The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

29 Mar

Water pollution – what could be more boring than that ? Regional Development

The Rise and Rise of Michael Rimmer

I only heard of this film having recently read a book on Peter Cook and Dudley Moore, despite the dated sexual-comedy and innuendo and Peter Cook’s awful wooden and staccato performance it could still be a forerunner for House of Cards and definitely has enough plotline to be a parable for current political times.

The film starts with Rimmer played by Cook as a young exec at a dysfunctional polling company. The early speed of the film is like a never completed Carry-on, even the coach load of staff being sent to Nuneaton to undermine Ronnie Corbett’s poll on religion is sub-carry on genre.

Rimmer moves into the political world and becomes the Tories great white hope. HE starts to help Tom Hutchison, the Tory leader a cross between Harold Macmillan and Ted Heath (I remember the depression and play a piano). RImmer hires a rent a mob from the Faculty of Applied Violence under the leadership of a Tariq Ali type figure complete with “ Oh Che forgive them they know not what they do “ line. The hecklers and interruptions are planned to provide maximum response from Hutchison. When a genuine heckler interrupts it appears to all go wrong before the onset of his own induced tears wins the audience over.

Rimmer also meets the Labour party Prime Minister an obvious pipe smoking northern Harold Wilson figure and convinces him that he needs more television exposure , so he makes multiple broadcasts on a daily basis.

Rimmer then convinces the Tory “Eric” to make a nonsensical lunatic speech, modelled on Powell’s Rivers of blood to create what may be the first acknowledged political dog-whistle. The strong message will be heard by the voters even though Hutchison will distance himself from the messenger. Perhaps the most prophetic aspect is that the speech is televised but there is no audience, something familiar to modern political performance. It leads to Hutchison’s memorable line “ I will act…on matters of principle I’m acting all the time”.


Rimmer is then offered Erics seat at the next election ( the constituency of Budleigh Moor ), and when the PM makes a complete hash of a live TV broadcast with stuck autocue and ripped backdrop ( we are led to believe Rimmer planned this ) the election victory is assured. The TV coverage of election night is a forerunner of the rather ridiculous election night coverage we still receive with over analysis and interpretation of everything from the around the globe at a ridiculous pace.

Rimmers climb doesn’t stop there though, as the new Chancellor he runs rings the rest of the cabinet, securing an emergency gold supply through threatening germ warfare on the Swiss ( the film plot gets quite odd at this point so I may have that wrong ).

The new PM stands on an oil platform with the gold in the air only to lose his balance, with a little help from Rimmer and fall to his death. Rimmer as new PM wishes to share power and establishes a National Poll Board where the public are consulted on every issue through a referendum and emergency tele votes. The country eventually rise up and demonstrate against this democracy, blowing up post boxes and the like. Rimmer then holds the last referendum for some time, making himself President.

There are a host of British comedy greats in the film but Arthur Lowe’s performance, a sub-plot in itself is by far the best. Lowe begins as an incompetent and bumbling manager at the polling company, months behind completing work and who gets a punch in the face in his first scene. He is then reduced to menial and ridiculous tasks before pawning all his furniture. He ends the film, the lone sniper about to shoot Rimmer when he mysteriously“falls” from the window!

The final days of Michael Hutchence

5 Mar

There’s one thing it hasn’t a deterrent effect on, says Alf…. The poor bugger’s tool that’s being hanged. … I heard that from the head warder that was in Kilmainham [jail] when they hanged Joe Brady, the invincible. He told me when they cut him down after the drop it was standing up in their faces like a poker              James Joyce  Ulysses 


There is no truth in suicide and this becomes more apparent with celebrity suicide.

We can create our own truths, our meaning and understanding of what and why. It becomes a fascination – is it because we can’t see ourselves doing it we have to create a reason? Or is it our desire to feel the act?

This book ( The final days of Michael Hutchence by Mike Gee ), though empathetic to the human side of Hutchence cannot avoid such traps. Suicide, his friends claim, wasn’t him, he saw it as cowardly, he wasn’t that type of person ….but what is that type of person?

Research found that men who commit suicide with firearms are more likely to be married and to carry this out at home. Unmarried men are more likely to hang themselves than unmarried women. Men with a history of depression are more likely to hang themselves than women with a history of depression. Men with a history of substance abuse are more likely to poison themselves than men without.

So Hutchence possibly fits some of our profile.

This book was written close to the events and predates the death of Paula Yates. In some respects the compounding effect of Yates death completes the story.

For the author the key to the death is twofold. Firstly an intense and failry instant impact crash on the morning of his death. The lack of progress around child custody arrangements, the failure of his partner to board a flight to spend the next 3 months with him.

Then there was the effect of fame. Or rather the losing of it. This wasn’t live fast and die young, by 37 he had peaked and was on the slow sluggish trudge back down. The hell of smaller and smaller venues, lower and lower sales, and inevitable decline truths. And for what? Why continue? Gee discusses the collapsible man of prominence – is this the inevitable end for rock stars?

Fashion changes, you age in front of everyone and then they look to someone else. It a very public betrayal of their truth. Gee doesn’t pull punches on the weakness of the bands output and that they struggled to ride the downward curve.

Success can be an antidote to vulnerability and weakness, but when it wanes it leaves open the opportunity for depression. Like the awakening from a big night out, you suddenly realise the reality around you is just as bad as before you started – only your older.

Was Hutchenes use of Prozac the issue- it is supposed to reduce suicidal episodes, but not for everyone, and dose management is crucial. Shaun Ryder, Hutchences friend and all round drug ox is convinced Prozac was at the root of his death. I know the mix of Prozac and alcohol is not good, but I’ve yet to wank myself to death.

