Archive | politics RSS feed for this section

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

https://lareviewofbooks.org/article/when-people-wanted-civilisation-reassessing-kenneth-clark/ …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.

Bibliography
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

Modi 2.014

15 Jan

The Modi Effect: Inside Narendra Modi’s Campaign To Transform India , Lance Price, Hodder & Stroughton, 2015 

The Indian election of 2014 will long be remembered as a turning point in Indian politics and society. I have written about a previous book on the election The Indian Election of 2014 so was wondering whether Lance Price’s book would make me think any differently. Price a journalist and ex Number 10 communications manager is given access to Modi but provides at times a critical assessment of the man. More critical than the 45 page comic Bal Narendra which painted the childhood of Modi as a heroic saint saving drowning boys, wrestling crocodiles and folding his clothes neatly. It comes across as an Indian Enid Blyton.

Modi is a populist and a fairly odd one at that. He kept his wedding a secret for 40 odd years, though is still ambiguous about the status of it and his wife. His Government it seems is intent on replacing Mahatma Gandhi with Narendra Modi and the election campaign illustrated some of that thinking. Modi is marketed as being the outsider, or rather one of you not one of them. So long as you are okay with militant Hindu nationalism, and they are Congress,muslims and catholics. The cloud hovering over Modi and his role in the Gujurati riots never seems to be removed. He seems to have re-invented himself though and risen above the disaster of the 2004 national election.

The election took the BJP into Government on its own, a remarkable achievement in Inidan politics. The BJP though is its own coalition, made up of various sized cell groups. The cow protection cell, the naturopathy cell and the weavers cell being just 3 of them. Price looks at the rather more sinister support role of the Rashhtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) which is like a 1970s TUC to the Labour Government of the day. A massive interest/lobby/control group behind the BJP. It operated a ground campaign for Modi that was unlikely to have been disinterested.

Modis cult of the strongman was perhaps the major theme of the election. (56 inch chest ) His leadership vs Rahul Gandhi. Gandhi the non-existant captain. Modi the man. Modi the t-shirt image, the plastic doll, the alarm spray superman. Modi the crocodile whisperer and chai wallah. Gandhi the disapointment to his mother. Modi used disparaging Muslim terms against Gandhi at some points. You dont need to be an expert in Indian politics to see the negative attack stance of this. Modi rides off criticism and scandal like, well like Donald Trump. The ” snoopgate” affair being just one example. The Gujurati police were undertaking surveillance on a young student in great detail at his behest. Her father was worried about her ? Oh ok. But then criminal activity is no bar to success in Indian politics. 13 of Modi’s 45 ministers were facing pre-existing criminal charges including rape,attempted murder and intimidation. If only Super Modi could sort it out.

img_5239Theres a great story of one of his Ministers Smriti Irani, she was something of a media personality and had in 2004 decided to fast to death in protest at Modi. Now he describes her as his younger sister and that the whole fasting to death thing was a faux pas. As faux pas go, thats not insignificant. I presume she has stopped the fast ? In her new role she has added six new yoga departments to Indian universities. Long live Irani.

Much has been made of Modi in 3D. Price details many of the technical problems that this raised and also the juxtaposition that at the same time as his virtual appearances he was also big box office in the flesh. Crowds of people came to see him in the flesh, often at risk to life. And while the election was at times run on a social media agenda, perhaps unlike any other in the world before it, this aspect was more self-fulfilling than transformative. A great example being the selfie with Modi, it was more Pokemon go than a new way of doing political narrative. The selfie is the selfie, rather than the embarrassing off the cuff snap it is a processed often formal event. Though Price tells us it isn’t really in the use of technology that Modi connects to the youth, it is in his ability to express optimism and hope. Indeed his campaign slogan was “ Good Days are Coming “ ( though he seems to have stolen this off his predecessor.

Never forget that the Modi who electrified his province stood to end open defecation. India may have gone hi-tech but its as consistent as any other political future we are offered!

Listening to my inner Trump ?

25 Dec

This is something I wrote in April which I abandoned at the time, I wish he had as well ….

 

Listening to my inner Trump?

 

In August 2015 I abandoned myself to the idea that Trump for President was more than a marketing gimmick. This was going to be real. Trump did what only a serious contender could do. He went to the temple of the farm people of Iowa and paid his thanks at the feet of its rancid butter cow.

 

Now let me explain, over the period since then I have returned to the question, and asked anyone else who cares to listen (which isn’t many people) , how is a candidate that in any other time would not be taken seriously making the political weather? Or am I wrong? Do I need to learn to love my inner Trump? Trump the stand up populist, Trump the clear crowd tickler, Trump the Rancid butter cow worshipper.

