Boots Theory top 5 posts for October

A quiet month, but a good one.

Stephanie commented on the government’s triumphant crowing over a budget surplus: There is no surplus.

If you aren’t providing the services you are contracted to do – in this case, maintaining the public services and promoting the welfare of New Zealanders – and declaring a profit, you’re not running a successful business. You’re running a Ponzi scheme.

This surplus isn’t a success for our government. It is a sign of their failure. It shows they do not understand what their job is: to look after the people of this country. To govern us – not bean-count. It shows they do not understand what success looks like, because success should never be measured on a spreadsheet while children are dying of preventable diseases in mold-ridden houses.

There is no surplus – not if you care about people more than money.

And suggested ten useful things politicians could do instead of jumping on the sugar tax bandwagon:

Our distaste for the huge corporations who sell the packaged/processed/unrecognisable/cheap/nasty food we label as “junk” distracts us from the reality that they are only able to profit because far too many people do not have the luxury of picking and choosing a perfect organic macronutrient-balanced meal plan every week.

I get it. Those guys suck. But ultimately, a sugar tax does nothing but make the cheapest food available more expensive, in an environment where many people cannot make ends meet anyway. Those people won’t find magical quinoa salad under the mattress in the boot of their car if a bag of potato chips costs 50c more.

And tried to lift the mood by reminding us all not to despair:

And god, I know the frustration you feel at your fellow New Zealanders. When you’re faced with what seems like an unstoppable war-rig of capitalism, it’s so much easier to scream at the people who voted National, or didn’t vote at all. “This is your fault! If you weren’t so stupid and self-absorbed and watching Real Housewives of Auckland we wouldn’t be in this mess!”

But we have to rein that in, folks.

We have to remember that a defining part of being on the left and being progressive and believing in social justice is that we have faith in people. We know people are fundamentally good. We know humans are social animals who form communities and friendships and look out for each other, when they’re not being hammered every day with rightwing narratives about bludgers and self-interest and YOUR taxpayer dollars being wasted on those parasites.

Rob addressed one of the great shibboleths of leftwing politics: The middle vs the centre

The trick is to find the shared middle values that align with your core principles as a political party, or don’t strongly run against them, and play them up to the electorate. National understand that: it’s why John Key plays to “the centre” on a regular basis. But it’s not the centre he’s playing to, it’s a broadly shared value set that happens to be progressive. And it’s important to note that he never ever plays to a progressive value that cuts across his constituency’s interests – eg any policy that might seriously harm speculative investment in housing, any hint of drug liberalisation, any increase in work rights that might significantly tip the balance away from employers.

The best thing an effective opposition can do is map the middle values that the government can’t touch, such as deterring housing speculators, investing in health, or strengthening work rights, and play these up as much as possible to wedge the government against middle voters.

And we took on that Aaron Smith toilet “story” together.

Honestly, mistaking feminist (actually humanist) concern for abuse of power (ie what happened with the Chiefs) for some kind of Victorian prudishness only shows how dangerously out of touch and unqualified to provide role models to young men like my son, you are.

Boots Theory top 5 posts for September

After a bit of a lull things started revving up again here at Boots Theory, thanks to the local government elections.

If you haven’t already checked out our massive list of 2016 local goverment endorsements, now’s your chance – and please get those votes in the mail!

obama-dont-boo-vote

There was quite a record-scratch heard across the NZ Twittersphere when a certain hacker resurfaced, so Beware, creepy men of the right: Rawshark returns (briefly).

It’s a bit hard to avoid the conclusion that rightwing men are so lacking a moral compass that they happily exploit sexual intimacy to manipulate women to gain political ammunition.

If women were doing the same thing to men they’d be denounced as cuckolding honeytrap Jezebels from every direction. That’s the patriarchal double standard for you.

Jordan Williams did ultimately win his defamation case against Colin Craig, in a decision which left many across the country wonder how much our reputations are worth if his black little soul is good for over a mill.