Gee’s Hutchence kills himself in a momentary emotional wave. Was he boxed in? Emotionally, financially, physically? Was he Yates stooge? Who knows? Gee dismissed the auto-erotic insinuations around Hutchence death while also relaying that many of his friends felt he would never commit suicide. A paradox he doesn’t really address. Erotic hangings have caused fascination for many, deliberate or otherwise sexual asphyxia is a phenomena across the board, apparently its all in the lumber chord ( Stephen Milligan MP was famously found dead with an orange in his mouth, a rope round his neck and women’s underwear- one imagines it wasn’t just a cry for help !).

Gee ends his book with a reminder that there are no truths. Everyone close to Hutchence has a different truth of not only what happened but why. Perhaps the sanest response came from his brother, who went to the hotel room where Hutchence was found dead looking for answers – but there weren’t any!

Would You Nationalise Sausages ?

8 Jan


Asked in the spirit of Christmas what gift they would leave for each other under the Christmas tree, Mr Corbyn said he would give a copy of Charles Dicken’s A Christmas Carol for his counterpart. Mr Johnson offered a copy of his Brexit deal or a pot of damson jam for the Opposition leader


One of the remarkable features of this second “Brexit election” was that the Conservative party totally hoovered up the Brexit party. Maybe Farage foresaw this, maybe it was his strange local radio intervention with President Trump (who would have thought it!) but when the party withdrew from half its seats it opened up Boris Johnson to lead team Brexit. It was as close as a merger you could get without a formal agreement.

The election was noticeable for some of the candidates who didn’t stand. Not only the great Faragster but some of the others and the reasons behind it weren’t all straightforward.  First step forward Keith Vaz, the original “cloud” politician (as in under a cloud). He’s been under suspicion since before some first time voters were born. That’s incredible, and even more so that he’s only now calling it a day. The scandal-father of the house has had some impressive scrapes. Who can forget his support for Salman Rushdie back in the 1980’s? Well obviously Keith could as he then led a march to ban Rushdie’s book! He was censured in 2000 for failing to register donations and was involved in the Hinduja citizenship affair, yet oddly, unlike Peter Mandelson, he didn’t lose his job. He went from denial of receiving money to denial of receiving gain to just simply blaming his wife. He did stand down for health reasons in 2002 while also facing a bunch of standards complaints and rather oddly claiming someone was hassling his mum, only to later admit they weren’t.

He helped a billionaire avoid deportation for fraud charges, then his life just got weirder and weirder. He claimed $173k in expenses including the costs of a London flat despite living 45 minutes away. He may have voted for counter terrorism legislation in exchange for a knighthood, was called a crook of the first order by paid lobbyists and then when he couldn’t top his performance he became Jim a washing machine salesman who had unprotected sex with male prostitutes and offered to buy him cocaine. On a more serious note he was accused of bullying by staff.

Are there any odder non-candidates? Well there are plenty of vile racists, exposed from previous or recent social media postings. Antony Calvert, a Conservative, was one who stood down after an awful joke about Col Gadhafi in 2009. Gideon Bull (Labour) stood down after realising shylock may be a racist’s term. Kevin McNamara a Lib Dem managed to be found out for a 2009 tweet where he used the “n” word – and again he stood down. He wasn’t the only Lib Dem to stand down. Tim Walker stood down in Canterbury to prevent a Conservative victory, not a bad idea but the party didn’t agree and hastily stood another candidate in his place! The conservatives managed to top that trick – twice. Charles Elphicke, currently charged with sexual assault and in and out of the Tory party was replaced with ….Natalie his wife. Andrew Griffiths who resigned as a Minister after sending sexual text messages to constituents (not as part of his canvassing I assume) stood down for Kate Griffiths his “estranged” wife. Nick Conrad at least managed to be sexist, suggesting rape victims should keep their knickers on. And Dudley North, a place not a person, where the Brexit candidate stood down just because he could!

One of the best lines in the campaign came from the Lib Dems, who generally had a terrible campaign. On the week in Westminster they talked about “the greatest free trade deal in the history of this planet “– as if there is scope for comparative analysis? The Lib Dems were contorted on the idea of Article 50, wanting to revoke it but then acknowledging it could only happen if they formed a majority government – so the real policy was a second referendum.

Radio 4 was a little odd during this election, including the wonderful comment that with his soapbox and speaker John Major was the first hipster politician. I think Oliver Baldwin with his chickens may have been but whose arguing.

There was a wonderful debate on the World Tonight, also on Radio 4 where David Willets, former head of Mrs Thatcher’s policy unit praised the reverse in corporation tax cuts. It all seems like economic differences in tone – are we entering a new consensus on Tax? If so what will our new Butskellism be called? Javdonald perhaps or Macvid?

But what of those odd individual contests. Dominic Grieve, an ex-Tory MP was standing as an independent. The Lib Dems gave him their support but the Tories chose Joy Morrissey (no not the BNP campaign slogan) an American born actor as their candidate. She grew up with posters of Regan and Thatcher on her walls (I sincerely doubt this) and was a teenage competitive chicken breeder (I sincerely want to doubt this) before working for IDS.

Boris’s videos. It’s a mark of how this election is being fought in a whole new space that the Tory campaign has centred around the loveable TV character “ Boris “. This is best illustrated through the two campaign broadcasts that are bordering on political character cannibalism. The first is a kind of low budget Guy Ritchie comedy affair. “ Eer Bowis tell us about Bwexit eh wat a larf “


Then there’s the Love Actually spoof. Now I say spoof but I haven’t seen the film so can only assume that the creepy thing is somehow meant to warm the cockles. I would ring the police but who knows.


