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Tuesday, 20 December 2016

Meanwhile in the South China Sea...

Let’s move away from the quacking of the parliamentary duck pond for a moment to a different pond and a different quacking.

Imagine a line, moving from left to right and rising at a 45 degree angle. Now picture a second line starting below the first, also going from left to right but rising at a sharper angle. Then picture the point where the two lines intersect and draw a circle around it.

Finally label the first line as the US and the second line as China.

Now hold that thought as I whisk you away from your normal everyday setting to the tropical waters of the South China Sea.

If you have been paying any attention to international affairs (at least as it is described in the usual unfocused manner by the mainstream media) you may have noticed a series of articles over the last few years about the increasingly tense situation over various reefs in the South China Sea.

At first glance it seems like a simple case of good guys vrs the bad guys with the good guys being the US (supported by Vietnam, the Philippines, Malaysia, Brunei, Indonesia and Singapore) and with China being the bad guy.

In this simple scenario the bad guys have taken over islands and reefs in the South China Sea and are building runways and air defense facilities, sparking angry reactions from the good guys, a ramping up of tension and a small naval arms race in the area. Chinese ships are ramming other nation’s vessels at sea and China is claiming all the area as their own under the so called "nine dash line".

In reality things are a bit more complicated and contain historical elements, international tensions, world trade, national ambitions and a solid dose of good old jingoism.

The best summaries of the situation can be found here and here provide a good picture of what’s going on up until now.

But recently things have taken a step up with China stealing a US naval underwater drone right from in front of the US navy and China's angry reaction to president elect Trump (illiterately) suggesting that the US might rethink the One China policy as well the related issue of him taking a congratulatory call from the president of Taiwan which angered China no end.

So that's how it is with the "evil" Chinese doing no good and showing no sign of reducing their hard-line stance on claiming all of the area like they already own it.

On the flip side the US is just trying to ensure "freedom of navigation" in the area and has no ulterior motive for being there in the first place. Just like the good global citizen that it is. That's all it is.

Oh wait, no, both of those last two sentences are complete BS and actually there is a lot more going on.

To add to China's bad behavior you have the US with its pivot towards Asia and its China containment strategy both of which do little to ease the tensions and which are clear signals that the US perceives China as a threat more than a trade partner or anything else.

Add to that the shadow hacking war between the US and China (as well as other nations) and you have a situation that while not quite at flash point level is showing little signs of calming down or easing back.

Instead what is happening is a slow but gradual ramping up of tension in the region with both the major players making statements and posturing while the supporting actors taking steps to protect their interests or change sides (in the case of the Philippines sudden pivot towards China with the recent election tough guy president Duterte).

So why should we in NZ care, what does this matter to us?

Well for starters a lot of world trade, including ours, passes through there and shutting it down would have a disastrous effect.

Add to this the fact that the recent stink about China dumping steel in NZ and the angry reaction from China immediately after might have you wonder about how secure NZ's trading relationship with China is, free trade agreement or not.

Or more close to the point how about China's comments to NZ about this very issue where it basically told NZ to back off and shut up.

Add into this the precarious state of world shipping and what a restriction or closing off of this main artery of commerce would do not just to NZ trade but also the worlds (and if you have ever seen the Ghost Fleet of Singapore (like I did) and you will have an idea of exactly how difficult things could get.

Also NZ recently experienced a visit by a US naval ship*, ostensibly for the anniversary celebrations of what’s left of New Zealand’s navy but which in reality was a way of showing which side of the line NZ will stand (just like the 5 Eyes) on militarily matters (the questions about what our Navy should actually be doing instead of what it currently does can be asked for another time) should things ever get that serious

So let us see what we have so far.

Geopolitical tension, check. Intractable “historical” claims to territory (both the South China Sea and Taiwan), check. Aggressive action on the high seas, check. Naval arms race, check. Trade concerns, check. Multiple actors, check. Cold War style military posturing, check. Oil and gas reserves, check. Vital trade routes, check. Declining superpower vrs rising super power, check, check and check some more.

Now this does not mean that outright conflict is a certainty but the potential for a miscalculation and things to get even tenser (and possibly shootier) is a distinct possibility.

Tempering that though is the fact that such type of conflicts at sea are not as common as those on land and the only two related examples from modern military history (after World War Two) which spring to my mind are the Falklands War and the Cod War but in both of those cases it was not two superpowers facing off over a powder keg of geopolitical issues.

And this is where we get back to our mental picture of lines from the start of this post. That circle around the point where the two trajectories cross is the space or period of time where the potential for conflict or war is high as the power of the faster rising nation match and then eclipse the slower and guess where we are right now?

Of course I will be the first to admit that such a diagram and hypothesis is very first year Pol Sci with its rather loose take on International Relations.

But it’s not that China nor the US have not fought a wars before (Korea was outright while Vietnam was a proxy), or China has not had lots of border skirmishes of a similar kind with Vietnam (its blunder into Vietnam in 1979 ostensibly proved their point and checked potential Vietnamese expansion in the wake of their victory in the Vietnam War but in reality they bit off more than they could chew and were driven back with heavy losses) or India and Russia.

The point being that in proximity to its borders and the defense thereof the Chinese are not afraid to take things to a military level and start shooting and while a full scale war is unlikely a short sharp burst of fire might be just the thing to enforce the issue and see the US off.

Nor is it the last time in more recent memory that the US and China have sparred in such fashion (the EP3 incident in 2001 or when Bill Clinton sailed a carrier battle group through the Taiwan straitto counter Chinese aggression towards Taiwan in 1996*** spring to mind) so the recent snatching of the underwater drone is just one in a long line of acts towards each other and others (China’s recent bullying of Singapore by holding a shipment of APCs it purchased in Hong Kong).

