Labour: the first step to recovery is admitting you have a problem

Abysmal, diabolical, appalling. I actually quite liked David Shearer’s more plaintive ‘tragic’. The hurt will be profound, and the post-mortem is already underway. Seven hours in caucus. Seven! What the hell can you cover in seven hours?

Cunliffe: “I. Am. Still. The. Best. Man. To. Lead. This. Party.”

Most of the rest of the caucus: “No, you really aren’t.”

Cunliffe: “Am too!”

And so on ad infinitum.

I am almost as passionate about The Labour Party as I am about David Cunliffe
“I am almost as passionate about the Labour Party as I am about myself”

Staggeringly, it could have been even worse for Labour. They could have plumbed National’s depths of 2002 and gone below 21%, but they didn’t.

The Greens could have capitalised on Labour’s woes and made inroads into their support base, but they didn’t.

Internet-Mana could have bumbled into the Beehive on Hone’s coattails, ending the career of a potential leader on Labour’s right (Kelvin Davis), and giving John Key a comically easy target of extreme left silliness which he could point to and sagely warn voters that “voting Labour lets in that lot”… but they didn’t, in what was the highlight of the night for, well, anyone remotely sane.

Which brings me on to the other clown in Saturday’s circus who doesn’t know the meaning of the word humility: the Right Honeable Harawira. Te Tai Tokerau could have been his personal fiefdom for many years. Selling out to a fat German fraudster is about the only thing that could have blotted his copybook, and oh look, that’s just what he did. The biggest cheer of the night for the Maori Party was seeing their erstwhile colleague humbled after he ratted on them three years ago. Utu is a dish best eaten cold, as they say. At least Dotcom had the decency, if that’s what you can call it, to admit the bleeding obvious and acknowledge that he had ‘poisoned’ the Mana brand. Hone was nowhere to be seen and has refused all contact with the media. AWOL. Pathetic. I’m not sure what his legions of young Maori fans will make of it, but his hapless colleagues have been left at the mercy of the media, who have gleefully pointed out that the $4.5m which Dotcom shoved his way translates to about $150 per vote! You cannot buy your way into power in NZ – just ask Colin Craig.

You packed a sad. Not the best look, cuzz.
You packed a sad. Not the best look, cuzz #takingthemanaoutofMana

But back to the main story. Labour can crunch numbers and analyse trends and talk to pollsters all they like, but their fundamental problem starts with C, ends with E and contains a silent T. He reminds me of Gordon Brown of the UK: a man so obsessed with securing the top job, so visceral in his hatred of smiling Tony Blair, that when he finally briefed and manoeuvred and connived and just plain whinged Bliar into retirement, he was, er, underwhelming to say the least. As one insider put it sagely, “it was the job he always wanted, but when he got it, he just had no idea what to do”. And anyone following the Scottish referendum will appreciate that Brown is an immensely talented politician in many other ways, whose eleventh hour exhortations to his fellow Scots had far more gravitas than anything Cameron and Miliband could muster.

David Cunliffe is not even immensely talented at being David Cunliffe. There is no conviction and sincerity about him whatsoever, and voters can smell it. Voters are customers, and they are always right. I hate the way business jargon has infested every sphere of life, but in this instance it is spot on. To all those of a left persuasion who have been venting on Facebook and Twitter about the unfairness of the result, the brainwashed voters, the compliant media: give it a rest. If someone switched from Labour to National, it doesn’t mean they don’t care about child poverty, quality education, fair taxation, climate change. Many of them do. It’s just they took one look at Labour-Greens-Mana and said: “Yeah, nah.”

John Key is not a fascist, he doesn’t eat babies and he isn’t reading your emails. He really isn’t. It’s to Helen Clark’s credit that National had to elect a centrist leader to get back into power. After all, Key endorsed the ‘anti-smacking’ bill and gay marriage. He wants to change the flag. He used his last budget to increase paid parental leave. He just offered financial incentives for teachers to the tune of $359m for crying out loud. The guy is almost pink. But he refuses to do anything about our growing pension bill, housing affordability, protecting small businesses and tradies from larger coporates and so on. There is plenty to criticise.

