• Wishful Thinkng

    It should come as no surprise that the government’s critics, on the pandemic and other subjects, are from the political right. For many of them, the touchstone is purely political – if the policy is right-wing, it is “right”, and, if not, then it is by definition wrong.

    In no case is this more true than that of Mike Hosking (or, as my spell-checker would have it, Mike “Honking”). In his latest diatribe in the pages of the Herald, he veers off into serious irrationality. He finds it possible to urge our government to emulate Boris Johnson in the UK; here, he argues, is an example of a government that puts “freedom” first, and freedom, he says, is a prize for which it is worth paying a high price.

    He does not, however, bother to specify just how high that price is. The UK suffers about 50,000 new Covid cases and around 200 deaths each day (and has suffered 140,000 Covid deaths in total). Each of those deaths leaves a hole in the lives of many others and in the country’s economy. Even making due allowance for their population at ten times ours, the figures are staggering.

    Never mind, says Hosking, this is an example of what a government of the right can achieve in the name of freedom. He is led into similar irrationally when he looks at other aspects of our domestic scene. Giving vent to an impatience that no doubt many of us feel, he urges our government to respond to the unvaccinated by “cutting them loose”. Why, he asks, allow them to hold the rest of us to ransom?

    Sadly, however, it is not as simple as that. To proceed to end all restrictions, while leaving a substantial proportion of the unvaccinated in the community, is to guarantee that the virus will continue to thrive and spread and threaten the most vulnerable for the foreseeable future. And some (Maori and the young, in particular) will be more vulnerable than others. Thankfully, governments – whether of the right or the left – are a little more hard-headed than that. It is noteworthy that the UK Health Secretary continues to urge people to get vaccinated.

    Wishful thinking is still wishful thinking, even if it has precise dates attached to it.

    Bryan Gould
    21 October 2021

  • Weddings and Leopards

    Could it be that the Herald is beginning to twig that an unremitting hostility to the government does not go down well with all its readers? The evidence for that is that, in today’s issue, two contributors (Bill Ralston and Steven Joyce) who usually enjoy sticking the knife in, take a more measured and balanced approach, and allow a small glimmer of good news to become apparent.

    This does not, however, mean that the Herald can desist from giving prominent billing to a report – not about the Prime Minister’s politics but about her private and personal life – and there is surely nothing more personal than preparations for one’s wedding?

    We are told that Jacinda and Clarke, while visiting a hotel out of Auckland, had identified it as a possible venue for their wedding reception – but the negotiations had broken down when the couple had stipulated that their friend, the celebrated chef Peter Gordon, should be responsible for the catering. The proprietor was unwilling to accede to this request and the negotiations had therefore broken down.

    We are further told that the disappointed proprietor had produced, as a term in the “contract” that had yet to be agreed, a cancellation clause that required the couple to pay a cancellation fee of $5000.

    One does not need to be a lawyer to recognise that such a claim would be unlikely to succeed, but this does not deter the Herald from giving prominence to the story. Leopards, after all, do not change their spots.

    Bryan Gould
    17 October 2021

  • What Happened to the Team?

    Last year, in the early stages of the pandemic, the Prime Minister’s “team of five million” performed well; team discipline was maintained and we all worked well together.

    This year, however, has been a different story; team discipline has weakened, and many people have on numerous occasions behaved badly and irresponsibly. The reasons for this deterioration are not hard to identify.

    The first is straightforward enough – the delta variant is a different and more difficult beast. It poses a range of new and awkward problems which have required – if they are to be overcome – an even more disciplined team approach, and that has not been forthcoming.

    The second reason is, however, more interesting – and even more regrettable. Politics has reared its ugly head and has interceded in what needed to be, and was once, a largely unified approach.

    This political complication is not just a simple matter of “right-wing” hostility to a left-of-centre government. The “right” itself is now a more complex beast than it used to be and it takes a number of different and often competing forms.

    Even its principal manifestation – the National party – is now a splintered entity. There are now several competing National voices and interest; on the one hand, for example, Judith Collins and her supporters and, on the other, those who want to see a change of leadership, some of whom (such as Chris Bishop) fancy their own chances of becoming leader and all of these therefore speak with different and competing voices and see the possible advantage of being the first to land a blow or two on the government.

