Quick Notes on a Minor Scandal

The likelihood of plagiarism struck me when several of the sentences in Labour’s Future of Work paper stood out for being curiously well written, especially in contrast to the empty jargon, the “noise shaped air”, that surrounds them (Veep, HBO, Season 4, Episode 1).  

For example, consider the following two sentences:

Exhibit A 

The role of government becomes essential with important challenges around the redistribution of incomes and ensuring the state maintains a share of the intellectual property it protects in order to address rising inequalities. 

Exhibit B 

Complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world. 

No prizes for guessing which was produced by an actual writer as opposed to the random blah-blah generator responsible for most political prose in NZ.  

Exhibit B, as we now know, came from January 3rd print edition of The Economist. Even now, Labour does not place the pilfered quote in quotation marks. Nor do they cite the source, except as a hastily appended footnote.  An ethical way of citing The Economist’s insights would be to put it like this:

As The Economist reported in January, “complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world”. 

By simply cutting and pasting the quote as if it is the original work of Labour’s drafters – with or without a footnote credit – is plagiarism of the most straightforward kind. 

I feel a bit sorry for Clare Curran over this. The Future of Work Commission is Grant Robertson’s baby but clearly he has decided to palm it off to lesser colleagues whenever it soils its nappies.  Hardly a profile in courage, but I can see that Robertson’s reputation, as Finance Spokesperson, is worth preserving.  

Sadder still is Curran spinning the plagiarism as “referencing errors” or accidentally omitted footnotes. A bit like Nigel Haworth insisting his email reproaching members over Twitter use was actually an offer of free training, this is another example of Labour seeming to believe that people are morons.  

To be clear, there are at least four examples of whole passages lifted from news articles and presented as original work. No effort was made to distinguish the plagiarised material from the non-plagiarised; it was blended together and presented as a cohesive whole.  There were no quotation marks or mentions of sources until after the plagiarism had been uncovered.  A “referencing error” would be using a quote from the Economist without correct citation, or paraphrasing inaccurately. This is not the case here. Words (and the ideas attached to them) were stolen, pure and simple. 

A further example of plagiarism in Labour's Future of Work discussion paper

UPDATE: Labour has now added citations as footnotes which is inadequate since they continue to use material lifted directly from elsewhere without appropriate attribution and no quotation marks.  Please note, however, the addition of footnotes occurred only after the plagiarism was revealed on this blog and elsewhere in the media. 


 While I have yet to apply a fine-tooth comb to the document, a further example of outright plagiarism has come to light:

In the SECOND SENTENCE of the Introduction, Labour writes:

Work done in entirely new technology businesses, the huge range of knowledge and media endeavours, the factory floor, and even family businesses have been reshaped by new pathways to information and new ways of selling goods and services. For most office workers now, life on the job means life online.

On December 30, 2014, Kirsten Purcell and Lee Rainie at the Pew Research Center released a paper entitled "Technology's Impact on Workers" in which they wrote:

Work done in the most sophisticated scientific enterprises, entirely new technology businesses, the extensive array of knowledge and media endeavors, the places where crops are grown, the factory floor, and even mom-and-pop stores has been reshaped by new pathways to information and new avenues of selling goods and services. For most office workers now, life on the job means life online.

Plagiarism is never acceptable...but really?  You're going to copy and paste someone else's work without attribution in the second sentence of the Introduction?  

Judging by their discussion paper, Labour's future of work involves a lot of cutting and pasting

UPDATE: Labour has now added citations as footnotes which is inadequate since they continue to use material lifted directly from elsewhere without appropriate attribution and no quotation marks. Please note, however, the addition of footnotes occurred after the plagiarism was revealed on this blog and elsewhere in the media.


I have reviewed one small section of Labour's Future of Work discussion paper, and uncovered three clear cases of plagiarism. I can only imagine other such instances are rife throughout the document.  