Perhaps Boris is just post-buffoonery. We accept and expect a certain level of mock indignation, exasperation and stupidity and therefore discount it from the transaction. Whether its hiding in a fridge ( which in reality was a refrigerated room rather than a small kitchen appliance ) or discussing how to put jam and cream on a scone or even the illogical “ Oven ready deal slam it in the microwave “ we don’t expect anything higher, more logical or to demonstrate any capability. But people still love him and come and talk about foreigners and dog shit and jellied eels. He truly is, as Peter Hennessy observed, busking it. His lowlight may have been confiscating a journalist’s phone, his high point ….well that his trick kept working.

Then as if we weren’t squirming and embarrassed enough along came Gove. It seemed that Gove and Angela Rayner had a twitter stoush over Stormzy (what is a Stormzy cries every High Court Judge). Stormzy had advocated that people register to vote and that he was supporting Jeremy Corbyn. This spat came to a head when Gove tweeted a Stormzy lyric “ I set trends dem man copy “ for which he was chastised by many particularly for what was seen as a twitter equivalent of “blackface’. And if Gove wasn’t then Daniel Hananan tweeting “ Big man ting” certainly was. This was followed up by Jacob Rees-Mogg tweeting “Fuck the Government and Fuck Boris “[1] Stormzy later retorted that it was the equivalent of Pob trying to hang out in the Bronx. No he didn’t, Pob in the Bronx would be funny. Stormzy saw it as a way for Gove to push rappers back into their lane, not speak of politics just entertain. Gove was the random pop up man for the election and performed as the Tory hit man on many occasions, whether it was turning up for debates he hadn’t been invited to or just being a plonker on Twitter he no doubt earned a post-election promotion.



The chaos of Question Times under 30’s special (the audience not the panel) was the entertainment spectacle of the decade if not of all time. Nigel Farage told the audience he couldn’t apologise for the truth and said the audience was full of bile and prejudice – nice touch. Angela Rayner just shouts out at random times the Corbyn bingo card, as other speak she shouts “ Bedroom Tax” “Austerity” “ Alistair Darling “ even the Poll Tax gets a shout out. The SNP ask her to apologise for Alistair Darling having said he planned cuts after the 2010 election. What an odd request.

Then we get onto meat consumption which leads to the famous sausage nationalisation question. The highlight of the election, indeed of any election ever held, for me. Prior to that though Farage had said meat arguments were false arguments and the token tory, Robert someone said we should try “small things “. It’s unclear if he is advocating a micro diet or eating insects. It hopefully not advocacy of mince pies, for an SNP candidate is reported to the police for handing out mince pies.


The campaigns most surreal moment though was the revelation that Jeremy Corbyn couldn’t be trusted because he said he watched the Queens Christmas speech IN THE MORNING! Any stiff upper lipped true brit knows it is shown in the afternoon. How dare he! The usual subjects were apoplectic and enraged. This was worse than the standard he’s a terrorist sympathiser line often trotted out.

The polls consistently pointed to a Conservative lead, the question was never whether Labour would win but could the Conservatives lose. The nightmare scenario for Boris and co was that they would end up with a slim or non-existent majority and need a further coalition or minority support party. There seemed little chance of any of the parties supporting them without some form of major concession either on the process ( Lib Dems ) or the content of the deal (DUP) and in some ways this was the Brexit schism of the Brexit election ( not the 2017 Brexit election but the 2019 one ) . It seemed plausible that a small majority would pass the withdrawal agreement but be able to do little else forcing the need for another election on the direction of the post withdrawal agreement world. It would be wrong to think either of the major parties offered a clear vision on what that would or could look like.

[1] One of these tweets didn’t happen. You decide.

Fat Science

4 Jan

Robyn Toomath provides an insightful and well researched look at why we are getting fatter and what we can do about it. Being told to eat less and do more activity hasnt worked and indeed may not even be the solution for many of us. One of the key points she makes is that for thousands of years we have been genetically predisposed to gaining weight as a safety and survival mechanism. Our bodies are even less likely to breed when we lose weight. Weight storage allowed us to survive the seasonal provision of local foods. Yet the last 100 or so years have seen the food production and consumption cycles move away from seasonal and possibly unpredictable to one of constant supply. Added to this are a range of food policy issues that for Toomath dont help. These include trade deals and the WTO rules, proximity to fast food outlets and the marketing of and production of processed foods.

It leaves us in an unhealthy, dangerous and potentially costly place – and the problem has only got worse in recent years.

Toomath presents us with the need for a wholesale and systematic change around joined up policy, wider than just Food Policy but including transport, education and the wider governmental system. This way we can achieve the shift needed to re-set our relationship with food and activity and rebalance.  This poses 2 contemporary problems. Firstly this approach is almost a war on obesity, and it is  compared to approaches towards tobacco consumption.  This battle has been slow and yet to achieve its ultimate gain. The main policy tool has been the tax increase. There’s no doubt this has worked , but is it the right place to start on food ? A Sugar Tax or similar would provide ample opportunities for long and convoluted fights with the grocery industry- and it may only provide a positional change rather than a great societal one.   There is no denying the need for a whole of system approach, but my second concern is that with all the system-thinking now shifted to climate change are we likely to see co-ordinated government responses to anything else. The obesity epidemic isn’t going away, but it gets less and less airtime as a matter of concern under plastic bag bans and recycling stations.

One cant help thinking that all our so-called “wicked” problems obesity,poverty,housing will be overridden by the policy effort and focus on the now super-wicked problem of climate change. This may, or may not be the only way for Governments and public policy to respond – its implications though are far reaching.