    And then there is another right-wing party, Act – which fancies its chances of becoming the principal right-wing voice but in the meantime has to try to make its voice heard by taking a different tack from its senior partner and by striking out on a “libertarian” path.

    And there is also, more significantly, a hitherto unidentified and unsuspected body of opinion which might accurately be described as “far right”. As has happened in many other countries, not least in Trump’s America, there is an underground upswing in those who believe in conspiracy theories, who are against the very concept of government, who distrust experts, and who resist any idea that they might be part of a “team”. The Brian Tamakis and Billy Te Kahikas have actively opposed any notion that we can, or should, look to government to help us out of our difficulties. To play as a team, they say, is to put our individual liberties at risk (as though the delta variant isn’t doing a pretty good job of that by itself).

    And then there are the politicians who are not, in the usual sense, right-wing but who pursue their own agendas in the sense of claiming that they represent various sectional interests that have been somehow overlooked, so that we are not all part of the whole and should not therefore be expected to play in the same team.

    This wide range of right-wing and hostile forces has done a huge amount to weaken the efficacy of the government’s efforts this time round. They have eroded the very idea that “we are all in this together”, with the result that the government’s efforts have thereby been crucially undermined.

    Sadly, the essential condition for overcoming the virus has been stymied, not only by the virus itself, but by competing forces who actively want the government to fail. It is hard to see how we can regain that essential team spirit when so many voices are calling for different things.

    And all of this is compounded by the right-wing media who constantly offer platforms to those who would – by undermining the government – weaken our national effort. Who would be in government!

    Bryan Gould
    15 October 2021

  • The “Pulpit of Strewth”

    Barry Soper is one half of one of those right-wing husband-and-wife duos in which the Herald seems to specialise.

    In today’s issue, he has a piece that doesn’t quite reach the heights (or depths) of a Hoskings-style anti-government hostility, but which does provide an interesting example of the kind of techniques that he and his co-propagandists are wont to use.

    He finds a way, it seems, to reference the Prime Minister’s constant and welcome readiness to offer herself up for public scrutiny, and then to turn it against her. He describes her public pronouncements (and answers to questions) as issuing forth from the “Pulpit of Truth” – a term that is (and is intended to be) redolent with irony and resentment at her constant ability and willingness to communicate with, and answer the questions of, those attending her regular press conferences.

    But, no doubt pleased at his cleverness in inventing the label, he sees the possibility of using it as the basis of a further jab. The Prime Minister’s pulpit, he suggests, is not so much a pulpit of “truth” as one of “strewth”. Happily for his readers, he then seems to have exhausted his powers of invention and we are spared any further examples of journalistic guerrilla warfare.

    We (his readers) might hope for a higher standard of political commentary, but Barry Soper can no doubt congratulate himself on fulfilling his employers’ expectations of him.

    Bryan Gould
    14 October 2021

  • “Angry Blowhards”

    In today’s Herald, their excellent columnist, Simon Wilson, takes to task those “shouty” people whom he further describes as “angry blowhards”. They are those whose prime reaction to the pandemic is anger – an anger they seamlessly (and perhaps unwittingly) transfer from the virus to the government.

    The basis for that anger is that the pandemic could be painlessly held at bay, they claim, if only the government would take their advice and implement their own pet solutions.

    The problem for the Herald is that many of these “angry blowhards” are to be found in the Herald’s own pages. Their characteristic is that their anger outweighs their rationality. Their primary purpose (and target) is to attack and undermine the government; helping to counter the pandemic comes a poor second.

    But it is even worse than that. Their attacks on the government not only do little to help to find a solution to the problems we all face; they actually weaken our ability to fight back. Even if their rantings contained a kernel of helpful advice, its value would be lost in the torrent of anti-government hostility, and the net outcome of their offerings would be merely to weaken that unity of purpose on which a successful campaign against the virus necessarily depends.

    Bryan Gould
    12 October 2021