Bridges leadership slammed over ‘meth crooks’ attacks

I’m not sure what’s worse for Simon Bridges, his off-putting speech, or his attempt to be tough and controversial over meth house compensation, described as a “massive backflip”. The offending tweet:

Gordon Campbell on Bridges’ ‘meth crooks’ leadership failure

Given that National Party leader Simon Bridges has made consistency and strong leadership the cornerstones of his attacks upon the coalition government, his own massive backflip on the meth compensation issue has been unfortunate, to say the least. Once again, it raises doubts as to whether he – or Judith Collins – is really in control of the National caucus.

To recap. Earlier this year the government’s long time science advisor Sir Peter Gluckman issued a damning report on how Housing NZ had used dodgy, inappropriately low thresholds for meth contamination as a basis for evicting tenants from its properties. Back in June, Bridges publicly accepted that Housing NZ had got it wrong, and that the National government had acted upon bad advice.

At the same time in June that Bridges was apologising for the wrongful basis of the HNZ/National government meth policy, National’s housing spokesperson Judith Collins had been criticising the turnaround in Housing NZ’s approach as a “step too far” that was sending the wrong approach to drug users.

Collins, at least, has remained consistent in her commitment to injustice. On September 20, she attacked the coalition government for paying any compensation to the people affected, regardless of the inaccuracy of the ‘expert’ advice on which HNZ had based its actions.

In going down this track, Collins has been wilfully blurring the lines between meth labs, meth smokers and those unfortunate enough to rent houses where residues – sometimes minute – from drug use by prior inhabitants had been blamed on existing tenants, willy nilly. Some of the tenants affected were elderly. Many were not only entirely innocent of such behaviours, but had been saddled with testing-related costs and furniture disposal and/or had been evicted from houses where the contaminants had been at such low levels as to pose no genuine risk to anyone.

By late on September 20 though, Bridges had changed tack on Twitter, so that he and Collins were singing from the same songbook – and crucially, he was now singing from her songbook. Like Collins, Bridges had begun to decry compensation being paid to quote ‘meth crooks’ unquote.

In fact, the claim by Bridges and Collins of compensation being paid out to proven drug users was quite false. It had already been made clear that people evicted from properties where the contamination level exceeded the new threshold advised by Gluckman would not be liable for compensation.

Collins has a record of being deliberately controversial and ‘tough’, but it’s hard to understand what Bridges was trying to achieve here.

Danyl Mclauchlan is more scathing: The dumbfounding nastiness of Simon Bridges’ ‘meth crooks’ remarks

Let’s take a stroll over to the National Party website and cast our eyes over their core values. They’re the kind of thing you’d expect a conservative, centre-right party to stand for. Equal Opportunity. Personal Responsibility. Strong Families. Limited Government. All good stuff, if you’re into that sort of thing.

I think that’s why I find National’s current position on the meth contamination issue to be so dumbfoundingly nasty.

National leader Simon Bridges’ response to all this is to attack the government for paying compensation to people like Rosemary Rudolf, an 87-year-old grandmother who’d lived in her property for sixty years, or Dianne Revill, a solo mother who has been homeless for two years after being wrongly evicted, separating her from her daughter who went to live with another relative, because they are, in Bridges’ words, ‘meth crooks’ who deserved to be evicted.

There’s been a lot of talk about strength and weakness, recently, with sacking MPs or ministers defined as the criteria for strong political leadership. But selling out your own party’s core values to win a slot in the media cycle, and because you’re afraid of a creature like Judith Collins feels to me like a total failure of leadership; the act of a weak and desperate leader who is playing the fear card because he himself is obviously afraid.

I don’t know if bridges is afraid of the threat of Collins or not, but he seems to have no control over her attacks.

Joining her in an attack looks like a massive blunder.

When speaking Bridges often sounds weak. He has backed this up with weak leadership.

Labour had a succession of failed gambles with post-Clark leaders. It looks like National has continued this trend post-Key & English.

Jacinda Ardern may have a secure career her for another term or two before she moves on the lead the world from the UN, but Neve may be a bit old to wow the media then.

Danyl Mclauchlan on ‘Fire and Fury’

Some observations from Danyl Mclauchlan in Michael Wolff’s book ‘Fire and Fury’: Wolff’s tale of the Trump clusterfuck is an instant classic, and strangely comforting

Journalists are supposed to protect their sources. But not all sources deserve to be protected and the best journalism, Janet Malcolm famously observed in The Journalist and the Murderer, often comes from reporters who seduce and then betray their subjects.

The seduction comes in the promise that in return for access the journalist will portray the source “fairly”, ie nobly, heroically; the way they imagine themselves; the way they desperately want to be seen.

