Is Trump really heading for re-election?

The Electoral College based on states where Trump's disapproval exceeds 50 percent (SourceL MorningConsult) 

The Electoral College based on states where Trump's disapproval exceeds 50 percent (SourceL MorningConsult) 

Somebody was bound to write the contrarian take on Donald Trump's political prospects, and Democratic political consultant Doug Sosnik stepped up to the plate in the Washington Post over the weekend:

...despite dismal poll numbers, Trump enters the contest with a job approval rating that is certainly at least marginally better than what the current national polls would suggest. Throughout the 2016 election, most analysts tracked the national polling, which failed to capture Trump’s strength in key battleground states. Current surveys continue to understate his support. Many national polls survey all eligible voters, rather than registered or likely voters, which can underestimate Trump, and some voters may be reluctant to admit that they are pro-Trump at all. Add to that the fact that Trump effectively demonstrated during the 2016 campaign that he is capable of expanding his support by effectively demonizing his opponents.
— https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/trump-is-on-track-to-win-reelection/2017/10/06/91cd2af0-aa15-11e7-850e-2bdd1236be5d_story.html?utm_term=.7257d36fe074

Admittedly, if the excerpt above underwhelms, you're not alone. When I was alerted to Sosnik's column, I was briefly excited by the idea that there's an argument to be made, despite all appearances, that Trump not only knows what he's doing, but that it's succeeding.  Nothing better than an astute, unexpected and counterintuitive take that forces the reader to question his or her assumptions and view issues from a different perspective.  Better still, it's by a Democrat from whom one might expect the opposite argument.  This column, despite the promise, was not that. 

Which is not to say I am certain Trump will not be reelected in 2020 -- given my errant prognostications of late, it would border on criminally stupid to assert as much.  Who knows what 9/11 style exigency awaits us?  Who knows the extent to which Bernie Sanders and his supporters are willing to sacrifice electability for their revolution? To paraphrase Rummy, unknown unknowns abound.  

But there are ways to look at Trump's political health at this particular juncture that led me to wonder whether Sosnik and others aren't being a little coy, if not disingenuous.  Sure, Sosnik's point about 2016 smashing political norms, but he doesn't persuade me that Trump has upended basic arithmetic in the process.  

The pollster Morning Consult has released the findings of a presidential approval survey drawn from interview with 472,032 registered voters across each state and Washington, D.C., from Trump’s Jan. 20 inauguration to Sept. 26. That's one helluva dataset.  

What does it show?  

While Trump's approval has declined in each of the fifty states, the MC survey allows us to track how Trump is doing in the traditional swing states that flipped the election, as well as purple states where Democrats are trawling for upsets.  Across both categories, the news isn't good for the White House.  

To give you the most conservative interpretation of the data, I have identified only those states where Trump's disapproval exceeds 50 percent.  A more traditional metric would be to look at states where he is underwater, i.e. disapproval exceeds approval, which would take in North Carolina and Ohio (both Obama states in 2008) netting 33 additional electoral votes.  In addition, Trump is only a fraction of a decimal point above water in two other states -- Florida and Georgia -- with 45 more.  

Important context.  

According to Gallup, Obama did not win a single state where his disapproval rating exceeded 50 percent in 2012. The highest negative number in a state Obama went on to win was 47.3 percent in New Hampshire.  Aside from NH, Virginia was the only "underwater" state carried by the Democrats in 2012, although both Pennsylvania and Ohio were line-ball.  

Sosnik may be right. Trump may romp home in 2020.  So much water, so many bridges.  But let's not bamboozle ourselves into believing Trump's apparent unpopularity is a clever ruse.  If an election were held today -- and that's all polls can help us with -- he would lose in a popular vote and electoral college landslide of such a scale people will be forced to wonder whether the party he has hijacked can even survive him.  

Moral hypocrisy on ‘roids: the curse of confirmation bias

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Peter Wehner, a Republican Never Trumper, has written an essential oped in the New York Times in which he excavates and examines his own confirmation bias with respect to the Administration.  I think we should all take a leaf from his column.

Wehner worked in the George W. Bush administration, and the section on the Iraq War is especially revealing, not to mention refreshingly honest. 

 I believed before the war began that it was justified — that Saddam Hussein possessed weapons of mass destruction, that he was a particularly malevolent and destabilizing figure, and that it was a military conflict that would liberate an enslaved people.

In ways I had not fully understood at the time, I had been filtering out information that ran counter to the narrative I believed.

Take another look at that last sentence.  Wehner gets confirmation bias in a nutshell — a cognitive trick that blinds us to unhelpful realities — and, boy oh boy, is it hard one to crack.  (Should go without saying I’m as guilty as the next person, except perhaps alcoholism taught me the inherent value of fronting up to problems).  

In its more egregious form, confirmation bias manifests as wanton hypocrisy and rank double standards. There are two yarns in my orbit currently that exemplify the problem. 

First, the hard-to-fathom sight of Trump and his enablers attempting to claim the moral high ground over Harvey Weinstein’s gross sexual misconduct, not to mention efforts to entangle Hillary Clinton in the whole mess.  Maybe the Germans have a word to describe a president who claims fame is a license to grab pussy getting all holier-than-thou over similar conduct by a fellow deviant, but the English language falls short. Mere “hypocrisy” doesn’t cut it.  

Trump diehards are willfully oblivious, of course. Their hatred of Hillary and Hollywood liberals like Weinstein is more than enough to erase any cognitive dissonance associated with Trump’s absurd posturing.  

Another current example of mass confirmation bias leading to selective reasoning and flagrant double standards is the kerfuffle over Duncan Garner’s recent column in the NZ media about Asian immigration.  

Full disclosure, without exaggerating matters, I know and like Duncan — and, since I am far from immune from confirmation bias, this no doubt affects my assessment of the issue.  That said, I think Garner may one day regret deciding to pen a column based on that particular trip to K-Mart, and conclude he could have mounted the same argument in a less inflammatory fashion.  At the very least, intentional or not, the snake analogy was a mistake, and not a trivial one. 

But fair’s fair.  Duncan Garner is a columnist and broadcast journalist. It’s his job to provoke debate, express his views, keep the discourse humming along.  He is not a straight news reporter from whom we might expect “neutrality”.  This of course means listeners and readers are well within their rights to object to his view — indeed, that’s the whole point.  In the end, he is a purveyor of opinion, not facts. And certainly not public policy.  

Which brings me back to the selective moral reasoning problem Wehner alerts us to in his column. 

If you have spent the past few days wailing and gnashing your teeth over the Garner column, and yet sat silent and acquiescent while Phil Twyford vilified Asian homeowners, your confirmation bias has got the better of you.  

