Tagged: John Key

MAX POWER

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‘You say that you hate Max Key, but I think you mean you hate most 20 year olds’

@bigmoneyfinance

I can’t help but think that Max Key would be far less despised if he was gay. At least we’d see him as an unthreatening, liberated party boy rather than the son of a popular, skilful, trickster Prime Minister. Twitter becomes angry any time he does anything public, so his recent Remix Magazine photo shoot justifies our Freudian hatecrush, whose exposure of exposed muscular chest has ruined our libidos.

This is desperation and helplessness under a popular National Government in action: unable to influence politics, we target our frustration at political leaders and their children’s appearances, bodies and accents in a way we would normally scream body/ fat/ slut/ class shaming.

I’ve always found it ironic in how my political and generational contemporaries react to Max Key’s vanity. There’s arguably little difference between Max Key’s Instagram account and photoshoot with our exotic holidayed, bikini bod and sunbathed leg shot, locally-sourced prosecco potluck, LP-playing, cycling weekend-infested Instagram and Twitter accounts. The digital generation and anyone digitally savvy enough readily indulges in promoting their political, musical, fashion, cooking, sport and sexual tastes, but at the same time are equally motivated to simply share and live publicly, even if they’re occasionally overbearing.

Yet, perhaps we too easily rely on promoting our personal political brand values in direct opposition to those we despise, like the Ya Ya Club or Max Key. They have become lightning rods for everything we despise – privilege, wealth, inequality and even lung cancer. There’s a degree to where I can understand why progressive values often fail to gain public traction. Often the loudest supporters appear to be just as shallow and mean as those they claim to oppose. If Max Key is truly an awful garbage person, then we all are; we just do it with less money and promote different political and consumer lifestyle choices.

His faults can far more easily be blamed on media culture. A social media personality with dreams of stardom is behaving just like we would expect him to and his name is viral on social media and news outlets thanks to politically-motivated rage, while Remix Magazine and George FM are commercial media outlets motivated to increase their audience share and profits. If the arts and media are driven by infotainment and networking, then find solace in the Radio NZ/ Guardian bubble or learn to live with all forms of media. Oppose the system that gave X Factor NZ on Air funding and keep this in mind when the inevitable Max Key reality TV series gets commissioned. The heart of this matter is that fanatical fury and condescension against a socialite son of a Prime Minister will not defeat the National Government and usher in a new age of equality and justice, nor would any of us appreciate being in the position where we are an extension of our parents’ actions.

OFF-KEY

john-key-getting-angry-in-parliament.jpg.hashed.816a9547.desktop.story.wideA sweeping change is occurring in NZ politics and John Key and his staff have failed to see it coming. Normally, the timeline would go: Key accuses Labour’s advocacy for New Zealanders resident in Australia imprisoned on Christmas Island as siding of rapists, murders, and paedophiles, the left and media challenges his figures and ethics, our political lizard brains choose a side, then it disappears from the news. The public don’t like criminals and, like with the working poor and welfare recipients, ‘criminals’ tend to lack the money, organisation, well-financed think tanks, and media influence to fight back. This time, Key and his staff indirectly picked a fight with women, resulting in a parliamentary protest by female MPs who took issue with this claim, some of whom had experienced sexual assault, some of whom were removed followed by a walkout from the chamber by female and male MPs. Key and his staff misread the situation and were blindsided by the changing role of women in politics and society.

Women’s political and economic clout is becoming much stronger. Now comprising 31% of Parliament, women have a greater voice from a powerful platform. This is especially focused on advocacy for legislative, judicial, and societal action against gender violence. Studies estimate up to 1 in 3 women and girls have experienced sexual violence. Yet, the link between violence and gender is still taken far less seriously by politicians, judicial system, and the media. The lack of action over Roastbusters, closure of a Christchurch’s only rape crisis centre, and the continued popularity of Tony Veitch can attest to this. However, where mainstream politics are failing, new media and social media are are transcending traditional power structures, with the power to make normally unseen videos and quotes go viral. Most notably, satirical coverage by Last Week Tonight is transforming Key from a lesser known world leader to a gaff-prone buffoon not merely on copyright infringement and embarrassing flags, but also sexism. Expect to see John Oliver tearing apart Key again next week as well as more astute political tactics like last night. 