The betrayal comes when the journalist uses their access to reveal the subject as they really are, or, at least, as the journalist prefers to depict them for the sake of a good story, which is never quite the same thing.

And any list of journalists most likely to stab you in the back for a story would have Michael Wolff’s name somewhere near the very top. A witty, talented gossip and media columnist and author with a nasty reputation for breaking embargos, burning sources, attributing off-the-record quotations and generally breaking all the rules of professional journalism, Wolff is the reporter the Trump administration bafflingly entrusted with inside access during the transition and first year of his presidency. Because he was one of the few journalists to write a flattering profile of Trump prior to the election – a device Wolff has used in the past to lure in previous victims – the White House communications team advised everyone in the new administration to cooperate with the journalist because the result would be “a positive book for the president”.

Wolff interviewed Trump, his family, Steve Bannon and more than 200 Trump insiders or members of the administration, taking up a “semi-permanent couch in the West Wing” where he became “something quite close to an actual fly on the wall,” because, Wolff explains, there was no one person in Trump’s White House who had the authority to ever tell him to leave.

Wolff took advantage of a dysfunctional administration.

One of the strengths of Wolff’s book is that it acknowledges the role the media ecosystem plays in enabling and enraging Trump, filtering out all the exaggerated nonsense and focusing on the most epic disasters.

The first half of Fire and Fury is a gossipy dissection of the White House’s key players, tragic flaws and bitter divides while, the second documents their doomed attempts to engage with the rest of the government, run the country and lead the world.

(Shortly after the election) Timothy Synder, a historian at Yale published On Tyranny, which became a bestseller. Synder specialised in the rise of totalitarian regimes and his book was a warning to the people of America. It was happening again, Synder warned, tyranny was nigh, and it would move with astonishing speed and ruthlessness to take over America’s institutions. Believing that this outcome was a foregone conclusion, Snyder advised his readers on how best to resist a totalitarian dictatorship.

In the final chapter of Fire and Fury Steve Bannon – who would have loved to do all of the terrible things Snyder warned about, but would surely have failed even if the president’s children hadn’t fought him to a standstill at every opportunity and eventually forced him to resign – puts Trump’s chances of making it to the end of his term at 33%. Either he resigns (33%), or is impeached (33%), or he limps to the end of the fourth year. No way would there be a second term. Never happen.

Many said a Trump nomination would never happen, or an election win would never happen. There are suggestions Bannon wants to stand for president in 2020 – and also that Ivanka Trump wants to stand.

I hope Snyder reads Wolff’s book and takes comfort in it. Terrible things are happening in America and in its foreign policy, but that’s been the case for many decades now, under both Republican and Democratic Presidents. If anything, Trump’s presence in the White House makes it harder for the Republican Party to deliver on its deranged and radical policy agenda. Instead of seizing control of the criminal justice system and the deep state, Trump and his dwindling rabble of supporters are under siege by them.

For a book about the worst people in the world occupying the most powerful positions in the world, Fire and Fury is oddly reassuring.

It is oddly unsurprising in the main because most of Trump’s foibles and excesses and utter bull are already well known.

But I wouldn’t call it reassuring. The Trump regime isn’t over yet, and under pressure Trump gets even more unpredictable.

Is the centre a small party graveyard?

It is common to see claims that any party seeking votes in the political centre is destined to failure, but I think it ignores other reasons for failure and discounts the complexities of politics.

From a generally fascinating account of Inside the campaigns: how the Greens survived Jacindamania by Danyl Mclauchlan:

Every election the wise people of the political commentariat explain to the Green Party that it should be a centrist environmental party that can go into government with both Labour and National. It happened again this year and it was the premise of Gareth Morgan’s TOP. The argument makes a lot of sense if you’re looking at diagrams of Parliament and counting to a hundred and twenty, but this election showed why it’s such dubious advice from a strategic point-of-view.

The 5% threshold makes the center a very dangerous place for a small party, because in moments of crisis – like, say, your caucus tearing itself apart and the senior co-leader resigning amidst a massive controversy a couple of weeks out from the start of the campaign – all of your votes would be available to both major parties. It is the place of maximum leverage after the election but maximum peril before it.

The Green vote plummeted during the campaign, for obvious reasons, but New Zealand First’s vote fell almost as sharply without any comparable public catastrophes. They lost votes because they were in the centre, vulnerable to National’s pivot to social conservatism and vulnerable to Jacinda.

NZ First didn’t lose votes because they were in the centre. It’s arguable where NZ First lies in the political spectrum, their policies are all over the place, from conservative to interventionist.

As it turned out National lost very little support, Labour gained, and NZ First and Greens lost support.

A centrist party, UF lost a bit more ground but they had failed years ago and were only there as long as Peter Dunne remained.

