So long and thanks for all the defishits

I’ve been a bit distracted over the past week setting up a wee side project* but what do you know, the omens were right: comfortably within the two-week period after fronting the media to say that any talk of a leadership change was rubbish, a major political party is changing leaders.

I’m just so bloody glad it’s not Labour this time.

Nobody would believe for a second that I have any kind of inside knowledge on the factions and agendas of the blue team, and I just don’t have the sheer gall of a Matthew Hooton to make things up and count it a success if people squawk at it. So what to say?

There’s been an upsurge in mischievous #crushingforCollins tweets from the left, and a huge amount of tea-leaf reading and bold predictions from the press gallery, who know that being the person to call the result early means bragging rights for life, while being one of the many calling it wrong will vanish like tears in the rain.  The broad consensus puts Collins, Bridges and Kaye at the top of the list – the arguments for each, respectively, “because nothing can stop her”, “because he’s comparatively fresh-faced but experienced” and “because she kind of fits the Jacinda mould”.

But who knows? And does it matter? The National Party, despite holding on to their polling numbers for the time being, don’t seem to know what to do with themselves. Since Key stepped down at the end of 2016, they’ve been in a holding pattern in terms of strategy, and entirely failed to re-jig their campaign to account for having a very different leader at the helm. And none of the possible contenders – not even the outside bets – seem to have Key’s sorcerous mix of affability, Teflon coating and unthreatening blandness. Certainly not Collins. Certainly not Bridges:

Ultimately, it’s the Catholics I feel sorry for. When Bill became Prime Minister for a  blessed few months, there was a sudden flurry of activity from the marriage-is-sacred, pregnancy-a-duty corner of the National Party – a corner which has seriously kept to itself for the past decade. They clearly saw their moment, nominating candidates in very safe seats, like Simeon Brown, former President of the student group ProLife Auckland, in Pakuranga and Chris Penk – who believes “a baby should have as many human rights inside the womb as it did outside of it” – in Key’s old stomping ground of Helensville.

But Bill was their only shot. As far as I know – and like I said, I’m no expert on the internal workings of the National Party – none of the genuine contenders for the leadership come from that side of the altar. They might placate them by promising not to advance abortion law reform or to repeal assisted suicide, should Seymour’s bill go through, but that’s never enough for extremist religious types. For a brief glimmering moment, they might have thought they were going to get genuine conservative change. And it’s gone. And all they have left is a party possibly on the brink of schism (which wouldn’t be the worst idea, electorally speaking) and a pregnant 37-year-old socialist* in the Beehive.

Poor things.

But what to say of Bill, now he’s off? The Prime Minister and others have made the usual polite noises about “his service” and the deep mutual respect all politicians theoretically have even for those on the other side of the spectrum. The meme has always been that he was a fantastic Minister of Finance (they all have to be, after Rob Muldoon) and he kept the country running (because we kid ourselves that “the economy” is a fickle and temperamental demigod who must be bound from doing harm by arcane ritual, published in bright blue covers and distributed to the priesthood during the sacred time of “the Budget lock-in”).

I say: this is a man who, despite professing a deep spiritual faith in a saviour whose paramount message was of love, compassion and mutual care, spent decades hammering the message that only money mattered. That the only measure of success and health for our country was balancing the books and making the numbers come out right at the end. And he couldn’t even do that. He failed by his own calculating, cold-hearted metrics, and did immense damage to the people of this country in the process.

Jog on, Bill.


*I just launched a YouTube channel for snarky reviews of romance novels. If that sounds like your kind of thing, head on over to Op Shop Romance.

QOTD: Felix Marwick on the OIA and John Key’s hats

I missed this earlier in the week: an update on Felix Marwick’s long-running attempts to uncover the extent of John Key’s communications with bloggers (i.e. Farrar and Slater). The last two paragraphs are spot-on:

What my use of the OIA shows is that leaks and surreptitious acquisition of evidence is the only way you are going to get political material of this nature that is in the public interest. The Official Information Act won’t overcome political self interest as long as politicians are allowed to determine what hat they’re wearing when they’re using public information for their own political ends. Being a Minister and a Prime Minister is a full time job. Politicians shouldn’t get to finagle the system just so as to protect their political manoeuvring. Governments wield immense power so there need to be adequate checks and balances on those that exercise that power.

The other thing you can deduce from a three year battle over access to correspondence is that the most senior politician in the land probably had something to hide.

John Key’s “well I was wearing a different hat at the time” obfuscations were quite literally straight out of Yes, Prime Minister. We’ll probably never know the full truth – especially given Key’s totally-not-suspicious tendency to delete all his text messages – but we can absolutely conclude that he was up to shenanigans he didn’t want the New Zealand public to be aware of, and we need better systems to ensure it cannot happen again.

My plea to the New Zealand left: don’t get cocky

Well. That was a hell of an announcement, wasn’t it? A massive cause for celebration: no matter how true it is that being Prime Minister involves a hell of a lot of hard work and time away from your family, we all know that no one ever resigns, unexpectedly, on the eve of election year, out of selfless sacrifice.