The section in question is titled "Emerging Challenges and Opportunities".  In total, the section comprises just over 1,200 words.  Among them, a straightforward Google search uncovered three occasions where the drafters of the report directly lifted whole sentences and paragraphs from articles in the Economist and Business Insider.  None of them were attributed, but presented in the body of the text as if it were the drafter's original work. Straightforward plagiarism, in other words. 

Labour wrote:

Complex tasks such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief can now be divided in component parts and subcontracted to specialists around the world.  

On January 5th this year, in an article titled "Workers on Tap", the Economist reported:

Complex tasks, such as programming a computer or writing a legal brief, can now be divided into their component parts—and subcontracted to specialists around the world.

Labour went on to write:

Fast-moving tech companies competing in this arena have developed new models – such as Uber, Handy and AirB&B – that are transforming industries which have been historically slow to innovate. Transportation, grocery, restaurant and personal service industries are seeing hyper-growth in the on-demand world.

On July 13, 2014, an article in Business Insider titled "The 'On-Demand Economy' Is Revolutionizing Consumer Behavior — Here's How", Mike Jaconi wrote:

The fast-moving technology companies competing in this arena have developed new models that are transforming industries which have historically been slow to innovate. The ground transportation, grocery, and restaurant industries are prime examples of hyper-growth categories in the on-demand world.

Labour also wrote:

The “on-demand economy” is the result of pairing that workforce with smartphones and other devices, which now provide far more computing power than the desktop computers which reshaped companies in the 1990s, and reach far more people.

Also in the January 5th 2015 edition, in an article titled "There's an App for That", the Economist wrote:

The on-demand economy is the result of pairing that workforce with the smartphone, which now provides far more computing power than the desktop computers which reshaped companies in the 1990s, and to far more people.


Labour to members – check with us before you tweet...

Nigel Haworth opts for a Hail Mary defense.  

Nigel Haworth opts for a Hail Mary defense.  

 UPDATE: You'll see above Nigel Haworth's defense to RadioLive's always excellent Jessica Williams. Apparently, Haworth was merely offering party members free Twitter training. Really, Nigel?  I'm just not seeing it.  Even if I set aside the fact the comments below were preceded by a paragraph emphasizing "unity" and "discipline", and ignore that the words themselves, however drearily euphemistic and obfuscatory, were a perfectly self-evident admonition against unauthorized political tweeting, I cannot find in those paragraphs the meaning Haworth is trying to retroactively attribute to them. In fact, I defy anyone to read those sentences and conclude that Haworth was offering members help with how to use the Twitter and the Facebook.  Coincidentally, Haworth last week went out of his way in an email exchange to assert proudly that he writes all his own stuff. Judging by this latest own goal, I'm not sure Labour should take any comfort in that. 



In another tone-deaf display, NZ Labour President Nigel Haworth has used the latest email newsletter to urge party members to check with party officials before tweeting.  

Equally, the modern era provides multiple opportunities to comment publicly on political issues. Blogs are one thing, but I think media such as Twitter are probably more important.
It is easy to read a newspaper report, or pick up a news item on the TV, and launch immediately into a commentary that may be widely shared.
We see this regularly, and it is sometimes founded on incorrect information, as events subsequently show. Spokespeople in Caucus, staff in Party HQ, Council members, members of Policy Council and I are available promptly to respond to queries about issues before public comments are made.

We are happy to talk to you if you hear or read something that worries you, or makes little sense. And a quick check with the Party about the issue allows you to comment in an accurate and informed way, even if you disagree! We are all the better for debate founded on accurate information.

Under the guise of "discipline", Haworth wants ordinary party members to clear tweets with party bigwigs. 

I'm no longer a member but, if I was, I would have a few questions about this extraordinary and revealing new injunction.

  1. What will this Twitter Pre-Authorisation Process (TPAP) look like? Where, and to whom, do members send their draft tweets for approval?
  2. Given the fast-moving nature of social media, what's the likely turnaround time between submitting a draft tweet to the Party Committee for the Authorisation of Social Media Commentary (PCASMC) and receiving the final, approved version for dissemination?
  3. Will there be an appeal process when a member disputes or rejects the PCASMC's recommendations?
  4. If a member fails to follow TPAP protocols and goes ahead and tweets willy-nilly, will he or she be answerable to PCASMC or any other body of the party?  
  5. Before retweeting politically-themed tweets, how can members know whether the tweet in question is PCASMC approved?  Will members be held to account for retweeting items that have not undergone the appropriate TPAP protocols? 