TOP may have tried to win votes from the centre but as well as targeting NZ First votes they also targeted Green votes and any votes they thought might be up for grabs.

ACT struggled again with party vote, and that wasn’t in the centre.

The Maori Party failed, but they have been struggling for years, and were blasted out by Jacinda/Labour, just as the Greens nearly were.

The Conservative support virtually disappeared, and that wasn’t a centre thing.

Mana failed, and they are hard left.

Early this century the Alliance failed, and they were quite left.

It isn’t just centrist parties that struggle and fail, all small parties have difficulty surviving. One common factor is their reliance on one or two people, and they don’t survive without them.

This election National and Labour combined got 82% of the vote. Of course they compete for votes in the middle but  that covers far more than the centre.

All small parties struggled this election, whether they are left, right or centre.

It’s hard for any small party to survive, especially with the high 5% threshold – the system is designed (by National and Labour) to make it very difficult for small parties. It’s not a problem in the centre, it’s a problem with our political system.

Politics is a graveyard for all parties, and small parties come and go more often than large parties. It just happens that some of them wither in the centre.

Probably stuck with the current system

A fascinating and very perceptive analysis by Danyl Mclauchlan at The Spinoff: The New Zealand Project offers a bold, urgent, idealistic vision. I found it deeply depressing

It covers neoliberalism, the failure of the left to sell their ideals and have a revolution, and looks at what can be done to fix New Zealand’s problems. It’s lengthy by there are many things worth discussing.

Politics is technocratic because modern societies are complex: many things could be better, but almost everything could be much, much worse, and all the high-minded values in the world are worthless if you can’t keep the lights on.

It is compromised because pluralism – the challenge of different groups in society holding different and conflicting but reasonable and valid views – is the central problem in politics, and cannot be fixed by re-educating everyone.

Political reform should be cautious, because outcomes are uncertain, and overconfidence bias is real, especially among groups of intelligent experts who reinforce each other’s assumptions, a dynamic that often leads to catastrophic failure despite the best of intentions.

Maybe the current system’s inability to address the housing bubble, inequality and environmental issues means we’re hitting the limits of a political system based on caution and compromise, and that will eventually provoke a wider crisis similar to the near economic collapse of the early 1980s, which led to the neoliberal reforms.

It’s a fairly common fantasy – especially on the radical left – that there will be a crisis followed by a left-wing rebirth.

It’s also common to see this on the radical right – there will be a revolution taking us back to some mythical ‘good old days’.

I think it’s dangerous to assume that the left would be the beneficiaries of any kind of crisis or collapse.

Same for the right.

We’re probably stuck with the current system, and trying to make change within it.

That’s almost certainly correct. Incremental change trying to improve what we have, rather than changing things entirely and replacing it all with some vague ideal.

We are probably stuck with the current system.

But it is a lot easier to tweak things to try to improve problems rather than a total replacement of something that generally works fairly well with something vague that would have unpredictable and less perfect.

Blogger of the year

Political blogs in New Zealand serve as a useful enough niche in discussions on democratic matters but are waning in influence and newsworthiness.This is largely due to the growing dominance of Facebook as a forum for just about everything, but is also an effect of ‘Dirty Politics’ on the two largest blogs.

Twitter has it’s uses in monitoring news, and views of the news writers, but as a forum it is also diminishing in importance. It has been tainted by misguided and often bitter social crusaders with too much bashing of anyone with different views.

Kiwiblog still chugs along as one of the biggest and most worthwhile blogs to watch. David Farrar was rocked by ‘Dirty Politics’ but kept going and is still a knowledgeable and very well informed political commentator. He is trashed by some on the left because he is closely associated with National but gives some good insights into the Government without being a yes man, he is prepared to criticise his own side and praise opponents albeit with an obvious preference overall.

Amongst the daily noise there are some good comments and a number of commenters are worth watching out for.

The Standard has had a difficult year, with internal divisions causing more than a few problems, and a couple of long serving and prominent authors/commenters being banned over differences. While it there are still strong Labour connections there is a growing influence – often negative – of Green supporters, active in effectively censoring The Standard by shutting out and driving away views and people deemed unwelcome.

There are some commenters worth watching out for but there is a lot of repeat bleating and unrealistic idealism.

The Daily Blog has waned. A lot of effort and resource went into Waatea Fifth Estate which was designed as a great alternative to the struggling traditional media, but failed to get repeat funding for next year -it was interesting at times but didn’t build an audience. Some posts are good but the messy site design and too many rants and ridiculously slanted assertions from Martyn Bradbury detract from overall credibility.

Commenters have been heavily filtered since the beginning a The Daily Blog, with Bradbury’s  lack of confidence in his arguments resulting in him protecting them from examination, so the comments threads are rarely of much value.

