Saturday, August 8, 2015

John Armstrong Gets It Wrong On Winston And NZ First - AGAIN

Early last week, Herald resident naysayer John Armstrong published a piece which basically set out that New Zealand First - a Party which, according to sane observers, is pretty much in the form of its life - had no future.

The reaction to this was fierce. And I don't just mean from die-hard zealots such as myself.

All across the mediasphere, pundits came out of the woodwork to tell Armstrong how wrong he was.

Evidently, Armstrong has taken heed of this ... because his latest piece published Saturday morning takes the opposite tack.

Instead, it's a column about the future of New Zealand First.

Which is awesome in one way - and I commend Armstrong for having the courage to write a piece contradicting his previous assertions, and in so doing implicitly admit he was in error ... but unfortunately, he's once again gotten the wrong end of the stick.

Now that's not to say Armstrong's piece is completely without merit, however.

With regard to what he gets right, he's absolutely 100% correct to suggest that Winston's in "rude good health and is as passionate and energized as ever". I would also agree with the assertion that Winston "will want to show that his byelection victory in the Northland seat was no fluke or was the result of voters having the luxury of voting against the Government without having to worry that they might end up ousting it".

Indeed, the nation-wide outpouring of support for Winston's stirling campaign effort up in Northland would seem to suggest that there is a very large, very real, and very vocal demographic of new New Zealand First supporters lining up behind our Party and silently-or-shoutingly willing us to victory with the stern suggestion that we outright CHANGE the government.

But as applies what Armstrong gets wrong ... reading his second piece again, it hit me that the whole thing is an exercise in very carefully crafting a subtly insidious metanarrative around Winston - that he's old, fuddy-duddy ... a man eering into his nineties with no genuine plan for the future, and still stuck in that mythical 1950s period Armstrong keeps assuming is the status quo NZ First nirvana.

I mean, apart from the continual suggestions that Winston is some sort of latter-day Winston Churchill - replete, no doubt, with a snide undercurrent of suggestion that we look at the somewhat disastrous second term of Churchill as PM - and in particular the way he deliberately clung on to power for as long as possible in order to disenfranchise his successor Anthony Eden by denying him the limelight and a decent shot at power - there's also a slew of other elements.

First up, the idea that Winston has "bowed" to pressures to launch himself onto social media. Typical cliche - and typically wrong. I was the man who first brooched the idea of setting up facebook and twitter accounts for Winston to Winston (and indeed, for a long time *was* Winston Peters on facebook, in coalition with two other individuals) ... and inspired by the extreme successes of other politicians overseas in the medium, he leaped upon the concept with a characteristic vigor. This was some five years ago. Now he's writing haikus at the Prime Minister which get reported in daily newspapers.

As applies the "endless circuit of Grey Power speaking engagements" claim Armstrong makes about how we fund ourselves and campaign ... that's blatantly false.

Yes, yes we DO have a productive relationship with the Super/Gold Community. Yes, yes Winston DOES attend a reasonable number of their AGMs as a guest speaker. But for the most part, Winston (and our other MPs) speak to a whole slew of community organizations - and, more to the point, hold our own NZF public meetings which often end up packed to the rafters all by themselves.

I personally remember being at a speech in Auckland which had more than a thousand people in the room, for instance; while you'll find a score of citations in the media for often-open-air public meetings up and down the country which have attracted hundreds and hundreds of attendees each.

We also all remember Winston's epic campaign effort (on a bus) up in Northland - night after night on the 6 o'clock news, you'd have clips of him walking the streets and pounding the ground from small-town center to small-town center across National's forgotten heartland in order to connect with voters and raise enthusiasm and anti-Government ire.

I certainly don't think all THOSE street-corner meetings were just exclusively with Grey Power! (Further, where Armstrong claims there's some sort of necessary duality between twitter and street-corner meetings, I note that Winston found a useful synergy - broadcasting the success of his face-to-face social interactions on social media, instead ;) ... Keep up, John! You must be having trouble getting to grips with all this new technology!)

In any case, the bit where my eyes *most* went bull-attracting-colour while also causing me to lose my bull-attracting device (so to speak - same colour) ... was the final few paragraphs about likely successors to Winston.

Now as my long-time readers will know, this is a subject both near and dear to my heart.

