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


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



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.  



If you want to know why I criticise the Labour Party, blame Nick Cohen

 nick cohen, author of "what's left?' 

nick cohen, author of "what's left?' 

I was scrolling through my Twitter mentions as I vainly searched for a chart that I wanted to cite in an opinion piece and was struck again by the amount of grief I bring on myself by being such a vocal critic of the Labour Party.  I have no love for conflict, and find no joy whatsoever in being Persona Non Grata in a movement to which I have given many years of my life, both here and in Australia.  In fact, I am a rather fragile soul, and the fairly incessant attacks from Labour insiders, up to and including Little himself, can be quite hurtful at times.  But then I am reminded of Nick Cohen's superb essay published in Standpoint magazine after Ed Miliband's unexpectedly disastrous defeat at the hands of a deeply unimpressive David Cameron in 2015.  This is the pertinent section here: 

A way out will be found only if Labour and the wider Left stop being so dishonest, and I include myself in that criticism. After the election, I looked back on what I had written about Labour with embarrassment. I produced a couple of disobliging pieces about Miliband. But I did not campaign against him. I did not scream at the parliamentary Labour party that he would let the Tories in, and millions would suffer as a result. Nor did many others in the left-wing press. People who knew better stayed silent in part because we did not want to be accused of treacherously aiding and abetting the Conservative cause, and in part because we believed the opinion polls, and thought that somehow or other Labour could cobble together a government. Living in London aided self-deception. Immigration and the extortionate cost of housing is pushing its population leftwards, as is London’s arrogance. The capital is strong and self-confident; it makes the mistake of thinking that everywhere else thinks as London thinks.

If the left-wing press was not pulling the Labour party back towards sanity, then nor were Labour politicians. They stayed loyal too and kept themselves wrapped in a warm cocoon. It ought to shame them that in the years before an appalling defeat not one senior figure tried to overthrow Miliband. Not one even developed an alternative political programme Labour could adopt after defeat. The trade unions were as bad. They have often been a stabilising force in Labour history, but are now so mad that Len McCluskey, the general secretary of Unite, backed Lutfur Rahman, the former mayor of Tower Hamlets, who was not only an opponent of the Labour party but a demagogue whose electoral frauds provoked the courts into removing him from office.

As they face the consequences of defeat, men and women who have spent years avoiding self-criticism will need to understand where they went so badly wrong. They will need to make their choices clear to an electorate which barely heeds them. And they will need to get on with it. Because unless the Left snaps out of its trance, the Conservatives will be in power for another decade.
— http://standpointmag.co.uk/node/6075/full

As with Miliband’s Labour, the prevailing ethos in the current NZ Labour Party is hunkydoryism: the belief that everything is on track, and the only way triumph can be averted is if malcontents like me criticise the party publicly, and feed a narrative of disunity. The pursuit of a “unified front” at all costs has led Labour into exactly the “warm cocoon” Cohen describes, home to any number of self-gratifying myths about the party’s chances: the magic of the MoU that will somehow increase the net number of Labour/Green voters in defiance of basic arithmetic; the cyclical inevitably of a Tory defeat after nine years; the dismissal of unfavourable polling in favour of echo chamber happy-talk.

Voters I talk to are quite satisfied that Labour is unified, but not one could name behind what exactly.  The party is seen as irrelevant and incompetent; well short of any plausible threshold of electability. Having failed to learn any lessons from three successive defeats, they all but guarantee a fourth.

Labour, largely under the guidance of former Alliance hardliners, adopt the destructive view that the party functions better as a paranoid cult of heretic-hunting zealots than a broad church capable of representing its diverse base of existing and potential support.  Nothing guarantees Labour’s ongoing failure more than this mind-set, which can only be dealt with through meaningful structural reform.  

Whenever I propose introducing proportionality to ensure the party’s support base is fairly represented on its governing bodies, I am met with torrents of personal abuse, but never a single substantive argument in favour of the status quo.  If electing every position of influence within the party on a winner-takes-all basis is the best way of governing a party that relies on the support of a wide cross-section of the voting public, then I’d love to know how. Try as I might, I cannot come up with a coherent rationale for how the vast majority of Labour activists would recoil at the thought of a return to First Past the Post in General Elections, and yet believe it’s the best way to govern their own party.  If someone out there wants to have that debate, name the venue and I’ll be there.  I can promise you I will not question your motives, draw attention to your personal flaws, or engage in name-calling of any kind.  I have long said the party is wrong to believe the public will flee from a Labour Party that engages in robust internal debates; in fact, I believe they will welcome such a development with open arms.  