While it’s easy to sneer at the stereotype of the hypersensitive, privilege-scorning feminist, opponents are on the wrong side of history. Politically-speaking, Key and National have no choice but to adapt conservatism to incorporate modern feminism. Minister for Women’s Affairs Louise Upston’s notion of meritocracy and hard work are no longer acceptable to a growing number of women who have experienced and realised a great undercurrent of discrimination and are rightly offended when the Prime Minister indirectly accuses victims of sexual assault of supporting rapists and paedophiles. National has proven willing to similarly discard Don Brash’s ideas on racial equality to work with the Maori Party out of sheer necessity, so can and must inevitably make overtures to feminism.

Part of this transformation begins with the tone of parliamentary debate. The withering put-downs that we political obsessives love are ultimately ‘boy politics.’ The spectacle of parliamentary debates that we prize – the shouting, grunting, cat-calls, and insults – have all the civility of a single-sex grammar school. A culture descended from traditionally male-dominated politics may be growing increasingly out of touch with public attitudes. The Crosby-Textor-style of conservative political communication – an approach whose strength of black and white logic ultimately appeals to public fear – has failed to comprehend human acknowledgement of harrowing experiences. The emotionally-charged scene of MPs standing up to the Speaker, revealing their own experiences of sexual violence, and then being denied a voice is a sign of things to come and Key would be wise to acknowledge this – even at the expense of pleasure and praise for well-crafted, parliamentary pantomime.

NUKE THE WHALE

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Lisa: “Dad, for the last time, please don’t lower yourself to the level of the mob”.

Homer: “Lisa, maybe if I’m part of that mob, I can help steer it in wise directions. Now where’s my giant foam cowboy hat and airhorn?”

-The Simpsons, ‘Whacking Day’

There’s an irony lost on New Zealanders relishing in the slaughter of a beached whale. For over a week, many of us have been consumed both by shock at the degree of unethical practices of Judith Collins, Cameron Slater, and potentially John Key and belated joy of comeuppance and revenge – clutching our metaphorical harpoons.

This is the venting of anger and frustration of six years of powerlessness on the left. Two terms of political opposition, an ineffective and often incompetent Labour Party, and a highly organised, generally popular government in alliance with well-followed, effective, sympathetic bloggers. With Labour opponents falling again and again to untraceable leaks, for many it became akin being at the mercy of a cruel set of schoolyard bullies who also happen to be the prefects. Though many in the political realm had suspected a darker ethical depths of Slater and connection to the Beehive there was little concrete proof, so many felt powerless to stop this and resorted to squabbling amongst themselves instead.

After the release of Dirty Politics, a renewed confidence has developed solely from the felling of the indestructible image of Slater and Key. Slater has been unable to defend his actions and attempts to pin the blame on Kim Dotcom have fallen entirely flat. More importantly, we relish in the fall of Key. Guyon Espiner’s brutal interview with Key on Radio NZ on Monday will be remembered as his worst yet: the evolution from charming and disarming to a clearly rattled robot repeating contradictory talking points regardless of the question. The newly empowered, baying mob demanding everything from the rolling of prized heads to the settling of petty scores such as the revocation of Slater’s Cannon Media Award – demanded by the runner-up.

