Thursday, October 27, 2005

Another New Series: PC-Watch!

One of the most absurd claims made by the liberal Left is that political correctness is a non-existent idea, developed by the Right as an easy, general smear, rather a coherent thought process. The Intellectual Left, in that pompous way that only they can manage, define what the Right call PC as merely good policy.

I don’t subscribe to Wayne Mapp’s reported description of political correctness as just the means of a minority to enforce its will on the majority. That is certainly the effect, as the majority do not subscribe to the politically correct agenda. But it’s not the key point. It is really the process by which a group of people aim to shut down discussion and debate by labeling certain viewpoints as taboo. It is no less harmful just because the majority happen to oppose the liberal PC agenda.

It is therefore not PC for a man to claim that he believes a woman’s place is in the kitchen. It might be his perspective. But in many parts of society—particularly the Wellington liberal set—any man who expresses that view will be shouted down and silenced. The smacking debate, in which the liberals would like to make criminals of parents who use even moderate physical force in disciplining their children by lumping them alongside violent offenders—is a classic example. A person who questions the entitlement of a perfectly able person to live a lifetime on a benefit without any compulsion to work, is considered by many liberals to be a fascist. A woman who declares that her belief is that homosexuality is wrong and sinful is threatened with a human rights complaint, merely for expressing that belief. Questioning the level of arts funding in the Capital is likely to trigger a storm of protest from the chardonnay-swilling, “freethinking” Labour voters, with cries of philistinism.

The PC agenda is a liberal agenda. It attempts to control how people think, and their right to express their thoughts, by both restricting the language of debate, and what is acceptable to debate. It makes clearly liberal assumptions about what is acceptable, and does not brook argument of those assumptions.

There is an easy test for the existence of political correctness in any dialogue: if in a group discussion, a single person contests the assumptions of the debate, and that person is shouted down, then political correctness has won. When there is no opportunity to argue the language of debate, there can be only one answer, and debate itself is futile. PC “values” do not protect the dissenting voice: they make value judgements about which voice should be heard, and aim to silence all other dissenting voices.

Defenders of politically correct strategies deny that it exists in the public sector. That is a nonsense. Taking up the challenge to cite specific examples, as Wayne Mapp is planning to do, I will assist him by highlighting each week one of the many public sector PC excesses.

The great irony, of course, is that the result of the PC agenda is publicly quite visible. It is just seldom documented. So Helen Clark is feted at the New Zealand music awards, and lauded by both audience and presenters, while Don Brash’s arrival is jeered and booed by all. And that is seen as acceptable behaviour. Business is bad, Government is good. Rich people are evil, poor people—but not so poor as to not be able to afford the glad rags on display at the Music awards—good. Economic success is wrong, whereas a life of welfare is ideal. Why? Because Helen is a curry-chomping, socialist, gay-friendly icon, whereas Don Brash is a middle-aged male who wants to question the key assumptions that the Liberal Left hold about New Zealand society.

The PC agenda is most pervasive in the delivery of social services. PC behaviour is not necessarily found in the press releases, the ministerial speeches, or even departmental brochures or briefing papers, where it can be readily exposed and ridiculed. Rather, it is deep in the culture of the organization that key liberal assumptions are made about debatable issues, for no other reason than to further advance the liberal grip in the public sector.

But on with this week’s example. Because as much as the PC brigade attempt to conceal their motives, if you dig deep enough, you’ll find evidence of how they think, and more alarmingly, how they want everybody else to think. Take this example:

“It is essential that a Ministry of Health person has an understanding of Mäori issues. This includes an awareness of traditional and contemporary Mäori and Iwi structures, key Mäori concepts, an awareness of legislation, Treaty of Waitangi issues and policy affecting the key areas of work.”

This statement appears in a job description for a certain position at the Ministry of Health. Let’s break it down.

An understanding of Mäori issues. Right. What does that mean? What constitutes that understanding? Who defines it? Who judges how valid that understanding is? Who determines whether that understanding is right or wrong?

