It’s almost like John Key doesn’t realise he’s the Prime Minister

There are two John Keys. That’s the only way to explain it. There’s the John Key who has been sitting on the ninth floor of the Beehive for seven years (and in Parliament for six years before that) and then there’s the John Key who gets wheeled out like the Winter Soldier whenever they need plausible deniability.

How else do we reconcile statements like this, on MPs’ pay rises:

Key has expressed his disappointment in the pay rises for MPs for the past five years.

It’s funny how someone who literally leads our country was powerless to do anything about changing the rules his government set for five years. Rules which incidentally they strengthened in favour of themselves in 2012.

And now there’s this, on travel perks:

Prime Minister John Key was bemused that MPs still get to take their spouses along, even in this day and age, and he won’t be alone.

Bemused?

Are we really meant to believe that a man of John Key’s business acumen and managerial experience, with 13 years as an MP, really just didn’t know that the perk existed? Despite the fact that sixteen members of his Party* have gone on such trips in the time he’s been Leader? Including two Speakers and one Deputy Speaker from the National benches? (Hat-tip @philiplyth for the link to reports of those trips.)

I mean, it’s not like the topic of pay rises and lifetime travel perks gets a lot of media coverage on a regular basis. David Farrar himself produced a handy guide to the perks as they stood in 2009. The Herald slammed the perks in a 2010 editorial. Maybe Key’s spokeswoman in 2012, who agreed that the perks are out of step with modern remuneration practices, could have explained it to him.

But no. We’re meant to buy that John Key is just a regular chap like us who can’t be expected to know anything about his own organisation and employment practices, much less pay attention to whatever unimportant stuff the newspapers are complaining about now.

Still, you have to wonder if it isn’t a little bit convenient that one of the BFFs of Key’s favourite texting buddy Cameron Slater raised the issue in headline-making terms so he could be “bemused” by it.

 

*Colin King, Paula Bennett, David Bennett, Jo Goodhew, Kate Wilkinson, Brian Connell, Katherine Rich, Nicky Wagner, Chris Tremain, Lindsay Tisch (as a member and leading as Deputy Speaker), Paul Hutchison, Tim Macindoe, Melissa Lee, Phil Heatley, plus David Carter and Lockwood Smith as Speakers of the day.

How the Dirty Politics machine continues to do its work

“There are a few basic propositions with negative campaigning that are worth knowing about. It lowers turnout, favours the right more than the left as the right continue to turn out, and drives away the independents.”

Simon Lusk, email to Nicky Hager reproduced in Dirty Politics (p18)

One of the many dispiriting things Nicky Hager described in Dirty Politics was how attack blogs like Whaleoil and two-dimensional shell organisations like the Taxpayers’ Union have been deliberately created by the right to push their narrative on New Zealand politics.

From page 103:

Like the blogs that ‘need not be associated (in name) with your party or campaign’, the NZTU is an example of a supposedly independent organisation designed to back up the work of a political party. Its launch press release described it as a ‘politically independent grassroots campaign’, but it is no more politically independent than the election finance and anti-MMP campaigns. In fact, it was like a rerun of the anti-MMP campaign, with Jordan Williams once again as frontperson and [David] Farrar as founder and main strategist.

The strategy works on a big or small scale. Sometimes it’s specific stories – like Len Brown’s affair, which was “broken” on Whaleoil – and sometimes it’s just general ideas and memes which benefit the right – all politicians are troughers, government spending is out of control, unions are evil.

The point isn’t to stir up the Whaleoil or Kiwiblog commentariat into ever grosser expressions of racism, misogyny and generalised hatred. It’s to make headlines in the mainstream, offline media. To get specifically-chosen language into the common vernacular.