Fat Science – Robyn Toomath, Auckland University Press,2016.

Lord Zac

1 Jan




Seedy lists of party apparatchiks appointed by power hungry party leaders & insulated from any democratic pressure for 15 yrs? No thanks.

All good things must come to an end

 “I felt that, in order to be a minister, you effectively have to have a lobotomy and lose all sense of independence.

We can be conscious in the decisions we make as much as possible, but I don’t think you can wag your finger and tell people ‘you’ve got to eliminate your pollution footprint’, because that would require people to live like monks.”


Of course I regret the portrayal of the campaign,” 

In 10 years’ time,” he mused in 2000, “I might be an eco-terrorist. But I’ll take the most effective path, whatever that is.

I do not need a career in this world,”

“I’m hoping to do a Leicester City and zoom in from behind to win.”

I’ve never sought to hide who I am. I was dealt a very good hand and I’ve always tried to play it well.”

I can think of… I can’t think of a favourite, though I love the whole… I love almost everything about Bollywood,”

“I love the atmosphere, I love the colour, I love the excitement. I want as much colour as possible here in London.”

 “I’m going to stop you there because most people have a route, I have two routes … I want to answer this one, most people have a route or two routes and they become like an extension of the body and you use those routes, not for ethical reasons, but because it is the only way to get around London without being late for meetings.”

You are being a charlatan on this.”

I could just go to the horse races and take lovely holidays,” he admits, “but I have some strong views and I want to make a difference.”

Keeping Britain out of the euro calamity is my father’s legacy, 

“A Conservative who is not also in his heart an environmentalist cannot legitimately be described as a Conservative.”

“The two million or so residents who live beneath the Heathrow flight path are accustomed to the noise. However, they are right to feel that any expansion would represent an unacceptable broken promise.”

“Politics colours everything, and anyone who wants change is necessarily political. As an environmental campaigner more or less since I left school in the early ’90s, I have always been involved in lobbying, campaigning and pushing for changes.”

“Leonardo DiCaprio is a rare phenomenon. Whereas for so many celebrities an interest in the environment is a fashionable accessory, for DiCaprio it is a thread that runs through everything he does.”

Britain in the early 60’s

16 Dec

smaller and smaller men are moving across narrower and narrower stages “

For those civil servants who were going to be called on to man the bunker and keep British government functioning there would have been a sense of doom and disaster and no doubt a little sense of injustice at the situation the world had come to. Whether it was to create a sense of normality or just a British sense of fair play – these civil servants were also told to take a packed lunch, wear informal dress, send mail via a PO Box and take a book to read. Quite how the end of the civilised world as we knew it was to impact we fortunately never found out – but Peter Hennessy’s Winds of Change at least lets us understand the formalities that would have accompanied it.

Hennessy brings alive the world of the early 60’s as British politicians grappled with two issues, which formed a subset of a rather larger and at times existential issue – what is the role of Britain. They were challenged with the big idea of joining the European Community and at the same time challenged with reducing their Empire at a rapid rate.


The attempt to join Europe, failed at this time of asking. It brought some marvelous debate though , with Derek Walker-Smith rambling on the sovereignty of the Holy Roman Empire, Michael Foots wonderful point that Britain wanted to join the West European Football League so long as the games resembled Cricket. Harold Wilson privately called the application “a cold douche”. Speaking afterwards Richard Wilson noted that ” We always go into our big decisions as if under anesthetic, only waking up many years later wondering ” Did we really mean to do that ?”” The current day parallel is obvious.

The negotiations managed to get zero duty on Tea,cricket bats and polo sticks but only a suspension for desiccated coconut and a slowing down of the tariff for pepper. The serious discussion on the continent of being flooded with eggs and bacon and ruining the continental breakfast was a premonition that 70’s and 80’s Spain saw come to life.

Of course De Gaulle ( who we are reminded traveled everywhere with vials of his own blood ?) said no.


We discover that Selwyn-Lloyd gave his black Labrador “Sambo” to chequers and the dog was distraught that the first cabinet meeting post-night of the long knives his former master didn’t appear.

Britain’s European entrance was juxtaposed with its exit from empire. Hong Kongs civil servants were trained by watching meetings of the Stepney Borough Council ( the so called Devonshire courses ).

Hennessy writes in a wonderful style, Macleod ” herbivorous policies defended in a carnivorous way ”

The shadow of nuclear catastrophy, either by design or accident hung over the world and the Cuban missile crisis gave the Prime Minister diarrhea. One of the reasons Hennessy rejoices is that had the global war been triggered in 1963, Cliff Richard may have been considered the highest form of pop music that the country would ever attain. Cuban brought its own bizzare afterthought. Leyland buses, made in Lancashire had taken an order for 10m pounds of buses and 1 million in spares. LBJ was distraught and offered to personally recompense the company if the order was scrapped. Alec Douglas Home pointed out that ” buses dont pose a nuclear threat to the US ” but LBJ wasn’t listening.

The book covers the bizzare transition from Macmillian to Home to Wilson ( met by the Oh Jeremy Corbyn of its day – Wilson yeah yeah yeah !). One hopes Hennessy continues these volumes they are mental gold.

Ladder of Participation

22 Oct

Sherry Arnstein outlined her model of citizen participation, known as the Ladder of Participation in 1969 (Arnstein, 1969). Arnstein notes that at a conceptual level, participation is acknowledged as a universal good. Yet the practical application of it varies. For Arnstein the role of citizen participation is equal to the use of citizen power and a fundamental balance of the US constitution (Arnstein, 1969, p. 216).

