Scoop Election 08: edited by Gordon Campbell

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Gordon Campbell on what John Key should be asking Joe Biden

July 20th, 2016

First published on Werewolf

No doubt, US Vice-President Joe Biden will be updating Prime Minister John Key on the chances of a TPP vote taking place in the ‘ lame duck’ session of Congress that’s held between the November’s election and the inauguration of a new President in January. Whether there will be a vote on the TPP isn’t the point, though. Key needs to be asking Biden about how – and why – the White House is busily circumventing the TPP deal signed in Auckland earlier this year. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on China Steel Dumping Allegations

July 19th, 2016

First published on Werewolf

Over the course of the past decade, MFAT had managed to concoct a China policy of infinite subtlety, a gossamer illusion that – alas – China has just stomped into the dust. Apparently, if we object to their cheap, subgrade steel being jettisoned here, they’ll attack our kiwifruit exports. Quite a wake-up call. Until quite recently, New Zealand had convinced itself it was Beijing’s Best Friend in the West. Hadn’t we been rewarded with the first free trade deal that Beijing signed with a Western country? (It had helped that we – alone among Western countries – had virtually no tariff barriers to put in the way of China unloading its stuff on our economy. No wonder they liked the cut of our jib.) Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the censorship wreaking havoc within South Africa’s state broadcaster

July 15th, 2016

First published on Werewolf

Clearly, New Zealand is in no position to criticise the performance of any other country’s state broadcaster. (On Tuesday night, state broadcaster TV ONE lead its 6 o’clock news bulletin with a long report on the Pokemon Go game. Go figure. ) Even so, South Africa’s state broadcaster is in a real mess.

Ongoing turmoil at the South African Broadcasting Corporation threatened to grow into a full-scale insurrection this week, amid a raft of suspensions, gag orders, and widespread allegations about the toxic climate at the embattled pubcaster…

The most recent round of hassles at the SABC have included a bizarre set of decrees handed down by top executives close to the ruling ANC. These demands have included an order to staff that there should be no further negative news about the country’s President Jacob Zuma, and SABC camera operators responsible for choosing camera angles that have allegedly made the President ‘look shorter’ were to be retrained.

An SABC spokesman defended the order….saying that quality footage had to be a “true reflection” of the man in front of the camera.

Overall, 80% of the news coverage of the government now has to be positive.

The public broadcaster will no longer air any negative coverage of the president, according to local newspaper City Press, which quoted an SABC source saying Zuma “deserves a certain degree of respect as president of the country.” It’s the latest in a series of troubling moves by South Africa’s main broadcaster, led by chief operating officer Hlaudi Motsoeneng.

In line with this wave of censorship, top management at SABC imposed a ban on the state broadcaster screening any of the violent images of recent anti-government protests in Pretoria. This decree proved to be a major P.R. disaster, and led to resignations by the acting CEO and the suspension of several staff:

When the capital city was gripped by fiery demonstrations over the upcoming election and rights groups protested outside SABC offices against changes at the broadcaster itself, SABC boss Hlaudi Motsoeneng did not budge. Journalists who questioned him were suspended, while others penned a public letter expressing fear that the SABC is turning back into the propaganda machine it was during apartheid from the 1970s to the early 1990s.

In August, South Africa will be holding local body elections on August. These will provide a crucial grassroots test of the waning appeal of the ruling African National Congress. Evidently, the ANC is well aware of the mounting public backlash against its censorship of the SABC. There are even signs that the ANC could be willing to pull the plug on its minions – including Motseoneng and his top crony in government, ANC Communications Minister Faith Muthambi.

For obvious reasons the ANC has a major credibility problem in posing as a champion of free speech. While enforcing strict subservience at the SABC on one hand, it is also now lamenting the lack of free speech and the censorship policies that this crackdown entails.

Just a week after acting CEO Jimi Matthews stepped down, citing what he described as a “corrosive atmosphere,” the ruling African National Congress (ANC) blasted the broadcaster for censoring its coverage of violent protests in June, with party chief whip Jackson Mthembu saying that “people of South Africa need to be shown these images.

It may be too late for such double talk:

In recent days, media and civil society leaders have organized demonstrations outside the SABC headquarters in Johannesburg to protest the suspension of three staffers who openly questioned a decision not to cover last month’s unrest in the capital, Pretoria. Despite gag orders against those journalists, a growing number of former employees are speaking out about the decline of an institution that has been transformed since its days as a mouthpiece for the apartheid government.

“We worked very hard in those years to make it a proper public broadcaster, [and] to see it going backwards like this is heartbreaking,” former deputy CEO Govin Reddy told Eyewitness News.

For now, the ANC is still safe, electorally. Its rural base remains strong, but there are signs that urban unrest against the failure of the ANC to significantly improve the lot of the urban poor is on the increase.