And so, I’m afraid, I won’t slink away, however tempting that might be (work may take me offshore, but that’s another matter).  I will continue to advocate a Labour Party capable of attracting and retaining talent from the left and centre-left -- home equally to Laila Harré and David Shearer -- because I am convinced, in the absence of any sensible arguments otherwise, that only reforms in that direction will save the party from terminal irrelevance.  For my stubborn unwillingness to STFU, you have Nick Cohen, whom I look forward to meeting in person later in the month, to thank -- or blame.  


Predictions for 2017: International Edition

 The movers, shakers and head-scratchers of 2017. 

The movers, shakers and head-scratchers of 2017. 


After the publication of my earlier predictions for NZ politics in 2017 -- which broke traffic records on my blog, but not in the good way --  here are my globally-directed stabs in the dark:

  • Obama's post-presidency approval ratings will nudge or exceed 70 for most of the year; Trump's will barely make 40, barring a domestic terror attack which will cause him to do even more terribly misguided things than usual.  
  • On his first day as Cabinet Secretary, Ben Carson will get lost on the way to the Housing and Urban Development offices. 
  • Lizzie Marvelly will win an Emmy for her all-sung maiden speech. 
  • Marvelly will also win a Golden Globe for the movie treatment of above song/speech, only to be snubbed in a shock upset by the Academy, prompting her to describe it on a front page NZ Herald column as "the lashing out of the neoliberal patriarchy against those of us (by which I mean me) fighting for the social justice utopia we (by which I mean I) would otherwise sing our way into."  The column will clean up at the Canon Media Awards, subsequently renamed 'the Marvellys'.  
  • Helen Clark will not be elected UN Secretary General, but will accept a provost position at a New York-based University.  
  • David Shearer will find the unrelenting chaos of South Sudan a blessed relief after years of Labour caucus meetings. 
  • Normally turds, John McCain and Lindsay Graham will manage to thwart Trump's efforts to rescind Obama's Russia sanctions, forcing the new POTUS to post a hand-written sorry note to his Moscow creditors. 
  • New York State will have so much fun prosecuting the Trump Foundation, the famously taciturn governor Andrew Cuomo will be unable to contain what some may interpret as a smile. 
  • Somebody will complain that the Academy Awards broadcast went on too long.  
  • Twitter will either drastically improve or enter a period of precipitous and rapid decline. Ditto cable networks. 
  • Yahoo! will finally leave us.  
  • Theresa May will call a snap election, doing things to Jeremy Corbyn in the process that are illegal under a raft of international conventions. 
  • The LibDems will surprise everyone.  I'm not sure how. 
  • Tony Abbott will return to the Australian Cabinet, and what remains of Malcolm Turnbull's soul will atrophy to the size of water-deprived almond.  
  • Angela Merkel will win reelection if I have to stack the ballot boxes myself. 
  • David Fahrenthold will win the Pulitzer Prize so deservedly for his Trump Foundation scoops that even Lizzie Marvelly will hold her tongue. 
  • ISIS will continue its decline but (for the same reason) accelerate its genocidal mission. 
  • Marine Le Pen will win the French Presidency on the back of former Socialist voters who reject Fillon's austerity.   
  • Ian McEwan will miss out on his overdue Nobel Prize for Literature on Lizzie Marvelly's casting vote. 
  • Piers Morgan will be a dick. 

New Year's Resolutions


 I scoured the blog fully expecting to find New Year's resolutions for 2016, but came up empty. That must explain why it was such an aimless 12 months.

I won't make that mistake again.

Here are my resolutions for 2017:

  • To write more and better;
  • To lose 5kg;
  • To be a better uncle, brother, and son; 
  • To get to the bottom of, and explore possible solutions to, the seemingly terminal fragility of centrist politics;
  • To finally get to Latin America, maybe India, too;
  • To go on a date for the first time in five years;
  • Not to bore said date senseless with the kind of solipsistic diatribe that come with long periods of excessive solitude;
  • To try and stick around NZ for more than ten minutes;
  • To accept periods of depression as part of the fabric of my life, without letting them overwhelm me;
  • To draft a TV mini-series treatment based on the life story of Charles Quin, our fascinating first NZ ancestor;
  • To handle rejection of TV mini-series idea calmly and without allowing it to reinforce a deeply ingrained sense of worthlessness;
  • To see Hamilton: The Musical again — and again.
  • To remain sober, and find a way to volunteer to help recovering addicts.  


