Wednesday, 19 December 2007

Poll position

The weekend polling (1) was dismal for Labour, but I don't feel too worried, surprisingly.

ONe main reason why is my conviction that this is as bad as it can get. The last couple of months have been apalling for Labour. They've endured more horror and woe - much of it self-manufactured - than most political parties would endure in a term. A cabinet minister has apparently gone mad, and appeared in the court on criminal charges. The forces of conservatism and business conspired to incite people against the Electoral Finance Bill, designed to protect voters from the conspiracy and lies of precisely these sort of people.

The result? National 's support around the same level that they polled between May and August (2). They aren't breaking new ground, and this suggests that circa 55% is the absolute limit they can reach, with Labour at it's most unlikeable and quiescent, and with no National support dribbling away to other parties.

Yes, overall it is a very grim picture for Labour - they are 19 points behind in the latest Colmar Bunton poll. But - and this is the second reason I'm feeling phlegmatic - there is still about a year to go, and Labour seem to have been rope-a-doping, like Mohammed Ali in the Rumble in the Jungle, letting John 'George Foreman' Key waste his strength.

There are four reasons why I think Labour can turn it around before the election. I might, of course, be wrong, in which case Labour are probably doomed.

First, I suspect Labour are soaking it up, Ali style, and nursing their own strength for when it is needed. I would expect to see a big fight back starting in the New Year. Labour know it doesn't matter how good or bad you look a year out from polling day. I imagine national are expecting this, and will be preparing their own counter-punches. The question is who has the best shots left, and how well they use them.

Second, the New Zealand public will grow tired of the constant denigration of Labour by Key and his rightwing allies. The pictures of Helen Clarke with the Hitlerian moustace, and the current, fiasco about billboards (3) may well backfire. The rightwing can bleat about living in an authoritarian dictatorship, but the public will get tired of it very quickly, and realise people with the money to conduct personal vendettas aren't representative of them or their interests.

Third reason - Michael Cullen. I'm increasingly in awe of Cullen. Labour have fared apallingly, with more botches and blunders than any government should be allowed to make. But Cullen doesn't seem to stumble. He simply carries on, unflappable, delivering endlessly good economic news. Forget the tax cut that he'll inevitably deliver in 2008 (maybe even a whole packet of chewing gum this time) - think about the minimum wage, Working for Families, Kiwisaver ... all Good Things, and all associated with Cullen's adroit operation. And he's already talking about bolstering Working for Families. We need more of this sort of talk, because it will enthuse people.

My fourth reason for not being wracked by despair is that the National Party will cock up somewhere along the line. There have been ominous wobbles already - Bill English musing about selling atate owned enterprises (4), or Key's hints about making visits to the doctor the a privilege of the rich (5).

Should be an interesting year. Labour will have to fight hard to get into the crucial ten point territory, where they can lose the election and still form a workable coalition. I think they can do it, but whether or not they actually do it is another matter.

1 - "Polls deliver good results for National," by Martin Kay in the Dominion Post, 17th of December, 2007. (http://www.stuff.co.nz/4326321a10.html)
2 - In May 2007, Colmar Brunton polled National at 56% and Labour on 31%. In July, National were on 52% to Labour's 36%. In August, the figures were 53% to 36%. (http://www.colmarbrunton.co.nz/index.php?pageLoad=18)
3 - "Democracy Attacks Back," unattributed press release by the Free Speech Coalition (sic), 19th of December, 2007.
(
http://www.scoop.co.nz/stories/PO0712/S00254.htm)
3 - 'Nats want to sell assets to finance tax cuts - PM,' by Paula Oliver in the New Zealand Herald, 24th of September, 2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10465539&ref=rss)
4 - 'National to scrap cap on GPs' fees,' by Sue Eden in the New Zealand Herald, 26th of September,2007. (http://www.nzherald.co.nz/section/1/story.cfm?c_id=1&objectid=10466057)

Saturday, 15 December 2007

Monbiot

"Ladies and gentlemen, I have the answer! Incredible as it might seem, I have stumbled across the single technology which will save us from runaway climate change! From the goodness of my heart I offer it to you for free. No patents, no small print, no hidden clauses. Already this technology, a radical new kind of carbon capture and storage, is causing a stir among scientists. It is cheap, it is efficient and it can be deployed straight away. It is called … leaving fossil fuels in the ground." (1)

(Read more ...)

1 - 'Rigged,' by George Monbiot, published in The Guardian, 11th of December, 2007. (http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/12/11/rigged/)


Interesting ...