But then the US is not blameless in this as while China lost in the Courts over its historical claims to the area the US is not even a signatory to the United Nations Convention on Law of the Sea (UNCLOS) and its containment policy of China is a clear attempt to thwart any expansion of its blue water naval capability and possibly cut its supply lines in the event of actual conflict****.

For us living in NZ all of this may still seem remote but the potential for conflict is not.

The US under Trump may feel assertive enough to make a point of this (although Trump appears to have already backed off his One-China comments now) and there are other actors in this (like Vietnam and Japan) who don’t have the luxury of watching at a distance as China gains control of vital territory, resources or trade routes who might just decide that they can’t sit back on the issue and end up dragging the US in when they decide to take action.

And while we live in an age where such things are rare and many people have used the argument that given all the trade China does with the world it would be foolish to think that they would risk all that just over some reefs please keep in mind that the 100 years of peace that Britain had between 1815 and 1914 were prefaced on similar arguments which did not stop the rest of the planet from having wars, or Britain embarking on its own colonial wars or its own step into the abyss in 1914.

And while Aleppo may be getting more attention at the moment this has all the potential to effect us quicker and more directly than the grim end to that siege and its human crisis. 

So while we may return to vicarious speculating about the 2017 elections in NZ pay at least some mind to what’s going on over the horizon because while it may not register much in the local media or scratch your particular political itch does not mean it is not an important or vital issue or that it wont have an effect on you***** if things get heavy.

*-China was invited to send a ship and looks like it sent one but they also sent one of these as well. Also when you compare the publicity one got compared to the other imagine which side NZ would be on if forced to choose.

**- both do not exactly fit the situation but there is enough of a parallel to make comparison

***-Although China now has a means to counter such a play with a very large anti-ship missile which the US may now have the countermeasure for

****-Which is why China is now building a massive part in Burma to connect it to the Indian Ocean without having to pass through the South China Sea or the bottleneck of the straights of Malaca (Singapore and Malaysia)

*****- I hope I have illustrated through all the links I have used to show that it is on many peoples radars in many different ways.

Thursday, 15 December 2016

Kill the head and the body will die? National Party in a death spiral as rodents exit the building!

Like some exotic murder mystery the bodies just keep piling up. But did they jump or were they pushed?

Another National MP (Craig Foss) has decided to pull the plug and not stand for re-election and Audrey Young’s article in the Herald makes it clear that there are now four ministerial vacancies and 10% of electoral seats up for grabs.

But are they going because they know that without Key they have no chance of winning the 2017 election alone (ie without having to make some sort of nightmare deal with Winston Peters) or is someone giving them the nudge? Is this a deliberate reshuffle by English now, before the holidays set in, to get all the deadwood (well some of the deadwood*) out of the way so that the voting public will be acclimatized to the new faces come next year or is this something more sinister?

It sounds rather absurd but given the incredible rumors and speculations that have reached my shell-likes in the last week this is a rather sound question to ask.

Earlier this week I managed to drag myself out of an all-day meeting in Wellington to catch up with my friend, and astute Wellingtonian, Q to discuss all things political over a quick lunch in Johns Kitchen (one of the capitals hidden gems).

The decor has the ambiance of a 1960s tea room and the food while unspectacular to look at is solid and fills one up. Also it seems exclusively filled with middle aged male civil servants whenever I eat there, so if you like white Formica, sandwiches that look like bricks (and weigh as much) and the low murmur of government business being discussed this is the place for you.

So in an old haunt from previous times, where you can have a hushed conversation over a cheese roll, meat pie and old school milkshakes (complete with “the longest drink in town” giraffe running down the side) without being overheard we discussed the latest developments.

First up the rumors, and there have been a few, were discussed. Most of these are simple speculation and clearly have little basis in reality but a few have struck a resonant chord with reality while others have the air of the fantastical.

The most amazing (and to me completely unbelievable) one I have heard was that John Key and Hekia Parata had been having an affair and after it ended badly he fired her and she then threatened to expose him so he choose to get out with his reputation intact (well sort of). Q, laughed at that one but did ask me where I had heard it.

Others include that Key is being blackmailed by an insider clique in the National Party management to remove him (and any others not down with a Trump style return to pure right wing, free-market neo-liberal politics) as National reinvents itself as a party of the right and Judith Collins is elected PM in 2017.  

This one may have some demented truth behind it but again seems more science fiction than political fact.

More plausible is the simple dynamic that with Keys mana off the table the rot that lay just beneath his bland veneer is exposed and like opening a fridge to the putrid stink of rotting vegetables and long expired dairy products the whole decaying edifice comes oozing out in congealed lumps to splatter across the floor (and ones shoes).

This I feel is the true reality of the situation but with the simple caveat that the matter of Keys circumstances are unusual given his declared want to have a fourth term, his high polling popularity and the current strength of the National party under his leadership.

We may never know the actual reason for the star quarterback to suddenly decide to quit halfway through the championship season with the team on the way to a win at the finals and rumors will persist but most simply do not take into account the level of degeneracy in the party and how Key was holding all this foul smelling filth and corruption together by his will alone, the toll on any person, even a necromancer King like Key, would be high.

That, and reasons aside, we now have the rats leaving the ship and one can almost hear the salivation factor in the opposition parties increase at the prospect of more juicy electorates to liberate from National.