Whale Oil is still the biggest blog stats-wise, mainly due to having by far the most daily posts (25 yesterday), by many of these are fillers and click bait. Slater sometimes has some fresh and breaking content but not much these days, and tends to bang on about a few topics repeatedly. Insider sources have diminished markedly. He also now relies a lot on other media content, ironically heavily criticising that same media for being past it and irrelevant.

The commenting community is still very active despite major purges in 2014 in particular but you have search for good content, which can be tedious with the often very slow Discus system.

On blog comments – while Whale Oil keeps conquering the click stats their number of comments gives a better idea of comparative interest, with most posts getting few if any comments. There are often as many comments per day at Kiwiblog, and The Standard usually isn’t far off in comment numbers either (but not the last few days).

Public Address sometimes has some very good posts – Legal Beagle is always worth looking out for and  Russell Brown’s posts on drugs are worthwhile – but they are barely daily so it’s more of a magazine style blog. Comment numbers are spasmodic.

The Pundit is still there but only has the occasional post. Andrew Geddis is always worth checking out but otherwise, from a 16 strong line up of authors there isn’t much content, with only 9 posts this month.

No Right Turn is worth keeping an eye on but with no commenting allowed it lacks community and variety.

Blogger of the Year

For me there has been a stand out political blogger in New Zealand this year – Danyl at Dim-Post.

Dim-Post evolved from a semi-satirical site with an interest in literature into political activism to an extent in 2015. Danyl helped James Shaw in his campaign to take over Russel Norman’s co-leadership of the Green Party, and became a part of the Green campaign committee.

But this year, especially in the second half, Danyl has done something unusual for a political blogger – he has been prepared to examine his own political views and critique his own side, the left, with some very good insights and challenges. He has also been prepared to look across the political spectrum and mix criticism with praise and acknowledge positives with the current Government.

It’s rarely refreshing to see someone involved in politics prepared to break out of the bubble and look at the bigger pictures, even when they are not painting what they prefer to see.

Comments are also often worth skimming through as there are some good contributions there.

For a sort of a lefty Danyl is notably different to the idealists with entrenched views and no tolerance for alternative views.

Some of Danyl’s thought provoking recent posts – if you have spare time over the holidays it could be interesting to revisit these posts and comments.

I think Key’s tendency to blow with the wind has more to do with political expediency than intellectual honesty, and I said so. But I agree that the ability to change your mind is an important trait, and since then I’ve been trying to think of recent instances in which I’ve changed my mind on political issues, and I couldn’t really think of any, which worried me a bit.

I guess I know what twitter and all of the Green and Labour Party MPs have been talking about today. This poll conducted by a Feminist charity in the UK is a pretty typical example of the various surveys about public attitudes to feminism (I’m not aware of any similar work in NZ). Most people will say they believe in gender equality but very few people will self-describe themselves as feminist.

I’m not a fancy media strategist etc but when you’re twenty points behind in the polls and there’s a huge, unpredicted political change, probably not that smart to go around saying ‘nothing has changed.’

One of Key’s strengths was an apparent indifference towards his government’s policy agenda. There were no bottom lines, no hills to die on. With the exception of major natural and financial disasters, everything else in the country was pretty much fine as it was but could be changed, preferably slightly, if the public mood seemed to call for it. ‘We think we’ve got the mix about right,’ was Key’s first response to any problem. It gave him enormous flexibility, and he’s leaving his office with popularity and political capital unmatched by any other Prime Minister.

A series on Marxism:

The Standard has one of those ‘Maybe Marx was right‘ posts you see a lot on the left nowadays, linking to a column in the Guardian suggesting the same thing. Reading the Trotsky biography I’ve mentioned on here before has lead me to a lot of secondary reading about Marx and Marxism, and my half-informed take is that Marx was right about some things but very wrong about other, very major things, and his total wrongness on those major things hasn’t yet sunk in for the radical left, which is a source of a lot of their failure and irrelevance. I want to talk about one of the wrong things.

One of Marx’s big ideas was that history operates according to scientific laws. This was a much more sophisticated way to think about history than people back then were used to. A lot of intellectuals thought that history was shaped by a ‘world spirit’, viz Hegel. Most normal people – In Europe, at least – thought the Judeo-Christian God made everything happen. Most historians thought that ‘great men’ shaped history. The idea that technological and economic change and other materialist factors drove history was, well, revolutionary.

Yesterday a few people asked me why on earth I wrote a long confused rant about Marxism. Like, what does that even have to do with anything that’s happening in the real world? Possibly nothing, increasingly so, but I think it’s relevant to some of what’s happening on the left. The post is a culmination of stuff I’ve been thinking about for a while.

When I wrote my screed about Marxism one of my fears was that Scott Hamilton would show up and tear it to pieces. Happily he has not done this, instead he directed me to this post he wrote a few months ago also critiquing the base-superstructure model.