Clinton, not Trump, would have won by more in a popular vote election


To avert a flurry of trolling, it seems I am obliged to preface my observations with a self evident nod to the fact Donald Trump won the presidential election fair and square. Whatever one thinks of the Electoral College, it is a constitutional fact of life; one of many difficult compromises that made the creation of the United States possible. I am not one who casually calls for its abolition, even if I were in a position to do so.

 With that out of the way, now to my point: Hillary Clinton won the popular vote by thumping three million votes. But whenever I point this out, the following argument comes my way: “ah yes, but Trump would have performed much better in the popular vote haven't been a nationwide election, not one conducted state-by-state as required by the Electoral College model”. This hypothesis stems directly from a tweet from the president elect himself. And yet it is a patently absurd claim.

Let me explain why.

If US elections were conducted like New Zealand's, whereby each party aims to maximise its share of the party vote, their campaigns would be unrecognisable from how they operate today.

As it stands, Republican and Democrats understandably focus the efforts on swing states like Florida, Ohio and Michigan. Most other states are decisively in one column or the other; for example, California is outside the GOP’s reach, as is Alabama for the Democrats. Therefore campaigns invest minimal resources into states they are either sure to win, or certain to lose.

In a nationwide popular vote election, this strategy would turn on its head. Instead, both parties would invest heavily in their respective strongholds. And the critical difference between Republicans and Democrats is that the former's strongholds and greatly more populous than the latter's.

The most obvious example is California, the largest state in the union, which voted for Hillary Clinton by a margin of almost two to one. By contrast, Trump won his most populous state, Texas, by a relatively modest 9 percent. Imagine if both campaigns, targeting the popular vote, invested significantly more resources in California and Texas, and that this resulted in an increase in turnout of five percent. In California, Clinton would have increased her margin over Trump by a net 219,000 votes.

If the same turnout increase were replicated in Texas, Trump’s net gain would be a mere 40,000 votes.

On the same basis, Trump would have netted 10,000 extra votes in his second most populous state, Georgia, whereas Clinton would have added 87,000 new votes to her tally in New York state. She would have picked up 20,000 more votes in New Jersey, while Trump would have gained only 15,000 in the deep red state of South Carolina. And so it goes. Clinton won the popular vote because she racked up huge margins on the coasts; but there is no reason to expect this would not merely have been amplified in a scenario whereby both campaigns were forced to compete there.

There is another consideration, of course: money. If Trump and Clinton were to campaign nationwide in popular vote election, both would face stupendous additional costs to advertise in the most densely populated media markets: the tri-state area (New York, New Jersey and Connecticut) and California. On that basis too, Hillary was far better placed. She maintained a fundraising advantage of close to half a billion dollars over Trump, even more so during the critical scene-setting stage of the campaign.

The fallacy that Trump could have won a counterfactual popular vote election is one of many myths to emanate from the endlessly self-glorifying Twitter account of the President-Elect. It seems to me one worth suffocating before it becomes just another “fact” in this Post-Truth world of his — and ours.


I wrote a post recently, that broke all previous (albeit modest) traffic records by the way, that refuted the tired old Labour talking point that I'm somehow "bitter" over factional in-fighting that took place four million years ago. As well as pooh-poohing this absurd claim, I made clear that I am not incapable, per se, of feelings of bitterness — and I provided a list of things that provoke exactly such a reaction. It did not, I hasten to add, include WORKING IN PERPETUITY FOR THE LABOUR BLOODY RESEARCH UNIT. 

The astringent tenor of the post may have led readers to believe that I am contorted with resentments and brimming with bile. Nothing could be further from the truth. 

Since Christmas has no religious meaning for me, as an atheist, and since NZ has no equivalent of the American Thanksgiving, I choose to use this time of year to dwell on those many things for which I feel immense gratitude. 