The ladder is a typology of 8 levels of participation, each level is associated with one of three outcomes or end products. The bottom rungs are Manipulation and Therapy which link to Nonparticipation. These are extremely negative and controlled rungs. Further up we enter Degrees of Tokenism reflected by the rungs of Informing, Consultation and Planning. These rungs give some role to citizens but decision-making and the ability to make changes remains firmly in the hands of the bureaucracy.  The top two rungs produce a degree of citizen power. These are Delegated power and Citizen control.

When we look in more detail at the more meaningful rungs, Arnstein sees informing as a transactional relationship. And a one-way transaction at that. Citizens have little ability to negotiate or get excluded by technical answers and information. Consultation for Arnstein is meaningless without other modes of participation complimenting it. There is often a disconnect between the consulters and the consulted. Placation is where the citizens have some degree of representation, though it is on the terms of those with power e.g hand picking and the advice, information and priority setting still sits in the hands of others.

At the higher end of the ladder we have Partnership. This is where citizens and power holders can negotiate and decide, probably through a formal committee which has accountability. Above this we have Delegated Power. Here we would see citizens have the dominant role in decision-making, maybe even delivering services through contracts. Finally, there is Citizens Control. For Arnstein this represent the citizens being in control. Managing the external relationships and that there is no intermediate between them and the funds (Arnstein, 1969, pp. 216-223).

One of the major flaws in the Arnstein model is that it takes as a priori fact that public participation is a good, without any assessment of how it provides value (Ianniello, Iacuzzi, Fedele, & Brusati, 2019, pp. 21-22). Participation and engagement can be rewarding and beneficial, but they can also be frustrating, time consuming and often of no recognisable value whatsoever. This has often been the case with community engagement in Local alcohol issues (Corlett, 2017).  Further it doesn’t reflect that as people became busier and pressure rose on their time and financial security, they are less inclined to be part of civic society. They are also bombarded with a myriad of media and challenges to their day as the way in which we live and communicate has continued to evolve (Putnam, 2001).

Arnsteins model should not be seen as a ladder that is climbed or that is consecutive and in some ways is a misleading analogy (Arnstein, 1969, p. 218). Indeed, it is possible for many citizens to have one foot one rung, a hand on another and maybe even a finger on different rung entirely.

One criticism of participation is that those who do participate are often not representative of the wider community, and within those groups that may be represented are their own participation struggles and concerns.

One model that builds on the Arnstein Ladder is the idea of “Liquid Democracy “(Rashbrooke, 2018, p. 266). This is seen as a complementary process alongside current democratic institutions. In this model politicians and officials become facilitators rather than gatekeepers. Elected representatives still retain the decision-making power, but they are guided by citizens assemblies, reflecting the citizens role as a part of society rather than a consumer of services. Liquid democracy gives citizens a role in between election cycles. The creation of forums would allow for greater accountability and scrutiny. Critics of this concept feel that it would be dominated by those who can express and articulate themselves in a more lucid and compelling way. This could find the forums dominated by the well educated and confident. The construction of the forums needs to reflect society in a meaningful way and maybe even over represent those whose voice will struggle to be heard. Attendees receive training and support and aim to make consensual decisions and recommendations. There are successful examples of this working including the Toronto Planning Panel, a participatory budgeting scheme in Brazil that formed a public view on council investment and Taiwan’s online VTaiwan process (Rashbrooke, 2018, pp. 261-279). This concept is similar to the idea that citizens see effective consultation as two-way and that they consult early in the process when decisions can be altered rather than on agreed outcomes (Berner, Amos, & Morse, 2011, pp. 156-158).

Another engagement concept is using referendum. New Zealand has a long history of undertaking referenda in the local government context. These have often been for issues of public contention rather than regular decision-making. Some examples include the issue of water fluoridation or constructing a sports stadium (Cousins, 2002, pp. 203-205) . The Local Electoral Act provides for mandatory polls on the creation of Maori wards and provisions for referenda on changes to the electoral system. In some ways referenda are used when consultation may have failed or as a mechanism of the last resort. New Zealand has historically used these for contentious issues and come from a negative desire to be rid of an issue rather than a positive one of engagement (Cousins, 2002, pp. 206-207).

A current example of putting an issue out to the whole community to vote on is taking place in Queenstown. Here the District Council are asking all residents if they support a visitor’s levy. The Council has no powers to introduce one and is using this as further leverage with central government (Otago Daily Times, 2019). Referenda though are very binary tools and citizens often have little input in shaping the question. They do though provide for a district wide input between elections.

So why is there resistance to participation and engagement? For some this is viewed as an area of contention between elected representatives, officials and the community. Staff in one survey felt that the public are not all capable of understanding technical details, and it requires “effective citizens “, while elected representatives see the potential for these engagements to be adversarial and a threat to their own legitimacy (Berner et al., 2011). They see citizens as having narrow interests and prefer formal processes to more open engagement mechanisms (Berner et al., 2011, p. 143).

Participation is still seen as “hard” in local government. With the growing interest in “anti-politics” or lack of interest and commitment from the public to traditional processes many councils will simply wonder “why bother?” So many will see the value of consultation as being of little value or just talking to the same people on every issue. The existing statutory provisions on consultation mean that Councils can be selective and, in a world, where resources are scare must balance the need to be cost effective and still meet its legal requirements. Councils will often take a limited view on what they are consulting on and when to undertake this (Cheyne, 2016, pp. 114-118).

So, do the active rungs of the ladder still provide for accurate views on local government participation? We can see Informing as being the process of newsletters and resident communications. Consultation is the formal processes around plans, by-laws and other developments. Placation might be consultation on Annual Plan where a Council might restrict its rates rise. This might be seen as a win for the community, but the agenda of rates increases was the elected representatives and officials. Partnership would cover areas like co-governance committees. Delegated powers while not formally in place were a close alignment to the idea of local boards in Auckland. Finally, Citizens control. This is perhaps a panacea and not something in place, is it something to strive for? Certainly. However, there is always a balancing act and for many issues the mechanism of electing engaged and concerned representatives is still an effective model.