What we are going to get is the crystallized remains of the worst of the National party (Collins, Brownlee, Bennett, Smith, Joyce and English) as the outer shell with a layer of untested crud just behind and then finally the foul pestilence of the parties internal working (dirty politics, black opps and dirty money) as the dark core of the turd that Key has left on the Christmas welcome mat.

The odds of this turd going down well with the electoral palette is zero and those cutting a rug know this which is why they are leaving in such haste.

Q’s assessment of the situation was simpler than mine and it was him hinting at the darker secrets of something we don’t not know rather than being dreamt up in my fervid imagination and to which he based this on the simple fact that no other NZ PM in history has left the job in this fashion (few ever willingly concede power and what politician leaves when their popularity is still high?) and that the word around the capital is that while Key got to choose the timing of his exit he did not get to choose if went or stayed.

Of course it’s all just speculation and we will probably never know, although I would love to, but what is known is how bad things are for National.

The B team, as Bill and Bennett are now being dubbed, are already being savaged in the media and elsewhere and no pseudo-scientific polling of online comments sections (certainly not Stuffs “well mediated” contents section) is going to hide the mess that Key has left.

National has been here before with Shipley in the wake of Bolger, English in the wake of Shipley, Brash in the (bloodied) wake of English and with the cycle of greedy sycophants sliding onto the still warm (and recently vacated) throne only broken by the emergence of Key as Politicosaurus Rex in the mid-2000s.

So we may never know whats going on deep in the bowels of the National Party S&M dungeon but something is going on behind those closed doors and while incompetent MPs like Sam Lotu Liga are clearly being pushed others like Foss and Parata as less definite.

Both the final guess of Q and myself was that Key had been heading one faction in the party and that something (or someone) drove him from the game and what we are seeing now is a rather large shift inside the party as rouge elements are being rounded up and eliminated as the party transforms back into its true form as an obvious vehicle for enacting unfettered market agendas without any social conscience or moral restraint.

So I am going to predict right here and now that National is going to be annihilated in the next election and Winston Peters and all the small parties are going to be the ones that decide the next government.

This is the end for the last remnants of the FPP mentality which lead to the norms of two party politics and it’s the end of personality politics in NZ until the next dynamic and charismatic politician can make their way up the ranks to capture the public heart at the polling booth.

For now the lesser players get to shine out on the AstroTurf like some demented political version of the Bad News Bears.

Key things to watch for (no pun intended) in the future are the smaller political parties making ground in every way shape and form. 

Expect the narrative to slip away from both National and Labour as the smaller faster players zip round the two lumbering behemoths (wheezing about like a hideously corpulent politician in a rugby shirt) while they catch the public imagination or simply seed further doubt in the voters’ minds with no clear choice coming Election Day.

Expect Peters and Morgan to face off sooner or later as Gareth Morgans clash with right wing talking head and all round douche Paul Henry showed that he is more than ready to play the FukYoo Politix card as much as possible.

Expect the Greens to use the summer to quietly go about their business and start capturing the relevant issues, like water rights and destruction of rivers, under their banner while the housing hernia swells a bit more and child poverty get all the lip service that politicians can give in public with no actual action being taken.

Even Maori and Mana can do well if they can figure an alternate plan to the current one (suck up to National) as a unified and committed Maori Political vehicle has plenty of potential to tap into many of those who currently do not vote and may just do so if they thought their interests would be genuinely represented.

Watch as National and Labour try to keep a brave face on things as National starts to dip into the inevitable death spiral towards low polling and Labour does (Andrew) Little (pun intended) except to lay out the welcome mat to the hell zone that is life with a terminal case of middling poll results and moribund leadership.

Whats worth keeping in mind is that it’s the smaller players that will decide the outcome of the next election, not Labour and certainly not National and the only thing that will reverse this is the rise of some messianic politician who can play the personality card to perfection.

National may become the next government but it will only be with Winston’s (or Gareth’s) backing while Labour will be nervously looking around and desperately trying to make eye contact with anyone to secure enough to cobble together a new government.

An interesting scenario would be NZ First and National banding together on one side of the house with The Greens and Labour on the other while Morgan and Maori zip between the two casting the deciding votes (ala Peter Dunne) on various issues.

This is a potential interesting development for both the mechanics of the House but also for NZ politics as a big chunk of the FPP headache is swept away for a more plural politics but for now let’s enjoy the car crash spectacle of National falling apart like the shambling husk that it always was.

*- see my post (here) from two months ago where I looked at what other things made up the National Party beside Key and the issues with any attempts to promote the back-row. Little did I know how dangerous that would become now that a lot more is at stake

Friday, 9 December 2016

How soon is now: Does national call a snap election or risk waiting?*

Well that was an anti-climax.

Here I was hoping for some sort of superstars of wrestling royal rumble and after three days it’s all over bar who will be deputy leader (like that contest really matters).

Given the speed with which the contenders started lining up after Key announced his resignation and the speed with which they withdrew I am guessing that the long necrotic hand of Key is still strong enough to reach out from the grave and still their ambitions for just a while longer.

But for how much longer?

So while English is on the throne it can’t be an easy feeling perched there, wondering who, or what, is plotting, planning and scheming , less than 100 meters from where he sits.

And as I write this John Key is less than 100 meters away from me, opening a new building in Christchurch in what was obviously one of his few and final acts as PM.

Still the dark lure is there and I noted a number of people taking photos of him, along with police trying to appear unobtrusive and his ever present DPS team in effect.

So we will get English as PM, either Simon Bridges or Paula Bennett as deputy and the possibility of some of the dead wood being replaced, although don’t bet on it.