Nationwide, the ANC still enjoys circa 60% support. In the three urban wards polled in the oink above, it was registering about half that level. The Ecnomic Freedom Fighters party of ANC dissident Julius Malema will be the party to watch. Like many other liberation movements – including the opne oin neighbouring Zimbabwe – the ANC is finding that being in government poses very different (and seeningly intractable) problems.

Zimbabwe Calling

And here from Zimbabwe is one of the bigger hits from the 1990s, by the great Leonard Dembo…

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Gordon Campbell on Labour’s housing policy, and TPP rewrites

July 11th, 2016

First published on Werewolf

Driving round Dunedin South yesterday was an interesting place to be hearing the news of Labour’s new housing policy launch. In Corstorphine and Kew came street after street of state housing built in a previous era by an effective government response to housing need, yet all of it now is plainly in urgent need of renewal. It was a useful reminder that state provision of affordable housing was the crowning achievement of the first Labour government. Much the same job now has to be done all over again – and within a wider economic framework where communities like Dunedin South aren’t gutted of jobs, and left behind to fester. (Affordable housing has to be within the context of good jobs, and reasonable incomes.) Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Tony Blair and the Chilcot Report

July 7th, 2016

Seven years in the making. Twelve volumes, and 2.6 million words. The Chilcot report into Britain’s involvement in the Iraq war in 2003 is indeed a blockbuster, and it dole out some harsh criticisms of former British PM Tony Blair – who led Britain into this disastrous action, which has led to so much death and suffering. (The March 2003 invasion and its aftermath also laid the groundwork for the rise of Islamic State.) Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on John Key’s weird pilgrimage to Europe

July 5th, 2016

First published on Werewolf

As history records, the last foreign dignitary seen by Chairman Mao before he died was a New Zealand Prime Minister, Robert Muldoon. With British PM David Cameron now on his political death bed, there’s a certain grim resonance in the fact that New Zealand PM John Key should also now come a-calling for an “informal” visit, and with Trade Minister Todd McClay in tow. Hey, remember us? No Dave, don’t get up.

In every other respect, the current Key/McClay expedition to the UK and Europe looks decidedly peculiar. The Brexit dust has not yet settled. British politics are in total disarray. On the Continent, there is pressure on the EU President Jean-Claude Juncker to resign.

Is this really such a good time for that little chap from New Zealand to come knocking on the door and ask if anyone wants to buy more of our lamb? Still a friend, eager to help.

The timing seems way off. Less than six weeks after Key visits Cameron, Cameron will be gone and Britain will have a new Prime Minister. Now, it is nice that Key should want to give Cameron one last consoling hug before the curtain drops on Cameron’s political career. David Cameron is probably the closest thing to a political mentor that Key has ever had. Yet what lasting value can there possibly be in this junket to meet with someone already numbered among the walking dead? Similarly, is this such a good time for McClay to be bothering the Europeans with a possible NZ/EU trade pact, when EU Trade Commissioner Cecilia Malmstrom is rather more focused on staunching the serious impact that Brexit is likely to have on the massive Trans-Atlantic Trade and Investment deal?

Here’s a crazy idea. Why not wait until Britain’s new political leadership team is in place, and then spend taxpayer money on a formal visit, aimed at fostering a relationship with the new people who will actually be making decisions in future about our trade ties with the UK and Europe ? True, likely British PM Theresa May would be a stern test for the John Key charm offensive, but the attempt will need to be made, eventually. By contrast, this current junket – except for the planned side trip to Indonesia – looks like a complete waste of time and money.

Nigel Farage, Exit Right

Having got Britain’s EU referendum on the rails and pushed the “Leave” option successfully over the line… Nigel Farage has now (for the third time in living memory) resigned as the leader of UKIP. This mock farewell sums up the Farage phenomenon pretty well:
AS WE contemplate the historic EU referendum, in which Britain will finally decide to throw off the yoke of tyranny, it’s hard to imagine that I won’t be here to see it. But sadly, in less than two days, the reason I was summoned to your dimension will be gone and the creature you know as Nigel Farage will no longer exist.
I came when England called, like Sir Lancelot and Robin Hood. I came in your hour of need to deliver you a seemingly endless referendum and this capering spirit has been as good as his word.
You knew I wasn’t real all along. How could I be? But a being of folklore, such as I, could be everywhere at once; on Question Time, guffawing in the golf club, popping into a pub in Peterborough for a pint and stepping out into the Sunderland sunlight for a smoke.
Never elected to public office, never within an inch of power, I nonetheless bamboozled your political establishment into this marvellous gift of a complicated expensive thing, but I shall not see its result. My purpose done and my revels now ended, for every vote counted tomorrow I fade a little more until I am melted into thin air leaving only a spectral blazer and a pair of gold bulldog cufflinks behind.
But mourn not this jester, for I do not die. I merely sleep until this sceptr’d isle has need of me again. Are you going to the bar?
For a (slightly) more considered farewell to someone who worked tirelessly and successfully to bring out the worst in Britain’s national character and give it lasting effect, try this.