Giovanni Tiso has written a post about Why he is a Marxist.

I like forums that challenge norms, that provoke thought and encourage discussion. It’s lacking in the big blogs. I think that Danyl has done this better than anyone this year.

Smashing capitalism and the failure of communism

Danyl several interesting posts at Dim-Post on the failure of communism in practice, and the stupidity of far left calls to ‘smash capitalism’.

Labour day thoughts about Marxism and the radical left

The Standard has one of those ‘Maybe Marx was right‘ posts you see a lot on the left nowadays, linking to a column in the Guardian suggesting the same thing. Reading the Trotsky biography I’ve mentioned on here before has lead me to a lot of secondary reading about Marx and Marxism, and my half-informed take is that Marx was right about some things but very wrong about other, very major things, and his total wrongness on those major things hasn’t yet sunk in for the radical left, which is a source of a lot of their failure and irrelevance.

If you interested in this topic it’s worth reading the whole post and there’s also some good comments. Danyl concluded:

The big lesson there is that a large groups of brilliant people all trying to do the right thing can all be completely wrong, for many decades, and cause incredible suffering and harm, while basically wasting their lives. It seems to me that something similar has happened to left-wing intellectual theory, especially the radical left.

That it’s taken a very wrong turn somewhere, and a lot of very brilliant people have been studying, teaching and writing nonsense, for a long time now and that they’re in a deep state of epistemic closure about this, because no one likes to think they’ve been wrong about almost everything. Especially people who fetishise intelligence, like surgeons, or left-wing intellectuals.

It is very meaningful, I think, that Piketty’s critique of capitalism didn’t come from the radical Marxist tradition. He’s read Marx but he trained as an economist and describes himself as a ‘believer in capitalism, private property and the market’ and he discovered a deep and powerful truth about capitalism that none of the tens of thousands of Marxists and Critical Theorists ever uncovered over the last hundred years.

There’s still a lot of serious work to be done critiquing capitalism and solving its problems, but right now the radical left aren’t doing any of it. At best they’re wasting their time, running around telling everyone ‘The problem is capitalism, sheeple!’, at worst they’re trying to impose their nonsense on mainstream left-wing politics and preventing actual progressive change.

Of course, it’s not only the radical left who want to burn it all down: Trump’s campaign manager is a guy called Steve Bannon who describes himself as a Leninist who wants to destroy society and rebuild from the ashes. There’s also a growing ‘neoreactionary’ movement advocating the abandonment of both capitalism and democracy, and a return to the ‘western tradition’ of monarchical feudalism and ‘traditional gender roles’. Smash modernity, and it’ll all come out in the wash. It worries me that there’s so much of this about.

He followed up with What bought that on? Some of his points:

  • About a year ago, just before the Paris conference I went on the Climate march to Parliament. It was a good crowd. Various speeches were given, and everyone cheered. And then someone (I don’t recall their name) got up and gave a speech explaining that climate change wasn’t the real problem. Capitalism was the real problem. Some people cheered, but lots of people didn’t, and as he went on in that vein, telling us all that we needed to smash capitalism because colonialism and cultural hegemony were the true enemy, people drifted away. ‘I’m not here for that,’ one of my friends – not very political but worried about climate change – said as he headed over the road to the pub.
  • It’s a conviction that’s gained a lot of ground on the left over the last eighteen months, metastasising from climate change to social justice and economic issues. I don’t know why. Corbyn and Sanders? Historical materialism? Whatever the policy problem, getting rid of capitalism is the increasingly popular solution.
  • What actually went wrong in Russia though? Lenin and Trotsky were smart guys. Geniuses, even. They lived and breathed Marxist theory their entire lives. Yet they had no plan of how to run their country after they seized power, and they spent years improvising various doomed solutions while their country starved. War communism. ‘Electrification + socialism = communism!’ State capitalism. Eventually it was back to capitalism on the assumption that they could then progress through capitalism to socialism to communism, just like Marx said. It didn’t work.
  • The left is very prone to intellectual fads and I guess this one too will pass, to be replaced by something hopefully less silly. And less frightening, because ‘Smash capitalism’ really means, ‘Let’s destroy society and see what happens.’ I don’t think the activist left has the slightest chance of actually doing this. But they can scare away non-crazy people who want to join left wing parties and causes to find real solutions to problems, like all the people who walked away from the climate march.

There were a lot of comments on that too.

And then some Further reading

When I wrote my screed about Marxism one of my fears was that Scott Hamilton would show up and tear it to pieces. Happily he has not done this, instead he directed me to this post he wrote a few months ago also critiquing the base-superstructure model.

Giovanni Tiso has written a post about Why he is a Marxist.

