Winston's visit some 141 days later on February 22nd last year to Thorndon's answer to Glastonbury centered on Parliament's front lawn. 

As it happened, that was also the point at which the occupation protest really got ugly. Not, you understand, due to Winston's unmasked appearance - but rather due to the bewildering spectacle of a protester speeding his car the wrong way down Molesworth Street into a crowd in a bid to hit a row of police. 

That was a day before Winston's visit, and came hot on the heels (and/or other protester anatomy) of attempted-bombardments of police by protesters literally flinging human excrement at them

All things considered, it was not perhaps the most obvious place I'd have anticipated a party which has often presented itself as pretty actively concerned about law and order issues to be going fishing for photo-ops at.

Not least given that the gentleman who'd accompanied Winston upon that occasion, former NZF MP (and generally pretty sharp guy) Darroch Ball (more recently a co-leader of the Sensible Sentencing Trust) had previously felt strongly enough against assaults on first responders that he'd successfully introduced a Member's Bill to make the more serious of these a standalone offence under the Crimes Act (and, it should be noted, extend the already-existing coverage under the Summary Offences Act for assaults on police, traffic, and prison officers to also encompass both medical and fire service first responder personnel as well). 

And while there are, no doubt, a great many further things which could be said about the ... piquant alignment of New Zealand's anti-vax and/or anti-mandate and/or anti-coherent-understanding-as-to-international-jurisprudence-pertaining-toward-crimes-against-humanity-carried-out-in-the-1940s movement around Winston et co - that isn't the purpose to this article.

Besides which, I'm sure Andrea Vance did a much better job in her piece upon the subject published in the Sunday Star Times a few weeks earlier. 

I would, however, observe that this, too, is a case of one of those curious 'rhyming' leitmotifs for New Zealand First. 

In that in 2011 - it was, indeed, a voice for a severality of sectors of Kiwi society who felt they'd been marginalized via the rather radical socioeconomic 'experimentation' which had been foisted upon us for the preceding then-twenty seven years of onrushing Neoliberalism. 

Hence, you understand, why it was significantly so antipathic toward National. 

Whereas come 2023, we find that there's another array of persons who insist that they've been marginalized by Government (specifically, the one the party they're now lining up behind was actively party to ... and which then sought to criticize for not going far enough in various measures which would have marginalized the anti-vax and anti-mandate sorts further) ... oh, and the whole thing's backed by a billionaire and is very explicitly proclaiming it intends to empower the National (and ACT, it seems) party back into Government. 

That is what I mean by a 'rhyme' rather than a mere 'repeat' - it is, as it were, a 'mirror image'. That's why everything is seemingly exactly the wrong way around. 

I contemplated opening this piece with that famous dictum of Marx - that "Hegel remarks somewhere that all great world-historic facts and personages appear, so to speak, twice. He forgot to add: the first time as tragedy, the second time as farce."

Yet I truly do not believe that New Zealand First's insurgent return to Parliament the first time around was a tragedy - although certainly, certain of the events and choices made in the decade-and-then-some since that occurrence could most certainly bear such a sobriquet descriptor.

Indeed, it reminds one of the passage from Dostoyevsky's The Brothers Karamazov (nothing should be read into the fact the chapter is, itself, entitled 'The Old Buffoon'):

"Above all, don't lie to yourself. The man who lies to himself and listens to his own lie comes to such a pass that he cannot distinguish the truth within him, or around him, and so loses all respect for himself and for others. And having no respect he ceases to love [...] The man who lies to himself can be more easily offended than anyone. You know it is sometimes very pleasant to take offence, isn't it? A man may know that nobody has insulted him, but that he has invented the insult for himself, has lied and exaggerated to make it picturesque, has caught at a word and made a mountain out of a molehill -- he knows that himself, yet he will be the first to take offence, and will revel in his resentment till he feels great pleasure in it, and so pass to genuine vindictiveness."

But again we digress, and with it heading toward dawn on the day afore the Election, I really should hurry up and get this thing published. 

General Koechlin-Schwartz reportedly remarked to Patton that the poorer the quality of infantry, the more it needed artillery ... and that the American infantry needed all the artillery they could get .

NZF's big-spend bombardment should seem to be covering for just such a gap.

In closing, I should like to quote a great man, a politician who - whilst flawed - I genuinely admired, and was proud to serve under.

He observed the following:

"No one pays a million dollars to a political party without asking for something. Members should ask Michael Fay about that. He paid the National Party a million dollars, did he not? And this was the deal: “You bail me out from the BNZ and you get me into State asset sales, and I will get a return of three to one. I will put on that million dollars for you, and I will get, by the freedom of policies, $300 for every dollar I put down.” That is National; that is its record.

Those ignoramuses can scream and shout, but I know about that. I was there, and I saw what was done. I saw how National was prepared to compromise some hard-working lady down in Gore or some poor guy in Kaitāia, who were making cakes, organising hoedowns, and picking up membership for the National Party. But National was prepared to put all those people aside for the sake of the few or the very few—or, as Roosevelt put it, those over-mighty subjects."

His name was Winston Peters.

I can't help but wonder what has happened to him since. 


Friday, March 24, 2023

A Cost To The City - On Mayor Brown's Most Recent Curious Initiative

It's a curious thing watching Mayor Brown make efforts at 'cost-saving'. 

In the name of this slogantastic endeavour, he's recently managed to propel the Auckland Council to withdraw from Local Government NZ. 

He claims, apparently, that this would save the city roughly $640,000. Which might sound a fair bit of money - up until one considers that his target for savings is in the realm of roughly three hundred million dollars. 

Councilor Richard Hills, by contrast, suggests that withdrawing from LGNZ would instead spare us only $370,000 a year, made up of a population-based membership fee ($350k) and contribution to the annual LGNZ conference ($20k). 

Perhaps more importantly, he also points to a somewhat larger figure as constituting the monetary value of the benefits to Auckland from LGNZ membership that we'd be foregoing via withdrawal. LGNZ itself, perhaps predictably, concurs - suggesting we've just thrown away a million dollars a year in positive financial returns to our membership.  

However it's not my purpose to get into that dimension of things. Others are, no doubt, going to present the relevant Numbers on such a score over the coming days. 

Rather, I thought I'd Do My Part for Auckland by seeking to help the Mayor in his cost-cutting agenda. 

Since a figure somewhere between $370k and $640k per annum is apparently a saving worth pursuing in such a manner ... we have no doubt that the Mayor will be positively thrilled that I've identified a miscreant who's already managed to cost the Council and the struggling ratepayer well more than that over a span of less than six months. 