 

So there he was in August 2015. He wore his cap with his name on, looking like a man who may be escaping from a rest home, clear identification being helpful to assisting his safe return. In 2015 American politics may be run on smart data, the gurus of world electioneering fall at the feet of data geeks like Jim Messina. While Indian Premier Modi does 3D virtual campaign speeches in multiple venues at the same time, Trump aspires to more simplistic methods. Building a wall being a prime example. Let’s return to that though.

 

The pre-primary phase saw all the potential candidates descend on a farm fair and seek the endorsement of the butter cow. Sculpted some say from Butter that in parts is over 100 years old. The cow represents, well butter and farming I guess, but mainly votes. A very basic, rural and small town matter yet everyone comes. It used to be to have a photo taken with some Beer and Chicken Wings, chatting to happy farmers. Now this is seen as a starting point for serious candidates, for who would dare defy the Cow. The butter cow even has its own twitter account. It has several. Hang on it’s a sculpted Cow, made from butter that is rumoured to be up to 100 years old. It doesn’t really have a twitter account does it? It was even claimed that candidate O’Malley (no I don’t remember him either) had a selfie taken with the butter cow.

 

 So reality is suspended. This is Democracy in the electronic age. Newspapers built up democracy with a growing literacy, social media may be dumbing us down and asking us to suspend our reality. But for how long? I can suspend my reality and imagine the Cow is tweeting, I can even assume that the politicians and public join me in this. But from that point on the reality has stayed suspended.

 

Trump has been suspending our reality on a daily basis – but am I being unkind. Do I need to look for my inner Trump?

 

Here’s some examples – The Wall. Of course no ones going to build a wall between the US and Mexico. And if they were they would need to be more debates about joint construction standards, what materials would be suitable? maybe advertising could be displayed, but no its not going to happen. We know it, he knows it, we know he knows it and he knows we now he knows it. Yet he persists, should I just laugh at being in the know? Should I trust a politician who is clearly telling me something he wont do, but pretending he will, more or less than a politician who deludes himself into thinking he will deliver on something that I clearly know he wont-gun control for example.

 

How about another example? Well I heard Trump talk the other day about American companies using Indian call centre works. That Trump told the audience is going to stop. Of course it isn’t going to stop, how could it? If American businesses can’t employ cheap labour from India they will just become Indian businesses selling cheap services back to America. But we know he has fired another prejudice at us and it scatters like a water bomb a splash here, a soaking there. Its no longer dog whistle politics, its Pavlovian.

 

By giving us the far fetched unreal version of reality Trump takes a whole group of people with him, those who perhaps want to believe. Or simply don’t care. Indeed 30 years ago Trump wrote “People want to believe that something is the biggest and the greatest…I call it truthful hyperbole”. Ponder that – a truthful extreme statement not to be taken truthfully. Cheering Muslims, criminal Mexicans, Obamas schooling, Tax. Is this what populism looks like? Get a statement that is clearly wrong out in the open and stare at it until enough people become convinced it has merit. It’s the blue/grey dress of the political world.

 

Michael Parenti used to argue that entertainment concealed political statements because we were too busy being entertained to challenge it. At a time when many election campaigns are driven by concentrating on a few people who may be persuaded to change their vote, whose thought process may be more susceptible to an advert during a soap opera than a sports program along comes Trump with a roller brush and a pot of paint and just daubs across our vision. Its hard to see behind the zig-zag lines. Now we are left peeking into the unknown. I blame the Cow.

Corporal Jones guide to the Euro

13 Dec

Disclaimer : I won this book earlier this year in a rather surprising caption competition from the wonderful Lion and Unicorn peeps.

Not another Brexit book but one on the policy,history and issues that have arisen for Countries engaged in the single currency. At times this book is like the Corporal Jones guide to the Euro, the authors ” Do not like it, they do not like it.” over and over. Not the cold steel but the Hard Euro. At times this gets in the way of some insightful and important analysis. The Euro has been a flop, it could never have worked on the terms it was created on, and the participants seem to have few if any options. The negative impact of the Euro on countries like Ireland and Greece are covered in a readable way. The authors have concluded that divorce is the only option left and despite the pain and the mess this might cause, it should be worked through.

20150221_eud000
They are contemptuous of those who have tried to make the Euro more palatable, withering put downs of Yanis Varoufakis abound, the most quotable being ” No amount of swooning over Varoufakis can disguise the fact he’s a politics lecturer in a leather jacket” Ouch. I know its a quote in the book but clearly a position shared by the authors. The left it seems, much like the right is split on this issue ( The Euro not Varoufakis !).

