Time for me to step down as a writer here. I’ve been doing it too long, and through some pretty bleak times. But now we have a new government, and that should bring a new wave of energy and engagement. It’s good time to make room for new writers to step up, with new ideas about the direction of this blog.
What follows is just a ramble on various topics in no particular order. Proceed at your own risk, or not.
I’m pleased that we have changed the government. But I’m probably more worried than I am pleased. Not just about the clusterfuck mess that National is leaving behind, but also about what the nature of the win says about this country. We should have won in a landslide in 2014, because dirty politics should not be acceptable to this country in any form. The fact that the Nats took that election, and maintained a highish level of popularity to the very end, does not speak well of our political health. It is clear that New Zealand has a moderate dose of what we are seeing in America with Trump, a political world where facts matter far less than spin and unquestioning allegiance to predetermined views. It’s a dangerous path.
There’s a lot of truth to the saying that oppositions don’t win elections, governments lose them. It amuses me how actively the Nats lost this one by fighting an FPP campaign. Karma. If there was any rationality to politics National’s history of dirty politics and lies would see them out of power for a generation, but as above, there is no rationality to politics.
Dealing with the National opposition is not going to be easy, but there are a few things to bear in mind and keep repeating. They did a poor job with the economy, and a disastrous job with housing, poverty, health, education and the environment (documented here). They are sore losers who don’t understand MMP, want to argue with the ref, and have no mates. National will get wins from opposition, but that’s fine, the left had wins from opposition too. It’s the beauty of MMP. Don’t worry about it, and don’t let it divide the coalition government.
Is there a coming digital war? Probably. But I don’t think it will be as bad as some people say. The dirty politics blogs have had their day. Everyone now knows how they operate, and they don’t have anything like the influence that they had 5 years ago, especially with the media. They will keep spewing of course, and one thing authors here could do is regularly highlight their shit.
The systemic bias inherent in the right-wing ownership and centralisation of the media is a much bigger problem. It’s not completely unbalanced, but underlying everything is a set of assumptions and a perpetuation of myths that results in a constant screwing of the scrum in favour of the Nats. This reaches its worst in the dominance of idiot demagogues like Mike Hosking, and the repeated use of dirty politics actors like Farrar and Hooton as “commentators”. Let’s be honest about what they are – propagandists.
When it comes to regular journalists though, and I know I’m guilty of this myself, venting about them does very little good. The bad ones only get shirty, and they have a much bigger megaphone than us. The good ones are very good, and it must be frustrating for them to see their whole field (the “MSM”) continually attacked. Dear lefties, please try and make friends with journalists.
Anyway, the biggest problem in terms of political spin and public opinion is not the media, it is the weaponisation of social media. Profiling, AI methods, micro-targeted advertising, the propagation of fake news. If you haven’t heard of Cambridge Analytica you have no idea of how expertly you are being handled. If you are active on Facebook you are a product. Apart from the left trying to fight fire with fire I have no idea what to do about this. Is the politics of the future not so much a battle of ideas as it is a battle of algorithms? Depressing.
I haven’t written much about immigration and racism because I find it a difficult topic. I love immigration, I love diversity, I love travel and the rich tapestry of the exchange of culture and ideas. At the risk of sounding like Don Brash, my wife and kids don’t use a lot of sunblock, and I’ve helped family members from far away to NZ. But we do now have a problem. It isn’t the fault of immigrants, it’s the fault of politicians, a failure to plan, a failure to build infrastructure. It’s OK to point that out, and in my opinion it’s OK to put a slowdown on immigration until it’s sorted (immigration from England or Australia or anywhere). Some of the over-zealous lefties who insist on attacking this proposal as racism annoy me almost as much as overt racists. Too often it’s a privileged and self-gratifying exercise that ignores the fact that the burden of our stuffed housing and infrastructure falls mainly on the poor. Mainly in fact on Maori / Pacific Islanders. Racism of a different kind. We need to take care of the people already in this country (whether they arrived last week or generations ago) before we can sustain high levels of immigration again. Boy am I going to get in to trouble for writing this. So it goes.
In any case, sometimes it all feels like arguing about the proverbial deckchairs on the Titanic. Climate change is here. Huge challenges are coming. In fifty years the world is going be a very very different place from what it is today.
Back to the present. Politics. Philosophically I’m much more Green than Labour, but as a matter of historical accident I’m a member of the Labour Party. (I really don’t think it matters what party you support, as long as its heading in generally the constructive direction – left.) Labour, you don’t need my advice, here are some of the things you know already. You have in front of you huge opportunity and also huge risk. Jacinda Arden is your greatest asset, just let her be herself (don’t get flustered when she makes mistakes). Own up to your mistakes and fix them. Ministers must be accountable and must be seen to be accountable. Stick to the high road, leave dirty politics to the Nats. You will be very busy in government, but as a party you need to look at what went wrong in Auckland. Build relationships with immigrant communities. It’s going to be a hugely tough sell given your immigration policy, but you can’t afford to cede those communities to the Nats, so put the bloody work in. Don’t forget your impossibly huge responsibility to the Maori electorate who have given you their trust. Good luck!
Blogging has been interesting. My first comment here (12 Sept 2007) was a suggestion for a post – it seems I was doomed from the start. Against my better judgement I started submitting guest posts. My first post under my own login (4 September 2009) was Why blog?. I did around 600 posts as r0b, then 1890 after coming out as Anthony R0bins. Several hundred more as many of the Notices and Features and the like. That’s a lot of posts, too many. It was driven by a certain affinity for lost causes – loved this book in my formative years. I’m an accidental blogger – not a real one like the Farrar’s or Bradbury’s or (bless him) the George’s of the world.
Politics is a rough game. The other team plays dirty, which is understandable because it gets results. It’s very very tempting to give in to the dark side and use similar tactics of spin, lies and dogwhistles. I’d like to hope that I (none of the writers here) ever did or will. But I must admit I personally got closer than I would have liked, crossing the line into spin at times. Not proud of that, but it’s very damn frustrating to try and fight fire armed with nothing more than a combustable volume on moral philosophy. We need a better, more mature kind of politics, but I can’t see how to get there from here. I’ll go away and think about it for a bit. Best wishes to you all…
My thanks to to Lprent and The Standard Trust, fellow writers past and present, and the wonderful active commenting community here! The writers here are fantastic, and it’s been a privilege to work with them/you all, but they could use some reinforcements.
If ever there was a time to get active politically it is now. If ever you have thought about submitting guest posts or trying out as a writer here, do it now. The political right are going to go nuts in opposition, and we need fresh new hands on deck.
See you in comments sometimes.