An article run by Stuff back in November had Brown staking out his intent to use far more ratepayer money than his predecessors in staffing his own office. Here's the quote:

"Brown’s approach is in stark contrast to his famously frugal predecessor Phil Goff, who in the year to July 2021, spent only $1.8m of the near $5.2m available – frugality his staff once promoted to the media.

But it appears Brown has a different approach.

“Unlike my predecessor, I intend to make full use of the powers and resources available to me to do what the law demands,” Brown said."

A little over two weeks later, the same outlet reported upon some of those "full uses" in action. Various of these hires didn't serve out their full terms and so didn't cost quite so eye-wateringly much, but it nevertheless makes for ... an interesting running total via comparison to the LGNZ participation fees Brown is so vehemently opposed to. 

To whit - Matthew Hooton on a $135,000 contract for six months; Tim Hurdle and Jacinda Lean at $280,000 for the pair to act as chief of staff and deputy for six months (of which, they served seven weeks); ex-NZF MP, Jenny Marcroft, at $37,500 for eleven weeks as a 'Government and External Relations advisor' (and oh boy does he seem to need the 'advising'); and last, but most certainly not least, his legal advisor - Max Hardy, formerly of Meredith Connell - making a similarly seamless transition from Brown's campaign team to his Mayoral Office, being first an interim ... something at roughly $5,000 a week (so $260,000 annually), before taking over as interim chief of staff. A role in which the Herald reports Hardy had received $17,250 for three weeks' work (for a yearly salary of $299,000).

It's assumedly in that former position that he managed to tot up a "substantial" portion of the $123,000 ($61,500 a month) worth of legal services which the Mayor received from Meredith Connell in the two months since his election, entirely separate to and over and above the Council's own contracted use of the firm.

Insofar as it matters, we might also incorporate the $58,305 which he spent hiring PR firm Topham Guerin for five weeks to help him handle the aftermath of the Anniversary Weekend floods and their ensuing cleanup. Few would disagree that our Mayor has had a bit of a communication problem, and that expert assistance would be justified - although with $12,000 of that going on a swift-draw campaign which appears to have produced a grand total of one logo and three shirts (two of which may have, ultimately, been ratepayer funded - Desley Simpson reportedly having bought hers off the council after taking it for its thus far only public airing, on February 7), and another $7300 for a further "brand" ... well, a nebulous chunk of the remaining $39,005 seems a potentially rather high price to pay for the admittedly no doubt difficult task of managing to get the Mayor in front of a camera and sounding reasonably cogent upon this issue. 

Now before we go any further, I feel I need to clarify something here. 

I'm not for a moment seeking to suggest that the Mayor's Office should not have quality, competent staff - and be willing and able to pay to attract good talent to fill relevant vacancies therein.

Quite the contrary. 

He evidently needs help - and there's no shame, as the man at the center of the city, in being prepared to put your hand up to bring in people able to enable you to do what needs to be done. (Although one can, perhaps, wonder aloud whether certain of those appointments really were the 'best' that our money could buy - at least, for the prices offered. There's one in particular in the above enumerations which, upon basis of observed past track record, I'm rather less than enthused at).

Rather, my issue here is with both the priorities on show, and what it seemingly demonstrates about what our Mayor's approach actually is. Once we cut through the (at times rather considerable) rhetoric and bluster, I mean.

Consider it this way - whether we take the $370,000 figure or the $640,000 figure (and leaving out, for the moment, what positive returns from the fee's payment Auckland gets as the result), those are relatively small numbers. 

If it were THAT necessary to make immediate and dire savings across the board to the point that a few hundred thousand dollars really would make all the difference, then figures of that kind could be not-all-that-uneasily found to be slashed out of the Mayor's own $5.2 million discretionary budget.

Perhaps the list of savings, adding up to well over a million dollars a year, that his predecessor, Phil Goff, managed to squeeze out of the Mayoral budget not so long ago could serve as some rudimentary form of inspiration. 

And, as a case in point for What Brown Might Have Done Differently, even something as simple as actually using the Council's pre-standing agreement with Meredith Connell (and in-house counsel and other advisors in the relevant area) rather than duplicating services by hiring a flash former partner to report directly to the Mayor etc. etc. would have saved somewhere around a third of the lower figure through to a fifth of the higher one. 

So phrased another way, I really don't think this is actually about the money here.

Instead, it's about sending a message. Two, in fact.

The first one is obvious - it's to that pert portion of his voter-base who elected him to i) stick it to 'The Bureaucracy' ii) do likewise toward the general direction of Wellington. 

A move like this, which can be branded as Mayor Brown extricating (Brown-Exiting?) Auckland from a 'bureaucracy' that's umbilically tethered to 'Wellington' (whatever the relevant facts of the matter) ... is an unqualified win according to these optics. If you go in for that sort of thing, of course. 

But the second one is perhaps less so. 

In his live-tweeting of the Council meeting yesterday afternoon, Tim Murphy quoted Brown as proffering the rationale that withdrawal from LGNZ was desirable because  "staying on our own it forces [ministers] to come and see us".

Now, as it happens, Brown's been on about this before. Not long after his election, it came out that Brown's office had effectively sought to strong-arm the PM (at that point in time, Jacinda Ardern) into basically that. 

That is to say, they'd generated a press release to be distributed following Brown's first meeting with Ardern on the 20th of October, declaring that she'd agreed to a "group of senior ministers and the mayor and senior councillors" coming together as a working group ... with who, exactly, the Council would be putting forward (other than Brown, of course) being undetermined, as "the council's new committee structure and roles" were still up in the air. 

Or, phrased another way - Brown wanted to go directly in at the top with an appreciable chunk of the higher-power members of Cabinet; and considered the proposal so (effectively) fait-accompli that rather than negotiating it with the Prime Minister, he (or at least, his office) presented it to her before they'd met as an already-drafted press release ready to go out as soon as their meeting had finished. 

Seems a rather .. forward attitude to take for a man who'd literally only been in the job about a week and a half at that point - but, then, I don't suppose he viewed it as something he was terribly likely to have to 'negotiate' over.  

As things transpired, Brown didn't get his way. The press release wasn't circulated, there was no mention of a high-powered 'working group', and he's had to satiate himself with more conventional 'bilateral' engagements with various of the relevant Ministers.

And, more recently, the (re-)creation of a specialized Minister for Auckland by the fresh-faced Hipkins regime. Held by a man, Michael Wood, whom Brown described as an "excellent choice" at the time, as it happens.