Still the problem remains, who would make a good PM?

So I decided to circle the floor and poll as many people as I could in five minutes or less in what is a highly scientific method of determining the “mood of the people”.

And the results were:

John Key – 3
Winston Peters -6
Bill English – 1
Barack Obama – 1

So the preferred choice for PM among a random sample of the building I work in is Winston Peters and this was an even more astounding choice when my follow up question about their political orientation turned up only one of those six who was a NZ First supporter.

So what gives?

To be fair I did not specify that the contender had to be a member of the National Party but still its telling that in such a climate that two of the names given were not even members of the National Party, one is currently about to leave the job and the one who currently has the role polled badly.

And this is probably what’s adding to the swirling speculation of an early election and the dawning realization that no matter what English does there is no easy answer to his problems, or Nationals for that matter.

And just to add to the speculation, how about this little table from Kiwiblog to add to the conspiracy theories currently doing the rounds.

One thing is clear, no matter how much National shuffles faces, names and portfolios its heading for a tough time ahead and I am interested to see how long it takes before one of the following happens:

1.      National start to drop in the polls
2.      A new government scandal emerges and National start to drop in the polls
3.      English can’t keep order inside cabinet or without and National starts to drop in the polls
4.      The actual truth about Key leaving emerges and national starts to drop in the polls
5.   National starts to drop in the polls

You get the picture.

Sooner or later National is going to blink and my guess is an early election is a possibility due to the fact that nothing they do between now and an actual election is going to make a shred of difference except some sort of false flag operation to distract the public.

So is it better to head to the election now while the party’s polling is still high or risk hanging around and watching it drop and then calling an election?

Either way its shuffling deck chairs on the Titanic.

*-with apologies to The Smiths

Monday, 5 December 2016

The Things That Should Not Be: Exit Planet Key!

Thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you, thank you ...

I swear I couldn't make this kind of stuff up.

There I was at work sitting at my desk, taking a break from my work to ponder what to write for my next post and having decided that the next topic would be a rather sharp break down of Why Andrew Little should quit now and give whoever takes over a year to try and win the 2017 election when my train of thought was derailed by the comment that "John Key has quit".

"Quit what?" I thought.

But no, I was not to remain ignorant for long as my slightly less busy co-workers clued me in and from there on while my face remained businesslike and I returned to my work, inside I was grinning like a mofo.

You see, in my previous post I noted the stasis like state of the NZ political system and how we needed something to spark the shift or Election 2017 would be a rather dull affair with an even duller, and wholly inevitable, outcome of John Key as our Master of Puppets** another three years (and knowing how god forsaken the opposition was looking possibly even longer).

But all of that is gone by the roadside now, left twitching like some poor creature with a smashed spine while the perpetrator (in this case John Key) speeds away with a fading whoop in a cloud of dollars and we are now faced with the prospect of scraping the carcass off the road and making a meal of it.

But I am not here to praise Key, there is plenty of hagiographies springing up in the MSM like rabbit turds on a golf course (really guys? how many articles can you lot write about the same thing? did you have them pre-written or something or are you getting paid on a per-word basis?) nor to bury him (I have done that both here and on KP so if you want to know my thoughts on the man have a look here, here, here or here) and instead lets cast ourselves forward into time to see what the next, exciting, 12 months are going to be like because that stasis like state I was commenting on previously is now gone, the evil spell is broken as the Witch King of Parnell retreats to that great merchant bank in the sky, cast down by the one thing his foes could not use against him, love.

Yes it was not his opponents in the opposition nor the smiling faces  in cabinet that could take him off the board and out of the game but instead he left play at the hand of his wife Bronagh (Bronagh, if your reading this please understand that while I loath your husband, you will always have my thanks for getting him out of the Beehive and onto the nearest exclusive golf club or resort if only because of all the frustrated change his leaving is going to unleash on the 2017 election process).

So he is gone, and before we start pulling the meat form the bones of the matter let us stop for a minute and observe a minutes silence. Yes that's right, quieten your political mind for a moment and cock your ears and listen to whats on the wind.


There did you hear it? The sound of knives sharpening, of hearts fluttering, of minds racing, of lips being licked, of plans forming, of wheels turning AND if you listened extra hard you may have heard the faint sounds of glacial ice cracking.

So lets forget about Key and figure out what is going to happen now because with Key gone all bets are off and the throne is up for grabs.

To be clear, this is a spark, there might be more, but for now just one spark is enough to set the whole edifice ablaze (probably helped along by a few political pyromaniacs like myself) and things just got real!

First up, the obvious question, who will take over as Leader of National (and obviously PM)?

Take your time, I can wait.

If your struggling to find a name to put to the role then your not the only one because while the questions is obvious the answer is not. Which of the political monsters haunting the halls of National is able to step into the light, face the media, and far more importantly, be able to successfully lead the party to victory at the polls?

Judith Collins? Steven Joyce? Paula Bennet? Bill English? (pause here while we chuckle heartily). Like the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, you can decide which one is which, these four scourges are saddling up and preparing to ride into battle for the crown.

English is the designated successor but as any fan of Game of Thrones knows, being heir to the title wont matter a pound of Valyrian Steel when the knives (as well as swords, guns and cudgels) come out and if English has already not put through an emergency call to his tailor for an order of extra padding on the back of his new suit (Crane Brothers do fast work at a pinch**) then he probably does not deserve the job.

The problem is that English was captaining the leaky barge that is National when it ran aground on the rocks of its worst ever electoral defeat in 2002 and there is no indication in the polling that he could do better this time.