 I have looked around for examples of political movements who institute similar rules, to no avail. In my observation, parties prone to such inclinations tend to just ban Twitter outright. 



When did Labour get so scared of the future?

After rummaging through leaked property data for Chinese sounding names (then mightily bungling the aftermath), Labour pivoted to oppose changing the New Zealand flag, and then to stake out protectionist ground on the TPP.  Taken alongside Andrew Little’s baffling decision early in his tenure to ditch the capital gains tax even when the policy was more popular than the party at the last election, this embrace by Labour of 'small-c conservatism' is as transparent as it is disheartening. How has Labour become the party of 'turning back the tide', abetted by age-old tactics of exploiting fear and anxiety?

However clumsily executed (and the clumsiness is impossible to overstate), the transformation of Andrew Little’s Labour into a reactionary political movement may yet pay off electorally.  But early signs are not promising: the One News Colmar Brunton poll gave Labour a mere one point boost after the surname stunt, dismal when you take into account sharply declining economic sentiment. At this point in any government’s third term, it is without precedent for the incumbent party to maintain a consistent lead over its main opposition of between 15 and 20 points.  Yes, there are smaller parties who add to Labour’s pile, but the last election must surely have eradicated once and for all the dangerous fantasy that Labour can plausibly win office with thirty percent support. 

In my resignation letter over the surname stunt, I cited my three years living and working in Rwanda to explain why I consider the trawling for ethnic sounding names out of bounds.   Very quickly, party boffins attempted to discredit me by claiming, absurdly, that I was comparing Phil Twyford’s antics with the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi. Even after the party president, Nigel Haworth, conceded in an email that this was a mischaracterisation, asking me twice to reconsider my decision to resign, a paid employee of the party continued ad-hominem attacks unabated.  Rather than engage with the sincerely felt objections of party members and activists, this freewheeling staffer heaped scorn upon them. Point-scoring over principle. I shouldn't have been surprised since exactly such thinking lay behind Labour’s decision to scapegoat Chinese New Zealanders in the first place. 

In search of silver linings, there is this: Labour seems to have finally remembered it needs to compete with the National Party for the middle-ground of the New Zealand electorate. This suggests the destructive and self-defeating delusion that a ‘missing million’ of non-voters would rally triumphantly to the party and its allies has finally been debunked beyond resuscitation. 

Little, Twyford and co probably believe their recent manoeuvres on Chinese surnames and flag preservation are exactly what’s needed to persuade centrist voters to abandon John Key.  Little even said he knew accusations of racism over the housing data were “likely”, yet authorised their release anyway. Why? Whatever support they lose, he must have calculated, will be overwhelmed by a wave of new voters who will relish Labour’s sticking it to the Chinese.  

This is a crude and misguided assessment of what Kiwis want from Labour. They're not looking for NZ First sans twinkle.  In fact, watching Labour experiment with populist race-baiting is cringe-inducing, like seeing your Dad dance to Hip-Hop. 

Labour’s role in New Zealand’s political life is to bring about progressive change that reflects the hopes and aspirations of ordinary Kiwis and moves the country forward. It should never adopt a defensive crouch towards the future. It will win again when voters see that the party has reconnected with that mission and demonstrated the wherewithal to manage the country’s finances.  

If Labour believe that Kiwis will reward them for abandoning core values whenever they sniff a headline, it shows how little regard they have for the people whose support they seek.   

Labour's magnificent tangle

There will be a lot of attention given to Andrew Little's tantrum today, and for good reason. Among other things, it will lead many to ask (long simmering) questions of his temperament, as well as perhaps more generally his suitability to the job he seeks.  But the more interesting issue to me is what he got about so upset about, namely Patrick Gower's claim that the property data released by Phil Twyford eleven days ago was "cooked".  

