Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

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Gordon Campbell on the French election result

April 24th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

It is the safest of safe bets that Emmanuel Macron will be the next President of France. The same French polls that accurately predicted today’s outcome to within one percentage point – right down to detecting Marine Le Pen’s slight fade in the final few days – currently have Macron 26 points ahead of Le Pen in the run-off election due on May 7. Not even the best effort of the Islamic State – who carried out a terrorist attack on the Champs Elysee to try and stampede voters towards Le Pen – did her much good.

For his part, Macron is shaping as the third major test case, after Bill Clinton, after Tony Blair – on whether the aim of ‘progressive social policy’ and realities of ‘neo-liberal economic settings’ can be made to credibly co-exist within the same sentence, let alone within the decrees from the Elysee Palace. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the snap election in Britain

April 21st, 2017

First published on Werewolf

Supposedly, Theresa May’s calling of a snap election in Britain is all about ‘getting a mandate’ and ‘leadership’ and other such cant. In fact, the election call is entirely opportunistic and self-serving and will – regardless of the outcome – put Britain in a worse negotiating position for managing its Brexit. Lets take these elements one by one.

Leadership. From the time Britain triggered article 50, a two year clock started running on the Brexit outcome. In reality, Britain is fighting an asymmetric form of warfare in these negotiations, and it should be trying to make the best strategic use of its self-imposed position of weakness. If May really cared a jot about getting the best outcome, it would be more advantageous – tactically speaking – for her to be able to counter the European demands with the rejoinder that look, the British people are divided on this, I’d never be able to sell that to the British people etc etc.

In other words, she could have made tactical capital out of her current position, by postponing the point at which she seeks a public mandate. As things stand, she is cynically seeking a “mandate” from the British people before they have the slightest clue about the deal they are being asked to endorse, and will thus be flying blind into rewarding the Conservatives with another five year term. Whatever you call that ruse, it isn’t leadership. It looks more like deception.

In reality, the June election outcome will (a) send her naked into the negotiations against the Europeans and (b) after exposing many of her key negotiating positions to public scrutiny for seven weeks, during the glare of an election campaign. You can bet the Europeans will be taking notes, reading the body language, and noting the disharmony between May and Scotland’s leader Nicola Sturgeon. How will this be of any advantage to Britain in its dealings with Europe?

Mandate. May already has a (dual) mandate. She is the leader of the Conservative party, and she has the mandate of the Brexit referendum outcome. By asking for a blank cheque from the British public in June, she’s buying a pretty cheap mandate. Even if she wins more seats in June – as is likely, given the disarray within the Labour party opposition – it is hard to see how another 50 seat majority, or 70 seats, or even a 100 seat margin, will materially change her negotiating power with respect to the European Union.

The gains for her are entirely political, and belong entirely to the realm of British domestic politics. She will have induced the British public to give the Tories a respite until 2022 – because she knows she could not go back to the public in 2020 after the dismal deal on Brexit has been struck, and expect to be re-elected. The snap election is a mechanism to avoid being called to account for failure, for as long as possible. Again, whatever you call this, it isn’t leadership.

The Polls. The snap election won’t be an entirely risk free exercise for May. Nate Silver, the American poll analyst, wrote an interesting piece a few days ago about the relative unreliability of British political polling as compared to the US polls. Only some of Silver’s commentary can be put down to sour grapes, given that he got to learn the hard way during his coverage of the last British general election. Like everyone else, he expects May to win handily in June. Things could even turn out worse for Labour than expected, what with the well known “Shy Tory” syndrome whereby Tory voters are unwilling to confess to pollsters that they will actually be voting Conservative :

May’s Conservatives do have a massive lead, with recent polls showing them 9 to 21 points ahead of Labour and their unpopular leader, Jeremy Corbyn. Also, while the polls in the U.K. haven’t been very accurate, they’ve tended to underestimate Conservatives rather than Labour in the past. (See also: the Shy Tory Factor.)

But even so… here are Silver’s key paragraphs, which begin by him citing the wide range of error in British political polling that’s been evident in elections since 1979:

But if polls are missing election outcomes by 5 or 6 points on average, that means the margin of error (or 95 percent confidence interval) is very large indeed. Specifically, a 6-point average error in forecasting the final margin translates to a true margin of error of plus or minus 13 to 15 percentage points, depending on how you calculate it.

Exactly how sure Conservatives are of retaining a majority of seats in Parliament is a more complicated question than who will take the most votes. This stuff is tricky to model — as we’ve learned the hard way — because the results are greatly dependent on where the vote is distributed and how third parties perform. The Scottish National Party is likely to continue to control the vast majority of the 59 seats from Scotland, which gives Conservatives less margin for error in the event the election tightens.