There is no comparison between a misjudged (and, in my view, substantively wrong) newspaper column and a political party taking the deliberate step to engage in explicit racial targeting for electoral gain. (Far be it for me to speak for others, but I’m almost certain most Kiwis of Asian origin would much rather keep racial animus contained to the opinion pages, and out of the Beehive). 

If you saw fit to condemn the former but not the latter, ask yourself why.  Go on. It won’t hurt. 

Mike Hosking's presence on the stage helps Jacinda, but his dimissive treatment of voting rights should disqualify him from hosting debate

Mea culpa, at least a bit. 

i said lefty efforts to oust Mike Hosking were dumb and counterproductive. They are.

i said you couldn't conjure in a lab an adversary as perfectly suited as Hosking to highlighting Ardern's strengths in a television debates. You could not.  

But, while I continue to believe Hosking's presence on the stage amounts to advantage Labour, more recent events have persuaded me that Mike Hosking is unsuited to the hosting role.   

On  Seven Sharp, Hosking made some utterances that sounded for all China's tea  as though only voters enrolled on the Maori roll can cast a vote for the Maori Party.  This is obviously untrue, as I can attest, having voted for them in the last election on the General Roll.

in the wake of his screw up, Hosking had one job: to set the record straight. As a political journalist, whatever his leanings, he should consider it anathema to allow false claims as they pertain to voting rights to stand uncorrected in the plainest possible terms. Surely, hosts, journalists and pundits are abrogating some basic democratic obligation  by failing to communicate accurate information about rules around voting.

When Mike Hosking could have chosen such a path by correcting the record in clear, unambiguous terms, he opted instead for petulance, denial and yet more obfuscation.

That shows Hosking is more interested in protecting and projecting his ego than  conveying  accurate informatiom about our most fudamental democratic rights.'

That alone should persuade TVNZ to start searching for a new moderator.'

Mike Hosking Must Moderate!

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The higher echelons of Labour don’t keep me abreast of their latest strategic thinking, and nor should they. But I will give the team around Jacinda Ardern the benefit of the doubt and assume they are not party to the wrongheaded efforts to jostle Mike Hosking from his moderating spot in a coming leader’s debate. Given Ardern has made more shrewd calls over a couple of weeks than her predecessors made in close to a decade, there's every reason to expect Jacinda herself isn't about to fall prey to this misguided campaign.

Among New Zealanders without a hearing impairment, I doubt you could find anyone who has heard Mike Hosking’s voice less than I have. This is not especially personal — since leaving NZ for Melbourne in 1998, I have lived overseas for all but a few months here and there. And I'm not a radio or breakfast telly kinda guy; in fact, the only time I ever encounter commercial radio is when I'm being interviewed on one. Please don't mistake this for snobbish elitism. I don't listen to Radio NZ, either, unless insomnia demands it — the dulcet tones of an exquisitely trained public broadcaster never fails. 

I'm aware Hosking is loathed on the Left for his conservative views and belligerent manner — in fact, even my resolutely moderate Mum detests him with an unusual ferocity. Perhaps due to this lack of exposure, I hold no personal animosity towards Mike Hosking, who I have always seen as a fairly unremarkable archetype: a talkback blowhard with a knack for outrage. You can find a Hosking equivalent in any given media market — or ten thousand of them if you get satellite radio in the US or download a podcast app.

But whatever you (or me or my Mum) think of Mike Hosking, this much I know: his presence on the debate stage is far more likely to help Ardern than English. Here's why.

Leader’s debates are not really debates in the traditional sense at all, but performance art. You don't win them merely by mounting the strongest argument or scoring rebuttal points off your opponent. Success for any leader is how they perform relative to expectations going in.

Go back and watch Obama’s notoriously disastrous first debate in 2012. Viewed from today, Obama was stylistically and substantively miles better than most politicians could dream of. But he performed so much worse than expected that nobody in their right mind could conclude other than that it was a defeat for the President and a triumph for Mitt Romney.

A more recent, and perhaps more pertinent example: Donald Trump was catastrophically bad in all three debates, but it barely left a scratch. Why? Two reasons: one, nobody expected him to be any good to begin with (as opposed to Clinton, whose assured performances merely conformed to expectations); and, two, his riled-up base quickly blamed the liberal mainstream media elite moderators for rigging the entire exercise. In the end, Trump’s ignorant, rambling, stalking, wildly incoherent debate showings hurt him where it didn't count, and helped him where it did. For the exquisitely prepared and super confident Clinton, the needle didn't budge — in fact, the insistence by members of the liberal, coastal, possibly homosexual, almost certainly Jewish elite that she crushed Trump worked against her. 

Let's game this out in the context of Hosking v Ardern.

He goes hard on Ardern. She holds her nerve. That's the story. Labour wins.

He bullies her. Labour wins.

He goes soft on Ardern in an effort to quell criticism, keeping the Rottweiler in the cage. Labour wins.

He goes soft on English. That's the story. Labour wins.

In other words, Labour benefits whether Hosking plays naughty or nice. Pitching his questions in such a way as to hurt Jacinda without inadvertently helping her carries an exceedingly high degree of difficulty.

Now, as long as the bleating about Hosking doesn't force him off the stage, I'm happy for them to keep it up. It will just heighten the buzz around the Great Hosking-Ardern Showdown. If that is the prevailing dynamic (not the perfect word, but streets ahead of 'narrative', 'framing, or 'narrative framing), Jacinda can't lose.

Finally, for the Hosking critics, a genuine question on bias — something they seem to equate to a war crime: you realize you have it too? That it is a ineradicable feature of  human thought. You get that, right? (Sometimes I worry you don't). 

The MoU was a catastrophic and avoidable mistake. Those responsible should own up.

Annette King, Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, James Shaw at the signing of the MoU.  

Annette King, Andrew Little, Metiria Turei, James Shaw at the signing of the MoU.  

To paraphrase Jack Kennedy, if success in politics has many fathers, the Labour-Greens Memorandum of Understanding will enter the history books an orphan — in the annals of Labour at least.

By striking contrast, the Greens, the deal’s only and overwhelming beneficiary, should be mounting the signed original like the Dead Sea Scrolls, demanding members commence branch meetings with selected incantations from therein. 

That the MoU has been a monumental blunder for Labour, and a boon for the Greens, surprises none of us who opposed the idea from the outset. We knew it would license the Greens to raid Labour's vote while neutering the party's capacity to fight back and thereby alleviate concerns about a ramshackle centre-left coalition. If anyone ever doubted this risk: see Turei's protracted middle finger to middle NZ and the depressing effect on Labour's vote in the One News-Colmar Brunton poll. This is playing out exactly as we feared. 

The deal’s proponents, meanwhile, exist either in denial about the monstrosity they wrought, or are desperately scrambling to evade culpability for it. They justifiably surmise that the people behind similarly daft ideas— Internet Mana, anyone? — have not just evaded consequences for their strategic idiocy; it has been rewarded with promotions and patronage. In many cases, they have been rewarded for failed ideas themselves. Why should this be any different?