Little was beyond outraged that anyone would dare suggest it was cooked data, hence the dummy-spit.  Is he really of the view that the data is reliable? How could that be?

Let's review what isn't cooked.

It is true that a greater proportion of people with Chinese sounding names bought houses through Barfoot and Thompson during the time period in question than the proportion of people with Chinese sounding names living in Auckland. Whatever we think of the methods Labour employed, we can agree the data says that. 

But that is all it says. 

To infer foreign ownership rates from that very limited dataset is the very definition of cooking data. 

To align that data with suggestions that Chinese home buyers are contributing to a massive economic problem that prevents anyone else from buying a home...a stupendous data barbecue.

If the extent of their defence is that "those names definitely sound Chinese to me!", then they have an argument.  Any assertion beyond that is pure cookery.  

Oh, and by the way, Patrick Gower's question of Little – "we have spoken to people on your list; have you? – was not only well in bounds; it was an excellent and important one.  

Nigel Haworth's revealing non rebuttal

I neither expected nor wished to receive a formal response from Labour to my resignation. It's unpleasant watching grown-ups lie through their teeth, and I've seen enough of it for one lifetime. Anyway, Nigel Haworth, the party's president, wrote to me. This is the crux of his argument: 

To refer to Chinese purchasers in such an analysis is not racist. Given, as others have also pointed out, that China is today engaged in massive international investment, much of it strategic, and is also the home of vast, and increasingly mobile, cash assets, it is right and proper for New Zealand to consider the potential impact of those assets and investment on New Zealand housing ownership, or, indeed, on other aspects of our economy. If it were Singaporean. or German or other investment that seemed to be dominant, it would be equally proper to name its source economy (for example, much as has been done since the Second World War in relation to US investment flows).

It reveals a deep disconnect between Labour and its critics on this issue. 

Nobody has said it's racist to state that mainland Chinese are investing heavily in the property market, or that it's not "right and proper" for the New Zealand government to devise a policy response to the vexed challenges of housing affordability and foreign ownership. (Haworth's eagerness to deliberately misconstrue an opposing argument in order to more easily knock it down led me to assume that Rob Salmond, a master of that tactic, must have drafted the email, but he assures me it is all his own work).  

The issue at stake relates to the stunt Labour employed, i.e. trawling through lists of buyers and counting up Chinese sounding surnames.  This is not a considered assessment of "the potential impact of those assets and investment on NZ housing ownership"; it is a rough as guts guesstimate designed to drum up fear among "Kiwis" of a Chinese takeover of the NZ property market, throwing an entire ethnic group under the bus in the process. (Keith Ng has torn shreds off the reliability of the data, and I can't recommend his posts on the subject highly enough). 

By claiming that Labour would treat Germans and Singaporeans the same, Haworth exposes yet again the flawed approach to this issue. How exactly would Labour tally up Singaporean surnames to distinguish them from Chinese, Indian, Malay and English names?  And how about the Germans?  What algorithm would Rob Salmond come up with to pick on them? 

There aren't enough white babyboomers alive  to convince me that Labour's tactics were anything but a transparent exercise in race-baiting.  Haworth and co. know it, too, which is why they resort to rebutting arguments that nobody's made. 

Lost appetite


FURTHER UPDATE: Salmond – surprise, surprise – was making stuff up about everyone else in the article too. Here's the indispensible Keith Ng. 

UPDATE: I just noticed Labour staffer Rob Salmond wrote an article in the Sunday Star Times where he repeated the offensive lie that I am comparing Labour's race-baiting tactics with the genocide in Rwanda. I have been crystal clear in multiple forums that my experience in Rwanda merely helped explain the strength of my reaction. Anyone with an ounce of intellectual honesty knows that this is not remotely the same as comparing the two events.  As the post below concedes, misrepresenting an opponent's argument to make them look foolish is the kind of nasty, dishonest trick I might have played as a political staffer in my early twenties, so it's not like I can't see what Salmond is up to.  But his claim that I am comparing the genocide with his trivial racial politics is knowingly dishonest, and I am ashamed that my friends in Rwanda might for a moment think it is true. Of course it is not. Rob Salmond is lying, knowingly and with glee.  As I suggested to him on Twitter, perhaps the time has come when he needs to take some time off and rediscover some personal integrity. 


