Sunday, 5 March 2017
Why everything happening in NZ politics right now is inconsequential.
Its the political version of talking loud and saying nothing.
Thus I find myself writing not about the events but the fact that I cant write about them (meta irony at its finest).
Labour's Great White Hope*
First the Mt Albert by-election was won by Jacinda Arden, no surprise there, it was a safe seat and National was not even fronting. Add to this the cordial relations among the three remaining candidates and it is no surprise that Labour won.
Nor was it surprising that Jacinda Arden won with less of a margin that the previous Labour candidate (who was then against an actual National candidate rather than this time when National could not even be bothered to show up) as the lack of actual political competition in such a safe seat was never going to energize the voters to get out and cast their vote (the why bother theory).
Neither was it surprising to hear National (or various sections of the NZ political blog-sphere) fire off a few poison barbs about her political inexperience (or that she once worked in a fish and chip shop) despite being in politics for nine years because, point of fact, it was true as Arden remains a political lightweight and showing no indication of being the next Helen Clark despite all those nine years.
Slightly more surprising was the ensuing braying of the media regarding what the victory meant and the subsequent removal of Labour deputy Annette King, obviously clearing the way for Jacinda to ascend as queen but then again King was well past her use by date so again its shows how porous the upper ranks of the Labour leadership is when a non competitive election outcome (and a win by the way!) can prompt a change in the deputy leader.
So predictable election outcome, predictable media scrum, semi predictable snide remarks from the opposition (and in some case from the same side) and vaguely surprising shift in leadership change.
And as for the Greens and TOP candidates they may have made a friend in Jacinda but that's not really what being in an election is about. In essence they wasted time and money faffing around playing at, playing at being in an election (double irony).
It would have been preferable that they just step aside and concede the whole thing prior, allowing Jacinda to sweep in all by herself rather than giving her, and Labour, a false sense of security about the coming general election by giving the facade of political competition when the whole thing was a cake walk from the get-go.
Which is probably why there was a sudden rush of related satirical articles in the media (here and here and this piece by Chris Trotter, who I assume is being satirical) because when faced with farce masquerading as hard politics the only natural response is to take the piss in one way or another.
And if that's what prompted the removal of Annette King I wonder what will happen if Labour were to actually win a seat in genuine competition or (god forbid) loose a safe seat.
But that does not mean I don't like Jacinda or think that she might develop into a genuine leader but I have to balance that thought with the fact that nine years in politics she has little to show for it and come September she (and Labour) will be facing a National holding the political high ground (if it can keep its act together (see below for more of that) and there will be no feel-good free passes then which begs the question of what actual good came out of the by-election other than a potentially dangerous, false sense of security.
The end result was a parade of mundanity and political inflation which spawned far more headlines and speculation that it deserved.
Bill English has a Drug Problem
But if you think I am taking the stick solely to Labour again don't worry as there is plenty to go around for the others because Bill "why aren't you John Key?"** English ripped the fleshy skin mask of his old master off his face this week to reveal what exactly was lurking underneath.
In making the desperately bizarre attempt to link Nationals immigration policy with the completely made up factoid that the unemployed are all stoned out of their minds and then have the gall to double down on it a few days later was to show exactly how crucial John Key was to the facade of National (and that's not even getting into his "problems of success" comments regarding the housing-hernia in Wellington which does not even merit a comment because its just so head in the sand that you have to wonder what his definition of success is).
Gone, in a moment, was nearly a decade of careful media manipulation by Key and his spin goblins to blank the public memory of how bad things were in the 90s with National in charge and instead, there it was grinning like a SS cap badge in the morning sun for all to see.
Now its clear what Key was desperately hiding all these years and English undid all that work in one single nasty comment, immediately reminding the public what awaits come a National electoral win in September.
So get ready for more beneficiary bashing, say goodbye to the cloak of middle ground politics, expect absurdist statements galore, the party doing the inevitable violent lurch to the Right (as so many within have been waiting, panting away with baited breath, for so long), a National secure in its arrogance and hubris and not giving a flying feijoa who cares what it is doing (are you listening Winston?).
And it did not go unnoticed that English was doing his best to channel the spirit of Donald Trump by wheeling out the kind of alternate facts that would be well at home on talk radio but less so coming out of the mouth of the man not known for such froot-loop statements and more for bland/dull if not pragmatic policy utterances.
Not that English cares about what people (or more correctly the proles) think as its clear that the recent poll results (with him topping out as preferred PM) have obviously gone to his head so much he feels secure that he can spend some of that shiny political capital making statements that his old master would never have made or at least done it in a jokey way that would allow for some deflection if things went negative.
But no English said it with a straight face and obviously cannot see what he has done.
Because if there was one secret to the magic of Key it was that he was able to neutralize opposition by playing the blokey kiwi every-man card and playing it so well that his opponents could not find anything substantial to grab on to when it came time for criticism they threw to stick.
Sure Key had his detractors but that was not the point, they were a minority when it came to keeping his polling high and he was never going to win them over but the all important middle vote on the other hand; make a rape joke here, felate a hot-dog there, mug for a selfie and she'll be right mate!
