Monday, February 26, 2018

On Trudeau's Indian Posturing

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It is one thing to show respect.

It is quite another to pantomime.

Wednesday, February 14, 2018

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thursday, February 1, 2018

On National's Recent Leadership Rumblings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And here, I think, we have struck paydirt.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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

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

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