But Cunliffe ain’t the answer. If he really does try to cling on in his bunker, the Labour caucus might have to do something drastic. Weedkiller in one option. Here’s my suggestion: tell him to resign and refuse to stand for the leadership, or they will refuse to take their seats in Parliament when it reconvenes on October 20th. Just imagine: Cunliffe sat alone with rows of empty seats behind him, while braying Nats pound him into the dust. It couldn’t happen to a nicer guy.

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Wee ‘Eck’s Moment of Truth

Christ on a bike, I hate him!
When Bumface met Wee ‘Eck: a tragicomedy in 3 acts

How did it come to this? In a few hours, Scots (well, electors resident in Scotland) might vote to leave the union. They really really might. The polls have narrowed and tightened, inch by inch, and now it really is too close to call. Yet in the 1980s, despite the ascendancy of Thatcher, supposedly Scotland’s bete noire, support for independence was at just 20%.

Before I pick over the bones of the rapprochement between North and South Britain, a little History lesson is in order. Or should I say, a quashing of a few myths. Believe it or not, England has never conquered Scotland. Not even in the fevered imaginings of the Sun and the Mail. Scotland entered an equal partnership in 1707. Nor is Scotland ‘subsidised’ by London England the rest of the UK. It’s complicated, but tax raised in Scotland covers basic expenditure, except for defence and other similar UK-wide costs.

And there’s more: not everyone in Scotland wears a kilt. Irn Bru, whisky (spelled thus) and oil are not their only exports. Not every ‘Scotchman has a grievance’. Rangers and Celtic are not the only fitba teams in Caledonia. And so on, and so on. The weather can be pretty shite, mind.

Likewise, not everyone in England is an effing Tory. Indeed, the rest of the UK (rUK) is not just England. Presumably Welsh and Northern Irish views are just as important, although the rhetoric seems to be more and more about England against Scotland. Scotland is a lot more than just an SNP tartan-shortbread-biscuit-tin cliche. And those Yes voters who believe they are ushering in a permanent socialist utopia are deluded: the SNP is certainly populist and centrist, but not as much of a beacon of social democracy as they pretend. Take their healthcare subsidies and free university fees: these are aimed squarely at the middle class, sine the poorest never pay for these things anyway.

The media, naturally, are at their jingoistic worst. 10 quid says that the Sun’s headline tomorrow will be “CANNY JOCKS VOTE TO STAY” or similar, in the event of a No vote. In such an environment, it’s no wonder that it has turned ugly and silly. Soundbites, stereotypes and cliches rarely advance the discussion. The campaign itself has had an air of unrealism. You can’t fault Salmond for optimism, but his position on currency, surely one of the most central issues in an independence vote, is either comically naive or wilfully misleading. Better Together, a.k.a. Project Fear, have hardly covered themselves in glory either. If your wife told you one day that she was unhappy and wanted to leave you, do you think that threatening her with financial hardship if she did, even if it that might be the case, would persuade her to stay?

Snappy, isn't it?
Snappy, isn’t it?

And there it is in a nutshell. One side is all about identity and freedom, the other has become fixated on the financial and practical ramifications, with neither seeing that this is exactly what exasperates the other side. Nation states have separated in the past with sufficient will, and the sky hasn’t caved in. And distinct cultures have remained together in some kind of union for the greater good too. I think that the challenges are serious for Scotland, but I think the practical consequences have been exaggerated.

This nonsense could go on and on. And, for the better part of about 18 months, it has. Whatever the result tomorrow, it will be extremely close, and leave bitter divisions between both camps. But, if the vote is NO, and I think it probably will be, just, the opportunity to rebuild a properly federal UK should not be missed. There are three options on the table: Devo Plus and Devo Max, which sound like new generation painkillers, and Gordon Brown’s big plan (remember him?).