Yet lest I be misinterpreted, I don't for a moment mean to suggest that the local government of Auckland is illegitimate if it suggests it wants good, solid engagement with our national government. And that this be capable of occurring on a direct basis rather than having to go through Local Government New Zealand. 

It's just that I don't think that we had to go through Local Government New Zealand in order to engage with Ministers in Wellington prior to this point, anyway. It's certainly true that LGNZ represented a lobbying-arm for local bodies (including Auckland) to engage and interface with the national administration - as well as with each other, and with other bodies operative at that or more locally pertinent levels. 

And even notwithstanding that, the fact that Cabinet now has in amidst its lofty ranks a dedicated Minister for Auckland with an established working relationship with Brown (by his own ... perhaps somewhat begrudging admission) - this surely indicates that Auckland's importance (and 'sui generis' status in terms of local bodies), as well as the complexity of our issues, is appreciated by the current Government. 

Hence, I don't really buy that moving to withdraw Auckland from LGNZ was really about "forcing" the Government to actually engage with Auckland local government, either.  

Instead, I suspect something else may have been - at least somewhat - at play here.

Brown, it seems, does  not like to be thought of as 'one amidst many' - even if he's the (proportionately) biggest fish in the pond. You can see that with the otherwise peculiar choices made around racking up literally tens of thousands of dollars of unnecessary spending so as to furnish him with his own high-end legal advice piped direct into his office, rather than using the same firm that was already on speed-dial as part of the Council's pre-existing and paid for services agreement. 

And so, it seems, he's sought to cause a bit of a tantrum - withdraw Auckland from LGNZ under the potentially rather questionable belief that it'll somehow lead to greater engagement (for him) directly with Ministers ... over and above the direct engagement with Ministers which he and his office already undertake, including through the specifically created (for him to talk to) Minister for Auckland, apparently. 

Given his phrasing - "staying on our own it forces [ministers] to come and see us" - I somehow don't think he's quite forgotten feeling 'snubbed' following his questionably-congealed 'proposal' to the Prime Minister back in October not being taken up with enthusiastic earnest. 

In any case, whatever the ultimate truth as to his motivations with this gambit, I cannot help but feel rather unimpressed at his cost-cutting ('penny-pinching'?) pushes thus far. 

It seems overall to smack of the sort of gimlet-gaze who sees the costs-only of everything, and the value of precious little. 

In which case, perhaps we might suggest that he start by first looking into a mirror. 

Thursday, August 18, 2022

On The Curious Situation Of Business As Usual In Last Night's Labour Party - The Latest Sharma Gauntlets

The latest round of Sharma disclosures are, sorry to say, "politics as usual" on pretty much all fronts.

It doesn't look good. And that's why it's specifically supposed to not happen where anyone outside of politics can see it.

There is nothing especially unusual about MPs and Candidates being "coached" on how to keep information out of the public eye.

I also don't think there's anything particularly unusual about a party's internal disciplinary processes turning out to be (or, at least, being presented as seeming to be) conducted on something decidedly lesser than a "Blind Justice" (or, for that matter, 'Natural Justice') basis - and instead being a strategic exercise first and foremost.

But then - I'm rather biased on that front.

Now I am not, for a moment, seeking to suggest that this kind of thing is 'just how it is' and shouldn't be challenged nor criticized.

On the contrary. As a point of general (and genuine) principle - a certain distaste for top-down and seemingly cabalist party management was partially how we wound up with MMP.

Because people decided - by and large - that they'd finally had enough of Government by fish-and-chip club. If only because said small coteries with control appeared to have a rather nasty habit of springing unpopular and unwelcome initiatives upon an unsuspecting body-politic in a fashion that, with deference to the circumstances of Ruthanasia relative to National's 1990 Election Campaign, say, appeared to have more than a 'hint' of "predetermination" there to them.

Lest I be misconstrued upon this point - I am absolutely NOT seeking to suggest that the Parliamentary Labour Party purportedly convening a pseudo-'Star Chamber' meeting the night before a disciplinary proceeding for a 'rogue MP' ... is somehow tantamount to a re-run of the Neoliberal vandalism efforts of the 1980s and 90s.

As I think I may have intimated above - all of this that's currently happening is just "business as usual". There's nothing out of the ordinary here. The only "crime" one could feasibly make out is that it's been done in such a fashion that various details and various elements to it are being conducted in something closer to public view than usual.

And this is absolutely, most definitely NOT a "Labour issue". It's not even a "National" issue or a "Party of Governance" issue. It is - put quite simply - a Politics and Political Party issue. I can start going through and citing examples running right the way back to Ancient Athens and Republic-era Rome to further furnish the point there if it is absolutely necessary.

Some parties, to be sure, are almost certainly markedly less prone to this kind of shenaniganry ... and other parties are probably markedly less prone to getting 'caught out' in what can be made to look like an unfair gambit.

All in all, about the only thing I happen to think's a bit peculiar here is that Sharma has found himself in this state - on grounds that he's clearly a very bright guy.

Who must surely, surely have had at least some inkling as to the nature of the iniquitous blood team sport that he was about to get himself up and embroiled within when he signed up for candidacy however many moons ago now.

I'm not taking a position in who's right or wrong in all of this. I don't have the facts with which to do so.

It's even vaguely possible that neither (major) side is actually 'in the wrong', really - and that some nefarious third party (within the party) has been winding up Sharma with a view to 'setting him off' in order to accomplish some particular, pertinent aim. Stranger things have most certainly happened in party politics over and down through the years. Who knows.

Yet I can't help but feel that, whatever the ins and outs and rights and wrongs and timelines and white-board chicanery involved ... it's all a bit of a waste, really.

The only figures who'll come out of this ahead are the (metaphorical) vultures.

Or the Press Gallery. 

Tuesday, August 9, 2022

On National's Uffindell And The Lack Of A Statute Of Limitations In Politics

So, in the wake of last night's breaking news as to Luxon's man in Tauranga, we of the Lumpen Commentariat that is Twitter (and, no doubt, just about anywhere else people gather to gossip and congeal outrage) came alive with the perhaps eminently predictable suite of condemnation. 

And, it has to be said - if we can't rally round as a loose-knit confederation of opinionated sorts to castigate a group of older boys ferociously beating up a 13 year old with wooden furniture-legs ... then there would, indeed, be something very askew with our respective moral frameworks. 

However, from where I'm sitting there's been a bit of a 'jump' here. Namely, that made by various of us from condemning something done by a 5th former, through to demanding that a sitting MP resign.

