21 Sep

Sean Mahoney discusses radicalism, populism and the contemporary political moment.

via Age of Anger — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評


Memoirs of a Political Bag carrier

26 Jul


Political bag carriers and gatekeepers have a new patron saint. Step forward Alyssa Mastromonoca. The inside cover of her book claims  “ if your funny older sister were the former deputy chief of staff to President Obama, her behind the scenes political memoir would look something like this …” and with that she nailed it.

Mastromonaco writes in a fluid style and takes us all over the place, not just in a geographic sense but in her own world as well. She’s open and honest about herself ( there is no such thing as too open and honest ) and takes you inside the world that seems both exhilarating and frustrating at the same time.

If you ever find yourself undertaking a job like this ( even if its for a small place local body politician ) you will benefit from Mostramonaco’s guide as to how to explain your job. Don’t go into detail just say it slowly, in hushed tones and with some inclusive hand gestures.

The human side of the book is wonderfully self-deprecating and funny. How could fighting the urge to need the toilet whilst waiting to meet the Pope not be both ? How could you possible end up married when your first date is gate-trashed by Jim Messina ?

Behind this though are some more serious points. She is put down in the press mainly as a scheduler because, well hey she’s a Woman. And the stress and strain of the job remind me of Stephanopolousis also wonderful insider memoir. They burn them out in the White House. It may not be intentional, it may be it craves a certain type. Not just funny older sisters who pretend to be hedgehogs. And even if you don’t share her love (obsession) with lists, you’ll still find something wonderful in this book.

Who Thought This Was A Good Idea ? Alyssa Mastromonaco, twelve books,2017

Harold Wilsons Minority Queens Speech

28 Jun

…and its dodgy advice.


There never seems to be a situation in British Politics that we haven’t been in before. In 1974 Harold Wilson was given the opportunity to lead a minority Government. Of course Wilson had been in opposition in February 1974, however like Teresa May Harold Wilson was confident of passing a Queens speech. Wilson did not seek agreements with any of the minor parties, and it is likely none would have been keen to do so. The Queens speech was set for 12 March. Wilson understood that his tenure leading a minority administration was likely to be short, and that much of the manifesto commitments wouldn’t be enacted. However, he also didn’t want to table a mini queen’s speech. Indeed, Wilson wanted to act big and put much of the legislation down even of it wasn’t going to get passed into law. The electoral cycle continued! (and Teresa May seems to be following by tabling a 2 year Queens Speech). Most of the Cabinet expected another election by the end of the year.

Heath as leader of the opposition warned that they would seek to defeat the government on the speech and force Wilson out of office. Wilson was adamant that he would seek a dissolution if this occurred.

The Civil Service though gave Wilson quite a lot of duff advice. Robert Armstrong advised that if Wilson lost a confidence vote the Queen might send for a senior figure to form a Government ( Jenkins/Whitelaw) . Armstrong and Crowther Hunt (his Minister at the Cabinet Office) argued against resigning in the event of defeat. Indeed, Crowther Hunt wrote the first draft of a note to the PM on the train into work on the morning of 15 March.

Crowther Hunt saw 2 alternate courses of action if a Conservative amendment was carried. Alternative A was to simply ignore the vote and Alternative B was to call a confidence vote. If defeated in the confidence cote Crowther Hunt advised Wilson stay put and ask for a dissolution. He then uses some fairly dated commonwealth examples of the risk the Queen would have in saying no. Namely that if Heath couldn’t form a Government (which he couldn’t) there would need to be a dissolution anyway. Crowther Hunt thought the Queen would be acting constitutionally improper to call for say Whitelaw or Jenkins to try and form a Government, given the accepted practice of electing party leaders. Crowther Hunt thinks the only way the Queen could refuse would be to call a Round Table Conference to seek all-party agreement, but even then he sees it as a precursor to dissolution.

Crowther Hunts memo then gets the Armstrong tinkering and is slightly expanded for Wilson. Armstrong adds 2 other alternatives as a subset of the defeat on a vote of confidence, namely forming a “broad based” Government and advising the Queen to appoint Heath as PM. These are then instantly dismissed as not being what Wilson is interested in. Armstrong though doesn’t give up, he adds a paragraph that says the Queen would be looking to avoid another election and that she might take soundings amongst good Tories. She would be reluctant to so so with Labour as it “would be hazardous in the extreme”. Crowther Hunt notes his view that the Queen wouldn’t call someone else to form a Government but Armstrong is less certain. Perhaps he’s hoping rather than being rational? There’s even a suggestion that the Queen might then enter into a complex game with Wilson testing his nerve around the dissolution versus a Whitelaw style Government. Wilson would need to consider his position in relation to the “Government of National Unity” a favourite idea for many in the early 70s.


4 days later Armstrong came back with a confession. After being pressed by Crowther Hunt on the precedents Armstrong realised he had cocked up. His understanding ( i.e. advice) to not resign after losing a vote on an address was based on a misunderstanding. He was using the precedent of Peel being defeated on an amendment in 1834, who didn’t resign on that but on a later defeat on an appropriation resolution (supply in modern DUP terms). Defeat on the amendment have been seen as confidence after all. His draft note on this claims both he and Crowther Hunt believe this doesn’t change the earlier advice. The final note only relies on Armstrong being confident on this manner.


The actual speech featured a youthful Neil Kinnock as one of the 2 star opening turns, Nigel Lawson wondered if Zetland might declare UDI and the ever popular Dennis Skinner wondered of the Liberals had gone off streaking.


In the end Heath didn’t call for a division on the speech but instead the amendment to the vote was defeated by 295 to 21 with the Conservatives abstaining. On 18 March.