The downside of this monumental turn of events is that this has nothing to do with a resurgence of left wing ideals or an effective grassroots political movement but entirely reliant on the revelations of Dirty Politics. That the root cause of dirty politics is the culture embedded within the parliamentary system should be cause for concern and unification on the left to do better. Duncan Garner confirmed from Press Gallery experiences the use of dark tactics by left wing parties including leaking personal or political information to the media by Helen Clark, Pete Hodgson, and former Alliance President and current Labour Chief of Staff Matt McCarten. One of Clark’s Minister of Immigration Lianne Dalziel resigned after leaking information about an asylum seeker deportation case. In fairness, left parties haven’t visibly plumbed to the depths of the revelations of Dirty Politics, but that hardly excuses past actions. Clark’s government existed prior to the realised power of the blogosphere, nor can collusion between the left blogosphere and left party organisations be ruled out in the past, present, or future. The only real difference of principle is that Labour politicians tended to leak straight to journalists, whereas National outsources traditional functions to private contractors – rather fitting for the government who started charter schools.

While Dirty Politics has been an incredibly important milestone in revealing the sinister nature of NZ politics, it can’t only be addressed in retribution, which will beget more retribution and rob the public of political debate. Without real debate on the legitimate issue of ethics in politics – which so far politicians on neither side appear to address at depth – real political power will continue to be concentrated in a self-interested political class of politicians and professional staffers on all sides, professional pundits, and politically obsessive social media types engaging in the theatre that is politics as sport – every event and policy reduced to winners and losers or, in this, case the hunters and the hunted.

HIVE OF CARDS

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Nicky Hager’s book Dirty Politics confirmed what many involved in politics already knew – that Cameron Slater is a garbage person with little compunction about undermining enemies in unethical ways – and alleges what people had suspected – that he was part of well-organised network of political staffers, affiliated bloggers, and sympathetic journalists intent on reinforcing a pro-National Party narrative. In my earlier post ‘Subcontracting Morality’, I argued that Cameron Slater was an adept blogger who understood both media motivations for popular, scandalous stories and knew how to leak information, with his history and connections as a political operator being crucial to his success. Hager alleges a far greater degree of unethical behaviour and coordination including the Prime Minister himself. Certainly, the blogging narrative of Slater, Kiwiblog’s David Farrar, and Matthew Hooton generally bears a striking resemblance to the core National Party narrative of a stable, moderate centre-right government led by a strong, likeable leader, in contrast with a divided left led by an unpopular, gaffe and scandal-prone leader despised by his own caucus and aided by the radical, beholden Internet Mana. It would be hardly surprising that there wasn’t been at least an informal cooperation between the Beehive, bloggers, and journalists – either ideologically sympathetic or those driven by profit demands who simply want a scoop – towards mutually beneficial outcomes.

As I argued in ‘Subcontracting Morality’, the media have essentially removed themselves from ethical debates on issues like private morality – like the Len Brown affair leaked by Slater – for the sake of profitable news. This indirectly empowers politically-connected bloggers like Slater to create/ leak/ release news rather than news organisations themselves, who can remain untainted from tabloid approaches while promoting Slater’s work. Allegations involving Key, if true, would indicate a similar approach to subcontracting amorality, where dirty tricks operations could be laundered through a third party – with Slater resembling something akin to a Cayman Islands money laundering operation. In this sense, it would indicate that the reach of professional political operations into social media and sympathetic journalism are deeper and more widespread than previously thought.

The fact that New Zealand’s most popular political blogs are those with political affiliations raises a question of the degree to which the public can trust information disseminated from these sources. In the latest stats from July, Slater’s Whale Oil was the most read blog followed by Farrar’s Kiwiblog. Third place was the Daily Blog edited by Martyn Bradbury, who wrote the Internet Party draft strategy, worked as a consultant for Mana, openly supported Cunliffe during the Labour leadership election, and backing IMP, Cunliffe, and a Labour-Green-IMP coalition to the hilt. In fourth place is the Standard, a collective of left-leaning bloggers with mainly pro-Labour sympathies, including prominent poster and Cunliffe confidant Greg Presland aka Mickey Savage. If Hager’s allegations are true, it would not be a significant stretch of the imagination for some cooperation and joint strategy among many on the left. The left simply hasn’t developed the breadth, depth, and strategic nous of Slater-Farrar-Hooton and journalistic allies, nor put aside egos and halted infighting as well as the right.