The Euro looks to be in deep trouble at the moment, if it bounces back it will be a whole new Europe that emerges with it. If it dies then so too does the current version of Europe. In light of Brexit, the Italian Referendum and as we near the French Presidential elections, Corporal Jones of the Euro is returning.Only this time its “ Don’t Panic”

Incumbency in NZ Local Elections

10 Dec

Incumbency in New Zealand Local Elections

New Zealand Council elections operate in what at times feels like a vacuum. There are no party names to guide voters intentions, though this is slowly being chipped away at.One issue considered of significance,though little analysed or understood is the power of incumbency. The low number of candidates, the lack of party infrastructure to “ get out the vote” and the relatively low-level of political combat means that those studies that have been undertaken have indicated that incumbents do well.

Graham Bush tested the idea that incumbents did well even in partisan contests looking at the 1980 Local Body Elections. (Bush, 1981). In the late 1970s Auckland had a 59% incumbency rate, and other cities were showing that Councillors left by death or retirement not through voters at the ballot box. Bush showed that in the main cities in 1980 incumbents had a 79.2% success rate whereas non-incumbents had a 26.6 % success rate. Where party or group labels were not applied to candidates then he found the advantages of incumbency were compounded. “Notability will normally be the leading criterion, and being a sitting councillor is an obvious mark of this characteristic.” (Bush, 1981) Bush found nearly 90% of non-partisan incumbents were re-elected. He also found a high proportion of sitting members offered themselves for re-election, making entry into local body politics restrictive.
Whilst there are more complex models for  measuring the impact of incumbency, Bush’s crude analysis provides something of both a framework and also poses some interesting questions.(For example Boyne et al ). However caution needs to be held over attributing a lot of weight to the comparison between incumbents success rates and non incumbents success rates. Generally there is 1 incumbent and 1 seat, and a higher proportion of contestants than incumbents.
Updating Bush’s figures to look at the 2013  elections for Auckland City Council shows that 17 of the 21 members stood for office and 14 of them won.So 66.6% of the Council returned and of those that chose to stand 82% were successful. In 2016 the figures were similar with 17 members standing for election, but this time 15 winning, or 88%.

Having taken a rather unscientific look at District Councils in the Upper North Island at the 2016 elections we find an even greater correlation between incumbency and re-election.

District Members Stood Elected % success % incumbent
Far North 10 9 9 100% 90%
Whangerai 14 14 11 79% 79%
Thames Coromandel 9 6 5 83% 56%
Hauraki DC 13 10 8 80% 62%
Waikato DC 14 9 8 89% 57%
Matamata piako 12 7 7 100% 58%
Hamilton city 13 8 8 100% 62%
Waipa 13 11 11 100% 85%
Waitomo 7 6 6 100% 86%
Otorohanga 8 5 5 100% 63%
South Waikato 11 6 6 100% 55%
Tauranga 11 8 6 75% 55%
Kaweara 9 7 6 86% 67%
Western Bay of Plenty 12 9 7 78% 58%
Whakatane 11 11 9 82% 82%
Taupo 11 9 8 89% 73%
New Plymouth 15 9 8 89% 53%
Wanganui 13 9 6 67% 46%
South Taranki 13 7 6 86% 46%
Stratford 11 6 6 100% 55%
Total 230 166 146 88% 63%

Some stand out things here, firstly 88% of those that choose to stand again were successful. This is a challenge to democratic renewal. You would also wonder why out of the 20 Councils looked at 8 returned all those members who chose to stand . Fine I guess if the public are 100% satisfied with what those Councils are doing.

I haven’t looked at the number of contestants in these seats which may also be a bearing on contestability and choice. I was struck though by a recent essay which considers that Local Government is now more Governance than representation ( Johnston 2016 ). Theres something to ponder here ?

 

References 

G Boyne,O James,P John and N Petrovsky, Democracy and Government Performance : Holding Incumbents Accountable in English Local Governments,

GWA Bush “ Incumbency in the 1980 Local Body Elections”, Political Science 33,1981

Karen Johnston, The Nature of Governance in New Zealand’s Local Government , in Local Government in New Zealand eds Drage and Cheyne 2016

 

Does the Mt Roskill by-election matter

1 Dec

..the answer is of course not.

The Mount Roskill by-election seems to be a reasonable bit of light entertainment . Caused by the long serving MP deciding to get a golden parachute into the Auckland mayoralty ( theres a bit more to it than that but not much more ). There have been periodic flutters of excitement about the seat. In the 2014 General Election although Goff won the seat, National won the most second preferences. Could there be an upset ? Unlikely though it seems the statistics were, and are, plausible. Some are arguing that this could come about by a low turnout. What constitutes a low turnout may be below 35%. Who knows.