The 2017 UK election …what happens now

16 Jun

The DUP shouted about state sponsored murder…they up the ante and make the situation much harder to cope with …slowly over time you don’t even bother to register the outrages..but the slow dripping of bile and insinuation undermines the process.It makes people more uncertain and fearful, shakes their belief that progress can be made.


This is from Mo Mowlam. The DUP are now the King maker in UK politics, how did this come about and where will it end ?

Its like a great tragedy. The 2017 election is likely to be written about and talked about for many years to come. Whether its the starting point for some new politics or just a punctuation on the way to a return to normal service time will tell. It was an election no one won, everyone lost. Yet some of the losers are clear winners, and the most reactionary Party in UK politics ( quoted recently but I can’t find where as the political wing of the 17th century ) the DUP are going to have power. Yes this might not be a coalition or a formal power arrangement , but there votes are required and they will extract a great price. They are the most Socially Conservative of all the elected parties at Westminster. They also have a fundamentally hardline view on the governance of Northern Ireland. And to those who weren’t watching, they are responsible for one of the biggest scandals in recent UK times.

More worrying though is that if the Government is reliant on one Northern Ireland party it will upend the peace process and current Governance arrangements. One of the great moves forward in the peace process has been to include wider shades of nationalism and unionism. However by utilising FPP, the DUP will have a monopoly not only on Unionism but on Northern Ireland issues with the UK Government. Do we need to go to this ?

And what of  Teresa Mays backbenchers? They will make sure the coast is clear and that Corbyn can’t touch power, but at some point she will leave. To be replaced by who or what ? Does the lack of majority mean another election ? Well you’d think so, especially if a new leader gets a poll bounce. But wasn’t that what just happened ? Who is going to trust a poll bounce now. May’s monumental cock up will reverberate for years. We could be faced with a slow Parliamentary death like the 74-9 Parliament. Defeat extracted one day at a time.

And I had hoped this was as bad it was going to get.

The Tories will plough on but look unlikely to be able to deliver on big policy. Of course the election was meant to be about Brexit. It quickly wasn’t, yet the implications for it will be massive. This Brexit Parliament ( if it remains in place ) will deal with it all. The clock is ticking on Article 50 and suddenly the divisions that are in the Tory party between the soft and hard Brexit camps will become real. Parliamentary arithmetic is claimed  to favour soft Brexit. The current Prime Minister was a remainer. I doubt there will be an appetite for big risk. However the position is unlikely to be between soft and hard but more consensual. The Brexit deal will almost certainly have to be cross party or certainly pan-party. Even those curiosities the Liberal Democrats may need to be onboard.


And suddenly everything Teresa May touches turns to disaster. The Confidence and Supply agreement doesn’t materialise, the Queens speech is delayed and the awful Fire disaster has found her lacking in just about every area she was needed in. Does this shorten her shelf life ? Undoubtedly, but from what to what is unclear. Don’t expect this means another election though, not yet anyway. What are the odds on a new leader arising to bring the Lib Dems onboard ( also under a new non religious leader we assume ) and moving forward with a cross-party Brexit before calling for another election in say 2019/2020 ?

What does seem certain is that despite having a wonderful result by historic standards, the SNP took a pasting and Indyref2 finds itself in some slightly longer grass.

An eccentric and elegiac election

5 Jun

The UK is going to the polls (again) and these plebiscites are becoming high entertainment spectacles even if they are low on political x factor. Many will of course wonder why now, and as many reply why not. Teresa May must have agonised over this. Had she come in and cleared the decks then this might be seen as acceptable. But she didn’t she told us over and over that no election was coming. Then suddenly we were having one because Parliament might not continue to keep agreeing with her. It takes some time to follow through all the issues she raised here. Of course the cynical way to look at this is that she decided to cut and run. 20 point leads in the opinion polls don’t come very often. All she could see in front of her was the downside of leaving the EU, the end of free movement, recession, possible criminal charges against sitting MPs and a Labour opposition that could only go up. Mrs May decided to cash all this in, but she’s gone in a short space of time from being Mrs Thatcher to Ted Heath. Remarkable that perhaps the PM who took us out of the EU has made the same blunder as the one who took us in. A snap election to focus on a key issue that then gets little focus, whilst your leadership slowly drains away.  Even if she wins unless she wins big the writing is on the wall. She started the campaign with talk of a 1930s style result and now were looking at February 1974 !


Never trust a person who doesn’t know how to eat chips !

The election seems to be witnessing the death of UKIP and the Lib Dems. UKIP have seen a lot of their policy platform hoovered up by the Tories. We now have a protectionist anti-foreigner, anti free movement, isolationist Government. Kippers no longer need to protest. But what of the Lib Dems, the hope they would bounce back as the sensible voice of remainers doesn’t look likely. The electorate seems to have moved on, or not fully comprehended the leaving of the EU. This is becoming a fictional election, fought on a fictional issue brought about by a fictional Brexit.  I’m sure the Lib Dems will survive, but a massive success for them would end up with something like 15 MPs. It doesn’t seem worth sniffing all those spaniels for does it ? The leader seems to get caught again and again on theology. It doesn’t seem to make a great deal of sense. Why he hasn’t developed convincing lines on it is beyond belief. Which reminds me of the UKIP manifesto. A one in one out immigration policy  ( then someone presumably gets shaken all about ) A ban on covering your cheeks in public, a brexit day national holiday.

Some people are trying to keep BRexit alive 

There will be lots of focus on the result in Scotland, there is a big challenge for the SNP as they are coming off an unbelievable high. However the prism of Independence will be cast over the result. The Conservatives look like being the main beneficiaries, but its hard to see the SNP not being the 3rd largest party again. And by some margin.

I enjoyed the spectacle of the Jeremy World Cup. First Jeremy Corbyn went up against Jeremy Vine. He obviously did ok because he played Jeremy Paxman in the semi-final. I eagerly await the clash with Jeremy Hanley ( who has his own fan club remember ) but hope we can avoid Jeremy on Jeremy violence as its unnecessary.