Now that may be an entirely warranted 'destination' to have wound up at. Or it may not. But the issue here is rather bigger than just Uffindell. And that's why I think it matters to actually slow things down and think things through - and ensure if we're demanding a (figurative) guillotine or going in to bat for the guy, that we're doing so for the right reasons. 

Why is this a bigger issue than just Uffindell? Because, to put it bluntly - our MPs are, by and large, human. Humans have pasts. Some pasts are more insalubrious than others. I think we lose out, oddly enough, if we choose to insist that everybody in our 'Representative House' (not quite the same thing as a House of Representatives) absolutely has to have a squeaky-clean prior record. 

Don't believe me? 

John A. Lee, an MP I hold in rather high regard and who made a demonstrably positive contribution to our country in a dire time ... had prior convictions for theft, liquor-smuggling, and breaking and entering. He did a year in Mt Eden, and I don't mean as a constituency MP. 

Now, all of that got 'overwritten' by his subsequent backstory. He went overseas with the New Zealand Expeditionary Force during World War One, and came back a wounded war-hero. Blood - rightly or wrongly - does seem to wash out all sorts of other stains. 

Slightly closer to contemporary times, we have Metiria Turei. Now, it's difficult to escape the fact that she did, indeed, commit both benefit fraud and, curiously, electoral fraud. In 1993, for the latter, and in the Nineties for the former. 

Personally, I think the main thing she was actually guilty of was perhaps unexpectedly poor political judgement. At least, in 2017 - twenty four years, just under a quarter of a century, after the thing which probably sank her. 

But this is all supposition for another time. 

Lest I be misconstrued (and pilloried in the comments-section) - I absolutely am not seeking to make the case that Sam Uffindell is some sort of latter-day Metiria Turei, nor the second coming of John A. Lee. 

I also fully acknowledge that every so often an MP with a 'background' issue comes along wherein either the sheer malevolence ... or the sheer bathos ... of the circumstance in question means they've fairly little choice but to resign.

David Garrett would be the obvious emblematic exemplar for the latter. You just ... can't quite take seriously an MP (or the party which empowers them to speak for it) who makes a personal cause célèbre out of 'tough on law and order' and removing judicial discretion particularly for for violent offending - only to then turn out to have a rather ... relevant personal history

Garrett's case is, however, instructive in another way. There was a man who went through the system and benefitted from notable leniency following his apparent effort to emulate a fictional hitman and steal the identity of a deceased infant. If he'd internalized the lesson, and come out and up and then out again into politics advocating for a more 'nuanced' approach at the pointy-end of the judiciary, things might have played out differently. 

As somebody pointed out on Twitter yesterday evening - that's partially what they, personally, found galling about the current Uffindell scenario. Namely, that Uffindell had, quite clearly, benefitted from not being in receipt of a heavy-handed approach to his youthful assault of a younger kid. And yet had gone and joined a party that's often promoted itself as being 'tough' on youth offending. 

(Although as a brief aside on that - oddly enough, the National Party, last time it was in Government, actually did make some reform efforts for our youth justice system to reduce the number of teens going through the harder edges of our criminal justice apparatus. They just seem curiously recalcitrant to claim credit for that kind of minor movement these days for some reason ...)

All up, I think that's basically it.

When it comes to a situation like this, we - the voting public (on or off twitter) - are probably looking for two things. First and foremost, 'authenticity'. That's a general rule and a given for politics. Hence the antiquated saying apt for the context - that once you can fake authenticity, you've got it made. 

And second (and heavily interrelated with the aforementioned) - something to have happened in response to the putative offending conduct in question. That probably means demonstrable personal growth so you can say you aren't the same guy who did X, along with actually taking ownership of the guy who did do X's actions and making appropriate effort to make things right with the victim / society at large / probably not just God. (I mention that last one due to the American political set-piece wherein pretty much exactly that form of 'repentance' of the 'performative' and barely-even-self-flagellating variety all too often seem something of a one-stop-shop for certain ne'er-do-wells caught-out whilst seeking office)

Having things happen a lot further in the past definitely helps with all of that. Far easier to proclaim you've grown after a number of decades rather than a number of months and sound serious whilst doing so. 

All of this brings us to Uffindell. 

I think there's probably a general awareness - and a certain amount of grudgingly-tolerant leeway - out there in the Kiwi electorate that some people may do stupid, morally reprehensible things when they're younger and at an all-boys boarding school.

And, much more overtly to the point - that twenty two years is plenty of time to grow and become a better man. At least, in theory. 

However, the corollary to that is that the onus is decidedly on National's newest MP to demonstrate that he has in fact done so. 

Which is where, I suspect, Uffindell is going to come rather unstuck. With an intriguing new spin on the ancient political maxim - "it's not the crime that gets you ... it's the cover-up". Or, in his case, and with deference to the rather recent timing of his calling up his victim to apologize - "it's not the crime that gets you ... it's the thing that makes the ethics look entirely performative". 'Authenticity', remember?

Hence, he manages to go from his victim reportedly receiving the apology with a sentiment along the lines of (to quote Stuff's reporting): "he would never forgive the boy who hurt him, but forgave the man Uffindell had become." ... through to, once it became apparent just what Uffindell was intending on getting up to shortly thereafter:

“But then a few months later I sat down to watch the news on the couch with a beer and there he was, running for Parliament,” the victim said. “I felt sick.”
"But seeing that - it made me feel his apology wasn’t genuine, he was just doing it to get his skeletons out of the closet, so he could have a political career.”

But let's move forward.

The thing that gets me about these skeletal-scandals is that they often seem to blow up far bigger, and give far more emphatic reason to dislike a public figure than anything they may have done (or are intending to do) that's more contemporary. That doesn't sit right with me.

If we're going to dislike anybody, it should be the Nat MP in 2022 for things he's doing in 2022 (or thereabouts, plus or minus a year or two maybe)

Not some idiot 16 year old that's now 22 years in the past and doesn't actually wield political power.

Which doesn't at all men that this current scandal ought have no bearing upon that matter of public perception. Quite the contrary. 

Even leaving aside whether a teenage boy's actions considerably betray the character of the man in later life ... it can fairly be argued that not making amends earlier (indeed, until shortly before going for National Candidacy selection) doesn't speak well to his character, ethics, and judgement as the older man.

Ultimately, of course, none (or, at least, very few) of us are Uffindell. We can't answer honestly what might (or might not) have been going through his head - either on a reportedly near-daily basis over the preceding years, or as he made the decision to front up to his victim as and when he did. 

Personally, and without intending to proffer this as either the definitive truth nor something innately defensible, I suppose I can see how a man might be significantly guilt-wracked by his previous conduct to the point that he has a genuinely hard time fronting up to try and make amends, for a span of years and then decades. Maybe. 

