Monday, August 25, 2014

That Awkward Feeling When Your Campaign Goes Over A Cliff

Urgh. It's a thankless and nearly impossible task politically firefighting some days. Somebody (who isn't you, but who's in your care, or whom you've got a close professional relationship with) does or says something stupid; somebody from the Media's there and on-hand to record whatever it is that happened, then broadcast it with editorializing to make it look about as bad as possible ... and nekminnit, there's half a hundred "concerned citizens" all over facebook, twitter, and the internet generally all jumping up and down demanding that your candidate apologize, resign, or possibly spontaneously self-combust through sheer force of projected embarrassment.

As can hardly have escaped the voting public's notice, New Zealand First seems to be somewhat more prone to these sorts of gaffes than, say, the National Party - but that's just because the Nats can afford a comprehensive army of spin-doctors and media managers to cover their mistakes, whereas NZ First tends to field rather more in the way of "ordinary real New Zealander" candidates with an occasionally refreshing (and, dependent upon the candidate, occasionally cringe-worthy) non-political way of speaking their minds.

On his blog published earlier today, Bomber has posed the question "Who's Cliff Lyon's charm coach? Cameron Slater?" Well, no, it's not WhaleOil; although you may cite me as the NZF equivalent - Dolphin-Gris. For you see, Cliff is the NZF candidate here in Epsom, and as the Chairman of the local NZF Electorate, he therefore falls under my aegis.

I was therefore somewhat surprised to read Cliff's reported comments in the media, as I also chair Cliff's campaign team; and I can tell you right now that the *entire operation*, literally to a man, is gay, unemployed/on a benefit, and/or a "loony intelligent left [educated] at Auckland University". Indeed, I'm in two of these camps right now myself (I'll leave it as an exercise to the reader to work out which).

So the idea that Cliff's got a problem with any of the groups cited in the quote, or thinks they axiomatically *have* to be in Labour, immediately flies out the window.

What we're left with instead is the actual substance of what he was saying. Now I'm not going to get embroiled in a quagmire of equivocation over the specific choice of words used. Cliff may be, to use his own words, "just a one-week old politician", and an acknowledged novice in the fine arts of political communication ... but that's no excuse. We demand high standards from those seeking our confidence to ascend to elected office, and that implicitly includes having the due care to think about how a controversial-sounding statement might be run away with by mischievous fingers (the way the Herald wound up reporting the story yesterday evening, it was made to look like Winston had uttered the offending quote, instead of his old friend from law school) - as well as a certain level of thought about the desirability or otherwise of taking a marginalized group in society like the unemployed or LGBT persons (I don't think you can seriously claim left-wing university students are "marginalized", except by their own Uni administrations) and using them as an escutcheon upon which to hang a narrative about a rival political party.

Because seriously, that's exactly what Cliff did. He didn't get up and overtly insult gay people or beneficiaries, and eye-witnesses have Cliff including *himself* in the ambit of "loony intelligent left who sit up at Auckland University". (It is, after all, where he himself was educated; and you can rest assured I wouldn't be working with Cliff if I didn't believe his economic proclivities to be broadly left-wing)

Instead, he made the only barely controversial claim that Labour has, since 1984, decided to cover for its waning focus on improving the lot of the ordinary Kiwi worker by instead massively ramping up its focus on identity politik issues such as those that definitely *do* appeal rather strongly to left-liberal-latte groups like the students of Young Labour (who have this unfortunate habit of bouncing policy remits that'd sail through NZF with ease for being "too socialistic") and which tend to focus on LGBT-relevant issues. We saw this directly evinced in 1986, when Labour attempted to make up for all the heinous things it was doing to our economy through the commission of the Good Thing that was the Homosexuality Reform Act 1986. None of which takes away from the fundamental justice and moral right of homosexuality being decriminalized in that year; and none of which suggests that it's not possible to actually advance *both* an identity-politik/social justice agenda *and* a progressive economic reform/justice agenda simultaneously. Because if it really weren't possible, you wouldn't have The Green Party doing exactly that.

But I do have to wonder about Bomber's charge that what Cliff said was "homophobic". Labour MPs have, nobly, taken the lead on LGBT issues for quite some time. I've already cited the Homosexuality Reform Act 1986, to which we can also add Civil Unions, and Jacinda Ardern's bill on gay adoption (which also forms the basis for one of my favourite polemical points - if voting against a bill to advance the interests of non-straight people is axiomatically homophobic, as it is often alleged NZF voting against equality of marriage was ...what, then, to make of the Green Party voting en-masse against Ardern's bill to legalize gay (partnered) adoption?). All this taken together does certainly evince that Labour ought to have a strong core of support from some of the LGBT portions of the electorate. Something they are justifiably proud of over in Labour. It would be fallacious, unreasonable and patently unrealistic to attempt to read into Cliff's remarks the idea that *all* LGBT voters and activists here in NZ are affiliated with Labour (particularly given i) Cliff's aforementioned campaign team; and ii) the fact that New Zealand First's Parliamentary Caucus has proportionately a greater number of non-straight people in it than The Green Party's does, iirc); but I'm not *quite* sure, unless you consider being associated with the Labour Party to be a grievous and prejudicial insult, how pointing out that LGBT New Zealanders have much reason to support Labour is actually "homophobic". His political stereotypes do require some updating, however; as MANA has taken over the mantle from Labour as the party with the reputation for attracting and looking after beneficiaries (while ACT's got the rep for being the party for those seeking a government hand-out *koff* #SeatOfEpsom *koff*), with Internet/MANA *also* now being a far more viable home for campus lefties than the tired and warmed-over neoliberals of Young Labour.