Teresa May has unravelled in a way no one thought possible. How the Tories must be cursing the choice they made. How Boris Johnson is enjoying providing the outgoing aggressive insensitive foil to her introverted aggressive insensitive character. First there was Mugwumps then he insulted a whole audience by talking about “ Clinky Clinky “ of bottles of imported Scotch to India. But he’s gone much further as the TV debate spinner. All arms and finger-pointing and aggressive gestures. He called Corbyn’s chance of governing dependent on  the tutti fruity coalition. He doesn’t realise how appealing that sounds. Tough the Italian Tutti Frutti coalition was more like the modern Conservative government. Populists and nationalists all held together by fear of foreigners. A group who can’t decide on what their policy position is on anything. The shambles of the Dementia Tax said it all.

Many Tories would have rather had him calling the shots, he couldn’t have been worse than May. Well perhaps he would.


or perhaps he wouldnt 

But the 2017 oddest attraction seems to be Zac Goldsmith. He probably deserves a post all on his own, which I will do shortly. He’s back again campaigning as a candidate for the party he resigned from and tried to stand against last year. He’s a trier if nothing else !

Without doubt  the oddest attraction, but in some ways the most heartwarming has been Grime for Corbyn.

The polls are all over the place and there’s a good article by Nate Silver ( have I just typed that !) on it all at

It might be worth coming back to if Mrs May doesn’t have an 80 plus seat majority.

And then there are the grotesque terrorist attacks. Impossible to comprehend. The issue of security has now come to the fore. No one can win this debate by being binary. Its not a binary issue.

Jeremy Corbyn has been the undoubted star of the campaign, he has been humorous, engaging and realistic and offered hope. The Tories have hit him in a predictable Crosby style ( whose also going to be worth a separate post ) but it hasn’t landed. The public understand him warts and all. Perhaps the public have realised that the bogeymen myths about left wingers just aren’t true ?

Perhaps they don’t feel there’s anything left to risk or lose. Perhaps they like him after all. What has the voter to make of it all. The Brexit election, which isn’t really about Brexit at all, the Tutti Frutti election where the 2 parties will probably get more of the combined vote than in the last 40 years. The election is likely to show the huge divisions across the UK in starling Technicolor while  providing a result in monochrome. You’d still have to say this is Mrs Mays victory for the taking, but it’s no longer straightforward. Oddly the awful terrorist attacks have exposed May. She can’t blame anyone else for security failures. She sounds odd standing outside Number 10 saying enough is enough. The public may agree with her. The hardline rhetoric hasn’t worked, maybe something else will. The grandstanding over nuclear weapons mixed with the mock horror that Corbyn wasn’t always keen on shoot to kill policing shouldn’t be surprising.

2 years ago the media and pundits were obsessed with the idea of a hung parliament, now there may well be one that sneaks up on us. May deserves the hung parliament, the UK perhaps doesn’t but who knows ? The joy of a Corbyn led Government may be short-lived, I doubt a hung parliament would allow it to happen but we could hardly have 5 years of a Conservative DUP coalition….or could we ?

If I had to call it I would say small Conservative majority, but punditry is for the brave.


Mt Albert By-Election

20 May

From ex Leader to next Leader.

Some notes for a wider project piece I am trying to put together …comments welcome ….

The New Zealand political environment was still trying to come to terms with the resignation of Prime Minister John Key when only 2 days later it was reported that former Labour leader David Shearer was to resign his seat and take up a job as United Nations special envoy to South Sudan[1]. The Mt Albert electorate was to have its second MMP by-election to allow a former Leader to safely parachute out for an international job. Perhaps MMP by-elections had found a purpose after all.


Shearer had not formally resigned his seat, nor been confirmed in the role and the thinking about whether there would be a by-election was advancing. Some commentators, and even the Labour leader Andrew Little, wondered if there might be cause for an early general election if Mr Shearer were to resign alongside the potential departures of the Pakuranga MP Maurice Williamson, the New Lynn MP David Cunliffe and the former Prime Minister and Helensville MP John Key. [2]

Within days of becoming Prime Minister Bill English announced that the by-election would be held on 25 February 2017 and that National would not contest the seat (even before David Shearer had resigned the seat). This seemed to end any speculation of a super Saturday for replacing sitting MPs or an early election. English wanted National to focus on winning the 2017 General Election, a decision aspiring Labour candidate Jacinda Ardern noted as “surprising”[3] and the Deputy Leader of the Labour party, Annette King, went on “I think he’s a bit of a scaredy-cat, he doesn’t want to look as if he’s not successful and he doesn’t want to have a defeat at the beginning of the year, “That’s fair enough, but it’s very strange that he wouldn’t take the opportunity to run a candidate and put out their policies and what their achievements are, if they can identify them.”[4] Nationals campaign manager Steven Joyce hit back and said that Labour’s decision not to stand in Northland had been fine for them. When challenged with the reality that Labour had stood in Northland, Joyce called this a “ relative term “[5]  The Green Party announced on 23 December that they would contest the seat, to give voters a choice. Given they had previously not contested the Mt Roskill by-election to assist the Labour party it was a decision open to some interpretive criticism. [6] Green co-leader Meteria Turia said the party were committed to standing but accepted that the Labour party would win. Quite how her reality of accepting defeat and standing was any less or more rational than English’s view of accepting defeat so refusing to stand will be for others to consider. What was clear, even before Shearer had officially left his seat, was that Labour would win.

2014 Election Result

Mount Albert was held at the 2014 election by David Shearer. Shearer had won the seat in a by-election in 2009 making it the first seat to be contested twice as an MMP by-election. There had been some initial excitement that given National had gained a larger share of the party vote than any other party in the 2014 election, that they may be able to win the seat.