Sadly, it probably won't be.

In the wake of Labour’s coming — and fourth consecutive —  defeat, the central role of the MoU in kneecapping whatever chance Labour had to reemerge as a credible governing party will be obvious to all but the small handful of apparatchiks. These are the people who conceived of the agreement, and whose reputations hinge on pretending, against any and all available evidence, that it was a resounding triumph. Sadly, this is the same clique who will shape the post-election narrative, much as they did in the aftermath of the Cunliffe Calamity when they hired as co-obfuscators Bryan Gould and Margaret Wilson, authors of the toothless and pathetic ”post-mortem”.

Have no doubt that the geniuses within Labour responsible for every misstep of the past ten years remain as powerful today as they ever were. Do not expect any contrition or admission of failure. Whoever is to blame for the failure of Labour’s strategy, look anywhere but in the direction of Labour strategists. They are, let's face it, far better at making excuses than making headway against the Nats.

I've heard tell there's a “narrative” in the works that, surprise surprise, it is the Labour Right’s subterranean shenanigans to blame for Labour’s woes. The attacks on the so-called Anyone But Cunliffe conspiracy were so successful last time, they’re aiming for a reprise. It's a tough argument given how the Labour caucus rallied behind a leader all but two of them voted against, and to whom they have remained fiercely loyal throughout.  But convincing oneself of something that serves our purposes to believe makes falling off a log seem like hard work. (Of course the argument also wobbles upon recognition that the Labour Right does not exist, but why quibble?). 

The people in charge of Labour have guided the party through a period of strategic ineptitude, policy torpor, financial ruin and organizational decay. They are just not very good at politics.

Until the party reckons with this, root and branch, their only other idea — changing leaders periodically  in the hope that doing so will transform the party’s fortunes — is merely window dressing to distract from the shambles within.

Tame Questions Enrage Little

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I don't want to unduly pile on Andrew Little. In fact, during a phone call with a Kiwi journo last week, I couldn't have stressed often enough how the current malaise facing Labour is not this particular leader's fault. Instead, it arises from the misguided abandonment of broad church values that can be traced back at least three elections. As I have said often, Labour's appeal is structurally insufficient; and that the quaint notion that the natural ebb and flow of politics will eventually land Labour in the shores of government neglects this point.

Labour's share of the party vote has declined precipitously since losing office. They are six points adrift of where they were in 1996, the first MMP election, after Labour had all but torn itself limb from factional limb. Those two facts alone should give pause to anyone still clinging to the notion that all Labour needs to get from zero to hero is the passage of time. 

Yes, appendectomies give Andrew Little a run for his money in the popularity stakes, but it is wrong to imagine any other prospective leader would have done better. In all likelihood, Robertson, Parker or whomever would have done just as badly, albeit in different ways. As finance spokesperson, Robertson has not displayed any greater capacity than Little for policy innovation — even if the Future of Work commission asked the right questions, the answers contained in the final report were a heady blend of inaccessible jargon, motherhood statements and empty promises. Oh, and lengthy passages ripped whole from The Economist. As for Parker, he's not trusted in the same way Shearer wasn't, and would have been dispatched in similar terms — although even more brutally in light of his irascible, idiosyncratic manner. 

So don't blame Little for more then his share of a mess a decade in the making. Nobody expected Little to radically transform the party in new and unexpected ways. He was never going to reveal hitherto concealed reserves of charisma or intellectual originality. He was party president, and boss of the biggest affiliated union, circulating in Wellington Labour circles, creating few ripples of admiration, for decades. Little is the leader he was always going to be. He's a journeyman: a middle order batsman who rarely sizzles but never skips training. A political Chris Kuggelijn, if you will. If Labour were in better shape, he'd hit the winning runs — but expecting him to blast the Nats out of the park from this far behind flies in the face everything we know about his range of shots. 

Let Little be Little, in other words. If he plays outside his comfort zone, the risks are far greater than in a plodding performance in line with his meagre gifts. This kind of thing happens: 

Jack Tame is no Kim Hill, and the question he asked about the GDP impacts of Labour's immigration policy wasn't just perfectly fair, it was the most obvious first question imaginable. That Little hadn't been prepared with a succinct and credible response is baffling, and suggests there are severe shortcomings in his office. Whenever you prep politicians for media interviews, especially those coinciding with major election announcements, the fiscal questions should be at the top of the list. This is especially true for Labour, who must be careful to project seriousness and restraint when it comes to economic management.  

Labour's bandwagon jumping on immigration is craven enough without their leader, a would be Prime Minister no less, describing as "silly" a question about the downstream economic effects of his plan. 

It strongly indicates Little's office isn't smart enough to furnish him with answers to basic questions; and, worse, that Little isn't curious enough to demand them. 

Speak English!

The Winston Peters playbook must have earned some fairly tatty dogears over the 65 consecutive elections where the NZ First leader has deployed it.

Yet again, Peters has eased himself to the deadset centre of the maelstrom at precisely the right moment. Partly this comes about simply because of NZ First's likely kingmaker status — it clearly raises the stakes — but Winston's strategy of keeping his powder dry for long stretches during off-years, effectively relaunching his brand every third winter, keeps his image fresher, and his schtick far more impactful, than it ought to be.

Competing with Peters in full swing for a share of the spotlight is an unenviable task at thie best of times. For Labour in particular, this deprivation of media oxygen, coming at worst possible time, could be fatal. Even his biggest defender would concede Little has far from closed the deal with voters. As polls make wince-inducingly clear, Kiwis are yet to be persuaded he has what it takes to be Prime Minister. They prefer Bill, Winston and Jacinda to Andrew — and no doubt plenty of others too if given the option. 

So what can Labour do?  

Bluntly, they have a rubbish hand. 

The rollout of their impressive family tax policy package shows how tough it is. 

Within days, each in their way, ACT and the Greens leapt on the issue in far more colourful ways — ACT went Ban Poor Babies, while the Greens' co-leader confessed to benefit fraud. Meanwhile, Peters promised a gold card for people with disabilities, an adroit positioning between ACT's cold, and the Greens' bleeding, hearts.

As this shows, even in the rare case when Labour sets the agenda, it is criminally easy for minor parties to hijack it within hours. This is not all Labour's fault: as a major party with aspirations to govern, they don't have the luxury of engaging in the kind of sabre-rattling, base-rousing and hyperbole that comes so naturally to smaller parties. They are also far less flexible when it comes to making policy on the hoof.

So, while I don't envy them the task Labour faces in a campaign that risks getting away from them, there are some simple things they could fix today. 

Here's one. Hire some writers. 