An awareness of traditional and contemporary Mäori and Iwi structures. Why? If there exists a programme whereby services are delivered through contemporary Maori structures, why is it necessary to be aware of traditional structures that existed in 1840, but are now non-existent? How does that assist in the delivery of health services?

Key Mäori concepts.” Okay. But what are they? Who decides what those key Mäori concepts are? Is there a set list, set down somewhere, that establishes those Mäori concepts in stone? Are those key concepts not open to debate? Are they unchanging, and concrete? And if so, how can the Treaty of Waitangi be a living document, as so many liberal academics and bureaucrats describe it, if key Mäori concepts are so definite?

And the job description in question is for a financial analyst. It is no less than a key requirement for the employee to fulfill. Yes, folks, at the Ministry of Health, a cost accountant, preparing budget forecasts and financial data models, is required by the Ministry of Health to be indoctrinated in its inalienable version of what constitutes “Maori issues”. It doesn't matter how good a financial analyst a person is; if they do not subscribe to the Ministry's liberal view of Maori issues, they do not make the grade.

The Sow Returns

Man-Hater extraordinnaire, and full-time cranky old moo-moo has re-enabled public access to her blog. She's also set up a list of house rules, which although I don't object to a blog owner setting her own protocol, she somewhat misses the point.

Ruthie slammed another blog-writer by selectively quoting something that the other blogger wrote, without referencing, linking, or attributing that quote to the author. She made baseless, ridiculous claims about the blogger that had no reference even to the quoted part, let alone the entire context of the offending post. And then, once she'd received a good flogging for her silliness, she shut down debate on her blog.

So welcome back, Ruth. There just aren't enough silly people in the world already. It's a delight to have you back, making a mockery of lucid thinking everywhere your head travels. I look forward to more sowisms from you.

Wednesday, October 26, 2005

Ministerial Dickhead Of The Week: Part One

This is a new feature I’ve added for the exclusive reading pleasure of Insolent Prick followers. Every week I am going to randomly select one of the many stupid statements issued by Government Ministers, and coin that person Ministerial Dickhead of the Week. Judgement will be tough and severe, and no further correspondence will be entered into, with respect to the results. For those Ministers who feature frequently in this section, I will not be accepting their votes against other Ministers.

Alas, this week I have assembled a range of absurd press releases by Government Ministers, and I inadvertently withdrew two statements from the pile. So many stupid words were uttered by the Government that I struggled to separate them all from each other. So this week, I announce that the Ministerial Dickhead Of The Week is…


In first place, we have Steve Maharey, who challenges Wayne Mapp to explain his portfolio title of National’s Spokesman for the Eradication of Political Correctness. Maharey notes that Mapp has a “light portfolio load”, and wants National to justify what else he is doing. This from a Government that has five Ministers outside Cabinet with no direct portfolio responsibilities, and two Cabinet Ministers with the negligible roles, respectively, of Building Issues and Statistics, and Customs and Youth Affairs.

Really, Mr Maharey. With the current state of the education system, and the fact that you’re new to your role, aren’t there more important things for you to be talking about?

And tied for first place, we have Jim Anderton.* Jim Anderton criticizes National for placing Agriculture so low among its spokesmanships (number ten). This, despite the fact that with the departure of Jim Sutton, Labour will have no farmers in Cabinet, whereas National has nine farmers in its top twenty.

Oh, and Mr Anderton: isn’t it YOUR government that has placed Foreign Affairs outside of the Cabinet, and by Winston’s reckoning, outside of the GOVERNMENT?

Haven't you fuckers got anything better to do? Like come to grips with your new portfolios?

*Hard to predict these things, but I suspect he is likely to feature often as Ministerial Dickhead Of The Week.