David Shearer Labour 20,970 58.17%
Melissa Lee National 10,314 28.61%
Jeanette Elley Green Party 3,152 8.74%
Jeffrey Johnson CNSP 525 1.46%
Tommy Fergusson ACT 321 0.89%
Joe Carolan Mana 290 0.80%
Anthony Van Den Heuvel 76 0.21%
Michael Wackrow 68 0.19%
Informals 336 0.93%
Votes Cast 36,052
National Party 14,359 38.89%
Labour Party 10,823 29.31%
Green Party 8,005 21.68%
New Zealand First 1,512 4.10%
Conservative 719 1.95%
Internet Mana 603 1.63%
ACT 356 0.96%
Maori Party 178 0.48%
ALCP 93 0.25%
United Future 57 0.15%
Ban 1080 12 0.03%
The Civilian Party 11 0.03%
Democrats Social Credit 7 0.02%
Focus New Zealand 6 0.02%
NZ Independent Coalition 5 0.01%
Informals 176 0.48%
Total 36,922


For the Labour party the obvious strength of a high profile sitting list MP who lived in the Mt Albert constituency saw Jacinda Ardern emerge as the only person to put their name forward for selection. Her candidature was confirmed on 22 January at a local party meeting. [7] Ardern had stood in the neighbouring Auckland Central seat at the last general election.

The Green party also choose a sitting list MP in Julie Ann Genter. Genter had stood in Epsom in the 2014 General Election. Genter saw Nationals absence as a way to show politics could be done differently, and that the campaign would not be negative.[8]

The New Zealand People’s Party who had formed in 2016 as a party focused on Indian and Asian immigrants decided to contest the by-election and chose Vin Tomar as its candidate. Tomar was a former Green Party member and lived in the constituency.[9]

The recently formed but yet to be registered The Opportunities Party announced that it would contest the by-election. The party founder and leader Gareth Morgan announced the candidature of Geoff Simmons, a Wellington based economist and the party Chief of Staff, under a barrage of analogy. Simmons would be the “rose between two thorns” and “David against Goliath”. Labour and the Greens were “Sisters in arms”. Simmons even referenced a recent cricket match result to show that anything could happen. [10]

By the close of nominations there were thirteen candidates, including four independents, the Communist League, People Before Profit, Cannabis Party, the strangely named Not a Party and the Human Rights Party. [11]


In many respects the absence of the National party took the wind out of the campaign before it began. Whilst this may have been the intention from a political perspective it again raised questions about the financial cost of running a by-election in an MMP environment.

The Opportunities Party began their campaign with another bizarre analogy session. Simmons, perhaps anticipating the result, said he didn’t want to be a career politician. He then went on “Every politician promises you a nice pair of underwear but what you find after three years is, really all you had is, you’ve taken the old underwear, turned them inside out and put them back on again,”[12] He went on to say “We the party, we actually want to do ourselves out of a job – that’s what we’re setting this thing up so we don’t have to do it anymore”. Simmons father who lives in the constituency attended the launch, waving a Julie Ann Genter campaign sign and said he had yet to make up his mind which way to vote. [13]

The Opportunities Party were later subjected to a complaint on behalf of ACT (also not standing in this election) about the use of a van for “treating “. This is a legal concept alleging that voters were being given a free ride rather than a fun concept as no one could really imagine going for a spin in a van with Gareth Morgan’s face on it as a treat ! Thankfully the Electoral Commission cleared them of the allegation.  [14] [15]

The three main candidates all featured in a debate hosted in an Indian restaurant in Sandringham Media coverage seemed to focus on the absence of any difference between the three candidates and that they were all candidates of the left (though its questionable where The Opportunities Party and the Labour Party sit ). The Auckland housing market was a key question raised for the candidates. Simmons advocated a Capital Gains Tax on first homes. Arden disagreed with this while Genter advocated for planning zone changes. Simmons made another of his now familiar odd comments by asking that he was elected on the basis that he’s the only one not already in Parliament. [16] Whist’s it’s an odd campaign slogan there is of course a wider issue ( see below ).

The campaign seemed to focus quite quickly on the size of victory that Ardern would achieve and the potential impact that would have on the Labour party for the 2017 general election. Arden’s campaign was a personalised one, whilst there was some logic to this in a one-off election it also highlighted the candidates favourable image. Or at least a more favourable image than her party and leader. Electors were being asked to back team Jacinda rather than vote Labour. The perceived inevitability of the result made for a rather lack luster time.  Her main opponent even referred to her as “ own to earth and friendly, even though she’s a superstar in Parliament”.[17] Indeed the closeness of the two candidates ( they even apparently car pooled while canvassing !) took any potential edge out of the campaign. It even prompted what might be the worst piece of election writing ever by the New Zealand Herald when they declared “ The least bitter rivalry in New Zealand politics has broken out in the Mt Albert by-election” [18] Not only had they car pooled and canvassed together they had shown off dance moves. Genter said it had been “fun”.

As election day arrived, Labour leader Andrew Little campaigned with Ardern and downplayed discussion of a future reshuffle. Ardern toyed with idea of recycling her first name billboards for the General Election and discussion seemed to be on how low the turnout would be. [19]


One observer who had witnessed many elections (Mike Williams) observed it was the “most low-key byelection I’ve ever seen” However it was thought the Labour party were testing a new campaigning strategy. The strategy was claimed to be adopted from the Victoria Labour Party and the recent Wellington Mayoralty. They established a network of field officers and volunteers who data mine whether a voter is persuadable and what issues they care about.[20] Some may question why they had never thought of this before.

Result and aftermath

The preliminary result surprised no one and Ardern received over 77% of the vote on just under 13,000 votes cast. Genter was second but distant and The Opportunities Party came in third. Turnout was only around 27 % at the preliminary stage. [21]

The official result published on 8 March with little change to the result.