At some point over the past couple of decades, the malignancy of corporate-speak began to infect the language of politics and public policy, metastasising horribly, and in full public view, ever since. And for some reason, while politicians of all sides are guilty of speaking in this empty, polysyllabic jargon, those of the left seem to be more susceptible. To illustrate this point, I looked no further than the first link that caught my eye in their website: a statement from frontbencher David Clark on hospital funding in Christchurch — at least that's what I think it was about.  Here's the excerpt from Clark's statement featured on Labour's homepage, presumably because it was the catchiest line:

“To claim that the DHB was using tactics to leverage more public funds ignores the reality of the on-going fallout from the Canterbury earthquakes and the lack of funding to support their population! ”
— http://www.labour.org.nz/canterbury_hatchet_job_a_disgrace

I challenge you.

Go on, make that sentence worse. 

People just don't talk like that. Or think like it. It's the language used by consultants and bureaucrats, petrified anyone might infer clear meaning from anything they write. 

Pick any statement on the Labour site, and you'll find the party is committed to ensuring that accountability and transparency, supported by diverse stakeholder engagement, underpin their core values. Or something. 

So, yeah, stop doing that. 

ACT coulda been a contender

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I knew a few Rogernomes who bolted to ACT back in the nineties. They were the sort of brash young bullshit  artists who treat politics, especially factional politics, like a series of no-holds-barred cage fights. Between them, they could barely come up with a political idea that wasn't some tatty facsimile of an already tired one. Anyone who gets involved in politics at a young age is lying if they tell you they don't get a rush from the combat, the backroom scuttlebutt, the shifting tallies of who’s up, who's down, who's next.

What set the fleeing ACT crowd apart, however,  was that a lust for biffo was the sum total of their rationale for getting involved at all. Most of us brought to the endeavour some driving political passions, however half-baked. But these blokes were ideological grifters. If they'd stumbled on The Fountainhead at school, they might never have bothered flirting with Labour at all.

That said, the emergence of ACT in the MMP era didn't seem altogether like a bad thing. However impractical, libertarian ideas are nothing if not interesting. In fact, like cultural constructivism and Marxism, I find it necessary to wrestle with libertarian perspectives all the time. Also like cultural constructivism and Marxism, libertarian ideology is way more influential in the world of ideas than that of electoral politics. We shouldn't ignore their worldview — and we might even learn something from it.

In the NZ context,  I thought it would redound to our democratic advantage if we had a handful of ACT MPs holding Labour and National alike to account when both parties, as they are wont to do, overextend their executive reach. NZ’s system of government has always struck me as short on checks and balances, and its political culture is at best staid; at worst, catatonic. In an ideal world (which, after all, is where libertarians live), ACT could have been a bulwark against the excesses of nanny-statism (which I oppose from the left, mind you), and a powerful voice for individual liberty in a parliament populated by various breeds of weknowbesters. With a small but principled ACT caucus in place over the past few election cycles, draconian drug laws and incarceration practices should be a thing of the past. They were bystanders on gay marriage.

But of course, this is not a principled ACT party. And its only achievement of late has been providing a living for slightly odd white men.

But it's worse of course.

Yesterday, ACT went the full Newt Gingrich, playing the babies-making-babies card. Poor people, they say, should stop having kids — as if Labour's modest boost to family payments will fill maternity suites with the undeserving.

Well, fuck off.

For one thing, ACT, if you're listening, your party wouldn't exist were it not for antipathy towards the perceived nanny state, and yet you adopt what is literally the most nannying of all policy ideas — attempting to control the fertility of poor people.

In a room with 100 voters, you get one of them. What on god’s great green earth gives you the idea you have the right to tell the rest of us how frequently to procreate?

This is beneficiary bashing, of course, but it reeks of bargain basement eugenics, easily the political Right’s most distasteful fetish. But, for economic rationalists like ACT pretend to be, the idea that effectively sterilizing the poor will create new prosperity is bonkers. The link between poverty and fertility rates is one of the most well-canvassed areas of research in development economics, and the data is not difficult to understand. Creating the conditions to allow household to lift themselves out of poverty is singularly the best way to reduce the number of kids in poor households. And it's a hell of a lot cheaper in the long run to reduce fertility rates through expanding the economic net than coercive or punitive efforts.

If you want to punish poor people for making choices with which you disagree, nothing I can say will stop you. But don't pretend it's in the service of NZ’s economic future. It isn't. It's just more other-blaming from politicians who are too lazy and unoriginal to create meaningful policies, and supporters too dim-witted to know better. Making poor people poorer for having more than the approved number of kids or for any other reason, it's not just mean-spirited; it's fucking stupid.

So in the end, ACT is exactly the party those bovver boys of yore were looking for (I can't recall a female defector): morally bankrupt, cravenly opportunistic, and utterly shameless. 

A stale approach

The irony of Labour’s “A Fresh Approach” slogan is that it couldn't be staler. In fact, I'm fairly sure I used the exact phrase running for school council in the sixth form. Worse, it reveals how Labour concedes they have failed to mount a case for meaningful change. “A Fresh Approach”, promising that a Labour-led coalition might come at things somewhat differently, is a terribly low stakes pitch “Bored with the same old faces? We have new faces!” might cut it against a time-serving regional councillor, or justify shuffling your breakfast TV lineup, but it hardly makes for a compelling case to change government.

Of course, like it or not, we will be bombarded with this wheezy, asthmatic battlecry for months to come, thanks to focus groups who have clearly told Labour there is no appetite for a more ambitious change pitch. I've been on dozens of campaigns, and “A Fresh Approach” invariably makes the shortlist of potential slogans. Eyes might roll at its lack of originality and substantive emptiness, but it comes in handy when that same blandness is the strategic goal. It's what you say when you've got nothing.

Not all elections are high-stakes, and, at this late stage, Labour would be remiss not to align its messaging to whatever insights they have gleaned from research. You can't fatten a pig on market day, and Chris Trotter’s notion that the public would rally to a Corbynesque agenda strikes me as dead wrong. Without animating issues like Brexit and Tory austerity, voters would be confused and alienated if Little’s Labour reinvented itself into hard-charging reformers weeks before the polls. It would backfire spectacularly. So “A Fresh Approach” it is.

Labour has failed to make a persuasive argument that the country needs a crew change beyond “surely by now it must be our turn”.

This is not to say Labour’s failed to develop policy during their time in opposition. They have; oodles of it. Some of it is good, too. The mental health stuff is a small but positive step on a daunting trek to mend that particular basket case. Others, such as immigration and their suffocatingly constrained tax plans, are considerably less so.

What is glaring by its absence is a narrative that coheres around a resonant critique of the government, creates a sense of urgency, and offers an optimistic path forward. Without the benefits of a cratering economy or a seriously scandal-plagued incumbent, Labour needed to do all three things.  They did not one of them.  