The Feel-Good Opposition

One of the great mistakes that Opposition leaders often make is to match caucus policy interests with spokesmanships. It might seem like the most obvious means of allocating opposition portfolios, but it overlooks one of the fundamental tenets of politics: not all portfolios, and not all Ministers, are equal. Michael Cullen is more competent than Parekura Horomia; Trevor Mallard is a more forceful foe than Judith Tizard; and Phil Goff is more likely to keep a cool head than Ruth Dyson.

Then there are the hot buttons: law and order is more likely to flare up than internal affairs; education provides greater opportunity to expose shoddy Government dealings than Commerce; and Social Development has an inexperienced Minister who has been wounded by the Opposition before.

In putting together the opposition dream-team, Don Brash has several priorities. Firstly, he needs to present a credible alternative government in the key portfolio areas. Secondly, he needs to detail the Labour Government as less than credible, in specific portfolio areas. Thirdly, he needs to show that Labour are generally living a life of bureaucratic excess. Finally—and this is no small task on its own, given that his caucus has doubled—he needs to hold together his own team and isolate weak members from attack.

Labour has obvious weak-points already. It has, in the main, a solid front bench, but the second row is vulnerable. Steve Maharey is a fuck-up waiting to happen: he sees the hits that the Education portfolio took in the last term as a failure of marketing on Labour’s part, as opposed to key flaws in the administration and delivery of education policy. That is an error of judgement on his behalf, and until he takes the education portfolio seriously, he leaves Labour’s flank wide open to assault. Merely selling the NCEA better will not solve the basic flaws in the delivery of the NCEA.

Annette King, as Minister of Police, has a safe pair of hands. Yet Ministerial competence is not enough on its own to insulate a department from public scrutiny. To sort out the problems with the Police, she has to rebuild police force morale at an all-time low, which seems like an impossible feat for a Minister who is new to that post. It is not simply a public relations exercise: every time a youth in Otara commits a violent crime, that reflects back on the Police’s ability to deal with the social dysfunction in South Auckland.

Parekura Horomia is a bumbler and a waffler. Miraculous to many that somebody as obese as he is has managed to live this long, he’s not physically or mentally fit for ministerial office. Te Puni Kokiri has exploded in size over the past six years, employing policy analysts who do little more than create more work for other Government departments. If their purpose is to improve the lot of Maori in the community, then they don’t actually have any connection with that outcome.

Ruth Dyson is easily flustered. She is a hard-line unionist, of proud Labour Party stock. Whereas Margaret Wilson appeared to be disconnected from the needs of business and employment, Dyson is an all-out CTU stooge. She will be a key driver behind raising the minimum wage to unaffordable levels, and will likely be instrumental in making the labour market even less flexible than it is now. In ACC, she inherited a government agency that was already taking a far more pragmatic and business-oriented approach to delivering accident rehabilitation, but her instinct is to nationalize where possible. It irks her that ACC uses the private hospital system to deliver medical treatment for ACC recipients.

David Benson-Pope is a newish Minister. In Social Development, he will need to defend the bloating of the Ministry of Social Development with policy advisers, and a no-fault welfare system that quite happily transfers unemployment beneficiaries into student allowances and low-quality courses, or alternatively onto sickness benefits. The swollen Welfare State, by any reasonable analysis, has not produced lower unemployment. That is evident in the ghettoes that exist in and around New Zealand’s main centres. More precisely, unemployment numbers have principally been reassigned to other expenditure lines; many of the attendees of polytechnics and wananga are unemployed by any other name.

David Parker will need to front the Kyoto debacle, and has responsibility for energy and transport. Helen Clark has shown obvious faith in him to dish him such significant portfolios. But he is a vulnerability through inexperience.

Nanaia Mahuta is of the Parekura Horomia school: difficult to see what she’s done to deserve a Cabinet placing, and as Minister of Youth Affairs and Customs, she hardly has the workload to justify it, either. Youth Affairs, at least, leaves her open to entrapment on youth crime. She is a key Minister to hold to account, for the main reason that the more it is shown just how little she does in Cabinet, the greater the image of an indolent Government taking the Treasury benches for granted becomes.