On Q+A this morning, Michael Cullen dutifully recited Labour’s talking points about how Phil Twyford's trawling through lists of home buyers looking for Chinese sounding names was not racist.

We shouldn't really blame Cullen because party loyalists serve up fatuous arguments like this every day of the week. I spent, or misspent, many years of my career compiling it into bullet points for them.

Cullen wants to remain a party elder statesman – a position he has well and truly earned – and would doubtless consider it it recklessly self-indulgent to throw Little and Twyford under a bus over what is arguably a trivial matter of tactics. It would involve paying a high price for no return, and I see why Cullen wouldn't make that play.

Equally, I  understand why many in the party, including friends of mine, have put aside their initial disgust at Twyford’s stunt because they think the broader issue – foreign ownership and housing affordability – deserves a proper airing.

Most of all, I fully empathise with the pragmatists who are neither here nor there on the morality of the ploy, but see it as a "game-changer” that has wrong-footed National and put Labour in contention.  The end justifies the means.

This was my attitude towards politics for a very long time. In fact, I worked hard at cultivating a reputation for a take-no-prisoners approach to winning marginal seats on both sides of the Tasman through the nineties and early noughts. I tore down and defaced more hoardings than I can count (once turning National candidate Arthur Anae’s name into “Fart Anal”). I drafted blistering direct mail letters and unauthorised “shit-sheets" in which I gleefully defamed opposing candidate, drumming up fears about crime in Taranaki and, most effectively, the entirely non-existent threat of a casino in Hamilton.

We didn’t engage in no-holds-barred campaigning merely because we thought it was necessary to prevail in what felt like an epic struggle between Good and Evil, although we certainly believed that.  We played hardball because we were young, stupid, often drunk, and high as kites on adrenaline. Or at least I was.

It dawned on me last week that I am no longer comfortable with the certainties of hyper-partisanship. Events also gave me cause to contemplate the ethical trade-offs politics requires of us; and to wince with embarrassment at the misdemeanours of my campaigning days, back when Twyford’s stunt would have had me high-fiveing perfect strangers.  


Is this the worst defence of Labour's racial profiling so far?

Politicians who engage in race baiting do not invent racial hatred; they play on existing enmity to inflame it and rally the majority against a common enemy. This does not seem an especially difficult point to grasp.  All of which makes the statement below the most head-scratching contribution to date to the debate around Labour's racial profiling of Chinese home buyers. 


According to this theory (I surmise), since hatred against Chinese pre-dated Labour's stunt, it's fair game to exploit it.  

What strange logic. 

One last time for clarity.


Persecution of certain ethnic minorities perceived as harming the majority's economic well-being is as old as history. It seems likely to me that Labour's housing stunt was designed to stoke anxiety among "Kiwis" about a Chinese takeover, and thus fits this historical pattern.

I cited several other examples, including Rwanda because I lived and worked there. While I was aware that this would leave me open to ridicule because it can be easily mischaracterised as "Phil Quin says the Labour Party is like Rwanda" (as Philip Matthews, whom I do not know, has done),  I cited Rwanda in my resignation letter because I doubt I would have gone as far as quitting were it not for what I learned there. I don't really care if that sounds ridiculous.  

As I said in a previous blog post, persecution of perceived "wealthy elites" takes far more mundane forms than pogroms or genocide – but these things have occurred in extreme cases. 

If Chris Trotter or anyone else wants to say that this means I am accusing Labour of planning genocide, then I will leave it for you to decide whether his is a fair reading of my argument.  

