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.

And The Monkey Learned Nothing — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評

21 Dec

Sean Mahoney on Tom Lutz’s epic travel micronarrative compendium, Jimmy Cliff, and whether monkeys are manipulative arseholes as well as highly intelligent performers. Tom Lutz, And The Monkey Learned Nothing : Dispatches From A Life In Transit (University of Iowa Press, 2016) 240pp. Sometimes it seems the world is getting smaller, closer and more interconnected. I can […]

via And The Monkey Learned Nothing — HONG KONG REVIEW OF BOOKS 香港書評

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.

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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 ?

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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.

Thresher gate

29 Oct

Somewhere in the lower points of what was a fairly unsuccessful Ministerial Career, Norman Lamont got hit by a wave of odd and at times puzzling “ scandals”. The most perplexing was, well they all were. Thresher gate though was perhaps the time the media finally got the point of adding-gate to an issue that was so insignificant in its ability to rival watergate that the similarity only only occurred through the power of spelling.

Norman Lamont was exposed as living outside his credit card limit and ignoring his warning letters, embarrassing for a Chancellor. However it then turned out two employees of the Paddington Threshers (off licence ) claimed he had bought a bottle of champagne and a packet of raffles. Paddington it seems was considered a bit seedy ( like the bear ) and the link being made was that as neither he nor his wife smoked raffles then he must have been socialising with someone else. The press even thought they had found a woman Lamont was having an affair with.  His fellow MPs thought it hilarious. Visiting his shortly afterwards Gyles Brandreth apologised for not bringing a bottle, but Threshers was closed and his visa card is over the limit. Lamont we are told laughed.

Eventually the receipt turned up, for 2 bottles of wine from the connaught street branch ( more respectable apparently ) . Gateau Margaux indeed. The two employees admitted to lying , one was sacked and the other discovered to be an overstayer from Nigeria was deported! And this advert was taken off air ?