Friday, 19 September 2014

2014 General Election: Chris Trotter's Prediction

Your vote is your voice  - use it and be heard!
 
National: 43.5%
Labour: 27.4%
Greens: 13.5%
NZ First: 8.0%
Conservative Party 4.0%
Maori Party: 1.0%
Internet-Mana: 1.0%
Act Party: 0.5%
United Future: 0.1%
Others: 1.0%

This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Getting The Message: Chris Trotter's 'From The Left' Column, Election Eve, 2014.

Moments For Truth: In 2014 some of the biggest turnouts have been for journalists – not politicians.The extraordinary public response to these messengers and their messages tells us a great deal about the electorate’s hunger for the kind of journalism that offers more than the usual “He said/She said” style of reporting the news; something more than political spin. Above all else, voters want to hear the truth. (Photo by John Miller)
 
THIS HAS BEEN AN ELECTION like no other I have experienced. Oh, sure, I have been in town halls that were packed before. And I have heard people arguing the toss over policy before. But, in the past, those town halls had been packed by people who had come to hear their political leaders. Those arguments had been over the content of the various party manifestos.
 
Not this time. In 2014 some of the biggest turnouts have been for journalists – not politicians.

Nicky Hager, the author of Dirty Politics has filled halls from Auckland to Dunedin. I was present at the meeting he held in the Mt Eden War Memorial Hall. The big auditorium was filled to capacity, with people standing around the walls and in the foyer. That was impressive enough, but when the former Court of Appeal Judge, Sir Edward Thomas, led Mr Hager onto the stage, the whole audience rose as one to give him a standing ovation. I’ve been told that his Dunedin audience responded in exactly the same way.
 
I attended another big public meeting on Monday. Billed as “The Moment of Truth” by that merry political prankster, Kim Dotcom, it was supposed to prove once and for all that the Prime Minister, John Key, knew all about the big German’s situation long before being briefed about the combined NZ Police/FBI raid on the Dotcom mansion in January 2012.
 
When I arrived shortly before six o’clock on Monday evening, the queue of people waiting to get into the Auckland Town Hall was already over a block long. In my considerable experience of political meetings this was without precedent. Officially, the Auckland Town Hall auditorium can seat 1,673 persons and last Monday it was chock-a-block (with a further 800 people said to have been turned away). As I watched the venue fill up, I couldn’t help thinking how pleased John Key and David Cunliffe would be to see the public turning out in such numbers to hear them on a chilly Spring evening.
 
In all honesty, however, those two-and-a-half-thousand Aucklanders had not turned out to hear Kim Dotcom, alone. Most of them were there to hear the Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald, and the fugitive whistle-blower, Edward Snowden, talk to them about what our Prime Minister knew about the GCSB’s plans to undertake the mass surveillance of New Zealanders – and when did he know it.
 
The extraordinary public response to these messengers and their messages tells us a great deal about the electorate’s hunger for the kind of journalism that offers more than the usual “He said/She said” style of reporting the news; something more than political spin.
 
Above all else, voters want to hear the truth.
 
Or, at least, they say they do.
 
There are times when my fellow New Zealanders remind me of the man who lived in a town by a flood-prone river. One day the Weather Office issued a serious flood warning and advised the town’s residents to evacuate their homes immediately. But the man said, “I’m a godly person. God loves me. God will save me.” The rain poured down and the river flooded. From a passing rowboat a civil defence volunteer hailed the man. “The town’s flooding! Let me take you to safety!” “No thanks,” the man shouted back, “God loves me. God will save me!” The river rose higher. A helicopter appeared. The rescue-team’s loudhailer crackled: “Mate, you’re in danger! Let us winch you to safety!” But the man shouted back that God loved him and that God would rescue him. About an hour later, the man drowned. Arriving at the Pearly Gates, the man’s bedraggled ghost complained bitterly to St Peter: “I loved God. I prayed to Him for help. How could he let me drown?” St Peter sighed. “God sent you a weather report, a rowboat, and a helicopter. What the hell are you doing here?”
 
Well, in the run-up to Election Day, the voters of New Zealand have been given the opportunity to read the investigative journalism of Nicky Hager and Glenn Greenwald, and to hear the direct personal testimony of Edward Snowden.
 
The truth about the sort of society we’re becoming has been very clearly explained.
 
