Memo to England: please go home

I went to a watch a T20 game of cricket yesterday. Oddly, it said on the ticket that it was a 50-over ICC World Cup match, but clearly I hadn’t received the memo. The people heading for the stadium from work at 4pm, some ambling, some scurrying, hadn’t received the memo either. It was 97/3 as I walked across the concourse and 104/5 as I took my seat. The soporific stadium staff seemed to have been given no memo whatsoever. The leisurely pouring of warm beer and somnolent scooping of cold chips must have been a welcome sight for those in the 30-deep queues. Who needs to see three quick wickets anyway? You can just watch them on your phone 15 seconds after you hear the roar outside.

Speaking of 15-second delays and cellphones, at least the cops had read their memo. It was pleasing to see Wellington’s finest were firmly focused on spectator safety doing the ICC’s anti-corruption dirty work for them, keeping their eagle eyes out for suspicious types engaging in the cancer that is courtsiding. Unfortunately, since almost everybody was on their phones texting “HURRY UP, FFS!”, the few who might actually have been texting scores to an incredulous Indian bookmaker would surely have escaped unnoticed, if they had been able to keep up with the flurry of wickets.

Out on the field, Tim Southee hadn’t got the memo. The England coaching cabal had been talking up their stars, assuring a doubtful media that they had had some good net sessions and were ready to hit TheRightAreas. Tim just bowled straight at the stumps. And hit them three or four times – easy. Brendon McCullum definitely didn’t bother reading the memo that the Sky and Westpac Stadium chairmen were frantically mouthing at him from their corporate box. Four! Four hours of food and beverage sales gone. Six! Six hours of lucrative TV ad-breaks gone. Oh Brendon, you inconsiderate loon! Don’t you know cricket is a business, not a sport? Stop having so much fun.

Southee: sensational
Southee: sensational
Macca: magnificent
B-Mac: magnificent
England: crap
England: crap

At least both teams had read the latest ICC memo about upholding the spirit of cricket and encouraging audience participation. With a prize of $1m for catching the ball in the crowd one-handed, Macca obligingly pointed to various clusters of orange T-shirt-clad gentlemen before tonking the ball in their direction. The umpires were even kind enough to award him six runs each time. Brave England were no less determined to play their part. They generously allowed one lucky spectator the chance to bowl two overs at New Zealand. Who was the grateful chap plucked from the crowd? 25-year-old gap year student Steven Finn. Alas, he went for 49 runs from his two overs. However, smiling ruefully and gamely, he declared that he would “learn a lot from this experience”.

And then to cap off a surreal day/night match, the ICC (Incompetent Corrupt Clique) showed that they were reading a very different memo from every rational observer, when they stuck resolutely to the letter of cricket’s regulations. How silly of us to presume that tea might be delayed a little to allow the inevitable conclusion! Bemused patrons streamed back through the turnstiles (past hapless latecomers coming the other way) to watch the last three overs in the pub. The post-match presentation was held sheepishly in front of a half-full crowd.

When the two captains were asked what they might take from the match, Brendon Modest shrugged modestly and said that he and the lads were just thinking about a few modest beers that evening. Captain Morgan, vainly hiding his misery, talked up his team’s chances. “We’re confident we can beat the Scots, at least” he said, fingering the rosary beads in his pocket obsessively. And you could hear the guffawing in Irish pubs from Donegal to Dun Laoghaire at the sad predicament of a man who turned his back on his native land for “the opportunity to play at the highest level”. Oh dear.

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More spills than a baby with reflux

I was going to write something about tax, but the entertainment generously provided by our trans-Tasman cousins’ hapless government was just too irresistible to ignore. Poor Tony: from hero to zero in just 17 months.

