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.

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 ?



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 ?



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.

“ 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 ?

The Politics of Passport to Pimlico

16 Oct

At the end of the Second World War, Britain underwent a period of fiscal restraint and recovery, often at the behest of the mighty US dollar, the period is often referred to as “Austerity Britain”. George Osborne might have pulled his best jazz singer impression 60 years later and reminded us “ you aint seen austerity yet “..but he didn’t. Austerity Britain in the late 1940s was a confusing and contradictory place to be in.

Having won the war and secured a brave new world, Brits suddenly found themselves queuing for bananas, continuing to live within someone else means, and those means were rather meagre. Just what was the concept of freedom they had suffered and sacrificed for ? Surely not one that imposed limits on sugar ?  Concerns were raised by the British medical Association that the post war austerity diet was less substantial and healthy than the wartime diet.

Against this background, or even creating it, the Government was battling a balance of payments deficit. It seems like another world. When did politicians last blink at trade figures. Before the bond market became the powerhouse of global politics it was the trade deficit.

So against this narrative of Austerity and Trade deficits the British Government pulled and pushed levers at will. Often with little thought of the impacts on the Citizens. Often with great thought on the impact. Some of those decisions sit within the contemporary political culture of 2016. Some don’t. And some such as the NHS fit in 2016 neat version of the politics of post-war Britain. But i digress. The Movies.

Britain still had a Board of Trade and its Minister Stafford Cripps spoke on everything – loofahs,herring barrels and hedging gloves. And films. Britain was heavily dependent on American movies, which cost American dollars. Cripps suggested a 25 per cent tax on American films, after protestation from the Rank group it was finally imposed at 75 percent. Well done Mr Rank. American film exports were embargoed and Rank came to the rescue, making 47 films in 12 months. The tax went away quickly but the films, well some of them lasted. Passport to Pimlico being one.

Over the last few months as urbane Scots and less couture Londoners have tried to fathom a logic to voting en masse to stay in the EU and yet being forced to leave, many random passer-by have shouted “ Passport to Pimlico “. Theres no real connection but its made the film seem relevant again.

Passport to Pimlico is set in the late 1940s. A London town discovers through the accidental explosion of a bomb that they are technically Burgundian. Whitehall realises that this requires some thought, the traders realise they can move in outside the scope of rationing and Government intervention. Theres soon an outcry and a border crossing imposed, the Burgundians are left to their own devices and fight back. Of course so they can negotiate an exit from a position of strength.

And Charles Hawtrey tickles the ivories.

There are a number of political threads in the film. Some of them stronger than others.

Some see the traditional Ealing theme of a group of sensible folk battling the might and potty bureacrats and showing how common sense belongs to them.It is the bureaucrats who seem stuffed suits and 2 steps behind. However the Pimlico residents don’t appreciate the complexity of the trade embargo they get. The border crossing works both ways, perhaps this is similar to Ranks feelings towards Cripps. Cripps gets a light ribbing in the film with signs of “ Forget that Cripps feeling” . The Pimlico residents then fight back, stopping the Tube on its way through. Well show em, cor blimey. Is this how 2 landlocked territories co-exist. Well it’s perhaps a mirror of the Berlin blockade, but in dear old blighty wed hope for something more civil.And we get civility in the face of Whitehall starving them out, the locals ( English not Burgundian ) start to throw food over the fence. Of course it was poor planning on their part that the food got flooded in the first place but anyway. Freedom it seems isn’t all it’s cracked up to be so the Burgundians negotiate to go back to limited nylons in exchange for the security of , well limited nylons. They negotiate a faux Marshall Aid agreement around a loan of the Burgundian assets and away we go. Back to the queues and traditional English rain. One senses England is the true home of these Burgundians rather than Britain.

But what of Austerity ? Passport to Pimlico is surely a pro-austerity film. Not just pro- but actually praise be and thank the english gods for it. While many people saw Austerity as a necessary evil, Passport trades it off as an end in itself. It is our ability to ration, to make good, to be happy under control that they wish for. “ You don’t know your well off until you aren’t “ Austerity is wonderful. So why do distressed Bremainers look to the film ?

Theres no logical support in the film, inevitable Londoners will be left waiting for the rain, running down the meagre supply of nylons and wondering how they can use their capital to get back into a life of drudge. But it was our drudge. Cripps never let Cigarettes be on ration, though the Chancellor advised slower smoking was better for your health. We can laugh at failed health warnings but from 2016 the message of doing what the Government tells you is still accepted.

Charles Hawtrey – Piano- over and out.


David Kynaston A World To Build

Steven Fielding A State of Play : British Politics on screen,stage and page

Tom Sobchak Bakhtins “Carnivelesque” in 1950s British Comedy

Chris Bryant Stafford Cripps

Election Billboards …still hanging on !

28 Sep

Last week Stuff ran an article headed ” Election sign designs fail to excite “. In the article a design lecturer commented ” They are all fine, but there is nothing new ” after looking at signs in Palmerston North. Simplicity seemed to be the message. The Lecturer suggest ( though perhaps not as her as the article leads us to think ) that candidates need to re-think marketing.

Hang on though, these are local body elections. Most candidates will be spending in the hundreds of dollars, if at all. Hoardings don’t win elections, they may make a confirmation or connection. But is that the point ? The 2016 elections have seen local hoardings make a bit of a comeback even if the political effect will be limited. From Vic Crones early and illegal use of them outside the prescribed period, which led to a bizarre exchange about underwear pictures ( not hers I must add )., through to the shocking revelation that marlborough candidates are ignoring safety advice in placing hoardings at intersections. And to think they may be responsible for …well something.

More artistically and without any real logic Invercargill has seen hoax billboards for Harambe, the Gorilla shot in a US Zoo. I love the quote from the Invercargill election officer that ” these were not in accordance with the district plan ” clearly an oversight around signage for dead zoo animals during the prescribed election period. He then went on to say the signs would probably not distract from the real candidate signs. Lets hope the residents of Invercargill aren’t spending too much time searching voting documents for a silverback.

In Auckland there has been a fight between candidates over a phrase used by Manurewa – papkura action team , that they are opposed to 9.9 percent rates increases. Now this isn’t because they dislike 9’s or that they don’t like 9.9 , its unclear if they want more or less ( ok it is clear )

2 Whangerai candidates have been displaying works of art  because they didn’t want to do political billboards. The art looks really neat- whether it will help them who knows.There have also been mock boards for a candidate who isn’t running – make your own joke up there.

Thieves in Auckland stole a trailer of billboards from a candidates house – again insert own joke here, but anything about them returning twice as many the next day is mine. ( The herald used the line Greg Mckeown woke up this morning to find his home had been targeted, which is a really bad attempt at writing a blues song ) .

Thieves were also stealing Tessa Bergers signs , though quite frankly they are awful in terms of political messaging. The real sadness though is that many billboards still create an opportunity for racist graffiti. Though that is not the point. I don’t really care about the message, billboards are art. They are a Gilbert and George esqu art for sure, and not the kind you’d want in your living room. But they are still here, and the local elections allow us to escape the vanilla national ones …long may they continue.