Here is a non-exhaustive list, in no particular order:  

  • My gorgeous nieces, Lily and Macy, and awesome nephews, Oscar and James. 
  • My extraordinary parents, Betsyn and Peter: patient — endlessly so — empathic, clever, funny and superhumanly kind. As I get older, the more stunned I am at the luck I struck with Mum and Dad.  
  • My two clever, hilarious, compassionate brothers, Richard and Nick, both amazing dads and great, long-suffering, friends to me. 
  • Their even more spectacular wives, Fiona and Evelyn, who are a joy to be around.  
  • The friends who look out for me, and never tire of doing so — even on those unfortunately common occasions where I have surrendered all hope. You know who you are. 
  • Ten years' sobriety.  
  • Amy Schumer  
  • Tina Fey  
  • Meryl Streep  
  • The LBW rule  
  • The writings of Nick Cohen, Michael Cohen, Jonathan Chait, John McTernan, Rafael Behr, Frank Rich, Hassan Hassan and Michael Weiss. 
  • Every sentence Ian McEwan has written.  
  • Lin-Manuel Miranda for conceiving Hamilton  
  • The Hungarian Pastry Shop in New York  
  • Coconut bread in Hong Kong
  • The Turkish Airlines lounge at Istanbul airport
  • Barack and Michele Obama
  • Malia and Sasha Obama  
  • Michele Obama's Mum  
  • That my friends and former co-workers in Rwanda are living in peace, good health and growing prosperity 
  • Angela Merkel  
  • The Internet
  • John McCain, although only on the subject of Russia
  • Vegemite and Vogel toast  
  • The sincere politeness of my fellow Kiwis. 
  • Kane Williamson.  
  • Beauden Barrett



Predictions for 2017: NZ politics edition

Given how spot on my predictions have been for 2016, why not go for an encore?  

Here they are: 

Lizzie Marvelly, citing bilingual anthem prowess, will contest a Māori seat for the Greens. Elected on the list, her fully sung maiden speech will inspire the nation, propelling her to become Winston Peters' deputy PM.

Fearing imminent electoral defeat, Peter Dunne will add a top hat to his ensemble. He will still lose, but Peters will appoint him as Minister for Revenue anyway due to a lack of interest from anyone else.

Ron Mark will not be happy with his political fortunes, and will form a militia made up exclusively of short angry men on the outskirts of Carterton.

Gareth Morgan will undergo experimental surgery to extract his head from his arse. It will fail.

Jacinda Arden will reinvent herself as a Goth. 

Judith Collins will maim somebody, and Chris Finlayson will get her off.

John Key will appear on Dancing with the Stars.

Paul Henry will get a hosting gig on Al Jazeera English that lasts for a total of five seconds.

A brief Christmas scold


The last thing I want to be is a scolding wowser who agitates for the banning of things.  I'm pretty much a free speech absolutist, drawing the line just under shouting "fire" in a crowded theatre. 

But this morning, I was sitting in the Porirua Bakery and Cafe and heard, for the first time this season, the 1984 dirge, "Do They Know it's Christmas?" and it triggered a reaction strong enough to surprise even me. 

I tweeted to the effect that the song should be retired.  It is one of the worst examples of white man's burden ideology applied to Africa you could ever imagine.  Some smart-alecs retorted by pointing out that other Christmas songs ought not to be taken literally either. Specifically, Snoopy's Christmas and The Little Drummer Boy were named as examples where the lyrics should not be taken at face value; the suggestion being, I gather, that nor should Band Aid's execrable effort.

But the thing is: there is no song on planet earth, in all its history, across all its myriad civilisations, that takes itself as literally, or as seriously, as Do They Know it's Christmas?. 

If you read this blog, you probably know, I lived for three years in Rwanda.  I did not live in Africa then anymore than I live in Oceania now.  Africa comprises 54 countries, each with their unique cultures, languages, religions and customs.  And yet the not uncommon treatment of the continent as a monolith is possibly the least problematic element of this almost alarmingly racist song. 

Try this on for size:

And the Christmas bells that ring there

Are the clanging chimes of doomWell tonight thank God it's them instead of youAnd there won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime

The greatest gift they'll get this year is lifeOh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow

Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

Where to start?

The clanging chimes of doom

Try as I might, in an overwhelmingly Catholic country over three years, I heard plenty of church bells on Sunday mornings in Kigali, but none of them sounded anything like clanging chimes of doom, even if I had the first idea what they sound like. 

Well tonight thank god it's them instead of you. 

This is a remarkable lyric in a song designed to appear altruistic.  As Hitchens used to point out, the Christian canard "there but for the grace of God" is actually a profoundly misanthropic sentiment -- and it's no more obnoxiously expressed than here. 