In fact, I'm half-way through covering the exact same issue in a reasonably well-read series right here on TDB entitled "Life After Winston".

The first piece covered the prospects of men like John Tamihere and Shane Jones - and comprehensively wrote them off in favour of more serious contenders like Ron Mark.

And while I'm glad that Armstrong's evidently given my piece a passing glance ... it would have greatly behooved him to actually read the damn thing, rather than just scouring it for Dramatis Personae.

If he'd done so, he'd have realized that both men are eminently less-than-suitable for the future leadership of NZ First. That's why their piece was subtitled "Pretenders To The Throne".

In the case of Tamihere: yes, yes he does have a certain ability to "reach out to conservative working class voters". At the arguable cost of offending just about everyone else. And, more to the point, he's rigidly staked his colours to the mast by attempting (highly publicly and ultimately somewhat humiliatingly) to rejoin the Labour Party. He's also something of the "anti-Winston" when it comes to the latter's fastidious approach and attention to detail. In fact, I believe that's *exactly* what seasoned and senior Press Gallery journalist Jane Clifton called him. On top of all of this, you'd have to wonder how a former politician whose two main media outings in recent years have been an enthusiastic endorsement of Whanau Ora (which Winston spent most of the previous term furiously attacking, demonstrating a dissonance of values with Tamihere) - and an appallingly handled on-air appearance about the rape of a minor - could ever hope to step into Winston's slickly shined shoes.

And as applies Shane Jones ... well ... I'd *like* to say I share Armstrong's appreciation for Jones' merits on paper - but I don't.

Armstrong is right to say that Jones has an "intellect", an ability with "oratory", and some "political nous". I wouldn't go so far as to say that he "ticks all the boxes" on those fronts, or that he implicitly deserves to share a podium with Winston when it comes to his relative merits in those fields.

But he does have some skill.

Unfortunately, NONE of those aptitudes are in the right areas to take NZ First forward on into the future.

I mean, yes. Obviously a smaller (but rapidly growing) Party needs a charismatic frontman. And particularly given the populist-politics NZ First has previously prided ourselves on promulgating, pushing passionately from a pulpit is pretty much a pre-requisite de rigeur for any politician purporting to perambulate as Peters' protege.

But it's not enough. What we need for the immediate post-Peters future (and there's no sign that'll be at any point near to the horizon just yet), is an organizer. Someone who can inspire our people, gather them up, whip them into shape, and ultimately BUILD A FUNCTIONAL MASS-MOVEMENT PARTY OUT OF THEM.

Someone, in short, like Ron Mark.

Even leaving aside Jones' immense Nepalese-sherpa-conveyed-baggage-train of previous encumbrances (ranging from the trivial one you all know about, through to the much more important public perceptions of him as the man who abandoned his people to pursue a plum job dangled before him by the National Party, through to his ongoing run of electoral failures, and most important of all the fact that nobody like a johnny-come-lately parachuting in to lord it over all the rest who've been in for the long haul) ... he's just not capable of matching Mark for organizational aptitude and talent.

If New Zealand First is to survive past the visionary period of Winston Peters' Leadership (and rest assured, we will) ... we need to be lead and inspired by a man who is resolutely capable of actually *building* movements and formations. That way, even as the mighty beating heart of our Party dims a little, we still wind up organized and coagulated around a set of core common principles and unified into action.

As a viable mass-movement political party. Rather than, as Armstrong seems to believe, an organization which attempts to be almost North Korean in its veneration from the shadows of its Eternal President; rather than moving forward gracefully with the spirit and the ideals of the past helping to inform - rather than onstrain - present or future action and growth.

An ability to use long words and flowery rhetoric's nice and all (hence one of the reasons people keep reading my writing, I guess) - but at the end of the day, it's no substitute for an actual overwhelming connection to our values; ability to motivate, muster and manage large groups of people; and ultimately, the ability to BUILD a Party, rather than simply inheriting one created off the backs of the hard labour of others.

So far, the mass-media narrative around Jones has completely failed to demonstrate how he can do any of that, instead appearing to believe that a certain way with words will win the day in its stead.

Until they're capable of doing that - and rest assured, they won't - there really is only ONE man capable of leading New Zealand First on into the post-Winston period.

And that's Ron Mark.

Because when it comes to the future of YOUR Party and YOUR Nation ... accept no substitutes.

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