Jacinda Ardern Labour  10,495 76.89%
Julie Anne Genter Green  1,564 11.46%
Geoff Simmons  623 4.56%
Vin Tomar New Zealand Peoples Party  218 1.60%
Joe Carolan People Before Profit  189 1.38%
Penny Bright  139 1.02%
Abe Gray Cannabis Party  7 0.05%
Adam Amos  81 0.59%
Dale Arthur  54 0.40%
Anthony Van Den Heuvel Human Rights  34 0.25%
Peter Wakeman  30 0.22%
Simon Smythe  19 0.14%
Patrick Brown Communist  16 0.12%
Informals  90 0.66%
Total 13649
Turnout 30%

By the Wednesday following the poll, despite rejecting the idea a week earlier, Annette King resigned as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Jacinda Ardern was backed for the vacancy. [22]

The Green party went off to contemplate what the result really meant for them. Could the poor showing undermine its chances of being in Government? Labour may cannibalize the Greens vote where it can and be left holding hands with New Zealand First. The expectation of gaining 30 or even 40 % of the vote seemed woefully optimistic. [23] The Opportunities Party were reflecting on achieving 4.6 % of the vote as being near its target 5%. It seemed rude to point out the absence of National and New Zealand First negated that effort somewhat. [24]

Three months after David Shearer indicated he was leaving there was a new MP in Parliament. However, this wasn’t the victorious candidate Jacinda Ardern. She had been in Parliament throughout the campaign as had her main rival. The new MP was declared elected on 15 March 2017 following Arden’s resignation from the list. Raymond Hau was the ultimate beneficiary of the poll result.[25] So what was this all about?

There a debate to be had over the role and purpose of by-elections under MMP. Nigel Roberts returned to this debate during the Mt Albert contest. He points to the wide range of countries that don’t hold by-elections yet still have stable and useful democracies.[26] Would we have been any worse off to have replaced David Shearer with Raymond Hua without reference to the electorate? Does it diminish the role of by-elections on Parliamentary arithmetic? Well it’s a different world under MMP. Electors vote for party preference as well as individual MPs. There a desire to keep that party balance in place over the three years, which is a relatively short electoral cycle. Could we survive without another by-election? Well certainly without one as lackluster as MT Albert we certainly could.


[1] Audrey Young “ David Shearer to quit for UN job: Mt Albert by-election Looms” 8 December 2016,at

[2] RadioNZ “ David Shearer to quit, Labour ready for early election” 8 December 2016, at,-labour-‘ready’-for-early-election

[3] RadioNZ “ National won’t contest Mt Albert By-election” 19 December 2016, at’t-contest-mt-albert-by-election

[4] RadioNZ “ Bill English accused of chickening out in Mt Albert ‘ 20 December 2016, at

[5] ibid

[6] Stuff “ Green Party to stand against Labour in Mt Albert by-election” 23 December 2016, at

[7] Stuff “ Jacinta Arden Labour’s sole nominee for Mt Albert by-election” 12 January 2017, at

[8] Nicholas Jones” Mt Albert by-election:Its Jacinda Arden vs Julie Ann Genter “ 12 January 2017,at

[9] Sandeep Singh”New Zealand People Party to spice up Mt Albert By-election, announces candidate”,26 December 2016, at,-announces-candidate

[10] NZHerald “ Gareth Morgan’s Opportunities Party to run in Mt Albert by-election” 1 February 2017, at

[11] RadioNZ “ Thirteen candidates for Mt Albert by-election “ 01 February 2017, at

[12] Troika Tokelau-Chandra “ Mt Albert by-election Candidate Geoff Simmons makes unlikely comparison at launch “ 4 February 2017, at

[13] ibid

[14] Treating is defined in the Electoral Act 1993 (Section 217 ) as the provision of food, drink, entertainment or provision with the exception of a post meeting light supper, with the intention of influencing or procuring the recipients vote.

[15] Issac Davidson “ Gareth Morgan accuses ACT Party of petty complaints.” 21 February 2017, at

[16] Simon Maude “ Mt Albert electorate left to the left wing parties to fight it out “ 15 February 2017, at

[17] Ricardo Simich, “ By-election front runners guide to Mt Albert” 18 February 2017, at “

[18] NZherald “ Greens’Julie Anne Genter and Labour’s Jacinta Ardern strike up friendship in Mt Albert “ 22 February 2017, at

[19] NZHerald “ Mt Albert byelection:Andrew Little joins Jacinta Arden for final day of campaigning “ 24 February 2017, at

[20] Issac Davidson “ Candidates brce for the polls..wait,what ? There’s a byelection?” 18 February 2017, at

[21] NZherald “ Landslide win for Jacinta Ardern in Mt Albert by-election “ 25 February 2017, at

[22] Nicholas Jones “ Labour’s new deputy:JAcinda Ardern’s ‘pay-it-forward’ politics” 2 March 2017, at

[23] Simon Wilson “ The GReens’ mediocre Mt Albert result reveals the hill they have to climb in 2017” 27 February 2017, at

[24] Nicholas Jones “ Gareth Morgan’s party happy with Mt Albert by-election result” 26 February 2017, at


[26] Nigel Roberts “ We should do away with by-elections, 14 February 2017, at

Using Gramsci

5 May


Sean Mahoney on how the revolutionary Marxism of Antinio Gramsci can provide solutions to some of the predicaments of Europe and the US today.

Michele Filippini, Using Gramsci: A New Approach (Pluto Press, 2017)

In late 1926 Antonio Gramsci wrote an unfinished manuscript with the working title ‘Some aspects on the Southern Question.’ As with other essays by Gramsci it takes a local, narrow and perhaps niche issue and transforms it into an argument that is expansive and of universal interest, not only for the world of 1926 but for the world today.