The political connections of these top four political blogs suggests a hypothesis that truly popular, influential political blogs with high readership may rely heavily on the access to insider political information and patronage from any political affiliations. This would be an alarming but not entirely surprising development that political interests have successfully entrenched themselves in the blogosphere while posing as nominally independent. Not so much reacting to or reporting the news but creating coordinated PR.

If the book is wrong, current trends in politics would indicate that greater informal networks between political organisations, bloggers, and media are inevitable. With a need for politicians to remain untainted, disavow ‘dirty tricks’, and call for people to #votepositive, there is huge incentive to engage in mutually beneficial relationships to promote an agenda.

MAN BAN, THANK YOU MA’AM

David Cunliffe didn’t make the best choice of opening words, yet the quotes that followed,“Family and sexual violence is perpetrated overwhelmingly by men” and “Wake up, stand up, man up, and stop this bullshit”, were certainly well expressed and on-message. Women’s refuge, whose interest is reduced gender violence, endorsed his speech. However, those whose interest is increased ratings – viewership or political opinion polling – focused mostly on the preceding quote “I apologise for being a man”. Mainstream media outlets overwhelmingly led with that quote, Cameron Slater joked that Cunliffe’s deceased father would be ashamed, and online news comments sections became bastions of conservative males shrieking the battle cry “not all men…”

The substance of the Labour policy of $60 million over four years for more frontline services in emergency housing, prevention, education, and judicial reforms to assist survivors of gender violence was outwardly substantive, especially given the degree of secrecy around gender violence. According to Women’s Refuge, 80% of gender violence goes unreported and, according to the Ministry of Justice, about 90% of sexual assault is similarly unreported. Nor are modern judicial systems well-equipped to fairly assess claims. In Australian journalist Anna Krien’s book Night Games, a coverage of the trial of an AFL player linked to Collingwood Football Club that explores objectification and permissive culture with the AFL, she notably highlights legislative and judicial practice favouring the opinion of defendants over victims, unlike crimes such as theft or robbery. Comparatively National policy, though offering more support to victims through case management and GPS tracking, doesn’t focus as strongly on addressing root causes.

Like the Cunliffe apology quote, media reporting of gender inequality tends to trivialise issues through emphasising the more emotional, entertaining aspects. Labour’s attempt at equal gender representation in caucus was labelled as a “man ban” without proper consideration of the lack of female voices in parliament, let alone in many areas of the public sphere. Similarly with the Roastbusters case, rather than foster public debate led by women about addressing gender violence, the media focused on the downfall of John Tamihere as a combination of “mission accomplished” and the reaffirmation of “not all men…”; the purging of responsibility to allow the audience to feel good.

A huge factor in this inability to discuss gender inequality in the public sphere is due to the successful right wing narrative dominant with regards to all inequality: an absolutist ideal of meritocracy that claims hard work is rewarded, all must play by exactly the same rules, and all results and actions are isolated to the level of the individual. For example, the general argument against the Labour ‘Man Ban’ was that women should be promoted on merit. Similarly on the Cunliffe apology, John Key criticised Cunliffe, saying the apology was “… a bit insulting to all men in New Zealand, because the vast overwhelming bulk of them are good, loving husbands, uncles, brothers”, and supported by many in the blogosphere and in news comment threads across the nation. The problem with such analyses is that they ignore the hidden individual, cultural, and institutional relationships and biases that distort the idea of merit towards outcomes. Between For women, income levels lag behind, they still carry out the overwhelming share of unpaid childcare, household duties, and caring for relatives is done by women, adult domestic violence is committed overwhelmingly against women, and representation in politics and prominence in many other areas of public life is still behind men.

If anything, Cunliffe’s poorly expressed quote indicated that he saw addressing gender violence as a collective responsibility where men must shoulder a burden rather than absolve themselves of any responsibility to ending it on the basis that they’re not individually violent. That the idea of being a man is not just a man only responsible for “him and his own”, but also understanding that the whole issue of gender violence is not isolated to the actions of perpetrator and that social problems require a great deal of collective responsibility and input from all parts of society.