There won't be snow in Africa this Christmastime. 

Well, no. There won't be.  It rarely snows in Africa, which has a generally warm climate.

The greatest gift they'll get this year is life. 

Oh, sod off.  At one level, the greatest gift we all get at any given time is the luxury of not being dead, and I guess the same goes for the citizens of the 54 countries that comprise the African continent.  But, believe me, my experience of Rwandans was that most of them live congenial, well-populated lives, bound by strong family and community connections and a deep appreciation for the many wonderful aspects of the country in which they live, especially in light of what happened there 22 years ago.  Also, I'm guessing a lot of them -- the Christians at least -- will be getting mobile phones for Christmas.  

Oh, where nothing ever grows, no rain or rivers flow

This may be true of famine-ravaged parts of the continent from time to time, but rain and rivers flow quite adequately as a rule.  In fact, hydroelectric power is a key source of an historically energy-deprived continent.  Rwanda alone has 333 hydropower stations. And Africa is producing more crops than ever, thanks to fantastic advances in agritech and the adoption of modern farming practices. 

Sure, Band Aid was attempting to "raise awareness" of a particularly hideous drought and famine in Ethiopia at the time, but that brings me back to my central beef with he song: it paints the entire continent with the same brush. 

Do they know it's Christmastime at all?

I can answer definitively: yes.  Even the Muslims.  They're not morons. 

Overall, the song feeds the pernicious narrative that Africa writ large is a basket case; that it is a problem continent requiring the intervention of well-meaning white saviours to rescue them from their ignorance and despair. It is designed not to address the deep structural causes of extreme poverty and deprivation in parts of Africa (the international community only got serious about that in 2000 with the Millenium Development Goals), but for middle class white people, and overpaid pop stars, to broadcast their low-stakes compassion for people whom they consider completely absent of agency, incapable of finding joy in their lives, and unable to take care of themselves without the head-tilting charity of doctor's wives in Melbourne.  

Did Band Aid raise money for Africa?  Yes.  Between that and Live Aid, it amounted to about $150 million.  But the evidence is that barely any of it got to people in need.  While Bob Geldof was parading himself as the Great White Hope, virtually none of the food got to where it was intended to go.  In fact, their efforts became entangled in a  conflict between Ethiopia, Eritrea and Sudan.  Most of the food was traded by the Ethiopian government at the time for Russian arms. 

So, yeah. A shit song with an even more antiquated worldview than The Little Drummer Boy -- and not nearly as cute as Snoopy's Christmas. 

Yes, I bloody well am bitter!

Every time I am published somewhere, a couple of one-hand typists figuratively emerge like clockwork from their basements, redeploy their right hand to the task of typing, and assail me for being "bitter". 

This has been the Labour Party talking point against me for years. I can only imagine it refers to the fact I was on the wrong side of the failed coup attempt against Helen Clark in 1996. 

Yes, that's right. Nineteen hundred and ninety-six. 

Seemingly oblivious to the fact I have spent the subsequent two decades working in Australia, the US, Rwanda and Vietnam, building an eclectic and ever-interesting, if not especially lucrative, career, these randoms seems to think I've spent it nursing my wounds over no longer having a gig in the Labour Fucking Research Unit. 

The latest was yesterday, in the person of some young Labour supporter who called me "catty" and "bitter" for penning a column that had the audacity to suggest Grant Robertson is better suited to Foreign Affairs than Finance when EVERYONE OUTSIDE ROBERTSON'S IMMEDIATE FAMILY KNOWS THIS TO BE TRUE. (I never link to, or name, these clowns; it only encourages them). 

This particular tweep (for whom the second 'e' is interchangeable with 'r') went on to lament the fact he is somehow forced to read the "navel-gazing" opinions of straight white men. Aside from the fact my past boyfriends would be amused at the characterization, and apart from the fact nobody forced him to read anything, I'm pretty sure he either didn't actually wade through the column, or else selected "navel-gazing" at random from a trolling dictionary. Alas, phrases have all but lost their meaning in this post-modern universe.

I'm so bored with this bitterness sledge (what on earth could Grant Bloody Robertson have ever done to embitter me? I've never met him!). And the notion that some factional carryings-on twenty years ago lurks in my black soul like some vengeful serial killer is so absurd I don't know whether to laugh or cry — so I choose both, like an emotionally erratic toddler (see picture).