The ‘Southern Question’ as considered by Gramsci focused on the unification of Northern industrial workers and Southern peasants, a unification that would be required in order to overcome the bourgeoisie. ‘For the proletariat to become the ruling, the dominant class, it must succeed in creating a system of class alliances which allow it to mobilise the majority of the…

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26 Hours 9 Minutes and 22 seconds with the Kenneth Clark(e) s *

27 Feb

I blame the Los Angeles Review of Books. Earlier this year I noticed a link to a review of a biography on Kenneth Clark. Lord Clark of Civilisation as he was hilariously known. Alan Clarks dad as he was also hilariously known, though mainly posthumously. Clark, was an interesting character and the review was good.It reminded me I had volume 2 of Clark’s Autobiography in a box somewhere. I located it and read it firly rapidly. Published in 1977 and dedicated “ To Alan “ it covered the years from before the second world war to publication.

Clark is a lucid writer and you enter a world as bizarre and out of touch as anything his son ( The racist Mr Toad ) conjures up in his diaries. He bought a castle for gawds sake ! How many of us will be able to put that in our autobiographies ?

Clark takes us through his time as a wartime Civil Servant. He doesn’t seem to have enjoyed it or been very attentive at it. He wrote If the Invader Comes  a pamphlet sent to every household. Its a document worth further exploration, but he dismisses it as useless. He put on films and Concerts during the war to keep up morale. It seems he had little problem with his own morale.Away from his wife he claims to have been “ the least Strindbergian of men”….and he got into a trouble away from his wife that he “need not specify nor describe”. Im sure this is his way of saying he met nice ladies and they were nice back to him. Its not quite in the Princess Diana/ Prince Charles league of admitting adultery by semaphore …its more like by cryptic crossword.

Anecdotes abound, normally about the great and the good. He hears that the war has ended after lunching with Ernest Bevin and then taking his wife Jane to a German Surgeon to remove a broken needle left in her backside. He continues post war in a variety of public service roles and each of these brings fascinating tales.

Clark though doesn’t see himself as a powerful person. He tells of his mission to ask De Valera ( Irelands Premier ) to change his mind over the issue of port access not to reveal power but to reveal the lack of power. Indeed as Chair of the Arts Council he says he had less power than a lollipop lady ( who oddly he says enjoy using it ?).

Like his son, Clark sees the world darkly. He claims to have seen “Death” enter Maynard Keynes opera box the night before he died. A natural optimist he is not. I must confess to never having watched Civilisation, but I did allow myself one clip after reading this book. Clark gives a rather gloomy view of the world today. He is a stick in the mud and quotes Yates second coming, before looking reflectively around his Castle. He owned a Castle !

At the same time as reading this I also received a free trial download of an audiobook. I currently don’t have much cash to buy new books so decided to try this out. I am not a fan of audiobooks in general but decided to spend my daily commute with that other Kenneth Clarke. Partly because I seem to recall a story that he sued Trivial Pursuit for claiming he was Kenneth Clarks son, or perhaps Alan did or some such combination. A rubbish anecdote I digress but a perfect connection for the Clark/s.

Clarke was a “big beast” political figure. His autobiography read in a rather sing song and friendly tone provides an entertaining if not revelatory account of life in British Politics since the late 1960’s.His early life was content and happy he enjoyed everything it seemed from trainspotting (not the film) to sport and joined the elite very easily. He ran up an enormous overdraft as a student that he didn’t pay off until he was in his 40’s ( a sentiment I can concur with ) and then had a bizarre life as a QC in Birmingham by day, MP for Nottingham at the weekend and on a train to westminster for the evening session each day and back to Birmingham for bed. Oddly he thinks this was good for democracy.

His reminisces about the 70s political scene are rather stereotypical, but then maybe they were compared to the current times.

Audiobooks create an odd relationship, at times I miss large chunks of what is being said either through concentrating on the road or over concentrating on what had been said. I almost career into a ditch when Clarke recalls standing dripping wet with no clothes on arguing with Mrs Thatcher. He was on the phone I think and not in the same house but it was mental torture and not easy to just skip back. Clarke enjoyed the Thatcher years and rose to prominence, he then became chief smartarse during the Major years. Im not sure he really respected Major and always seems to be the smartest guy in the room whether its at Euro meetings or on Black Wednesday. As Chancellor he enjoyed tinkering and claims that all students during his Chancellorship smoked Drum roll ups. I know this to be a lie. I was a student during his Chancellorship and my tobacco of choice wasn’t Drum, however I can’t recall its name it was in a more yellowy packet. Drum of course was not available in the UK and was all bootleg. Clarke wanted his duty.

Later Clarke stood for leadership of the party 3 times and lost in rather different circumstances each time. When rejected he nursed his directorships, most controversially at British American Tobacco, though its hard to see why a man who loved smoking so much wouldn’t have done this job.

Each chapter is named after a Jazz classic and Clarke introduces them like a poor mans Alan Partridge.  If only he had slipped a few John Zorn titles in. Fuck the Facts about his time as Chancellor or bonehead . Maybe he did and I had drifted off mentally on the commute home.

Throughout the book the real star is his now deceased wife Gillian. Gillian sacrificed an academic career because Ken wanted a political one. She travelled second class while Ken flew business and she put up with his working hours, overdraft and raised the children.

Clarks return to Government under David Cameron paints him as a crazy uncle tolerating the noisy kids. He likes Osborne, seems contemptible of Cameron and eventually moves on. Clarke is now the hero of Bremainers, I personally will miss his midlands sing song voice on the commute tomorrow, though I still have to remember the name of my 1990s Tobacco taste.