If the last year is anything to go by, the public cannot expect media or politicians to be the sole means to address gender violence. Change in attitudes and solutions to gender violence will ultimately come from grassroots collaboration of activists and women’s services and advocate groups towards finite policy and legislative change. Here, politicians are effective insofar as they either empathise with advocates for change or are forced to make changes by public demand.

OMNISHAMBLES

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“Fleming’s fired the starting pistol, so we all can start firing our actual pistols into her fat, unelectable, smug head”

-Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It, Series 4, Episode 4

Whether he is innocent or guilty, David Cunliffe has been tainted with the stench of the bipartisan practice of donations for access and/ or favours. Labour developed this approach during the 1980’s and 90’s, dominated it in the 2000’s, and National has perfected it. Labour cabinet connections to Liu look questionable, including Chris Carter‘s letter advising a fast tracking of Liu’s application in 2002, Rick Barker‘s dinners with Liu in China and possibly New Zealand around 2007-2008, and Minister of Immigration Damien O’Connor’s granting residency to Liu against official advice in 2004, and Liu’s $15,000 auction donation in 2007. Given Labour’s own practices on donations for access, Cunliffe has been tainted by association – despite the lack of clarity from Cunliffe’s letter.

While it could simply be the case of an enterprising journalist discovering Cunliffe’s alleged hypocrisy, this was more likely a leak coordinated between mutual political interests. Not only does this follow the hallmark of a setup – a politician set up to deny a premise that isn’t 100% true and a concluded narrative despite the vagueness of Cunliffe’s involvement – it’s election year, where Government is at stake and people will do most anything. If this is true, the aim was to destablise Cunliffe’s leadership so he must step down and be replaced obviously by Grant Robertson, 3 months out from the election.

WHALE OIL BEEHIVE HOOKED

Nobody talks about fucking dodgy donors, okay, because it makes everybody look bad.”

-Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It, Series 3, Episode 5

If this was a coordinated/ sanctioned move involving National-linked operators and the Beehive, then it was a gamble that changing leadership to relative unknown Robertson would make Labour more vulnerable and divided. There is even a loose link to Whale Oil on June 17th hinting of a forthcoming donations revelation in the Herald. However, a Cunliffe-led Labour could be just as ineffective during the election campaign as it has always been, which would be a positive for National. Also, Robertson – a former Beehive staffer and an excellent debater – could prove shrewder than Cunliffe and therefore a greater threat. Kiwiblog’s David Farrar has repeatedly asserted that he sees Robertson as future Prime Minister. Regardless, for National, it’s a case of symbolic comeuppance for gaining political capital in criticising it’s fundraising practices when both parties have a history of involvement.

ABC, IT’S EASY AS SILENT ‘T’

I don’t know if you’ve seen those calendars that have got pictures of dogs that are dressed up and have got little dresses and hats on – she was turning my party into that.”

-Malcolm Tucker, The Thick of It, Series 4, Episode 6

If this revelation came from within Labour, it resembles the plot of the Thick of It, Armando Iannucci’s brilliant British political satire. A key plot in Series 4 is underperforming Leader of the Opposition Nicola Murray being taken down by her media advisor Malcolm Tucker through coaxing her to call for an inquiry over the suicide of a nurse over a policy she initially advocated in a forgotten email, resulting in the coronation of preferred successor Dan Miller. Farrar could be stirring the pot over caucus involvement, but it’s a possibility.

It’s well known that the ‘Anyone But Cunliffe’/ ABC faction of Labour hates him. During his leadership, Shane Jones was known for frequently contradicting Cunliffe publically, and Kelvin Davis, Chris Hipkins, and Phil Goff recently defied Cunliffe by speaking out against the Internet Mana Party. Yesterday, ABC-linked MPs avoided voicing support for Cunliffe. Given that rule that allows caucus to bypass membership and unions for a leadership election three months before an election comes into effect on Friday, it’s possible that this was a timed move to salvage what many see as certain defeat.