So, what the hell are we waiting for? How much more rescuing do the voters of New Zealand need!
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 19 September 2014.

Thursday, 18 September 2014

'Kratos' To The 'Demos': Chris Trotter's 'From The Left' Column, Election Eve, 2008.

Paradise Delayed: Thousands gather in Wellington's Willis Street in 1931 to watch the election results posted by The Evening Post newspaper. The Labour Party victory anticipated by so many working-class New Zealanders failed to eventuate. The next four years were to be the most desperate in the country's history.

THE PEACEFUL CIRCULATION of elites – that’s how the political scientists describe democracy. But if that’s all voting is about, I’d favour The Who’s much pithier version of the process: “Meet the new boss – same as the old boss.”
 
The problem I have with the political scientist’s view of democracy is that it takes us – the citizens – right out of the picture. We, the people, are reduced to a passive agglomeration of individuals; a great big witless lump of humanity to be pummelled and pushed by advertisers, marketers and pollsters, into giving our votes to the “elites” with the best campaign team.
 
And this unholy gaggle of professional “communication specialists” – spawned by the political scientists, sociologists and psychologists who came up with the theories that guide them – have an even more instrumental view of the democratic voter. In the hands of these arch manipulators, the nation’s citizens are transformed into what honest con-artists call “marks”, but who, to the political fixers, are known as “the punters out there in punterland”.
 
It gets worse. Because the views of these “communication specialists” are transmitted via polytech and university courses into the minds of hundreds of eager journalism students. They, too, are encouraged to view voters as passive consumers of sophisticated “messages”; people whose views can be shaped and re-shaped – practically at will – by the all-enveloping communications media of the 21st Century.
 
These young people are taught that “perceptions” trump reality – and that perceptions are easily manufactured and/or manipulated.
 
The handful of journalism students who, every year, rebel against this pernicious, post-modern doctrine that reality is a “social construct” and that there is no such thing as “the truth”, are condescended to and pitied as the intellectual relics of a bygone age.
 
As for the rest, the Guyon Espiners and Duncan Garners of tomorrow, what lesson can they be expected to draw from their lecturer’s teachings other than the blindingly obvious one that, in the 21st Century, “the news” is being steadily reduced to the status of a commodity?
 
Increasingly, journalism is no longer what gets placed between the ads: it has become just another means – perhaps the prime means – of  “delivering eyeballs to advertisers”.
 
And if “reality-based” journalism upsets those advertisers – or drives too many “eyeballs” to another channel? What then?
 
I was talking to a parliamentary candidate from one of the major parties a few days ago, and he told me something very interesting.
 
He said the subject most talked about on the doorsteps of his electorate was the appalling news media coverage of this year’s General Election.
 
People lamented the sparse media coverage of local electorate contests; wondered why there were so few in-depth articles about the big election issues; and decried the way in which the newspapers and the airwaves were being turned over to “journalists” with clear partisan objectives.
 
What they were really saying was that they wanted to be treated as citizens – not as “marks”, or “punters”.
 
They did not consider democracy to be a con job, or a game, or matter of re-cycling elites, but of discovering the popular will: and delivering – as the original Greek words demos and kratos suggest – “power to the people”.
 
At a recent Labour Party conference I enjoyed a long discussion with a veteran activist who shared with me his boyhood recollections of the 1931 General Election.
 
In the depression-stricken working-class neighbourhood where he and his family lived, there were high hopes that the Labour Party would be elected to tackle the deepening economic and social crisis.
 
He remembered the vast crowd gathered outside the local newspaper offices to watch the results come in, and the slumped shoulders and bowed heads of the working-class voters as they trudged back home in the silence of bitter disappointment and dreams deferred.
 
For a Labour victory was not to be. In 1931 a combination of right-wing parties was elected, and my storyteller and his family, along with their friends and neighbours, were forced to endure the bleakest and most harrowing years of their lives.
 
Seventy-seven years later, I am desperately hoping that a new generation of democratic citizens will use tomorrow’s election to avert the sort of catastrophe that overwhelmed their great-grandparents.
 
In the words of The Who:
 
Just like yesterday
Get down on my knees and pray
We don't get fooled again
 
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post of Friday, 7 November 2008.

The Kowhai And The Birch: Chris Trotter's 'From The Left' Column, Election Eve, 2005.