***comprises …5 minutes


this at 5 minutes 22 seconds


Ken Clarks “Audiobiography” is an eyewatering 23 hours and 29 minutes

And reading Kenneth Clark The Other Half  took 2 and a half hours.


Notes on Gramsci,Fascism and Trump.

12 Feb


Many in the West are now experiencing for the first time what a Fascist Government may look like. There is debate over whether the Trump regime is a proto-fascist or some other classification which seems at times pointless and sterile when the pace and projection of events is clearly giving concern the world over.

We are though living in an era of “Populism”. Populist may be the new fascists ? Certainly the ultra nationalist ones give lots of indications. I have written before on the idea that the likes of Farage and Powell before him, send off the all the smells of fascism, all the signs and signals even if they couldn’t pull all the levers. It makes little difference but these debate go on and on. Normally to agree nothing more than we don’t like it, and how unpleasant and incompatible with liberalism it is. But I don’t look to Liberals and Liberalism to resolve it. I have no real desire to make sure potential Fascists are, or are not, filling in all the boxes on a matrix.

I am reminded at the present time of the debate a few years ago around the work of Michael Mann. Mann had written a second significant book on Fascism and “ the dark side of Democracy “ (Mann 2005). The idea that a failing in Democracy may sustain the conditions for Genocide. Democracy was no longer a bulwark against the rise of violent tyranny. Was it ever one might ask ? Indeed the failings are in our narrow concept of Liberal Democracy, of which the USA is seen as the mothership. The pushing of the neoliberal boundaries within a democratic context has led to the conditions of collapse. When politicians and the public feel the local supermarket owner understand them better than the political class then we are going somewhere else. The events in Greece in 2015 were a stark reminder of how financial markets and the associated administrators react to the will of the electorate.

America as we all know has a constitution that starts “ We the People”. Now we are letting politicians decide who “We” are and who the “People” are. These are never expanded nomenclature, always retracted ones ! They just ripen the conditions for discontent. Global organisations and international groups are easily badged as “them” and the WTO has failed us all. In other directions “we” are born here, or sometimes something even more complicated ( as in the current referendum in Switzerland giving third generation immigrants voting rights). But these are the empty politicians. Not only those selling us the “populism” with its neat, to them, models of the Demos and who is harming who. It’s also those holding the supposed mainstream and the middle-ground. They have been complicit in the suicide of liberal Democracy.

Trump has played this tune all the way to the White House. Now he’s there he’s not stopping. Those , and lets call them idiots for argument’s sake, who said that Trump was merely sending a signal that his voters knew wouldn’t be acted on,how are they feeling now. Like idiots I hope. But were all complicit in the idiocy to some extent.

And what idiocy it is. Not content with building a wall across the Mexican border,or of accusing the media of being liars, indeed even having a senior adviser who sees himself as Darth Vader doesn’t seem to be the ends of the lunacy. We are left with random immigration bans, state agencies working a gale force 11 and a world of alternative facts.

It’s at times like this then that I turn to Gramsci. His legacy as a writer who understood the nature and challenge of Fascism and how it poses problems that Liberal Democracy cannot easily answer is often unduly neglected. Attempts have been made to re-stake this claim but they still fall short.(Adamson,1990) I am not skilled enough to finish the job, but maybe leave a few signposts on the way.
Gramsci lived through the rise and implementation of Fascism in Italy and Western Europe. Something we hoped had been an event consigned to history. With each step in the development of first the party then the state, lines were drawn which survived only until the next move. From an Industrial lobby to totalitarianism in a series of remarkable unchallenged moves. Italy represented a microcosm of world capitalism. It was urban and rural, developed and backward, it hosted fragmented national elements, was fast dealing with industrialisation and a declining agricultural sector. Its relationship with the power of the catholic church also illustrated the wider political cultural dominance that can come into play. Gramsci saw this through the lens of hegemony. I have borrowed heavily from Hobsbawm here and will note his comment that Italy was a “laboratory of political experiences” (Hobsbawm ,2011)

Gramsci also understood in a remarkably prescient analysis the role of “subversive”. This was a negative class position, the “people” define themselves by empirical enemies. In the Italian context this was a dislike of country over town, of appearance standards and of officials and officialdom. Peasants and small farmers hating the civil servant.Not the state for they don’t understand that but they do understand its functionaries. (Gramsci,1971)

Gramsci saw the rise of Fascism as something more than Mussolini and something more alarming than the next phase in capitalism’s destruction. Writing in 1921 his analysis was brutally honest. The Fascists were involved in criminal activity, had moral and material accomplices in the state functionaries and a military hierarchy and command structure. In the face of this great threatening development, Gramsci was horrified at the lack of response from the Socialist party. Well that’s not wholly true, he called it a low moan. ( Gramsci,1921).

Like Trumps proto-fascism, Italian Fascism had a flaw. Unlike the death star it was not one so easy to explode. Though it carries the potential for its own destruction. The middle class disgruntled white-collar workers and small business owners on one side and the disposed rural class on the other. Both had come together under Mussolini’s umbrella but both had fundamentally different resolutions to their grievances. The parliamentary element will make political allegiances, the working class element will be left floundering. This coming split is, for Gramsci, an opportunity. We will no doubt see this with Trump. The quick wins for deregulated bankers wont help the New Hampshire underclass. They need something to turn up to take advantage of real class struggle ( Gramsci,1921 b) This is more than the broad alliances that any political movement or party makes and needs to be numerically successful. The two demands are contradictory. The current debates about the disconnected or “leftbehinds”, the white social conservatives of the Brexit vote, angry at not having a voice amongst a more educated elite provides another view of the people. They are the outcasts of the modern capitalist world, without a role or either perceived political or economic power. In a sudden moment they seem to have an outlet and a change to exercise some political power if not some economic power. Do they consider that the exercise of one may further hinder the other ? Perhaps not.To get their needs met requires entrenchment on “liberal” values. The commercial service elements to this support group need to continue exploiting them to make a profit. Otherwise they wont trade out of the situation. The two groups can’t be winners without the rules and social structure fundamentally changing. A trade war with China is not likely to benefit unemployed Americans to any great extent.