Many writers and bloggers have avoided making an emotional plea, but I think that separation votes are legitimately all about emotion and affection. So, Scotland, go if you want to, and amicably, but I’d really love you to stay.

Two sleeps to go! Vote NZ 2014: please do not feed the vultures

And there it was, nestled in the mailbox, along with something about Vote Positively, Love New Zealand and A Brighter Future: my voting papers and my red carpet sneak preview of the 2014 official party list. I could hardly contain my excitement.

The disappointment has been palpable. A brief glance confirms that austerity has not only hit people’s wallets; it has forced the demise of a number of classic fringe parties that have been the cornerstone of New Zillund democracy. What has happened to Libertarianz? Whither the 99MP Party? Even the ill-fated Kiwi Party has morphed into something quite different.

After my initial dismay at this rather thin document, a cursory glance at its contents soon restores my faith in its evidence of a robust democracy potential for jaw-dropping comedy. The exotically-named cabal of Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis’s list, just aching for the freedom to ingest one chemical, are immediately before the troofers of Ban1080, grimly committed to eradicating another from our ‘pristine’ environment. Perhaps an Internet-Mana style team-up could pay dividends.

 

And you can't smoke it either, so it probably should be banned.
And you can’t smoke it either, so it probably should be banned.

Don’t forget the old favourites: Democrats for Social Credit are the latest outfit to promote, er, Social Credit, which was all the rage in 1981, but is now as quaintly and embarrassingly retro as The Human League. And no sniggering at the back at their ambitious list of 35. Weighing in at 41, it would be mean to suggest that act‘s list is a tad optimistic – perhaps they will all fit into Epsom. The Greens have found their Mojo in recent elections, and Sage is an apt choice for their list. Though not as aptly-named as former National MP Katharine Rich [enough of the lame puns, or you’re fired – Ed.].

Then there are the new pretenders: Focus New Zealand (Warning: this site will autoplay a clip of a man with a large moustache) seems to be a coterie of Northland beef farmers and midwives. Focusing. On New Zealand. On the issues that matter. Naturally. And I’m delighted to see a former student of mine making the most of his extensive education by sitting at a dizzy 6 for the Civilian Party. Sounding like a fringe sport governing body, NZIC (Warning: dubious link, not approved by Assange and Snowden) turns out to be Brendan Horan’s mob, who earnestly reassure us that they will not be Muppets Puppets in Parliament. Bless, as Colin Craig might say.

 

Eat positive.
Eat positive.
Best. Photo. Ever.
Best. Photo. Ever.

 

 

 

 

 

Definitely Not A Puppet.
Definitely Not A Puppet.

Indeed, if you can be bothered to read candidate bios, a common theme emerges that they are proud not to be career politicians. This will be the election when the independent voice of the fearless iconoclast will rise up and be heard. Honest-to-God Kiwi battlers from provincial heartlands will finally stick it to Wellington troughers. Who can resist the promise of Less Politics, More Democracy: as vague and meaningless a slogan as from any Orwellian fantasy? This has always struck me as an odd logic, since a doctor or a mechanic who proudly touts his naivete and lack of experience, would be far from reassuring. Politics is different, apparently. All that remains is for John Key to proudly declare on the eve of the election that no boy from a state house could be ever be thought of as a career politician. David Cunliffe will then frantically issue a press release to apologise for being a politician.

And cutting through the nonsense and hoopla, this is what it will still come down to: ShonKey v. Silent T. Dirty Politics v. Hapless Politics. The smiling assassin v. the man who said this. Ouch! Yes, it was taken out of context; yes, there have been scandals and pratfalls from TeamKey too; yes, anyone who makes such a bold statement against domestic violence must be a decent man under the smug demeanour. But this will be the sad epitaph on a one year leadership of death by a thousand self-inflicted cuts: the CGT fiasco, the skiing holiday mid-campaign, setting up a private trust for campaign donations while excoriating other parties who used such trusts, calling parts of his caucus scabs, throwing mud at National over their contact with the police regarding Donghua Liu, only to watch it spray back over him as it was revealed he had written a letter on Liu’s behalf. In short, Labour have gradually haemorrhaged around 10% in the polls over this period. It hardly needs mentioning that most of the Labour parliamentary caucus cannot stand him either. Rightly or wrongly, if the polls are correct, many voters are less concerned by National and the Dirty Politics / GCSB saga, and more troubled by Cunliffe’s competence.