The New Zealand left have spent a good eight years hating John Key. Whatever the reason he’s going, and however little it has to do with anything we’ve actually done, our enemy is vanquished.

And yet, a tiny voice cries out. It belongs to the cynical part of my brain, the bit that, sharklike, never stops working. Because I’m a millennial nerd, it speaks in the voice of Han Solo.


The question many people will be asking Andrew Little now will be “So do you think you have 2017 locked down now?” That’s a bit of a trap. Labour has to look confident, but not, you know, too confident.


What encourages me is that so much of the feedback you hear from the Mt Roskill by-election is about how hard Michael Wood and his team campaigned there. There was no taking Roskill for granted, even when up against a gaffe-prone exemplar of the National Party’s “terrible candidates running in theoretically winnable seats” finishing school.

But we have to keep that momentum going.

We – the left, the progressive movement, pick your own label – now have our best chance in nearly a decade. Not just to win. Not just to get comfy in the back of a Crown limo or find out if the seats really are greener on the other side of the House. We can get a Labour-Green government which plans for the future and rebuilds New Zealand into a country which cares about people, leads the world in our response to climate change and growing corporate power, and promotes strong, progressive values over the nasty, cynical individualism of the right.

We aren’t going to get that if we let ourselves think, “Well, Key was National’s greatest weapon; now he’s gone, guess that whole election thing’s in the bag.”


Now we have to work even harder, because it will be too easy to assume victory is assured. We have to be even bolder, because if voters do want “a change” they’ll have one in the form of a new PM – especially if it’s a woman or, should Bennett or Bridges take the crown, our first Māori PM (commiserations to @LukeTipoki).

People aren’t stupid. They know that our country is being run for a greedy few, not all of us. The change National offers now may only be superficial, but it might be enough for them, unless they’re given a genuine alternative – not just a few decent policies and a good-sounding slogan, but a whole new way of looking at the world, underpinned by serious, progressive principles (these ones are a pretty good start).

It shouldn’t be that big a challenge. Labour has the proud history of standing up for what’s right. The Greens have the cred of always looking to the future and coming up with good policies ten years before they become mainstream received wisdom. In some ways it shouldn’t matter who the Prime Minister is – because we should be setting our own agenda, not just reacting to the government’s and letting them dictate the terms of the battle.

But we need to show determination and vision. We won’t be allowed to sleepwalk to victory. Key’s resignation is a huge opportunity – and it has to be taken, not taken for granted.

A change underway in local government?

Things feel pretty bleak on the left these days. It seems like the forces of short-sighted self-centered capitalism reign supreme, that darned mainstream media isn’t asking the questions we want them to (and only the questions we want them to), and those blasted voters just aren’t getting the message.

Besides, it’s a local government election year, and literally no one cares about local body politics. Right?

scrubs wrong

Wrong, apparently. The Spinoff, which is basically my main source of news and great TV reviews these days, didn’t just manage to raise $10,000 to do some honest-to-god active campaigning journalism focused on Auckland’s unitary plan, council elections and housing crisis. They raised it in 17 hours. As of typing up this post they’re sitting at over $23,000.

Turns out “the people” do know good media when they see it, and are willing to stump up the cash. I mean, who wouldn’t pay for regular video content of Shamubeel Eaqub calling bullshit on things?

It makes me feel hopeful. Not just that we’ll get solid, in-depth reporting on the future of Auckland for the next few months, but that this can set a tremendous precedent for political engagement and how our media operate – instead of having to rely on clickbait and churn to get those ad impressions up.


There’s also a change happening in the capital, with the National Party all-but-outright endorsing a mayoral candidate in the Wellington race. National have always had proxy candidates in the capital – Nicola Young, even Nick Leggett if those much-denied only-Whaleoil-seems-to-have-heard-them rumours about his fundraising are true. In Auckland, the Citizens & Ratepayers group or whatever they’re called these days was always deep blue (and Labour and the Greens have taken the same approach in the big city with united brands like City Vision and Future West.) And it’s perfectly understandable for Bill English to say nice things about Jo Coughlan, given they’re in-laws.

But then you look at what English did say – not just “Jo’s a mate and I think she’d be a great mayor”, but quite baldly, “wouldn’t it be nice if you had the right kind of mayor, and then I could give you aaaaaaaaall this money”. You look at the fact that National have unsubtly asked their members for money for her campaign. You see John Key, a man painfully precise about how his image is used (even if we on the left think he makes terrible choices in that regard) posing for a friendly snap with Coughlan at the flash opening of the new David Jones department store:

This isn’t the usual “if you know Wellington politics you know who the Tories are and who the lefties are, even though everyone calls themselves an Independent” variety of partisanship. Though the field is more crowded by the day, and no cups of tea have been publicly consumed, the hopes of the Right to get a friendly mayor into Wellington are clearly pinned on Team Jo.

It may not be the smartest move. Wellington is a pretty solid Labour/Greens town. But it obviously irks the Parliamentary right to have the city council in their own back yard doing silly things like holding onto assets and not building ALL THE ROADS. They have to unite around someone if they’re going to defeat the incumbent mayor (Wade-Brown) and a well-resourced Labour ticket (Lester) on the preferences. So “go, Jo” it is.