And yet it's prompted me to explore what I am actually bitter about, and the answer is plenty. Here's a non-exhaustive sample, in no particular order: 

  • The ongoing refusal of the French government to admit complicity in the 1994 genocide against the Tutsi.
  • The fact the French maintain unwarranted say on former colonies via their equally unwarranted permanent seat on the Security Council. 
  • France.
  • The genocide in Aleppo, and the international community's failure to protect innocent civilians, capitulating to the tyrannical forces of Assad and Putin, 
  • The Vatican for harbouring genocide perpetrators.
  • Gwyneth Paltrow's Academy Award for Shakespeare in Love.
  • 15 years wasted to alcoholism.
  • The New Zealand Herald publishing Lizzie Marvelly on US politics.
  • Every Adam Sandler movie except Punch-Drunk Love.
  • All the shows I missed on Broadway and off-Broadway during my four years in New York.
  • 77,000 Trump votes in WI, MI and PA.
  • Anyone who voted for Jill Stein.  
  • A decade battling debilitating, severe major depressive disorder.
  • The personality defects which contributed to the failure of my last relationship.
  • That ice-cream manufacturer who wouldn't scale up his operation to export to Japan when I was set to make a killing back in the mid-nineties. 
  • The loss of friends and friend's children to cancer.
  • Cancer, generally. 
  • That 50 bucks that guy owes me.
  • My innate lack of patience with literary fiction.
  • The criminalization of pot.  

What are you bitter about?

Laila Harré, David Shearer and the case for pluralism

In the unlikely event I get a say over Laila Harré's likely bid for Labour's nomination in New Lynn, I would enthusiastically vote for her opponent. Among the many questions today's Labour has to ask itself, Laila Harré is the answer to precisely none of them.

But I do not dispute Harré's right to rejoin the Labour Party; nor do I think she should be prevented from standing because of her nominal ineligibility (party rules require at least one year's continuous membership).

Technicalities aside, Harré is well within her rights to present her credentials to New Lynn party members, and ask them to determine whether her re-entry to Parliament is in Labour's, or the nation's, best interests.

It's no secret that my answer to that question is a resounding, lectern-thumping “no”. But I also concede there are many others within the Labour movement who support Harré for various reasons. If they prevail, and nominate Harré for New Lynn, so be it. Them's the rules.

As an advocate for a broad church Labour Party, it would be churlish and hypocritical for me to issue some kind of fatwa against Harré or any other potential nominee whose politics offend me.

Harré hates free-trade and opposed the TPPA. She regards the recently deceased Fidel Castro as a hero worthy of formal parliamentary recognition. On both counts, I could not disagree with Ms Harré more. The TPPA set a new benchmark for international trade deals, and its failure (which had nothing to do with Jane Kelsey's droning opposition) is a blow to our region's economy. Castro was a murderous tyrant who imprisoned dissenters, executed thousands and failed to bring about democracy over 50 years of ironfisted role. I understand where Harré and others are coming from: after all, Castro hated America as much as they do, and that alone will earn forgiveness from the anti-imperialist left for any number of atrocities. So it was with Stalin and Milosevic.

But Labour needs to be broad enough to encompass the views of Lila Harré and people like me if it is to form a viable alternative government.

And yet the party's culture and rules explicitly prohibit that kind of ideological pluralism. Its organs of power — the NZ Council and the list moderating committee, most critically — are elected on a first past the post basis, meaning that the dominant clique is able to shut out any and all dissenting voices. That New Zealand Labour has no factions is an enduring but preposterous myth. The truth is, it is a monofactional party, controlled by a handful of elites and apparatchiks determined to shape Labour in their own image. Anyone who refuses to play along is deemed, often by Little himself, as a right-wing troublemaker. But if the party provides no room for dissent, what other path do we have available to us but to express our frustrations in the public arena?

By contrast, the Australian Labour Party, of which I was a member and activist for 12 years, actively encourages a diversity of views via an overtly factional system built on proportional representation. In an ALP context, both Laila Harré and David Shearer would enjoy institutional backing commensurate with their respective support among members. If, for argument's sake, Shearer and his allies were able to command 20 percent support, they could expect this to be reflected on the NZ Council and in the list selection process. This could allow them to operate freely, expressing their sincerely held views on public policy matters without fear of being ostracized or expelled by a single dominant clique who regard the mere presence of moderates like Shearer in caucus as anathema.