Instead of building a winning message, Labour has mostly stalked the news cycle, picking at and inflaming areas of perceived aggravation for voters like house prices and foreign surnames.  Playing at politics that way, you have good days and bad -- but, by definition, you are never setting the agenda. Like all incumbents, National, the levers of government, not to mention a healthy surplus, at their fingertips, have an entrenched advantage in this kind of spot-fixing approach to politics.  Whenever Labour succeeds in making noise around an issue, English and Joyce are neither fiscally nor ideologically reticent about doing what it takes to make it die down. They have a deck stacked with trump cards.  

By abjuring nation-building as a central plank of Labour’s vision for New Zealand, the party has missed an opportunity to redefine the terms of the election.  (Winston, mind you, is not making the same mistake).  While the Nats talk up their fiscal chops and promise voters money for nothing in the form of tax cuts, hidden deficits are piling up: run down schools; underfunded hospitals; decrepit roads and bridges; entrenched, intergenerational poverty; woefully inadequate addiction and mental health services, untenable incarceration rates among segments of the population.  Former New York Governor Mario Cuomo, nominating Bill Clinton in 1992, made the case in these terms: Conservative politicians, he argued, are quick to find the will and resources to act, but “not for children. Not for jobs. Not for drug treatment or for the ill or for health care. But hundreds of billions of dollars to bail out failed savings and loans. Billions for war. Billions for earthquakes if they strike...if we can do all of this for these spectacular catastrophes when they occur, why can we not find the wealth to respond to the quiet catastrophes that every day oppress the lives of thousands.”

Parties understandably loathe unsolicited advice like this (I know I do), but I’m convinced, especially after spending time in the Far North, that a rhetorically pared-down version of this argument -- that National has failed to properly maintain and upgrade New Zealand’s economic infrastructure  in such a way as to expand opportunity, equip future generations with the tools to thrive, and reduce inequality.  Make a case like that, and every candidate and MP has any number of ready-made local campaigns on fixing the consequences of National’s neglect: every school making do with prefab classrooms, every community denied reliable broadband, every crumbling road, every depressed shopping strip.  I can think of no better example than Labor in Victoria who made their promise to remove the state’s most dangerous level crossings the centrepiece of their winning campaign in 2014. It was an inspired move, and Labor understood that it represented more than just reducing fatalities and improving traffic flow.  Fixing level crossings demonstrated Labor’s commitment to fixing stuff that make tangible improvements in people’s lives -- as well as highlighting the Liberal-National coalition’s failure to do either.  

The die is cast for 2017, I fear, but, as strategies go, that’s a “fresh approach” Jacinda’s Labour should eagerly adopt.  




 

Let's not weaponise homophobia against allies

 

This is whom I really wanted to be, growing up.

This is whom I really wanted to be, growing up.

I don't write about gay issues much. While that is indeed the team for which I bat, I don't feel qualified to write at length or with any authority about it. I'm just not very good at being gay. 

After coming out twenty years ago this year, I've sort of made a hash of homosexuality. I'm no shrink, but what seems to have happened is that I cultivated a "straight" persona from a young age as a bulwark against what I thought to the morally reprehensible truth about myself, and did so effectively enough that, rather than transform into a glorious gay butterfly, as the coming out narrative demands, I remain a self-loathing caterpillar. To this extent, I am victim of the homophobia that permeated NZ society during my childhood and adolescence, peaking during the terrifying early days of the AIDS crisis. As if the depravity and dangers of the "lifestyle" that both drew and repelled me wasn't bad enough, there was now a brutal genocide, seemingly arising from nature, that appeared to settled the argument. Not that I literally swallowed the "punishment from god" thesis propagated by Reagan-era evangelists at the time. As a good liberal, of course I insisted it was unscientific nonsense! Unbridled bigotry! Hate speech! 

But I can't be the only closet case from the era who didn't, in some secret compartment of their mind, suspect there was something to it. If only metaphorically, being wiped from the planet seemed like fair punishment for what we were. 

Mine is a progressive family.  Dad worked in education and the arts, surrounded by whoopsies, and neither he nor Mum ever uttered a word against anyone for being gay or lesbian. My older brothers may have called me a "sissy" or "girl" after I'd been beaten once too often outside the off-stump, but that was the extent of it. After coming out, my entire family rallied in support, including, memorably, my religiously devout godmother who, back in 1997, was the first to call and offer unconditional love. 

The homophobia I had so successfully internalized was the product of values embedded deep in the culture, which proved more pervasive than the ethos of tolerance espoused in the home. 

Blogs encourage excessive threat-clearing, which is one reason I've been going off the form. You will note this is no exception. Sorry.

Anyway, this is not my coming out story. 

I have taken to this blog for the first time in yonks because I spotted numerous references to homophobia in the context of Shane Jones' move to NZ First. Here's one example.

Jones' alleged antipathy towards gays and lesbians is typically coupled with references to his apparent misogyny. In all my interactions with Shane, I've seen no evidence of sexism, but, as a man, I'll leave the feminist critique to women. On his attitudes towards LGBT people, however, I feel somewhat qualified to comment. 

I've known Shane for a while. We're mates. I know his amazing wife, Dot, and was privileged to meet many members of his whanau. 

Shane Jones is more comfortable in the company of gay men than at least two-thirds of New Zealand men of his generation and background. He is open and relaxed with it comes to discussing issues affecting gay and lesbian New Zealanders. He is no less baffled than me by persistent efforts to deprive people like me of rights otherwise available to New Zealanders. During our conversations, he may have used words than wouldn't make the cut in Acceptable Speech canon so eagerly monitored by New Zealand's Twitter tone police, but I can't recall it. 

i might diverge from Shane on his decision to join NZ First, and I understand (but don't share) anger from some on the left who perceive it as opportunism at best, treachery at worst. But if we are serious about tackling the remnants of homophobia that still, in 2017, puts too many young lives at risk, let's direct our efforts against real, not imagined, proponents of bigotry. And let's coopt allies like Shane to further expand equality and opportunity for LGBT New Zealanders, rather than counterproductively cast them as the enemy.  

 

Labour in box seat -- for 2020.

Labour deputy Jacinda Ardern with leader Andrew Little. One of these two will be New Zealand's next Labour PM.  She'll be great. 

Labour deputy Jacinda Ardern with leader Andrew Little. One of these two will be New Zealand's next Labour PM.  She'll be great. 

As Labour delegates gather for the party's election-year Congress, there is reason for hope about its electoral prospects. But not this year. Not with Little. 

There are better grounds for optimism about Labour's electoral prospects that at any time since Helen Clark lost office.  

This is not to say I believe Andrew Little is set to become PM at the September election. He will not.  

Under Little, Labour will win between 28-32 percent of the party vote, but no more. Opinion polls, published or otherwise, have been remarkably stable over several election cycles and Labour cannot wrest free from the cage branded 26-32.  