I'm not saying that to try and turn Uffindell into the victim, here, by any stretch of the imagination. I dare say that any queasy feeling Uffindell might have had about looking to engage with his victim should prove soundly eclipsed via many orders of magnitude by those emotions his victim has had to grapple with both over that same period of time, and in imminent anticipation of being contacted by his former tormentor. And that's before he saw the guy's face on a billboard or the 6 o'clock news as some sort of purported bright shining hope. ('Bright, Shining Hope' being a rather relative measure - and in the context of National's current concepts of 'adequacy', I mean ... ) 

It is not, perhaps, beyond the bounds of possibility that Uffindell actually was reasonably genuine with his apology - and was also, correspondingly, rather breathtakingly tone-deaf with how it would look to make such an approach and then some months later commence inserting himself into the public eye as a political aspirant. 

Certainly, I don't think anybody is going to be losing money swiftly by betting against National and various of its MPs proving to be remarkably short-sighted, lacking in strategic cogency, or that simple dimension otherwise known succinctly as 'E.Q.'. 

We can probably demonstrate the inherent truth of that by considering just how many MPs or would-have-been-MPs the National Party has (nearly) fielded over the past two years despite the people National actively entrusts to be aware and out ahead of issues or actively filtering for undesirables ... being aware of various of these guys' occasionally rather bizarre (or, if you prefer, Bezzant) shortcomings and still deciding to wave them on through to candidacy anyway. 

That is to say - the National Party does not appear to have been positively selecting for perspicacity with either its party or parliamentary office-holders for awhile now. 

Although, in fairness - and yes, even in that most unforgiving of arms of our civic judiciary, the Court of Public Opinion, there is at least some scope for a 'duty of fairness' to yet prevail - that 'lack of perspicacity' and/or 'sense' can cut both ways. 

Uffindell's apology appears to have occurred in July of last year. That's probably just under eleven months prior to his election in June's Tauranga by-election. He almost certainly didn't plan for it to happen that way. After all, circa June last year, Tauranga's MP was still one Simon Bridges - who seemed very much to be anticipating sticking around for the foreseeable so as to be able to snatch back leadership of the National Party when Collins seemingly-inevitably imploded. There was no sign a by-election was to ensue. 

Which doesn't mean that Uffindell didn't have a candidacy in mind mid-way through last year - it just may have been mid-late 2023 that he was thinking of, rather than mid-way through 2022. 

Does that change things? I don't know. I'm not sure anybody really does. And besides which - it's rather immaterial, now, isn't it. 

Things happened as they have, and we (or, more likely, the Parliamentary National Party) have to work out what now to do to move forward from it (or through it) in earnest. 

Speaking of which - short of National deciding to do something rather unexpected and somehow keel-haul/waka-jump/whatever a freshly-minted MP out of a job in a safe-seat just won on by-election ... unless Uffindell himself resigns (which should surely result in a record turnaround time between by-elections for a seat), there's precious little to be done about the fact that said MP is now part of our public life.

The only thing that the mass majority of us can really do in this situation is hope that said MP hasn't just learned the lesson of the 16 year old boy, but also the lesson of the truly adult man. Which is one not of Comms, but rather of Values. 

And spends the rest of his time in public life working very hard to not just 'show' us they're better, but to actually be better ; and, one hopes, somehow make a positive forward-proofing difference in exactly the area they came unstuck in in the first place.

Now how they do that, of course ... well, I don't know.

But he better be thinking hard in earnest.

Because like it or not - as of yesterday evening, he went from having one victim who felt manipulated and misled through to having the best part of the entire country potentially feeling not entirely dissimilarly towards him. 

I guess we'll just have to wait and see whether he's better at convincing us that he's a changed and genuinely penitent man than he was the gentleman whom he sought to convince of all of this the first time around. 

Sunday, June 12, 2022

On The Meaning Of Richard Prosser - A Saddening Post-Mortem


I saw reporting (at first on twitter, and then in my personal messages) that Richard Prosser has died. I do not know the details, although the phrase "after a long battle with depression" seems to be mentioned, with clear purport.

Another phrase which gets mentioned comes from a certain piece he penned in 2013. I shall not quote it here.

Now I am most definitely not here to defend the remarks in question (and, hell, a younger me literally lead the charge internally to have something done about said remarks and their maker) ;

But perhaps it is worth noting that he did not only apologize but actually change his mind after that occurrence. And I do not mean simply in the idle sense of merely issuing a press statement to that effect.

If memory serves he went out in person to engage with the community he'd hurt through his commentary. Both to learn and to make some effort at restitution. It was, reportedly, a humbling experience.

Now obviously, the whole thing shouldn't have happened - that much goes without saying; and while it was positive that some members of NZ's Muslim community were prepared to open homes & dialogue to help him see in an entirely different way .. again, they shouldn't have had to.

Yet given the way that the conspiratorial fringe goes today - it's a rare thing to have somebody actually do that. Go out, meet what would be described as "the other side", and come away a changed man with changed views in consequence.

It's a shame that what he'll be remembered for, it would seem, is the bad call he made (and it was abominable) - rather than the choice to repudiate that & grow.

If we are to turn the death of somebody into a trenchant morality-tale (and it is the inexorable consequence of having been in the public eye with some prominence that this shall, indeed, occur) ... it seems to me that there is somewhat greater value to be had in that side to it.

That rather than simply pointing and jeering at something done wrong near a decade ago, the ensuing subsequent effort at doing right and renouncing the thing is also at least mentioned.

Otherwise, what's the point. Are all such circumstances merely to be 'cautionary tales' of what not to do, with no corresponding pathway showing what one ought to do where one has already done it?

Which also does not mean I am here for a moment to pen a glistening and blemish-free hagiography for Richard Prosser.

Quite the opposite, in fact.

Something that, I'd like to believe, his personal vehemence in favour of 'truth-telling' in columnry (even if that 'truth' could be rather .. divergent from what the rest of us had thought) would mean he'd also appreciate such a principle for his own circumstance.

He most definitely did go down other rabbit-holes both before and after the Wogistan episode. And yes, for the past two years there had observably been quite a bit of ... stereotypical takes about the pandemic situation etc.; (or, in other words, the underlying trait of personality which exhibited itself in the form of the adoption of rather ... fringe views such as the arguable necessity of South Island Secessionism, lay evidently unameliorated in some respects)

Yet I must confess myself rather uneasy at the notion that that ought comprise the sum total to his recollection among us here today. The guy who wrote the 'Wogistan' piece, with various reporting or social media commentary no doubt quoting some choice words or a sentence or two from same to illustrate.