A Plea For Tolerance: On the eve of the 2005 General Election - an election which threatened to plunge New Zealand into bitter racial conflict, I penned the following column.

YESTERDAY morning, as I turned into the driveway of my daughter’s school, a shaft of sunlight broke through the fog, and the first flowers of the Kowhai tree standing by the gate blazed forth like fiery flakes of gold. A stand of Silver Birches framed the forward Kowhai, their white trunks tapering into a fine filigree of bare branches. It is too soon in the season for their buds to burst.
 
It was a pretty sight and, it occurred to me, a highly symbolic one. The indigenous Kowhai, with its lustrous flowers, holds much in common with the exotic Birch. They are both trees, after all. But the Kowhai and the Birch are also very different. The indigenous tree remains much closer to the earth than its exotic neighbour, spreading its soft brown arms wide across the forest floor. The Birch, by contrast, is a questing tree – its graceful limbs forever raised towards the sun.
 
But the gardener at my daughter’s school has made room for both of them at this gateway to learning: the hugger and the reacher; the brown limbed and the white.
 
And so it has been in the larger garden that is our homeland. In the vast forests that greeted the Maori stood the mighty children of Tane – the Kauri, and Kahikatea – silent and strong, rich with years, and only to be felled with the greatest of reverence and ceremony. But to those who came after the Maori, Tane’s children were for many years no more than things to be used. The vast indigenous forests were felled and out of their dismembered bodies arose a nation.
 
Far from their northern homes, the new citizens of this nation sought to soothe the pain of distance by surrounding themselves with the familiar foliage of childhood gardens. The Oak, the Elm, the Poplar and the Birch: old friends from a forsaken hemisphere – but strange and unfamiliar company for the Kowhai and Pohutukawa.
 
As indigenous gave way to exotic, the ancient wisdom of the trees was lost. And soon a grey-green army of ramrod-straight, fast-growing California Pines was marching across every plain and up every hillside. In place of wild diversity we raised a featureless monoculture, laid out in straight lines, sown and reaped without ceremony, leaving nothing to memory and threatening to turn the sacred wilderness of Tane into a vast factory of indistinguishable timber.
 
But, as the indigenous forests retreated into the fastnesses of the Ureweras and the Southern Alps, something strange began to happen in the suburban gardens of the nation. More and more New Zealanders began to question the wisdom of their grandparents who had filled the parks and reserves of their towns and cities with the flora of Mother England. In more and more gardens people began planting indigenous flowers and trees.
 
Perhaps it was because the seed of the Maori and the Pakeha were becoming as intermingled as the seeds of the Kowhai flowers and the catkins of the Birch: blown together in the great storms of change that were remaking the nation of New Zealand.
 
For now the call was to halt the advance of the grey-green army and to preserve what was left of the family of Tane. The time had come for the descendants of homesick settlers to learn, at last, the true names and the long lineage of their homeland’s native trees.
 
Because here, at the end of the Earth, exotic flora and fauna are prone to dangerous explosions. Freed from the natural constraints of their true homes, they burgeon forth with terrifying enthusiasm. Gorse, rabbits, possums: the list is carved into the bones of this country, and the lessons of their depredations must never be forgotten.
 
Because what is true of our ecology is also true of our ideology. We New Zealanders have a dangerous habit of letting our imported ideas get as out of control as our imported plants and animals.
 
We must be much more careful about what seeds we plant – and where. A monocultural empire of Pinus Radiata is as unacceptable as the pristine forests of Tane are unrecoverable.
 
Tomorrow, then, as you go into the polling booth, remember the wise practice of the gardener at my daughter’s school. And remember, too, the wise words of the poet Kahil Gibran, who cautioned us to stand together, yet not too near together:
 
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.
 
And neither, I think, do the Kowhai and the Birch.
 
This essay was originally published in The Dominion Post of Friday, 16 September 2005.

Tuesday, 16 September 2014

A Working Majority

Constitutional Guardian: Only the person who can assure the Governor-General Sir Jerry Mateparae, that he or she commands a majority on the floor of the House of Representatives has the right to assume the office of Prime Minister. If John Key cannot give the Governor-General such an assurance then David Cunliffe must be given the opportunity to do so.

