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John Bishops' Communications Line - 31 July 2008

John Bishops' Communications Line – July 31 2008

What makes a conservative?

Demonising the right is always a popular left wing pastime. (It happens in reverse too.) Chris Trotter's column in the Sunday Star Times of 20 July was one of the more outrageous examples where he bitterly attacked 'the cockies, the rich and the reactionaries. " Another example - this time in the guise of academic research - came to my attention last week.

I attended a seminar by Victoria University academic, psychologist Marc Wilson, on Voting Behaviour. According to Mr Wilson being conservative is associated with racism, sexism and authoritarianism.

Mr Wilson's model comes from the USA and seeks to explain voting behaviour by juxtaposing attitudes to freedom and equality. Conservatives (National) value freedom more; while liberals (Labour, Greens) value equality more.

From his New Zealand research he claims that voting National correlates with support for the use of animals in research, support for genetic engineering, red meat consumption, sexism, materialism, racism and hierarchy enhancing occupations (although he added that the correlations with being a Republican were stronger in the United States.)

However the New Zealand correlations aren't much above 0.50 (some were below). In other words, there are a lot of other things happening for which his model does not account.

I pointed out to Mr Wilson that by associating conservatives in general, and National in particular, with racism, sexism and authoritarianism he had done a good job of demonising the right, a claim he did not deny. "It's just the way the data turned out", he said. No comparable analysis of the associations of 'liberal' was offered.

I think his approach is wrong. For a start liberal and conservative aren't polar opposites in New Zealand as Mr Wilson seems to think. Secondly much of our political history has been about what left wing economist and public servant Bill Sutch called the quest for security. Much of the impetus for the welfare state and the ordered economy was about trying to prevent and avoid the economic upheaval and social chaos caused by the Depression and the vagaries of economic cycles.

Although the welfare state sounded radical in the 1930s, it was not socialism. It was fundamentally about securing stability for the working and lower middle classes. These people may have been economically progressive, but they were social conservatives as anyone who campaigned for liberal causes in the Labour Party of the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s recalls only too well.

To be liberal could be "socially liberal" , that is tolerant and accepting or it could be "economically liberal" in the tradition of John Stuart Mill through to Hayek and Friedman. It's possible to be low on one of those dimensions and high on another. Liberal isn't necessarily left or centre left in New Zealand, as it might be in the US. Overall I concluded this was a rather slight and shallow exercise, which did the presenter no credit. I support academic freedom, but as a paying customer, I expected something better than some rehashed model of the 1970s imported from the United States and applied to New Zealand without any recognition of the different historical conditions and political traditions.

Candidates at the Chamber

One observation by Wilson that conservatives talked about freedom while liberals talked about social justice was borne out in a forum for the Wellington Central candidates in this year's general election. At yesterday's forum, hosted by the Wellington Regional Chamber of Commerce, Labour's Grant Robertson referred to his "strong sense of social justice" and his commitment to "a fair and inclusive society." National's Stephen Franks talked of economic decline. "If this country doesn't reverse (current policies).our kids will inevitably go overseas and stay there."

Robertson's mantra - "strong economy, fair society, sustainable world" - contrasted with Franks' "almost all the policies adopted by the Labour government have prevented us from going up the OECD economic rankings as a country." ACT's Heather Roy said that as polling showed that "Epsom was in the bag, all party votes for ACT would now count". ACT wanted 5% - 6% economic growth per year and had a 20 point plan to achieve that.

United Future's Vaughan Smith recognised "a big movement for change in this election", but the Green's Sue Kedgley saw it as a defining moment when voters would choose the Green vision of a transformed economy with less dependency on oil, fewer carbon emissions and affordable and efficient public transport.

Life after Veitch

It's all gone quiet on the Tony Veitch front, and the nation has breathed a huge collective sigh of relief that we are no longer affronted by the domestic troubles of a mouthy sportscaster. The question of whether an assault took place is now being investigated by the police, and that's the proper process. It's not something an employer or the media can do properly.