Arnstein, S. (1969). A ladder of citizen participation. JAIP, 35(4), 216-224.

Berner, M., Amos, J., & Morse, R. (2011). WHAT CONSTITUTES EFFECTIVE CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT? VIEWS FROM CITY STAKEHOLDERS. Public Administration Quarterly, 35(1), 128-163.

Cheyne, C. (2016). Public Participation and Community Engagement : The Changing Nature of Local Political Participation. In C. C. Jean Drage (Ed.), Local Government in New Zealand Challenges and Choices (pp. 106-119). Auckland Dunmore Press Limited

Corlett, E. (2017, 21 July ). Liquor licence freeze could be undermined by opening hours. Retrieved from

Cousins, M. (2002). Capturing the Citizen’s Voice: The Use of Referenda by New Zealand Local Government. In J. Drage (Ed.), Empowering communities? : representation and participation in New Zealand’s local government (pp. 187-210). Wellington [N.Z.]: Wellington N.Z. : Victoria University Press.

Ianniello, M., Iacuzzi, S., Fedele, P., & Brusati, L. (2019). Obstacles and solutions on the ladder of citizen participation: a systematic review. Public Management Review, 21(1), 21-46. doi:10.1080/14719037.2018.1438499

Otago Daily Times. (2019, 7 March ). Referendum on Queenstown visitor levy announced. Retrieved from

Putnam, R. D. (2001). Bowling alone : the collapse and revival of American community (1st Touchstone ed.. ed.). New York: New York : Simon & Schuster.

Rashbrooke, M. (2018). Government for the public good : the surprising science of large-scale collective action Wellington: Wellington : Bridget Williams Books.


Getting There …..

8 Oct


1978 World Cup (Part 1)

In 1976 Argentina was taken over by a military Junta. A terrorising and horrific regime it ruled the country during a period known as the “Dirty War” where the Junta claimed to be protecting the country from extremist terrorism with a campaign of state terrorism that saw them at war with anyone they felt was a threat or enemy to the state. Students, academics, lawyers, Jew, human rights activists and the judiciary were all under the microscope. ‘First we will kill all the subversives,

then we will kill their collaborators, then … their sympathizers, then … those who remain

indifferent; and, finally, we will kill the timid”. 30,000 people are presumed to have been killed during this period together with thousands more who were tortured, raped or imprisoned,

Argentina had been awarded the football World Cup in 1966 and the last three years of the Peron government had done little to plan and prepare for this global event. Like the accelerated interest expressed by the Nazi regime in the 1936 Olympics, the Junta energised a government led body to prepare for the Cup and directed 10% of the national budget into this area. The Junta had seen the opportunity to legitimise itself on the World stage and to create a feel-good spectacle for the home audience. This even extended to the rather bizarre edict that critical commentaries on Coach Cesar Luis Menotti and the national selection was prohibited. British journalists were issued with a set of ‘indispensable phrases’ with Spanish translations for sportswriters covering the competition to use. The phrases included ‘Please stop torturing me’, ‘My newspaper will pay you well if you let me go’, ‘How many journalists have you butchered this year?’ and ‘Please deliver my body to my family’.

The campaign to boycott or cancel the World Cup was fairly low key in comparison to other international sporting boycotts. The Cup was used more as a way to denounce the regime rather than boycott the event. There was a wide debate in the Netherlands where it was claimed the team would “go as heroes and return as collaborators”.

The logo for the World Cup had been produced prior to the coup and was based on Peron’s upward arms gesture. This caused a potential problem for the Junta who tried to change it but realised it was too late. Marketing recorded the first victory of the finals.

On a footballing front the 16 teams included Scotland. They had qualified in the ugliest of fashions coming out of a group of three, suffered an opening game defeat and qualifying on the back of Wales beating Czechoslovakia. Yet their hopes were up that they were potential winners of the cup.   Fueled by a fan base that had brought down the goalposts in 1977 nothing could stop them.

Scotland had songs – god awful songs.

This was the b-side to the official song ( What the Fk)


And Joe Jordan

joe jordan

But there was also Iran. Qualifying against the backdrop of political turmoil they added a dimension to the World Cup that changed the lens from the traditional East/West. Iran’s top footballer was Parviz Ghelichkhani. Olympic footballer, Gold medallist at the Asian games. A member of a banned Marxist-Leninist political group he was tried on TV for “criminal acts” by the secret police “Savak”. Although he was national captain until 1977 he was never going to be acceptable on the national stage. Without him in the team, Iran were always going to be below par. Parviz ended his career in the North American Soccer League, and was just as out of favour after the revolution and he finally relocated to France where he edited a political magazine.



B.L. Smith The Argentinian Junta and the Press in the Run-up to the 1978 World Cup Soccer & Society

Felix A. Jiménez Botta ‘Yes to Football, No to Torture!’ The politics of the 1978 Football World Cup in West Germany Sport in Society

Scott Murray World Cup stunning moments:Scotland’s 1978 rollercoaster, 29 March 2018 The Guardian

The Perfect Distance Ovett & Coe

5 Sep

Part way through reading this glorious book by Pat Butcher it suddenly dawned on me. I had as a child been allowed to think of the era of Ovett and Coe as , well two things. Firstly the era of Coe & Ovett, even though Coe was clearly the younger and junior and secondly that Coe was the natural champion and Ovett somehow the person who tried to rain on his parade.