Part of what we’re seeing here is the British version of the Trump polling outcome. While the US polls came very close to tracking the US national vote, the pundits chose to ignore the far closer contest that the polls were simultaneously recording where it really mattered, in the Electoral College. In Britain, much the same situation is creating this interesting divergence that Silver has noted down at the British betting shops:

Bookmakers give 20-to-1 odds against a Labour majority, but only 5-to-1 odds against a hung Parliament — about the same odds that many of them offered on “Leave” winning the Brexit vote last year.

None of this should be taken to suggest that Jeremy Corbyn has any hope of winning the June 8 election. Yet it does indicate that a level of risk exists for May. Ultimately, what size majority would justify this election gambit? If even a puny opponent like Corbyn can hold her to say, a seventy seat majority, wouldn’t that have to be taken as a less than gilded “mandate?” The more crucial point: even if the snap election does deliver May a large parliamentary majority, this will still do precious little to enhance Britain’s ability to minimise the fallout from Brexit. The Europeans may choose not to be impressed. Partly because while Britain diverts itself with an election, the clock is continuing to tick on the article 50 countdown to a ‘take it or leave it’ deal.

The Autumn of Jim Bolger

Interesting comments by former PM Jim Bolger about the failure of neo-liberalism, and the value of having a stronger trade union movement.

[Bolger] says neo-liberalism has failed and suggests unions should have a stronger voice. “[Neo-liberal policies] have failed to produce economic growth and what growth there has been has gone to the few at the top,” Bolger says, not of his own policies specifically but of neoliberalism the world over. He laments the levels of inequality and concludes “that model needs to change.”

Coming from the guy who ended compulsory unionism, that is quite some admission. Anyone covering politics in the late 1980s would have been aware of Bolger’s personal disdain for the ideological zeal of colleagues like Ruth Richardson, Derek Quigley etc Bolger would tend to depict them as people who had no idea how the other half lived, and would talk privately about the political backlash likely to ensue if/when such policies were put into practice. As soon as he practically could – ie in the wake of her draconian Mother of All Budgets – he got rid of Richardson as Finance Minister.

That’s not to say Bolger was ever a closet left-winger. He and his friend Bill Birch eventually pushed through the Employment Contracts Act that decimated the trade union movement – thereby atomising the workplace in a way that has consistently denied New Zealand the ability to negotiate socio-economic outcomes in ways possible for Australia and Germany, that have treated trade unions as being essential partners in their economic discourse. Instead here, employers and the public in this country have been encouraged to demonise unions.

Given Bolger’s comments, this does mean that both of the Prime Ministers who presided over this country’s devastating romance with neo-liberalism – David Lange in the 1980s and Jim Bolger in the 1990s – have renounced the religion that they did so much to impose upon the rest of New Zealand. Given that we still have a government that seems wedded to the failed neo-liberal mania for budget balancing as an end it itself… maybe that alone is reason enough for regime change this year. Unfortunately though, the Greens and Labour have signed up to the same economic settings. New Zealand seems to be a Titanic that’s intent on hitting the same iceberg, over and over and over again.

Waxahatchee, Returns

Katie Crutchfield records with her band under the name Waxahatchee, and their last outing Ivy Tripp was one of the most under-rated albums of 2015. Many of the songs on that album had a desperate, plaintive edge to them – yet this first single from her new album has a serene confidence that feels entirely different, without losing any of her trademark melodicism. This is a farewell/breakup song, but it is resolute in tone, and not in the least bit woebegone:

The whole world keeps turning
I went out in the storm
I felt the house burning
The kiss on my lips starts to feel unfamiliar
A part of me rots
My skin all turns silver….

If I turn to stone
The whole world keeps turning
I went out in the storm
And I’m never returning

By way of contrast, here’s one of my favourite cuts from the Ivy Tripp album. …“ I left you out like a carton of milk” is such a good line:

And “Under a Rock” is pretty great, too:

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Gordon Campbell on the aged-care settlement

April 19th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

Strange indeed to hear a National Prime Minister not only singing the praises of raising the wages of the lowly paid, but also preaching that this will enable employers to reap future benefits from reduced staff turnover via upskilling their workers and offering them a viable career path.

Wow. Can this really be the same National Party that threw the workforce to the wolves of the free market when it championed the Employment Contracts Act? Can it be the same National Party whose first act after winning the 2008 election was to scrap the pay equity unit within the Labour Department? Similarly, wasn’t it an incoming National government that began its term of office in 1990 by scrapping the Employment Equity Act that had allowed for intersectoral pay comparisons?

Meaning: until yesterday, a National government has always been the sworn enemy of women seeking justice in the workplace, in the face of gender-based pay discrimination.

Yet for all of that… perhaps only a centre-right government could have pulled off the politics of this large pay rise to workers in the aged care, disability care and home support sector. (A Labour government would have been accused of colluding with its union mates, and of recklessly putting the economy at risk for ideological reasons.)