Reading The Roaring Nineties by Joseph Stiglitz, I was struck by the following comment, about executive pay in different cultures:

In Japan ... executive pay is typically 10 times that of the average worker; in Great Britain, executive pay is typically 25 times that of the average worker; by 2000 in America, CEOs were getting paid more than 500 times the wages of the average employee ... (1)
This is interesting for two reasons. First of all, the obscenity of the amounts involved in the American figures - though Stiglitz may be guilty of manipulating statistics (appropriately, as the chapter the quote occurs in is titled 'Creative Accounting') as he doesn't specify if the American figure is typical or extreme. In the Japanese and British figures, it is specified that they are typical (whatever that may mean) but it isn't clear that the same applies to the American figures.

More interesting was the memory this jolted. It reminded me of something I'd read in, of all places, an essay by Orwell. I grabbed my well thumbed copy of his collected essay's and leafed through it, eventually locating the half remembered comment. It occurred in The Lion and the Unicorn (2), a long essay Orwell wrote during the war. At one point he laid out a program for converting Britain's capitalist economy into a socialist one, as he saw little point in resisting Hitler just for things to carry on as before (3). One of his suggestions was

limitation of incomes, on such a scale that the highest tax-free income in Britain does not exceed the lowest by more than ten to one. (4)
So there we have it. The society that most closely matches Orwell's vision of socialist future is ... Japan.

1 - The Roaring Nineties: Seeds of Destruction, by Joseph Stiglitz. Can't provide an internet source, but the quoatation comes from chapter 5, page 124 of my copy.
2 - The whole can be read here:
http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/. The quotation comes from the third chapter of the essay, 'The English Revolution,' (http://www.orwell.ru/library/essays/lion/english/e_ter) section two. I find it very od that the top site on google for this essay is Russian.
3 - Orwell had no time for silly statements about one set of masters being as bad as another. He recognised that Hitler was genuinely evil, where as British capitalists were just fusty, stupid or cruel.
4 - Orwell, op. cit.

Friday, 14 December 2007

Ike Turner, 1931-2007.

Ponder this ...

Black Ike Turner, credited with writing the first rock'n'roll song, Rocket 88, made some great music, took too many drugs, treated his wife badly, and is demonised for it.

White John Lennon made some great music (and 'Imagine,' but lets just imagine that never happened ...), took too many drugs, treated his wife (the one before Yoko) badly, and was made into a saint.

Go figure.

Sunday, 9 December 2007

Monbiot on Bali

"When you warn people about the dangers of climate change, they call you a saint. When you explain what needs to be done to stop it, they call you a communist. Let me show you why." (1)
Gorgeous George does some number crunching to explore what 'meaningful action about climate change' might actually meaningfully mean, particularly to pampered Westerners like yours truly.
"I looked up the global figures for carbon dioxide production in 2000 and divided it by the current population. This gives a baseline figure of 3.58 tonnes of CO2 per person. An 85% cut means that (if the population remains constant) the global output per head should be reduced to 0.537t by 2050. The UK currently produces 9.6 tonnes per head and the US 23.6t. Reducing these figures to 0.537t means a 94.4% cut in the UK and a 97.7% cut in the US. But the world population will rise in the same period. If we assume a population of 9bn in 2050, the cuts rise to 95.9% in the UK and 98.3% in the US." (2)
He makes good on his promise to explain why people who woant action on climate change mget labelled communisits - because they are challenging the fantastic super-consumption required to grow the economy at the rate needed to keep the very rich feeling very rich:
"Underlying the immediate problem is a much greater one. In a lecture to the Royal Academy of Engineering in May, Professor Rod Smith of Imperial College explained that a growth rate of 3% means economic activity doubles in 23 years. At 10% it takes just 7 years. This we knew. But Smith takes it further. With a series of equations he shows that “each successive doubling period consumes as much resource as all the previous doubling periods combined.” In other words, if our economy grows at 3% between now and 2030, we will consume in that period economic resources equivalent to all those we have consumed since humans first stood on two legs. Then, between 2030 and 2053, we must double our total consumption again. Reading that paper I realised for the first time what we are up against." (3)
Stuff like this scares me shitless because it gives me those horrible moments of clarity when I realise that what Monbiot, climatologists and most sane people are calling for is at such total odds with the desires of the people who have most of the wealth and power that I don't know if they'll go along with it. In which case, what?
1 - "What is progress?," by George Monbiot, posted on monbiot.co, 4th of December, 2007.(http://www.monbiot.com/archives/2007/12/04/what-is-progress/)
2 - ibid.
3 - ibid.