Sure, National leads in the polls now but as has been said before by myself and others is that most of that high polling is due to the popularity of John Key and nothing else. National has not been in government because of its great political policies or its stellar cast of political go-getters.

No, without Key at the helm its all hands on deck and action stations as enemy sails appear on the horizon and the savvy swashbuckler that had the wind in its sails is suddenly becalmed while the scurvy ridden crew bicker and argue about who should be the new captain.

In such a climate English might not even want the job, he has been in politics for a long time now and while probably doesn't have a nest egg as big as his boss's he might just want to step aside when it come time to step forward for the main job and avoid that expensive tailors bill.

But if not English then who?

Next up, say hello to Judith Collins, quickly followed by saying goodbye to Judith Collins because no National strategist in their right mind (and if my sources are correct their brain trust is one less member at the moment due to one of them going mad from a curable venereal disease) is going to honestly endorse Jowley Judith as the vehicle for Electoral Grins in 2017? Like some god awful candidate on some ghastly talent show, Collins will try for sure but the judges are not that dosed on the fizzy sugar water to give her a thumb up anywhere and there are only so many knives one can carry and Assassins Creed this is not.

We all know Collins is jonesing for the top job and that Key had to keep her round after her previous shadow tilt at the role because to cut her loose would have been the worse choice but if anyone reading this thinks the voting public would be susceptible to Collins getting a Helen Clark style "look she is human after all" makeover as enough to get their vote is officially crazy.

For Collins to get some of that Irish magic in her name to work in this situation would require a Faustian pact of such magnitude that Satan himself could retire to a quiet house in the country and write his memoirs. So no Collins, no way no how.

Then its Paula Bennet or Steven Joyce as the next likely contenders but lets stop fooling ourselves, neither of these two will wash any more than the first two so lets just accept that its English as the official choice and let the blood sports begin because who knows which of these repugnant waste products will actually get the job. Only time (and a dose of penicillin) will tell.

And just pause for moment and wonder what else is lurking a bit further back in Nationals ranks that could end on moving on up amidst all this power play.

The problem here is that while Key was popular on one side and the man you loved to hate on the other, people just hate Collins, Joyce and Bennett, on all sides while English is tolerated like a low grade rash that might go away with time and the right cream.

None of them command any popular support or the numbers to be a popular PM and all have the history to show what kind of evil predator the country would be getting if they actually got the job (God/Allah/Budda help us!). To be genuinely honest I don't know which one of these greasy criminals would actually be worse. Its like having to choose between Famine, Pestilence or War while Death keeps the throne warm.***

English is tolerable but he looks more and more like his masters dark magics have sucked the life out of him and what is left is a shuffling, semi animated cadaver which cant think but can spout simple, easily repeatable phrases (usually some economic dogma) but little else. The rest? Fuhghetaboutit!

Oh I fully expect National to circle the wagons and put on a brave face but its clear on all sides that this has come as a shock and as I noted way back on KP, there is no Plan B for National once Key leaves. The sound of bricks hitting the floor in the Beehive must almost be enough to register on the Richter scale right now.

Meanwhile on the opposition benches you would expect there to be some celebrating and you would be right as long as you don't include Andrew Little in that list.

Because as I noted at the start of my post, my planned next post was going to be about him being rolled now, rather and after the 2017 election as a a better choice, as after two years at trying to make it work, at trying to strike a spark, any spark, Little has nothing to show for it except a rotten pile of MPs as the wood and some soggy policy positions as the matches and no fire what so ever.

And with Key out of play those arguments get stronger not weaker as now there is hope, there is a chance of winning an election and you wont need any of that fantasy dust so popular in parliament at the moment to figure out that such thoughts will be peculating in various minds in Labour. "Better to roll him now or after the Christmas holidays?"

Yes Little has the union vote as his shield, for now at least, but it was a very close run thing last time and those odds are not going to get any better if others decide that he is still not going to lead the party to victory in 2017. Andrew Little needs to make hay on this or step aside because if he cant make some headway now then he never will.

But lets park those thoughts for another post as there will be plenty more to chew over soon once the cult of personality around Key fades and exactly how weak National are without him becomes crystal clear.

And speaking of predators circling the campfire, just out of sight on the edge of the light, there are all those other parties which can only gain from trying to snatch a chunk of polling off the juicy flank of the National Party corpse as it roasts over the fire.

Winston Peters will be certainly smiling as he outlasts another PM and will certainly now be able to work his patented populist magic on an electorate bereft of its feel good icon and searching for another "charismatic" leader to latch on to. Key has been the master of the "cult of the feel good MP (and later PM)" but Winston is a close second (in his role as that guy sticking it to the pointed headed bastards in the capital) and if he ever really put his dreams of being PM aside now might be the time to resurrect them.

Also this makes Winston even more important as Kingmaker as a desperately weak National would be willing to pay almost anything, perhaps even the PM spot but probably not, to stay in government.

Its pretty simple math Bob. Take National pre Key and Brash and you have the kind of polling that Labour is currently getting (the low 20s) when English was last leader and its easy to see that National, with its current lead in the high to mid 40s, could possibly end up shedding up to 10 to20 points, plus the spread, in an electoral feeding frenzy as it sinks into a futile doomfunk under some vile, hungry, powerslave****.

That's how popular Key was and how important he was to the party. That's why his face was always plastered on election billboards along with whatever gormless candidate was running wherever (although supposedly not for Parmjeet Parmar in Mt Roskill where it was just her).