An uninterrupted string of bad polls stretching back over a decade suggest this is not the usual ebb and flow of electoral fortune, but a new normal for Labour. Bluntly, their pool of voters and potential voters has shrunk to unsustainable levels for any major political party.

Whatever the reason — my own view: it stems from Labour's abandonment of provincial and rural New Zealand — it is hard to see how it can redress the structural insufficiency of their voting base in time for September since they have assiduously ignored doing so for a decade.  

Some readers will point out, no doubt in a flurry of delightful, colourful and well-researched tweets, that Labour and Little can and will win on 32 percent. If both the Greens and NZF win between 12 and 15 percent of the vote, the total non National pile grows to between 56 and 62 percent. That's not to mention the Māori Party, who might conceivably add a point or three, and perhaps a useful overhang.  

Andrew Little, not a man who screams ideological conviction, will offer whatever deals he deems necessary to win over NZ First. But I can't see Winston agreeing to share power with the Greens. He may at a pinch accept their cross-bench support to uphold a Little-Peters government.

If that's not a recipe for disaster, I need better recipe books.  

No, Peters will giddily toy with, but ultimately reject, a grand centre-left coalition. Instead, he will add his pile to National’s  — a straightforward two-party coalition backed by a comfortable parliamentary majority.

No need to flatter demanding cross-benchers. No need to sit on cabinet committees arguing the merits of Safe Schools with Chole Swarbrick.  No need for NZF to endanger their future electoral prospects by signing on to a governing agenda brimming with poison pills. Most importantly, however, Winston knows that such a three-headed coalition will be chaotic and, at best, short-lived.  

Winnie hasn't just seen this movie before; he was the auteur who wrote, directed and played most of the parts.

But Labour's prospects aren't as grim as all that. If you'd asked me twelve months ago, I might have gravely opined that the party faced possible extinction. That was, in hindsight, premature and silly.

In fact, I believe the ingredients are finally there for Labour to make a winning hand of opposition. There are three reasons for my upbeat assessment.  

Firstly, leadership. Labour will swing quickly behind a new leader in Jacinda Ardern. (I am told the affiliates won't step in to save Little, all but ruling out an unsightly grasp for reelection).  

Ardern is beloved by party members and supported by the powerful group of MPs who congregate around Grant Robertson. All in all, if Ardern puts her hand up, she will enjoy the most comprehensive mandate, and the most wide ranging factional support, since post-1996 Clark. In the critical six months after Labour's fourth consecutive defeat,

Ardern has the best chance in a generation to enact reforms to broaden and democratise Labour. If she dodges this challenge, as Goff, Shearer, Cunliffe and Little did, all the vivaciousness in the world won't keep her from the same scrapheap.  

Adern could a lot worse than asking Michael Cullen to oversee the election postmortem, using Bryan Gould’s pathetic effort in 2014 as a reverse how-to guide.  

Secondly, just as a patchwork coalition of Labour, Greens and NZF promises dysfunctional mayhem, an English-Peters government is unlikely to be much better. The fact this will be the fourth term of a National-led government, under its second-string leader, voters will exhibit about as much patience with the new coalition's inevitable shenanigans as I do for airline ticketing rules. There will be, in New Zealand politics, the near-forgotten scent of blood.  

Finally, credit where it's due. Labour under Little has recruited well. The recently announced party list may be not be perfect, but the introduction of new talent like Deb Russell, Ginny Anderson, Greg O’ Connor and Priyanca Radhakrishnan augurs well for the next term.  No opposition needs a fully-fledged cabinet-in-waiting -- fewer than ten genuinely competent MPs will do -- but the incoming crop means the party should be able to pull together its most talented front bench since losing office.    

Ardern can hit the ground running with a revitalised team unified behind her leadership.  Facing a dilapidated government whose fate rests on the whims of a mischief-making nihilist, Labour may finally encounter in 2020 an election as easy to win as they convinced themselves the last three were.  

 

 

Cheekily Adding my Two Cents

Cheekily adding  

Cheekily adding  

It's so refreshing to see a New Zealand journalist break free from the shackles of 'said'.

I write, of course, of the recent Woman's Weekly interview with Andrew Little and his deputy Jacinda Ardern, who, the author claims, followed a mention of her courageous Facebook stance on pineapple in pizza by — and I quote — "cheekily adding" a dig at PM Bill English who apparently loves nothing more than destroying otherwise perfectly good savoury dishes with fruit.

It was so nice to see a public figure "cheekily adding" something instead of merely saying it. I hope this is the beginning of a trend; a long overdue fightback against the tyranny of writing tutors and journalism courses everywhere.  It is, of course, these forces of Big English who insist that the only appropriate verb to describe someone enunciating something is the boring as batshit "say".

Pooh-pooh, I say.

Correction: pooh-pooh, I forcefully insist.

When Winston Peters says he thinks immigration levels are too high, wouldn't it be more fun for the reader to imagine he was ominously intoning instead

Wouldn't it resonate more to read that Andrew Little grimly stuttered "my leadership is secure". Or that Stephen Joyce smugly proffered the latest Credit Agency rating.

The sky's the limit. They can breathlessly evoke, weepily concede, even carelessly whisper.

Out Like Flynn

IMG_6853.PNG

Does Mike Flynn’s resignation as National Security Advisor for lying represent a change of heart in the Trump White House?  Tired of grumbling at CNN, did the notorious late-night channel surfer switch over to the classic movie channel in time to catch Big Daddy on Cat on a Hot Tin Roof declaim “the powerful and obnoxious odour of mendacity…[that] smells like death”.  Has the new president -- struggling in the polls, under siege by an invigorated press, losing court battles at a faster clip than he managed as a property developer -- experience an epiphanic realisation that only the truth can set him free?

The answers, in order: “no”; “almost certainly not”, and “hell no!”.

Mike Flynn, like so many eight year olds before him, has found himself in trouble not for fibbing as much as for being caught  His pre-inauguration phone conversations with Sergey Kislyak, Russia’s Ambassador to the US, which we now know included a nod and a wink over Trump’s stance on sanctions, would have slid unnoticed between history’s shelves had it not become clear federal agencies, including the Department of Justice, knew exactly what was said.  Ironically, it was Sally Gates, the Acting Attorney General, who most recently alerted Team Trump that Flynn was lying about his Kislyak calls, and that this put him at risk of blackmail.  Ironic because Yates herself was fired some days later for refusing, on constitutional grounds, to impose the President’s Muslim ban -- a view upheld unanimously by a succession of federal judges. Truth also carries a price tag.