Stephanie pissed off a large chunk of the green lobby by posting on The Kermadecs and racist environmentalism:

So this is how it goes. Pākehā make a decision to eradicate fishing rights without consulting Māori, because we know better. Then we decry them for not caring about the environment – which we stole from them and exploited for over a century – and imply they only care about money – which is a good thing if you’re in business but not if you’re brown.

And so we pat ourselves on the back for being More Enlightened About The Environment while literally confiscating land & resources from Māori again.

Then it was back to business as normal being a woman living in patriarchy, because it was A great few days for sexism in New Zealand:

Look, ladies, it’s easy to stay out of trouble in New Zealand. Just don’t break up with men, don’t work for men, don’t call out men for assaulting you, and generally just don’t be in the vicinity of men. Especially if they’re someone you know, someone you loved, someone you worked for or a team of someones celebrated as the peak specimens of your country’s masculine prowess.

Unfortunately things just kept getting worse from there.

Back to the joys of local government, a lot of you enjoyed reading about The other war of the polls:

If there’s a weakness in the current lineup of Wellington likelies, it’s that the odds seem stacked against outsiders. Practically everyone running for mayor is either currently on council or has been. The front-runners are the current Deputy Mayor, who has a major party behind him; a sitting Councillor, who unofficially has an even bigger political party behind her; and the Mayor of a neighbouring city, with a warchest big enough to have his face plastered onto every available surface in the CBD (though apparently not enough to get humble hoardings out to the northern suburbs?)

I long for a Chlöe Swarbrick kind of run – and in Wellington she’d have a much better shot. Maybe in 2019 …

Well, in a couple of weeks we’ll have the results of the only poll that really matters.

Top five posts for June

Good lord, we’re half way through the year already.

Brexit smashed everything out of the park this month, with new Boots Theory author (Bootster? Boots Theorist?) posting On Brexit:

A much better reaction to Brexit and to what now appears to be a wave of anti-establishment reaction across western democracies, would be for social democratic political parties to look for ways to reengage with the electorate, and particularly the working class, on progressive issues.

That means seeing the parliamentary left not as leaders of the debate but as an equal part of a broader progressive movement. It means giving more authority to rank and file party members (it’s no coincidence that people joined NZ Labour and UK Labour in droves when they had a meaningful opportunity to make a choice of leader), it means working alongside democratic organisations like unions and NGOs as a parliamentary cog of the progressive movement rather than acting as defacto leaders of it.

Stephanie offered a musical interlude on the same theme.

Before Brexit blew everything out of the water, the big political story half of the month was the announcement of the Labour/Greens MoU. Stephanie wrote in the Labour/Greens deal:

… some will say this agreement is a killing blow to National’s chances in 2017, and others will declare it hands National the 2017 election on a platter. But the important thing isn’t whether Labour and the Greens have a silly handshake, an MoU, a concrete coalition deal, or a blood oath sworn on Grabthar’s Hammer. It’s whether they look like a credible alternative. It’s how they get a clear message to the nation: this is what’s wrong and this is how we fix it.

And Rob focused on The Winston Effect, writing on the MoU:

Things have changed with the M.O.U. They’ve changed because Andrew Little has re-staked his claim as leader of the opposition and has brought together a power base that rivals the Prime Minister’s in terms of the number of New Zealanders it represents. Having watched Little throughout his time in the union movement and in politics, I’m expecting he’ll use that power well to create change – it’s something he’s always done.

What that all adds up to, despite what some pundits have claimed, is a harder time for Winston and bad news for Key.

Stephanie looked at the way we talk about tax:

We have tacitly supported the idea that tax is a burden, that government spending should be reined in, that we must avoid at all costs getting hit with the “tax and spend” label. We’ve abandoned the good old socialist rhetoric about where wealth comes from – labour – and why government exists – to ensure wealth is distributed more fairly and support everyone in our society to live a good life. Instead we propose minimal-cost policies and fiscally-neutral spending.

It can feel like an insurmountable challenge, I know! The rightwing rhetoric is so pervasive we don’t even see it as a political statement any more, to say “business creates jobs” or “goverments must deliver surplus”. But we can be bold and challenging and forthright about the principles that matter to us.