And here we are today, with the Taxpayers’ Union pointing fingers at MPs’ travel expenses – always an easy target and one which literally everyone, besides the MPs themselves, are happy to throw shade at – and specifically, at the extension of those perks to partners. Or as they put it:

‘WAGs’ Should Stay at Home

WAGs is a very particularly British term, applied to the partners (“wives and girlfriends”) of professional football (soccer) players. It’s pretty obviously demeaning and dehumanizing – you’re not a person, you’re a vagina attached to a famous man – and feeds into any number of boring sexist tropes about women as pointless accessories whose “proper” place is in the home.

In this day and age, and when applied to the partners of New Zealand Members of Parliament, it’s also wildly inaccurate, since:

  • Not all MPs are men
  • Not all male MPs are heterosexual
  • Not all women partners of MPs fit into the categories of “wife” or “girlfriend”

But it is a snappy headline, precisely calculated to create indignation among one part of the population (containing me and my very best Killjoy Feminist buddies) and Daily Mail-esque class resentment in another.

And thus it was copy-pasted straight onto an article at Stuff:

MPs’ Europe trip: ‘WAGs should stay home’

And that’s how the machine keeps on ticking.

The irritating thing about it is that there is an important issue to explore here. The idea of partners (who yes, historically were assumed to all be wives) getting subsidised travel, even being automatically included, in work-related travel is a pretty archaic idea, still barely clinging on in some sectors and industries.

But that honestly doesn’t matter to the Taxpayer’s Union. They – and it feels somehow inappropriate to use a plural pronoun – weren’t created to fight issues of government spending on principle. They were created to sow National Party-favouring ideas into mainstream political discussion, and they’ll do that by any means necessary.

Specific reform of MPs’ expenses isn’t the goal. It’s about getting widespread acceptance of the idea that all politicians are troughing scum and all politics is dirty and why bother voting, it just encourages them.

Just like Simon Lusk said.

International travel perks for the people who got us into this mess?

There’s a long-running debate about the value of blogs compared to the mainstream media. Which provides value? Which just jumps on the other’s bandwagon?

The story of proposed changes – let’s be frank, increases – in current and former MPs’ international travel perks may turn some of your assumptions about that on their heads.

It’s about the perk which is still given to anyone who served as a Member of Parliament prior to 1999, a rebate on their travel for the year up to the cost of a business-class (because they’re far too important to travel coach) return fair to London (which I’m sure was determined based on distance and not rampant internalized colonialism.)

And the government is making some changes to it.

It broke on Twitter, which isn’t too surprising to people who actually use Twitter, with this from Philip Lyth:

It was picked up at No Right Turn, who calculated the change to actually represent an increase of up to $4,000 per year, and expanded on by Graeme Edgeler at Public Address,

Now, as I’m writing this on Sunday evening, it’s hit the Stuff and Herald websites – both depending heavily on Edgeler’s write-up.

If that isn’t a case of the accursed Twitterati and anonymous bloggers leading the way with important news stories, I don’t know what is.*

I think we must in some way recognise the work and commitment of our elected representatives, but the idea of travel perks – especially the kind that last long after you’ve retired from your very-well-paid job – just rub me up the wrong way. And I’m especially leery about those perks being given to a generation of MPs, many of whom who oversaw the dismantling of workers’ rights, the destruction of our domestic manufacturing industry, the privatisation of state assets and everything else which has contributed to the rampant and growing inequality we face as a nation.

It’s simply disquieting to be giving people like Jenny Shipley, Rodney Hide, Bill Birch and Roger Douglas an extra $4k to play with – the equivalent of 7 weeks working 40 hours on the minimum wage. Before tax.

And I’ve got to say I’m not too impressed with Annette King’s apparent “it’s just correcting a mistake, my cohort were always meant to be getting more money” defence of the change. Why not just say “It was a mistake – but come on, team, it’s not like we need the money on top of our generous salaries and gold-plated superannuation, is it?”

Our MPs are well-remunerated for their service to the country. I think they should be able to just let this one go.

 

*Yes, I know Idiot/Savant is pseudonymous, not anonymous, but the people who usually attack the blogosphere’s integrity don’t tend to know the difference.