Even with horns on his hood, he'll get close to 50%.
Even with horns on his head, he’ll get close to 50%.
This Russell Crowe look is surely worth a few more votes?
This Russell Crowe look is surely worth a few more votes?

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

He wasn't much better either...
He wasn’t much better either…

And despite this being one of the most voluble, volatile, nasty, silly, petty, screwball campaigns in memory, it still all feels quite safe and unthreatening beneath the cant and hysteria. Ultimately, laconic Kiwi common sense will be restored, and 120 or so relatively normal, reasonably diverse and mostly harmless people will settle into their Beehive seats, for three more years at the tiller of SS NZ. After all, apart from the big ticket policy clashes which dominate the media, most policy is evaluated soberly in cross-party select committees; when it finally reaches the House for ‘debate’, the placid proceedings are in marked contrast to PMQs. If it’s radical you want, hop over to Sweden; in amongst the neo-Nazis and euroloonies, a feminist party may hold the balance of power. I rushed to their party website, to check out their candidates policies. Oh ja! Interesting times ahead in the land of Abba.

 

Not actually one of Sweden's newest MPs.
Not actually one of Sweden’s newest MPs.

My predictions? National won’t get 50%. Labour were similarly on track for governing alone in 2002, but ended up with 43%. And I’m confident hopeful that Labour won’t plumb the depths of the 20.9% National managed in their 2002 nadir, although at around 25-26% it will still be an awful night for them. There will be some individual electorate shocks for both left and right, with perhaps fatal consequences for one of the minor parties. And National will do a deal with Winston. And that will be that. For a truly seismic vote, with the kind of campaign rancour that makes this election seem civilised, look at Scotland; I’ll try and post a wee blog on that before the polls close there later.

I was about to chuck the list in the bin, when the final party on the list caught my attention: United Future. I was hit by a wave of nostalgia for Peter Dunne’s big moment in 2002, or a wave of something at any rate. Younger voters would hardly credit it now, but the bouffant-haired maestro actually held the balance of power 12 years ago, gaining a mammoth 8 seats. As the major parties bickered over GM corn, in the minor parties’ debate, the bland centrism positively crackled from Dunne’s garish bow tie. Now, there are just 11 names on the entire list. What happened? Perpetual coalition, that’s what. If you’re always going to get into bed with whichever of the big two has the better numbers, you’re not giving the voters a good enough reason to vote for you. It hasn’t been a great term for Dunne either. The GCSB leak scandal and subsequent resignation has made him look rather vulnerable all of a sudden. Rumours of a tightening race in Ohariu abound. As this graphic shows, his rise and fall has been a bewildering mish-mash of defections, amalgamations and naked opportunism.

 

No-one said the road to the Promised Land would be easy...
No-one said the road to the Promised Land would be easy…

As the wolves howl amidst the tumbleweed outside his Johnsonville bunker, Peter plucks a stray hair from his eyebrow and grimly girds himself for the battle ahead, alone in his thoughts. The ribbons at the school fairs have all been cut; every last ounce of credit for Transmission Gully has been squeezed out. The whispers of change are swirling from Crofton Downs to Tawa. He notices a scrap of paper – the back of an envelope. It charts a path to Prime Minister. Wistfully, he studies the date in the corner: 1994. He absently turns it over and sees it written in capital letters, double-underlined: INCOME SPLITTING POLICY. He smiles the smile of the poker player clutching his last ace. Dunne’s never done.