The ethnic diversity of the seat has also thrown in question whether Labours candidate ( a white european male who has previously worked for Phil Goff ) is quite offering the type of candidate the electorate wants, or more importantly perhaps the type of candidate it needs. This has created a vacancy, at least in his head, for Rohan Nauhuria and his Peoples Party. A party focussing primarily on  voters with Indian or Chinese ethnicity. The Peoples Party may be set to be 2017’s Internet Party. Should they prove to be successful though, which I am doubtful of, I won’t eat my hat. I will however eat something either Inidan or Chinese which would be more appetising,tasty and palatable. But I digress.

National then with the potential glimmer of winning, a glimmer that would probably see the end of Andrew Little chose a rather tame candidate. She’s currently a list MP and although Parmjeet Parmar may reflect the constituencies ethnicity with greater accuracy than Michael Wood, she’s hardly come out as a dynamic go-getter. Today she is touring Pak N Save with John Key – what a life.

There may have been a punch up, we don’t really know. Some claim there was, there are many others who deny it. What could be more exciting than a punch up at a by-election. A lot it seems. Even if National win it and cement their custard cream capitalism onto the Nation for another 9 years, the by-election is still meaningless. If Labour win , well so what. But the broader question if you excuse my lack of concern around the outcome is that by-elections have an odd place in MMP. Theres a set of problems we never got round to resolving. The last review of MMP raised some, though not all.

Historically by-elections were more important. Firstly because all MPs were directly elected. We were never more than a heartbeat away from one. Under MMP many Mps come and go without ever having to refer this to the electorate. Aaron Gilmore is a good example of tucking away an embarrassment and moving on. Mike Sabin is one from the old school ( the exception proving the point you understand ). Under MMP parties can replenish whenever they feel like it, and often do.  The last review of MMP considered how the replacement of List MPs allowed for proportionate representation to remain. However that becomes a mockery if, as in Northland in 2015, a seat changes hands in a by-election. Why then bother to replace List Mps to keep proportionate numbers, when we didn’t bother to hound Brendan Horan out of Parliament when he shifted his allegiance from New Zealand First to Independent Weathermen.

The issue that really exercised the MMP review was that list MPs, such as Parmjeet Parmar, can contest by-elections without having to resign. I have to say I am less exercised by this than by the ability of List MPs to change allegiance or to top up dead list MPs but not dead directly elected ones. If Parmar wins, incidentally, she is replaced by Misa Fia Turner. Turner it is claimed thinks Trump is anointed by God. This may be true, God is hilarious at the best of times. She may actually not be a Misa, and lists her interests as praying,reading and networking. I am reminded of the old Mars bar ads “ Work,rest and Pray “

So its been great entertainment, theres possibly a twist in the tail, but even if there is who cares ? Its time I think to have a re-think on the role of by-elections under MMP and create some consistency across the spectrum.

 

Government without Politics

11 Nov

Local Government in New Zealand challenges and choices, edited by Drage and Cheyne, Dunmore Press,2016

New Zealand it often seems has an overly centralised political system. A Government elected every three years, with no second chamber can it seems pretty much do what it wants. Indeed even the move to proportional representation has left a virtual majority Government from one party and none of the complex european style coalitions we were all promised.

The study of Local Government in New Zealand then is something of a challenge and choice like the book title. This wide ranging book re-inforces the role Local Government plays on peoples lives in New Zealand. Whilst local government has increased the amount it takes from local residents through rates there has been less and less direct involvement. Turnout at elections continues to plummet, and the 2016 triennial elections , which are not covered in this book have not turned this around.

Some of the writers attempt to consider this ? Why is turnout so low ? Is turnout a meaningful way of measuring political engagement ? How can democracy be kept going in between elections ?

There have been some other attempts to capture the role of Local Government in recent years but this book, as many of the authors acknowledge is an attempt to replace the last standard text on Local Government from Graham Bush in 1995. It should be noted that book was called Local Government and Politics in New Zealand. Somehow it seems we now have local government with NO politics. Whilst many of the writers grapple with the desire to see democracy and engagement through a wider sense there is also a sense that for the wider population local government doesn’t matter. its a faceless “thing” that is a regulator and a governor rather than a political body that has vision.

The challenges are clearly identified. The role of white middle aged men is one of the dominant factor, how do we get beyond this ? Maybe its electoral reform ? Maybe its finding a way to get beyond the shocking resistance to Maori representation? Maybe its recognising that politics in a non political era may refresh our views of local government?There are challenges in making the biggest transformation of local government since Graham Bush’s textbook – The super city- work. Auckland with its both physically large and structurally complex superstructure still seems afloat on an island of rates demands from its seemingly drowning resident base.

