Saturday, 1 March 2008

Pompous Chris seeking successional strife

Chris Trotter has devoted another column to speculating about a Goffite coup in the Labour party, before the election (1). This is the third time in a month (others here and here (2)) that he's used his column to suggest Clark's day's are numbered, and the numbers of the days are much smaller than people think.

He points out that Clark's personal polling is lower than the Labour party's - quite a feat since the Labour Party is resting on bedrock:
According to the latest Fairfax-Nielsen poll, Labour is now more popular than its leader. That suggests the Government's catastrophic numbers are being driven by Miss Clark's unpopularity not the party's.

This marks an important shift in the electorate's response. For most of the past eight years the prime minister has consistently outperformed her party in popularity. She was Labour's greatest asset, the wind beneath its wings. She has now become the lump of lead on its back. (2)

As an aside, could I point out that Trotter's style - supposedly erudite, "infused with poetic imagery" (3). In reality it's almost indigestible a combination of BIG WORDS alternated with poor mmetaphors. Do we reall need to be told that Clark is both "Labour's greatest asset" and "The wind beneath its wings?" One cliche would have done, Chris. And on top of that, she is then rendered as "the lump of lead on its back." Too much, Chris. Metaphors are dangerous things, and should be used cautiously. Dumping three on the unsuspecting reader, in the space of two short sentences, is what precocious secondary students do.

The BIG WORDS serve a similar purpose. Using words like 'Zeitgeist' is a clever version of writing in a big font and using a eye-aching colour. It's drawing the attention to the messenger, not the message. Look at me, I use words like 'Zeitgeist,' with aplomb. So what. The word, I recall, enjoyed some currency in NME in the 1990s, dutring the Blur-Oasis feud. Indeed, Trotter writes like a stale music hack still dreaming of one day getting shoulder tapped for the Guardian.
All of which is cruel, only half true and beside the point. But it needed to be said.

As for the message, that Clark should go, it is Trotter at his most facile. First, he's basing his thesis on one poll. Second, even if the polls continue to put Labour ahead of Clark, that doesn't mean much. National came within a shady deal with the Exclusive Brethern of winning in 2005 - even though Brash langished well behind Clark in the preferred prime minister states.

Trotter would argue, perhaps, that this proves his point - that if Brash had been more effective and charismatic, Labour would have been buried in 2005. Maybe. But, none-the-less, it still stands that Clark has enjoyed years of popularity. Knifing her because of one bad poll would be somewhat premature.

Clark - and Labour - will rally. I'm still conident that they have a strategy, and are waiting for the right moment to launch their fightback. My biggst concern is that they don't sem able to stem the steady flow of bad stories, and don't seem to have anticipated how gleefully the media would turning on them. But Goff can't do much about that, even if he were to take over.

Ditching Clark would be messy - she would be unlikely to go quietly, arguing (rightly) that replacing her this close to the election might be worse than going into it with her in charge. If there is a fight, it will be vicious, and damage the party. And the election will come this year, regardless. Goff would be going into the campaign at the head of a bitter party more interested in pursuing a civil war than uniting against the enemy. Even if he is capable of winning back the fustrated leftwing and rebuilding the centre (which I doubt he is), he wouldn't have time.

I am sure Phil Goff will have read The Hollow Men (4), and will have noticed how John Key almost came unstuck after the election defeat of 2005, when he contemplated a coup against Don Brash. He'll wait, because he's got nothing to lose by doing so. What will come, will come. Clark will either win the election (or, more accurately, win the scramble for coalition partners), or she will lose. It will be seen as her victory, or loss. If she wins, Goff will still be the most likely successor, and can look forward to inheriting without having to split the party. If she loses, then, again, he is the most likely successor.

Trotter must know this. So I am at a loss to understand why he's used three columns, at least, to suggest that a coup is imminent. Perhaps he thinks he is so revered by the left and so omnipotent that he can will one into happening. Or perhaps he's looking forward to the installation of Goff, post election defeat, so he can point back to his columns and say "Look! I told you so!" Though of Goff following Clark isn't exactly an astonishing idea. In either case, he's letting ego and arrogance get the better of him, wanting to promote the Chris Trotter brand, rather than using his privileged position as a columnist to tell useful truth.

1 - 'Helen's zeitgeist goes missing,' by Chris Torotter in The Dominion Post, 29th of February, 2008. Reproduced on, (
2 - Here are the details of the previous columns: 'Taking sides on global power,' by Chris Trotter, in The Dominion ost, 22nd of february, 2008. Reproduced on 'Helen of destroy loses faithful,' by Chris Trotter in The Sunday Star Times, 3rd of February, 2008. (
3 - As per the blurb of No Left Turn, by Chris Trotter, publised in 2007 by Random House New Zealand.
4 - The Hollow Men, by Nicky Hager, published in 2006 by Crag Potton Publishing. The aborted coup is decribed on pages 276-7.

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