So without Key out of the picture (figuratively and literally both in person and for those bloody awful  billboards) all the other parties (except possibly ACT) can get a slice of pie and even new entrants like Gareth Morgan and The Opportunities Party (as the lowly hyena at this predators feast) should be able to cram some scraps into their hungry maw.

Maori and Mana might be sweating now as their easy plan of play the game and sneak in under the next National government might need some reevaluation after they burnt their bridges to Labour and decided that open hostility was the way to go. For Tuku Morgan it will probably be stick to the plan but an endorsement from the Maori King only goes so far and we might find out exactly how far quite soon.

On the other hand the Greens now have a real chance if Labour can get it together at the polling booth and that in itself will be more than enough to help congeal Greens voters together to get out for the bigger/greater good and help propel the co-leaders into government and power.

What price will a desperate Labour pay if faced, and they certainly almost will be, with not enough votes to make the nut on their own and therefore either forced to pay the piper in the form of Winston Peters grinning like a wolf or a much more known (and hopefully more malleable but don't bet on it) Green Party? Which would you choose?

What this means in a Nutshell is stock in the smaller parties is going way up, National is going to go down and Labours will remain where it is until Little is rolled or gets a personality transplant.

To be fair to Andrew, he has a fighting chance against any of the Cowboys from Hell that National might end up letting front the carnival while the management desperately tries to cook up a truly viable strategy but there are others on the Labour team who can do just as good or better and I can think of two who will be figuring all the angles right now as I type these words.

So that all for the moment. Now its time to get some good food, get away form this screen and spend the next week sampling the mood around the place (as well as a urgent call to my politically astute friend, Q, in Wellington, to sort out dinner when I am up there in a weeks time.

But lets be clear about this, this is a game changing situation, who knows what cards will be dealt and all that dull certainty that Key embodied is now gone and cast to the winds (I should thank him for that but as noted above the credit goes to his wife).

Had Key not left none of this would be happening and we would still be locked in that political stasis that his high polling popularity had created but now its like an alternate reality being flashed before our eyes as the timeline splits and we go careening towards another set of possibilities.

So lets strap in and get ready to ride the lightning.

*-Yes I know its a song (by Metallica) about drugs rather than some evil overlord but the concept of people hideously addicted to JK as some sort of explanation for his ridiculously popularity is not the worst I have heard.
**-Props to the nice folk there who finally invited me in after a month of putting up with me pressing my face against the glass (like some poor kid outside the toy shop dreaming of that one toy they will probably never get but desperately want) on a daily basis and let me in to try stuff on. You, sirs, are true couturiers.
***-In such a situation it might actually be best to choose death as its always better to die on your feet than live on your knees.
****-If your noticing a Metal music theme to much in today's post its because I have been mainlining energy drinks and pumping bands like Pantera, Iron maiden and Metallica on the head phones at work while I try to get a big report up to speed in impossibly short time frames due to management hubris and its bled over into my writing this post.

Thursday, 1 December 2016

No Spark, No Fire?: Looking for "The Shift" in NZ politics prior to the 2017 election

With the hysteria in the US finally abating now might be a good time to consider what is heading our way with New Zealand’s 2017 election cycle.

At this point the date of the NZ Election for 2017 is unknown but given how politics around the world has recently been developing that is the least of our worries.

But perhaps what is happening elsewhere (think all those shock outcomes and change being enacted via the ballot box) will not happen in NZ when Kiwis go to cast their votes next year.

Unlike the US we do not have a highly bi-partisan two party system to dissuade voters and block genuine choice; we have MMP which has given us a mixed parliament and while not perfect it has removed the obvious dysfunction of two party politics.

Nor have we allowed our political system to degrade so much that what an actual election throws up (and I use that term to its full range) is either a monstrous demagogue or Machiavellian schemer. What we have are either bland our soulless political mannequins or populist rabble rousers, both of whom are checked by a weakened, but functioning, electoral system.

Unlike the UK we are not headed towards some sort of watershed vote (ala Brexit) or have succession issues on our hands (as with Scotland previously thinking about leaving); currently there are no plans for the South Island to leave the North and no bugbear unions impeding our sovereignty and making us feel not the masters or our own destiny.

Unlike the Philippines we have not elected a hard arsed action hero to deal with our problems by killing them one bullet at a time (where the people are the problem not the actual problem themselves); instead we have a bland faced used car salesman who has neither the will nor the want to deal with any problem.

Unlike Australia we don’t have a revolving door for prime ministers and governments (five in five years); instead we have a relatively stable election cycle with governments serving over multiple terms and no internecine warfare inside the parties (although Labours struggle pre Andrew Little came close but at they were out of power when it occurred so the fallout remained within the party itself).

Unlike Turkey we don’t have a shady dictator consolidating his hold on power and running the opposition out of town; in NZ we may end up voting John Key in as our virtual dictator simple because there are few alternates to his conniving visage and we simply can’t be buggered to choose anyone else.

I could go on listing other countries and places (Brazil, France, the Middle East, Hong Kong, most of Europe etc) but you get the picture. Political flux is the order of the day, established elites are being challenged for control of the levers of power and the electorate is learning the value of its vote as a tool to punish governments by electing spoiler or extremist candidates to government with no consideration for the established norms.

Combine all this with a climate of economic uncertainty (think post GFC economics, recession, rising prices and the credibility of the economic orthodoxy being strained to breaking point), slow building but ultimately disastrous ecological change (think climate change or bee colony collapse), the problems of reduced sovereignty (think immigration matters, terrorism and garbage like the TPPA) and you have a combination of factors which are producing rather drastic shifts in democratic outcomes

So will there be “a shift” in NZ politics in 12 months’ time like many other countries around the world have seen? Are we headed to some sort of revolutionary outcome like the rest or will it remain business as usual in Godzone?