Its the choices I couldn’t really fathom. Auckland has put much of its service delivery and asset management out to Council Controlled Organisations (CCO) , they have a real executive mayor and a Maori representation model that differs from the rest of the country. CCOs get some mention but rarely do we get to feel that as CCOs become more distant from Council ( And Mayor Goff is distancing them even further ) then why would people care too much about Council ? Whose running the service ? And for what benefit ? Does the executive Mayor model need enhancing and given the public lack of appetite for Maori wards what does New Plymouth have to learn from the Independent Maori Statutory Board ? And theres more….could we uncouple local elections from the DHB, what about the process? Could local political slates make campaigns more dynamic ? My initial look at the 2016 elections shows that those incumbents standing again had nearly a 90% chance of re-election, and some Councils had 100% re-election. Are they doing that good or job or have we just given up the idea that they can ? Theres a debate to be had over electronic voting, but it will exist in a vacuum if we don’t address the point of having these elected members.

This book provides a lot to think about, but what are we going to do to make local government relevant again ?

img_3604

 

Joy of Benn

4 Nov

One of the joys of Tony Benns later diaries are the unintentional humour. They make you realise how human he was as a politician. The 1991-2001 diaries are probably the high watermark for this.

I put my fingers in my pocket, pulled out what I thought was a sweet,popped it in my mouth and it was a mothball.

Went to the May Day march. There were about 200-250 on the march with about four banners-the Spartacists,SWP,Militant,Tommy Sheridan’s mother. “ I love the idea of a banner saying Tommy Sheridans Mother on it …though I fear I have misunderstood this point.

“..it was the same old flat,same uncomfortable bed with a rubber sheet,same electric light bulb,which is broken; but still we’re very fond of it.”

“ ..came back on the last train, was a bit more courageous. With my fingernails I removed the No Smoking notice from the window and just sat there and smoked my pipe.The guard came by and didn’t say a word  ‘

she followed me in and while I was signing books said things like “ and how are the greyhounds getting on,Mr Benn ?….ive seen you with them outside your caravan””

so i turned to the members who were sitting and said “ what he has done is contrary to the Speaker’s ruling of 1622 “. They all roared with laughter and when the Sergeant had left, i said i’d made it up

I forgot to say that I bought some Ryvita and cheese on the train and breathed in at the wrong moment, and got a bit ion the biscuit stuck in my throat and began to choke….I really did think I was going to die.”  What is it with him and food !

I was tidying the flat without dressing when the phone rang …” My mind continues to boggle

“Came home and hadn’t paid my phone bill so it had been cut off.”

Glad it doesn’t just happen to me.

The Time of His Life , Dennis Healey, Silly Billies and Molly Sugden

30 Oct

I am an avid consumer of British politics in the seventies, and so can’t believe I have only just read Dennis healey’s autobiography. Healey goes by the title of the best Prime Minister we never had, which is of course a meaningless phrase. How do you test such a thing. How do we know that he or Rab Butler or Roy Jenkins or any of the others who share his title would have been any good. Its a best losers prize really. I incidentally think I am the best Prime Minister we never had, and also the best opening batsmen that never was.

Healey is rather contemptuous of his rivals. Jenkins, Foot,Callaghan and Wilson were all busted flushes. Tony Benn though gets most of his disdain, and the little bit left over gets doled out, rather unceremoniously to Stafford Cripps.

Healey is famous for being a bit of a bruser. He was a plain talking chancellor in the 70s , tabling a budget every couple of months, dealing with the IMF, shouting at Trade Unions. So much of this fails to come across in his book. He seemed more interested in being Defence Secretary than Chancellor. Doing it because no one else could. He had the same approach to breeding his goldfish !

Of course he isn’t really famous , and isn’t famous at all for being a bruser. Its sort of made up. Like Silly Billy. He never said it, Mike Yarwood did. Then he stole it. Imagine stealing Mike Yarwoods material. Silly billy was a parliamentary joke well before Healey though. There was a bit of a scrap about in in 1887. In 1976 the Prime Minister was asked if Healey was a silly-billy . He didn’t answer. Edward Garner called himself one in 1998. Healey also never wanted to make peoples pips squeak. Again I think I would have preferred it if he did.

He decided to drop the Punk Monetarism insult because his kids told him it was insulting to Punks.

He was a light entertainment politician, despite his real interest being in the classical sphere. I remember him turning up on any old guff in the 80s, some memorable, most not.

Oh and he went to the same school as Molly Sugden.