Next we have the Ministers outside Cabinet: Judith Tizard, Dover Samuels, Mita Ririnui and Mahara Okeroa hold their positions for no reason other than pure political patronage on Helen Clark’s part. They hold no portfolios of any merit, and nor do they play central roles in the administration of the portfolios that they assist. They are joke Ministers that taxpayers are funding, in a culture of administrative overindulgence.

Now we get to Winston: Foreign Minister outside Cabinet. One of the great—and few—hits that Labour had in the last campaign was the pro-US, pro-nuke smear. They tried to make foreign policy a key election issue. It may have circulated in the liberal Wellington set as an issue, but it will come back to bite Labour with a vengeance with Winston’s appointment. Labour’s projection of a sophisticated, independent, non-aligned foreign policy, where we can tell whomever we like that they’re a bunch of morons—provided that the audience isn’t Scandinavia or France—is dead in the water. Instead, all discussion in diplomatic circles will be Winston’s latest dalliances.

So how has National fared, in this task of setting competent spokesman against competent Ministers, and more importantly, brawlers who can tear apart Labour’s incompetent ones?

In Finance, John Key demonstrated during the campaign that he can foot it with Michael Cullen. He also has Bill English supporting him to the hilt, and the strategically very smart Craig Foss behind him. That is a more than fair match.

Steve Maharey is up against the quintumvirate of Bill English, Tau Henare, Pansy Wong, Colin King, and Allan Peachey. The ones to watch are English, who can shoot through a bureaucratic brief better than any Minister, and Peachey, who has the ammunition from the coal-face to tear Maharey apart, on the one hand, on the state of secondary education standards, and on the other, on the outrageous strains that schools face while the Ministry of Education feasts on its own organizational gluttony. Peachey is a lucid and eloquent communicator: fifteen years of speech-making to school children has been a perfect apprenticeship to life in the debating chamber. He will fire early, and fire often.

Law and Order may well be Simon Power’s making as a major contender in the next National Government. With the Police in a state of perpetual crisis, despite the release of Government crime figures (that nobody believes), Power has been given the opportunity to sink his teeth into every Police scandal, bungle, and inappropriate Government directive on offer. He has the chance to do that by blaming Government policy, rather than the ranks themselves: Government is responsible for poor recruitment numbers; Government is responsible for poor allocation of resources to the ghettoes; Government is responsible for appointing the next Commissioner, who will inevitably walk into a firestorm. Power has a creative and energetic assistant in Chester Borrows: a former detective sergeant himself, Chester has the opening to break into informal police information channels and help expose Government mismanagement.

Maori Affairs is one area that National risks dropping the ball. Gerry Brownlee is already stretched with other duties, and he’s not part of the Maori grapevine. Georgina TeHeuHeu is not naturally combative. Tau Henare has the balls to go after Horomia’s throat, and is probably the only person in the National caucus who can pull it off.

Wayne Mapp will struggle to land major hits against Ruth Dyson in Labour and industrial relations, unless Dyson lands own-goals. Mapp has a tendency to get bogged down in detail and the minutiae of policy argument. He doesn’t have a cut-throat sensibility about him. Dyson should, by virtue of her extreme dogma, be a prime target for National.

Judith Collins will be a formidable foil for David Benson-Pope. She has held the shadow Welfare portfolio for some time already, and was beginning to land some major strikes on Maharey. Benson-Pope’s approach in his portfolios appears to be to bore listeners to tears, to kill an issue; Collins won’t stand for that kind of nonsense.

In Energy, National’s Nick Smith is an erratic creature at the best of times. He’s up against David Parker, a new Minister, with the superb prospect of rattling him early. If that’s going to work, Smith needs to focus himself. Maurice Williamson was always going to have the Transport portfolio, but a clear strategy of stringing David Parker up by the carbon tax noose needs to be devised between the two of them.