Has there ever been a more delightfully apt term for a vote triggering a political leadership contest than spill? The very word suggests mishap and mess, and most Liberal MPs must be dumbfounded by the turnaround in fortunes for a party that less than two years ago was openly disparaging the Rudd-Gillard-Rudd hokey-cokey that led to a crushing defeat for Australian Labor. Now, the red half of Canberra have put aside their own doubts about Bill Shorten: the one thing guaranteed to unite a party is the sight of greater divisions in the other side. Pass around the popcorn and let’s have a good guffaw.

Schadenfreude: a German word for the expression of joy on a former female Aussie PM's face
Schadenfreude: a German word for the expression of joy on a former female Aussie PM’s face

Oh, how the mighty have fallen! For those of a liberal (with a small l) persuasion, the recollection of Abbott’s nasty, chauvinistic jibes at Gillard from the pressure-free cocoon of opposition, is a pleasingly distant memory. Now, a shocked and contrite PM lurches from blunder to blunder, wishing he could hop into his speedos and swim his troubles away. There is only one thing worse than losing an election when in government, and that’s being saddled with the wrong leader when you’re in opposition and heading for victory. There were rumblings from the left of the party before his election victory that the Mad Monk might not be up to the job of PM, and so it has proved. If this proves to be a one-term Liberal administration, the howls of anguish will be heard in the Kimberley.

The result this week, at 61-39 to Abbott, was just about as awful as it could be. The golden rule of politics – you either stick steadfastly with your current leader, or you depose him (or her) definitively – has been broken. A wounded Abbott will struggle to avoid another spill this year, but could still survive because enough on the party’s right-wing whose own careers depend on Abbott remaining PM may save him. The increasingly forlorn refrain that “we are not divided and dysfunctional like Labor” is laughable. And to make matters worse, there is no consensus on who ought to replace him. Neither Malcolm Turnbull nor Julie Bishop are likely to give way to each other, suggesting another knife-edge result akin to the 2009 spill which catapulted Abbott to the leadership by a majority of just one.

Prince Philip - would you really accept a knighthood from this man?
Prince Philip – would you really accept a knighthood from this man?

And this brings me on to the main problem, from a Kiwi perspective, with Australian politics, and US and UK politics too. Aussies have just witnessed the eighth leadership spill involving the two main parties in eight years. 8 in 8. Utter madness. During the relative stability of the long Hawke–Keating administration, followed by 11 years of John Howard, such divisive mentalism would have been inconceivable. Yet Howard too was a victim and then a beneficiary of yo-yoing leadership battles. What really lies at the root of the dysfunction is the bicameral constitution, and possibly even the electoral system. I have no love for Abbott, but his battles with a hostile senate seem no less unfair and ridiculous than Obama’s.

If a government is elected, by a fair and proportional system, it should govern without fear for its allotted minimum term. It gets to make the laws, it carries the ultimate responsibility, it shouldn’t have to worry about an upper chamber blocking its way. Apologists for the US and Australian Senates, and the House of Lords, cite history, tradition and that dubious argument that there needs to be a further ‘safeguard’. Yet all the evidence in recent decades suggests that when the two chambers are controlled by different parties, petty political point-scoring prevails over sensible safeguarding. Similar hokum is propounded about the ‘decisiveness’ of first-past-the-post, even though the UK is staring down the barrel of consecutive hung parliaments. It is ludicrous that most of the recent Liberal and Labor leaders have been ousted because of issues over climate change, and yet the matter is still unresolved in Australian political discourse.

I don’t support the current New Zealand government, but I am consoled by the fact that when it is replaced, a new government will also get to govern and make changes with ease, because it is unicameral. Despite lacking ‘safeguards’ we have had largely centrist leaders and mostly sensible government (and a great deal more actual change and progress) than our more illustrious friends in the Anglosphere. And here’s an added bonus: if you get rid of a whole layer of those wretched politicians, even the curmudgeonly electorate might raise a smile for once. What’s not to like?