In my view there is one, and really only one, important question. What did Tony do to Kristin on that night in January 2006? Did he, as initially reported, hit her so hard that she needed hospital treatment and was in a wheel chair for weeks? What physical damage did he do when he "lashed out" as he put it? No violence is acceptable, but here the scale matters because it influences opinion about whether his confession and apology on TV were enough or not. He might get away with some slapping and punching, but violent kicking is a different matter entirely.

That's too much for your mates to justify or explain away, for Veitch and Dunne-Powell to cover up by a private agreement and monetary compensation, for an employer to ignore, or for the public to forgive, however abject the public apology and whatever acts of contrition and penance he might undertake.

But let's not forget the story in the Sunday Star Times of 20 July where Donna Chisholm reported "sources say Dunne-Powell walked out of hospital after treatment following the assault and did not leave in a wheelchair." (as claimed in the original DominionPost story). Chisholm began the story. "Tony Veitch's former lover Kristin Dunne-Powell returned to the broadcaster's Auckland home for a Valentine's Day visit just two weeks after the assault which allegedly broke her back, the Sunday Star-Times has been told."

If accurate, the lower scale of injury is consistent with Veitch's "lashed out" version (with its implication of momentary rage and no lasting harm, which makes his contrition easier to swallow). If it is not accurate and the police find a serious physical beating took place resulting in significant hurt and harm to Kristin, then walking away from his two jobs will be the least of Veitch's problems.

Mervyn Thompson recalled

Those with long memories may recall the late Mervyn Thompson, a drama lecturer at Canterbury University, who later moved to Auckland University. Mervyn - or Proc as he was known after playing Proculeius in Ngaio Marsh's production of Antony and Cleopatra - had a reputation for not treating women well. In 1984, he was attacked by a group of women, stripped naked, tied to a tree, and left there with a sign 'rapist' hanging around his neck. The perpetrators were never found, and the incident hastened his death, his friends say.

Essayist Patrick Evans said in "Whipping up a local culture: Masochism and the cultural nationalists" that "the public rape of Thompson was probably the most successful planned interruption of the status quo this country has ever seen, sending a shudder through New Zealand manhood that permanently transformed gender relations in New Zealand universities (for example) overnight and - aided by the victim's unquenchable desire to talk about it in public- threw into the public arena the entire issue of how men have related to women over the years."

Will the Veitch incident be remembered in the same way? That will largely depend on the outcome of any criminal proceedings that might be brought, or on what his former partner Kristin Dunne-Powell might (eventually) choose to reveal.

Sian Elias attacks the boys' club

The Chief Justice's speech to a conference of women lawyers in Australia last month is attracting a good deal of attention for its outspokenness. "I didn't think members of the Establishment were supposed to say things like this", is just one of the astounded but favourable comments coming from women lawyers. "Gobsmackingly good" was another verdict on the speech.

On women getting ahead, the Chief Justice says "as it is becoming clearer that the impediments to women's participation in the legal profession are not confined to those that block the door but include patterns of behaviour and work which women do not accept or cannot meet, strategies for overcoming these impediments may collide with legal culture or give rise to fears that women are to receive advantages. Young women with family responsibilities cannot keep up with ridiculous billing hour requirements or demonstrate commitment by working unhealthy work hours. Nor should their male colleagues, but they seem more willing to do so. And if they are, the chance for a shift in the legal culture recedes and accommodation for others is resented as favoured treatment. Those who obtain it are said to "lack commitment". Even on the bench, strategies to relieve women judges with young children of circuit responsibilities may not be well-received. And yet in the United Kingdom growing fears are being expressed that qualified women are turning down appointment to the bench because of such inflexibility."

She recalled the career of Ethel Benjamin, one of the first women to be admitted to practice in 1908, and noted that she was frozen out of the profession in Dunedin and eventually left the country. "When Silvia Cartwright (the first woman Judge of the High Court and later Governor-General of New Zealand) applied for jobs in Dunedin in the 1960s she encountered some reserve because of the example of Ethel Benjamin "and the trouble she caused".