Nanaia Mahuta invites a savaging. Realistically, Judith Collins and Katherine Rich are probably the only ones who can carry it off publicly. There’s little to gain from the Customs or Youth Affairs portfolios in a policy sense, but a strong move highlighting her incompetence and/or superfluousness in the Clark Government will be timely at some point this term.

Likewise, I tend to think that Judith Tizard, Dover, Mita and Ririnui should be key Opposition targets. Even if they’re competent—and they mostly aren’t—there simply isn’t enough work for them to do. It’s a classic example of Ministerial excess, of a Government that does not care about the taxpayer.

And lastly we have Foreign Affairs. Murray McCully will never be Foreign Minister in a National Government. If Phil Goff had remained in that post, then the spokesman would have been Wayne Mapp, or Simon Power. But with Winston as the Minister, it is right and proper to bring out the biggest attack-dog of all in McCully as the Opposition spokesman.

McCully thrives on scandal and gossip. Winston will be a key cause of scandal and gossip in Foreign Affairs this term. And while McCully doesn’t have the MFAT networks that the combined sixty-five years’ of service have given associate spokesmen Tim Groser and John Hayes, McCully does have the political instinct, and downright ruthlessness, to go after Winston when Groser and Hayes may have resisted. McCully understands how Winston operates, probably better than any other MP in the House. McCully will teach Groser and Hayes a fair lesson in opposition tactics, to a pair who, while they can manage international politics and bureaucratic functions, are instinctively parliamentary political greenhorns. By the time McCully has made the most of Groser and Hayes’ backgrounds to leave Winston in tatters, Groser will be sufficiently trained to take up the reins as Foreign Minister in a National Government.

Critically, whereas in the past, National was competing with United Future, the Greens, New Zealand First, and Act for media coverage in opposition, National has established itself as the be-all and end-all of opposition this term. Despite Winston’s curiously semantic definition of an Opposition party, neither the public, nor the media, believe that he is not part of the Government. United Future, and only to a slightly lesser extent, the Greens are at least Labour’s cheerleaders. The Maori Party is too dysfunctional to make an impact, or to land hits on the Government, and Act are too small to dominate the agenda. So how National performs this term will dictate the size of its majority and its preparedness for office next election.

The clock has started. We have a weak Labour Government with some feeble Ministers on the one side, and an awesome National-led opposition on the other side. That alone is almost sufficient to feel good about the future of government, and to continue hoping that one day in the not-too-distant future, I will get my tax cut.

Tuesday, October 25, 2005

Of Family Gatherings...

The National Party, I have often thought, is a large, extended family of sorts. We have our fair share of inbreds, of high-flyers, of plodders, of cringers, of those who suffer their little misfortunes, and those who always seem to be blessed by fine luck. There are many whom I would not choose to associate with, but there’s something still rather comforting about the idea that they’re not commie pinkos, and that they’re celebrating their electoral holy days in my church, and not with the infidels.

Blessed are the capitalists, for we shall not just inherit the earth, but farm it productively.

I had spent election day in a safe National seat, about to become much safer, with the confirmation of a fresh, vibrant new candidate to its ranks. At seven o’clock, as the booths closed, and the troops began to flow back in to watch the start of the count, the wine started pouring and the beer began pumping, I spared a thought for the fortunes of the Labour Party in these safe blue seats: at the polling stations they had been few and far between, supporting insipid Labour candidates, and receiving no support from the local organisations. While National ran a smooth-machine—food and drink runners for the hundreds of local workers, with hand-signed notes from the candidates and cookies baked by the candidates’ spouses—the workers’ party didn’t care its folk. Or perhaps E-Day support was one thing they couldn’t charge against the taxpayer.

Yes, dear reader. The thought I spared for the Labour campaigners was that they were a bunch of SUCKERS.

With an eight o’clock start, after eleven hours of running between booths, phone calling, and scrutineering, I was looking forward to getting pissed.