How did I get it so wrong – why had I swallowed that narrative that somehow the 800 metres in Moscow was where Ovett robbed Coe and the 1500 metres where Coe proved his class. Why not, as Butchers book clearly lays out, the other way around.

Ovett never gains the recognition for winning that gold instead the story was of Coe’s loss and ultimate redemption. Was it a class thing , was it Ovetts indifference? I don’t know. But from the book I have three observations and an aside.

Firstly whoever calls running 800 metres a middle distance race has never run a marathon.Seriously imagine stoping after 800 metres and thinking you might be about half way through !

Secondly Ovett was a running machine . The book tells of periods where he was running everything from 400 metres to 3,000 with little change in results. The story of him borrowing kit and winning an international class half marathon is just delightful.

My third observation is the wonderful way Butcher takes us up to the last lap of the 1500 metres final in 1984 and the point it all ended. There’s a moment where it could be a British 1,2,3 and then it’s over. Not in a linear sense but the magical era ends before the race does. We all move on , grow up, realise perhaps it was all a dream.

And my aside , well trivial as it may seem a neighbour during my childhood insisted his real name was Steve Obett and that my TV had some sort of malfunction. I have now put that ghost to rest.









Community Engagement in Local Government

22 Aug

Community Engagement in Local Government

In May 1838, the first meeting of the Kororareka[1] Association was held. This was the first body in New Zealand to define its jurisdiction and have a code of laws. In order to enforce its regulations, armed members of the association would carry out punishments ranging from fines to tarring and feathering and even banishment (Carman, 1970, pp. 1-2). Fast forward to 2018 and the residents of Kororareka when faced with their councils Long Term Plan were able to read the draft proposals, attend open meetings, make formal submissions and even speak to these at hearings, all without the threat of physical violence or excommunication (Far North District Council, 2018). The relationship between communities and their local councils appears at first glance to have come a long way.

Since the last major reform of Local Government in 2002, local authorities have been seeking to implement the intentions of the Act, namely that council decisions should reflect community views. In trying to understand how this occurs we are first going to consider how a council has dialogue with its residents.

Communication – Local authorities perform a range of functions and services and the level of service varies at times. Councils communicate this information to residents via transactional mechanisms like their websites or newsletters, for example Wellington City Council sends out a range of newsletters on different subject areas across the year which people can subscribe to or pick up from council offices (Wellington City Council, 2018). At the same time this communication acts in parallel with residents able to communicate to council to report service needs or feedback on an issue.

Consultation – this is a more formalised approach to reflecting community views. Councils must consult under various statutory provisions. This may range from standard items such as annual fees and charges to more specialised issues such as Porirua Councils current consultation on its growth strategy (Porirua City Council, 2019).

Engagement – Engaging relates to councils longer term relationships with stakeholders, groups of interest and the community at large. This could be as simple as regular meetings with ratepayer groups but could also be more formalised through advisory groups or committees. Auckland Council has a range of panels and groups covering ethic and cultural issues, demographic and service issues as well as a formal Maori Board (Auckland Council, 2018).

There have been two main drivers behind changes in community participation. The first has been a top-down approach from changes in legislation and local government procedure. The second is a bottom-up drive from communities with increasing expectations.

Initially the role of engagement in local government was not much more than votes every three years for ratepayers. Beyond that the ratepayers were expected to simply pay their rates and charges (Cheyne, 2002, p. 118). Local government complexity continued to grow, and in 1963 the first attempt at a joined up regional authority (Auckland) was made. However, the growth of local councils continued with well over 600 in place and in response to greater demands for participation district and community councils were formed. While this brought some decision making closer to the public it also created tension between the differing layers of governance. Public participation had still not grown much beyond the triennial elections and periodic polls on reorganisation and loan financing (Cheyne, 2002, pp. 124-126). As New Zealand’s state sector was restructured and made more commercial and market focused, this reform process impacted on all branches of government and eventually led to another wave of reforms to local government. The 1989 reforms made it a legislative requirement that authorities had to produce Annual Plans, and that these plans were not only publicly available, but they also had to openly invite and consider submissions from the public. Council business was also required to be open to the public and comprehensible. The 1989 reforms included provisions for Maori participation ,consultation and representation in local government (Cheyne, 2002, pp. 130-133).

Further legislative changes also drove changes in the way communities were involved in decision-making. The Town and Country Planning Act in 1977 provided the opportunity for the public to object to developments and plans through public hearings. These rights have been further extended with the Resource Management Act. Under this act it is not only affected parties who are able to raise concerns but any interested party. Therefore, the community members themselves can decide if they are “interested “. However the government has later restricted some of the balance in decision-making, firstly through direct intervention in certain areas, particularly Canterbury, and then through legislation which gave the Minister the power to amend council plans after they had been consulted and adopted (Brower & Kleynbos, 2015; Reid, 2018).

The Local Government Act of 2002 expanded on the consultation requirements for authorities. This included recognised opportunities for Maori contribution to decision-making, special consultative procedures, the requirement for a significance and engagement policy and the provision for affected persons to have reasonable access to information and make submissions. Council must receive these with an open-mind (Ombler, 2016). The 2002 Act placed “Community Governance “ as its driving philosophy (Reid, 2018) and was aiming to increase the citizens voice in decision-making. However the concept of community strategies in long term plans, introduced in the 2002 act, were weakened in 2010 and the Government wanted local authorities to focus on core services rather than community well-being (Reid, 2018, p. 9).