PUTTING A GOVERNMENT TOGETHER after Saturday may prove to be a more than usually difficult task. Minor – actually very minor – shifts in voter support could open up multiple configurations capable of delivering the statement which, constitutionally, the Governor-General needs to hear: that a solid, working majority exists for either John Key or David Cunliffe on the floor of the House of Representatives.
 
It is this, and this alone, which confers upon a political leader the right (and the ability) to govern New Zealand.
 
We need to be very clear about this. The right to govern is NOT about which political party wins the most votes. National could be 15 percentage points ahead of its nearest rival in the Party Vote, but if it cannot assemble a clear, working majority in the House of Representatives it will not be entitled to form a government.
 
Let’s make that even clearer. Let’s suppose that on Saturday night National receives 45 percent of the Party Vote, and that the combined vote of the Labour and Green parties comes to 40 percent. The remaining 15 percent is divided up between NZ First, Internet-Mana, the Maori Party, Act and United Future. Crucially, Colin Craig’s Conservative Party fails – but only just – to clear the 5 percent threshold. In these circumstances, it will be the smaller parties which determine the identity of New Zealand’s next Prime Minister.
 
Ideally, this process of coalition-building should not extend beyond a few days – at the most. At that point, their negotiations complete, the victorious combination of parties will announce themselves to the public. Upon hearing the news, the Governor-General, Sir Jerry Mateparae, can then pick up the phone and invite the new majority leader to Government House where, upon declaring to the Queen’s representative that he does indeed command a working majority on the floor of the House, he will be sworn in as Prime Minister.
 
But what happens if the period of negotiation is extended? What if the outcome of the 2014 General Election hinges on the choice of just one minor party – NZ First, for example?
 
This question was put to the Prime Minister over the weekend and John Key’s response was – not to put too fine a point upon it – just a little bit worrying.
 
The Prime Minister clearly believes that, following the counting of Saturday’s ballots, his own party, National, will end up controlling the largest number of seats. He is also clearly of the view that any “Kingmaker” must give him the first opportunity to negotiate the formation of a new government.
 
All well and good – although, constitutionally speaking, the party with the largest number of votes does NOT have first dibs on coalition discussions. That’s just the way it has played out in New Zealand since the first MMP election back in 1996. Even so, the NZ First leader, Winston Peters, has signalled his intention to talk to the largest party “in the first instance”.
 
Fine.
 
But this is where things could get a little hairy. Mr Key told TV3’s The Nation on Saturday morning that if he felt that Mr Peters was mucking him around, he’d advise the Governor-general to summon the new Parliament. He also signalled his intention to continue governing as a sort of pro tempore Prime Minister until defeated by a motion of No-Confidence – at which point he would advise the Governor-General to dissolve the House and call a new General Election. Faced with the prospect of being punished by the voters for forcing them into an unnecessary and unwanted snap election, Mr Key clearly believes that Mr Peters would blink first and get in behind a National-led Government.
 
Such an outcome would, however, constitute a clear breach of New Zealand’s constitutional conventions and come very close to being a coup d’├ętat. If Mr Key cannot negotiate an agreement with Mr Peters, then the proper course for the Governor-General is to invite the Leader of the Opposition, Mr Cunliffe, to have a go at assembling the requisite majority in the House of Representatives.
 
Only in the event of both Mr Key and Mr Cunliffe being unable to assemble a majority would the Governor-General be entitled to convene the House and test its members’ willingness to do so. Should that prove unattainable, then – and only then – would the Governor-General be obliged to dissolve the Parliament and ask us – the voters – to elect a new one.
 
Mr Key’s reference to the Canadian constitutional crisis of 2008 is deeply worrying. The Canadian PM’s claim to possess a “moral mandate” to continue governing without a parliamentary majority was accepted only because the Canadian Governor-General unconstitutionally allowed herself to be guided by a Prime Minister whose right to govern she refused to put to the test.
 
We must hope that Sir Jerry is made of sterner stuff.
 
This essay was originally published in The Press of Tuesday, 16 September 2014.

Sunday, 14 September 2014

Something To Listen To As We Head For "The Moment Of Truth"

 
 
ALREADY, the arrival of Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist, Glenn Greenwald (a.k.a. "Kim Dotcom's little henchman") has afforded New Zealanders another disturbing glimpse of the man behind the Prime-Ministerial mask.
 