And at the local campaign headquarters, it was boozing within a family atmosphere. One of the campaigner’s two-year-old children was rolling around the floor, threatening to pull down the displays, drink a bottle of Jif, and seemed very keen to embark on a career of alcoholism. As I tapped my glass against his bottle of Pump, he and I said “Cheers” simultaneously. Something told me that kid is going to go somewhere, someday.

But local campaign gigs tend to fade once the count starts coming in, so soon I was off to the National Party’s regional gathering at Alexandra Park for the rest of the evening. I walked in the door at 8:30pm, as Richard Worth was conceding defeat to Rodney. By this stage I was sufficiently intoxicated to be quite audible to the media rabble, as I muttered: “Good riddance, you useless, pompous cock,” as I wandered past him.

By that stage in the evening, the advance votes—those cast prior to election day—had been counted. The small, rural booths were coming in quickly. The swing to the Nats was phenomenal. The mood was up-beat and excitable. A clear scent of victory was wafting through the air.

I made my way straight to the bar. On my return, I spotted one of the ghosts from National elections past. We embraced as joyously as two straight guys can, and began to give our respective analyses of how the day had gone. In a lubricated state, I remarked to him that I wasn’t annoyed that Rodney had picked up Epsom, and that I’d thought Don Brash had left a subtle opening for National Party voters on the eve of the election, when he’d stated that National voters will do what is best for Epsom. This statement invoked a flash of bitterness in him, as he recalled that as a National candidate some aeons earlier, he had been shat on far more conclusively by the Party machine.

“Ah, but you’re still here now!” I say to him, and down my drink quickly as I find another excuse to leave for the bar.

Now, by this stage, the bar is being well patronised. So the only theoretical means of not queuing all evening is to buy three drinks at once, and only line up a third as often. This, like Paul Holmes’ move to Prime, is fine enough in theory, but in practice doesn’t work out. Because it means I just end up drinking three times as fast. Which, given my purpose to get solidly sloshed, is not such a bad idea.

Here I am, juggling three glasses of bourbon. I bump into a TV3 reporter. He greets me by name, and I offer him a bourbon. He refuses, on the grounds that he’s supposed to remain sober in case the Prime Minister-elect, as opposed to the next leader of the Opposition, needs to be interviewed. We chat for a few minutes about how things have gone, he expresses his joy—in a straight way—that Rodney has won Epsom, and we agree to get very boozed if I’m still standing by the end of the telecast.

Next come a few more activists. They’re Young Nats, and appear to be enjoying themselves as merrily as I am. A very fine-looking female walks past us, and that unspoken wager of the ages has begun. I only retreat when I realise that the female in question is the university student daughter of one of the newly-elected National MPs, and temperance gets the better of me.

On the big screen, the ubiquitous image of Hone Harawira pops up, as I am returning with another armful of drinks. I realize that a former senior MP of yesteryear is standing next to me, so I swill two of my beverages so as to avoid appearing gluttonous, and turn to him. “You know who Hone looks exactly like?”

“Who, Insolent?” The former MP asks.

“He’s the spitting image of that rogue businessman, whose board you sit on now that you’re no longer an MP,” I say.

The former MP is slightly annoyed, so I offer him my remaining bourbon to succor him, which he refuses, and I leave him and his indignity to himself. Another trip to the bar is required.

The barman already has my order ready, before I announce it. I trod off and introduce myself to a newly-elected MP. He’s still in good spirits, as our Party vote is still ahead. He then asks me for my opinion.

“Frankly, I think we’re fucked!”

“Pardon?” he asks.

“Yeah, we’re fucked. Our numbers are dropping… Labour’s going to pass us soon, because the larger booths in built-up Labour areas take the longest time to count.”

“Why’s that?” he asks.