But alas poor English has pissed that advantage away and the media reaction was swift and sure and almost entirely negative.
If National had made themselves look bad with their ridiculous statements about water quality then this was even worse with its instant links to Trump in the US and all that such an association entails.
Sure unemployment does not resonate as well with the National voter as the environment might but with the middle voter it will and that margin is thin enough already so shedding any voters simply by making foul utterances is not a vote winning strategy in an increasingly tight game.
For every current National supporter backing "dollar" Bill for telling the truth about "bloody dole bludgers" there was also one who had the sudden and sharp reminder of Jenny Shipley, Ruth Ricahrdson, Jim Blodger (and all the rest of the mutants) and a 90s (or even an early 2000s) National which was hated and despised by many and only made it back into power in 96 because of Winston's toxic favor (really, Winston are you listening?).
And while it might do well to buff up the National faithful it will also erase the smooth edges on the Teflon suit Key bequeathed English and allow things to stick; things like criticism, scandal and negative commentary. Hate does that.
John Key was the false front hiding the National of old behind a nice shiny new facade thus it was only a matter of time once he was gone that it things would revert back but still the PMs office has only just been redecorated and now its been soiled by Bill English doing his best to appear staunch by taking a cheap shot at a demographic which has the least means to fight back.
Its also the kind of prejudiced generalization that is only one step away from racism or some other foul ideology (such as Neo-Liberalism) and as such flows directly against the current of most politics in the last 15 years.
So English might have had a few brain bubbles when he saw his latest polling or maybe its his own memory that's faded regarding the brief period in the early 2000s he was chief cook and bottle washer for the whole rotting garbage heap that was the party before Key took over and brought them electoral success, but too late now, whats done is done.
The funny thing is that this was always going to happen and its an expected outcome on the natural decomposition of the dead flesh of National that Key was always keeping mobile only through his dark magic.
But again its really inconsequential, this was what we were all expecting and its effect on the political dynamic that's building up to the election in September is what it is and was always going to happen.
National without Key was always going to revert to its previous type and start to remind everyone why Labour and Helen Clarke were in power for nine years.
Therefore expect more statements from English and Co over the coming months as the real "compassionate catholic" inside him comes out of his mouth loud and clear for all to hear.
So why are the last few weeks of action on the political front inconsequential?
Who benefits from a deluded Labour and mean mouthed National?
The one person who will, and has previously, made hay out of exploiting the dead ground between the two and has so often decided the fate of NZ politics.
The one, the only, Winston Peters!
Peters was supposed to be on the back foot with Gareth Morgan throwing his hat into the ring but Mt Albert showed that while 600 voters thought that TOP was groovy and stuff that will be nothing to a riled up Winston flogging his supporters into a frenzy over things like National even discussing the idea of raising the age for NZ super*** not to mention his usual per-election swings of his political mojo.
Peters is in his element with a rabid government to hand him issue after issue, poison statement after poison statement which allows him to simply react to anything they do rather than do anything himself. He lets them make the first move and then he plays his hand, the same hand he always plays to great effect and for every nasty statement in the media about the government there is Winston saying the opposite and drawing in all and any voters who don't agree but cant find it in them to vote Labour.
You would think English would have twigged to that having been in politics as long as he has because its the same rule as the internet (don't feed the trolls) and Winston is New Zealand's number one political troll par excellence.
But nooooooo, its that old National spiteful arrogance coming through, they just cant help themselves and it will tar the whole party and feed all but the pure blue voter to anyone but them.
And thus we are back to that hideous, inevitable state where the election is back in Peters hands and all the actions taking place this week have been nothing but minor moves on the political chess board (a pawn here a knight there) while the big pieces are blocking the lines of movement, checkmate continues to loom threateningly and Peters has the power to turn a lowly pawn into a queen (I will leave you to guess which kind).
Just as the spectre of communism haunted Europe so too does the spectre of Winston Peters (or more correctly his capricious nature) haunts NZ politics.
If parties are strong then his power is diminished (as evidenced by both most of the Key, and part of the Clark, governments); but with political power in National sure to wane and Labour still in the mire his ability to decide the outcome is a definite maybe, so no surprise that his number remains of the speed dial of a few leaders.
So forgive me if I have found little to blog about at the moment while I cook up ideas and research for a few left of field posts that I am working on because when one sees the monolithic inevitability of the situation come September 2017 (barring some seismic shifts), consider ones mind is blown.
*-If your unaware of what that term means then check this out
**-apparently the first question the PM was asked when he turned up to open a new school in Christchurch this week.
***-while having dinner with Q in Wellington last week he had had me in hysterics when calmly noting over his Fish Sambal that any politician who had an agenda to hurt cats (like Morgan has) was not going to go down well with a large proportion of the NZ first voter base (something that Morgan is desperately coveting) because which elderly, cat loving, septuagenarian is going to vote for a man "who wants to kill Mr Fluffy?"