It's the difference between power-sharing and power hogging. To my mind, it is Labour's embrace of the latter, more than any other single factor, that has led to its diminution as a political force in New Zealand.

No number of defeats at the ballot box will persuade the existing party elite that reform, including the introduction of proportional representation in internal ballots, is needed. In fact, in the absence of real power, the spoils of defeat are the only things left to fight over, and human nature dictates that beneficiaries of the status quo are the last to countenance change.

For such essential democratic reforms to occur, it will take a leader capable of understanding that the party's rules and associated ethos of heretic hunting is a significant contributor to the party's electoral malaise. Calling Labour are "broad church" does not make it so. Serious reforms aimed at making the party truly reflective of its supporter base — equally home to Laila Harré and David Shearer — will make the earn the trust of enough New Zealanders to allow them to lead a viable government in 2017 and beyond.

Trump's Mixed Mandate

 Secretary of state nominee, Exxon Mobil's Rex tillerson shares a joke with vladimir putin after the former received the Order of friendship award

Secretary of state nominee, Exxon Mobil's Rex tillerson shares a joke with vladimir putin after the former received the Order of friendship award

There is an especially boring debate raging in the US as to whether President-elect Donald Trump has a "mandate" or not.

Critics claim that Hillary Clinton's thumping popular vote margin denies Trump legitimacy. Some are even urging Electoral College delegates to flip their vote, a constitutionally dubious move at best, in order to reflect Hillary Clinton's 2.8 million vote margin. Others point to increasingly incontrovertible proof of Russia's interference in the election as further cause to question Trump's election.

Meanwhile, Trump's supporters understandably scoff at all of this, contending that his mere victory — along with Republican majorities in both chambers of Congress — affords his administration all the legitimacy it needs.

This silly debate reflects the irritating tendency to straitjacket nuanced arguments into starkly opposed binary propositions. Of course President-elect Trump has a mandate. Like it or not (and I do not), believe it or not (and I can barely), a real estate tycoon, reality TV star, confessed sex pest and Kremlin debtor Trump made it to the White House fair and square.

The question, therefore, is not whether Trump has a mandate, but what kind of a mandate is it?

In the absence of evidence that the election was tampered with by, or with the direct knowledge of, the Trump campaign, we have no choice but to live with the consequences of the vote.

The nature of one's mandate is not determined solely at the ballot box. It is shaped in no small part by the clarity with which you present your plans to the electorate. Simply put: what did the voters believe they were getting themselves into?

It seems clear, for example, that many Trump voters were inspired by his promise to "drain the swamp" in Washington DC, stripping lobbyists and corporate interests of their grossly inflated influence. To hammer home this message, Donald Trump repeatedly took aim at Goldman Sachs as the embodiment of crony capitalism, acting as if Clinton taking speaking fees from such a malevolent behemoth amounted to corruption.

But in the weeks since his election, Trump's actions make abundantly clear his rabble rousing against Wall Street was nothing but play-acting. Not only has Trump's snapped back to Republican orthodoxy on economic matters with dizzying speed, he has appointed not one, but two, Goldman Sachs executives to key posts: former partner, Steven Mnuchin is nominated for Treasury Secretary, while the company's second-in-command, Gary Cohn, will chair the National Economic Council, a role that pointedly does not require Senate confirmation.

Moreover, despite his muffled assurances during the campaign to protect America's modest welfare state in the form of Social Security and Medicare, it's abundantly obvious that Trump has no intention of getting in the way of House Speaker Paul Ryan's plans to gut these very programmes.

These early indicators suggest millions of Trump voters will be disappointed with the incoming president's economic priorities. If they'd wanted a reprise of George W Bush era economic rationalism, they could have voted for Jeb Bush and Marco Rubio after all. 

It's an open question as to whether voters will forgive this mammoth duplicity, but Trump's opponents in the Democratic and Republican Party are well within their rights to ask whether his mandate should be taken to encompass such an egregious backflip on a central plank of his campaign.

On foreign policy, the picture is less clear. Before the election, Trump made no secret of his disdain for the Iranian nuclear deal, and his abiding affection for Vladimir Putin. And remember his plan to destroy ISIS so secret that he could not divulge its details?

Trump's foreign policy views are dangerous and disturbing, but he did not hide them under a bushel.