I read that and it didn’t come close to convincing me there was much value in Marxism in modern New Zealand.

Someone in the comments linked to this, a post by a US based blogger.

He also wrote an excellent review about Francis Spufford’s novel Red Plenty. I read this a few years ago (and I thought I wrote about it too but cannot find the post).

This really was a key book for me, especially on the issue of capitalism and climate change. It’s axiomatic on a lot of the left that capitalism causes climate change (because of the drive for endless economic growth), and Red Plenty showed that you can get rid of capitalism and have a planned economy and have it work pretty well, actually, thanks, and still have your public and leaders demand continued high economic growth, because that’s a great solution to many political and economic problems, regardless of whether you’re a capitalist economy or not – and then dig up and burn huge amounts of coal and oil to fuel it.

It’s refreshingly unusual to see someone sort of from the left giving such a wide ranging consideration of political theories and realities.

One thing that seems to escape those promoting a revolution – how they expect a utopian socialist society to magically emerge after a smashing of capitalism.

The person surviving may be equal I guess.

On John Armstrong – insightful and spiteful

There’s been many tributes to John Armstrong on his retirement from regular column writing due to illness – here are many of them: Twitter tributes to John Armstrong

There’s been a number of blog posts as well. Here are two contrasting views on Armstrong – one from Lynn Prentice at The Standard and the other from Danyl McLauchlan at Dim Post.

retweeted Prentice’s post saying:

An honest piece by Lynn – insightful.

The post: John Armstrong – a person worth disagreeing with

In the pages of The Standard there is one journalist who has generated or been referenced in more posts than any other. Today John Armstrong published his swansong at the NZ Herald. He is losing his long battle with Parkinson’s disease. Like most things that John wrote, it is worth reading.

I come in this post not to praise him as a person, for I barely knew him outside of a few brief encounters at recent party conferences. I come to condemn him for being  the type of political journalist who made it hard for us to shove in a little box.

John Armstrong is an obnoxiously valuable analyst providing documentation of our local political world over the whole 8 years of this sites life. It made it hard to take the easy route, to pin a label on him and then forever to deal with him as we do with lightweight entertainers masquerading as opinion makers.

More than 500 posts out of our 17,000+ published posts have referenced John Armstrong. They were written by almost every author who has ever written at The Standard. No other journalist or opinion maker comes close.

The whole post is worth reading – it shows how it’s possible to be critical without being pissy-minded.

Prentice sums up:

But back to my reference post. Like other authors since, Steve had to revise his opinion. In fact, Steve just had to add this addendum to his post on the same day.

[Update: all that notwithstanding, Armstrong’s piece today critiquing the Treasury briefing to English is good

For me that sums up John Armstrong. You might disagree with his conclusions and his overall conservative viewpoint. But it was damn hard to disagree with him when he had one of those breath taking insights into the politics of this country – at all levels.

It is going to be missed in the coming years when he is no longer able to offer it.

In contrast McLauchlan sounds more spiteful than insightful because he sees Armstrong as a supporter of the incumbent government and of the political establishment. He has just posted Notes on John Armstrong’s final column, and in it says things like:

  • His columns generally defended powerful establishment figures and attacked and mocked their critics, and because he’s a fine writer and deftly articulated elite conventional wisdom this made him very respected in those same establishment circles. It’s not a form of journalism I admire. I think it’s the opposite of everything journalists should aspire to.
  • In his final column he articulates his belief that politics is a game and he enjoys seeing how it is played, which is a fair summary of his approach to the subject. Facts never had a place in his work. His view of politics is one in which substance is nothing and style is everything.
  • This indifference to truth and enthusiastic celebration of spin and distortion is also, I think, the opposite of everything political commentary is supposed to be about. Governments have enormous resources to spin and obfuscate. Under Key this is mainly what the government does. If the press gallery isn’t there to debunk all of the propaganda and spin then it has no purpose.
  • There’s no obvious replacement for Armstrong’s role in the political media ecosystem. Key prefers to communicate directly with voters through soft media outlets where his messaging is even less challenged than in Armstrong’s columns. This propaganda model is so effective his heirs will all do the same. Lying to a large number of voters more effectively is the kind of ‘playing the game’ that Armstrong has always celebrated, so I think he’d have to admire this change.

I suppose Prentice has been involved in establishment politics for many years, including providing assistance to Helen Clark.

McLauchlan seems more inclined to wanting a markedly different type of politics and journalism to what Armstrong has been a significant part of for the last thirty years.

He presumably prefers the Green way and anything that is different or praises anything different is seen as not just the wrong way, but a way to be despised. Therefore anyone who is a part of the wrong way should also be despised. Like John Armstrong.

It would be interesting to know what sort of  journalists McLauchlan might approve of.

Why did Tolley talk about contraception?