The obvious way to consider this question would be to consider what the kiwi electorate wants and how it expresses it through the voting system come election time but if we play that game we are assuming that New Zealand will somehow be bucking the current trend in global politics and living in its own little bubble.

So what will it be Shift or Bubble? Steady as she goes, nothing to see hear and safe clean and neat or sudden lurch to the fringe, incendiary political outcomes, all the swimming pools filled with tomato sauce and “cats and dogs living together,mass hysteria!”.

The recent twists and turns of politics around the world today indicate that steady state political models are currently not able to deal with what kind of rabbits the people are pulling out of the electoral hat. So perhaps we should be turning to another model more adept at dealing with the current state of politics, such as how Punk Eq or punctuated equilibrium (to borrow the term from evolutionary biology) relates to Natural Selection. 

Such a model would have to base itself on the simple premise that instead of predictable consensus forged in the middle ground of politics with politicians acting more as managers rather than leaders we now have to factor in the fading of the middle ground as the central play space for political actors and all the raunchy action migrating out to the fringes where it is empowering different narratives and actors who have little or no commitment to the status quo or consensus and are instead devoted to playing the game as zero sum/winner takes all.

This has already shown itself in a variety of ways around the world with the struggle among the elites in the US over who will rule with clear outsider Trump wresting power away from the patrician classes (at least for now) by appealing to the latent nationalism that lurks in all people; through the rise of political figures speaking the language of change (like Corbyn, Trudeau, Sanders, Trump and Duterte); with fickle electorates and weak parliaments (think Australia and Italy) and an electorate willing to enact punitive outcomes on those in government that they perceive as having failed (think almost anywhere that extremist candidates or outcomes are popping up like mushrooms after the rain or like in South Korea where the populace is braying for the current presidents blood for letting her “astrologer” run the country).

With such a model, the question (Raymond!) becomes one of not “if” but “when” and for those people who are calmly sitting there saying “it can’t happen here” have a think about this.

Recent events around the world have come as a shock both to the media reporting on them but also to the politicians who get caught up in them. For both parties the safe bubble in which they operate stayed in place right up until it was popped and change charged in like an angry goat.

So if your belief that “nothing like that will happen here” is based on such a view you may wish to reconsider things.

It’s true that kiwis are a passionless lot (as keenly noted by Gordon MacLauchlan in his books The Passionless People and The Passionless People Revisited) who don’t seem to care that John Key (described by MacLauchlan as a “passionless PM”) and his bunch of ghouls are happy to strip the country bare for a profit, and that with an electoral structure like MMP we have a pressure valve for the kind of pressures that two party systems can generate but we also have issues like the housing hernia, growing poverty (child or otherwise), natural and man made disasters (think Christchurch and its bungled aftermath), an economy reliant on dairy, tourism, and cheap Labour and a past we seem unwilling to honestly address.

Somewhere between these two competing forces is a place, a moment, when a spark ignites, the fire starts and if recent events hold true then in a democratic country the place where the fire starts is in the build up to a national election as the dissent simmering underneath starts to push up angry candidates with angry voices who reject the current status quo (think MOR politics as it currently stands) and see no value in compromise (having been previously marginalized by the system) and are now willing to toss a match onto the wood pile (soaked as it is in the highly combustible passions of those who have suffered under the current regime) and watch the whole thing burn.

Call it puritan rage, call it Joker politics call it what you want (hell even call it FukYooPolitix) but no matter the name the outcome is the same, upset to the current system and the rise of candidates, who for want of a batter word, are revolutionary in that they have little intent to play the same old game and seem eager (if only for now) to sweep away the old order.

Perhaps it’s best in the words of Newton’s third law, “for every action is there is an equal and opposite reaction”.

The fact that it’s all happening now can be attributed, in part, to a weakening (by things like the GFC, the chaos of war and climate change) of the means of suppression that the elites and the establishment have put into place over the years to keep the populace docile (think media obsessions, fads and abject consumerism as the new religion) no longer sufficient to prevent reality from crashing in, and one by one the house of cards starts to fall apart.

In NZ, our own house of cards has been maintained in a kind of demented stasis by the fact that the political actors had ossified into present positions, roles and niches and there is little room for new entrants into the game (good luck Gareth Morgan). Previous vehicles for change (such as the Green and Act) have failed to achieve any genuine reform and simply become co-opted actors in the parliamentary play pen.

If you cast your mind back to the days of Social Credit, Norman Kirk’s 72 cabinet, the land marches, the springbok tour, Winston Peters barnstorming success in 96 or more recently in Northland, the shock outcomes of the MMP and Anti-Nuclear referendums/votes, the Greens in their early days (well before corporate stooge James Shaw infiltrated) or the even the Lange Government in 84 (before they ran amok with the hatchets) and it’s not hard to see a genuine desire for change which has been viciously suppressed by 17 years of MOR politics as enacted by Labour and National Governments (with the smaller parties acting as willing handmaidens).

And add in those current stresses to our little green land and I am willing to lay good money down that 2017 will deliver a shock to the system if the electorate has any opportunity to spit in the faces of the establishment by electing a spoiler party or candidate and thus shifting the game out of the center and onto the fringes. All it takes is one spark to light the fire.