However, introducing Robertson to the public three months from an election is a huge challenge. If he were to accept the poisoned chalice, he’d risk being overthrown if he loses. If this is a Labour move, the situation resembles the 1990 general election where Geoffrey Palmer was overthrown just before the election by Mike Moore and Palmer’s deputy Helen Clark to lessen the scale of defeat. Yet unlike 1990, only a small increase in Labour support could allow a left coalition to gain enough support to form the Government.

Also against this theory is the potential damage to Labour’s image. If right wing pundits questioned Cunliffe’s legitimacy for having membership but not caucus backing during the leadership primary, the same can be applied for Robertson’s defeat by a wide margin in membership and union votes. To overthrow Cunliffe without a grassroots leadership contest could be construed as an undemocratic coup, which could result in a seething within party membership. The only justification would be if Cunliffe resigns and the caucus unanimously elects Robertson.

PUNDITS’ REACTION

The initial reactions on Twitter by pundits and bloggers on the left have been in favour of Cunliffe stepping down. This is likely more informed by a cognitive dissonance: a rush to judgement informed by desperation that blames Cunliffe and repeats the same mistake of last five years under Goff-Shearer-Cunliffe: blame the leader and anoint the next disposable saviour.

CONTEXT

Media reaction to Cunliffe’s dishonesty/ trivial mistake reflects a hypocrisy of media standards compared to, say, John Key’s donor transgressions, policy backtracks, and circumstances around Kim Dotcom’s arrest. But consider this: mainstream corporate journalists rarely question national security operations or fundamentals of economic order to any meaningful depth. But politicians being hypocrites is an easier sell that the public easily gets.

AIN’T NO PARTY LIKE A NATIONAL PARTY CAUSE A NATIONAL PARTY DON’T STOP?

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Homer: I always wondered if there was a god. And now I know there is. And it’s me.
Marge: You’re not a god, Homer.
Lisa: Remember Dad, all glory is fleeting.
Homer: So?
Lisa: Beware the Ides of March.
Homer: No.
-The Simpsons, Homer the Great.

In October 2003, as a member of Young Labour I attended the annual Labour Conference in Christchurch. The mood was full of jubilation: an incumbent government elected against a National Party who achieved 21% of the vote, major social reforms passed, and glee at the fortunes of Bill English featuring an over-saturation of “Kill Bill” jokes and condescension about the idea of Don Brash’s likely ascension to the National Party leadership. Four months later, Don Brash was level pegging or besting Labour at the polls and with Labour’s substandard response to the Orewa Speech as a final nail in the coffin, I stopped attending Labour meetings.

The dominant narrative of the New Zealand public, media, and political punditry is that of an inevitable National Party win. While not really direct from the party itself, this is more of a media-punditry narrative based mainly on comparative leadership.

National is aided by the most popular political leader who is personally likable, has excellent political instinct, is an excellent debater both on television and quick witted in the house, and knows how to manage caucus and employs good communications staff. Moreover, he’s been able to shepherd through controversial and often unpopular policies such as partial asset sales, banning offshore protests at deep sea drilling, overseeing cuts of thousands of public sector jobs, and maintaining unemployment rates above 6% and often above 7%. As a politician, he is clearly the equal to Helen Clark. Comparatively, media has concluded already that David Cunliffe has bad personal judgement, is corrupt, and gaffe prone – all over one issue.

This narrative is effectively supported by the efforts of allies, especially popular bloggers in their ability to gain traction in the media. Cameron Slater and David Farrar, whether purposefully or by accident, provide a highly effective “good cop, bad cop” routine: the tribal attack dog who relishes the fight against left wing corruption and knows how to create news, and the principled classical liberal insider who focuses on alleged Labour-Greens illogic and hypocrisy and Government “good news”. Both rooted in the National Party so they know networks and inside gossip. Slater especially has been a source of leaks from Labour and National sources, and Farrar especially appears to have good relationships with journalists and the Press Gallery. Labour and the left do not yet have any equivalents as capable, strategic, or well placed.