Illustrate the man, that is, rather than merely the column they're drawn from in time.

All up, I guess it's a bit of a curious feeling to see a man one's known for ... twelve years, reduced to a single half-a-sentence quote upon a page in such a manner.

There's no doubt that it's a pertinent piece of verbiage.

And, as I say, the only way that placing it in "context" changes anything even an iota is if it's the "context" of his own repudiation and growing forward from a previous state that should never have existed in the first place.

But that definitely was not all there was to the man. And for a number of reasons I do think that deserves to be recognized. Even - indeed, outright especially - in death.

It's the last time many if not most of us shall hear of him in the active sense. It deserves to be done rightly.

Personally, I'll also remember the awkward-but-enthusiastic and genuinely warm-hearted man who even though I vehemently disagreed (and was quite open about this) with a very large quotient of what he said (and I should easily have fitted into several of the categories he'd condemn in print) - he would still go out of his way in his endeavour to help me.

When I'd wound up in some tight spots - suddenly lacking a place to live etc. for instance, he'd reach out, whether to myself or to other persons around me and ask if I needed a place to stay.

And that's after I'd lead an internal effort to have him excoriated / de-selected, had been quoted in media attacking his stuff, etc. (hence, in part, why one of those occasions was a reaching out to (or, should I say - 'through') 'other persons around me' - he presumably perhaps thought I'd be unlikely to pick up the phone from him directly given the way things were at that time).

I'd like to think that something such as that is also relevant when we are coming to our general assessment as to the proverbial 'measure of the man'.

Again, fully aware that my experience is very different from somebody who's had no engagement with him suddenly waking up to hear a sitting NZ MP had declared in print one shouldn't be allowed on an aircraft due to one's race / religion.

I'll also remember, for what it's worth, that rather amusing incident in 2017 wherein he went into a BusinessNZ event held on that year's election campaign trail, completely accurately stated NZ First's policy of renationalizing part-privatized power-companies (at no more than price they'd been sold for) ...

... and for his troubles wound up with David Seymour declaring him to be "what a f^<king idiot" to the assembled doyens of business New Zealand - this remark of Seymour's appearing, on video/audio on the 6 o'clock news etc. ...

Followed by Winston making a statement about how that wasn't the policy, Prosser had been speaking gravely in error etc. ... despite the fact that the policy in question was, at the time, still right there on the NZF website for all to see.

Events which, one can argue, appear to be at the very least heavily correlated with what had effectively brought his Parliamentary career to a close (insofar as the 2017 NZ First List which was announced a few days later had him dropping I think eleven places and rendering him significantly unlikely to return back to Parliament as a result)

There is definitely something to be said for terrifying BusinessNZ and ACT about the specter of a socialist takeover of NZ through nationalization of industry.

In any case, while he was still around and I'd seen him posting as of a few weeks back .. I have no idea how his personal life had gone. I do recall that he had previously had both wife and child, so my thoughts would also be with them at this time.

Even if we vehemently disagree with people - to somebody else they're family. And it cannot be easy to see the name and features of one's father, say, occurrent in such a fashion about the place, especially given what appears to have happened.

All up - I'm not here to put forward that pithy rejoinder about the impropriety of "speaking ill of the dead", even imminently following their departure from this globe and context of ours. People who genuinely believe in that principle can and shall adhere to it ... and those who don't, well, they shall no doubt do as they do instead.

Yet men are rarely as simple as the two-dimensional caricatures that we seemingly endlessly re-manufacture of them in our heads.

Acknowledging that fact - and presenting a somewhat broader view than just that singular half-sentence of his - does not mean bestowing an uncritical endorsement of a man, their words, deeds, and legacy.

It simply means acknowledging them as human.

Monday, April 25, 2022

On The Alleged Tame-ing Of Luxon

I kinda feel like the sentiment about Luxon's apparent trainwreck of an interview with Jack Tame today is ... not going to play out the way people think.

Yes, yes it's absolutely true and correct to state that Luxon wound up caught in a bunch of contradictions - between stuff he's talking about and claiming is a problem, with what he's actually prepared to do if he wins an election; between things he's said he intends to do, and how these actively feed into problems he has sought to pillory the government over ... you get the idea.

Except here's the thing.

Most people don't have a coherent view of the universe - let alone something as infinitely more internecine as the politics of a small island nation. Our world-views are awash as a morass of mutually contradictory preferences and outrage-inducing red-flag buttons.

Some people take a look at politicians and their presumptive visions - maybe even read some policy manifestos (if anybody still does those) or commentary upon same - before they decide on who they want to vote for.

Others go on whether they feel they can 'trust' someone with power - and that may, indeed, arcen back to whether they can put on a decent showing in front of a camera in answering reasonably simple, straightforward questions. (Answering ... does not necessarily mean answering well or truthfully, necessarily - but that is another matter)

However, for an appreciable quotient of our body politik (as with many other modern, Western democracies) - what they're looking for is a simple resonancy with things they already either believe or can be reasonably prodded or coaxed into believing.

And, as we have observed - that DOESN'T require an internally coherent worldview to be espoused by the politician courting them. Quite the opposite.

It just requires being able to sound-off a veritable checklist of talking-points or hot-button stances - and then let the natural artifice of human cognitive filtering take care of the rest.

People no longer 'hear' the contradictions, if the contradictions are things they're already subconsciously overlooking in and of themselves when it comes to their own personal preferential perspectives.

Further, to add to all of this - it has long been known that New Zealanders tend to like an underdog, and will rally behind somebody who is perceived as 'not getting a fair go'.

I have repeatedly observed that in 2014, for instance, the year of the Dirty Politics revelations ... National's vote actually went up, precisely because we automatically insistently minimized the impropriety at hand - at least partially because the media was perceived to be making a big deal out of it.

It came across that John Key was being hounded by the press and was being beaten up upon - so people tuned out just what (and why) he was being hounded over, and considered him a more sympathetic figure.

Helluva thing, really, to have a multi-millionaire incumbent Prime Minister of six years going up against a Labour party about to deliver its worst result since 1922 ... and somehow have said PM come across as being the 'underdog' or 'marginalized', but that's how it can so easily look from the outside.

Tame's interview was interesting and entertaining; but a whole lot of people out there will, if anything, double down in their emergent support for Luxon.

Not because anything Luxon said or did in that performance was 'smart' or visionary.

But rather precisely because we've all had a situation of some younger guy coming in and asking us 'twisty' questions [which may, or may not, actually have been 'twisty' rather than reasonably direct and straightforward as various of Tame's were] and feeling unfairly put upon in fairly direct consequence.