And at this time the opportunities are thus:

Gareth Morgan and The Opportunities Party (TOP): Morgan is the outsider’s choice but as a genuine outsider he is the perfect vehicle for voter rage. The problem for him (or those who vote for him) is that the afore mentioned passionlessness (is this a word?) of Kiwis and his own lack of policy experience might not be enough for him to get the 5% required to bring his brand of shock politics to parliament. Net result for Morgan is that whatever he is planning to do between now and Election Day it had better be good and it would be helped by any political scandals or crisis that freaks people out to which he can make capital on.

In Morgan’s case we will have to see what he is like once the party releases its policy program and Morgan himself start the media machine rolling. At this time an unknown and untested force in the political arena.

Winston Peters and NZ First: The older more preferred brand for people willing to “stick it to the man”. His success in Northland (previously a National Stronghold) proved the blueprint for getting elected on the back of a voter backlash by focusing on local issues and grievances and using them as cudgels to beat the government into submission. Winston is very likely to be King maker again but may have to share some of that position with Morgan (if he can work his mojo).

The problem for Winston is that he has been around so long that he is not really a genuine vehicle for change but rather a reactionary club with which to pound the government from time to time. In this vein he is less a radical rather than a reactionary which serves a similar function but will usually tend toward more conservative outcomes making it hard to imagine a lot of young radicals being attracted to the party (as it did in the 90s).

In the end Winston is no longer a true agent of change but rather a cathartic throwback, the fate of all aging rock stars, who will peddle his brand of entertainment until he retires or dies.

The Greens: With James Shaw slowly consolidating his hold on the party (at least in the media) the Greens are facing the potential of a watershed election. Play their cards right and they could make serious capital off their current polling (12%) but remain hemmed in by being to the left of Labour.

This means that its either play the part of political patsy for Labour or engage in a deadly game of political brinkmanship by engaging with National to either force Labour to be more compromising to them or to actually backdoor Labour and enact policy in league with the dark forces of National (possible give that Shaw’s corporate background).

The danger for them is that this risks a serious schism in the voter base with the hard core rejecting such a dirty dance while the more casual Green voters (think those liberals ticked off with Labour but not yet bitter enough to swing to the polar opposite and vote National) running for the hills as their previous vehicle for their liberal angst sells out and starts working with “the Man”.

The Maori Party: having recently Joined Forces with Mana through Tuku Morgan enacting his plan to unify all Maori threads into one vehicle (by bringing Hone Harawira and Mana back into the fold), a plan to vote strategically (ie not dividing the Mana and Maori vote bases by each fielding a candidate in select electorates) and by attempting to isolate Labour (though getting the Maori King to back them and poo poo Labour) there is a clear potential to improve on their current position (1% in the polls) but to do that means building an expanded voter base and tapping into the anger of Maori through the electoral process.

They have the advantage of the Maori seats to avoid the 5% threshold but that in itself may not be enough if they end up playing the same game as they did before as siding with National would simply be seen as backing the problem as well as simply ticking off Harawira (who is not their biggest fan) and ruining the good vibes built up by getting the band back together.

Like the Greens the potential is there but such potential cuts both ways and in a moment of weakness they could end up pissing it all away (think the Lib Dems in the UK) and doing further damage to the brand.

And on the losing side of the ledger:

ACT: There might be a few riled up voters in Epsom who want to experience the “thrill of revolution” but the odds are against that they would want to do that by voting ACT. ACT might retain its seat but it has none of the Far Right credentials to tap into that strain of voter anger as economic conservatism and white power have little cross over potential in New Zealand. It is bad enough that ACT spout free market dogma like a low budget form of hate speech (its certainly hating on the poor) it would only be worse if they started to add in an ugly racial element.

Net result for ACT is that they had better make sure they retain Epsom.

National: As the current government National is the lightning rod for all the anger being generated so there is little if any rational for those voting for change to vote for them. Also with John Key as the poster boy for everything wrong with the government he is an obvious repellent for any would be voters ready to enact some angry change.

Labour: Andrew Little has had plenty of opportunities to up his game and bring Labour out of the doldrums but unlike his counterpart in the UK (Jeremy Corbyn) he has proven to be politically inexperienced and with a personality like a sack of dead cats. It’s no wonder that Labour remains low in the polling while popular face John Key can suck up the prize for preferred PM with almost no opposition.

Little has blown his chances unless he can figure out a way to tap into all that electoral anger and so far he has shown little understanding of the situation he is in or that he has any idea of the way out of the wilderness so it’s probably safe to say that he will be rolled not long after the election if Labour cant form an unlikely coalition government between them, NZ First and the Greens.

It also doesn't help that Labour are the other side of the establishment coin, they still think they are the "natural" opposition party despite piss poor polling and seem unable to make capital of the issues as they exist.

His (Little's) only hope is that Gareth Morgan gets such a slice of the vote to be able pool it with Labour and the Greens to form a government; BUT that itself also requires a neutral Winston to not bolster National so that chances of that happening are astronomically high (both for Morgan and Peters).

So while several of my previous posts have reeked of revolutionary bravado the game is still afoot in NZ and what is lacking at this time is a spark which will ignite the voters; be it a candidate or an issue or both.

In short, no spark = no shift.

The flip-side is that many of these electoral outcomes have been hard to spot coming because of the previously mentioned media and establishment suppression or ignorance of how ugly thing were getting away from the high tower but as its stands in NZ the latent issues are there but as yet no real vehicle for their reckless energy.

So we can watch and wait (like passive little spectators) or consider going out there and string up some action ourselves. As my previous posts have noted now is the perfect time to get into the game as periods of flux (much like war) often open up rapid opportunities for promotion (think battlefield commissions) for those out doing their part.

I know what I will be doing. Do you?