In 1926 Gramsci widened this debate again. The two elements were a set of tensions but actually Fascism had another split. Another group with even darker motives. This group wanted to merge the party with the state and create a bourgeois position of strength against all other political parties. Fascist action then becomes a totalitarian regime. Gramsci is still convinced that the other faction is represented by two contradictions. The first between landowners and capitalists in particular over the issue of tariffs. The second between the petite bourgeoisie and capitalism. (Gramsci 1926) Keep this in mind as we see movements towards a Trumpian judiciary, a battle between those who will be stymied by the raft of tariff and trade deals that are, or are not, entered into. When the media are taunted for being in opposition to the President were moving into Gramsci’s dark space.Creating industrial jobs, something Trump has promised his dispossessed, left behind supporters, is going to be done in an environment of pro-america trade deals. Quite who and how these new jobs will trade their output with remains to be seen, unless America will manufacture and trade only within its one borders, then everything else falls at the feet of capital(ism).

This of course leads to Gramsci’s much wider political point. In dealing with the “crisis” that has arisen, the traditional ruling interests will still be at an advantage. The Fascist challenge, however badged, still leaves a swamp with many of the same inhabitants before the proposed draining. We may be experiencing what Gramsci observed as the masses moving from political passivity to certain activity.The demands they present may seem revolutionary ( banning immigrants, tearing up trade deals, full employment) . However watch carefully how the traditional ruling class will solidify around this new position. Will big business and the corporate banking sector lose influence over trade deals ? Will the insurance companies be impacted if Obama care vanishes? Of course not, they have numerous “trained cadres “ ready to reabsorb control. (Gramsci,1971)

The debate moves then to what is to be done ?

Once the airport protestors go home ( or get arrested ) do we carry on a low moan and turn to TED talks and Facebook comments. Indeed a website designed to help people complain about Trump policy has been created. All you do is click the issue you don’t like. It has 100,000 visits in Trumps first 10 days (Vara,2017). Is it likely to do anything other than make people feel better ? Gramsci would wonder if registering your unhappiness online will really undermine the power structure. It might make a minor addition to the war of position, the tactical civil society focus needed to bring about change. However its going to need more than this. Ultimately if Trumps Presidency isn’t to take the world into either an American Fascist state superpower or a disjointed return to the corporate elite, it will require a vanguard leadership to bring together the war of position and deliver the war of manoeuvre. If these forces come together then Trump will have to resort to force. Gramsci saw the revolution taking place against a backdrop of economic catastrophe only when the counter-hegemonic revolution had been undertaken. (Mahoney,1995) What remains to be seen is if a couple of websites, John Oliver and a raft of Academy award speeches will be enough.

Adamson,WL (1990) Gramsci’s Interpretation of Fascism, Journal of the History of Ideas,41:4
Conversi,D (2006) Demo-Skepticism and Genocide. Political Studies Review 4:3
Gramsci,A (1921) Socialists and Fascists 11 June 1921
Gramsci,A (1921 b) The Two Fascism 25 Aug 1921
Gramsci,A (1926 )A study of the Italian situation
Gramsci,A (1971) Selections from Prison Notebooks ,Lawrence & Wishart
Hobsbawm, E (2011) How to Change The World, Abacus
Mahoney,S (1995) Gramsci’s Theory of Revolution, .
Mann,M (2005) The Dark Side of Democracy, Cambridge University Press
Vara,V (2017) To Complain about Trump,just click, Bloomberg, 11 February, 2017

Against The Double Blackmail

7 Feb

Against The Double Blackmail, Slavoj Zizek, Allen Lane 2016

In the first days of his Presidency, Donald Trump put Immigration and Migrants high on the agenda. Refugees from certain countries deemed risky were barred for a set period of time. Travellers from people on a list of countries were no longer able to travel to the US. Muslims were going to have to pass a religious test, well that nationals with other religions would be given favourable treatment. Executive Order 13769 caused chaos and widespread condemnation. Suddenly the rest of the world was looking to be more liberal on refugees. Of course it doesn’t matter to the refugees, they want to enter America in spite of Trump. It remains to be seen where this will end, but it highlight once again that the issue of migration and refugees ( or rather issues they are seperate ) is still around.

At almost the same time the Prime Minister of the UK, Teresa May has announced a scheme to help poor countries settle refugees at the expense of rich ones. Rather than attempt to reach Europe with its rich culture of assimilating and supporting migrants and refugees, Syrians will now be “helped” to face in the other direction. With little insight that the heaviest refugee burden already falls on the poor and developing countries anyway May looks to be buying off her own Trumpian crisis.

None of this would surprise Zizek. His short but excellent book was written in 2015 when the Mediterranean refugee crisis was becoming reactionary. Zizek provides us with two distinct thought maths. Firstly Islam is not a problem, or rather it is not the problem we think it is. Islamic Fascists are. This syncretic religion is a terror organisation pure and simple. It aims are political not religious. You fight the ideology of the armed fascist not the cleric.

Secondly and more importantly the issues of refugees, assimilation, looking different, border, how many settlers a country can take, why are refugees bad and and (some) migrants good all boil down to a misguided notion of us and them. We enjoy our western lifestyles, we fear they will change if too many of them come her so we put up rules around it. Those that can’t make it either recreate a bargain basement version of the west or fight the infidels. This is the wrong question for Zizek. We are all oppressors of the capitalist system. Our struggle isn’t west vs east its global capitalism. We all want a better life, maybe we can have it together after all ?