“Because they’re staffed by particularly thick returning officers. They don’t count very well.” I then expound on a sudden theory I have established that a housewife in Remmers is far more numerate than a primary school teacher in Manurewa. Either this particular novice MP is extremely diplomatic, or he sees sense in my logic, as he agrees with me. I then point out that even if Labour is within three seats of us, they have shown during the campaign that they will give away anything for reelection: that Winston and Peter Dunne will go anywhere that the baubles are most shiny.

I down my bourbons, grab a handful of olives and garlic sausages, and return to the bar. The numbers on the screen are favouring my analysis. I harangue a few more people, and then the Leader arrives.

I have sat through many Leaders’ speeches over the past fifteen years. Some of them have been desultory. Others have been bitter. One of the most memorable, as it was the most audacious and booze-fuelled, was Mike Moore’s “long, cold night” taunt to Jim Bolger in 1993, in which he made the most disastrous verbal plays of his political career.

But Don Brash is a sober man. He had a captive audience approaching a thousand, who knew they had come so close to outright victory. He told it plain; as plain as he had throughout the campaign. “We don’t have a Government, but it’s too early to concede,” he said.

And he thanked people. Michelle Boag was the first name to come from him—and rightfully so, as it was her work three years ago that nominated the dream team that was now deciding National’s fortunes. Not just the MPs, either—a swollen proportion of the activists were present on election night through Michelle’s superior organizational and leadership skills.

It was an outstanding speech of non-concession. It signaled clearly to Labour that this term, even in Opposition, National will not concede an inch. And we don’t have to: Labour is in the last throes of Government—they may drag it out three years, but that doesn’t mean that its show will be any less dead in 2008. Don Brash created the appetite for a smaller state, for radical tax reductions, for fiscal accountability and prudence. And half the caucus, who were not there prior to this election--owe their allegiance to him.

And then it was time for me to wander off. A karaoke bar beckoned. I tallied, in my taxi, with the thought of making an appearance at Rodney Hide’s party, but I had forgotten the venue.

But I was prudent with my boozing. On a better night, I would have had three years’ of tax cuts to spend at the pub. Not that night. Not for a little while yet.

Thursday, October 20, 2005

Insolent Question

If the 21,000 students of Te Wananga o Aotearoa, and some 40,000 other students in institutions studying courses of dubious merit, were required to cease their studies, and re-enter the labour market, what effect would this have on our rate of unemployment?

Wednesday, October 19, 2005

Winston: Not The Worst Choice

I had an inkling early last week that Phil Goff was about to take up Trade and Trade Negotiations, and Sutton was out. It wasn’t really rocket science on my part; somebody from his office called me to assist in organizing a few people along to lunch in Auckland, to talk about trade issues with him.

Over the last six years, as Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Goff has focused almost exclusively on international political issues. He has left trade negotiations, and much of trade policy, to Jim Sutton. In international trade terms, Goff is a green-horn.

Both Foreign Affairs, and Trade, are plum and prestigious roles in the Cabinet. Goff was handed Foreign Affairs in 1999, in a key move by Helen Clark to keep him directed on international affairs, and keep him away from home for six months of the year. Trade carries a similarly high status, and the travel schedule is just as demanding. The trade policy and trade negotiations work is more detailed, and more technical, and requires an absolute command of the brief. By contrast, the foreign policy role is more ceremonial and diplomatic in nature.

Assuming that no minister can hold down both the trade negotiations and foreign policy roles, Goff, by taking on Trade Negotiations, had to be relinquishing Foreign Affairs. Which meant, of course, that Clark needed to make room in a prime, prestigious portfolio either for one of her own Cabinet she needed to keep distant, or for a complete outsider.

The reality is, however, that none of the other Labour ministers were worthy enough to post to Foreign Affairs. That’s to say, their performance, generally, had been so lackluster that nobody posed a threat to Helen Clark’s leadership. Maharey, Mallard, and Cullen would have loved to have had a go at it, but they were each partially culpable for an appalling Labour Party campaign. Hodgson is too loyal to Clark to need to be kept distant.