ANYWAY. While what Cliff said was not, in my estimation, particularly sensitive to the idea of *not* using marginalized groups in society to make a political point with - and therefore not especially helpful to NZF's overall campaign; I do also note that it's a bit of a long bow to draw to go from Cliff's statement that several clades within the electorate support Labour (when at best, it's *some* of the voters from those clades; and the *actual* issue being raised is the perceived misprioritization of an economic agenda, not who supports what party) to the charges of "homophobia" and "beneficiary-bashing" such as Bomber's attempting to make out. Particularly given Cliff's alleged self-inclusion in the "loony left students who sit up at Auckland University" group, I'm not even sure that "anti-intellectualism" can be seriously sustained. Although it's also worthwhile to note that neither myself nor Bomber (to the best of my knowledge) is gay, so we two straight (mostly) white males (one of whom's even drawing a non-state-provided income) may potentially not be the best authorities on what constitutes homophobia in this day and age.

I would also respectfully suggest to *all* sides in this issue (particularly Nicholas Jones of the New Zealand Herald) that it is additionally a pretty tall order to try and make out that Cliff's poorly phrased and off the cuff comment is in any way reflective of a broader New Zealand First attitude toward each of the Labour Party, LGBT New Zealanders, beneficiaries, or "loony intelligent left students who sit up at Auckland University".

We have explicitly ruled in working with the Labour Party, and it looks pretty likely that Labour will accede to *far more* of our bottom lines for coalition negotiation than National will (the main sticking point remains the pension age - we want it kept at 65, Labour's hell-bent on raising it to 67 for *my* generation first). We are also an acknowledged champion of the economically downtrodden here in Kiwi society, and particularly due to the preponderance of pensioners within our party's midst, New Zealand First members often have close experience of the difficulties of living on a fixed income under a right-wing government. And when it comes to New Zealanders of sexual orientations other than straight, I can only cite my ardent belief that the unitary nationalism and "one law for all"ishness that NZF theoretically ascribes to applies to *all* Kiwis, regardless of race, class, or sexual orientation.

Every time I hit up an NZF or New Zealand First Youth event, meeting or Convention, I'm always struck by the huge and gaping duality between the way we're often portrayed and thought of with who we actually are as a party. Despite the cherrypicked impression the media always try and go for, we aren't just a homogenous bloc of pensioners, Polynesians, and pissed off Tangata Whenua; we have by now quite sizable contingents of Youth (and therefore students, frequently drawn from the mighty "loony intelligent" Symonds St NZF branch of NZ First Youth that operates up at Auckland), and as applies the rest of the ambit of Cliff's comments, we've *always* had a strong contingent of people who've been done over economically by the excesses and natural consequences of neoliberal capitalism and who therefore need a state-provided leg-up (i.e. beneficiaries) ... and as applies LGBT NZFers, one of my proudest accomplishments was the day I started receiving hate-mail from some of New Zealand's most prominent neo-nazis (and associates) about how they now could not support NZF due to the fact we'd somehow acquired a "Rainbow Wing" lead by yours truly.

One of the things I'm therefore quite annoyed about with this whole imbroglio, is the fact that certain pundits and politicos will attempt to use Cliff's comments, assuredly out of context and ramped up to eleven, to try and portray NZF as diametrically opposed to how we actually are - a party for *all* New Zealanders, and one which rigorously stands up to discrimination regardless of whether it's carried out on the basis of race, gender, sexuality, or mental health.

So let me put it this way. If you're mature enough to accept that Trevor Mallard didn't suddenly commit Labour to resurrecting the Moa by 2020 when he made a comment about it off-the-cuff; and if you can see how Kim DotCom tweeting idiotic things about killing sex workers doesn't make Internet Party leader Laila Harre a misogynist by association ...

... then you ought to, without too many leaps of logic and equivalency, be able to see how Cliff stating that there's a strong degree of support for Labour from LGBT New Zealanders, and latte-liberal students (I'm not convinced beneficiaries support Labour that much these days ... but then, according to most polling, it doesn't seem like *anybody* supports Labour that much these days) ought not be taken as a negative reflection on either NZF as a whole, or Winston. (perhaps unless, again, you consider being associated with Labour to be a perjorative) Which doesn't mean you have to agree with the way the comment was phrased, either - I sure don't; and will be endeavoring to ensure that we're on-message and not diverted by side-shows and slip-ups from now until the Election.

Still, some days I wish I just had to counter-spin the nice, easy soft throws the Green MPs occasionally come out with - the worst we've heard from them was Jan Logie making a rather funny crack about the number of Budget's Bill English has delivered versus the number of kids he's fathered ... and then I remember that if it's invective-laden one-liners you're after, Winston is king.

This self-declared "loony intelligent left student who sits up at Auckland University" is still backing NZ First, and still supporting Cliff Lyon's campaign here in Epsom.

We hope you will too.

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