The Q & A interview with Anne Tolley yesterday set off a lot of discussion about contraception and sterilisation in relation to at risk children.

Tolley and National have been accused of many things including deliberate diversion (from the TPPA or whatever) and promoting ‘eugenics, again.

Anthony Robins at The Standard:

Are we still “not quite” at the stage of compulsion, or are the Nats going to cross that line? It’s obvious from their record that they have a thoroughly unhealthy obsession with the idea. John Key “thinks” (despite all the evidence to the contrary) that parents on the DPB are “breeding for a business”. That kind of sick and stupid attitude can never be allowed to control reproductive rights.

Paul at The Standard:

The National Party have set up a predictable diversion to knock the TPP off the headlines just as Groser is being taken to court to release the text.

Danyl McLauchlan at Dim-Post:

Clickbait government

This government would never actually carry out the daunting legal and policy work required to implement mandatory contraception for beneficiaries, but they sure do like floating the idea whenever there’s a dip in the polls, to outraged cries from liberal pundits and roars of approval from the talkback radio moronocracy. This is the third or fourth time the Nats have said we ‘have to have this conversation’ about beneficiaries and eugenics.

Threatening to force women to be sterilised is far better for the Minister’s media monitoring statistics than the actual pedestrian work of delivering the option of contraception to women who might desperately need it. As always with these buffoons, generating headlines is the core role of government.

So why did Tolley “float the idea”? Actually she didn’t. She was asked about it seven minutes forty seconds into a ten minute interview. She responded to it, she didn’t float it.

Michael Parkins at 7:40 : You talk about early intervention a lot here, isn’t obviously the most early form of intervention stopping some people from having children, or having more children?

Anne Tolley: Well that’s very difficult for the State to do. I  certainly think we should be providing more family planning, more contraceptive advice to some of the families that we know are, I mean I know of cases that CYF have taken a sixth and seventh baby from.

The question I’ve asked is so what advice is now going in to that parent?

Parkins: So how could you stop them from baby three and four, because you know they’re going to fail at it?

Tolley: Yes, yes that’s exactly right.

Parkins: If you were really tough about these things that’s what you’d do though isn’t it?

Tolley: Well we’ll wait and see what the recommendations are. That’s a conversation that New Zealanders perhaps need to have.

Parkin: Could that be the result of this?

Tolley: Well that’s a big step when the State starts telling people, you know, deciding if you can have another child and you can’t. I mean that’s a huge step for the State to take.

Parkin: But you’re not ruling that out being part of this next report that comes.

Tolley: Well I’ll wait and see what the panel report. I expect that they will be saying that we should get much faster contraceptive advice in, we should be offering you know tubal ligations, all sorts of things. Um and counselling those families.

Full interview: Overhauling our child care services (10:03)

That was brought up and pushed by Parking with I think very moderate responses from Tolley.

A Green Dunedin City councillor tweeted:

Hey , I thought over the weekend we went forward an hour, not back in time?

That was favourited by Green co-leader Metiria Turei. She’s over in the US at the moment so can be partly excused for perhaps not knowing the full context, but Hawkins doesn’t have that excuse.

This is either ignorance of how the topic came up and how it ran through the interview, a cheap shot, or deliberate dirty politics.

On post-ideological politics

Danyl Mclauchlan has written an interesting post Notes on post-ideological politics. We do seem to have moved on from an ideological left/right political divide.

I keep seeing all these think-pieces about Trump and Corbyn and what’s happening in 21st Century western democratic politics, and what it might mean to New Zealand, so I thought I’d toss my opinions on the stack.

  1. We’re transitioning into a post-ideological democracy. No one seriously thinks we’re going to be either a socialist or free-market economy. And no one believes that when the economy grows the benefits of that growth will be shared equally. Politics is about which groups will be privileged by policy settings and wealth distribution.

From what I’ve seen around the blogs some seem to seriously think we can jump to a socialist economy or to a true free-market economy. The reality is tweaking a mix of both.

Of course benefits or anything for that matter cannot be shared equally. That’s a mistake some ideological socialists make – it’s impossible to define what is ‘equal’ let alone share equally in a very complex and unequal world.

Politics is about who will be privileged by wealth re-distribution. This generally means taking money from people with more money and giving it to people with less money.

  1. Which is another way of saying that most politics is now identity politics. Groups that aren’t privileged by the status quo want both cultural and economic change. These groups generally break down across racial and gender lines. People who don’t want change – because it will come at an economic or social cost to them – dismiss this kind of politics as ‘identity politics’. But, of course, the fight to preserve the high status of (mostly) white males is also a form of identity politics.

I’d like to see something to back up “groups generally break down across racial and gender lines” and the fight to preserve the high status of (mostly) white males” or I don’t buy it.I think political demographics are far more complex than ‘white man bad’.