It seems odd, if not disqualifying in itself, that Mike Flynn, National Security Advisor until yesterday and a former Director of National Intelligence under Obama, wouldn’t be alert to the near-certainty his calls would be wiretapped and transcribed. They dutifully were.  Reckless or naive, Flynn assured Vice President Mike Pence no mention of the sanctions took place between him and Putin’s emissary, a falsehood Pence repeated ad nauseum on Sunday talk-shows.  Forcing the Veep to lie on his behalf, it seems, was the straw that broke the camel’s back -- and not the act of lying or the underlying collusion with Moscow.  The White House knew from day one that Flynn had told porkies about the Russia calls; according to the New York Times, the transcripts were circulating as early as December.  Flynn’s crime was neither lying nor coddling with foreign dictatorships -- it was failing to cover his traces on both counts.  Is there anyone who doubts that, had Flynn got away with it, Trump would have happily kept him close, even knowing what we know now?

Mike Flynn is a loose cannon at the best of times, which explains why Trump offered him the plum National Security Advisor role, perhaps the most senior job in government outside of White House Chief of Staff that doesn’t require Senate confirmation. Senate hearings for Flynn would have been a trainwreck, given the General’s checkered past (Obama fired him), outlandish views (especially on Islam), and widespread hostility towards him on both sides of the aisle.  His fondness for Putin’s regime in particular would have had Republican Senators like John McCain and Lindsay Graham gleefully send Flynn packing.

There’s an excruciating video doing the rounds of Flynn at an election rally leading chants to “lock up” Hillary for hosting a home-based email server -- a dumb move, sure,  but many rungs below holding secret talks with the Russians about lifting sanctions while Obama still sat in the Oval Office.  Treason is such a harsh word, but my thesaurus is failing me.

It won’t help Trump’s “nothing to see here” posture on Russia more generally. Many questions remain, and the President (once again thanks to Russia hawks McCain and Graham) won’t get a free pass from Congress. What’s more, the notorious dossier compiled by a former British Intelligence official won’t go away. In recent days, calls logged in the report have been verified by US intelligence officials, giving additional credence to its claims.  The more salacious aspects (unsuited to a family publication) remain fanciful, but the substance of the dossier -- that the Trump camp was actively colluding with Moscow to damage Hillary Clinton’s electoral chances -- is far from disproven.  He could have done with Mike Flynn, whose affection for Putin is second only to Trump’s.  He would have been a useful ally in pushing back against what promises to be a slow-moving avalanche of awkward revelations. 

What I've learned from Willie

There's a surreal quality watching the Willie Jackson kerfuffle from afar (a snowy New York, as it happens).  Apparently, Chris Trotter posits, Labour is going to lose the election because the Labour spokesperson on family violence expressed disquiet at the prospective elevation of Willie Jackson, a radio host who publicly mocked a teenage girl’s experience of sexual assault.  (To be clear: Labour will not lose in September because it has been roughly 20 points behind National for a decade, but because of Poto Williams’ solitary Facebook post).

What’s more, this squabble -- according to a seemingly bottomless pile of unsolicited blog posts, a mere fraction of which I confess to having read -- uncovered simmering tensions between two factions of the Labour caucus: the “Left” good ole boys rallying to Jackson, and ‘identity politics’-obsessed “liberals” like Williams who oppose him.

For Andrew Little’s cheerleaders, this has the hallmarks of a Sister Souljah moment (the hardcore rap artist rebuked for the benefit of racially-anxious whites by Bill Clinton in 1992), in which he dramatically parts ways with the politically correct, Nanny Statist elements within Labour that have long alienated the traditional working class voter. Beyond that, Jackson’s irresistible appeal to Maori voters will single-handedly restore the party’s fortunes among a second bloc of voters. It’s two for the price of one: win back the long-disgruntled Waitakere Man while locking in the Maori seats.

I had no idea Willie Jackson was such an electoral juggernaut, but that’s just the start of it.  This fracas has made me realise how many things I didn’t know.

I didn’t realise, for example, that regarding the Roastbusters interview as a disqualifying blight on Jackson’s record is “politically correct”, and not simply correct politics.  Until this came up, I limp-wristedly thought you can mock teenage rape victims on radio or you can run for parliament, but you couldn’t conceivably do both.

I’ve also learned, much to my shock and amazement, that Andrew Little and Matt McCarten want Labour to be a “broad church”.

Silly me for thinking only reforms to party rules and a repudiation of the heretic hunting culture could make the party appealing enough to a wide enough cross section of New Zealand to become relevant, not to mention electable, again.

Nothing so onerous was required. All it takes is a Willie Jackson revival with a warm-up act courtesy of Laila Harre. If only I had known that broadening a church required merely climbing up the steeple to set the clock back 20 years, I could have saved a lot of ink and cognitive energy.  Apparently, all New Zealand voters have been waiting for is for Labour to finally reinvent itself as The Alliance Historical Re-enactment Society.  Is there anything Labour’s deviously brilliant internal polling can’t teach us?

Identity politics is a problem for Labour in this sense: not nearly enough voters identify with the party, or could explain at a pinch what it stands for.

It is a humdinger of a false binary proposition to contend that looking out for disadvantaged segments of society is at odds with a broader agenda of reducing wealth inequality, improving schools, hospitals, working conditions and living standards. Not only is it possible to do both simultaneously, doing so is precisely why social democratic parties exist.  Unlike Marxist-Leninists, social democrats reject the class paradigm as the singular lens through which we view the political economy.  We acknowledge the role of gender, ethnicity, sexual orientation, mental health status, among other factors, in preventing households and individuals from flourishing as they might.  And we act to ameliorate such disadvantages -- yes, because it’s the right thing to do, but also because it expands economic opportunity while improving social cohesion in ways that benefit everyone.

What is deemed political correctness is often just dumb politics: David Cunliffe’s infamous apology for the contents of his trousers, for instance; or Labour’s dogged insistence on taxing sugary drinks while leaving capital gains untouched.  The ‘man ban’ is perhaps the best case. It is perfectly possible to engineer an appropriate gender balance in Parliament without banning men from nominating in local democratic contests. Labor in Australia have a non-controversial gender quota that slips entirely unnoticed under the media radar.  Again, the problem with the man-ban isn’t political correctness, but political incompetence; the implementation, not the idea.

In any event, this Chai Latte-swilling nancy-boy draws the line at the Willie Jackson Roastbusters episode. Subsequent, self-serving apologies notwithstanding, it reveals a mindset towards sexual assault that has no place in Parliament, let alone on the Labour Party’s benches. 

What bugs me about Iain Lees-Galloway's Reach for Relevance

WARNING: I WROTE THIS IN AN EIGHT MINUTE WINDOW BETWEEN FLIGHTS AT FRANKFURT AIRPORT.  IT'S LIKELY TO BE FULL OF TYPOS AND AWKWARD PROSE. FOR THAT, I APOLOGISE. 

 

I loathe Peter Thiel's strange hybrid libertarian-autocratic political worldview and, if I had my choice, I'd rather he chose somewhere other than my home country of New Zealand as his "backup country".   