If Andrew Little has problems with "spin", he should stop attacking me and start talking to his racist Housing spox

On the same day Andrew Little accused me of "spinning" to Duncan Garner, his racist Housing Spokesperson Phil Twyford was dumping this garbage into inboxes the length and breadth of New Zealand.  

As you will be aware, there’s been a lot of commentary and debate on this issue. The majority of feedback has been in support – but there have also been accusations of racism because the data indicated that lots of offshore investment was coming from one particular country.

"The data indicated"?

"The data indicated"??

No, the data did not indicate that the investment was "coming from one particular country". All it showed is that there were several Chinese sounding names.  Twyford cannot confirm whether they are speculators or not; whether they reside in New Zealand or not; or indeed whether the property owners in question have lived in NZ for centuries or not. Keith Ng demolished Twyford's logic in this epic and essential post. 

When Phil Twyford says that the data indicate something that the data did not indicate, he is not merely spinning – he is lying.  

Also, even if the data wasn't garbage, and even if it did indicate significant Chinese investment, it still amounts to racial profiling to scour records to make a political argument about foreign investment by targeting one racial group over another.  

Why not cross-reference all buyers with the electoral roll, and thereby identify all foreign owners? Why scan pages of names looking for what sounds Chinese?

Labour has no rebuttal to accusations of racial profiling that don't simply make their conduct seem worse. 

If they can't apologise, they should STFU. 




A note on comparisons

I felt Tova O'Brien did a good story on Labour's racial profiling, in which I appeared briefly. Here it is if you haven't already seen it. 

There has been a comment or two suggesting I compared recent events to the genocide in Rwanda or Nazi Europe.  This demands clarification, since I did neither. In fact, Tova went out of her way to say "Mr Quin is careful not to draw comparisons, but says it was the seed of racial intolerance that led to the Holocaust and the Rwandan genocide" – but this is not enough for a couple of Standardistas who want to propagate the notion that I was making a direct comparison. 

This is the point I made to Tova – and which she admirably tried to convey in the context of a very truncated account of our interview:

There is a long and sordid history of demagogic politicians targeting certain ethnic and religious minorities by playing on the economic insecurities of the majority. This is most infamously the case with respect to European Jewry over millennia; and certainly the Tutsi in Rwanda. There are plenty of other examples, such as the persecution of South Asians by Idi Amin in Uganda, and ethnic Chinese in Indonesia.  This is a particular strain of prejudice that emerges time and again over history. It does not always manifest in explosive acts of violence such as genocide; more often, it simmers and reveals itself in more subtle but pernicious ways. 

The point I was making to Tova was not that Labour's racial profiling is remotely the same in degree as any of these historical cases – in fact, I stressed repeatedly that it is not. It is by no means the same in degree, but it is the same in kind.  Compiling lists of Chinese-sounding names to play on majority fears about housing affordability relies on the same political calculation. If asked, I am certain Tova will confirm this was the gist of what I was saying. 

As for why I raised the Tutsi genocide in my resignation letter, it is because I lived and worked in Rwanda for several years, and count many survivors as friends.  It may help explain why I have reacted so strongly to Labour's compilation of race lists since that was the modus operandi employed by Hutu Power. It is by no means to equate the events in severity. 

Of course, fair-minded people will understand all of this, whereas those who have no mode of engagement other than ad hominem attacks and by imagining the most nefarious imaginable motives, nothing I say will make an iota's difference. 



Labour may get a temporary poll boost, but the stain of racial profiling will last much longer

Some people on the NZ Twittersphere who have determined I hold "right-wing" political views assumed I would love Labour's race-baiting stunt over the weekend.  As with every other topic they encounter, they are blazingly wrong.

On other matters, I let these sanctimonious blowhards have their way with my reputation – if there is something I care less about than what a bunch of MacBook-bound know-it-alls think of me, it does not immediately spring to mind. I have also found that, by ignoring them, they move on to other, more amusing endeavours – like pontificating about the Eurozone crisis or inadvertently revealing alarming ignorance about U.S. politics.