We should not celebrate too soon. Farage has embodied UKIP so completely that – as with Jeremy Clarkson and Top Gear – its hard to see anyone else successfully replacing Farage at the helm of the party. Without Farage, UKIP will almost certainly start to go down the tubes. What’s the betting that Farage will eventually feel impelled to make yet another comeback? For the good of the nation and the ordinary people without a voice, of course.

Alejandro Escovedo

Since his stint with the 1980s alt country band Rank and File and throughout a long solo career, Alejandro Escovedo has always been a terrific songwriter. “The Ladder” is from his 2006 album The Boxing Mirror.

I’d climb a ladder just to see you
I have no eyes but I can feel
Two snakes entwine so I can be you
This ladder climbs from me to you

In the second verse, he name checks ‘La Bufadora’ – which is a beautiful geyser/natural blowhole found on the coast at Ensenada in Baja California, Mexico. In the final verse, Escovedo also refers to the caracara – a bird of prey that belongs to the falcon family, and is fairly common throughout the Americas, from Texas to Tierra del Fuego.

Let’s sleep away the pain we suffer
The medicine is in our dreams
Fly away like caracaras
This ladder climbs from me to you….

Here’s Escovedo again, with an excellent up tempo divorce/breakup song, called “ Crooked Frame.”

Finally, Jennifer Warnes recorded a great version of another evocative Escovedo song, “Pissed Off, 2am.”

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Gordon Campbell on a bad week for Malcolm Turnbull, and the Queen

July 4th, 2016

First published on Werewolf

Traditionally, the Liberals have been better at organising their postal votes (before election day) than the Australian Labour Party. So, the Australian bookies who gambled in favour of a Liberals victory may still prevail, despite losing a couple of nights sleep since Saturday. Likewise, when vote counting resumes tomorrow, Malcolm Turnbull’s immediate goal – mere survival – is still within his grasp. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on Britain’s pleas for mercy

June 29th, 2016

First published on

So… Boris Johnson is promising that he won’t be holding a snap general election, if he’s chosen as the next UK Conservative Party leader.

Reportedly, he is even making that promise a feature of his leadership campaign, since a vote for Boris would therefore mean (wink wink) that his colleagues wouldn’t have to risk their jobs and face the wrath of the British public until 2020. Incredible. So… the same Boris Johnson who railed so eloquently against Britain’s decisions being made by the unelected bureaucrats of Brussels, now plans to rule Britain himself unelected, for the next five years – on the back of a Conservative Party mandate that was actually won by his referendum opponent, the “Remain” leader, David Cameron. Regardless, Home Secretary Theresa May will be a formidable opponent for Johnson. The results of the leadership vote – likely to be a May vs Johnson showdown- will be announced on 9 September.

Given the mood of the British public, the Conservatives seem equally reluctant to (a) hold a snap election over Brexit and (b) trigger the article 50 exit clause from the European Union. A queasy stalemate now exists. On Brexit, the Europeans clearly want Britain to hurry up and get on with it, but no British politician (apart from Nigel Farage) seems willing to step up and be held responsible for pulling the trigger. Some people have taken hope from this stalemate, and read it as a sign that maybe an article 50 exit might never happen.

Faint hope.

Meanwhile, over on the other side of the fence, Angela Eagle seems to have emerged as the initial ‘soft left’ compromise candidate to succeed Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader. (In passing, Eagle’s rise underlines just how prominent women currently are across the West’s political landscape: Angela Merkel, Theresa May, Hillary Clinton, Elizabeth Warren etc. etc.) Within the parliamentary wing of the British Labour Party though, the man who triggered the coup against Corbyn (Hilary Benn) has said that he won’t stand for the leadership. Corbyn may not, either. By some legal arguments, Corbyn could well be required to collect 50 nominations from his colleagues to be able to stand for re-election – as every one of his challengers would also need to do. Given that Corbyn has just lost a vote of no confidence among his colleagues by a whopping 170 to 40, it is by no means certain that right now, he could clear the nominations hurdle. In which case, Corbyn’s popularity among the party at large would be irrelevant.

Looking beyond the current stalemate… what exactly will the next British PM (whoever it is) be pursuing as a credible goal in the negotiations with the EU? Yesterday, Angela Merkel made it clear Britain cannot expect to shirk its duties as a full EU member, but still retain all of its privileges. During the referendum campaign, the “Leave” proponents seemed to be advocating some kind of “Norway” or “Switzerland” status whereby market access continued outside full EU membership.