The back pay issue broke in the second half of the month, with Rob advocating for stopping the clock:

My guess is that, caught on the hop, Key’s natural response was to say no to “The Unions”. I think that’s a mistake based on his, and other National Party folks’, unwillingness to acknowledge that “The Unions” is in fact a group of democratic organisations comprising a huge cross-section of New Zealanders, including many National Party voters.

Stephanie also posted her own take on The Labour/Greens deal and the continuing weirdness of rightwing local government politics, this time in Wellington; and Rob had a bit more to say in a note on Brexit and NZ Labour.

Earworm of the day: Euro edition

It isn’t all terrible Eurovision entrants, chums. Take for example this bit of awesome military-historical power metal. Any Leave voters in the room might want to have a listen, then think very hard about what you’ve done.

On the M.O.U.

I’m a bit late to the party on the Labour/Greens M.O.U. but letting the dust clear a little before passing judgement is perhaps not such a bad thing.

The M.O.U. had to happen. And the sooner the better. Not because it means a lot in terms of the Green and Labour working more closely – they already were – but because that relationship is now publicly codified and it’s now very clear that there’s a forty-percent-plus block that balances out National’s vote.

Some in the commentariat have made a big deal about how this is Labour giving in.

It isn’t.

If anything it’s Labour getting stronger. It’s a given now that not only will Labour’s machine work to make Andrew Little the next Prime Minister, but the Greens’ machine will as well.

Effectively Little is now leading a voting block that is within striking distance of becoming Government.

And that’s something Winston Peters is now going to have to deal with.

Because despite the pundits claiming this makes Peters stronger, what it actually does is put him into a corner. When, for example, he dogwhistles against a minority such as Muslims, he’s whistling in the wind – because whatever argument he’s making goes nowhere if it’s not backed by either Labour/Greens or John Key’s National party.

A Labour party at 29% could feasibly kowtow to Peter’s cynicism (I don’t think they would, but desperation makes anything possible). But a Labour/Greens block at 43% doesn’t have the same pressure. When you represent nearly half of all New Zealanders it’s much easier to say no. And it carries a lot more weight.

That creates an uncomfortable situation for Key. The numbers are most likely going to mean a fourth term National Government will be a National/NZ First coalition – that’s received wisdom.

That means that if the Green/Labour block – particularly Andrew Little – knock back Peters’ headline grabbing, there’s going to be more and more pressure on Key to engage with it. That’s pressure Key doesn’t want or need – he’s busy enough trying to put some shine back on his ailing liberal brand without getting caught up in debates about Muslims, or Asians, or Māori or whatever drum Peters is banging for attention this week or next.

Now I know there’ll be some within Labour who are afraid of upsetting Peters by pushing back on him occasionally, but they need to get over themselves and start thinking like price makers instead of price takers. Headline-grabbing cynicism aside, New Zealand First’s policy platform aligns a lot more closely with Labour and the Greens’ platform than it does with National. And Peters is a professional – he’s been around and he’ll make the decision on who he goes with based on the numbers post 2017 and what leverage they give him to get what he wants.

Anyone who doubts that should remember that it was only a few years ago that John Key’s dirty politics team ran a rabid and personal attack campaign on Peters that saw him exit politics for a term. A campaign that presumably had the Nats’ sign off. Key’s people humiliated Peters yet Winston can’t and won’t rule out going with them – if he did he’d lose the illusory power he has.

Things have changed with the M.O.U. They’ve changed because Andrew Little has re-staked his claim as leader of the opposition and has brought together a power base that rivals the Prime Minister’s in terms of the number of New Zealanders it represents. Having watched Little throughout his time in the union movement and in politics, I’m expecting he’ll use that power well to create change – it’s something he’s always done.

What that all adds up to, despite what some pundits have claimed, is a harder time for Winston and bad news for Key.

Rob Egan is an ex-senior advisor to two Labour leaders and co-owner of public relations firm Piko Consulting.