The confusion about where I might stand on these issues stems, I think, from the fact I have expressed the view that, in order to win the right to govern, Labour needs to win more than 30 percent of the vote; and that, in order to do so, it needs to compete for votes in the political centre.  But this is not a statement of political ideology on my part, as much as a practical statement of – what's the word? Ah, yes – fact. 

For the record, I do not believe competing for the centreground of the New Zealand electorate requires Labour to engage in clumsy, casual racism. It may provide a temporary boost in the party's polling numbers, but it won't last. By contrast, the ugly stain of racial profiling will remain many years beyond the fleeting careers of Phil Twyford and co.

The race card, once played, cannot be unplayed.  

Labour should apologise for racial profiling

Labour mined Auckland residential property data with the express purpose of making a point about the extent of Chinese ownership.

In the process, they devised an algorithm to discern the Chineseness of property owners: it estimated, for example, that roughly 50 percent of people called Lee are Chinese, compared to 90 percent of those with the surname Li.

There are many problems with this, and I have neither the time nor the inclination to address all of them. However, I will make two comments.

If Labour has a problem with foreign ownership of NZ residential properties (a legitimate position, albeit one I do not share), there is no conceivable public policy justification for singling out one type of foreigner over any other.   

Secondly, the use of an algorithm to assess degrees of foreignness is hamfisted, embarrassingly amateurish and staggeringly racist. 

I joined the Labour Party in large part due to its principled stand against Apartheid. Racial profiling of any kind was anathema to me thirty years ago, and remains so today.  

The party should admit its mistake, apologise, and move on. It should not be left to a staffer to carry the can. 



Activists seek comfort blanket of catastrophic electoral strategies

Gosh. It's almost as if NZ Labour is getting  post defeat analysis after all. Not via the Gould review, let alone the insights of a deluded Twitterati. No, I'm talking about the many and varied writings about what happened at the last UK election, much of it outstanding. When I have some time, I'll assemble a collection of the best analysis from the UK. In the meantime, see if you can find a single word in this that doesn't apply as much to NZ Labour as it does to the intended target:


Telegaffe's Disdain in Mindless Blair Pursuit

The attacks on Tony Blair's post-number-10 career in the UK press are as groan-inducingly dull as they are relentless. 

The right-wing Telegraph is the worst culprit, dedicating considerable reporting resources to the Bring-Down-Blair beat. They certainly spend more time worrying about the former PM than they do about the countries with which they claim he is in nefarious cahoots.

Check out the caption in this photo featured in today's hatchet job (to which I am pointedly not linking). 


Maggie Barry's Cat Plan and Constitutional Government


Pandering to an SPCA audience, Conservation Minister Maggie Barry floated the possibility the government may restrict the number of cats per New Zealand household. 

No doubt this pleased the crowd who love cats but worry about the effects of too many of them. 

John Key piped up to pooh-pooh the idea, probably regretting he ever took the advice of whomever it was that told him gardening show hosts make great politicians.

Key’s comments no doubt pleased cat ladies and cat gents who own many cats and would see Barry’s proposed feline limits as an egregious threat to their way of life. 

Meanwhile, Gareth Morgan, whose role in NZ public life is a complete mystery to me,  advocates the idea of restricting cats per household to zero. 

Perhaps if there was an opinion poll, 70 percent of New Zealanders would support Barry’s idea. Equally possibly, 80 percent may oppose it. I have no idea, nor do I have an opinion on the subject. I am cat-ambivalent. 

What concerns me is this: why on earth does a NZ government have the power to tell its citizen how many cats they can own?

These debates happen all the time in NZ. Let’s ban this, or restrict that – often in response to some moral panic brought on by the confluence of more than one newspaper article on a given subject.

Our unwritten constitution often seem to offer carte blanche to governments to regulate, ban, restrict or make compulsory anything they like, apparently on a whim.

Kiwis love to bash the U.S.; mock its gun culture, for example, and the extremes of its politics. All valid.  But, living there for several years, I came to respect the limited nature of constitutional government – and the fact that, at state and federal level, there are courts whose job it is to determine where governments have committed overreach. Cat fanciers in America would have a regulation such as that proposed by Barry struck down in minutes. In fact, no government would even propose it, knowing that it couldn’t pass constitutional muster. 