  1. Although they affect to oppose it, mostly white men are the most ferocious practitioners of identity politics. That’s where Donald Trump comes in. Trump holds many views that are anathema to Republican elites. He’s in favor of socialised healthcare and higher taxes for the rich. Rank-and-file members don’t care about his policy positions though. They care that he’s a misogynist who hates Mexicans and Muslims and claims that Obama is a Kenyan. He’s signalling that he will champion his tribe of mostly white men against rival tribes. He will protect their privilege, which they feel is under threat.

Again, I call crap on “mostly white men”, without substantiating it i see that as lazy generalisation.

‘Phil’ has addressed this in comments:

The data doesn’t back this up. Trump’s support is, perplexingly, fairly evenly spread across most of the demographic breakdowns of Republicans. Of course he’s doing terribly on a national stage with Latino’s, but among registered republicans and independents that lean republican he’s polling quite consistently across all age ranges, geographic breakdowns, and income thresholds. He’s even doing ok with women – the gap between male and female support for Trump is not that big.

  1. Corbyn is different, and he shows us that identity politics can be more fluid than ethnic or gender divides. Identity can be defined in a negative sense. The entire British establishment went ballistic when it saw Corbyn out-campaigning pro-status quo rivals for the Labour leadership, and this saw a surge of support from people who feel disenfranchised by that establishment. I think it was Karl Rove who said that to succeed in politics you need to make thirty percent of the country hate you. Corbyn did that, and people who feel antagonistic towards his enemies decided that Corbyn was their friend.

And a somersault of convenience:

  • Trump = bad privileged white man (from the right)
  • Corbyn = good white man (from the left)

“The entire British establishment went ballistic when it saw Corbyn…” – bullshit on that too.

  1. In New Zealand terms, National has staked out a large privileged group which could be described as ‘predominantly white property-owners on middle and high incomes’. ‘Mainstream New Zealand’. Almost everything they do advances the economic and cultural interests of this group. National’s policy agenda makes no sense from an ideological point of view, but once you grasp that it’s not about serving an ideology, but rather a large, fairly homogeneous group of voters, generally at the cost of heterogeneous groups who are mostly less likely to vote then everything is perfectly logical.

And way off the mark. National are the first to raise benefit levels for decades. They have extended free health care to all children up to age 13. They have worked with others on providing breakfasts for many kids in low decile schools. None of this is as much as Danyl’s Greens want but it shows his generalisations as nonsense.

  1. Winston Peters understands this political model. He’s been practising it for a while. He’s shifting his identity slightly, from someone who champions the elderly to a hero of provincial New Zealanders. I think Labour and the Greens are cheerfully oblivious to all of this.

I agree with him on 6, except that Labour and greens must have a bit of an inkling. If not I suggest Danyl has a whisper in James’ ear.

I don’t think Danyl has quite gotten past post ideological politics yet.

“Dumbest, most awful people”…”National’s backbench MPs”

Danyl Mclauchlan has posted about what he wishes would be done about the Syrian refugee crisis in State of play, but then turns that into a bitter diss of the National back bench.

I wish we could do more. But I think this is better than last week’s response to the crisis, which was to do nothing. I also think Key is doing this against the wishes of the majority of his caucus.

Print and most broadcast media have called for action on this issue but if you listen to even a few minutes of talkback radio, the sentiment there is overwhelmingly opposed to it. These aren’t refugees, the argument goes: they’re welfare bludging terrorists.

And the dumbest, most awful people on talkback are a useful barometer of what National’s backbench MPs think on any given issue.

Nothing to back that statement up, no names, no examples, just a general diss.

Bryce Edwards recently pointed out in A tale of two Governments:

In general, Key appears to be aware of the need to combat third-termitis. His attempt to rejuvenate the party while in power has been unequalled.

Today’s Cabinet of 20 contains only 11 ministers who have been there since the start. Even more starkly, five of the six ministers outside Cabinet are new. And the wider caucus has been refreshed. More than a quarter of the caucus are new MPs elected last year. A large proportion of the MPs are under 45 and, although still rather “male and pale”, the diversity of National is expanding under Key’s watch.

So regardless of how dumb and awful Mclauchlan thinks they are, they are being replaced and replenished.

How does this compare to Mclauchlan’s Greens?

One MP from 2011 dropped out, Holly Walker. That allowed for one change in the Green lineup, with James Shaw being the only fresh face. Mclauchlan helped his campaign to replace Russel Norman as co-leader.

The Greens may not get much support from radio talkback – and it’s arguable how much National gets from there either, they tend to be unhappy with everything and every party – but I think it would be unfair to compare the Green MPs with some of the more vocal and extreme Green supporters in social media.