However, I am horrified at the decision by Labour frontbencher, Iain Lees-Galloway, casting aspersions on the circumstances surrounding the waiver Thiel received in order to become a New Zealand citizen. 

This has NOTHING to do with my views on immigration policy in New Zealand generally (FWIW, I'm wildly pro immigration, and that includes investors as well as students, refugees and strivers the world over seeking to make their mark).  

It has NOTHING to do with whether or not the super-rich should be able to gain entry into the country -- although, for what it's worth, my view is of course we want as many tech billionaires spending time in New Zealand as we can. They may or may not invest substantial amounts of their respective fortunes in the country; they may or may not end up paying much tax there.  But it seems like a no-brainer to me that if the Peter Thiels of the world want to make New Zealand their second home, their presence here is far more likely to help than harm the country's economic prospects.  And we need all the help we can get to fund the hidden deficits in education, mental health, infrastructure, and so on. 

But, once again for emphasis, that is NOT my point. 

It is this:

Peter Thiel is a New Zealand citizen whether we like it or not. Both Labour and National have eased his way into the country.  As a New Zealand citizen who was born in Germany, making his fortune in Silicon Valley, he has every bit the same democratic rights as a native born Kiwi.  The fact this even seems in contention chills me to my bones. 

Lees-Galloway is riding the anti-Trump wave by alleging Dirty Politics involving possible donations to right wing causes in the country.  I'm not sure what or how much he has given to whom, except the well publicised donation of $1 million to Christchurch's earthquake recovery. 

But it makes not an iota's difference whether he has engaged in NZ politics.  He is a New Zealand citizen and, since 2009, he was a permanent resident -- and, unlike almost anywhere else in the world, NZ permanent residents are granted full rights to participate in NZ democracy, up to and including donations to parties or political lobby groups.  

If it turns out National gave him a passport in return for such donations, that is a scandal for which the government must be held accountable.  But Iain Lees-Galloway makes no such claim, only issuing baseless dark murmurings directed at an individual NZ citizen who must, surely, have the presumption of innocence and rights afforded by natural justice -- regardless of how loaded he is.  ILG even admits in the NY Times there is no evidence of impropriety.   But he persists anyway with machine gun interrogations of the NZ Taxpayer's Union to establish whether they have received any monies from Thiel.  If he did -- and who knows? -- he did so as a permanent resident, and did so perfectly legally. 

Until the facts around the GOVERNMENT'S handling of his case are known, this kind of witchhunt has no place in a liberal democracy like New Zealand.

Such treatment from a member of parliament because of Thiel's admittedly troubling pro-Trump views is abhorrent.   

This is not an argument about immigration policy; this is about the mistreatment of a legal NZ citizen at the hands of a hamfisted member of parliament seeking a rare moment in the sun.  

Lees-Galloway should back the heck off until he knows what happened surrounding the Thiel waiver and, in the event of wrongdoing, he should direct his ire at the government, not an individual citizen whose politics he happens to despise. 

It is McCarthyist bollocks of exactly the kind that threatens to be a hallmark of the Trump presidency Lees-Galloway is so eager to express his distaste for.  

 

Hey, NZ Left: If you fall for Kim Dotcom's antics again, you will deserve the thrashing that's coming to you

 UPDATE:  Greg Presland, a leading Standardista, scolded me for criticising a post that I had not actually read.  He told me not to rely on David Farrar, although, to be fair, I hadn't read anything on Kiwiblog either.  The post below was in response to the Twitter reaction to both pieces, from the left and right.  And, while the opening paragraphs tried to make fun of the very fact that I do not read The Standard if I can avoid, Greg is right that I shouldn't critique something I haven't read.  In my defence, it was an attempt at facetiousness that obviously fell flat, at least with Greg.  That said, I am far from convinced that some people who might be readers, commenters and bloggers on The Standard won't latch on to the kind of conspiracy theories in which Kim Dotcom gleefully trades.  Thus, my call for Labour to resist the temptation to let him do their dirty work stands.  There is also a degree of reverence in Greg's post for the so-called Kiwi "journalist" seeking exile in Russia that reinforces my fear that the Left are all to eager to embrace such patent nonsense in lieu of doing the hard work of opposition, which must be to address the unprecedented decline of Labour's support over two election cycles, especially in provincial and outer suburban parts of the country.  These stories are a distraction.  

 

I try to visit The Standard only once or twice a year to preserve my sanity. The semi-official Labour Party organ is home to some of the most appallingly written, poorly thought-out, conspiracy-minded, self-serving, bollocks you could ever find.  

So when I heard that Standardistas were clasping on to yet another Kim Dotcom conspiracy, it took all the will I could summon not to click on the links thereto. But it's only January 3rd, not to mention in an election year, and I couldn't possibly waste one of my sparse visits so early.  However bonkers this latest episode is, there is certain to be even greater wads of nonsense that demand even more attention (by which I mean remorseless mockery) in the coming months.

Thus, in order to get my head around the latest Dotcom yarn, I relied on second-hand sources that enabled me to swerve past The Standard and maintain the holiday spirit.

But here, I gather, is the nub of it: Dotcom, a German citizen sought by the US for extradition, has once again promised to deliver New Zealand from the crushing yoke of the National-led regime.  This time, he is claiming to have secured up to 2 terabytes of NZ government emails that will expose an even dirtier brand of politics than he, along with Nicky Hagar and Glenn Greenwald, managed to achieve in the lead up to the 2014 election.  These emails, Standardistas believe, will destroy National's chances at the election, and expose John Key's reasons for leaving office as a self-serving lie.  Key, you see, exited the stage knowing that the full extent of his bastardry is just a Dotcom mouseclick away from being exposed in great and gory detail.  As I said, since I am relying on second-hand accounts, I may have got parts of this wrong, but it's the gist.  

How can I put this? 

If, in fact, Labour follows the Standard's lead and waits with bated breath for devastating revelations gleaned from a Dotcom hack, they will be more than disappointed; they will be decimated at the polls.  

Kim Dotcom is toxic for Labour, and linking their electoral fortunes once again to his ongoing extradition battle borders on criminally stupid.  Even if he has hacked emails, and even if they reveal some embarrassing secrets, New Zealand voters will punish any party that aligns themselves to him.  They will consider the hack illegal, and will discount the revelations accordingly.  As in 2014, there will be -- if, I caution, the emails even exists -- a hyperventilating frenzy of media coverage that will create the surface impression of a debilitating scandal. But, again like 2014, voters will not change the government on the whims of a German fugitive hacker. Dotcom's antics, however splashy, can only harm Labour. They should shun him, and refocus on bread and butter economic issues, especially in provincial and outer suburban areas where there vote has declined by 20-30% over the past two cycles. 

It's almost impossible to believe Labour would fall for Dotcom's big noting antics two elections in a row.  I could say that stranger -- or dumber -- things have happened, but not many spring to mind.