Post-election, his foreign policy appointments have largely been in line with this warped worldview. Rex Tillerson, the Exxon Mobil chief nominated as Secretary of State, is so cuddly with the Kremlin he has received Russia's Order of Friendship, one of its highest civilian honours. John Bolton, rumoured to become Tillerson's deputy, is perhaps America's most avid hawk. His antipathy towards Iran is legend, and it is hard to see the nuclear deal surviving many weeks beyond his arrival at State.

However troubling these appointments, they are categorically different to those Trump has made in to his economic team. Bizarre as it seems, his promotion of Putin's apologists, nuclear proliferators and warmongers to key national security posts falls squarely within his mandate. This was precisely the calamity he promised.

Castro Mourning by Hipster Lefties Makes Me Sick

  Executioner Rene Rodriguez Cruz   shoots Garcia Olayon in the head,   Jan. 2, 1959.

Executioner Rene Rodriguez Cruz shoots Garcia Olayon in the head, Jan. 2, 1959.

While it is often attributed to him, Mark Twain may not have ever actually said "history doesn't repeat, but it rhymes". Whether he uttered the words or not, it certainly needed saying. 

Jarring echoes of the far left's shameful past reverberated around the Twittersphere yesterday in the wake of Fidel Castro's passing. Current Labour MP Clare Curran and former Alliance Minister Laila Harré were just two of many who took to social media to express grief over the Cuban tyrant's death. Castro, Curran gushed to her followers as if mourning a beloved guitarist, was a "legend"; Harré went further, asking, "who in our Parliament will be able to move a motion capturing the grief and gratitude of millions for the life of #FidelCasto (sic.)?". The answer, one hopes, is nobody. 

But "grief and gratitude" for what exactly?

The banning of trade unions? Threatening nuclear war against his neighbours? Imprisoning and murdering thousands of journalists, dissenters and unionists? Countless, well document human rights abuses, including the systematic persecution of gays and lesbians?

Or is it the 78,000 lives lost attempting to flee the island?  

Anne Applebaum, a brilliant Washington Post reporter, hardly of the right, helpfully disseminated a reminder of Castro's murderous reign in the form of a comprehensive archive that documents the people whose lives and freedoms were ripped away for attempting to bring democracy and human rights to Cuba. They number into the tens of thousands. 

In terms of the magnitude of his many atrocities, Castro may not be in the league of Pol Pot, Stalin or the Hutu Power regime that perpetrated the Rwandan genocide, but it was not for a want of trying.

This affection for a certain category of tyrant among sections of far-left is nothing new. 

After witnessing communism in action during his time volunteering in the Spanish Civil War, the avowedly socialist George Orwell saw clearly, and to his abject and enduring horror, the eagerness of British leftists to apologise for, or turn a blind eye to, the heinous crimes of Stalin, even Hitler.

In more recent times, the Australian author and documentarian John Pilger is one of a crackpot coterie who continue to deny the genocidal crimes in Bosnia and Rwanda on the grounds that the victims were perceived to be closely allied to the United States and NATO. It seems any atrocity is permissible as long as it is costumed in anti-imperialist rhetoric. 

This amoral, selective and hypocritical application of principle to human rights abuses is by no means limited to the left. The Khmer Rouge continued to enjoy legitimacy in Washington and London years after the Killing Fields. Why? Because it was the Communist Vietnamese who marched on Phnom Penh, stopped the killings and backed the subsequent government. Better to join hands with Pol Pot and his henchmen than give credence to a Cold War adversary who handed the United States its first military defeat of the modern era.

There are enough hands, not to mention an abundance of blood, to go around.

But Harré and Curran are not known for their sophisticated geopolitical analysis, although, in the latter's case, the wholesale plagiarism from the Economist discovered in Labour's Future of Work paper suggests she reads (and copies and pastes from) magazines at least. 

What they were celebrating was Castro's lifelong hatred for America. For them, this alone is enough. The fact that Castro's policies led Cuba to become one of Latin America's poorest countries, after being among its most prosperous, is neither here nor there. 

The impoverishment of millions over more than five decades of iron-fisted rule is more than offset by the soaring, anti-imperialist rhetoric that infused Castro's lectern-thumping oratory. He may have been a monster towards his own people, but as long as he was David to America's Goliath, that is clearly more than enough to satisfy the cool kids of the hipster left.