Other pieces of legislation have created opportunities for communities to participate in local decision-making. The Sale and Supply of Alcohol Act had a significant impact on opportunities for communities to be consulted on policies and decisions affecting alcohol licensing (Maclennan, Kypri, Room, & Langley, 2013). The case of alcohol provides an interesting example as the process while providing a legislative role “has not facilitated communities to exercise effective local control “(Maclennan et al., 2013, p. 894). The question is how much is this a tick box exercise? Or simply so complex that communities struggle to engage without the need for professional and legal support?

Local Government reforms started to treat residents as consumers, customers or clients rather than simple transactional ratepayers. This though created different demands and expectations (Berner, Amos, & Morse, 2011, pp. 133-134). Research found that citizens valued feedback and communication as more important that elected officials and staff did. Further this disconnect means that while there may be lots of engagement being undertaken, the intention is not always the same from either side and this diminishes the effectiveness (Berner et al., 2011).

However, the current methods of community participation can be limiting with responses often coming from narrow social groups. There is a tendency for the overrepresentation of older white European males (Ombler, 2016, p. 22). The Local Government Commission found that many consultation processes were not easily understood, garnered low response rates and found similar consultations being repeated over and over. As consultation provides a mechanism for input which is then judged by elected councillors, there is a potential issue in communities or groups feeling that the weight of their submissions ( especially where a majority of submitters oppose an item ) is not reflected in the decision and therefore was not “heard”(Ombler, 2016) or was a waste of time.

The present climate provides several challenges for public involvement. Technological advancements mean that the public are now constantly hard wired to their service providers and agencies. An expectation that councils can and will communicate in real time puts pressure on them to move toward service delivery methods that include areas such as social media. There is already a growing disparity between those councils that can afford to invest in social media and those that cannot. At some future point smaller councils will either have to find ways of funding this at the expense of current employee posts or find other ways of delivering the service (Hendery, 2016). Technological advances can also change the way we think about participatory methods. Residents may be able to engage not just in response to councils agenda but be able to shape and instigate what council is doing (Alonso & Barbeito, 2016). Technological advances can provide positive opportunities, the ability to not only have a direct link to communities through on-line polls and the like but also the ability to redefine community and communities as something that exist beyond a physical space (Reid, 2016) – how long before the first Councillor is elected not only by electronic voting but for an electronic constituency ?

A further challenge is the rise of what is loosely termed “populism”. In this space we can see the potential for a re-setting of council participation either through simplification or making policy issues appear more accessible. The need to address these issues and provide a simplification of process and how it is communicated is now a significant theme across the western world, even if this may give rise to shallow responses with little evidence to support them (Dunleavy, 2018).

The aim of improved participation in local government should be to improve decision-making and to enhance the democratic processes and empower the local population (Ombler, 2016). There is a desire across the world to restore power and rights to local communities and how residents can and do participate will be crucial in making a success of this (Smith, 2017). In order to meet the challenge of greater and more effective communication councils need to be able to offer multiple access points to participation, and on participants terms. Without this we will continue with disengagement and low voter turnout as councils appear further detached from residents’ everyday lives.




Alonso, Á., & Barbeito, R. (2016). Does e-participation Influence and Improve Political Decision Making Processes? Evidence From a Local Government. Lex Localis, 14(4), 873-891. doi:10.4335/14.4.873-891(2016)

Auckland Council. (2018). Advisory Panels Retrieved from

Berner, M., Amos, J., & Morse, R. (2011). WHAT CONSTITUTES EFFECTIVE CITIZEN PARTICIPATION IN LOCAL GOVERNMENT? VIEWS FROM CITY STAKEHOLDERS. Public Administration Quarterly, 35(1), 128-163.

Brower, A., & Kleynbos, I. (2015). Changes in urban and environmental governance in Canterbury from 2010 to 2015: comparing Environment Canterbury and Christchurch City Council. Policy Quarterly, 11(3). doi:10.26686/pq.v11i3.4551

Carman, A. H. (1970). The birth of a city, / by A. H. Carman. Wellington: Wellington The author, 7 Kowhai St. Tawa.

Cheyne, C. (2002). Public Involvement in Local Government in New Zealand; A Historical Account. In J. Drage (Ed.), Empowering communities? : representation and participation in New Zealand’s local government (pp. 116-155). Wellington: Victoria University Press.

Dunleavy, P. (2018). “Build a wall”. “Tax a shed”. “Fix a debt limit”. The constructive and destructive potential of populist anti-statism and “naïve” statism. Policy Studies, 39(3), 310-333. doi:10.1080/01442872.2018.1475639

Far North District Council. (2018). Long Term Plan 2018-28. Retrieved from

Hendery, S. (2016). Councils spend big on social media. Retrieved from

Maclennan, B., Kypri, K., Room, R., & Langley, J. (2013). Local government alcohol policy development: case studies in three New Zealand communities. Addiction (Abingdon, England), 108(5), 885-895. doi:10.1111/add.12017

Ombler, J. R., Marie;Rivera-Munoz,Graciela. (2016). Local Councils and Public Consultation extending the reach of democracy. Policy Quareterly, 12(4), 20-27.

Porirua City Council. (2019). Growth Strategy Retrieved from

Reid, M. (2016). Local Government In A Changing World: What Does The Future Hold. In Jean Drage;Christine Cheyne (Ed.), Local Government in New Zealand Challenges and Choices. Auckland: Dunmore Publishing Limited.

Reid, M. (2018). Saving local democracy: An agenda for the new government. Retrieved from Auckland:

Smith, J. (2017). Local Responses to Right-Wing Populism:Building Human Rights Cities. Studies in Social Justice, 11(2), 347-368.

Wellington City Council. (2018). E-Newsletters. Retrieved from


[1] Part of what is now known as the Bay of Islands.