Liberal author slams conservative government; bears poo in woods

So I took a few weeks off this blogging malarkey, mainly to enjoy this unfeasibly un-Wellingtonian damn hot weather. The usual dreary antics of jihadists and Kim Kardashian just didn’t seem worthy of comment. Even the Black Caps are ticking over nicely: I’m almost nostalgic for the wretched collapses of 2006-2010, and the endless griping about Fleming getting out in the 90s, Oram needing to ‘rediscover his form’ and just who Craig McMillan might have pictures of. Andrew Little has made a solid start; John Key is as unflappable as ever. And apart from a third-rate column in the Star-Times, Crusher Collins is nowhere to be seen.

What then could possibly shake me from my apathetic torpor? Some long overdue rain, a novelist and a talkback radio host, that’s what. But before I wade into the eye of the storm of controversy that has been whipped up by remarks made at an obscure Indian literary festival, I want you to imagine that what Eleanor Catton actually said in Jaipur was this:

“I’m just so grateful for the awards and literary grants which I’ve been given… I just think that the country is on a really good track right now. It’s nice to be an ambassador for New Zealand. A lot of writers criticise the government but they should cut John Key some slack. There are some real whingers out there who couldn’t understand all the fuss over a ‘book’. Well to them I would just like to say that a lot of blood, sweat and tears went into The Luminaries. I work hard as a writer, and it sticks in my craw when there are so many lazy bludgers out there who haven’t read a book in their lives…”

Ungrateful hua or neoliberal stooge? Hmm...
Ungrateful hua or neoliberal stooge? Hmm…

OK – not especially plausible. Yet imagine if she had. I’m afraid to say that the howls of derision pouring forth from TeamKey and his media mates would instead be coming from liberal commentators. If you’re absolutely sure that the point in all this hoohah is freedom of speech, and not just an opportunity to applaud a talented young liberal writer who gleefully sticks it to the Nats, then read on… Just remember to grit your teeth when Richie McCaw is pictured enjoying a beer with his ‘mate’ JK after victory in the RWC final.

So, now that we’re all clear on hypocrisy and consistency, let’s consider what Eleanor actually said. Which only about 3% of people who have felt inclined to pass opinion actually have. Go on, admit it. And then check out the full transcript here. While there is a lot of refreshing candour about the pressures of fame, and some interesting observations about writing from another culture’s perspectives, this little passage intrigued me:

We have this strange cultural phenomenon called “tall poppy syndrome”; if you stand out, you will be cut down. One example is that the New Zealand Book Award that follows the announcement of the Man Booker Prize, in the year The Luminaries won it, there was this kind of thing that now you’ve won this prize from overseas, we’re not going to celebrate it here, we’re going to give the award to somebody else. If you get success overseas then very often the local population can suddenly be very hard on you. Or the other problem is that the local population can take ownership of that success in a way that is strangely proprietal.

Are you sure you’re not sore at losing out on the NZ Book Award, Eleanor? Have you considered the fact that Jill Trevelyan’s critically-acclaimed biography might just have pipped yours to the finish? And decrying the “tall poppy syndrome” isn’t quite in sync with your other comments about being a reluctant ambassador for New Zealand, whose citizens “do not have a lot of confidence in their brains”. Ouch.

Finally, I've got something in common with JK: neither of us have read The Luminaries.
Finally, I’ve got something in common with JK: neither of us have read The Luminaries.

So there I was, thinking that the Booker champion’s remarks were a mixture of the insightful and the ill-advised, and then along comes a bloviating ignoramus in the shape of Sean Plunket, who firmly hands her on a plate the moral high ground, public sympathy and excellent publicity, all with a side of fries and ketchup.

If he thinks we’re buying the hua bullshit, he’s delusional. If he thinks that treachery is merely stating your aversion to current government policies, he doesn’t really get the definition of democracy and free speech. If he doesn’t understand the irony in mowing down the remarks of a public figure who has criticised the media for doing exactly that, he makes Michael Laws seem like a moderate voice of sober reflection.

Stick to excoriating ferals, Sean, aye?