Those two countries though, are Shengen visa countries, allowing free movement. In which case, as the Australian economist John Quggin has pointed out, any Brexiteers now hoping to pursue a Norway/Switzerland market access model for Britain will actually have achieved the removal of the existing controls on immigration, rather than the imposition of new limits. Cameron, for his part, is pleading for market access to Europe, alongside greater powers to curb immigration.

Of course he is, poor little chap. That’s one example of how impossible it will be for Britain to cherry pick its new access conditions to Europe. For obvious reasons, Britain is likely to be punished, not rewarded. Whatever Britain’s negotiation plan may be – and there is no sign as yet that such a plan exists – those negotiations will be nasty and could involve up to ten years of further economic uncertainty for Britain, before completion. Oh, and if Britons expected to escape with a better deal from the EU’s current rules on fishing stocks – a big promise of the ‘Leave’ campaign – that won’t be happening now, either.

British fishermen have been warned that, despite the promises made by the leave campaign, they cannot expect to be granted greater catches after the UK leaves the European Union, and they may face increased economic turmoil.

Fishermen will have to remain within their current catch quotas while the UK is still a member, and even if new arrangements are negotiated after a Brexit, they will not necessarily be more generous, fisheries chiefs and campaigners have warned.

In fact, the Independent has just published a useful updated list on the major promises/lies of the “Leave” campaign, and the cold reality.

But whenever there’s carnage, the vultures will gather. Following sharp declines, stock markets rallied yesterday as investors came in, looking for bargains. This bounce may not mean the Brexit-induced bottom has been reached, investors were warned.

Spain Votes For Austerity

As this column pointed out a couple of days ago, the Brexit vote is likely to give the policies of economic austerity a new lease of life, just as those policies were in retreat across Europe. For proof, one need look no further than the results of the Spanish election, held just two days after the Brexit vote.

Though the polls had been predicting major gains for the radical left, the ruling conservative PP party pulled out all the stops in the 48 hours between the Brexit result and election day. As you might expect, the PP leadership warned against the risks involved in embracing change during such volatile times. Result: the predicted vote for the new party of the left (Unidos Podemos) and the new party of the right (Ciudadanos) both collapsed. Voters sought refuge in the corrupt old party of the right (PP) and the equally lacklustre old left wing party (PSOE).

In all likelihood, the PP will now be able to cobble together a governing coalition with Ciudadanos and a conservative group of small regional parties. On current counts, this may still come up one seat short of the 176 needed to rule the 350 seat assembly, which will probably mean that PSOE will abstain, and allow the PP to rule as a minority government. Or even worse, PSOE may join PP and Ciudadanos in a “grand coalition”. The big loser of the election has been Unidos Podemos, which was offering the only real alternative to the neo-liberal/austerity consensus. Thank Brexit for that outcome.

Tyler, Again

Wordlessly, guitarist William Tyler conveys a good deal of the current mood of social dislocation. Nice to note Nick Bollinger’s rave RNZ review this week of Tyler’s new album Modern Country . Incidentally, that title has less to do with rhinestone suits than with various forms of malaise. I’ve been regularly pushing Tyler’s merits in this column for 18 months or more – but it seems like a good morning to showcase him once again. According to Tyler, he wrote “Highway Anxiety” while driving himself for the hundreds of miles between his gigs – and the time alone on the road not only enabled him to see what was happening to rural communities, but set him to worrying about the future of his country. This is anxiously beautiful music, for anxious times.

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Gordon Campbell on the Shewan Inquiry into our tax haven rules

June 28th, 2016

First published at

Like the political equivalent of lithium, Prime Minister John Key is routinely administered to dull any politically dangerous mood swings amidst the general public. Tax havens? Here? Goodness no, our handling of foreign trusts, is, quote, world class, unquote. And when subsequent evidence shows the opposite and that there really are serious problems… Key can always be relied on to be soothingly OK with that, too. Of course the government will enact “most” of the recommendations made in John Shewan’s investigation of our foreign trust regime. There. Now back to sleep, its been a big day. Read the rest of this entry »

Gordon Campbell on the aftermath of Brexit

June 27th, 2016

First published on

Be careful of what you ask for. Now that it has woken up from its Brexit victory hangover, is Britain acting as if it has just won the World Cup? Hardly. Exasperated EU ministers may be urging Britain to go ahead and trigger its (ostensibly two year long) article 50 exit from the Treaty of Lisbon, so that a new stability can be established ASAP in Europe. Yet instead, Britain is furiously dragging its feet and saying… perish the thought. Reportedly, Britain won’t act on this “victory” and trigger article 50 until it can figure out what to do next – which will be after David Cameron leaves office and a new British PM gets appointed… sometime around October, maybe? Read the rest of this entry »