"I am very conscious that I accepted appointment to the bench in 1995 at the urging of male colleagues, whose view (based on their lack of success in recommending me for briefs) was that I would never get instructed in the cases I aspired to lead. I went on the bench to practise law."

The full speech has been posted at

Gender politics

Hillary Clinton's loss to Barack Obama in the race to be the Democratic Party's candidate for President has been much discussed and is seriously regretted by sections of women in the USA, a mood also reflected by some in New Zealand. Hillary was a serious contender and therefore should have been supported by all women who care about their gender, one line of argument runs. Her failure to get the nomination is then seen as an anti-feminist move.

"If not now, then when" is one catch cry. The underlying message is that a woman should be President before a black. That's an interesting, even a provocative call, and it's becoming the new test of feminism. In this view of the world, many other factors, normally regarded as important in a political contest are cast aside. For example, with Hillary you get Bill, and some US voters people saw that as a problem. Many Americans wanted to move on from the Clinton Bush wars. She wasn't as inspiring as Obama. He was more electable because the religious right, the conservatives and the Clinton haters would have gone all out to beat her. (Hillary is Satan, conservative talkback host Don Imus labeled her). Obama raised more money, won more contests and got more delegates. What's wrong with electing a representative of a repressed and exploited minority; isn't that a triumph for democracy? These are just some of the practical issues raised about Hillary's candidacy.

They don't matter, the pro-Hillary argument runs. Hillary is a woman and it's time to have a woman. End of debate. It's an ideological position; an assertion of faith and belief. It's politics defined by gender. It's women supporting women because they are women, not because of their specific policies and personal values, or taking account of factors like their appeal to the electorate, the stance of their opponents, or the personal strengths and weaknesses of the candidate concerned. I am not taking sides, just observing what others say and believe.

Attack ads

We can't do this in New Zealand, and we couldn't do it even before the Electoral Finance Act, but it's all legal in the USA. It's the attack ad.

Here are two examples. The Republicans are going after Al Franken, a Democrat who is standing against the incumbent Republican Senator in Minnesota. Al Franken is an actor and comedian who appears regularly on the long standing show, Saturday Night Live. See

Also, here's the latest McCain attack ad on Obama following his European trip. It has fleeting shots of Britney Spears and Paris Hilton.

Despite the rapturous reception Obama got in Europe, the polls have gone bad for him in the US. In the latest USA Today/Gallup poll, McCain is ahead 49 to 45, among likely voters. The same poll a month ago had McCain behind by six percent. In the Electoral College, based on state by state results which determine the election, Obama is ahead by just six votes out of 538. Obama had been consistently ahead in the polls, but has lost momentum in the daily tracking polls, with commentators now saying that his international trip has gone down badly at home, particularly his decision to cancel a visit to a military hospital in Germany because TV crews weren't allowed in. "John McCain always has time for the troops" were the concluding words of a McCain TV commercial airing this week.

Who's going to win and why - call me

There's lots of polling data and there's plenty of information about the economic and social context in which the general election in New Zealand will take place. What is the mood of the nation and what's driving attitudes and opinions? A client asked me to pull it all together and to tell them what businesses might expect from a National government (assuming they win). You can share in this knowledge through a presentation to your chosen audience. Please call me.

Prescient on China

"Let China sleep, for when she wakes the world will tremble."

David Niven's character, the British Ambassador Sir Arthur Robinson, quotes Napoleon (without attribution) in 55 Days at Peking, a 1963 film about the Boxer Rebellion in China in 1900. It screened on MGM this week, and Niven's words sounded rather prescient after 45 years - and Napoleon, who died in 1821, is even more insightful.

Globalisation is a plus

One issue that has sparked a fierce war of words - as well as battles on the streets - is globalisation. Tyler Cowen, a professor of economics at George Mason University, who has been a guest of the Business Roundtable in New Zealand argues that globalisation has benefited American families in just the same way as Kiwis have had access to cheap clothing, shoes and cars, following deregulation and the opening up of our economy.