So who would the outsider be? Dunne or Winston?

That thinking is pretty easily dispensed with. Dunne in a cooperative government is not a threat. He will do any role, as long as he gets the influence of a ministerial warrant. Yes, he would have loved Foreign Affairs, but with just three seats at the table, he wasn’t going to get it.

So was it Winston’s for the taking?

Clark might have thought so. She knows Winston’s vanity. He enjoys the pomp and ceremony of public office, without having to work too hard for it. Contrary to what Don Brash has said, Winston is actually really pretty comfortable talking to foreign dignitaries. He is urbane and cultured, and capable of maintaining a sense of decorum in front of them.

Clark will also have observed how, as Treasurer for two years, that until the end, Winston stuck absolutely to the brief. He did not have legendary scraps or disagreements with officials and policy advisers; he doesn’t have the intellectual capacity to counter lucid, well-thought-out arguments, and a seventh floor beehive office is no place to win a public debate. By restricting Winston to Foreign Affairs—completely without trade—and allowing him a constant flow of eminent ambassadors and high commissioners to his office, and cocktails on the Wellington diplomatic circuit, and the frequent flyer miles he will rack up as a roving foreign minister without any policy influence—Winston will have his ego constantly massaged.

So of course he was going to take it.

Media attention to international reaction of Winston’s appointment has been skewed, and tend to miss the point more than slightly. Winston is a great fan of the Singaporean economic miracle, and took considerable interest in it while he was Treasurer. He doesn’t understand Japan, or China, or Indonesia, or Malaysia, or Thailand, but his understanding is no less than that of other Ministers. And our interests with those countries are principally economic, where Phil Goff will reign as Trade Minister. In person, Winston is courteous and polite. He doesn’t go about farting at the top table.

Clark knows that Winston wants to redeem his own reputation that still reeks of subversion, from his last time in government. He is now 60. He has only a few more years remaining in public life. The Foreign Minister’s post is his swansong.

The final point, of course, is that Clark herself has taken a lead in foreign policy to an extent that is far greater than any other PM since David Lange in his first term. She will continue to play that role with Winston holding the Ministerial post.

But it will be fun to watch. New Zealand’s diplomats will learn quickly not to schedule morning meetings when their Minister is in town. They will have to get used to the Minister taking off in the Ambassadorial car and driver to explore non-programmed sights. As long as he refrains from doing so in places such as China, where the state apparatus is well equipped to accommodate the peculiar whims of visiting VIPs, and then using the knowledge of indiscretions to their political advantage, then there should be no problem with Winston off overseas.

Besides: New Zealand’s foreign policy officers are well used to dealing with politically-appointed embarrassments. Having suffered the likes of Jonathan Hunt, John Collinge, Graeme Kelly, and Warren Cooper in international diplomacy, Winston should be no further burden.

My picks...

Been inactive lately. And I'm not giving any frigging excuses, because I don't owe excuses to ANYBODY!

Random thoughts on Aunty Helen's cabinet selections:

1. Cunliffe should take on Commerce and Economic Development from Swain. A smarmy bastard, but he's sharp and a good speaker. Will get immigration, for the same hot potato reasons. Mallard will get economic development instead.

2. David Parker shouldn't get Attorney-General, but he will. Should go to Dalziel, as should Justice. Instead she'll be handed Commerce.

3. Parker should get Local Government, Internal Affairs, and associate commerce and Justice. Instead he'll be passed the dummy of Attorney-General.

4. If I were Helen, I'd give Police to Annette King. She's just as safe as Goff, and realistically the Police minister needs to be in New Zealand for pressing domestic issues. A mistake to give it to Goff as Trade and Trade Negotiations Minister. King may also get Social Development. Goff should take on another international role--he's already been the key Defence wonk in Cabinet.

5. Health to Hodgson, no question.

6. Economic Development to Mallard.

7. Benson-Pope will get Social Development.