The rationale for the aged care pay rise is already the stuff of legend. Over 90 per cent of the workers in this sector are female. Given the skills, experience and responsibility that the work entails, these workers would have been paid more if they were men. In that respect – and as the courts have now found – the wage scales in this sector have contravened the Equal Pay Act of 1972. To put that another way, workers in this sector are owed about 45 years of back pay. However, there will be no back pay when the new rates of pay kick in as planned from July 1st. (MPs, by contrast, routinely get back pay every year when their income gets increased.)

What turned this particular ship around was the legal challenge launched by Kristine Bartlett, an experienced aged-care worker, who was reportedly being paid only $14.46 an hour after 20 years work at the same rest home. Will other female-intensive occupational sectors now be able to successfully mount similar claims?

Only with great difficulty, it seems. The same government/unions/employers troika that gave birth to this settlement have also produced a set of principles (shortly to be enshrined in legislation) that create a high hurdle for any future claims. Reportedly, one of the features of these new principles is that success will require there to be only a single payer in the market, such that the workers in question cannot shop around for a better deal. In practice, this seems to limit any future gender discrimination claims only to sectors where the government is the sole payer of the wages. Gender-based pay discrimination in the private sector could well sail on untouched, at least initially: even perhaps for some workers in some rest homes. Yesterday’s announcement for instance, affects less than half the workers employed by Ryman Healthcare, which applauded the settlement in these terms:

The wage increase will affect 45 per cent of Ryman’s workforce, the equivalent of just more than 2000 staff members.

“We applaud the government for prioritising aged care. They have recognised the importance of the work that our caregivers do by bringing their rates into line with the public sector,” Ryman Healthcare managing director Simon Challies said. “From a Ryman business perspective, the impact is neutral as the extra funding we receive will go into wages; we will pass it directly on to staff.”

This is a sector in which private sector providers make considerable annual profits, year by year. Last year Ryman recorded a 16% profit level.

This raises two issues (a) why has it fallen on the taxpayer to do all of the heavy lifting on the wages and conditions operant in this sector and (b) what regulatory action, if any, will the National government take to deter private providers from proceeding to gouge any flow-on wage costs out of those rest home residents whose means (and savings) put them above the subsidy threshold? Yesterday, Health Minister Jonathan Coleman conceded that some aged care residents will face sizeable potential cost increases in the wake of yesterday’s announcement. However, the government appears disinclined to manage a soft landing for those thousands of residents who will now be looking down the barrel of cost increases for their care.

Obviously, the aged care settlement is excellent news for the workers who will directly benefit. Briefly, this is what the settlement will entail :

*The proposal features a 5-year set of pay increases linked to experience and qualifications
*It will apply to approximately 55,000 working people in residential aged care, disability support services and home support services.
*From 1 July 2017, existing staff would be paid between $19.00 and $23.50 an hour. Currently these workers earn an average of just over $16.00 an hour, with many on the minimum wage
*By July 2021, there would be an entry level pay rate of $21.50 an hour with a top rate of $27.00.

As mentioned, there will be barriers to applying this precedent to other female-dominated occupations such as retail, and hospitality. Presumably though, the settlement will create a positive ripple effect through the aged care sector and beyond. It will, for example, alter the wage relativities with respect to nursing. Once the new wage rates kick in after July 1st, the new rewards for training and experience in aged care (and related career paths) will make the sector far more attractive to nurses than it currently is, and this should encourage greater two way traffic between nursing and aged care. More immediately, yesterday’s announcement will also boost the arguments for a corresponding pay increase (and fresh career incentives) during the next award negotiation round for nurses.

At a wider level, this settlement is one of the very few areas in the Health portfolio where government policy is (belatedly) preparing the country for the reality of an ageing population, and what this ageing process will mean for the public’s Health funding. To date, the current government has seemed blithely disinterested in the level of unmet need that already exists in Health, and since 2010 it has been steadily reducing the ratio of the nation‘s wealth it devotes to Health funding.)

Too bad that this time as well, the government has had to be dragged kicking and screaming to the bargaining table. Once it got there though, it has done the right thing by those aged care workers who day after day, carry out some of the most emotionally and physically demanding jobs in the economy, for terrible pay – and mainly because most of them are women. Lets hope that this has been a learning curve for National. Maybe in future it will accept that some public needs are even more important than tax cuts.

King Kendrick

This past weekend belonged to Kendrick Lamar and if you missed his wonderful set at Coachella then…too bad, because the footage has steadily disappeared from view, online. It was spectacular, beautifully paced with key oldies – King Kunte, Swimming Pools Drank etc – that served to underline their continuity with the material on the new album. Plus, the guy is a terrific writer :

Loyalty, got royalty inside my DNA
Cocaine quarter piece, got war and peace inside my DNA
I got power, poison, pain and joy inside my DNA
I got hustle though, ambition, flow, inside my DNA…
Immaculate conception
I transform like this, perform like this
Was Yeshua’s new weapon
I don’t contemplate, I meditate, then off your fucking head
This… that put-the-kids-to-bed….