However, certainly there exists the likelihood for National Party overconfidence and complacency. National’s success relies on the continuation of the narrative of inevitability, the over-reliance on the leadership of John Key, and an ineffective opposition. If two or all of these change, the political dynamics change.

Helen Clark paid the price for the overconfidence of media narrative and expectations in the 2002 general elections. Despite consistently polling above 50%, this fell to the low 40s due to a combination of factors including the late tarnishing of her image due to Corngate. Similarly during the 2011 general elections, despite polling consistently over 50%, National gained 47% of the party vote. Similarly, John Key’s actions over the ‘Teapot Tapes’ distracted from the election. Judith Collins’ conflict of interest over Ovida could be one of a number of contentious conflicts of interest.

While John Key rates consistently high for preferred Prime Minister, it’s entirely possible for a less popular leader to provide a challenge. Key has relied on an ineffective opposition led by a series of ineffective leaders, which might change. Labour had five years led by the ineffective Phil Goff and David Shearer in which is was unable to develop a coherent post-Helen policy narrative to appeal and mobilise both party base and appeal to practical public needs, captive to internal politics that prevented authentic rejuvenation, and divided between pro-Cunliffe and the so-called Anyone But Cunliffe faction of the Labour old guard and allies. Cunliffe has been only in the job for four months and failed to make headway – so far. As a politician, the Nation interview last Saturday clearly showed Cunliffe as an improving communicator who mastered refined talking points and who’s obviously learned from the John Key school of talking over journalists. If Cunliffe can learn to best Paddy like Key bested Campbell, he’ll be a good politician. In that case, debates probably won’t be a major problem.

To address a series of gaffes and an arguably ineffective opposition, there’s signs that Cunliffe is attempting to run a tighter ship. Hiring Matt McCarten as Chief of Staff clearly indicates the intention of uniting party organisation, grassroots members, union allies, and caucus as a unified force. Perhaps McCarten is an indication that Cunliffe will either placate rivals with plum jobs like Clark did with Goff and Cullen or punish dissenters with lower list placings. Key and National have not faced an effective opposition, but this changes if Cunliffe and Labour can improve leadership, network, and cohesiveness.

A tighter ship then makes it possible for Cunliffe to launch coherent policies to potentially undermine Key’s popularity. Once Don Brash ascended the National Party leadership in 2003, despite initial guffaws from the left he and his staffers proved adept at fashioning an alternative narrative around Maori and affirmative action, the economy, and welfare to almost win the election in 2005. Brash never obtained the personal popularity levels of Clark, the policy and narrative were politically appealing. This was similar to Margaret Thatcher in the UK general election in 1979, who won despite being 19 points behind Labour Prime Minister Jim Callaghan in the final preferred PM opinion poll. Though the heralded State of the Nation speech’s Best Start policy of $60 per week for parents of newborns wasn’t a game changer, Labour still has the chance to announce more substantive left-leaning policies, especially on employment, regional development, housing, education, and child poverty that will make a noticeable difference in peoples’ lives. Could be announcing the creation of specialist colleges and polytechs in regional cities, could be Medicare funding for health like in Australia. If it can run a convincing campaign on policy alone, it could provide the challenge to National that is not that far ahead in the polls and previously trailing earlier under Cunliffe’s leadership.

As a politics graduate, I generally don’t make long-term predictions. I’m reluctant to make short term ones. Getting drunk on 2005 election night at the Otago Uni Clubs and Socs building and conceding loudly and despondently at 9:30pm taught me that. The media has nothing seriously invested in these narratives and can change course in order to justify events within a new narrative. Same with pundits. Politicians have everything to lose through overconfidence. If these dynamics change, the election becomes competitive again. It was always going to be competitive, that’s why it’s called an election.