I’m far less interested in restricting the number of cats than I am in exploring the limits on governments telling us what to do and how to live our lives.  

The Terrible, Horrible, No Good, Very Bad Idea at the Heart of the NZ Labour Gould Review

Someone leaked the Gould review to Patrick Gower. Could anything have been more safely predicted?  Seriously, why keep these things under wraps? They invariably get out, and become far greater stories because the word "leaked" is attached.  

The Gould Review was a carnival of navel gazing. A joke. 

Media attention has focussed, predictably, on disunity blah blah.  A complete sideshow. Cunliffe suffered no more caucus dissension than most other leaders in opposition, and significantly less than David Shearer who was shafted up hill and down dale. The bullshit about the Anyone But Cunliffe faction has never been properly refuted, ironically because its alleged members are too loyal to defend themselves. "Unity above all" is a catch-cry of the despotic. Anyway, I won't win that argument.

However, the leaked review contains a glistening turd, namely the proposed Vetting Committee for the Labour list. Here it is without embellishment:

One of the most criticised aspects of the last election was the process for selection of list candidates. The existing arrangements cannot be justified in terms of democratic practice or effective outcomes.
First, any Party members who get the support of 10 financial members of the Party should be able to nominate for consideration for a list position.
Second, nomination should be initially vetted by a central Vetting Committee appointed by the NZ Council. The Vetting Committee should consist of three experienced Party members who are not current members of the NZ Council or a Member of Parliament. The role of the Vetting Committee is to verify that the nominee qualifies under the rules, and to select 60 nominees for referral to the Moderating Committee that will allocate the place on the list to the nominees. All electorate candidates should also nominate for the list to ensure that candidates campaign for both the electorate and the Party. It was apparent in the last election that some electorate candidates did not campaign for the Party vote. The Vetting Committee should be aware of and give consideration to the Constitutional obligation for the Party list to reflect the diversity in the community, in particular gender, race and the regions.
— https://www.3news.co.nz/nznews/where-labour-went-wrong--election-review-leaked-2015060315?ref=RLrotator

This is an atrocious idea. Because of its first past the post voting rules, Labour's governing body is already a mono-factional behemouth incapable of promoting anyone but their own.  Adding an additional committee made up of handpicked members, unelected and unaccountable to party members, to vet poential candidates is not only needlessly bureaucratic; it is flagrantly undemocratic. 

Who would the NZ Council appoint to such a Vetting Committee other than people who agree with them?  How does that solve anything? How does it not simply entrench the problem that the party elites are determined to shrink the talent pool to include only people they would be happy to invite around for dinner?

The solution to a lack of internal democracy is not to create an undemocratic entity that takes even more power away from party members. 

In the pantheon of bad ideas, this one deserve high billing. 

Depression is not really like herpes

I admire NZ comedian Mike King a great deal for his work breaking down the stigma associated with mental illness. Drawing on their own experiences, King and rugby great Sir John Kirwan have done more than anyone in New Zealand to spread awareness of mental health and to encourage taciturn Kiwis to seek help. Bravo. 

Mike King and I engaged on a Twitter today as you can see below:

There were a few follow up tweets where King got a tad defensive, but that's not important. What matters, I think, is that the notion that depression is a lifelong affliction – "once you've got it, you've got it for life" – is misleading and unhelpful. 

Some people suffer depression over the long-term, including me. But it is not accurate to say "once you've got it, you've got it for life" . Many people experience a single depressive episode over a lifetime. Take this widely-cited research from 2007 funded by the National Institutes of Health which estimated that 70 percent of subjects reporting depression only endure one or two episodes. Recurrent, long-term depression is not uncommon by any means, but nor is it inevitable. It doesn't seem in the public interest, let alone the interests of someone who might take it to mean a lifetime of suffering awaits them, to claim otherwise.