Realness, I just kill shit ’cause it’s in my DNA
I got millions, I got riches buildin’ in my DNA
I got dark, I got evil, that rot inside my DNA
I got off, I got troublesome, heart inside my DNA…

I know murder, conviction
Burners, boosters, burglars, ballers, dead, redemption
Scholars, fathers dead with kids
And I wish I was fed forgiveness
Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah, soldier’s DNA
Born inside the beast
My expertise checked out in second grade
When I was 9, on cell, motel, we didn’t have nowhere to stay
At 29, I’ve done so well, hit cartwheel in my estate
And I’m gon’ shine like I’m supposed to…

The official video for “DNA”, with Don Cheadle, is available here.

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Gordon Campbell on the costs of cost-cutting

April 18th, 2017

Column – Gordon Campbell

A s Jesus said, blessed are the poor who almost end up riding in unsafe taxis and school buses, so that others among them may enjoy lower taxes on their investment income. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on regime change, bombs and Syria

April 10th, 2017

href=””>First published on Werewolf

Now that America has found its greatness again the traditional way – by bombing someone – the misgivings have set in. Despite the 57 Cruise missiles fired at the al Shayrat airbase in Syria, the airbase was reportedly functioning again soon afterwards. Subsequently, the task of identifying just what the current US policy goals in Syria may be remains up in the air, at least until President Donald Trump watches the next round of Syria footage on Fox News. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the MSD’s privacy problems

April 6th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

It seems there will be a brief respite for NGOs, and for the vulnerable people they help. Yet until the Privacy Commissioner intervened yesterday, the agencies doing the frontline work on welfare issues were being required to hand over (to the Ministry of Social Development) the sensitive personal details provided to them by their clients, as a condition of having their funding contracts renewed, come July.

As Anne Tolley, the Minister of Social Development told RNZ this morning there will now be some delay in implementing this policy – a few months, maybe longer – until MSD can devise a data storage and handling system that can keep the information safer than it is capable of doing now. Agencies that deal with victims of sexual violence will be exempted for a year from this demand for compliance.

This fiasco has been a perfect example of a bad policy, terribly executed – on a rushed timetable that appears to have been driven by an MSD desire to cut costs in the contracts due for renewal, mid year. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Shifty Bill’s Last Stand

April 4th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

So that’s alright then. Nothing to see with this SAS raid bizzo, move on. Or so PM Bill English would have us believe, at yesterday’s post-Cabinet press conference.

No, there would be no independent inquiry into the events described in the Hit and Run book, because… he’d been briefed by the Chief of Defence Force and his officials, and he’d also seen video footage of the raid. And he felt convinced that everything had been done consistent with the rules of engagement, every feasible step had been taken to minimize civilian casualties, and the conduct of our troops has been exemplary throughout etc etc and the only people saying otherwise were the authors of what he deemed to be a ‘discredited’ book.

From then on, things became decidedly surreal. There didn’t seem to be a single member of the press gallery who was buying it for a moment. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the Labour/Greens Deal

March 28th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

If Labour and the Greens were hoping their Budget Responsibility Rules (BRR) agreement would foster an unlikely alliance then hey… mission accomplished! Because it isn’t every day that Sue Bradford, the CTU and Matthew Hooton speak with one voice, as happened yesterday. Unfortunately though, it’s hard to see how the BRR agreement will work to the advantage of Labour and the Greens in the context of the 2017 election campaign. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Chuck Berry

March 21st, 2017

First published on Werewolf

By now, any lingering hopes among the left that Donald Trump might prove to be an anti-Establishment figure likely to lessen US militarism abroad and inequality at home have been well and truly shredded. Some of us never had any illusions on that score. Yet the virulent hatred felt by many on the left for Hillary Clinton fuelled a peculiar bromance with Trump, one that was based on ‘the enemy of my enemy is my friend’ principle. Well, more often, they’re just another enemy.

Plainly, the Trump presidency is far worse than anything imaginable from a President Hillary Clinton. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Dutch lessons for Labour

March 17th, 2017

First published on Werewolf

Do yesterday’s election results in the Netherlands have any lessons for our own election campaign this year ? So far, the headline stories have been about (a) the failure of the populist ultra-right to make significant gains, partly because the ruling party successfully co-opted most of its anti-migrant messages during the run-up to election day and (b) the collapse of the Dutch Labour Party (PvdA), which plummeted from 38 to nine seats, as the centre-left vote streamed out to the Greens, and other “soft liberal’ options like D66. Overall, the left made no inroads whatsoever into the right-of-centre vote. Read the rest of this entry »