Exposing that Luxon is not, in fact, (yet) the man to be able to dethrone Ardern does not induce his following to abandon ship.

Because they've already begun to 'buy in'. So pointing out that the would-be emperor is, it would seem, somewhat bereft of clothing ... just makes many all the more determined to dig in and declare they're definitely backing a winner here and never mind any purported 'evidence' to the contrary.

One of the (many) things George W. Bush proved was that you can, indeed, 'flunk' your way to victory. 

Friday, April 15, 2022

On The Actual Lessons Of Russian Equipment Losses In Ukraine

It has been said that a frequent problem of Wars Happening To Other People is that one learns decidedly the wrong lessons to be drawn from them.

This applies both to militaries - but also to other external observers. Particularly where there are 'propagandtastic' reasons for doing so.

The present conflict in Ukraine is already producing quite the escalating pile-up of these.

Yesterday's strike on the Russian flagship of the Black Sea Fleet - the Moskva - is going to be another one.

Except here's the thing.

There's been a lot of corresponding jubilance from Westerners (I am not going to say it's all Americans, but it has significantly seemed to be Americans) about this. That's understandable. Everybody likes backing the underdog.

But the way some of it has been phrased, is as if this event indicates that there's a laughably bad trait to Russian military hardware. And that a "real" warship, a "proper" warship, an "American" warship, would be untouchable by comparison.

Literally, the thing that sparked my mind here was seeing an American doing basically the above and attaching a picture of a current US aircraft carrier and declaring that if the Moskva was what the Russians thought a large warship was - well, this was what a REAL large warship looked like.

Personally, I saw something rather different - a large target.

And that's just the thing.

The reason the People's Republic of China is currently festooning various atolls and islands throughout the South China Sea with missile-batteries is because they see the same thing. A large, expensive, and vulnerable asset that has to get 'lucky' quite a few times in fending off a missile bombardment - whereas the side carrying out said bombardment only has to get lucky a very few times to do significant damage (or, contingent upon payload, potentially even sink the beast - certainly, necessitate a withdrawal back to port for quite some time).

Now, I am not going to suggest - as some have - that surface combatants are obsolete in modern naval operations. Quite the contrary. I think that there's definitely still a role for ships that only wind up underwater involuntarily in contemporary fleets - it just comes down rather heavily to what kind of environment they're operating in, and to what particular purpose they're being deployed. However that is an entire series of conversations for another time.

What I AM going to state - is that the problem encountered by the Russians with the Moskva is not something that necessarily indicates that Russian military hardware is somehow intrinsically bad. Although at the same time, I do think that a 40 year old cruiser in a modern war is going to encounter difficulties. And that any warship being hit in the magazine is in for a rough time - especially in rough seas amidst a storm.

The perilous situation of warships against guided missiles is not a novel one, either. During the Falklands War, the HMS Sheffield was hit by an Argentine-deployed Exocet missile - and while she did not sink as the immediate result of this impact (which may not have even featured the missile detonating), it did disable her, necessitate a complete crew evacuation, and lead to her having to be towed by another craft. It was this last action that actually coincided with the sinking (although it can be fairly argued that it was somewhat inevitable given the conditions and the rather prominent hole to her side from the missile impact).

This latter detail concords with the situation of the Moskva per Russian reports upon the matter - that it did indeed sink, but while being towed and in heavy seas.

As a point of interest, during the much-discussed 'Millennium Challenge' exercise carried out in 2002, which simulated an American invasion of a suspiciously similar to Iraq state, a US carrier battle group - nineteen ships - was virtually annihilated inside a few minutes by a single bombardment (which, to be sure, was comprised of not only missiles - but also an array of other attack-vectors, too).

Now, to be fair and sure - there are a few ... 'issues' (to put it politely) with the degree of extrapolative value for 'Millennium Challenge' to events twenty years later elsewhere on the tides of war. Leaving aside the claims about "cheating" that got made toward the US general who'd been running the not-Iraqi side, or the commentary around 'design flaws' in the simulation that made some things more viable than they might otherwise have proven in practice - the fact is that in theory there's two decades of additional development of naval active protection countermeasures that should make such a scenario less immediately applicable to today or to the American navy.

Of course ... how MUCH less applicable is a somewhat open question. And I would suspect rather thoroughly that few are eager to genuinely test it out in practice. Particularly as I also have little doubt that the weaponry and other such measures that would be deployed by the OPFOR in such a scenario would also have undergone some further development over the similar time-period. Something that's not just a matter for future potentially near-parity conflicts, like the People's Republic of China - but also a potent consideration as applies, say, the Islamic Republic of Iran today.

The point is - it's very easy to laugh at the Russians potentially losing a warship and imagine that the Americans (or some other Designated Protagonist faction) would do inestimably better in a similar circumstance. Ignoring that if the Russian hardware in question is 'inferior', it may perhaps be because it's a Soviet-era ship designed and built in the 1970s and 'modernised' in an era of severely 'lean times' for the Russian military after spending a decade out of commission through the 90s. And ignoring that even the best warships of the largest and most powerful navy of the modern world are similarly vulnerable to similar threats - and themselves quite actively concerned about exactly this prospect.

We could also speculate about the situation observed during Millennium Challenge pertaining to the actual simulated American invasion itself, in relation to the difficulties encountered by the Russians in their own real-life invasion of Ukraine.

I won't go into the details, but suffice to say that in order to be able to carry out a successful invasion of what was supposed to be a weaker opponent (simulating Iraq, after all) - as the Joint Forces Command report itself observes: "the OPFOR free-play was eventually constrained to the point where the end state was scripted."

I shall say that again: in order to carry out an invasion that didn't wind up producing a frankly embarrassing quotient of casualties and frustratingly slow progress, the Americans had to 'cheat' wildly and basically guarantee themselves a win. And that's against a theoretically much weaker (if, it would seem, very well lead) opposition.

Now apply that observation to the Ukrainian invasion, with a functionally close-parity opposition that's being actively resupplied by NATO. All of a sudden, the Russian performance starts to look, perhaps, a bit less 'hillaribad' via comparison to how an American or other NATO force might do in a similar situation.

But let us move back to hardware.

One area where there has been quite a lot of internet guffawing in recent weeks is, perhaps understandably, Russian armour.

The reasons for this are obvious. Social media has been saturated at various points with images of Russian tanks blown up, abandoned, being towed away by tractors, bogged down in mud, and so on and so forth.

