Gordon Campbell on year 2014, and not letting it spoil your ChristmasDecember 23rd, 2013
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One of the pitfalls of instant opinionating is the assumption that politicians know what they’re doing and that the job at hand is to unravel the conspiracies that surely behind the daily litany of brazen pandering. Sure, conspiracies do exist and paranoids do have real enemies – but sometimes, politics is simply what it is. If it looks like pandering, it probably is. If it seems like incompetence and daylight robbery – as in the asset sales programme, which has no economic or politcal justification – then chances are, it is. Sometimes, the likes of John Banks and Peter Dunne just stumble from one self-inflicted disaster to the next. There is no plan, beyond survival. Yet as in any circus, the clowns do have their role to play. If only by contrast, Dunne, Banks and Co give the likes of Bill English their reputation for being a safe pair of hands.
Besides, it’s not difficult to guess what 2014 holds for us. We are going to hear a lot about the policies and personality foibles of Colin Craig, and the merits/demerits of his virtual flat tax package. Hint: it would make income inequality a lot worse. It would also enable John Key to blame Craig for making the flattened tax scales (that the Nats desire but fear to call their own) the price of his next coalition government. As in: Colin Craig made me do it. Craig will be very useful like that, for Key. Those with long memories may recall a Peter Sellers movie called Being There, which was a parable about the dangers of over-interpretation. In the film, the simplistic statements of Chance, the main character, get taken to be deeply allegorical messages about business and the state of the economy, and the holy fool ends up as President. (The film came out just as Ronald Reagan was being elected.)
If Craig seems like a walking, talking, soundbite-generating machine dreamed up by a team of political engineers, the other scary conspiracy story of 2014 will undoubtedly be the Greens. Yes, how scared can the electorate be made about the prospect of that loopy crew of anarcho-enviro-socialists getting their hands on the levers of power? It is still 1998 isn’t it – and aren’t those wacky Greens still dancing around the maypole before they go into their caucus meetings? How scared can you be made to feel about the prospect of wily Russel Norman, the Hugo Chavez of the South Pacific, being in government?
What I’m getting at here is that in 2014 we are going to be hearing less about whether a centre left coalition or a centre right coalition might have the better plan to meet our current and future needs – and a lot more about how scary those weirdo junior partners may be. It’s going to be a WWF Smackdown in 2014: Crazy Colin vs Red Russel. A reality check: in a year from now, either Colin Craig or Russel Norman will be holding down a senior post in Cabinet. Chances are, the nation will survive either outcome. In similar vein, the nation will also survive if a centre left government happens to come to power after the next election. Even if for the first time under MMP, it happens to be led by a major party that comes in second in the popular vote. If the centre left happens to get more votes, then its coalition gets to be government. No matter how many more votes that one particular centre right party (i.e. National) may get than Labour. Again, we are going to hear a great deal about the merits/demerits of that particular scenario, over the next 12 months.
For a few days over Christmas though, we can afford to ignore all that. Hoewever, I can’t let year’s end go by without one last link to the sorry state of the Trans Pacific Partnership – where again the lack of a feasible US plan to manage the thing seems bizarre to the US media. A fortnight ago, I was assuming that Barack Obama had a cunning plan to deliberately de-stabilise the TPP, when really he seems to be doing that through sheer incompetence. My mistake.
Most of all….thanks to everyone who has read this column over the past year, on a regular or occasional basis. The motive for thinking and writing about politics is pretty irrational. I know I get more out of this than anyone else, in terms of making some sense to myself about how the big messy, chaotic feelings about injustice and unequal opportunity may be playing out in any given instance. If these attempts to make sense of it seem plausible to you as well….well, that’s great. Thanks for the feedback, and the support. We’re all in this boat together.
But for now…it’s Christmas time! And the best Christmas video – as opposed to the best Christmas song – would have to be Sufjan Stevens’ seasonally violent “Mr Frosty Man” video, which has more chainsaws, carnage and zombies than the usual Christmas family dinner, but only marginally so. As for best Christmas carol…that’s a toss up between the lovely medieval “Lullay My Lyking” which some of us probably came across for the first time in the Michael Powell/ Deborah Kerr film Black Narcissus. It is one of those religious songs where the love being expressed seems almost physical (“Lullay my lyking /my dear son / my sweeting.. lullay my dear heart ” etc) and that confusion fitted in perfectly with the theme of the film, as the nuns in their Himalayan castle were being inexorably drawn across the borderline between their spiritual calling and their sensual natures. Much the same fusion occurs in the more modern contender: “Tomorrow Shall Be My Dancing Day.”
Finally…..because the Other Guy in the original conception/birth story of Christmas is now lost to history, Lou Barlow – of Sebadoh and Dinosaur Jr. fame – decided to write a song for him. Quietly and sympathetically, the song “Mary” suggests that maybe the “blame it on the angel” idea simply got out of hand. Talk about conspiracy theories: on Christmas Day, Barlow suggests, perhaps we shouldn’t be making such a big deal about Mary’s Boy Child without sparing a thought for Mary’s Boy Friend, whoever he was. Have a good Christmas. Hope to see y’all back in the New Year, sometime mid January.