 Even more will be revealed tomorrow at the Auckland Town Hall.
 
Doors open at 6:00pm.
 
In the meantime, and in anticipation of Mr Greenwald's reporting on New Zealand's role in the "Five Eyes" global surveillance programme exposed by Edward Snowden, I've put up The Police's classic 1983 hit 'Every Breath You Take'.
 
Enjoy.
 
Video courtesy of YouTube.
 
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.

Friday, 12 September 2014

Have We Got The Right Horse For The Course - Or Is A Mid-Stream Change In Order?

“Horses For Courses”: It's an expression you often hear in the mouths of old politicos. What they mean is that some elections are better suited to demon politicians than angelic statesmen.
 
WITH JUST OVER A WEEK TO GO, the core issue of this election is at last coming into focus. It is difficult to recall a political contest so fraught with diversions and divisions as this one. Nicky Hager’s book, Dirty Politics, has told us very forcefully what politics shouldn’t be about, but it’s been nowhere near so helpful at informing the better angels of our nature. What Mr Hager has managed to do, however, with characteristic prescience, is place the issue of trust at the heart of the choices we must make in eight days’ time.
 
But trust, in politics, is not a simple thing. Like love, it is apt to be bestowed upon the most unlikely and undeserving of individuals, institutions and nations. That’s because trust is about a great deal more than simply keeping promises. Indeed, the people we trust most are often those who’ve proved that, sometimes, promises must be broken. Given a choice between an angel and a demon for prime minister, it is by no means axiomatic that a desperate electorate will always vote for the heavenly creature.
 
“Horses for courses” is the expression you often hear in the mouths of old politicos. By which they mean that there are some tasks better suited to demons than angels.
 
In the course of a lengthy political career, Winston Churchill earned the enmity of just about every section of British society. In 1904 he betrayed the aristocracy by abandoning the Conservative Party and joining the Liberals. In 1926 he helped defeat the Trade Union Congress’s General Strike. Throughout the pacifist Thirties he constantly urged his countrymen to prepare for war. And, as the arch-imperialist of his generation, he did all he could to deny the people of the Indian sub-continent their independence. In short, Churchill was a reckless egotist, an avowed racist and an inveterate warmonger: anyone searching for the angelic in his character faced a daunting challenge.
 
And yet, when the shadow of a much darker demon fell over Britain in 1940, it was to Churchill that the British people turned. Given the fateful course that lay before them, only a warhorse would do.
 
Five years later it was a different story. The “Spirit of ‘45” wanted nothing more to do with warhorses. Winning the peace could not be accomplished by harnessing the same demonic forces that had won the war. It was one of those rare occasions when, given a choice between the devil they knew, and the angels they didn’t, people voted for the angels.
 
Now, John Key is no Winston Churchill, and yet there’s no disputing that for most New Zealanders he’s been the right horse to carry them through the course of a global financial crisis. In a world teetering on the brink of economic disaster, who better than a millionaire currency trader? True, currency traders are not known for being angels. They are quick and ruthless and shamelessly opportunistic. But, for the last six years most New Zealanders haven’t cared. They’ve trusted National’s demon to take them where Labour’s angels feared to tread.
 
The questions New Zealanders must ask and answer before 7:00pm on 20 September is whether or not New Zealand is still on the same critical course as 2008 and 2011, and whether John Key is still the right horse to carry them through?
 
Labour has put up a challenger who, frankly, calls to mind Clarence, the wingless Angel in Frank Capra’s It’s A Wonderful Life. David Cunliffe is gentle, well-meaning and, like Clarence, just a little accident prone. He’s urging us to do the right thing by our communities: warning us against letting the country’s problems get too big to fix. But Cunliffe’s and Labour’s big problem is that New Zealanders aren’t yet sure if it’s the right time to start trusting accident prone angels. The economic recovery is, at best, precarious; at worst, over. If things, again, turn pear-shaped, is David Cunliffe really the right horse for the course?
 
Then again, just how far to the dark side has John Key already taken us? Nicky Hager has posed the question, but a disturbingly large number of New Zealanders seem too frightened to hear the answer.
 
And that’s always the trick with the demonic horses we mount in times of danger: knowing when, and how, to get off.
 
This essay was originally published in The Waikato Times, The Taranaki Daily News, The Timaru Herald, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 12 September 2014.