30 September 2011

Key's worst-yet week in office?

With no 'big' rugby matches this week to blot out the real news, politics came back to the fore, and things went very very badly for the government. Let's list the disasters:

Another Kiwi soldier killed in Afghanistan. My sympathies go to the grieving family. (But the government's claims that he died in the cause of 'fighting terrorism' or 'making the world a safer place' are very unconvincing, if we look closely at what the conflicts in that country are really like. Example.)

The PM's ducking and diving over the difference between 'mentoring' and 'combat'. (How can we forget the Minister of Defence, Wayne Mapp's moment of honesty about 'a substantial combat component'? As if that weren't enough, the Chief of Defence said of the SAS role: 'They need to be in the midst of the action to be able to provide the mentoring.')

A freelance journalist in Afghanistan telling us that the SAS's raid was misguided from the beginning and was not approved by the local provincial governor.

Then the economy: The sovereign-debt rating downgrade by two credit-rating agencies.

Then the torture inflicted upon the National Party in the House all week over their unconstitutional video-surveillance legislation.

What's more, the National Party's right-hand support partner, ACT, caused all the wrong kinds of headlines over its leader's politically 'dopey' comments. (There must be more dope to come, surely!)

Could things get much worse? (Yes. The ABs could lose a knock-out match. Or, a whole range of other things could go wrong too.)

Could this last week signal the beginning of the end of those over-50% poll ratings for National? Wait and see.

But, does John Key really want another term in office after this? My gut instincts tell me that he's sick of the job, and would happily kick back and live quietly off his fortune. Wouldn't you?

05 September 2011

Brash-Test Dummies

At ACT’s Auckland regional conference last weekend, Don Brash showed us, in the space of one speech, why he will fail to lift the party out of the 2 to 3 per cent zone.

We know that he has a poor record when it comes to elections, and we know his party is low in the opinion polls. But, I have some gratuitous political advice for Dr Brash.

First: Don’t imitate the cheesy nationalism of Winston Peters (“Our children will grow up cheering for the Wallabies”). You can’t be an advocate of free trade and then bemoan the growing influence of more powerful trading partners, Don.

Secondly: Don’t advocate policies that could enrage the comfortable Epsom voters upon whom you are relying so heavily.

Imagine the Epsom voter, in a gorgeous peaceful tree-lined street, sipping tea or Scotch, hearing that Dr Don has a remedy for the country’s problems: namely, the freedom of the next-door neighbours to turn their house into a brothel, or a liquor store, or a Destiny Church… without those shiny-arsed blighters at the Auckland Council getting in the way, or that left-wing Mayor.

In Brash’s ideal city, “any activity would be permitted” on any property, conditional only upon meeting the most basic of geo-technical and safety requirements.

What’s more, he wants to have this freedom of the neighbours to do whatever they jolly-well like enshrined as a fundamental right in the NZ Bill of Rights Act. So there!

His main aim, though, is the removal of the Auckland metropolitan urban limits, and hence the freeing up of rural land for subdivision, more sprawl, more motorways, etc. But you can be sure that there are many conservative and comfortable lifestylers out in those rural areas (that is, potential ACT voters) who would be horrified to think that Dr Don wants Auckland suburbia to spread out to meet them.

But Brash tried to cover his tracks by claiming that his policy for land-owners’ unfettered freedom was not meant for the wealthy owners of today (no, not at all!), but rather that it’s all for the benefit of the less well-off, those who are having difficulty getting into home ownership in a crowded Auckland market. In other words, he shed crocodile tears for the poor (whose votes ACT are clearly not interested in) as a justification for policies that would see a few rich land-owners get richer by creating “affordable” caravan-parks and soulless subdivisions on the margins of the city with (if they can get away with it) no parks or public transport.

Welcome to Brashtown, bro’!

We only have to recall the muddles he got himself into during the 2005 campaign to realize that Brash has a habit of wrong-footing himself. And it still makes one wince to recall his brazen take-over of ACT (script by Machiavelli, casting by Bram Stoker) and his deluded ambitions to get 15 per cent of the party vote.

Saturday night’s speech could have been written by a pro-development lobbyist (a name comes to mind, but I won’t publish it), or someone with deep pockets who’s funding the party. But such people apparently fail to look beyond their naked self-interest to the wider political landscape of a democratic society and to think about the real-world consequences of their policy wish-lists.