Cowen argues that "trade with China has already eased hardships for poorer Americans. A new research paper by Christian Broda and John Romalis, both professors at the Graduate School of Business at the University of Chicago, has shown that cheap imports from China have benefited the American poor disproportionately. In fact, for the poor, discounting in stores such as Wal-Mart has offset much of the rise in measured income inequality from 1994 to 2005.

He says that people are naturally suspicious about trade with foreigners, despite the proven benefits. Free trade advocates should not shrink from their tasks he says. "If we are too apologetic about globalisation, we can feed core irrationalities, instead of taming them. The risk is that we will frame trade as a fundamental source of suffering and losses, which would make voters more nervous, not less. It is wrong to play down the costs of globalisation, but the reality is that we've been playing down its benefits for a long time. Politicians already pander to Americans' suspicion of foreigners. There is no need for the rest of us to jump on this bandwagon. Instead, we need more awareness of the cosmopolitan benefits of trade and the often hidden - but no less real - gains for ordinary Americans."

Spin of the week

The All Blacks Wallabies match last Saturday was hyped as a clash of the coaches, but after the All Blacks lost (got thumped, were outclassed, whatever) does Graham Henry acknowledge his role? Nope. When you drop as much ball as the players did, he said, you can't expect to win. So it's the players' fault - and perhaps it is, but that excuse sits oddly with the deliberate emphasis on the coaches. Henry must have been informed that was the way our emotions were to be jerked by the spin doctors to arouse interest in this test, which makes his avoidance of responsibility for the loss all the more brazen and all the more galling.

What's good about annual reports?

One wag once said that a company's annual report was read more often before it was published than after, and that's probably right. But some organisations do make extraordinary to project their values and achievements through their annual report.

Wellington City Council won the Institute of Chartered Accountants supreme award for best annual report this year - for the second year running. See

But there were other winners and important lessons to be learned from a careful analysis of what makes a winning annual report. Disclosure of information and good pictures made the difference. See

What's in a name?

Quite a lot is you are called Talula Does The Hula From Hawaii, and the Family Court Judge who ordered a new name to be found created quite a talking point - and a useful diversion from the weather. I recall a relative who taught kindergarten in South Auckland. She had kids called Baked Beans, Watties, and TV2 in her class. Parents may think that odd sounding names and weird spellings are cute, but they do impose burdens on their children.

In the Talula case, my view is that the parents are clearly insensitive and stupid. One of them came up with the name and the other agreed. This sort of person ought not to be allowed to breed.

In other developments Stuff reported that the mother who called her daughter "Spiral Cicada" had defended her choice, and the Registrar-General of Births, Deaths and Marriages, Brian Clarke, said some of the names mentioned in reports quoting the Family Court Judge had not been registered. "The names Fish and Chips, Masport and Mower, Yeah Detroit, Stallion, Twisty Poi, Keenan Got Lucky and Sex Fruit have not been registered."

Annoying stuff

Fourteen teams, 13 rounds and the Wellington Rugby Union's website displays who is playing whom and where for only 10 of the games, and for one of those it has Wellington playing Otago in Whangarei. Hello!

Normal lending criteria applies..a radio advertisement for Newbolds. Since when was 'criteria' singular?

Foodstuffs and Meadow Fresh have a falling out over terms of supply for dairy products and the upshot is that NewWorld doesn't stock Meadow Fresh any more. I liked Meadow Fresh and want to buy that brand. I can't anymore. Two companies have an argument they can't resolve and the customer loses choice. How is that a good outcome?

Funeral for audio tapes

There was a funeral the other day in the Midtown offices of Hachette, the book publisher, to mourn the passing of what it called a "dear friend, US media newsletter Levene Breaking News reports. "Nobody had actually died, except for a piece of technology, the cassette tape. While the cassette was dumped long ago by the music industry, it has lived on among publishers of audio books. Many people prefer cassettes because they make it easy to pick up in the same place where the listener left off, or to rewind in case a certain sentence is missed. For Hachette, however, demand had slowed so much that it released its last book on cassette in June."

Michael Jordan on failure.

"I have missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I have lost almost 300 games. On 26 occasions I have been entrusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I have failed over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."


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