We want to believe, in essence, that the only way they work is the same way various of the Germans insistently told us they work some eighty years ago - by swarming low-quality men and low-quality machines until the proverbial pack of hyenas has somehow managed to overwhelm the very few in number lions.

Except that's not really the case.

The (frequently encountered) German post-WWII historiography was, as others have pointed out, a rather ... self-serving situation. Part-explaining away their own shortcomings with an insistent bias (hence why the Soviets are simultaneously both overwhelming and somehow 'inferior'); part-telling their English-language (and particularly American defence establishment) audiences what they wanted to hear in relation to the then-current Soviet threat. Again, we won't go into all of that, but suffice to say a more sober analysis tended to show that the Red Army on the offensive wasn't just doing well because it had an awful lot of men and machines ... but also because these were men and machines of a rather better quality than their opponents would easily care to admit. And also capable of engaging in complex efforts of strategy and strategic deception that likewise weren't commensurate with the stereotypes their opponents insistently affixed to them. But more upon all of this some other time.

The point is - we have 'inherited' this kind of pop-pseudo-militaria analysis and run with it. And the idea is that because something is 'Russian' (or ex-Soviet), it therefore axiomatically HAS to be of inferior quality and a laughingstock.

In some cases, there may be some level of truth to this - but not in the manner one might initially think.

Soviet armour was designed in a very different way to various of its Western counterparts. The operational doctrine it was built to adhere to had different requirements. It really is one of those 'apples and oranges' situations to a certain extent.

However, it's also the case that when people start insistently comparing Russian armour losses in Ukraine to modern American military hardware to try and make out the former to be intrinsically terrible ... they're similarly being rather wildly unfair.


Because this often means discussing a tank built in the 1980s and with questionable modernization efforts in the intervening decades since - as compared to the latest, top-of-the-line ultra-modern hardware from, again, the most powerful nation upon this earth.

Of course the American vehicle is going to come out on top.

Except here's the thing.

What's destroying Russian vehicles in Ukraine? Man-portable anti-tank weapons. Modern, NATO-produced ATGMs.

Why does this matter? Because the truth is, once again, not that the experience in Ukraine around these demonstrates a 'Russian' problem - but rather, that it points toward a general problem

One that also afflicts other nations, and which cannot be easily handwaved away by declaring "oh, those are Russian tanks so they're inferior - it won't happen to us" (whomever the 'us' or 'US' / US-client in question might so happen to be).

I shall quote something brief I'd written about exactly this a few days ago:

"One significant issue is that the 'balance' between armour/maneuver (offence) and ranged-killing power (defence) has been severely disrupted. In a way, it's kinda reminiscent - to use a *very* loose example - of World War One. [and yes, i am deliberately massively oversimplifying with the labelling i'm deploying earlier in this paragraph]

Doctrine and hardware hasn't adapted to this change on one side, I mean.

So, what you're seeing is 3rd generation MBTs that were already rather outmoded in various ways - like, in service from the 1980s with various modernization efforts since ... being destroyed in significant numbers by ATGMs that are ... well, some are contemporary with their targets, others are much *much* more recent.

Now, the reason that this is worth noting is quite simple.

Turkey, as I have pointed out a few times elsewhere, managed to lose modern(ish) tanks in Syria. There's some controversy as to the purport of this, as the Turks were operating Leopard II A4s - and it hasn't been settled how much better more modern refits of the vehicle might have proven in the situations in question.

What did they lose them to? Many of the same threats that the Russians are losing hardware to in Ukraine. Indeed, not even 'the same threats' so much as older Russian / Soviet versions of such. It's not a good endorsement.

A similar situation is occurring in Yemen - wherein the Saudis are fielding (and losing) notable numbers of M1A2S American-made tanks. There's, again, something of an open question as to just how qualitatively different the M1A2S is from the M1A2 SEP when it comes to armour etc. ... but the point remains the same: it's relatively modern armour, being lost to potent anti-tank weaponry. Which is a helluvalot more concealable.

Now, none of this is presented as evidence of axiomatically 'bad' or 'weak' or 'stupid' American or German military or military design institutions. Partially because it doesn't suit a narrative to do so. And partially, to be sure, because it appears in the Saudi case in particular that poor doctrine and tactical employment - in ways that leave Western observers "wtf"ing - is responsible for placing armour in such situations in the first place.

But all up - it's long been apparent that in order to actually have armour assets playing a role on a battlefield where there's .. a profusion of these kinds of threats, it's simply not enough to have ERA bricks or even relatively advanced plating. Pending some truly revolutionary advances in the latter sphere, we're currently at a place wherein it's not easily possible for an armour platform to carry enough weight of armour on itself across enough of its body to protect against ATGM (or even, in various cases, RPG) threats.

What does this mean? Until there's broader uptake of active-protection measures - against reasonably well-equipped infantry, armour assets are 'out of balance' quite significantly.

Now, to be fair and sure - the Israelis *have* been very pointed in their exploring and deployment of exactly these kinds of countermeasures; and the Americans have been following suit. It is an interesting question whether they'd be in a similar position to the Russians currently were they faced with a similar 'hedgehog'.

While there's some debate as to how effective 'kamikaze drones' might be at getting through active protection efforts, I think it's a start."

In short - it's easy and evidently emotively satisfying to ascribe various occurrences to 'uniquely' terrible Russian hardware.

I do not dispute that equipment designed and built and haphazardly modernized over a course of several decades prior to the conflict it's being employed in is often going to encounter difficulties.

But the key thing is that many of the problems that have eventuated are decidedly not 'uniquely' Russian problems.

We are simply observing them as such because:

i) they're the ones currently putting forces into the field in an attempted invasion (and so they are occurring to them);

ii) the Ukrainian informational warfare effort has been a resounding success, and highlighted as much as possible both these difficulties and that it is Russians experiencing them.

Of course, it is certainly possible to argue that how the hardware in question has been employed has significantly contributed to these various losses. In many instances, I would not seek to disagree.

But that is quite a different argument from saying something is intrinsically shoddy simply because it is Russian.

And it also doesn't quite account for the fact that for various of these elements - even employing them at all has become significantly more hazardous than it was only a few years afore.

All things considered, whenever I see some of the more outlandish guffawing from social media (and even regular media) commentators of the sort outlined above and proffering American or NATO hardware as seemingly impervious to similar challenges ... my thoughts go to the following line - I forget where it is from, but the latin verse it is rendering is from Horace:

"The poet has Tantalus, unable to satisfy his hunger or his thirst, turning on the spectator and demanding, Quid rides? Mutato nomine, de te fabula narratur: why do you laugh? Change the names and the story is about you."